Who comes to mind when you read these words?





I think of a boss I worked for who was extremely forward with his thoughts and ideas. If he didn’t like your idea, comment, or question, he told you so without any social grace or emotionally intelligence whatsoever. It stung. It was embarrassing. It didn’t make me want to speak up.

Last week I launched a series on psychological safety in meetings to help you manage the Advocator saboteur. This week we move on to behaviors like those of my old boss – the Attacker.

Attackers challenge the competence of others and make fun of them. Remember, all meeting saboteurs are people acting out of fear or self-interest. They might use sarcasm or even call names. Here are some examples, “That’s a stupid idea!” “Are you sure you know what you are talking about?” “You’re the expert. Shouldn’t you know the answer?” “You’re a real genius”, but they don’t mean it. Here are three tips for managing Attacker behavior in meetings:

  1. Immediately address it. Do not allow the behavior to continue. Call for a break and have a conversation with the Attacker to let them know the behavior won’t be tolerated. If you can’t take a break, firmly and confidently ask that person to rephrase what they said respectfully.
  2. Refer to Rules of Engagement (or Ground Rules). Establish rules at the beginning of the first meeting. (These rules should be created by the team, not handed down from the facilitator.) When the Attacker attempts to sabotage the meeting, refer to the rules and ask the Attacker to honor them.
  3. Speak up. If it makes you uncomfortable to hear it, you have a right to express it. Speaking up is especially powerful when you aren’t the meeting facilitator. If you are the meeting facilitator, allow every meeting participant to have a voice and the power to hold each other to a standard of respect.

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.