Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 16, Issue 50;   December 14, 2016: Dealing with Meeting Hijackings

Dealing with Meeting Hijackings

by

When you haven't prevented a meeting hijacking, and you believe a hijacking is underway, what can you do? How can you regain control?
Bee with pollen

Bee with pollen. In a 2015 paper by Peter Graystock, Dave Goulson, and William O. H. Hughes, published in The Proceedings of the Royal Society B, the authors reported evidence that bee parasites have been found to spread among bees, both within a given bee species and across bee species, by means of the flowers the bees visit to harvest pollen and nectar. In effect, the parasites "hijack" the flowers to their own purposes. In her June 8, 2015, contribution to Sciblogs, Erica Mather provides a more accessible description of this work. Photo (cc) 2.0 by coniferconifer.

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  Go to top Top  Next issue: Problem Displacement and Technical Debt  Next Issue

101 Tips for Effective MeetingsDo you spend your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!

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Related articles

More articles on Effective Meetings:

A senator rests on a cot in the Old Senate Chamber during a filibusterUntangling Tangled Threads
In energetic discussions, topics and subtopics get intertwined. The tangles can be frustrating. Here's a collection of techniques for minimizing tangles in complex discussions.
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Controlling meeting blowhards is difficult enough in face-to-face meetings, but virtual meetings present next-level problems, because techniques that work face-to-face are unavailable. Here are eight tactics for dealing with virtual blowhards.
Mohandas K. Ghandi, in the 1930sChronic 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.
Sherlock Holmes and Doctor WatsonPre-Decision Discussions: Reasoning
When we meet to resolve issues related to upcoming decisions, we sometimes rely on reasoning to help find solutions. Contributions to these discussions generally use mixtures of deductive, inductive, and abductive reasoning. How do they differ, and what are their strengths and risks?
The mural on the wall of the Cambridge firehouseThe Major Annoyance of Mini-Digressions
Digressions are expensive. They limit progress in meetings. They're most noticeable when they deflect the entire meeting from its stated purpose. There is another kind of digression that's less noticeable, more common, and just as costly.

See also Effective Meetings and Devious Political Tactics for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

A well-festooned utility poleComing June 26: Additive bias…or Not: I
When we alter existing systems to enhance them, we tend to favor adding components even when subtracting might be better. This effect has been attributed to a cognitive bias known as additive bias. But other forces more important might be afoot. Available here and by RSS on June 26.
A close-up view of a chipseal road surfaceAnd on July 3: Additive bias…Not: II
Additive bias is a cognitive bias that many believe contributes to bloat of commercial products. When we change products to make them more capable, additive bias might not play a role, because economic considerations sometimes favor additive approaches. Available here and by RSS on July 3.

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