Advice about what to do with overbearing "member"
February 25, 2014 9:56 PM   Subscribe

Our art discussion group is comprised of serious working artists who share ideas and generally encourage each other. We have always handled ourselves professionally and we have several A-list type members. We have some credibility with the community. During the last year, however, somehow we acquired one artist who is causing problems.

(Our group intentionally has no by-laws and no dues. It is all volunteer).

Here is an example of a recent problem with the overbearing member (let's call her Member O). Member Z is in charge of organizing monthly art exhibits in a bank. This is a cool deal for our entire group. Member Z erroneously gave the same "solo" month to two members. It caused difficulty, but Z handled it. Member O (who wasn't even one of the aforementioned bank artists) not only emailed Member Z to express her unhappiness, but she cc-ed our contact at the bank! There were several exchanges and the bank contact must've wondered why she was being dragged into it. There is no reason whatsoever to have cc-ed the bank contact and it embarrasses us.

Member O is oversteps her bounds and it is not the first time Member O has done something like this.

Member O screws things up for the rest of us!

Do you have any ideas for how to handle this?
posted by naplesyellow to Human Relations (23 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Member O may not understand that they are being overbearing or inappropriate. Lots of people don't.

Call a group meeting. Set out the boundaries for Member O. Make it clear to them kind of behaviour that you expect as a group. Make it clear that if they don't shape up, your group can't work with Member O anymore. Be calm, be firm, try not to make it personal.

If Member O continues to make life difficult, tell them that you (the group) can no longer work with them, and that you wish them all the best. It will probably be uncomfortable, but also better for everyone.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 10:08 PM on February 25, 2014 [1 favorite]

I would advise against having this conversation with Member O in a group setting. She'll feel like she's being ganged up on (technically true), and that rarely ends well.

Gather a group consensus as to what boundaries need to be set for Member O, and figure out who in the group she is most likely to listen to. That person should have a 1-on-1 conversation.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 10:13 PM on February 25, 2014 [16 favorites]

Some people are really not very good at picking up implicit stuff; they're not good at figuring out what the unspoken rules and guidelines and norms are. I understand your group doesn't have bylaws, but that doesn't mean you don't have customs, traditions, and things that are Okay and things that are Not. Has anyone explained to this member the ways in which their behavior is disruptive? Because the first step is to talk to her.
posted by rtha at 10:49 PM on February 25, 2014

Guess it's time for some by-laws then.
posted by oceanjesse at 10:49 PM on February 25, 2014 [30 favorites]

Has anyone actually spoken with Member O and told her that her behavior is not appropriate?

It's awkward, I know (about 75% of my professional duties are having awkward conversations about how X Behavior is Not Okay, please don't, there will be progressive discipline if you do), but someone does have to sit her down, in private, to let her know that These are the expectations for a member artist, and Those constitute overstepping, and please stop with Those. Otherwise, she may not even know that she's overstepping, and may actually think that she's a leader in the group. It's been my experience that a lot of these folks genuinely want to help, it just comes out in maladjusted/inappropriate ways, and they don't really grok what Help We Want looks like. People don't want to rock the boat or risk embarrassing them, so they never have to figure out what they can do that would constitute Good Help, and they keep on Helping But Not forever and ever until everyone drops them and they have to start it over. A little compassion might help, too... instead of "Member O ruins everything for everyone, and she's why we can't have nice things!" it might help to reframe it as "Nobody's ever helped Member O be a positive contributor, let's try." She might actually be amazing at doing a certain job that nobody else is excited about, and then she can build up her social currency as The Member Who Finds Awesome Sales on Art Supplies, And Therefore Is Awesome instead of a bull in a china shop.

And please not to have it at a meeting, or in a group setting... the only thing more awkward than being told that These behaviors of theirs actually sucks, is to be told so in front of a crowd of your peers and professional contacts. That's some Mean Girls tactics right there.
posted by mornie_alantie at 10:50 PM on February 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

Best answer: "Member O, we are a group of professional artists who associate with each other by choice. Our reputation individually and collectively means a lot to all of us.

By cc'ing our contact at the bank concerning an honest mistake, an incident in which you were not involved, you inappropriately inserted yourself into a resolved situation and stirred up drama with an enty that up to this point has experienced nothing but professionalism from us.

I'm sorry, but we must part ways with you. It is clear you have expectations from the group that we can not meet.

Thank you for your efforts. We wish you the best in your endeavors."


Politely and firmly kick her out of the group. It's likely her choice to insert herself into the bank situation has hurt your group's credibility. For example, you may no longer be able to provide this bank as a reference for other shows, etc..

She's a troublemaker. The sooner you cut her off, the sooner your group can resume normal operations.

Don't let this be debated or turn into dramaz. Airing dirty laundry to a professional entity the group engages with is a firable offense in and of itself, but that the issue did not even concern her? Holy sh&t.

Free her up to find a group she is more compatible with. This group is not for her.
posted by jbenben at 11:23 PM on February 25, 2014 [52 favorites]

I disagree Member O thought she was helping the group when she publicly aired the group's dirty laundry.

I really hope your group isn't gossiping and sniping over this.

I hope your group quickly, politely, and in a professional manner cuts ties with this woman immediately and then moves on to other concerns.

Good luck.
posted by jbenben at 11:29 PM on February 25, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'd agree with jbenben and be ruthless about this.

It doesn't really matter if they are deliberately problematic or not as long if are consistently problematic. Your organisation is light on admin and needs to operate with minimal drag and friction. Time spent agonising about single member's behaviours is wasted time.

Get consensus from your group. Then get it again - i.e. that they will support you in the event in the inevitable drama it will cause.

Be polite and firm: your disruptive member needs to find another place to share ideas. I wouldn't position this to her as "because you screwed up the bank thing" but keep it brief along the lines of "there are better places for you than here and we feel as a group we'd prefer to operate without you."
posted by MuffinMan at 2:24 AM on February 26, 2014 [9 favorites]

I don't think you should just boot her out. Have somebody in the group let her know that her behavior has been causing real problems, and you can let that count as her warning.

This isn't a suburban book club or something. Artists can be odd, misfit characters. Some eccentricity is to be expected. It's not unlikely she has no idea she did anything wrong or that anybody is upset with her. Give her a chance to work on this. If she keeps doing this stuff after her warning, then give her the boot.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 2:38 AM on February 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Member O screws things up for the rest of us!

Tell her in private, far away from other people in the group, that she screws things up for the rest of you. Go into this conversation with a well-rehearsed (actually rehearse it) list of the exact reasons everyone has agreed that she screws things up for the rest of you and why she needs to leave or change.

But if it doesn't look like she will change, don't waste the effort. Just boot her. Encourage her to form an alternative group and to take along anyone from your group who wants to go with her.

  • If you don't think you can deal with that alone, bring a well-rehearsed accomplice along. And some muscle if you think that might be necessary.
  • Make sure the group is actually ready to back you up on all this. You can't tell her she's wrecking it for the whole group if it's really just you and a buddy or two who can't stand her.
  • Be ready with your phones (to gather evidence and to call the cops) if she does anything disruptive or destructive on the way out.
  • No matter what, you need to make a few official rules. In the case of the bank thing, there should have been a rule that all group communications must go through one person (is there a leader? a founder? a spokesperson? a secretary?) who acts as the external face and voice of the group. Internally, you can all remain equals and best friends and so on, but someone has to be in charge as far as the outside world goes.

posted by pracowity at 3:21 AM on February 26, 2014 [4 favorites]

Tell her in private, but establish some by-laws so that it's not personal.
posted by heyjude at 3:41 AM on February 26, 2014

Personally, I always try to err on the side of assuming people are clueless rather than wilfully malicious or obstructionist. I really think you owe it to Member O to chat with her about the problem rather than throwing her out without a warning. I would do this privately rather than as a group. Cultures of places and groups vary, and sometimes it's difficult to get the hang of a new culture, especially if no one is willing to gently correct you. It seems to me a bit passive aggressive and catty to decide as a group to throw her out without warning. Could one of you speak with her privately, either by pulling her aside at the end of one of your meetings, or asking her to meet privately specifically to discuss something. I would then lay out clearly the culture of the group, the dynamics by which you operate, and the type of behavior that is considered acceptable by group members. I'd lay out the bank example to show her how what she did violated the implicit norms of the group. Give her a chance to ask any questions, and make clear that you'd like her to be able to stay in the group, but these mores are non-negotiable. If she keeps behaving in a similar way after you have clarified things for her - you have your answer, and I'd say you can ask her to leave with a clear conscience.
posted by ClaireBear at 4:20 AM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Irrespective of how you resolve this if engage in serious professional endeavours like these kinds of exhibitions you need to develop a slightly more formal set up and establish by laws to protect you all from people like new member. There is a reason why people draw them up for organisations they use for serious endeavours.

As part of that you may want to introduce some kind of formal new member/probationary period/process that makes formal acceptance into the group conditional on everybody agreeing new member is a good fit after x amount of time so you can boot out new members who turn out to be a poor fit.
posted by koahiatamadl at 4:44 AM on February 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ugh, ok so i've been part of several art "organizations" like this dating all the way back to being involved in one as a kid with my mother when i was much younger.

How i would deal with this, or rather wish i had seen things like this dealt with like this in the past would be:

1. Pull this person aside and ask them really open endedly how they feel about this whole thing. Let that breathe, back and forth a bit and then bring up that it wasn't cool to CC that person.

2. If they flip their shit and start being all saddlesore about the scheduling conflict accident not being decided in their favor then seriously make some moves to kick them the hell out.

I have never, ever been part of any sort of group of artistic people that didn't have at least a couple people like this. It's like a constant burbling backdrop of grade-school petty crap. What they're doing here, and don't take it wrong, screams peeing in the soup "if i don't get mine then i'm going to throw a tantrum and try and screw it up for everyone!" sort of thing. Like what was the endgame with CCing that person? trying to rally them to their side? The only two possibilities here are they really believed that(in which case they're socially inept in a really tiresome way), or more likely that they're just trying to burn it down.

It's not that i've never seen option A, but the tantrum-throwing option B is just so much more common and occams razor kind of believable. And really, you don't need those kinds of people around if you're trying to have something adult and serious that doesn't constantly have issues you'd typically see in a high school theatre production.

That said, i'll also second the call for two things.

Firstly, you NEED a person who is the dedicated public face as was mentioned above by others. This not only prevents problems like this since someone would be breaking pre-determined rules by doing something like this email and therefor easier to rally other people around agreeing they were out of line, but also that it prevents the flip side which is "You really felt that you had the right to speak for all of us?" kind of situations. Several times i've seen that actually be worse than someone saying something stupid, when someone is the one to talk to the reporter or whatever and then a couple other people feel miffed and just let their bitterness and resentment about it simmer.

And secondly, yes, you need some freaking rules. It's cute and seems really "pure" and not impeding the creative flow and whatever, and sounds nice in a writeup... but having no rules just doesn't work in real life. The worst organization i was ever part of drama wise ran that way. After a while it was a mixture of loudest person in the room wins and multiple instances a week of situations like this email CC. And while i was one of the youngest people in the organization, the vast majority of them were older than 30. More recently several friends were involved in a similar deal(a live-in arts collective, actually. one that has garnered serious attention) and it has absolutely shed great people over incidents like this.

You only get a couple of these before someone good walks. And i don't even mean over being on the wronged end of something like this, but because they're just disgusted with the way things are being handled or the fact that some great connection or opportunity got bridge-burned or squandered. Or the after the fact interpersonal fallout.

I myself have a moderate aversion to these sorts of working groups now because of the repeated failures i've seen, and how quickly anyone who suggests some sort of structure or rules gets painted as a stick-in-the-mud or just sore that things didn't go their way or whatever. You have an opportunity to nip that in the bud, and try and prevent future stupid situations here.
posted by emptythought at 5:07 AM on February 26, 2014 [13 favorites]

There were several exchanges and the bank contact must've wondered why she was being dragged into it.

This makes me think you also need a conversation with Member Z. She should not have kept the bank employee on the cc (if that's what happened).

The point I would stress to O is that we trust our members to do their jobs and be accountable, and if we have concerns we bring them up privately, within the group.

To Z - if anything like this happens again it should be resolved offline with O, then someone should follow up with the banker to say "Sorry, it was an error that you were cc'd, this was a misunderstanding that has been resolved."
posted by bunderful at 5:13 AM on February 26, 2014 [2 favorites]

Is it possible that O accidentally cc:ed the wrong person? My email auto-populates names when I start typing, and although I am pretty meticulous about checking the addresses (for this very reason) many times the wrong name pops up first. I mean, copying the bank contact seems bizarre, and not actually malicious.

Not to say that O isn't out of line at other times.
posted by lyssabee at 5:48 AM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

When you say you "somehow acquired" this person, was there an individual who brought them in and with whom they have a relationship? If you are inclined to give a warning, I would have it come from them.
posted by BibiRose at 6:42 AM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't boot her out immediately. I'd fear that she'd send another email to your bank contact that would paint the group in a negative light again. Pull her aside and ask "Why did you cc the bank contact? Do you see how that was inappropriate and should have been resolved within the group because it makes us look bad?" etc.
posted by GrapeApiary at 6:44 AM on February 26, 2014 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think what's going on here, since there are no by-laws, no elected representatives, no structures of authority, is that Member O is perceiving a power vacuum and she feels like she needs to step up for the good of the group! No one is taking Member Z to task for her errors and I must be the shining knight to ride in and save the day!

Now the rest of you are pretty relaxed with the way things are, don't feel a need to "be a leader" or have a leader in some kind of artificial way like an election. This does mean you'll be trampled on by people like Member O who have more momentum/drive/lack of social graces/ than other people.

As a first step, have that "hey, relax, no reason to get fighty and drag other people into this" conversation one on one. But she's probably not going to relax, probably doesn't have the personality type to do this.

I'm betting she's already finding other tasks that she "needs" to do because "no one else is doing them". You could attempt to direct and harness that energy in productive, or at least inert, ways. Maybe she's tasked with some ongoing project that makes her feel appreciated, like scheduling the meeting spaces, collecting a membership list, etc.

I can see this going 2 ways. One, she's happy with this as long as people regularly tell her "thank you" and she merrily soldiers on being a busybody. Or, there will inevitably be some big blow up about how you all never appreciated all the work she did for you (which she, herself, manufactured) and her talents will be appreciated elsewhere. Harumph!

I think the best solution would be to try and reach a consensus with other members of the group when it is appropriate to walk a member out of the group to preserve the attitude and vibe of the group. Discuss what kind of qualities make a good fit, and a bad fit for the group, and if you all agree, suggest Member O discontinue her attendance.

Do realize that there is a natural psychological size limit, Dunbar's Number, to where a group can govern itself with expected behaviors in a person to person way, and where that kind of bond breaks down and more formalized power structures are needed. You're likely at that limit. Official bylaws and elections can really dampen the vibe of the group you once had, but it's probably too late.

TL;DR: harness and direct the busybody energy at your own risk, or kick her out.
posted by fontophilic at 6:49 AM on February 26, 2014 [3 favorites]

Also, I would be interested to know the size of the group and whether she is the only problematic member. One approach in a situation like this is to break up and re-form without the problematic member(s) and with new guidelines. This really has everything to do with the size of the group, how easy it is to join, and some other factors.
posted by BibiRose at 6:56 AM on February 26, 2014

Basically, what emptythought said.

I've seen similar things with our homeschooling groups. More than once a good group has fallen apart because there is no one willing to confront a problem, aggravated by there being no established way to handle internal conflict.

It sounds like you have near consensus in your group that O is a problem person, or at least that her behavior was over the line? So lucky. Find someone who is willing to be the heavy and confront O, and decide on some structure for handling later internal conflicts. (Majority vote is stupid if overused, but it's much better than endless conflict or the biggest jerks in the group always getting their way.)

Jump on this opportunity. Next time it will be something that divides the group 60/40.
posted by mattu at 7:30 AM on February 26, 2014

I feel that you really need to let this person know what kind of behavior she's exhibiting and how and why it's damaging for your group before you kick her out.

If she can't (or won't) change, then that's that, but it's very possible she's oblivious to what she's doing and why it is a problem.
posted by Fister Roboto at 10:43 AM on February 26, 2014

It would be helpful to have an examplefof O behaving badly that did not start with someone else making a mistake.

There's a lot of room to interpret this as O "riding in to save the day."

And do you know for a stone cold fact that Members T, W, and K didn't go to O and complain about the bank problem?

Or, O may be having problems with email. (Who hasn't seen a horror story with reply all or auto-populating fields as the monster?)
posted by Lesser Shrew at 12:58 PM on February 26, 2014

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