As I mentioned earlier, the committee meeting is more of an animated cartoon than a serious deliberation. The problem is this. Any meeting and the behavior of the participants take on importance in proportion to the purpose of the meeting and the topics discussed. The perceived status of the participants is also an element. If important people are meeting to discuss important things, the meeting is important. For you, this conditioned perception has to stop. There are ample opportunities for players to drive you up the wall at any meeting from trivial to critical, from mundane to the summit.
Looking at the FFSI committee meeting is instructive. While doing this, it helps to supplement that examination with parallels to what may be more familiar situations. This is in no way intended to diminish the importance of the committee meeting.
Committee players who are into “Not Me” have to stay away from positions of responsibility or circumstances where they might be expected to have a strong opinion. Their game plan calls for tagging onto the plans and decisions of others and riding them to power and influence. They are very good coattail riders.
“It may be that we might want possibly to consider” is a classic in the archives of behavior that can drive you up the wall. The attempt is to introduce “Not Me” as a recognized method. Mark Brown not only manages to introduce the idea, he gave the members an example of the method. If anyone objects, Mark can simply say, “As you could tell, I was a little uncomfortable bringing it up. I told someone back home I would at least raise the idea. I told him I was not sure it would fly.”
Suppose another committee member says, “I like the idea. Some of my best friends are what you might call the “Not Me” type.”
Mark can then say, “It may be worth considering after all. I know a Not Me type or so myself.” If a third member says, “I think the idea stinks.” Mark can then say, “I see the two of you have some thoughts about this. I will appreciate the opportunity to listen to your discussion.”
At that point, Mark sits back to listen, waffling back and forth a little, depending on who seems to be winning the debate. If one debater comes away a clear winner, Mark joins the victor. He tries to placate the loser with, “I would like to go along with you on this one. I am a little inclined away from your position. We’ll get together on the next one, though.”
Instead of the committee in the illustration, suppose Mark Brown is in a sales meeting at the insurance agency where he works. Dean Tylor approaches Mark for support for a plan to pitch a new policy to a company in town. Dean presses for support and gets what he thinks is Mark’s commitment. At the sales meeting, the boss leans a little away from Dean and toward another salesman. The moment of truth has arrived.
Dean asks, “What do you think Mark? We would all value your thoughts, especially given your experience in the community.”
Sorry Dean, kiss that deal goodbye. Never think a player like Mark does not know which side of the fence to sit on.
Mark takes a long, thoughtful breath and says, “I could come down on either side of this one. I am not saying I couldn’t be persuaded.”
Steve from the illustration is not a piker in the “Not Me” department either. Notice how he and Mark from the above insurance example could be twins. In the illustration, Steve says, ” . . . it is easy to see both sides. . . . I am not saying I could not be persuaded.” Along with some question about what it is he is not saying, what he is saying is similarly unclear. The key to Steve’s success as a player is that he does not say anything. He leaves things open for any decision, including no decision. He can wait until a decision comes along and then use that one, acting as if it were his position all along. In the meantime, he appears to be an active participant in the decision process.
Put Steve in a different context. The City Commission is meeting. Steve is the chairman. A member of the audience joins the Commission’s discussion in violation of the rules. Steve tries to get the intruder to stay out of the discussion.
The speaker says, “What kind of town is this where a common citizen cannot talk? Are you telling me I cannot have a say in the government of my city?”
It is easy to imagine Steve’s saying, “I would never say anything like that. It is only that there may be a better place and time for this. It is still important that the Commission hears the views of everyone who wants to talk. I am only saying there is a time and place for things like this. There is a lot on our agenda tonight. It is always important to keep an open mind, though. I want you to know I’m ready to talk with anyone, anywhere, at any time. I hope this clarifies things for us here tonight.”
The odds are about 80/20 that the intruder sits down and stays quiet. Most people are polite. Steve is counting on it. If the citizen gets pushy, Steve is counting on another member of the Commission – any other member – to help him deal with the problem. He lets someone else argue with the common citizen. Steve says, “Just Not Me.”
In the illustration, Sharon shows the fuzzy boundary between “Not Me” players and the apple polishers. “I’m going to hang with Brad on this one, unless someone has a better idea.” In one short sentence, she manages to cozy up to Brad. She disclaims any responsibility for the idea. Additionally, she puts everyone on notice that she will jump ship if a better or safer opportunity comes along. Sharon is in a great position to polish the first apple presenting itself to her. For the true aficionado, Sharon uses a very strong mix of techniques.
Put Sharon in a different setting, and the full power of her play comes to the forefront. Keep in mind the extra touch. Sharon is chronically cheerful and usually down right perky. She shows enthusiasm in endless supply for almost anything and virtually never gets upset unless it is to her advantage. She is a very skilled committee player.
Sharon is at the final meeting of the selection committee where the new chairman of the English Department will be chosen. There are three finalists for the position. Each has two supporters on the seven member committee. Sharon is in the position to cast the determining vote: not an inviable place for a committee player.
Sharon has the full attention of the other six members. They are waiting for her to vote. With a smile and even more energy in her voice, she says, “This is super! This is what the process is all about, isn’t it? What we have here are three fine candidates, any one of whom will serve this great institution admirably. It is a banner day for us. The important thing is for us to all be happy with the decision we make. Being happy with our choice is the most important part of what we are all about. What I am going to do right here and now is set aside any selfish interests or motivations. I make this commitment to each of you. I commit myself to staying here as long as it takes for us to make a choice that is comfortable for all. Can we do this? Can we each commit to hang in there for the good of our school and for our students?”
If a committee member says, “Get off it, Sharon. It’s your turn to vote, so vote.” Sharon takes on a shocked and hurt expression and says, “You disappoint me. I cannot believe you want to sacrifice the department and our students just to save a little time by rushing a decision as important as this.”
It makes no difference what happens next. Sharon has moved the issue at hand away from selecting a new chairman to matters of school spirit and loyalty. It reduces to who cares the most and Sharon wins hands down.
The players in the illustration modeled an additional method worth noting. Along with the Not Me players and apple polishers, the committee on methods gives a glimpse at some “poor me” techniques. The key to “poor me” success comes through getting others to feel sorry for or excuse the player. Let it suffice to highlight an example from the committee.
“Not me, I would like to help; but I have some stuff here I had to bring along to work on. . . . You know how it goes.” The socially correct response is, “Sure, I know how it goes.” Ted, from Ohio, is counting on people giving him this response. The result is that the committee excuses him from helping.
Suppose some social incompetent says, “I don’t know how it goes at all. It just looks like you’re trying to get out of helping. You are no busier than the rest of us.” Speaking up probably feels good but does not work. Ted simply says, “Good for you. It’s nice everyone doesn’t have to go through this. I hope you keep your charmed life. A dog should not have to work this hard. Maybe I will have a small reprieve and have time the next time you need some help. I always like to pitch in when I can.”
Ted’s maneuver speaks for itself.