Leadership Information

Managing Monsters in Meetings - Part 7, Personal Attacks

Personal attacks hurt people, mar communication, and end creativity. If they become part of a meeting's culture, they drive the participants into making safe and perhaps useless contributions.

Approach 1: Speak to the group

Set the stage for the group to enforce its culture by making a general comment. Look at the middle of the group and say:

"Just a moment. Let's pause here to calm down. I can tell we're upset about this. And we want to find a fair solution for everyone." (Take slow deep breaths and relax to model calming down.)

After saying this, pause a moment to let the group respond. Often, someone else will support your request. Then continue as if everything were normal.

Avoid looking at the attacker when speaking to the group. Making eye contact acknowledges and returns power to the attacker.

Approach 2: Explore for the cause

Sometimes people throw insults from behind a fence of presumed safety. You can disrupt this illusion by saying:

"Chris, you seem upset with that."

"Pat, you seem to disagree."

"You seem to have reservations about this."

I realize these statements may sound like naive responses to an insult. However, such understated responses improve the situation because they sound less threatening, feel easier to deliver, and preserve the other person's self-esteem. Realize the attacker may have viewed the attack less seriously than it sounded.

These statements also transfer the focus from the target to the attacker's feelings. And this is what you need to talk about in order to resolve the dispute.

After you speak, continue to look at the attacker and wait for the person to talk about what caused the attack.

If the attack continues, interrupt with:

"Excuse me, we need to respect each other. And I wonder what makes you feel upset over this."

"Excuse me, we heard that. Now, what makes you feel that way?"

"Excuse me, I'm interested in hearing what your concerns are."

Approach 3: Call a break

If verbal approaches fail to end the attacks, then call a break or end the meeting. This will give you a chance to meet privately with the attacker, rewrite the agenda, rebuild communication, and (if appropriate) schedule another meeting without the attacker.

You could say,

"We seem to be at an impasse. I want to take a break so we can all calm down."

"This hostility makes it impossible to get any work done. So, I'm adjourning the meetings. We'll work on this later and then reconvene at another time."

Note that some people use anger to force others to cooperate with them. If you adjourn the meeting, you will have to meet with the attacker to resolve the conflict.

"We need to work on this outside of the meeting. So let's adjourn."

Use these techniques to restore a safe environment to your meeting.

Meetings are a forum for finding solutions, making decisions, and reaching agreements. When you apply these approaches to disruptions, you will maintain the productive environment necessary to accomplish your goals.

This is the seventh of a seven part article on Managing Monsters in Meetings.

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IAF Certified Professional Facilitator and author Steve Kaye works with leaders who want to hold effective meeting. His innovative workshops have informed and inspired people nationwide. His facilitation produces results that people will support. Sign up for his free newsletter at http://www.stevekaye.com. Call 714 -528-1300 or visit his web site for over 100 pages of valuable ideas.

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