Chapter 6: Conducting a meeting: the hidden agenda
Interpersonal communication in meetings is not always easy because there tend to be a number of hidden elements in meetings. They constitute the unofficial (often ignored) agenda, called the 'hidden agenda'.
THE HIDDEN AGENDA IS THE SUCH OF HOPES, FEARS, AMBITIONS AND EXPECTATIONS BROUGHT TO THE MEETING BY THE PARTICIPANTS.
As a group, discuss possible hopes, fears, ambitions or expectations that participants to a meeting might have.
Write five examples in the space below:
(The instructor will briefly discuss answers before proceeding.)
The success of a meeting depends to a large extent on how well these hidden agenda items have been taken into account, regardless of the topic of discussion of the meeting.
When participants to a meeting have something on their 'hidden agenda', the fact can usually be recognized by a sharp observe Persons with a hidden agends tend to manipulate, and it is very useful to recognize this and to be able to deal with it.
People manipulate in order to deal with their hopes, fears, ambitions and expectations.
One can distinguish ' soft' manipulation (which does not hurt anybody and is in the common interest) from 'hard' manipulation (furthering one's self-interest regardless of what damage it does to the others). In between, there is a wide field of 'so-so' manipulation, where some advantages are gained and some damage is done.
Nearly everybody manipulates meetings once in a while, even without realizing it, in order to get a favorable outcome. This can be tempting when it provides an opportunity to get things done quickly and w ell without upsetting anybody too much.
The most common forms of manipulation are:
Omission is forgetting to tell something that might reflect badly on oneself or might be favorable to somebody else; withholding certain information to keep people in the dark and to weaken their position (while at the same time increasing the power of the holder of the information).
Discuss as a group examples of such manipulation through omission that you know from your own experience or that you can imagine.
(For tasks 11 through 14, the instructor can use the examples from this paper if trainees have problems finding one.)
Intimidation is making other people feel stupid or ridiculous for not agreeing with the manipulator's point of view. An extreme case is threatening people to get them to agree.
Discuss as a group examples of such manipulation through intimidation that you know from your own experience or that you can imagine.
Discuss as a group examples of such manipulation through distortion that you know from your own experience or that you can imagine.
Evasion is avoiding controversial subjects, for instance through delaying tactics.
Discuss as a group examples of such manipulation through evasion that you know from your own experience or imagination.
Manipulation, even when done with the best of intentions, can backfire. Suppose someone 'forgets' to mention some negative aspect of the project during a meeting, in order to have certain proposals approved more easily. This person might run into trouble as soon as the negative aspects come to the surface, because then he will be blamed for not revealing them sooner. As a result, participation in the project by the people concerned might become seriously com promised.
The chairperson of a meeting has to be aware of the fact that manipulation is taking place.
Recognizing this fact already provides some weapons to fight it.
Another typical form of behavior the chair person of a meeting should be familiar with is the role playing participants tend to do.
People tend to be have in a well -defined way according to a set of 'characters'. Some of the most common characters are:
The one who listens carefully.
This person listens carefully, asks a good question once in a while, and makes sensible comments. This person is certainly the most pleasant to deal with. However, a chairperson should avoid the temptation of concentrating attention on that person and should concentrate instead on the others who are difficult to reason with.
The one who knows everything already.
This person has all the answers, and is convinced that long discussions are a waste of time since people only need to accept her solutions. The chairperson will have to be careful in dealing with such a person: The 'solutions' proposed usually step on many people's toes and the person herself is usually narrow-minded and aggressive. Such a person should not be allowed to dominate the meeting.
The one who does not say anything.
This person hardly opens his mouth during the entire meeting. There can be several reasons for this behavior, even good reasons. The person might be bored or shy, or maybe afraid of some body else who is al so participating in the meeting. The person might even be in the wrong meeting! It is the duty of the chair person to find out the reason for this lack of participation.
The one who is never contented.
This person always wants to discuss personal difficulties, regardless of the agenda. He is often not very reasonable and may sidetrack the discussion. Although it $s the duty of the chairperson to be polite and attentive, the meeting should be kept in focus and on schedule.
The one who likes meetings.
This person uses meetings to talk endlessly and pointlessly whenever the agenda provides the opportunity. Although the person probably means well, most of the audience already knows all the anecdotes and would rather proceed with the meeting. The chairperson should be firm and not give the happy talker a chance to waste everyone's time.
The one with a hidden motive.
Hidden motives may be revealed by stubbornness on certain points, unexpected answers and strange arguments. For the chairperson, it would be desirable to find out what the hidden motive is, for instance by asking the person straight out.
The chairperson as facilitator
In trying to deal with the hidden agenda, the chairperson becomes a facilitator, one who has the task of making meetings (or any other type of organized activity) proceed as smoothly as possible.
In the case of meetings, the chairperson has to perform a set of 'hidden' activities to deal with the hidden agenda. These activities can be divided into four categories:
Tell, sell, solve and salve
Provide information not just about the topic of discussion but about everybody's position, obligations, rights and opportunities. All participants in the meeting desire to know where they stand, even if this feeling is not expressed. They want assurances and confirmation or need rebuttal.
Win the group's acceptance of a policy or idea, not just by making a fair presentation of the issues and arguments, but also by being convincing. Everybody has to be sold on a policy or idea, since nobody will ever accept something without having heard what he or she wants to hear. Being convincing means not only talking easily but al so having answers to possible objections ready.
Remove non-personal obstacles which prevent the group from achieving its aims. None of the participants likes obstacles, but not every body is able to remove them. Most obstacles consist of technical or organizational problems which cannot be solved unless the participants assume their responsibilities. In each meeting, the chairperson will notice a tendency in the group to shy away from problems. Participants will try to avoid problems by pushing the responsibility for solving them to the next higher level of authority.
Eliminate differences, controversies, conflicts and misunderstandings at the personal level in order to enable the meeting to achieve its aims. As is the case with technical problems, participants tend to avoid controversy. The chairperson will notice again the tendency to push the responsibility for solving conflicts to the next higher level of authority .
As a rule of thumb, one can say the hidden agenda has been dealt with successfully when:
- participants get the feeling they belong to the group;
What can the chairperson do in practical terms to deal with the hidden agenda successfully?
As a group, make up a set of golden rules (DO or DO NOT) for the chairperson. Use your imagination freely and select the best proposals only when the group runs out of ideas. Suggested time: 15 minutes. Write your rules in the space below:
(The instructor will discuss the answer s an d explain the reason for and importance of each of them).
In each of the five situations described below, the chairperson is required to say something to correct the situation. For each, three possible answers are given. Tick the one you consider most appropriate in each case.
One member, Mr. Tabo, speaks for a long time, boring the others. The chairperson says:
a. 'Please shut up and give others a chance to a peak. __
One member, Mr. Banda, never says anything at meetings, and this time is no exception. The chairperson says:
a. 'Thank you, Ms. Kama. Now, Mr. Banda, what do you think about Ms. Kama' s point?'___
The chairperson disagrees with what Ms. Kondo is saying during a discussion. The chairperson says:
a. 'I don't agree with you. '___
The meeting is too noisy and members are all speaking at the same time. The chairperson says:
a. 'Please ladies and gentlemen, can we listen to Mr. Mulenga who is making a very important point. '__
Members show up late for the meeting or not at all. The chairperson says:
a. 'Ladies and gentlemen. You are late again today. I will recommend that you be replaced by others who are more duty-minded.' __
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