Before investigating techniques for preventing meeting hijacking, let's distinguish hijacking from another serious but unrelated issue that's often confused with hijacking. That behavior pattern is known as "meeting bullying." Bullying is any behavior undertaken with the primary purpose of inflicting physical or psychological harm on another. Although bullying can happen in meetings, most bullies prefer other settings, unless they're chairing the meeting, or unless they've already gained the acquiescence of the chair somehow, possibly by bullying or intimidation. Unless one of these conditions is met, the meeting chair is free to challenge the bully, which most bullies would experience as public humiliation. For this reason, much of what is commonly called meeting bullying is actually something else — outrageously bad behavior, or uncontrolled anger, to cite two examples.
Bullying, wherever it occurs, should be addressed by the bully's supervisor or by Human Resources officials. Meeting chairs typically can't do much about it. If bullying does occur in a meeting, the only safe course for the meeting chair is to immediately adjourn the meeting and consult with officials empowered to deal with such problems. Address the problem officially and privately.
Let's now explore how to prevent meeting hijackings. These approaches are founded on two principles. First, identify potential meeting hijackers in advance, and second, deprive them of opportunities for success. This prevention-based approach is yet another example of the idea that it's a lot easier to stay out of trouble than to get out of trouble.
Continuing our customary practice, we'll refer to our meeting hijackers as Horace or Harriet.
- Identify potential meeting hijackers
- Attributes of potential hijackers include a track record of past hijackings; energetic pre-meeting lobbying for an item to be included in the agenda; a sudden break in a pattern of skipping meetings; being a close friend of a known hijacker; a pattern of arriving late and asking for a "quick summary;" and so on.
- If Horace exhibits one or more of these indicators, consider having a conversation with him in advance of the meeting. If he is intent on disruption, try to find an accommodation that doesn't involve deviating from the agenda you've set. If you can't gain an agreement not to disrupt the meeting, or if the agreement you do secure is violated, then Horace is exhibiting a performance issue. Only his supervisor can deal with that.
- Limit the hijacker's access to tools
- The First, identify potential meeting
hijackers in advance, and
second, deprive them of
opportunities for successoverall goal of this limited-access strategy is to close the hijacker's access to the normal means of adjusting the agenda. For example, in advance of the meeting, the chair can solicit agenda items from attendees during a limited period.
- After rejecting with justification Harriet's proposed agenda item, the chair can close the agenda item solicitation and advise everyone that at the meeting the agenda will be open for addition of any items not previously deemed unsuitable for this meeting.
Techniques like these are eminently fair. They don't directly target any potential hijackers. Next time, we'll examine tactics for use in the meeting itself. First in this series Next in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
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that our contribution has "plopped." We feel devalued. Rarely is this interpretation correct.
What is going on?
- Discussion Distractions: II
- Meetings are less productive than they might be, if we could learn to recognize and prevent the most
common distractions. Here is Part II of a small catalog of distractions frequently seen in meetings.
- How to Ruin Meetings
- Much has been written about how to conduct meetings effectively. Here are some reliable techniques for
doing something else altogether.
- Historical Debates at Work
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- Chronic Peer Interrupters: I
- When making contributions to meeting discussions, we're sometimes interrupted. Often, the interruption
is beneficial and saves time. But some people constantly interrupt their peers or near peers, disrespectfully,
in a pattern that compromises meeting outcomes. How can we deal with chronic peer interrupters?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming September 27: On Working Breaks in Meetings
- When we convene a meeting to work a problem, we sometimes find that progress is stalled. Taking a break to allow a subgroup to work part of the problem can be key to finding simple, elegant solutions rapidly. Choosing the subgroup is only the first step. Available here and by RSS on September 27.
- And on October 4: Self-Importance and Conversational Narcissism at Work: I
- Conversational narcissism is a set of behaviors that participants use to focus the exchange on their own self-interest rather than the shared objective. This post emphasizes the role of these behaviors in advancing a narcissist's sense of self-importance. Available here and by RSS on October 4.
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