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Words About Organising and Ultimatums

November 18, 2014

Social events are generally quite a fun affair. As you might imagine, like anything, if one is forced into going, or forced into arriving at a certain time. Having been on the end of an ultimatum or 2 recently, I have a few pieces of advice for organsising and when / if to use ultimatums.

If You Are Organising an Event

Lets call the no. people you’d ideally wish to have at an event the supply of chairs / food. Lets call the no. people wanting to be at an event the demand.

If demand exceeds supply the ‘value’ of your event is obviously going to rise. Of course, you have to be careful you don’t scare away too many guests! Unlike a market where you can correct any adverse price change, generally if you make an event too hard to get to people will throw their hands up in the air and forget about you. Ultimately, whatever you do in organising an event, your aim is to create a convivial time and improve the welfare of your guests. Its not about you; nor should it be about you. You should place no adverse restrictions upon your guests.

So what do I mean by ‘ultimatums’? Even the word itself sounds very forceful (which it is!). Here’s what I mean:

  1. ‘The start time is 6pm, 29th May – this is fixed’
  2. There is room for exactly 8 people
  3. You are required to wear formal dress, this is a dinner party.

Those aren’t exactly life threatening propositions, are they? The general rule with ultimatums should be that they reduce confusion and anxiety about the event.

It may seem like a strange view that ultimatums can reduce confusion about an event, but its really not that complex. Rules can free you. With a thousand choices before you, you set off on the morrow with trepidation at every turn. What to do? What to choose? With an infinite supply of choices, its hard to even evaluate options, let alone decide between them! Having your focus splintered between a thousand different ideas can be deleterious.

So it is with events. Make life simpler for guests and avoid a sticky situation by using a dress code. Save that endless back and forth over timing on Facebook – clamp down with no room for dissent! If there’s 8 spots only explicitly say that and put the issue to bed!

Authoritarianism rose in the 20th century for a variety of reasons. One of them was a perceived ability to get things done. People want guidance. Too much freedom simply leads to a malaise, lost in a fog of choices. You want to make things nice and simple for your guests, and save them any worry you can. Isn’t that being a good host? If I was organising a dinner party I would:

  1. Set a hard limit on the no. people attending
  2. Make it first in to determine those attending
  3. Specify a lounge suit level of attire
  4. Specify a start time of 6pm, and end time of 12pm
  5. Make clear that transportation is for guests to organise
  6. Print a list of the menu for the evening, and activities at the dinner party
  7. Advise guests of anything they would need for an evening stroll (eg. If an evening stroll, no high heels for the ladies)

You obviously don’t need all those specified, and dinner parties are more formal affairs than other social events. Yet its worth keeping in mind that:

Ultimatums can help reduce anxiety and confusion. Issue them to cut down on bewildering choices, and let people relax in certainty. Then, they can focus on you and your conversation!

So, When Is Issuing an Ultimatum a Bad Idea?

Nearly any time you are not the sole organiser of an event, issuing an ultimatum is a really bad idea.

If you issue an ultimatum without ‘position’ or the proper authority, you’ll create a backlash from others resenting your imposition of terms that may be uncomfortable to them. That’s at best… when you succeed. If you issue an ultimatum yet it fails to actually send a clear message (eg. ‘The event is 6pm’ “Wait, can’t we shift to Tuesday?”) then all you do is create anxiety and confusion among all particpants. When is the event? Did we change the date? I’m not sure… is the new date clear with my schedule? ‘I need this decided ASAP!’

Of course, if you’re persuasive enough or judge the situation right you might get away with an ultimatum, and have your leadership be welcomed. That’s your judgemnt call to make. Just…

Remember the rule – only issue ultimatums when they reduce anxiety and confusion. Most of the time when you’re not organising, it’s a bad idea.

An Example

Recently, some old (and new) friends from mock trial decided they’d like to organise a get together pitting the 2013 team vs the 2014 team. To give you an idea of the complexity of organising this event…

  1. The 2013 team and 2014 team overlapped with members
  2. A magistrate had to be organised through a teacher, so both these people had to be organised
  3. The 2014 team included members doing HSC assessment, plus all would have had to be taken off school time
  4. Most of the 2013 team (like me) were working, all on different days and times, and were generally not in regular contact for various reasons
  5. The no. mock trial members was very limited, so it wasn’t possible for demand to exceed supply by much at all!
  6. Unlike a social event where you could cater for less or entertain less, supply can’t be reduced as a fixed no. – 12- people were required for mock trial (not including the magistrate, teachers, audience etc.)

As you can imagine, getting all these disparate groups together when all of them are indispensable to the trial’s success, considering points 5 and 6 mean you can’t impose harsh conditions on timing! This sort of situation calls for careful, deliberative consultation and negotiation. Offer, counter-offer till a time works for all involved parties. Its important that all parties be satisfied with arrangements.

This is not the time to issue an ultimatum!

After settling a handful of dates as preferable through consultation as the 2013 team’s time slots were limited, a tentative date of Wed 19th November was set. All seemed swell.

Then, from the blue, came a statement “9am, Wednesday room 58.”

Bad idea.

Our team had presumed an evening trial. It forced my fellow barrister out of the event because he had work. Now, at this point I was compelled to pick up the pieces and offer to be both barristers for my side. And so I did. I judged that organising another date would be an extremely difficult process, especially as some involved were going overseas in just a week’s time. It would seem that the simplest solution was for me to pick up the slack.

But my solution wasn’t accepted. Instead, the 2014 suggested another barrister… so they would be up against somebody who had not even seen the case and which I had no time to instruct. Admittedly here I should have stepped in and countered this 2nd ultimatum. (I was too weak footed at this point) The point here is that dictating terms was completely counterproductive.


Organising an event shouldn’t be a hassle. Events are meant to be fun, not work. Yet sometimes things get out of control. My advice is that if you’re organising an event, use ultimatums and strict guidelines to simplify things for guests so that they can look forward to the event without stress. If you’re involved in a large event with multiple co-organisers, don’t go issuing ultimatums and demands. You’ll start fires which have to be put out, and anxiety and confusion will increase.

Remember, remember – your goal is to reduce confusion and anxiety to have an enjoyable time. Act accordingly.


From → Foundations

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