The Strategy to Address Conflict, Sabotage and Invisibility in Meetings

Have you ever attended a meeting prepared to speak of an identified risk, solutions and options to move forward but:

  • You are promptly dismissed?
  • Your idea is attributed to someone else?
  • Your suggestions are scuttled by a colleague advocating for a different approach?

When it happens, do you find yourself unnerved? Do you try to gain control of the situation but end up feeling undermined, embarrassed and frustrated?

Do you find yourself prepared for the technical discussion but not prepared for the interpersonal dynamics?

What you need is a strategy. Here are 4 steps to build one prior to your meeting:

  • Name the outcome. Write down what you want the outcome of the meeting to be and why. This will ground you when you feel challenged.
  • Connect the dots. Write down how your desired outcome helps the company/your project achieve its objective. It’s harder to dismiss your suggestions if you do this.

Tip 1: Edit the reasons to succinct, clear bullet points and state them in the meeting. Tip 2: Use words from the company’s or project’s mission statement to increase audience engagement with your points.

  • Enlist allies. If you feel you are likely to be ignored or undermined – especially if you feel you are being discriminated against based on your gender, sexual orientation or the colour of your skin – enlist allies. For example, if someone hijack’s your idea during a meeting, employ the Amplification technique. The idea is to have colleagues and/or your manager (who you consider allies and trust), support you when they hear you being interrupted (e.g. “Greta, let’s have Aurora finish what she was saying.”) or,  verbally acknowledge that you developed the original concept when someone else claims it was theirs (e.g. “Jim, Tionda had introduced this idea at the beginning of the meeting and I agree with you, it is a really good idea!”).
  • Get curious. If you anticipate being derailed by someone else during the meeting, think about how they may do this AND how you can practice curiosity. For example if you think Frida is going to suggest that funds from your project be moved to your colleague’s, ask yourself: How do Frida’s suggestions help achieve the company or project objective? Consider asking the question in the meeting e.g. “Frida, could you help me understand how shifting funds to Paulo’s project will result in security for the refugee camp and safe transfer of food supplies?” 

Tip1: Prepare yourself to repeat/summarize what they have said to make sure you have heard them correctly and/or to give them a chance to clarify their point. Tip 2: Prepare open-ended questions in advance and try practicing them out loud, by yourself.  Asking open-ended questions will allow you to gather more information on what underlies people’s positions. You may learn something you couldn’t have known before! Tip 3: Instead of assuming the worst, assume the person is acting with the best of intentions. It will shift your energy away from anger to genuine curiosity. People can sense feelings so the shift will decrease tension and create a space for active listening.

This approach requires practice but it can also be the initial step in changing the dynamic from adversarial to collaborative. Practice this approach in a low-stakes circumstance and build on it gradually.

Conflict, sabotage and invisibility in meetings will deplete your resilience, impact your confidence and your ability to do the important work you do. You can change this by following these 4 steps. Try it and remember…

Be gentle with yourself. You’re doing the best you can.
A nod of respect from me to you.
You are taking the time and investing your energy in something worthwhile;
To be empowered to make a difference.

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