“If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools…” Rudyard Kipling

It should be illegal, but it is not. They made bear baiting illegal in the last century. However, those in corporate leadership still find themselves baited in the meeting room. Hopefully, it does not happen to you often, but it happens to all executive women at some point. Why do groups do it? It can be a way of testing you, it can be the group’s method of self discipline, or it can just be mean. Gender is not a factor. I have seen it happen when I was the only executive woman in the room and when it was only executive women in the room. A group of corporate leaders is gathered in the room for a meeting. It is usually a group of people who meet together regularly. I have never seen it in a meeting of strangers. There is usually one person who acts as the antagonist and one who is the target. The other members of the group typically stay on the sidelines. If other members of the group intervene, the baiting usually stops. It often takes the form of aggressive questioning. You know the kind. There is no way to answer the question with a positive result. However, sometimes the target’s own words are twisted to form a trap for them. It can take the form of allowing the target to continue a presentation when the everyone else knows it is no longer relevant.

What should you do if you are the target? It is a tough spot. Your first reaction is usually anger or embarrassment. Remember, however, that you are likely being tested. Blowing up is counterproductive. Tears are also a bad idea. Do your very best to keep your cool. Generally, I recommend that you keep to your message with a calm demeanor and normal level voice. Just repeat your position over again in a different way or with an example. You may have to do this several times. Keep it positive. Avoid defensiveness. However, if you are getting the information that the group as a whole is not buying whatever you are selling, it may be best to close it down and wait for a better time. Depending on how well you know the group, you may be able to defuse the situation with humor. However, do that carefully and only with groups that you know really well. Regardless, the key is to stay calm, cool and collected. After the meeting, seek out one of the other members of the corporate leadership group whom you trust and find out what was going on. It is also a good idea to ask them to critique your reaction. There is always something to learn.

What should you do if you are the antagonist? Don’t be.


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