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:
- Towards More Gracious Disagreement
- We spend a sizable chunk of time correcting each other. Some believe that we win points by being right,
or lose points by being wrong, but nobody seems to know who keeps the official score. Here are some
thoughts to help you kick the habit.
- Misleading Vividness
- Group decision making usually entails discussion. When contributions to that discussion include vivid
examples, illustrations, or stories, the group can be at risk of making a mistaken decision.
- The End-to-End Cost of Meetings: III
- Many complain about attending meetings. Certainly meetings can be maddening affairs, and they also cost
way more than most of us appreciate. Understanding how much we spend on meetings might help us get control
of them. Here's Part III of a survey of some less-appreciated costs.
- Rationalizing Creativity at Work: I
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can cause us to adopt processes that unexpectedly and paradoxically suppress creativity, thereby increasing
costs and stretching schedules. What are the properties of effective approaches?
- Overt Belligerence in Meetings
- Some meetings lose their way in vain attempts to mollify a belligerent participant who simply will not
be mollified. Here's one scenario that fits this pattern.
See also Effective Meetings and Devious Political Tactics for more related articles.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming March 29: Time Slot Recycling: The Risks
- When we can't begin a meeting because some people haven't arrived, we sometimes cancel the meeting and hold a different one, with the people who are in attendance. It might seem like a good way to avoid wasting time, but there are risks. Available here and by RSS on March 29.
- And on April 5: The Fallacy of Division
- Errors of reasoning are pervasive in everyday thought in most organizations. One of the more common errors is called the Fallacy of Division, in which we assume that attributes of a class apply to all members of that class. It leads to ridiculous results. Available here and by RSS on April 5.
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