Meetings Improve with Conversation Guidlines

Do you sometimes walk out of meetings feeling great, while other times (even if something was accomplished) it feels like you’ve been dragged through the mud?

I recently attended a couple of meetings on the same day, and was struck by the difference in how I felt afterward.  Both involved spirited discussion.  Both resulted in some progress toward agreement on some contentious issues.  But I felt totally different leaving them.  One left me energized, appreciative of the diverse views and looking forward to the next opportunity to talk.  

 The other meeting left me feeling depressed.  The vitriol was loud, the animosity evident.  I really don’t want to further discuss this issue with these people, but I have to.  I’m not looking forward to it and expect, at best, nothing more than a grudging compromise sometime in the future. 

What made these meetings so different?  Were the people in one meeting just nicer than those in the other?  I don’t think so.  One of the clear differences was the extent to which we had a common understanding of behavior expectations in each meeting.  I remembered that we had a short list of “conversation guidelines” for the one group, but no such list of expectations for the other.  That made a huge difference.

When I facilitate meetings I begin with such a list.  It’s best to tailor it to the participants and the goals of the meeting.  Here are some of the most common guidelines:

  • Keep an open mind.
    • It may seem obvious, but it’s often helpful to spell this out to remind participants that there’s no point in being in the conversation if they are not willing to hear other points of view
  • Listen for understanding and alignment.
    • That means listening before speaking, and concentrating on agreement rather than disagreement.
  • Be willing to agree to disagree.
    • Where there is serious disagreement, don’t beat it into the ground.  Sometimes it’s best to agree to disagree – at least for now.
  • Assume positive intent.
    • Assume that everyone has the best interests of the business, group, organization, community or project in mind.
  • Focus on the mission.
    • Keep the group’s purpose in mind and be sure all topics pertain to that mission.
  • Use a ‘parking lot’ for items that are important but not on the agenda
    • When things come up that are important but not relevant to the group at that time, file them in a ‘parking lot’ so they don’t interfere with the forward momentum of the conversation, but are not forgotten

In my next blog I’ll talk about more guideliens that have helped me, and about what to do if someone doesn’t abide by the ones to which the group has agreed.  Having conversation guidelines has really helped me ensure progress toward a group’s goal and continued participation by people who have had a positive experience. 

Do you have some favorite conversation guidelines that have helped your group succeed?  Please share them!  ~ Daphne Schneider

One response to “Meetings Improve with Conversation Guidlines

  1. These are great suggestions. Would that everyone in ONA had written them and taken them to heart. Thanks for the great good you do in our neighborhood, city, and the wider world.

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