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:
- Mastering Meeting Madness
- If you lead an organization, and people are mired in meeting madness, you can end it. Here are a few
tips that can free everyone to finally get some work done.
- Games for Meetings: III
- We spend a lot of time and emotional energy in meetings, much of it engaged in any of dozens of ritualized
games. Here's Part III of a little catalog of some of our favorites, and what we could do about them.
- Speak for Influence
- Among the factors that determine the influence of contributions in meetings are the content of the contribution
and how it fits into the conversation. Most of the time, we focus too much on content and not enough on fit.
- Allocating Airtime: II
- Much has been said about people who don't get a fair chance to speak at meetings. We've even devised
processes intended to more fairly allocate speaking time. What's happening here?
- Naming Ideas
- Participants in group discussions sometimes reference each other's contributions using the contributor's
name. This risks offending the contributor or others who believe the idea is theirs. Naming ideas is
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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.