business man with poor conflict management skills

As stated in the Founder’s Message for this issue’s Newsletter, Agendas (defined for the purposes of this article as the decision to carry out a series of steps in order to reach a goal), can serve as a helpful focus for our energy.

Indeed, agendas have the capacity to focus our attention and to bring out the best in us, except…

Except when we want to dominate the person or situation.
Except when we use them simply to prove someone else is wrong.
Except when we want to undermine the person or process.

We call these “hidden agendas”, and at one time or another, all of us have either perpetrated or been the victim of them. Laying beneath the surface, they can be difficult to see – even when they’re our own; but with a little bit of time, insight, and a few tips, they can be easily spotted and neatly sidestepped.

How to Spot a Hidden Agenda

Here are a few ways we think you can spot a (likely) hidden agenda:

Clue # 1: The same subject keeps getting reintroduced.

If someone brings up a subject more than twice, pay attention, and then deal with it accordingly by saying something like: “You’ve mentioned this a few of times. I’m just wondering why.” If a friend or partner is being persistent, you could consider a blunter approach. “You keep bringing this up. What is it you’re trying to get me to agree to?”

In both cases, you now have the opportunity to get the hidden agenda on the table.

Clue # 2: Your voice or ideas are being obstructed.

If a subject or problem is truly open for discussion, everyone’s voice should be heard in order to construct a high-quality solution. If you are being obstructed, it likely means it’s being done in service of someone else’s goal.

If the obstructor is your boss or team leader, or if the person is intimidating and aggressive, it can be challenging. However, there are ways to deal with it, because you’ve likely had dealings with this person in the past, so you know their way of operating, which means you have time to prepare yourself before meeting with them and you have some sense of how to respond to them.

If they keep pushing away ideas and the voices of others in favour of their own, simply say: “Let’s look at some of the things that could go awry if this idea is implemented.” (Write them down.) If the person says they don’t see any problems, or ‘let’s cross that bridge when we come to it’, say: “Why don’t we examine that idea a bit more closely to see what the repercussions might be? That way we can be prepared with contingency plans if things don’t go as we hope.”

Perhaps those are not the words you yourself would use, but the words aren’t the most important thing. What is important is calling out the agenda in a perfectly reasonable, business-like way.

Clue # 3: Your intuition says something is off.

When someone’s body language doesn’t match their words, our intuitive senses come alive. Unfortunately, many of us tell ourselves we’re imaging things and we discount the useful information our brain is sending us. It’s important to trust those intuitions; they are based on years of accumulated experiences, and they carry wisdom. If you feel something is ‘off’, pay attention.

It has long been said that the truest test of a friendship is how you feel after you leave that person’s company. The same holds true after ending a conversation with a colleague, friend, or partner. What are your intuitive senses saying? Are you energized or enervated? Do you feel things were straightforward and clear, or do you feel like you were pushed in some way? If you felt pushed, more than likely there was an under-the-surface agenda going on. Your body was sending you messages your mind didn’t accept until afterward.

Next clue: The person keeps bringing the subject back to themselves.

Some might misconstrue that as narcissism, however true narcissism is much rarer than people think. More than likely, the ‘me’ conversation is an attempt to be important, to be counted, to be valued above others.

If someone’s constant subject is ‘me’, there are a couple of ways you can handle it. You can avoid them as much as possible, which is a perfectly permissible way to behave. Another option is to interrupt them midsentence. E.g.: “Excuse me for interrupting; but before I forget, I wanted to tell you about such and such.” Then, without taking a breath, launch into your subject, and when you’re done, immediately excuse yourself otherwise you’ll get trapped again. If that ‘me’ person is your boss, you can excuse yourself by saying you’re knee-deep in a project and that you’d better get back to it.

Concealed agendas are powerful, meaning it is up to us to take a moment to question the dynamics of any situation that’s throwing us off.

So, step back from the situation; ask yourself some questions; and above all, trust your considerable intuition. After all, it’s taken you years and years to accumulate that wisdom.

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