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:
- Have a Program, Not Just an Agenda
- In the modern organization, it's common to have meetings in which some people have never met —
and some never will. For these meetings, which are often telemeetings, an agenda isn't enough. You need
- Blind Agendas
- Effective meetings have agendas. But even if a meeting has an agenda, the hidden agendas of participants
can cause trouble. Another source of trouble, less frequently recognized, is the blind agenda.
- Overtalking: II
- Overtalking is a tactic for dominating a conversation by talking to stop others from talking. When it
happens, what can we do about it?
- Meta-Debate at Work
- Workplace discussions sometimes take the form of informal debate, in which parties who initially have
different perspectives try to arrive at a shared perspective. Meta-debate is one way things can go wrong.
- Dealing with Meeting Hijackings
- When you haven't prevented a meeting hijacking, and you believe a hijacking is underway, what can you
do? How can you regain control?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming January 22: Disjoint Awareness: Bias
- Some cognitive biases can cause people in collaborations to have inaccurate understandings of what each other is doing. Confirmation bias and self-serving bias are two examples of cognitive biases that can contribute to disjoint awareness in some situations. Available here and by RSS on January 22.
- And on January 29: Higher-Velocity Problem Definition
- Typical approaches to shortening time-to-market for new products usually involve accelerating problem solving. Accelerating problem definition can also help. Available here and by RSS on January 29.
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Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.