We conduct meetings to facilitate collaboration. We collaborate because we believe that groups have more and better answers and insights than individuals do. But some meeting chairs take a different approach. Instead of eliciting contributions from everyone, these bully chairs impose their own views on the group, limiting the contributions of the attendees.
To impose their will successfully, they cloak their intentions in the appearance of collaboration. They find ways to make the imposition of their will seem necessary and proper. Here's Part II of a collection of tactics used by bully chairs. See "When the Chair Is a Bully: I," Point Lookout for June 20, 2012, and "When the Chair Is a Bully: III," Point Lookout for July 4, 2012, for more.
- Ejecting those regarded as challengers
- Since bully chairs often have influence over the attendee list, they can sometimes choose not to invite those they regard as troublemakers. If the definition of making trouble is disagreeing with the chair, or criticizing positions that the chair favors, group decision quality suffers.
- When an attendee stops attending, and you suspect that the absence is a result of the chair's actions, the meeting is deprived of the contributions of someone who was initially regarded as a valuable contributor. Log these incidents. They contribute to the picture of the bullying pattern, and they demonstrate how the bullying is degrading the meeting's performance.
- Limiting the participation of those who cannot be ejected
- Social, political, or organizational structures protect some attendees from ejection by the chair. Nevertheless, the chair might be able to limit attendee participation in ways that seem innocent or constructive. For instance, the chair might delegate to a carefully selected "task force" the responsibility for making a recommendation to the meeting as a whole. That recommendation might then be subjected to limited discussion, which constrains disfavored attendees as they try to modulate the recommendation.
- By themselves, these tactics don't support charges of bullying. But in the context of an array of tactics targeted at disfavored individuals, they can be convincing evidence of the chair's abuse of power.
- Abusing technology to limit participation
- A more modern tactic for limiting participation Instead of eliciting contributions
from everyone, bully chairs impose
their own views on the groupof disfavored attendees entails moving meeting discussions to electronic media that the disfavored attendees cannot access conveniently or cannot access with regularity, or which they do not have time to learn how to use effectively. This tactic has the appearance of fairness, but still manages to limit the effectiveness of the disfavored.
- These decisions can help demonstrate the chair's bias if the chair has strongly advocated for using the technologies over the strenuous objections of the disfavored. The chair's actions become more clearly questionable if incorrect decisions result from inadequate airing of issues due to technology-based restriction of the participation of disfavored attendees.
We conclude this examination of the tactics of bully chairs next time, with a discussion of tactics that exploit the form of the meeting. First in this series | Next in this series Top Next Issue
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More articles on Workplace Bullying:
- Responding to Threats: II
- When an exchange between individuals, or between an individual and a group, goes wrong, threats often
are either the cause or part of the results. If we know how to deal with threats — and how to
avoid and prevent them — we can help keep communications creative and constructive.
- How Targets of Bullies Can Use OODA: II
- To make the bullying stop, many targets of bullies try to defend themselves. But defense alone is not
sufficient — someone must make the bully stop. That's why counterattack is much more likely
- When the Chair Is a Bully: III
- When the Chair of the meeting is so dominant that attendees withhold comments or slant contributions
to please the Chair, meeting output is at risk of corruption. Because Chairs usually can retaliate against
attendees who aren't "cooperative," this problem is difficult to address. Here's Part III
of our exploration of the problem of bully chairs.
- Dealing with Rapid-Fire Attacks
- When a questioner repeatedly attacks someone within seconds of their starting to reply, complaining
to management about a pattern of abuse can work — if management understands abuse, and if management
wants deal with it. What if management is no help?
- The Paradox of Structure and Workplace Bullying
- Structures of all kinds — organizations, domains of knowledge, cities, whatever — are both
enabling and limiting. To gain more of the benefits of structure, while avoiding their limits, it helps
to understand this paradox and learn to recognize its effects.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming October 18: Missing the Obvious: II
- With hindsight, we sometimes recognize that we could have predicted the very thing that just now surprised us. Somehow, we missed the obvious. Why does this happen? Available here and by RSS on October 18.
- And on 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.
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