Years ago in a meeting,  one of my coworkers snickered and rolled his eyes at something I said.  I shut down.

Why did he do it? He did it because he was allowed to. No one told him to stop being a bully. No one told him was being unprofessional or that his behavior was unacceptable. No one said anything … until I did.

Meetings without psychological safety can result in mediocre solutions, slowed productivity, and damaged relationships.  This is problematic because companies want the opposite; they want the best solutions, productivity, and people focused on getting work done instead of spending energy managing interpersonal risk. Good overall meeting practices can make a big difference. (Here is an article by Tom Geraghty, a psychological safety expert in the U.K.: Six Ways to Run Psychologically Safe Meetings.) But what can be done when someone hijacks the meeting with annoying behavior?

People who hijack meetings are Saboteurs. They act out of fear or self-interest.  Our job as leaders and/or coworkers is to help create a meeting culture where they don’t have to “act out”. Over the next several weeks I will be sharing different types of Saboteurs and what we can do to address the hijacking behavior while maintaining psychological safety.  This week, we begin with the Advocator.

Advocators speak on behalf of people who are not in the meeting. An example is, “I know Jack in Procurement would be concerned that this will increase his budget”, but the Advocator doesn’t work in Procurement. Or “The Sales Team won’t ever get on board with this”, but the Advocator’s work doesn’t intersect with sales. (I was an Advocator once, and it didn’t go so well. Read about it here.) Here are three tips for managing Advocator behavior in meetings:

  1. Recognize intent. Chances are this person feels uncomfortable with the exclusion of people who will be impacted by decisions made in the meeting. They are seeking inclusion. Choose language that is inclusive.
  2. Respectfully ask if they have authority. Find out if they were given authority to speak for whomever it is they are speaking for. When you ask, don’t be a jerk. Approach it from a place of caring and empathy.
  3. Recommend direct contact. If they are not authorized, recommend an appropriate person (maybe even the Advocator) to speak to those being advocated for so you can find out if they need to be in the meeting. Or, in the least, need to be consulted.

Remember, the benefits of psychological safety include ideas and questions that make workplaces better and more successful. Don’t you want that?

Wasting time in meetings? I can help. Just reach out.