Tuesday, July 08, 2008

How to be Productive

Food not Bombs has an organizing manual that can be very useful for activists. Here is their section on behavior.

How to be Constructive, Productive and
Generally Nice at a Meeting

We are often aware of these behaviors in others, but not often enough are we conscious of how we ourselves are acting. Confronting the behavior of others before it gets out of control is key, as is checking ourselves and listening to honest critiques of our own behavior.

Creating an atmosphere of trust and comfort is essential for overcoming disruptive behaviors. If someone consistently dominates conversation and it’s disruptive to the group, try talking one-on-one with him/her to see what’s up. Don’t accuse; just observe.

Dominant behaviors

  • Hogging the show: talking, too much, too long, or too loud.
  • Problem solver: continually giving answers before others have had much chance to contribute.
  • Speaking in Capital Letters: give one’s own solution or opinion as the final word on a subject, often aggravated by tone of voice or body posture.
  • Defensiveness: Responding to every contrary opinion as if it were a personal attack, “People obviously didn’t understand what I was saying. What I meant was…”
  • Nitpicking: Pointing out minor flaws in others’ statements and stating the exception to every generality.
  • Restating: Stating in another way what someone else has just said perfectly clearly. In other words, repeating someone else’s point as if it were your own, as if you weren’t listening or as if it didn’t have meaning when said by someone else, especially someone you don’t feel is as important as yourself. Or, like saying the same thing over again unnecessarily, etc.
  • Attention-seeking: using all sorts of dramatics to get the spotlight (as above).
  • Put-downs and One-upmanship: “I used to believe that, but now” or “How can you possibly think that?!”
  • Negativism: Finding something wrong or problematic in everything.
  • Focus Transfer: Transferring the focus of the discussion to one’s own pet subject to give one’s own pet rap.
  • Self-Listening: Formulating a response after the first few sentences, not listening to anything from that point on, and leaping in at the first pause.
  • Inflexibility: Taking a last stand for one’s position even on minor items.
  • Avoiding Feelings: Intellectualizing, withdrawing into passivity, or making jokes when it is time to share personal feelings.
  • Condescension and paternalism: “Now, do any students or younger people have anything to add?”
  • Being On the Make: Using sexuality to manipulate others; not to be mistaken with just flirting, being on the make is about power.
  • Running the Show: Continually taking charge of tasks before others have a chance to volunteer.
  • Graduate Studentitis: Protectively storing key group information for one’s own use and benefit.
  • Speaking for others: “A lot of us think we should...” or “What so and so really meant was...”

Submissive Behaviors

  • Ending a statement with a question mark: “I really disagree with that?”
  • Self-Sabotage: “This is really stupid, but...” or “I think that maybe I kind of feel strongly about this issue.”
  • Stargazing: Idolizing more experienced or charismatic activists and downgrading oneself in comparison.
  • Walking on eggshells: Tailoring one’s comments to calm down or soothe a volatile member of the group, holding back words for fear that they will upset someone.
  • Deferring to others: “Go ahead...” or “You were first...” or “l think he is more qualified...”
  • Pushover: Abandoning an idea or opinion at the first sign of disagreement.
  • Feeling Expendable: Assuming your opinions are irrelevant or naive; imagining oneself as a faceless observer.