More on Conversation Guidelines

In my last blog I promised to give you some more Conversation Guidelines, and to suggest ways of dealing with people who don’t abide by them.  So, here are some additional Guidelines I’ve found helpful:   

  • Be hard on the problem and easy on the person.
    • Solving difficult problems requires tough analysis and insightful questioning.  Don’t let up on the problem just because it’s hard to solve.  However, don’t attack the people who have a different perspective than yours – be kind and gentle with them, even as you dissect their positions.
  • Speak your mind with respect.
    • It’s important that you candidly say what’s on your mind.  That’s how you bring value to the meeting.  It’s just as important that you do so respectfully in a calm tone of voice and with words that explain but don’t inflame.
  • Use data.
    • How often have you been in a meeting where people expressed opinions about some issue that could be resolved with a little research?  Use data to resolve questions of fact rather than continuing to debate  them based on opinion.
  • Maintain a sense of wonder.
    • When someone says something you find odd or irritating or even irrational, don’t pounce on them.  Rather, ask yourself: I wonder what she meant by that?  And ask the person to explain further.  You might be surprised by what you hear!

To increase the likelihood that people will abide by the guidelines, ensure that those present agree to them in the first place.  Then, if you feel someone is not abiding by them, it becomes your responsibility (as one of the group who agreed to the guidelines) to gently and respectfully say something like, “I thought we agreed to use data to resolve questions of fact.  Couldn’t we do that here?”  Or, “I wonder if you could tell me more about the thinking behind that statement?”  

Remind people of the guidelines at the beginning of each meeting and post them so all can see them.  Solicit everyone’s support in recommitting to the guidelines that were adopted.  Sometimes it will take a while for a group to adjust to new expectations, but in the long run it will be very much worth the effort.  More will be accomplished, and it will be done in a supportive way that continues to encourage civil participation from everyone.

Have you used conversation guidelines in meetings?  Which ones worked best for you?  Let us know!  ~Daphne Schneider

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