“Members Behaving Badly” was the November 17 study topic for the Louise Saks Parliamentary Unit (LSPU). No, we didn’t learn how to behave badly in meetings. We did consider the kinds of actions of presiders and members that are attempts to bully others into a particular action or inaction.

For example, a presider may refuse to recognize members who wish to speak or speaks herself/himself during debate. If the presider cannot maintain neutrality in allowing members to debate, the presider needs to step aside from his/her role and let another preside during the business at hand. (Most authorities suggest that this be done rarely.)

It is the presider’s role to be an effective, firm, knowledgable leader during a meeting in order to allow the society to accomplish its business.  In doing that the presider is impartial, setting a tone of dignity and respect. If the presider injects his/her own opinions into the discussion or prevents people with a particular viewpoint from speaking this is an example of bullying the society to get his/her own way.

Or, there are times when members act discourteously or ignore meeting protocol such as seeking recognition before speaking. They interrupt others, use language that belittles others and assumes motivations for behavior instead of focusing on the current and only issue on the floor.

Members may interfere with the flow of business by calling “point of order” without reason or by demanding recounts when the outcome of the vote is clear. Though poor manners reign in political debates and talk shows, they have no place in the orderly conduct of business. They are the tactics of bullies who try to get their way by forceful language or behavior.

If you are observing poor behavior in the meetings you attend, one useful suggestion is to see that rules of decorum and order are established and followed. Certainly, Robert’s Rules of Order Newly Revised  has basic rules but it can be helpful to make your own rules such as limiting time for speeches, asking for agenda items ahead of the meeting, and deciding what to do with electronic devices during a meeting or anything else that seems to interfere with getting the business of the organization accomplished in a decent, timely way.

If you’re the presider learn how to handle motions well and speak so that all can hear and understand. If you’re a member learn the meeting rules and help enforce them; take some patience and good humor and kindness every place you go.

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The Tuesday, December 15 meeting of LSPU will be at 9:30 at the First Presbyterian Church, 1669 West Maple in Birmingham. The topic of study will be What to Do If?

Special for the December meeting—an extended social time! Guest are always welcome.