You're a meeting pro. You set goals. You come on time. You come prepared. You even know how to deal with meeting bullies. But what about dealing with meeting saboteurs? Like it or not, sometimes we run into problems in meetings, deliberately or unintentionally caused by others. Here are three oft-seen meeting sabotage scenarios and step-by-step plans for how to deal with them. 

Problem: The Two-Faced Meeting Monster
The goal of the meeting is to get approval of your plan. You've done your homework and know whom you'll have to persuade once inside the meeting room and what the main objections will be. You also know whom you can turn to for support. When the meeting begins, one of your supporters not only speaks against your idea, but uses an objection you haven't heard before. What do you do?

1. Ask for specifics. If the issue behind the objection is real, your colleague will be able to qualify his concerns with more details. Keep asking for specifics until you've got a handle on what you're really dealing with, using phrases such as, "Can you give me an example of the situation you think we'll get into that you want us to avoid?" Paraphrase what you hear back to your colleague so that you can be sure you're addressing his objection.
2. Respond to the objections in the order you choose. Answer those objections for which you'd prepared prior to addressing the others.
3. Finally, if you can, address the new objection with the information you have. If you need to get more information, schedule another meeting. Before leaving the meeting, however, make the following statement: "I've addressed all of the objections raised with the exception of X. If I can satisfactorily address this issue, will we be able to move forward with the plan?" Your goal is to get a yes from the group. If you get a no, you'll need to go back to step 2. If you get a yes, move forward to step 5.
4. Immediately upon returning to your desk, send an e-mail with a summary of what took place in the meeting. Include a statement that confirms the one outstanding issue and when you'll address it. Remind everyone in this e-mail that the plan should move forward once this issue is addressed.

Problem: The Swindling Scribe

No one likes being a scribe in a meeting. But there is a certain amount of power in it. The person who takes the notes and records the outcomes of meeting decisions ultimately decides how the decision is recorded. This can be a problem when a scribe misrepresents a decision taken in the meeting to reflect his own views.

1. Speak up as soon as you notice the error. If you're using a whiteboard to record meeting notes or decisions, keep an eye on it and voice your concerns in the room. If the notes are distributed after the meeting, review the notes and make the needed changes as quickly as possible.
2. Assume it's a clerical error. Whether the mistake is deliberate or not, your need is to correct the error, not to lay blame. Whether in person or by e-mail, lead with, "In reviewing the notes from the meeting, what's been recorded seems different than my recollection of what took place."
3. Clearly define the necessary change, "Specifically, the third item should reflect that we decided to go with option one, which would be to…. We need to remove the paragraph that begins with ABC and replace it with XYZ."

Problem: Topic Takeover
The topic listed in the agenda says one thing, the meeting leader's interpretation is another, leaving you unprepared. This can be a simple mistake; a project update meeting in which you believe you'll be receiving information about the status of a project turns out to be a meeting in which the group is expected to present ways to update the project, for instance. Or, the mistake could be a deliberate attempt to discredit you; you've been asked to present your budget to higher-ups, yet in the meeting you're continuously questioned about the strategy you endorse rather than the numbers themselves.

As soon as you discover the meeting is about something other than what you had planned, explain your interpretation to the group. "I believe that I misunderstood the nature of this meeting…." You now have three options for proceeding:

1. If you feel you can switch gears and are prepared to continue with the meeting, do so. If you need to retrieve some key information that is close by, excuse yourself briefly to get it.
2. If you're completely unprepared and feel it's reasonable to do so, ask to reschedule the meeting. If you've stated your case clearly most people will understand.
3. In some situations, it may not be possible to delay the meeting or even to fetch your critical documents. Since you have no choice, do the best you can, but be sure to follow up afterward. When you return to your office, you may think of a few relevant points and be able to put your hands on some facts and figures. Send a follow-up e-mail. "As a follow up to our meeting, I've prepared the following additional information which should be considered when moving ahead with XYZ."

To Five Tips for Mitigating Meeting Sabotage

1. Keep your cool. This maintains your credibility and denies a saboteur the satisfaction of seeing you ruffled.

2. Don't lay blame. It doesn't matter who did what – all that matters is that your credibility stays intact, so take the moral high ground.

3. Speak up. Asking questions to learn more about the situation or explaining your situation in a proactive way puts you back in control of your meeting experience.

4. Share your end goal. It's hard for people to argue with you if your suggestion focuses on having a productive meeting or not wasting their time.

Pump and fake, then save. Sometimes the politics involved will force you to fly by the seat of your pants. Save yourself by following up after this kind of meeting once you've had a chance to pull yourself together. 

1.The Wharton Center for Applied Research

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