I'm anticipating possible confrontation, can you help me prepare?
November 11, 2012 2:27 PM   Subscribe

I have been having a "war" with some competitors. They meet in the same restaurant where I've called a meeting next week. My meeting is couched as an "open meeting" (meaning anyone who is interested can come). It's a roundtable meeting of like minded people and meant to be informal, and it's not through any employer. I've put the invitation up publicly onto a blog. The problem is, if the three people who I've warred with were to show up, the meeting could quickly become their meeting. I want to take hold of the reins of my own meeting.

My enemies (there are 3 of them) have made it clear that I am unwelcome at their meetings because of an earlier brouhaha....and likewise, the brouhaha makes it so they are unwelcome by me. The problems took place last year, but the type of work we do makes it so we run into each other at various times. It might have been smarter of me to have meetings at a different location (they meet at the same place, but on a different day). However, everyone involved likes this place and I don't see any reason why I should accept being "run out of town". It is a public restaurant and we are all "freelance".

I know this sounds as if I am 10 years old...but I am just looking for one solid "policy" to help me in case they plunk themselves down at my meeting...which absolutely could happen. I certainly don't want to come across as petty to the rest of the people at the meeting, but what is the best way to prepare for the possibility of my enemies showing up to throw their weight around and disrupt my meeting? Would I have to stop the meeting and tell them that I don't want them there? I want to keep a cool head, but of course, my blood pressure goes up sky high about the situation.

posted by naplesyellow to Work & Money (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What do you want the meeting to accomplish? Focus on that. "I'm sorry, Larry, but we're going to talk about this thing now."

If you just flat-out don't want them there, if they show up, say, "Because I'm not welcome at your meetings, you're not welcome at this one. Isn't there some other thing you could be doing?" Let them make a big scene and show everyone else that they're the bad guys, and if they disrupt your meeting completely, after it's all done, email everyone else and say, "Let's try this again at LATER TIME." (Don't say a word about how Larry and Daryl and Daryl were being assholes.)

Muhammad Ali called it rope-a-dope: let them punch themselves out, then get done what you want done.
posted by Etrigan at 2:39 PM on November 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Um, what exactly is it that you are competing over?

One possible solution would be to sit at a table just a little bit too small for the meeting you want?
posted by Blasdelb at 2:40 PM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Kinda vague, weirdly LARP-like description, but could you perhaps hold the meeting at your house?
posted by pla at 2:52 PM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

If they sit down at your meeting, welcome them and don't be fake about it.

How many people other than them do you expect will be there? If there aren't enough other people to keep things moving, it will be their meeting.

I go to a lot of open meetings that are run according to roughly the same rules as Occupy meetings. One of these rules is that there's one person running "stack," who takes note of anyone who raises a hand to speak and calls on them in turn, one person moderates, and one or more people each present a single agenda item. As long everyone abides by the rules (yourself included), no one can monopolize the meeting.

If these three competitors are jerks at your meeting, it will be obvious to everyone else, and they won't be doing themselves any favors. If they have something valuable to contribute, then maybe you need to reassess them yourself.
posted by adamrice at 2:58 PM on November 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Is this a friendly meetup where everyone talks to each other while eating and drinking? Or a meeting where one person talks at a time? If it's the latter, you, as the organizer should explicitly decide who talks and move on to the next person if anyone's hijacking the meeting.

If it's the former, then there's nothing you can do. Just do whatever these other guys did to bar you from their meeting next time.
posted by ignignokt at 3:01 PM on November 11, 2012

It is really hard to answer this question without knowing the nature of this competition - is it purely social, or financial as well?
posted by corb at 3:02 PM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

It sounds like this could be describing just about anything, from unionizing to multilevel marketing to religious evangelism. A friend of mine told me that when she was at (secular) college the members of one particular sect of Christianity staged a sort of hostile takeover of all the Christian-related student groups with this sort of approach. The OP is probably phrasing it all this way to make it clear that "Why can't you all just get along?" and "Why are you even doing that in the first place?" aren't the sort of answers she's looking for.

I would read up on how comedians deal with hecklers. I'd expect that you will have to be pretty socially and conversationally adept to deal with an intentional disruption of this type - it's going to be way, way easier to kick over your sandcastle than it will be to defend it.

Alternatively, if you have the resources maybe you could plant confederates in the crowd disguised as neutral attendees to express skepticism at the interlopers and steer the meeting back to whatever your agenda is. (Of course, your enemies might attempt the same ploy.)
posted by XMLicious at 3:55 PM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

As someone else said, the vagueness here makes it hard to answer. However:

A tactic that helps with public meetings (say, held by a city) is to give problem people the floor early, let them have their say, and when they later try to be disruptive asshats and interject at every turn, remind them and everyone else that they already had their turn and it is someone else's turn now. If nothing else, it helps make it clear they are troublemakers and you are not being unreasonable. That helps with how other people interpret what gets said and done.

I try hard to not have enemies. One thing I do is try to resolve the root problem. I have found that being genuinely respectful to people who dislike me can be effective in getting them to stop trying to get at me. We may never be friends or allies, but life runs smoother when no one is actively out to get me. There are plenty of people who dislike me. I try really hard to not make it an entrenched thing. Turning the other cheek is generally a good place to start.

Last, I have difficulty understanding why you would set up the meeting this way given your view you have "enemies" who are "unwelcome" at "your" meeting. By definition, that means it isn't really an open meeting. If possible, in the future, don't announce it publically and don't make it "open". If this is a really firm thing, make it by invitation only or announce it some place where they are highly unlikely to get wind of it.
posted by Michele in California at 4:47 PM on November 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Does it help to draw up an agenda? That way, if there is a subject you don't want discussed, you can make the point that it isn't on the agenda, and then get back to what you want to talk about. The person who controls the meeting and who controls the agenda has power that is not always obvious.
posted by Mr. Justice at 6:01 PM on November 11, 2012

(1) It's a roundtable meeting of like minded people and meant to be informal, . . . (2) I want to take hold of the reins of my own meeting.

1 and 2, as written, are incompatible. You can't have an informal meeting of equals in which you are in charge. If you take the roundtable nature of the meeting seriously, then anyone at the meeting could take it over, whether or not you and they are friends. So, that the problematic group and you don't get along, makes it unpleasant, but largely unremarkable outcome of the roundtable nature of the meeting.

So, what to do?

The two obvious answers is to either make it more structured, with you as the explicit session leader, or to not make it open to the public. Let's say that for, whatever reason, you don't want to pursue these two options.

You can declare a specific agenda (crafted to avoid the issues likely to be pursued by the problematic group). To do this it's best to advertise the agenda from the beginning. That way everyone attending will have certain expectations and the problematic group will (hopefully) feel constrained. Of course, if they show up with the express purpose of being trouble makers, then they won't care about social expectations.

Another option is to start the meeting by directly addressing the problem groups favorite concerns. This gives you the benefit of stealing their thunder and their primary reason for speaking up *and* let's you shape the narrative to suit your goals. "I know that we all hate the color red, and frankly I don't disagree entirely, but why don't we talk about how blue is a really great color." If you do it well, they should be effectively neutered (or if they can't let it go, everyone will see them as jerks bent on making the evening unpleasant).
posted by oddman at 6:04 PM on November 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Make the meeting more formal with a written agenda and following Robert's Rules of Order. Hijacking problem solved.
posted by JJ86 at 5:53 AM on November 12, 2012 [1 favorite]

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