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Topic 9.5: Facilitating meetings

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Getting the most out of meeting participants requires skilful facilitation on the part of the meeting’s chair.

Extending the principles of active listening, this may involve either gentle, persuasive or directive interventions.

Gentle interventions might include not rushing to fill silences (giving others a chance to speak); repeating or rephrasing another’s words to demonstrate understanding and encourage further contributions; and asking questions to clarify points.

Gentle interventions are appropriate when:

  • An issue is complex or challenging
  • There is ample time for consideration, and/or
  • A person is having difficulty articulating their point

Persuasive intervention is used to challenge or advance arguments, and can involve:

  • Asking questions to change

       ‘What’s missing in your proposal?’

  • Asking questions to move on

       ‘Can we spend 10 more minutes on this and move on?’

  • Suggesting choices

       ‘Can we focus on these two proposals?’

  • Suggesting process

       ‘Let’s brainstorm solutions to this problem.’

  • Sharing ideas

       ‘In my experience, this usually works best.’

Directive intervention is used to force decisions and might include:

  • Guidance

       ‘My recommendation is ...’

  • Choosing for the group

       ‘The majority are in favour of Option B, so we will adopt it.’

  • Directing

       ‘Group 1, you are to prepare a full analysis of Option C.’

Finally, you should always be wary of the psychological phenomenon known as groupthink.

This occurs within a group of people when the desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.

In other words, group members try to minimise conflict and reach a consensus decision without critically evaluating alternative viewpoints.

They do this by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.

A cat sits on the chair with people in the meeting

This often occurs when groups fall victim to cascade effects, as group members follow the statements and actions of those who spoke or acted first.

Groups can also tend to focus on what everybody already knows, without taking into account critical information that only one or a few people (often outside the group) may have.

At the other extreme, groups can become polarised, taking up positions more extreme than those they held before deliberations, as tensions rise and conflict escalates.

Look to any recent political debate for an example of this!

It is the responsibility of the meeting chairperson to be alert to and manage groupthink using their witcharm and the interventions described here.

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