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:
- Remote Facilitation in Synchronous Contexts: III
- Facilitators of synchronous distributed meetings (meetings that occur in real time, via telephone or
video) can make life much easier for everyone by taking steps before the meeting starts. Here's Part
III of a little catalog of suggestions for remote facilitators.
- Overtalking: III
- Overtalking other people is a practice that can be costly to organizations, even though it might confer
short-term benefits on the people who engage in it. If you find that you are one who overtalks others,
what can you do about it?
- Rationalizing Creativity at Work: I
- Much of the work of modern organizations requires creative thinking. But financial and schedule pressures
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?
- Rationalizing Creativity at Work: II
- Creative thinking at work can be nurtured or encouraged, but not forced or compelled. Leaders who try
to compel creativity because of very real financial and schedule pressures rarely get the results they
seek. Here are examples of tactics people use in mostly-futile attempts to compel creativity.
- Ending Sidebars
- We say that a sidebar is underway in a meeting when two or more meeting participants converse without
having been recognized by the chair. Sidebars can be helpful, but they can also be disruptive. How can
we end sidebars quickly and politely?
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
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- And on June 5: I Could Be Wrong About That
- Before we make joint decisions at work, we usually debate the options. We come together to share views, and then a debate ensues. Some of these debates turn out well, but too many do not. Allowing for the fact that "I could be wrong" improves outcomes. Available here and by RSS on June 5.
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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.