You've done whatever you could in advance, but it didn't prevent an attempted hijacking of the meeting, because it appears that a meeting participant might be trying to steer the meeting away from the agenda. What can you do? Here are some guidelines for the meeting chair or facilitator who is responding to hijacking behavior. In what follows, we'll use the names Horace or Harriet to refer to the hijacker.
- Adhere to established procedure
- However outrageous or insulting Horace's behavior becomes, be calm and respectful. Do nothing that would seem heavy-handed or offensive, or which can seem to be an abuse of the chair's power. Such tactics can arouse sympathy among other participants or possible future hijackers. Hijackers, especially Horace, can use that sympathy to disrupt the agenda. If established procedures aren't sufficient for controlling hijackers, the time to add such tools is in advance of the hijacking incident.
- Allocate time to each agenda item
- Adhering to a pre-determined schedule creates a desire in other participants to keep the discussion on topic. This helps chairs when they rule contributions out of order or when they determine that they're unrelated to the current agenda item. With each such ruling against Harriet, her efforts to marshal the sympathy of other participants become less productive.
- Recognize that some deviations from the agenda aren't hijacking
- Some people don't realize that their contributions are off topic. They're sincerely exuberant. Treating them as if they were hijackers can seem to be gratuitous spitefulness on the part of the chair. Actual hijackers can exploit the chair's mishandling of these incidents to gain sympathy for their disruptive behavior.
- Don't recognize other participants in Horace's place
- Recognizing someone other than Horace, out of turn, can be a tempting method for depriving him of opportunities to redirect the discussion. But it can also seem to be abuse of the chair's power. Maintain your normal practice for recognizing speakers.
- Don't interrupt Harriet's attempts to shift the discussion
- Having recognized Some people don't realize
that their contributions
are off topic. They're
sincerely exuberant.Harriet, interrupting her as she tries to hijack the meeting can also appear to be abuse of the chair's power. Comments such as, "Please get to the point," or "That isn't related to the current topic," can seem abrasive. When Harriet has finished, if her comments were explicitly forbidden by the not-agenda, advise the meeting at large of that fact. If it appears that she departed from the agenda in some other way, add her point to the parking lot. If she objects, explain that she was out of order, and let the meeting decide whether or not the agenda needs adjusting. The time taken for such an agenda adjustment discussion must, of course, be taken from reserve, or from other agenda items. After the first such incident, most participants will likely recognize the disruptive behavior as disruptive.
If these approaches don't contain the hijacker, and if the hijacker's agenda threatens the group's mission, recognize that resolving the matter publicly is unlikely to succeed. Adjourn the meeting or call a recess and address the problem privately, enlisting assistance from supervisors if necessary. Such a move might not be an admission of failure. It can be the first step on the path to successful resolution. First in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- Questioning Questions
- In meetings and other workplace discussions, questioning is a common form of conversational contribution.
Questions can be expensive, disruptive, and counterproductive. For most exchanges, there is a better way.
- Costs of the Catch-Me-Up Anti-Pattern: I
- Your meetings start on time, but some people are habitually late. When they arrive, they ask, "What
did I miss? Catch me up." This is an expensive way to do business. How expensive is it?
- Meeting Troubles: Collaboration
- In some meetings, we collaborate not in reaching objectives, but in preventing our doing so. Here are
three examples of this pattern.
- Chronic Peer Interrupters: II
- People use a variety of tactics when they're interrupted while making contributions in meetings. Some
tactics work well, while others carry risks of their own. Here's Part II of a little survey of those tactics.
- Effects of Shared Information Bias: I
- Shared information bias is the tendency for group discussions to emphasize what everyone already knows.
It's widely believed to lead to bad decisions. But it can do much more damage than that.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
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