Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 12, Issue 26;   June 27, 2012: When the Chair Is a Bully: II

When the Chair Is a Bully: II

by

Assertiveness by chairs of meetings isn't a problem in itself, but it becomes problematic when the chair's dominance deprives the meeting of contributions from some of its members. Here's Part II of our exploration of the problem of bully chairs.
Congessman Darryl Issa (R-CA)

Congessman Darryl Issa, Republican of California, speaking in Congress in 2011. As Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform of the U.S. House of Representatives, Rep. Issa was chair of a hearing on the recently enacted health care reform law. As Chair, he had control of the witness list. One of the witnesses he chose to exclude was Sandra Fluke, who was nominated as a witness by the minority party. Ms. Fluke would have testified to the need for the law's provisions with respect to the prescription of medically necessary contraceptives, a position with which Rep. Issa disagreed.

In barring Ms. Fluke's testimony, Rep. Issa's actions provide us with an example of a bully chair ejecting those regarded as challengers. Photo courtesy U.S. Government General Accountability Office.

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 group
of 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 Go to top Top  Next issue: When the Chair Is a Bully: III  Next Issue

101 Tips for Targets of Workplace BulliesAre you being targeted by a workplace bully? Do you know what to do to end the bullying? Workplace bullying is so widespread that a 2014 survey indicated that 27% of American workers have experienced bullying firsthand, that 21% have witnessed it, and that 72% are aware that bullying happens. Yet, there are few laws to protect workers from bullies, and bullying is not a crime in most jurisdictions. 101 Tips for Targets of Workplace Bullies is filled with the insights targets of bullying need to find a way to survive, and then to finally end the bullying. Also available at Apple's iTunes store! Just USD 9.99. Order Now!

Your comments are welcome

Would you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenXhIOqEeYnHMPihcTner@ChacYUrmfRBOYRzbcqRhoCanyon.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 Workplace Bullying:

Tornado in a mature stage of development (Photo #3 of a series of classic photographs)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.
A U.S. Marine sniper wearing sniper camouflage gear known as a "ghillie" suitHow 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 to work.
Gary Jones, Oklahoma State Auditor and InspectorWhen 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.
Palm trees blowing in a hurricaneDealing 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?
An FBI SWAT team assists local law enforcement in New Orleans in August 2005The 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.

See also Workplace Bullying and Effective Meetings for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

British mathematician Christopher Zeeman in 2009Coming 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.
Five almondsAnd 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.

Coaching services

I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenAVrctmqBBnXlKcoyner@ChacShMMcXvqwItXvbUYoCanyon.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!
Go For It: Sometimes It's Easier If You RunBad boss, long commute, troubling ethical questions, hateful colleague? Learn what we can do when we love the work but not the job.
303 Tips for Virtual and Global TeamsLearn how to make your virtual global team sing.
101 Tips for Managing ChangeAre you managing a change effort that faces rampant cynicism, passive non-cooperation, or maybe even outright revolt?
101 Tips for Effective MeetingsLearn how to make meetings more productive — and more rare.
Exchange your "personal trade secrets" — the tips, tricks and techniques that make you an ace — with other aces, anonymously. Visit the Library of Personal Trade Secrets.