“The Conference Bully: Some thoughts and observations,” Mickey Glantz. April 6, 2010 (written in Africa in midst of an environment conference).

Written by M. Glantz. Posted in All Fragilecologies

Published on April 06, 2010 with 2 Comments

“The Conference Bully: Some thoughts and observations”

The idea for this editorial came from recent participation in an international conference that involved participants for national governments, multinational organizations and non-governmental organizations. It became apparent that there are strategic as well as tactical ways to participate depending on one’s reasons for attending in the first place. It became clear to me that there was a big difference between a diplomatic negotiator and a diplomatic bully resorting to tactics one might find being used by bigger school boys to intimidate and control behavior of the smaller kids. Before this meeting, I had never thought about the intimidating strategies and tactics in terms of those resorted to by schoolyard bullies.
schoolyard_bully

The conference bully has a goal from the outset which is to intimidate as well as to influence the behavior and oral contributions by other participants who are likely to enter discussions that will take place throughout the several days of conference deliberations.

In the specific conference I attended, one national delegate (as it turned out, the bully) offered the first remarks of the first day as well as the last remarks of the same and succeeding days. His first comment was aggressive, harsh and negative toward the conference organizers (with some personal attacks as well). It seemed that his objective was to derail it by arguing (challenging, really) that the agenda items, the process and the goals were not important to the stated goals of the conference organizers. According to the bully, nothing was done right. To me it seemed that delegate was like a dog peeing on a tree trunk or hydrant in order to mark its territory.

The effect of the content and tone of his early-on interventions was to put the others on notice to be wary about challenging his (country’s?) views. In essence he was suggesting that “if you don’t do as I say, my government won’t listen to your messages” (as if that government would listen anyway; governments will be governments and they tend to have a mind of their own). Besides, in this case, the bully’s country would likely supply a large share of the writers and researchers to the project being discussed.

Not only did he put the delegates on notice about his dominance and sharp tongue at the outset and closing of the first day, he made several (the largest share of comments from the floor) throughout the meeting. His perspectives and comments were treated with care by the chair and reticence by the participants.

He is not the first conference bully I have seen. But, it is the first time I saw them as bullies like those in a schoolyard. They each have a different style designed to influence if not dominate conference behavior and outcomes. Another type I encountered is as follows: a guy would always come late to a workshop or conference, entering in a bumbling, disorganized noticeable way. Everything stops to recognize his presence; he offers an excuse, “I was rethinking what the meeting should really be doing on my way here in the taxi.” He offers to draw some chart on the board and the rest of the meeting refers to that chart. In essence he hijacked the meeting.

Back to the original bully who set off this stream of thought. His attempt was to cause the Secretariat of the conference to be deferential attention him, in away obligating it to consider his numerous explicit comments. Numerous times there were what I saw as implicit threats that the bully’s country might be less supportive morally and financially of the activity being proposed. Many of the bully’s assertions were stated as fact, though they might have been speculative.At one point, when his comment was not accepted by the chair, he re-stated it, by first saying “Apparently the chairman has not been to have his ears tested recently.” I am sure that was embarrassing to the chairman but he just smiled. As chair and as a good diplomat, he had to take it.

The reason my view about his bully nature was that when approached in one-on-one comments, he seemed either not to listen or to care what others were saying. When challenged, he responded on occasion as a pit bull; not giving up.

During breaks in the meeting, several participants from other countries commented on his “offensive behavior.” One participant went on to note that his behavior at this meeting was relatively mild to his behavior at others conferences that they both had attended.

So, while that bully’s government had an apparent hidden agenda and influenced the tone and wording of a final document of this conference, it has also fostered the negative perception of a government trying to bully others to do as it wishes. He may have won a word-smithing battle but lost the larger “war” for respect for his country! And it was MY country.

HAVE YOU WITNESSED A CONFERENCE BULLY?


2 Comments

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  1. I believe I have seen bullies of this sort in different contexts.
    From what you describe, I sense a severe drop in “A” sense of justice from the conference’s administrators and organizers. If the bully was not “a” country, or if it were a “different” country, would it be any different?
    From one perspective, when the chairman is belittled by the bully’s comment, I think it is fine to smile and chuckle and let it slip away if the remark intends on the “temporary” function of this individual as a chairman, but if it intends and disrespects the goals and aims of the conference, to not put a stop to the bullying actually mirrors a poor sense of justice on the organizers part. Could they have foreseen that this would happen?

    At the individual level, this is what I expect: An individual with a strong sense of justice can let fly by and – diplomatically- chuckle a comment that mocks his ‘one time function’ as a chairman, but, not when the comment attacks the grounds and the integrity or the organization he then represents.

    As the bully is an actual country, I find this unapproachable, but without doubt it will backlash to them eventually.
    It is useless to battle with some individuals that defend their own ideas with complete disregard to what others bring to the table. The sad psychology behind this is that these individuals can actually identify with their thoughts to the point where it becomes part of their own identity. So, to contradict them is equivalent to attacking their identity, an identity they are not willing to give up, but will rather defend as if their existence depended upon it… no humility in this process, no openness nor dialogue… it all translates into “me, me, me”.

  2. I Quite agree with you. There are alot of people that do somethings just to be noticed. Some of them are cocky. others are ignorant. If I were the chairman rather than allowing any form of distraction I will basically redirect people’s attention back to the topic. It is is goo to continue on with the discussiion but if it make a point we see how to address the issue.

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