Machiavellians at meetings

When I go for a meeting, it’s usually in a cooperative, facilitative, sympathetic and principled frame of mind, and I have had good experiences at meetings on the whole (with some notable exceptions associated with certain colleagues’ vanity or thirst for power).

Read Venkatesh Rao’s nasty, insightful piece on the 15 laws of meeting power, and from the bottom of that, a link to Robert Greene’s The 48 Laws of Power. This kind of thing:

“A meeting is a partly adversarial setting, and pure “active listening” is not enough. By the power of listening, I mean the power that lies in consciously keeping track of what was said and using it to make the points you want to make. The average short-term memory of a group stretches just to the very last thing that was said. Most people react only to this last thing, and don’t consciously attempt to remember anything before that. The canny listener tries his best to remember the highlights of everything he has heard and seen, for later use.

I learned this when I served on an interview panel interviewing high school students for a summer scholarship. A more experienced interviewer remarked that one of the signs of sophistication she looked for in a candidate was an instance of referring back to something that was said more than 10 minutes ago.

A corollary to the power of listening is the power of citation. Using what was said before gives you a lot of control. It is even more powerful if you remember who said it and what the exact words were, and can quote. Why? Because you automatically demonstrate that you were paying attention, making you more credible than others. Plus, you can temporarily borrow the “usual” supporters of the people you quote, because you did them the honor of remembering what their side said.”

It gets much more manipulative and ruthless than this. This is seductive stuff, but it’s also rotten. I mean, if a group has a poor collective memory then find a way to compensate for this which keeps concepts and arguments alive in its consciousness. Don’t exploit people’s weaknesses when those weaknesses may be serious handicaps for reaching the optimal decision for your organisation. Don’t be so arrogant as to assume that you’re not the bad apple. Don’t toy the deficits of meeting participants for your own amusement. Don’t be contemptuous of people with smaller intellects than you.


3 thoughts on “Machiavellians at meetings

    • Not everything is about you, you, you, Weggis! I saw this on a blog I read regularly, and I had in mind some of the stuff that went down where I work last year, and also in my union. A certain meeting we both attended recently was very pleasant and cooperative. Some people even slept all the way through. Just kidding.

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