Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 2, Issue 2;   January 9, 2002: When Meetings Boil Over

When Meetings Boil Over

by

At any time, without warning, you can find yourself in a meeting that boils over. Sometimes tempers rise, then voices rise, and then people yell and scream. What can a team do when meetings threaten to boil over — and when they do?
Glow of lava reflected in steam plume east of Kupapa'u Point, on the Big Island of Hawaii

Glow of lava reflected in steam plume east of Kupapa'u Point, on the Big Island of Hawaii. Photo by T.J. Takahashi, courtesy U.S. Geological Survey.

Think of a time when you attended a meeting where tempers flared. That might be easy — it might have happened yesterday morning. For most of us, fortunately, it's a rare occurrence.

Despite their rarity, stressed-out, anger-infused meetings can be damaging. We must question whatever a team produces when it's angry or fearful or under stress. When we can feel the tension in a meeting, we can't do our best work, because we're focused on whatever is the source of tension, instead of the task. And the source of the tension is usually a duel between two people.

Solid planning can help reduce the chances that a meeting will erupt into a duel. But what can we do when a duel does erupt?

Some teams take "time out." Someone suggests a break and — usually without acknowledging the obvious conflict — the meeting breaks for a few minutes. While this approach does often defuse the immediate situation, the root causes remain in place. Although a relapse is likely, the break is a useful tool for groups that cannot confront the issue more directly.

Groups that deal openly with the problem have more choices.

Despite their rarity,
stressed-out,
anger-infused
meetings can be
damaging
Enlist a facilitator
Let the facilitator track the queue of speakers. Find someone not otherwise involved in the meeting. If you must choose a participant, make clear that the facilitator cannot participate in meeting content.
Pledge not to interrupt
Everyone agrees to speak only when acknowledged by the facilitator. When we interrupt, we can convey the message that we don't value the ideas of the person interrupted, or perhaps that we don't value the person we interrupted. When a meeting boils over, such a message can be very damaging.
Suppress sidebars
Sidebar conversations are distractions in any meeting. But when the meeting is near the boiling point, and we have no idea what two people are whispering to each other, we tend to make up something really horrible.
Declare a three-exchange dialog
As the queue of speakers accumulates, the logical order of what they have to say might not match their order in the queue. When two people need to dialog, the facilitator can ask for the group's permission for a dialog with a limit of three exchanges. In a meeting near the boiling point, a three-exchange dialog can give the dueling dyad a way to have a structured, interruption-free, respectful conversation.
Take a brief silent break
If you must take a break, make it brief, and agree not to speak with each other. When tempers are high, some tend to interpret conversations that occur in breaks as conspiratorial. A silent break gives everyone a chance to breathe and to calm down without fear that anyone is hatching a plot.

As a last resort, consider inviting an observer. If you choose someone not otherwise associated with the group, you'll be rewarded with a fresh perspective, and a possible key to turning down the heat. Go to top Top  Next issue: Express Your Appreciation and Trust  Next Issue

101 Tips for Managing Conflict Are you fed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you or a colleague the target of a bully? Destructive conflict can ruin organizations. But if we believe that all conflict is destructive, and that we can somehow eliminate conflict, or that conflict is an enemy of productivity, then we're in conflict with Conflict itself. Read 101 Tips for Managing Conflict to learn how to make peace with conflict and make it an organizational asset. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenVMEOpSiDmHTFBxYuner@ChacMVWgWVvBugAJKcMYoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.

About Point Lookout

Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.

Point Lookout is a free weekly email newsletter. Browse the archive of past issues. Subscribe for free.

Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.

Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.

Related articles

More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:

Don't rely solely on your spell checkerEmail Antics: III
Nearly everyone complains that email is a time waster. Yet much of the problem results from our own actions. Here's Part III of a little catalog of things we do that help waste our time.
Dogs Fighting in a Wooded Clearing, by Frans SnydersMudfights
When we steer the discussion away from issues to attack the credibility, motives, or character of our debate partners, we often resort to a technique known as the ad hominem attack. It's unfair, it's unethical, and it leads to bad, expensive decisions that we'll probably regret.
A sandwich piled highWorking Lunches
To save time, or to find a time everyone has free, we sometimes meet during lunch. It seems like a good idea, but there are some hidden costs.
Wheelchair basketballBonuses
How we deal with adversity can make the difference between happiness and something else. And how we deal with adversity depends on how we see it.
An appealing plate of pasta (not what I ate that evening)If Only I Had Known: II
Ever had one of those forehead-slapping moments when someone explained something, or you suddenly realized something? They usually involve some idea or insight that would have saved you much pain, trouble, and heartache, if only you had known.

See also Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness and Effective Meetings for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Five almondsComing October 25: Workplace Memes
Some patterns of workplace society reduce organizational effectiveness in ways that often escape our notice. Here are five examples. Available here and by RSS on October 25.
Terminal 3 of Beijing Capital International AirportAnd on November 1: Risk Creep: I
Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep? Available here and by RSS on November 1.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenoFMJWCjyXpKaosDgner@ChacoDDlFVnkyBLCIvOXoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.

Get the ebook!

Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:

Reprinting this article

Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info

Public seminars

Ten Project Management Fallacies: The Power of Avoiding Hazards
Most Ten Project Management Fallaciesof what we know about managing projects is useful and effective, but some of what we know "just ain't so." Identifying the fallacies of project management reduces risk and enhances your ability to complete projects successfully. Even more important, avoiding these traps can demonstrate the value and power of the project management profession in general, and your personal capabilities in particular. In this program we describe ten of these beliefs. There are almost certainly many more, but these ten are a good start. We'll explore the situations where these fallacies are most likely to expose projects to risk, and suggest techniques for avoiding them. Read more about this program. Here's a date for this program:

The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
Many The Power Affect: How We Express Personal Powerpeople 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.

Follow Rick

Send email or subscribe to one of my newsletters Follow me at LinkedIn Follow me at Twitter, or share a tweet Follow me at Google+ or share a post Subscribe to RSS feeds Subscribe to RSS feeds
The message of Point Lookout is unique. Help get the message out. Please donate to help keep Point Lookout available for free to everyone.
Workplace Politics Awareness Month KitIn October, increase awareness of workplace politics, and learn how to convert destructive politics into creative politics. Order the Workplace Politics Awareness Month Kit during October at the special price of USD 29.95 and save USD 10.00! Includes a copy of my tips book 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics which is a value!! ! Check it out!
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
101 Tips for Managing ConflictFed up with tense, explosive meetings? Are you the target of a bully? Learn how to make peace with conflict.
52 Tips for Leaders of Project-Oriented OrganizationsAre your project teams plagued by turnover, burnout, and high defect rates? Turn your culture around.
Ebooks, booklets and tip books on project management, conflict, writing email, effective meetings and more.
Comprehensive collection of all e-books and e-bookletsSave a bundle and even more important save time! Order the Combo Package and download all ebooks and tips books at once.