I am on the executive board of a performance group, and as an extension of that role I’m also on a committee in charge of planning a small convention aimed toward our particular fandom. I’m optimistic about how the con will turn out, as we have a number of dedicated & knowledgeable people on the committee. The problem is, among them are three people who, while they are friends in “real life”, tend to butt heads somewhat violently when put together in any professional-type setting. Consequently, almost every conversation that any of them starts devolves into a heavy argument – usually person 1 makes a statement, person 2 thinks her tone is too bossy and latches onto something he disagrees with, person 3 aggressively backs up person 2, and the three of them go back and forth without much being accomplished. Generally they all have valid points buried somewhere in there, but they tend to get lost among the petty arguments.
Invariably I end up stepping in for conflict resolution because I’m a neutral party and pretty good at calming people down, and this is a role I’m happy to play if need be, but having to step into every single conversation is really wearing on me. Talking privately to the individuals involved hasn’t been very successful; I do think they’re all genuinely trying to get along, but the personality clash in this setting might just be too much. Letting the arguments run their course would stress me out even more because so much time & energy is being wasted – plus there’s no guarantee there would ever be a resolution – and simply leaving the committee myself isn’t really an option because there are some duties that align perfectly with my current role on the board. And most of the rest of the committee seems content to sit back with popcorn during these arguments rather than backing me up on anything. What do?
It’s Getting a Little Too Rocky Up in Here
There is a ton of meeting running advice here, especially in the comments.
Some things I would amplify:
- If you’re the one running the meeting, stepping in when a discussion goes on too long is your job, and you’re not being a jerk.
- Edited to Add: If B & C are taking female A to task for “bossyness” it is EXTRA your job to step in shut it the hell down. “‘Bossy-ness’ is not actually a problem, so, if you have no other objection, let’s go with A’s recommendation and move on.” “Whatever valid points you may have, you undermine them when you dwell on another volunteer’s tone.” “You may not realize this, but automatically calling A. ‘bossy’ for being passionate or authoritative when she proposes things is sexist. Stop it.” KILL IT WITH FIRE.
- Interrupt the flow. If this is a habitual thing at meetings, there is probably some sort of recognizable ritual that starts it off, so when you see that start to happen, interrupt! Call on others to weigh in! Take a break!
- Know that these people will never get hints.
- It’s a good idea to make an agenda with a time budget for each discussion item and also to have a set end time for meetings.
- DELEGATE. Maybe one strategy is to assign the work of deciding the issue to the three conflict-havers OUTSIDE of meeting time. “Stephanie, Phillip, Michaela, it sounds like the three of you have a lot of details to hammer out before we make a decision on this. Why don’t the three of you discuss it further and bring us a joint recommendation next meeting? Next agenda-item!” In other words, make the exhausting, annoying work into more work for them instead of more work for you. (Note: If this is about sexist steamrolling of A, this won’t work at all, so try instead to put A. in charge of something distinct from the other two.)
- DELEGATE MORE. I could be wrong, but I sense that at least one of these folks is a person who loves to poke holes in things and point out problems, and a lot of your meeting time is getting sucked up by defining problems rather than working on plans or solutions. If this is what you’re dealing with, “How would you handle this?” or “Good summary of the potential issues. Unfortunately that’s all the time we have for today, so can you take the lead on bringing a few possible solutions to our next meeting?” can change the dynamic…somewhat.
- DELEGATE, DIVIDE, AND CONQUER. Put each of the Three Amigos in charge of a distinct task, hopefully one that lets them have some autonomy over a thing they care about. “Jeff, we know you have a lot of recommendations for swag, but design is Christine’s job right now. I’d like you to take the lead on on security solutions, and Sahar can get cost estimates for food & drink for the reception.” Having each person be visibly accountable for one thing is (hopefully) motivating to them and gives you a way to shush them if they’re behind on their own work but all up in someone else’s.
Good luck with your event!