In a previous post, I examined several approaches to interrupting fellow meeting attendees relatively safely by using formal roles or informal customs. These methods cover many situations, but not every situation. For example, the meeting in question might not be a "standing meeting" — it might be a meeting of people who don't meet regularly, and who therefore haven't established formal roles like the Designated Digression Detector, or customs like the process check.
In addition to the tools described in that post, some other tools include seating position, courtesy, wit, deftness, confidence, courage, and whatever reserves of goodwill are present in the relationships among everyone in the situation, but most especially, in the relationship between the interrupter and the person interrupted. In this post and the next, I offer some thoughts about all these resources and how they can meet the needs of the interrupter. For convenience, I'll use the name Inez for the interrupter, and Steve for the speaker. Apologies to all the Inezes and Steves out there.
- Seating position
- In face-to-face meetings, seating yourself centrally gives you advantages when you want to interrupt. At the periphery of the meeting, interrupting is difficult because you're more likely to be out of the line of sight of most of your fellow attendees. This invisibility reduces the effectiveness of gestures such as raising your hand slightly off the table surface, or turning to face the speaker you're intending to interrupt. Seating position is even more important if the chair or facilitator is diligently managing the speaker queue.
- In In face-to-face meetings,
seating yourself centrally
gives you advantages when
you want to interruptsome virtual meetings, when most attendees are co-located and you're the one calling in, and when you're attending via the speaker/microphone placed in the center of the table, you have license to interrupt that co-located attendees do not. Unlike the co-located attendees, you can start speaking at any time. When you do, there's a good chance that everyone will fall silent immediately. Try it. The license derives from a belief that when remote attendees begin to speak, they haven't always discerned that someone was already speaking. Generally, that belief is invalid, but many people believe it anyway.
- The relationship between interrupter and interrupted
- If the relationship between Inez and Steve is limited, wounded, or otherwise in need of repair, or if Inez is less powerful organizationally than Steve, interruption can be dangerous. It can further wound a wounded relationship, or complicate the formation of a healthy relationship if one doesn't already exist. Unless the relationship is relatively healthy, with the exception of relatively dire emergencies, the wisest course for Inez is to sit quietly and let someone else interrupt.
- So if you've repeatedly felt the need to interrupt a particular person over a sequence of meetings, strengthening your relationship with that person would be a wise move, because it will enable you to interrupt him or her with much lower risk of offense.
- To be courteous is to show deference and respect for others. In some sense, then, the term courteous interruption is an oxymoron. One key to success is executing the interruption in a way that most will interpret as showing deference and respect for the person being interrupted.
- For example, if Inez begins her interruption when Steve pauses to breathe, her interruption can seem like something else, because she began speaking during a pause. Similarly, she can interrupt when Steve pauses at punctuation — at the end of a sentence or in the space between two clauses.
- Asking permission to interrupt is another way to use courtesy to disguise the interruption. And the really good news is that you don't actually need to wait to receive permission — asking is enough. Examples: "May I add one thing?" or, "Can I add one point?" Using the word add is helpful, especially when addition is not what's actually happening.
- Courtesy-based techniques can seem to some to be a bit of a subterfuge. Using them too often renders them transparent and ineffective.
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- Irrational Self-Interest
- When we try to influence others, especially large groups or entire companies, we sometimes create packages
of incentives and disincentives that are intended to affect behavior. These strategies usually assume
that people make choices on rational grounds. Is this assumption valid?
- 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.
- Action Item Avoidance
- In some teams, members feel so overloaded that they try to avoid any additional tasks. Here are some
of the most popular patterns of action item avoidance.
- On Facilitation Suggestions from Meeting Participants
- Team leaders often facilitate their own meetings, and although there are problems associated with that
dual role, it's so familiar that it works well enough, most of the time. Less widely understood are
the problems that arise when other meeting participants make facilitation suggestions.
- Why People Hijack Meetings
- When as chair of a meeting, you have difficulty completing a reasonable agenda, you might be the target
of a hijacking. Here's Part I of a series exploring meeting hijacking.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming April 8: The New Virtual Meeting: Digressions
- The bane of meetings everywhere, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, has been digressions. But there are reasons to expect the incidence of digressions in meetings to increase now. What reasons could there be, and what can we do about digressions? Available here and by RSS on April 8.
- And on April 15: Incompetence: Traps and Snares
- Sometimes people judge as incompetent colleagues who are unprepared to carry out their responsibilities. Some of these "incompetents" are trapped or ensnared in incompetence, unable to acquire the ability to do their jobs. Available here and by RSS on April 15.
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- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
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.