Lesson 1, Topic 1
In Progress

Section 2: Lead Discussions & Chair Meetings

ryanrori October 13, 2020

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DISCUSSION & MEETINGS

Introduction

Communication is the exchange and flow of information and ideas from one person to another; it involves a sender transmitting an idea, information, or feeling to a receiver. Effective communication occurs only if the receiver understands the exact information or idea that the sender intended to transmit.

Many of the problems that occur in meetings are the either the direct result of people failing to communicate or interpreting information sent from the sender incorrectly, causing good meetings to fail.

Both non-verbal and verbal communication skills are a vital part of leading discussions and chairing meetings.

Verbal and Non-verbal Communication Skills

Individuals’ communication skills are a basis for an effective dialogue, and involve both verbal and non-verbal communication skills.

While verbal communication helps you to express yourself, non-verbal skills enhance spoken ideas by means of body position, voice, eye behaviour or facial expression, etc.

It reinforces the effect of spoken words. In addition, non-verbal communication can be viewed as a reliable indicator of real feelings of an interlocutor.

If observed and utilised, these can help you to understand someone more clearly.

Effective Listening

Listening is probably the most used skill in everyday communication. It involves hearing and paying attention to the speaker. Effective listening is an invaluable skill.

As most of our time within the workplace is taken up by listening to instructions, discussions and presentations, good listening is important since it involves all aspects of our daily activities: meetings, decision-making and problem-solving. Even in our private capacity most of our time is spent on listening.

However, hearing and effective listening are completely different abilities.

Hearing, which most people were born with, is only one part of the listening process.

Hearing can be considered passive activity and entails sound waves stimulating the sensory receptors of the ear.

Consequently listening is an active process, which requires purposeful and systematic response to the message.

Phases of the Listening Process

  • External Interference – This is the noise / distraction external to the listener which may detract from the message e.g. people speaking while the sender is sending the message.
  • Internal Interference – Mental / Emotional distractions which may detract from the message e.g. personal worries, illness or unsettling conditions within the listener.

Phase 1 – Hearing – When the sound waves are received, the conscious perception of what is being heard does not take place.

Phase 2 – Attention – The listener begins to focus on what is being said and how it is said. The brain selects only a few stimuli out of the mass of stimuli presented

Phase 3 – Understanding – The message content is analysed and interpreted so that understanding can take place. Message meaning is analysed and the non-verbal codes are interpreted. The meaning attached to the message differs from one listener to the next because of the unique frame of reference of each listener.

Phase 4 – The message is stored for later recall.

Phase 5 – The listener responds to the sender. This response shows the listener’s understanding of, and feelings about, the message. The sender sees whether the message was understood as intended, or whether it should be restated or clarified.

Listening is a very important communication skill for a Chairperson within a Meeting or a person leading a discussion.

 

Not everybody is a good listener – some people prefer to talk. But to be a good communicator, it is important for an individual in both the personal sphere and at the workplace to be an effective listener.

  • Pay attention to the speaker, first of all, in order to show you are involved in the communication process.
  • Respond both verbally and non-verbally, showing that the message is being comprehended and followed. Eye contact, gestures, facial expression, short responses or brief expressions of attitude, such as nodding, help the speaker to understand whether a listener follows the conversation.
  • Do not interrupt the speaker in the middle of a speech. Wait till the idea is explained completely, think the information over to understand the meaning, and only then provide suggestions, comments, or ask questions.
  • Ask questions and confirm your understanding of the message. A brief summary of what the speaker said might be the best idea.

Effective Speaking

Verbal communication is any communication involving words. Verbal communication thus includes the spoken word (discussion and meetings) and written words (agendas, minutes of meetings, etc.). The code used in verbal communication is language.

Language is a code that conveys meaning symbolically. The symbols are essentially artificial, abstract and arbitrary. The words have no physical or natural resemblance to the objects to which they refer.

To succeed in communication, it is necessary to speak effectively; you need to know how to use language effectively. Abide by rules within the language correctly.

As a means of communication, effective speaking plays a vital role in leading discussions and chairing meetings. Though everybody speaks every day and is able to express ideas, thoughts, or requests, not everybody can do it well, or be a public speaker.

Some people are difficult to follow, some explain their thoughts in a complicated manner, and some are simply boring to listen to. Avoid these mistakes.

  • Use plain and simple words unless the audience is specialised in the subject area.
  • Use complete simple sentences to make the message easier to comprehend.
  • Do not speak too fast. It is difficult to comprehend information if too much of it is presented in a short period of time.
  • Make pauses. Pauses between sentences and ideas will give a listener some space to think the words over, to understand the message.
  • Structure and connect ideas. Major points should be presented in a logical manner, otherwise it is difficult to follow the speaker. So, make sure that each new thought expressed expands on the subject and on the previous point.
  • Support ideas not only with words, but with intonation and nonverbal means of communication as well. Proper intonation can stress certain ideas you want to draw attention to. Nonverbal means of communication, such as gestures and facial expression, establish a closer connection with the audience, and enhance the message being communicated.

 

1 Meetings

Introduction

Why do meetings fail? Well, there may be reasons such as lack of time, a boring and unprepared speaker, a badly designed agenda or an unsatisfactory venue. However, if the chairperson is doing his (or her) job, it should be possible to overcome these difficulties.

Chairing a meeting means ensuring that a meeting achieves its aims. The meeting should have been called for a specific purpose and all discussion at the meeting must be steered to this end.

This may sound simple in theory but in practice it is a very demanding task. The skills required include:

Impartiality

A chairperson is like a judge in a court. He/she should ensure that all participants have an opportunity to express their point of view. It can be difficult to leave your own opinions at home, but if you can’t remain impartial, you should not chair meetings.

Assertiveness

Ensuring that everyone gets a hearing will almost certainly involve stopping someone from dominating the proceedings. The more contentious the issue the more likely you are to require firmness. You don’t need to be rude or dogmatic, just firm.

Phrases such as “I think we should hear from Mr. Gadi on this” or “Can we have some comments from the Human Resource Department on this?” should be sufficient in most cases.

Once you provide this opening, however, you need to ensure that there are no interruptions while the next speaker has their say.

Staying on Course

How often have you seen an agenda left totally aside? The meeting starts off well but becomes embroiled in a particular topic (perhaps the first item on the agenda) and ends when time runs out.

A Chairperson must assess the importance of each item on the agenda, and allot time to each topic as required. If one issue begins to dominate the chairperson must take control.

You might suggest a further meeting to discuss the issue at a later date, or that the main parties concerned could continue the discussion at the end of the meeting.

Sometimes it will be necessary to call for a decision and then move on to the next topic. You need to stay alert and make sure that the issue has been given an adequate and impartial hearing within the allotted time.

Summarising

Summarising can be used to end a topic, to end a discussion, to limit the need for discussion and at the end of a meeting to ensure that everyone has a clear overview of what took place or what action is now required.

It is an invaluable skill for a chairperson. Summarising requires active listening. You have to state concisely what was said in an impartial way and end with a clear statement about what is expected to happen. It takes practice to summarise well, but it is a skill well worth developing.

Many people feel that being a chairperson means opening the meeting and stopping rows. There is much more to it than that.

Prior to the meeting, a chairperson should consult with the secretary regarding the agenda, ensure that all interested parties have been notified, assess the level of interest and the potential for divisiveness for each item, and allot time to each item, based on decisions required and number of people attending.

During the meeting, the chairperson must focus on the decisions required of the meeting, ensure that all participants are accorded adequate time, decide when to end debate on each topic, use appropriate questions to elucidate information or re-direct discussion, listen carefully to all contributions, and clearly summarise proceedings with an emphasis on decisions taken and future plans.

The above are all key ingredients for an effective meeting. A tactful but assertive chairperson will facilitate an effective meeting, and that’s what everyone wants.

Definition

Meetings can be defined as the act or process of coming together as an assembly for a common purpose.

A meeting is a gathering of two or more people that has been convened for the purpose of achieving a common goal through verbal interaction, such as sharing information or reaching agreement.

Meetings may occur face to face or virtually, as mediated by communications technology, such as a telephone conference call, skyped conference call or via a videoconference.

Thus an effective meeting is one in which:

  • Objectives are achieved
  • An open forum for discussion is created
  • Within a controlled environment
  • Members keep to the point
  • Decisions are clear and unambiguous
  • Time is monitored and controlled
  • Outcomes have been reached

 

Formalities

Meetings are run according to formalities in order for the decision-making process to be safeguarded and to ensure:

  • Decisions are reached by the applicable parties
  • Decisions are recorded correctly and not distorted
  • Decisions taken are available for reference by any other interested stakeholders

Formalities ensure that objectives are fulfilled and implemented correctly.

Through Formalities meetings can be divided into three phases:

  • Preparation and Planning phase
  • Participation Phase
  • Implementation of decisions taken

Types of Meetings

Meetings are divided into:

  • Public Meetings – attended by the general public and convened for matters of public interest
  • Private Meetings – only members or relevant stakeholders of the applicable organisation may attend

There are several different types of meetings that an organisation may conduct and they are commonly outlined in the constitution.

The basic types of meetings are:

General meetings, including annual general meetings (AGMs), and special or extraordinary general meetings

These meetings are open to all members. General meetings are normally conducted annually but occasionally may be held to deal with specific issues (e.g. when a vital matter arises and needs urgent discussion by all members).

The constitution should specify how, when and why annual and extraordinary meetings should be held as well as other conditions such as those associated with items of business (e.g. introducing a motion). AGMs provide the opportunity to present annual reports and statements (including financial statements), the purpose of which is to indicate activities for the previous 12 months or other suitable time frame. Election of officers and changes to the constitution are also carried out at the AGM.

Management Or Executive Committee Meetings

Both usually meet on a monthly basis. These involve only elected or appointed decision makers. Non-profit organisations are authorised by their constitution to form a smaller executive committee to function on behalf of its management committee.

The executive committee is always a standing committee. It may review or prepare management committee meeting agendas to ensure all matters coming before that committee are relevant and appropriate. It may also interpret management committee policies to staff, oversee policy implementation, and refer questions to other committees or to the full management committee. It reports its activities at each management committee meeting.

Subcommittee Meetings

These meetings are held to focus on a specific problem or task (e.g. marketing, facilities). Each subcommittee should regularly present a report on its activities to the management committee. Progress reports presented at meetings are an important device for keeping members informed of each other’s activities.

Subcommittees do not always have decision-making power. In this case, decision making occurs at management committee meetings based on the findings and recommendations of subcommittees.

Meeting Terminology

Ad hoc                      Latin, meaning ‘for the purpose of.’ For example, a sub-committee is set up specifically to organise a works’ outing.

Adjourn                     To hold a meeting over until a later date.

Addendum                Latin, meaning appendix, addition (plural addenda).

Adopt minutes          Minutes are ‘adopted’ when accepted by members and signed up by the Chairperson.

Advisory                    Providing advice or suggestion, not taking action.

Agenda                       A schedule of items drawn up for discussion at a meeting.

AGM                           Annual General Meeting: all members are usually eligible to attend.

Apologies                  Excuses given in advance for inability to attend a meeting.

Attendance register During meetings a list is passed round to be signed as a record of attendance.

Ballot                         A system of secret voting usually by means of a mark on a prepared paper. The paper is then folded and deposited into a box.

Casting vote              By convention, a meeting Chairperson may use a ‘casting vote’ to reach a decision, if votes are equally divided.

Chairperson               Leader or person given authority to conduct a meeting.

Chairperson’s Agenda       Based upon the committee agenda, but containing explanatory notes.

Collective Responsibility   A convention by which all committee members agree to abide by a majority decision.

Committee                            A group of people usually elected or appointed who meet to conduct agreed business and report to a senior body.

Consensus                       Agreement by general consent, no formal vote being taken.

Constitution                     Set of rules governing activities of voluntary bodies.

Convene                           To call a meeting.

Decision                            Resolution minutes are sometimes called ‘decision minutes’.

Eject                                   Remove someone (by force if necessary) from a meeting.

Executive                           Having the power to act upon taken decisions.

Extraordinary Meeting      A meeting called for all members to discuss a serious issue affecting all is called an Extraordinary General Meeting; otherwise a non-routine meeting called for a specific purpose.

Ex officio                              Given powers or rights by reason of office.

Guillotine                              Cut short a debate – usually in Parliament.

Honorary post                       A duty performed without payment, e.g. Honorary Secretary.

In camera                               Latin, meaning in private.

Information, Point of             The drawing of attention in a meeting to a relevant item of fact.

Intra vires                               within the power of the committee or meeting to discuss, or carry out.

Lie on the table                       Leave item to be considered at the next meeting (see table).

Lobbying                                  A practice of seeking members’ support before a meeting.

Minutes                                    The written record of a meeting; resolution minutes record only decisions reached, while         narrative minutes provide a record of the decision-making process.

Motion                                       The name given to a ‘proposal’ when it is being discussed at a meeting.

Mover                                        One who speaks on behalf of a motion.

Mutatis Mutandis                       Latin, meaning after making the necessary changes.

Nem con                                    Latin, literally, ‘no one speaking against’.

Opposer                                     One who speaks against a motion.

Order, point of                            The drawing of attention to a breach of rules or procedures

Other business                           Either items left over from a previous meeting, or items discussed after the main business of a meeting

Point of order                               Proceedings may be interrupted on a ‘point of order’ if procedures or rules are not being kept to in a meeting.

Proposal                                         The name given to a submitted item for discussion (usually written) before a meeting takes place.

Proxy                                              Literally ‘on behalf of another person’ – proxy vote.

Quorum                                          The number of people needed to be in attendance for a meeting to be legitimate and so commence.

Refer back                                      To pass an item back for further consideration.

Resolution                                      The name given to a ‘motion’ which has been passed or carried; used after the decision has been reached.

Seconder                                       One who supports the ‘proposer’ of a motion or proposal by ‘seconding’ that motion.

Secretary                                       Committee official responsible for the internal and external administration of a meeting

Secret ballot                                  A system of voting in secret.

Shelve                                             To drop a motion which has no support.

Sine die                                          Latin, literally, ‘without a day’, that is to say indefinitely, e.g. ‘adjourned sine die’.

Standing Committee                    A committee which has an indefinite term of office.

Standing Orders                           Rules of procedure governing public sector meetings.

Table                                               To introduce a paper or schedule for noting.

Taken as read                                To save time, it is assumed the members have already read the minutes.

Treasurer                                       Committee official responsible for its financial records and transactions.

Verbatim                                        Word for word.

Ultra vires                                      Beyond the authority of the meeting to consider.

Unanimous                                     All being in favour.

Preparation & Planning

When setting agendas, meeting dates and times, be aware that participatory techniques and consensus decision-making require more time than traditional information-sharing-and-voting processes. Be flexible, adjust when necessary and keep the meeting on track while providing adequate time for discussion.

 

Communication

Continuous, effective communication, both written and oral, is critical to keeping the initial spark of enthusiasm alive.

Meeting agendas, minutes, schedule changes, accomplishment, etc. must be communicated consistently to keep the meeting aligned with a strategy. Frequent communication, moreover, is essential to the retention of members and relevant stakeholders.

 

Notification

First impressions are important. A letter of welcome sent to each participant before the meeting sets a positive tone.

Equally important is the initial contact with individual members. If possible, make personal contact through a short phone call, followed by an informative letter with the meeting’s agenda enclosed. Post-meeting reports remind members of what occurred and what their responsibilities are.

Absent members benefit from the reports and communication from the chairperson. They remain informed and are reminded that their absence was felt.

 

A pre-meeting checklist

Two weeks prior to the meeting

  • Establish the objectives for the meeting. For example, the meeting’s objectives might include providing a brief review of the meeting’s plan, explaining roles and responsibilities and clarifying the goal or mission.
  • Set both the beginning and ending times. At the meeting, set up a schedule convenient for most members that will carry the meeting through the activities.
  • Select and reserve a meeting place. Meeting place criteria should include convenience for most members, good lighting and ventilation, comfortable seating or tables if preferred, and easy access for handicapped individuals.
  • Determine the activities needed to accomplish the meeting objectives.
  • Prepare and send the agenda with a cover letter and other pertinent information to each meeting member.
  • Send agenda and cover letter to resource person when appropriate.
  • Gather or request any special equipment such as flip charts and large marking pens, pencils and pads, video cassette player, overhead projector, blank transparencies and pens.
  • Make name tags for each participant and table placards that are bold and easy to read from a distance.

 

Several hours before the meeting

Check the meeting room for desired seating arrangement, ventilation, heating and air conditioning equipment and adequate amounts of prepared materials.

 

After the meeting

Call absent members, express necessary regrets and provide information about the next meeting.

Send meeting minutes and next meeting agenda to each member.

 

Creating a positive environment – A review

  • Call all members to welcome them to the meeting.
  • Send out a letter and agenda for the meeting two weeks in advance.
  • Start the meeting on time.
  • Have members and newcomers introduce themselves. This may be done during a warm-up activity.
  • Present a positive image of the meeting’s process. Be supportive and enthusiastic regarding the process.
  • Review the agenda and clearly state meeting objectives at the beginning of the meeting.
  • Appoint a Secretary to keep accurate minutes.
  • Be an active listener.
  • Be aware of any tension or non-verbal hostile behaviour and adjust your style if appropriate.
  • Keep one eye on the clock and one eye on the agenda.
  • Share roles of responsibility; monitor assignments and give reinforcement as well as necessary corrective feedback to members.
  • Give credit for ideas to members when credit is due.
  • Ensure that no one dominates the discussion and that all members have an equal opportunity to participate.
  • Summarise all completed actions or assignments at the end of each meeting
  • Review the next meeting’s date, time, place and agenda at the end of each meeting.
  • Send a copy of each meeting report to meeting members.

 

Before the meeting – notify, inform and involve

The effort expended in notifying members of the meeting will result in a stronger group whose decisions are more valid. Motivate them with notices, reminders and incentives to attend.

  • Advertise other written communication e.g. e-mails, bulk SMSs
  • Circulate the year’s meeting dates at the beginning of the year (if possible)
  • Call people – consider a phone fan-out system
  • Advertise any particularly pertinent or special agenda items
  • Inform people of the start and finish time of the meeting.

 

Planning an agenda

A carefully planned and organised agenda is the foundation of a successful meeting. A good agenda briefly outlines what you intend to discuss and in what order. Items on the agenda should reflect the concerns and interest of the relevant community.

The chairperson develops the agenda and asks if anyone has items to add at the beginning of the meeting.

 

The chairperson

  • Tailors the agenda to the time available, ensuring each item is allotted sufficient time for discussion
  • Reviews previous minutes and includes items that need revisiting on the agenda
  • Includes time for business arising from the minutes
  • Limits meetings to a maximum of two hours
  • Distributes the agenda to members seven days before the meeting.
  • This ensures that everyone is aware of meeting dates and agenda items

 

Consent agenda

A consent agenda is a good way to get some business done quickly. The chairperson presents a list of items primarily for information and asks that the consent agenda be approved before moving on to the meeting agenda.

Items on the consent agenda may include:

  • A list of correspondence and how it was handled
  • Updates of projects and committee work not being discussed at the meeting
  • Notices and announcements

 

Anyone wishing to discuss an item on the consent agenda may ask to have it moved to the meeting agenda.

Chairing The Meeting

Characteristics of a Good Chairperson

  • Recognises the similarities and differences in groups
  • Emphasises interests and concerns
  • Acknowledges and values the different roles people play in group situations
  • Works towards building trust, respect, empathy and effective communication among meeting members
  • Fosters collaboration on all meeting issues
  • Allows for evaluation at the end of the meeting

 

Responsibilities of the Chairperson

  • To determine whether issues will be consultative, advisory or require a meeting decision.
  • To set the climate of the meeting
  • To provide the agenda fourteen days prior to the meeting date
  • To ensure the agenda is approved as the first order of business
  • To keep the discussion flowing in a collaborative fashion
  • To summarise the main points before moving to the next item or before making a decision
  • To encourage participation from all members
  • To acknowledge that each person’s comments contribute to the success of the meeting
  • To clarify the results of collaborative discussion and to summarise the actions decided upon
  • To harmonise during conflict

 

Simple Rules for chairing a Meeting

  • The chairperson calls the meeting to order
  • The meeting’s formality depends on the chairperson, the group’s size and the group’s preference
  • The chairperson recognises members before they speak
  • Each item is entitled to full and free debate by individuals members – one at a time
  • Each person desiring to speak should be allowed to speak once before anyone speaks for a second time
  • Motions should be dealt with according to set organisational procedure
  • The chairperson is responsible for moving the meeting along and ensuring no one monopolises the floor
  • Only one subject may be discussed at a time
  • If time does not permit full discussion of an item, a motion may be made to table the item for discussion at another meeting
  • Every member has equal rights

 

TEN STEPS FOR CONDUCTING A SUCESSFUL MEETING

  • Making a motion
  • Notice of motion
  • Tabling a motion
  • Voting
  • Amending a motion
  • Rejecting a motion

 

Simplified Rules of Order

  • An individual must be recognised by the chairperson before obtaining the floor to make a motion.
  • Once an individual has the floor, he or she may make a formal proposal, or motion, beginning with the statement, “I move…”
  • Another individual must second the motion, by saying, “I second the motion.” This indicates that he or she agrees the proposal should be discussed.
  • Once a motion is made and seconded, the chairperson states the question so everyone is clear on what is being proposed. From this point, until the motion has been voted on, all discussion must focus on the question.
  • After stating the question, the chairperson asks if the assembly is ready for the question, or ready to vote on the proposal.
  • If no one indicates a desire to speak to the issue, the chairperson puts the question or conducts the vote by asking for those in favour and those opposed. (The vote may be conducted by a show of hands, by standing, or by ballot.)
  • If members of the group wish to discuss the motion, the chairperson opens debate. Each participant may speak to the question twice, but no one may speak the second time until everyone has had the chance to speak once. Once debate is complete, the chairperson puts the question.
  • The majority needed to pass the motion should be a majority plus one (e.g. 51%). In case of a tie, the motion is lost.

 

Recording of the Minutes

Minutes are usually recorded by the Secretary.

The minutes should be consistently recorded in one of three ways:

  • Formal minutes – when the meeting is governed by the chairperson.
  • Semiformal minutes – when a small group is conducting a relaxed discussion
  • Informal minutes – used to record the generalities of a meeting.

 

Accurate minutes provide meeting members with:

  • A clear objective summary of what went on at the meeting
  • A historical account of the decisions of the group and the rationale behind them
  • Objective comments, rather than opinions
  • Highlights, rather than narrative accounts
  • Motions and resolutions recorded verbatim

 

Enhancing Participation

Because staff involvement contributes so much to organisational success, meetings need to break down any barriers between the staff positions and management.

When staff feel their input matters, most are eager to participate. Making meetings punctual, productive and efficient will encourage staff to remain involved.

The use of committees can help staff to contribute in areas that meet their interest and/or expertise.

Offering staff a chance to develop, along with a business part of a meeting, helps ensure business items are addressed quickly; that meetings are more interesting; and a broad group of staff participate.

Effective Meeting Strategies

Stimulating discussion

In its advisory role, a meeting should have ample opportunity to develop a full range of ideas surrounding an issue. The chairperson is responsible for facilitating this process. Listed below are a number of techniques that can be used to assist participants in expressing their views:

 

Chairperson initiation

The chairperson invites a wide range of people to speak

All who wish to speak are given the opportunity

If necessary, time limits can be put on each speaker

 

Pairing

People are randomly paired off to discuss an issue and report back to the group

 

Table go-round

The chairperson invites each person to speak to an issue (if they choose) with a time limit placed on speakers

Absolute quiet whilst someone is speaking

Participants have time to think, read or make notes relating to the issue being discussed

 

Creating problem solving Brainstorming

A few ground rules help brainstorming become an effective problem-solving tool

  • Ensure everyone is clear on the issue
  • Allow no criticism
  • List every idea
  • Encourage quantity, not quality: the more ideas the better
  • Modify and combine ideas
  • Use visual aids
  • Allow participants to choose priorities

 

Round table

This process is similar to brainstorming; however, the group is subdivided into small groups of four to six people

  • Use flip charts to record all ideas
  • Give each group a time limit and get them to select a spokesperson
  • Record all ideas and report back to the main group

 

Brain Writing

This is similar to the round table, with more individual participation.

  • Each member has index cards and writes down one idea on each card
  • Cards are exchanged and new ideas or comments are added
  • A facilitator records ideas

 

Pro/con analysis

In this process participants focus only on the pros and cons of an issue

 

2 Leading Discussion

Introduction

Effective discussion-leading is more than simply asking questions and letting participants answer; it involves a nuanced set of roles and skills.

This complexity is captured well by C. Roland Christensen when he said that effective preparation for discussion takes more time, because facilitators must consider not only what they will lead the discussions on, but also who and how. And the discussion encounter consumes a great deal of energy; simultaneous attention to process (the flow of activities that make up a discussion) and content (the material discussed) requires emotional as well as intellectual engagement…

The discussion leader is a planner, host, moderator, devil’s advocate, fellow colleague, and judge -a potentially confusing set of roles. Even the most seasoned group leader must be content with uncertainty, because discussion teaching is the art of managing spontaneity.

Leading Discussions Through Facilitation

When you need to lead a discussion, what does that mean exactly?  Do you just ensure everyone’s introduced, and maybe start with a quick ice breaker exercise? Is your main role simply to stand by the flip chart and note down all the ideas? What preparation do you need to do? How do you manage the event, and how exactly do you pull the whole thing together?

In many types of group situation, and particularly in complex discussions or those where people have different views and interests, good facilitation can make the difference between success and failure.

As a facilitator, you may need to call on a wide range of skills and tools, from problem solving and decision making, to team management and communications.

 

What Is a Facilitator?

The definition of facilitate is “to make easy” or “ease a process”.

What a facilitator does is plan, guide and manage a group event to ensure that the group’s objectives are met effectively, with clear thinking, good participation and full buy-in from everyone who is involved.

To facilitate effectively, you must be objective. This doesn’t mean you have to come from outside the organisation or team, though. It simply means that, for the purposes of this group process, you will take a neutral stance.

 

You step back from the detailed content and from your own personal views, and focus purely on the group process. (The “group process” is the approach used to manage discussions, get the best from all members, and bring the event through to a successful conclusion. The secret of great facilitation is a group process that flows – and with it will flow the group’s ideas, solutions, and decisions too.)

 

Your key responsibility as a facilitator is to create this group process and an environment in which it can flourish, and so help the group reach a successful decision, solution or conclusion.

 

What Does a Facilitator Do?

To facilitate an event well, you must first understand the group’s desired outcome, and the background and context of the meeting or event.

The bulk of your responsibility is then to:

  • Design and plan the group process, and select the tools that best help the group progress towards that outcome.
  • Guide and control the group process to ensure that:
    • There is effective participation.
    • Participants achieve a mutual understanding.
    • Their contributions are considered and included in the ideas, solutions or decisions that emerge.
    • Participants take shared responsibility for the outcome.
    • Ensure that outcomes, actions and questions are properly recorded and actioned, and appropriately dealt with afterwards.

We look in more detail at the most important of these areas below.

 

Design and Plan

With the group’s objective firmly in mind, preparation for the meeting or event is all-important. Your role is to choose and design the right group process (es), and develop an effective agenda for the occasion.

 

Focus on Outcomes

Whether you’re planning a straight-forward meeting, or a complex event over several sessions or days, it’s important to always keep the outcome in mind – and how you are helping the group reach it.

If the event spans multiple sessions and topics, make sure you are clear about both the desired outcome and process for each one. And make sure you know how the outcome of each session or topic contributes to the outcome of the event overall.

Two key aspects of the design and planning are

  • Choosing the right group process,
  • Designing a realistic agenda

 

Choose and design the group process

There are as many ways to design a group process as there are events to facilitate: It’s quite an art. Group process design is also a huge topic in its own right, and something that professional facilitators learn through experience and training.

Here are just some of the factors and options to consider:

1. Do you want an open discussion, or a structured process?

An open discussion, well facilitated, may be the simplest option for your group process. But ask yourself whether you will be able to achieve the participation you need, and manage the discussion with the number of participants involved with this format. Can you cover the variety of topics needed? Can you generate enough ideas and solutions? And can you involve everyone, and get their buy-in?

 

2. What structured process should you choose?

If you need to accommodate participation from a large group, consider smaller “break-out” groups. Are you concerned about getting enough participation? Then give people time in the agenda to think about and write down the things they want to contribute. If you want to get ideas flowing, then consider including a brainstorming session. More information about different structured processes can be found in the Facilitators’ Toolbox below.

 

3. Other factors to consider

You won’t be able to change some constraints. However, you may be able to change others to optimise your process and agenda. As part of this, consider:

  • The number of participants.
  • The nature of the topics under discussion.
  • The type of involvement people need to have
  • The background and positions of the participants.
  • How well they know the subject and each other.
  • The time you have available.

 

Remember, whatever group process you define, it’s a question of keeping your focus on outcomes. Find the best way to achieve the objectives of the overall event.

Designing a realistic agenda

Designing the agenda goes hand in hand with designing the group process. As you shift between designing the process and designing the agenda, the event starts to take shape.

Among the factors to consider when planning the agenda are:

  • In what order should the topics be presented?
  • How will participants get to know each other?
  • How will they gain a common understanding of the objectives?
  • If an event is to be broken into separate sessions, how much time should be allocated to each item?
  • Will all participants be involved each session?
  • Or will some be in smaller, break-out groups?
  • How and when will break-out groups feed back to the wider group?
  • When will you recap and summarise?
  • How will the outcomes of one session flow into the next?
  • How will you achieve closure of the overall event?

 

By the end of the design and planning stage, you should have a solid agenda, which focuses on outcomes and provides a good flow and structure for the event.

Other design and planning considerations

In addition to process and agenda, you should also consider the following:

  • Information and materials – What do participants need to know before or at the event? How will this be provided and when?
  • Room arrangements – What room set-up will best encourage participation? Are separate rooms needed for break out groups?
  • Supplies – What supplies and props do you need? Pens, flip charts, post-it notes are just the starters – make sure you have everything you need for the agenda and process you’ve planned. And make sure you have backups for things like data projectors, just in case these fail.

 

Guide and Control the Event

With the agenda and group process in place, it’s time to think about how you’ll guide and control the proceedings. There’s still some preparation to do for this, and then there’s whole business of guiding and controlling the event itself.

The final stage of preparation is to think about how you’ll guide and control the meeting. This is where you prepare the ground rules for the event, polish your facilitation skills, and also consider some ‘what-if’ scenarios:

  • What if there is major disagreement?
  • What if a solution does not emerge?
  • and so on.

 

At the meeting itself, as facilitator, you’ll set the scene and ensure that participants are clear about the desired outcome, the agenda, the ground rules and expectations for the event. By doing this, you help everyone focus on the task at hand. At the start of the meeting, and throughout, your role is to ensure the meeting keeps progressing towards a successful outcome.

To guide and control the meeting, you will need to:

  • Set the ground rules – What rules should participants follow in the meeting? How will people interact? How will you ensure that people respect each other’s ideas? How will questions be handled? You’ll prepare some ground rules in advance, and propose and seek agreement to these at the start of the event.
  • Set the scene – Here, you’ll run through the objectives and agenda. Make sure everyone understands their role, and what the group is seeking to achieve.
  • Get things flowing – You’ll make sure everyone introduces themselves, or perhaps use appropriate icebreakers to get the meeting off to a positive start.
  • Keep up the momentum and energy – You might need to intervene as the proceedings and energy levels proceed. Make sure people remain focused and interested. (If energy levels are beginning to flag, perhaps it’s time to take a break?)
  • Listen, engage and include – Even though, as facilitator, you’re taking a neutral stance, you need to stay alert, listen actively, and remain interested and engaged. This sets a good example for other participants, and also means you are always ready to intervene in facilitative ways. Is everyone engaged? If not, how can you bring them in? How can you get better participation?
  • Monitor checkpoints, and summarise – Keep in control of the agenda, tell people what they’ve achieved and what’s next; Summarise often.
  • Intervene only if absolutely required.

 

Interventions

As a facilitator, there are many situations in which you may need to intervene.

  • Rehearse when and how you’ll do this.
  • Keep the lightest of touch.
  • Bear in mind the need to remain objective, keep focus on the desired outcomes, and generally maintain a positive flow.

 

The most difficult types of intervention are those involving conflict, anger and disagreement.

Remembering your role, it’s important to focus on the needs of the group, whilst considering the feelings and position of both parties involved in any disagreement.

To keep the event flowing and positive:

  • Watch for and close any side conversations. These limit the ability of others to focus, and often people are exchanging ideas that should be brought to the group.
  • Keep a close eye on the timing. Be flexible, and balance the need for participation with the need to keep things running efficiently.
  • Learn what to do when a discussion isn’t reaching a natural conclusion. Is more information needed? When and how will the discussion proceed? Park topics that cannot be concluded, and ensure that action time is scheduled to address these issues.
  • Be on the lookout for people who aren’t participating fully. Are they experiencing discomfort? What is the source of the discomfort? What can you do to bring them into the conversation?
  • Pay attention to group behaviour, both verbal and non-verbal. Some of the most damaging behaviour is silent, so know how to spot it and stop it effectively.
  • Step in and mediate immediately if there are obvious personal attacks. Effective facilitators look for the least intrusive intervention first, so reminding everyone of the ground rules is often a good place to start. Whatever the issue, you can’t allow bad behaviour to continue so be prepared to take the steps necessary to stop attacks.

 

Record and Action

Last but not least among the responsibilities of a facilitator is the recording of outputs and of bringing these together, sharing them, and making sure they are actioned.

The key to successful recording of outputs from an event is to be clear about what will be recorded, how and by whom. Make sure people’s responsibilities are 100% clear, whether they are yours or others involved.

When you are recording and actioning, here are some things to remember:

  • You are responsible for making sure the participants hear, see, and understand the information that is presented and offered. Make sure you keep an accurate record of what’s going on. If in doubt, record now and summarise later.
  • Try to use words that the group uses, and when in doubt, ask them to provide the words for you to record.
  • Ensure all decisions and actions are recorded. You may want to use a scribe to do this, so that you can stay focused on the group and the process.
  • As you record decisions and actions, check with the group that the information you’re recording is a fair and accurate reflection of what’s been discussed.
  • Remind the group what has been discussed, and keep them focused and moving forward.
  • If in doubt, ask for clarification before the discussion moves on.
  • Make sure that responsibility for, and commitment to action, is obtained and recorded when necessary.
  • After the event, follow up to ensure that outstanding actions and issues are progressing, and that the proceedings are brought to a successful conclusion.

 

To be an effective facilitator you must know when to take a leadership role, and when to be neutral and take a back seat. This is a difficult balance to maintain!

The key to being proficient in the role is to plan and guide the proceedings effectively, and remain focused on the group process and outcomes, rather than specific content and opinions involved.

Facilitation is an interesting, rewarding and important role to take on. When facilitating, take time to think about the process and agenda, and learn the skills you need to take the event through to a successful conclusion.

Participations From Members Of The Group

For a facilitator to function effectively, the group needs to agree on what is expected of him/her.

Two things are needed:

  1. Agreement about what procedures the group wants to follow:
  • Do we work by consensus or do we vote about things?
  • People who have spoken once must wait for everyone else wanting to speak about a particular issue to speak before they get another turn.
  • Is there a time limit on how long a person can speak?
  • Do we agree that we should split into small discussion groups to talk about the main item on the agenda in every discussion?
  • Do we take time at the end of every discussion whereupon everyone has a chance to say how they felt the discussion went?
  • … and so on.

 

  1. Agreement about the values that the group wants to uphold in discussions.
  • Do we agree that we don’t want sexist, racist, or homophobic language and remarks in our discussions?
  • If we do, how do we put that into practice?
  • Do we have a ‘no blaming’ rule?
  • Do we agree that we don’t want put-downs in our discussions?

 

For discussions to work well, we all need to take responsibility both for ourselves, and for the way the discussions run. The facilitator is there to help with the running of the discussion, not to act as a judge,  and to keep people in line… We need to realise that we’re all on the same team and work at co-operating.

Support people who take on roles like minute taking and facilitating,  they will do the role better each time,  learn from their mistakes, and be prepared to take on the role again.

Functions Of A Group

Task functions

  1. Initiating activity – proposing solutions, suggesting new ideas, new definitions of the problems, new perspectives on problems or new organisation of material.
  2. Information seeking – asking for clarification of suggestions, requesting additional information on facts.
  3. Information giving – offering facts or generalisations, relating one’s own experience to group problems to illustrate points.
  4. Opinion giving – stating an opinion or belief concerning a suggestion or one of several suggestions, particularly concerning its value rather than its factual basis.
  5. Elaborating – clarifying, giving examples of developing meanings, trying to envisage how a proposal might work out if adopted.
  6. Coordinating – clarifying relationships among various ideas or suggestions, trying to pull ideas and suggestions together, trying to draw together activities of various sub-groups or members.
  7. Summarising – pulling together related ideas or suggestions, restating suggestions after the group has discussed them.
  8. Testing feasibility – making application of suggestions to real situations and real situations, examining practicality and workability of ideas, pre-evaluating decisions.
  9. Checking standards – submitting group decisions or accomplishments to comparison with group standards, measuring accomplishments against goals.
  10. Diagnosing – determining sources of difficulties, appropriate steps to take next, and the main blocks of progress.

 

Maintenance functions

  1. Encouraging – being friendly, warm, responsive to others, praising others and their ideas, agreeing with them where possible and accepting contributions of others.
  2. Gate-keeping – trying to make it possible for  a quieter member to make a contribution to the group by saying, “We haven’t heard anything from Jim yet”, or suggesting limited talking time for everyone so that all will have a chance to be heard.
  3. Standard-setting – expressing standards for the group to use in choosing its content or procedures or in evaluating its decisions, reminding the group to avoid decisions which conflict with group standards.
  4. Following – going along with decisions of the group, somewhat passively accepting ideas of others, serving as audience during group discussion and decision making.
  5. Expressing group feeling – summarising what the group feeling is sensed to be, describing reactions of the group to ideas or solutions.
  6. Evaluating – submitting group decisions or accomplishments to comparison with group standards and measuring accomplishments against goals.
  7. Consensus-testing – tentatively asking for group opinions in order to find out if the group is nearing consensus on a decision, sending up trial balloons to test compromise solutions.
  8. Harmonising – mediating, conciliating differences in points of view, making compromise solutions.
  9. Tension-reducing – draining off negative feelings by jesting or pouring oil on troubled water, putting a tension situation in wider context.

 

The 4 Ps Of Leading Discussion Effectively

Purpose

Be clear about why you need to have a discussion.

  • How much of it is to make joint decisions or share information?
  • How much is it to build a sense of teamwork?
  • What sort of results do you want?

Design accordingly after taking all aspects into consideration.

 

Preparation
  • Are the appropriate people sufficiently informed?
  • Are the location and venue conducive to your purpose?
  • Does everyone know the starting time?
  • What equipment (e.g. whiteboard, butchers paper, wall charts, etc.) might be needed?
  • Are refreshments provided?
  • What are you warming people up to thinking about beforehand?
  • What should they bring?
  • Are appropriate reports prepared and information gathered?
  • What might streamline the information sharing and decision-making?
  • Do you need to prepare some energisers or lighteners?

 

Process

A balance needs to be struck between getting through the business (the TASK dimension) and paying attention to the needs of and relationships between people (the MAINTENANCE dimension).

  • What level of formality and structure is actually needed?
  • Are individuals aware of their responsibilities?
  • Are these appropriate?
  • Can the roles be rotated?
  • What sort of group agreements do you need to make about the way you will operate together?
  • What sort of group culture are you building?

 

Practical action
  • Is there a clear outcome of the discussion?
  • Who was going to do what? By when?
  • What sort of records need to be kept?
  • Do you know how people feel about the discussions?
  • Do you do evaluations? When you identify problems, is there some group problem-solving?

 

The Six Stages Of A Discussion

  • If you are designing a discussion or thinking about problem solving, each of the following stages needs attention.
  • Poor process in any of these areas will impact on the overall effectiveness of the discussion eventually.

 

1 Preparation

  • What can be done beforehand to help the discussion run well?
  • Have you designed and informed appropriately?

 

2 Gathering

  • Allow time for people to interact socially and to catch up with each other.
  • Do new people need to be welcomed and introduced?
  • Sharing food or a drink will relax people and warm up the climate.
  • You may set a gathering time and a discussion starting time.

 

3 Orientation

Are introductions around the circle needed? Do you need to restate the purpose of the discussions? During this stage you settle in and consider the tasks ahead. Either some co-operative agenda forming time, or an agenda review is needed.

 

4 Structuring

This stage is especially important for new or short-term groups. Decisions need to be made about how the group will function – don’t assume everyone has the same ideas about this. What are your group agreements? Who will take what roles? How will they be rotated?

 

5 Constructive work

The majority of the discussion time is spent in this stage. If insufficient attention has been paid to earlier stages this part may be interrupted or inefficient. The four Ps will have an impact here.

 

6 Completion

This may be short but is still important. Try to avoid negative emotion endings. Do summaries of decisions made and who will be responsible for appropriate action. Set next discussion time. Conduct a short evaluation, make plans to deal with unfinished business including upset feelings.

  • Have appropriate appreciations been expressed? (including appreciation for attending – it may have been an effort for some.)
  • It is important that you end on a high or positive note

 

The Qualities Of An Effective Discussion

An effective discussion is one where a good balance is struck between the TASK dimension (getting through the business, achieving the purpose) and the MAINTENANCE dimension (people enjoying themselves, having their needs met, building the group spirit).

It is hard to make the sharp distinctions between these two dimensions as they feed each other, however here are some suggestions:

 

Task dimension

  • Everyone is clear about what happened, what decisions were made and why.
  • The business was finished on time or was appropriately deferred.
  • Everyone understood the discussion procedure that was used, and it was appropriate for the purpose of the discussion.
  • Everyone understood the information, jargon and abbreviations used.
  • Everyone who wanted to was able to have their say to an appropriate level.
  • The business was neither too rushed nor too slow.

 

Maintenance dimension

  • People were treated with equality and respect.
  • The group was welcoming and encouraging to new or quiet people.
  • The facilitator was reasonably neutral, and understood and influenced group process in an unbiased and positive direction.
  • The atmosphere was such that differences were aired, conflict had a chance to be resolved, and an appropriate level of consensus formed.
  • There was care and sensitivity to people’s different cultural backgrounds (e.g. consideration for people from non-English speaking backgrounds).
  • People’s needs for contact, recognition, enjoyment and inclusion were met.
  • The group spirit was built up and relationships were maintained or enhanced.

 

3 Conflict Within Meetings / Discussions

Introduction

Conflict can be described as differences of opinion of a serious nature. It can also develop where the actions of one person prevent another from achieving his / her goal or if there is unsolicited interference.

Conflict is part of everyday life and is unavoidable.

It is also not always negative. It can have a destructive or constructive influence, depending on the perspective of the party and conflict management skills.

 

Destructive conflict versus Constructive conflict

When conflict is experienced as disruptive and negative.

When conflict is experienced and it offers the possibility for growth and improving of relationships.
 

When conflict is experienced as a battle in which there will be a winner and a loser.

 

When conflict takes into account the long-term relationship and has the extension of this as its goal. When conflict therefore has to do with a specific difference and not with the person as such.
When an isolated incident has an effect on the future of the relationship. When conflict leads to new initiatives and creative ideas.
When inappropriate conflict management prevents the goals from being achieved, hampers problem solving and confuses relationships.

When conflict results in better and closer human relations

Basic principles for handling conflict constructively

  • Simple communication principles (clear messages, “I” messages, body language, listening, etc.)
  • Be thoroughly aware of what you want to achieve and your motives.
  • Take into account that the other person concerned also has a goal that they want to achieve.
  • See things from their point of view and don’t act too hastily. Values/perspectives differ. Every person deserves respect and a chance to present his / her argument.
  • Try to get a balance between task and people orientation.
  • Use good problem solving skills.
  • Take into consideration that people in different positions handle conflict differently

 

Steps to handle conflict

  • Identify the problem:
  • What is the problem?
  • What happened?
  • Each participant gives their own perspective, their feelings and values
  • Judgements must not be regarded as facts.
  • Expression of feelings:
  • How do you feel about what happened?
  • How do you feel now?
  • Listen to each person’s honest and subjective expression of feelings – positive as well as negative. It is important that this is expressed as feelings and not judgements/accusations. The “I” message is important.
  • Develop possible solutions by means of a think tank (This phase is very important in terms of moving away from what happened and focusing on a constructive solution and change):
  • What do you want to happen?
  • What would you be comfortable with?
  • What are your most important needs in this situation?
  • What would you like to avoid?
  • What is less important for you?
  • What can make the situation better for you?
  • Evaluate the options and make a choice:
  • What can be done realistically?
  • Evaluate the various options. Show advantages and disadvantages and choose the options with the greatest advantages and which are acceptable to both parties.

 

Managing Conflict

IDENTIFY CONFLICT CAUSING SITUATIONS

Conflict must be pre-empted and the best way to go about that is to be well prepared. One way of preparation is to identify conflict-causing situations.

Check whether any of the following situations are present in your situation:

Unclear boundaries

There is a need to ensure that participants participate in the meeting / discussion on the basis of clear mandates with a specific role and place. Overlapping or unclear role definitions tend to cause distrust and may lead to misunderstanding, friction and eventually conflict.

 Clashing interests

Within the context of the various departments in the workplace and different levels of participants within the meeting / discussion, it is guaranteed that there will be a pre-existing perception among participants that their interests clash directly with the interests of one or more other groups.

This may be exacerbated by the fact that all interests of all parties cannot be served at the same time. In addition a department / division may deem that their interests are not regarded as important or that their participation is more significant than those of the other participants.

If the potential for conflict in this situation is identified in time, good communication can go a long way in preventing conflict.

Clashing personalities

Participants of organisations can have conflicting personalities and values. In addition, each may have a support base within the meeting / discussion.

Where such persons are dominant, dogmatic or even aggressive, conflict may develop that can spread far beyond the confines of the meeting / discussion.

It is a good thing to be vigilant and to keep them apart as far as possible.

Dependency situation

If one role player is dependent on another in order to play their role, it is obvious that the potential for conflict exists. This is especially true of horizontal dependency. This also goes for organisations. If, for example, one department cannot do its work before another department has done their part, the potential for conflict is present.

Need for consensus

Ironically, in a situation where consensus must be obtained before action can be taken, there is marked potential for stalemate, power plays and conflicts especially if the organisational management is weak and if communication is poor.

The lesson to be learnt is that a system of consensus decision-making is in place with a well-organised functional management system and communication must be good.

Misunderstanding

Misunderstanding is a direct result of poor communication. Misunderstanding leads to a situation where each party regards the other’s motives as suspect. It is natural for distrust to grow between the parties and for episodes of confrontation to surface from time to time.

Each new confrontation makes communication more difficult and thus more prone to further misunderstanding.

Unresolved prior conflicts

The potential exists that one group of participants that is drawn into the process has experienced prior unresolved conflict. As there is a natural tendency among people to minimise conflict, it is very tempting to try and pretend that the conflict does not exist and hope that matters will resolve themselves in time.

Unfortunately this seldom happens and it would be necessary to facilitate a solution. Unresolved conflict has the tendency to resurface at inopportune times leading to escalating frustration and anger between most, if not all, attending the meeting / discussion.

Conflict resolution becomes extremely difficult in such a situation as a result of its historic base as well as the fact that the parties involved either do not see a solution or do not want it.

Attempts to resolve such conflict may need to be taken back to the departments being represented by participants with the request that the issue be addressed or that different representatives be appointed.

Group dynamics that could lead to conflict

It is important to realise that conflict should not be avoided at all costs; in fact, some conflict is good for a meeting / discussion. You should, however, be concerned about personal or destructive verbal attacks and spreading conflict within a meeting / discussion.

Conflict is healthy when it is non-abusive and comes in the form of resolving other issues. An avoidance of all conflict at all costs can lead to ‘group thinking’ that develops as a result of a feeling among the participants that they do not want to upset the harmony and focus of the meeting / discussion.

The ups and downs of a group, the active and the relaxing elements in the life of a group, and the differing and sometimes clashing personalities that you have discerned, are all normal parts of group dynamics. The important thing is to understand the dynamics in order to work with a group successfully. It is also important to define and remain aware of the role of communication in this dynamism.

We tend to think that group activities should go smoothly, that harmony must exist at all times and that everything must be done in agreement. That is not how a group normally works. On the contrary, if group participants always agree on everything and always work in harmony with one another, we would have reason to be concerned because the group may be experiencing ‘group thinking’.

This is detrimental to the health and well-being of the group. In such a situation participants do not contribute their individual ideas, perhaps because they are not encouraged to do so or fear that they will be seen as foolish. The other reason is simply that the more a group develops mutual trust and a sense of togetherness, the less individual participants are inclined to ‘rock the boat’.

People do not want to disagree on anything because they are worried that it will harm the feeling of oneness. Further, as a group grows together it develops a common set of beliefs. Anyone who challenges that set of beliefs may be regarded as a rebel or being divisive.

We can understand this trend in groups, but while it is good for the group cohesion, it makes a group less inventive and innovative and that group loses the energy, wisdom, enterprise and uniqueness of the individual. A group must always investigate itself, seeking better ways of doing things, and looking for alternatives that may work better. Challenges must always be present in order to produce synergy.

Knowledge of conflict avoidance pre-supposes understanding of group activities and dynamics that are informed by group psychology. Originally a group of people comes together within the workplace with different psychological backgrounds, outputs, and psychological operations.

One of the main characteristics of a group is that, in time, it develops a group psychology. Participants of a group tend to develop similar psychological processes, at least while they are together.

They tend to feel happy and sad about the same things and certain situations tend to bring about the same reaction from them. However, this does not mean that individual participants lose their personal psychological makeup.

It simply means that the individual psyches move nearer to each other and form a harmonious entity in the group relations. Again, while this is a natural process and while it is good to get a group to function properly, it can carry the danger of ‘group thinking’ and it can stifle synergy.

 

DEVELOP CONFLICT AVOIDING MECHANISMS

Preventing Conflict (Pro-Active approaches)

If possible, we do want to resolve conflict. We would prefer it to never happen and therefore we need to pre-empt conflict situations.

This can be done by:

  1.  Identifying potential clashing interests within the meeting. Based on an evaluation of mandates, areas of activity, interest and needs of participants, it is possible and desirable to identify participants who will have clashing interests, to identify these interests and to manage the whole situation. In other words, the situation with its potential for conflict cannot be avoided, but it can be managed so that conflict does not occur.
  2. Identifying potential clashing personalities. Clashing personality types can make chairing meetings and leading discussions particularly difficult and can impact severely on reaching consensus. Destructive conflict can often be avoided by de-personalising points of disagreement. In addition, one can try to limit the areas where the people with clashing personalities would have to work together, if possible.
  3. Setting clear mandates for participants so that there are no unclear boundaries and with each role player having their place and role clearly demarcated. One can also employ role players in areas or meetings / discussions with which they are familiar. This would then avoid a situation where the role players are unsure of their mandates resulting in no implementation and leaving others to do the work.
  4. Improving communication skills among participants so that opportunities for misunderstanding are minimised. The better the communication, the less misunderstanding there will be resulting in less conflict.
  5. Organising the activities of different role players in such a fashion that dependency on one another is as limited as possible. This can be done with good programming and strategising which will definitely diminish the potential for conflict.

 

Setting Guidelines

Apart from trying to remove the obvious potential for conflict, there are three more things that could be done. They are:

1 Setting clear ‘Rules of Order’.

It is advisable to have a standard set of agreed upon rules of conduct for meetings and discussions. These may include ‘rules of good manners’ and ‘rules of conflict avoidance’. While a goal-directed facilitative approach is most productive within a meeting / discussion context, it is essential that participants agree and adhere to very clear rules and boundaries.

In this way the individual will be safeguarded against personal abuse and violent conflict. Apart from the fact that it will diminish the potential for conflict, it will also give individuals and even groups greater confidence to participate in the activities.

 

2 Identifying potentially high conflict situations in advance.

One very seldom experiences sudden and unexpected conflict. There is always a smouldering fuse that, if unattended, will reach the powder keg with devastating results.

Knowing the participants and the situation allows you to identify potential conflict well in advance and to avoid or manage such situations. In these cases it is essential that good communication prevails to defuse as much of the situation as possible.

 

3 Encouraging and promoting tolerance in a potential conflict situation.

The message must be loud and clear that the meeting / discussion is bigger than the individual and that all should be prepared to take a small step backwards without wanting to retaliate.

 

Developing a strategic action plan

To effectively deal with conflict one should understand why conflict and aggression occurs. This aspect has been dealt with in previous sections.

Across the board awareness of the potential danger and destructive power of conflict, will however prompt an effort at a conflict management strategy.

What do we mean by a strategy? A strategy is usually a plan, often the result of a policy that is based on experience, a certain vision and mission. It is about doing things. Where a policy states the intent, a strategy tries to realise, in practice, the intent of the policy.

A strategy indicates what structures should be used; which of those should be newly created and what should be used from the current stock. A strategy is also interested in action, in other words what should happen in these structures? Who should be responsible for specific actions? One of the most important aspects of a strategy is that it provides a sequence; what will come first, second and last, and what must be in place before the next step can be taken.

From the strategy, implementation plans will be drawn up; plans that would put the strategy into practice. There will be plans for creating structures, for communicating with participants, for identifying and setting up communication channels, for arranging sessions and other face-to-face communication, and for devising information.

All these plans will consist of a task, how the task is to be done, who will be responsible for the task, and when the task should begin and end.

Other means of dealing with conflict that are not always effective are:

  • Force: Conflict can be managed through force where one party has the means and inclination to win regardless of whether the other party loses.
  • Withdrawal: An approach to conflict management suited to those parties whose desire to avoid confrontation outweighs the goals they are trying to achieve.
  • Accommodation: There are occasions when one party in a conflict situation values a strong and continuous relationship with one or more of the other parties above the attainment of its own specific goals.
  • Compromise: Whilst it sounds positive, compromise in a negotiation situation means that at least one of the parties perceives that it had to give up something. In other words, this has a win-lose outcome.

Certain elements of a conflict management process would be:

  • Initial conflict analysis. This entails the mapping of existing conflicts and predicting the nature and extent of potential conflicts and then prioritising them. This initial analysis creates a basis for the design of a subsequent process of participants’ dialogue.
  • Participatory conflict analysis. The outputs of the initial analysis form the basis of a process to involve participants in a dialogue to identify and evaluate existing and potential conflict.

 

This subsequent analysis is a means to develop trust and understanding between the conflicting parties and verify the accuracy of the results generated as part of the initial conflict analysis.

The dialogue may take many weeks or months and may be based on one-on-one interviews or may be undertaken in groups.

 

4 Communication Techniques

Conscious Communication In The Workplace: The CCCD Method

Developing effective conscious communication skills in the workplace and understanding the CCCD method are helpful in succeeding with the delivery of a message, leading into discussion.

The CCCD Conscious Communication Method is a four step process and strategy that helps people to communicate clearly with others.

 

C – Choose

C – Create

C – Coordinate

D – Deliver

 

To consciously communicate individuals must choose, create, coordinate, and deliver, or CCCD, the message they wish to communicate.

 

Choose Effective Communication Goal

Step 1 – When you decide to use the CCCD Method to improve your communication skills in the workplace, the first step you must take during the communication interaction is to choose the goal. A communication goal is that objective which you planned for the receiver or audience to take away from the interaction. It is the message you wish to clearly convey or the objective to be achieved.

 

Create Message Based on Communication Goal

Step 2 – You need to create the message and develop a plan designed to reach the receiver or audience and meet the communication goal. How you organise the message to influence the receiver / audience. The same message within a formal meeting or an informal discussion will be created and organised differently because of the different audience with a different group dynamics.

 

Coordinate Input and Collaborate with Others

Step 3 – This step in the CCCD Conscious Communication Method involves listening to information from a variety of sources, brainstorming with others, and collaboration. Coordination with others is a must and a crucial step towards becoming a conscious communicator.

Conscious communication requires input from others and feedback from a variety of sources regarding scheduling, projects, budgets, problems, plans, goals, etc.

 

Deliver the Message

Step 4 – The delivery of the message to the receiver / audience. Message delivery is vital to effective communication. If you do not organise the message for the receiver or are unclear and cannot paint a vivid picture of your idea or message to the audience, the audience will become confused or bored and is likely to stop listening, start fidgeting, or leave – a worst case scenario.

 

Five C’s Of Communication In Leading Discussions & Chairing Meetings

Truly successful professionals are leaders who have mastered the art of effective communication.

They are well-liked by colleagues (including subordinates and superiors), also by an organisation’s clients who like and respect them and they always seem to close the major deals.

You might think these individuals were blessed with a natural talent for speaking well – and maybe they were, but everything can be learned, including how to lead discussions persuasively and effectively.

Apply the 5 Cs of effective communication to enhance your relationships and get on the road to greater professional success:

  1. Clearly
  2. Correctly
  3. Considerate
  4. Compliments
  5. Confidence

 

Articulate Clearly

If your listeners cannot understand what you are saying, your message will never be effective. The easiest way to instantly improve the clarity of your speech is to slow down.

When we get nervous or stressed our rate of speech often increases and these are the times when calm, eloquence and tact are most needed.

Take a deep breath, slow down and speak clearly.

It is also important to formulate your thoughts in a clear manner so that other people can understand your message. Stick to your main point, be as concise as possible and back up your arguments with examples and stories that make sense to your listener.

 

Speak Correctly

Whether you like it or not, you will be judged on how you speak. Individuals with poor grammar and sloppy speech patterns are often viewed as being lazy, uneducated and even disrespectful.

Make proper speech a priority. Polish up your grammatical skills and build a healthy vocabulary. Read as much as you can, ask your friends, family or colleagues for help or join a grammar refresher course.

You may not see this as a very important point, but as our world becomes more global, just speaking English isn’t enough. You need to speak it really well.

 

Be Considerate

Before you even start, focus on being considerate towards everyone you meet. Make eye contact with people when they approach you. Have a good attitude and show your winning smile.

Show that you care for others by asking questions and showing interest. Remember personal details that are important to them, and build a relationship that consists of more than just the work at hand. Limited small talk is imperative to building rapport and stronger relationships in the workplace.

If you are considerate towards others, they will also treat you with care and respect. We all enjoy working with people we like, so your goal should be to be well-liked by others.

The way you achieve this is by being friendly, considerate and showing you care.

 

Give Compliments

In addition to being considerate, another way to build instant rapport is to give sincere compliments. Recognise those around you for a job well done. Show interest by congratulating others on their accomplishments.

If your colleague mentions that he finally finished that big project that you know he was working on for months, respond with a sincere “Great job!” or “Good for you!” These types of remarks are always appreciated.

Keep in mind that compliments should be subtle and appropriate and the closeness of your relationship also determines how a compliment will be received.

Commenting on a colleague’s physical appearance for example, may not be acceptable.

 

Have Confidence

In the end, a successful communicator is a confident communicator. It is hard to take someone seriously who doesn’t seem to believe in his / her own words.

Confidence does not just come from what you are verbalising (saying), but also what you are vocalising – in other words, the pace, pitch and volume of your voice. A calm, steady voice we can hear always sounds stronger and more confident than a quiet, mousy squeak.

Your visual appearance can also exude confidence or draw away from it. Make sure you stand straight and make firm eye contact when you address other people. Even the least confident individuals can “fake” a confident image simply by forcing themselves to do these two simple things.

 

Problem-solving Skills

As a person chairing a meeting or facilitating a discussion, you will need to demonstrate problem-solving skills on a regular basis.

It will be necessary for managing your time and resources effectively, and for chairing meetings and leading discussions effectively.

In using problem-solving strategies, you need to understand your role and responsibilities clearly.

The basic steps to problem solving are as follows:

  1. Define the problem.
  2. Seek assistance if required.
  3. Identify options for solving the problem.
  4. Gather information on options if required.
  5. Make a decision on the best option.
  6. Act on the decision.
  7. Review the outcome.
  8. Record the decision and outcome.

 

Dealing with conflict

Conflict may be defined as a difference of opinion between two or more people or groups, so that each tries to influence the outcome according to their own preferences.

It may also be considered as a difference between the values, opinions, beliefs and priorities of certain individuals or groups.

Conflict can be positive and benefit a work group or organisation, as it can increase awareness of the different needs and values of others, stimulate creativity and promote positive change.

However, if it is not handled effectively, conflict may create serious problems and hinder progress or the reaching of set objectives.

Basic considerations for minimising conflict are:

  • ensuring that you are clear about your role and responsibilities within an organisation and work group, and the standards for your work should meet the necessary requirements
  • focusing on problems or situations, rather than the individuals involved
  • actively listening to others
  • communicating clearly
  • maintaining a positive approach
  • looking forward to solutions rather than dwelling on past events.
  • have an agreed process for resolving conflict.

 

Conflict and problem-solving in the workplace

When a number of people work together in a group situation, there is always potential for conflict as each individual holds different values, beliefs, attitudes, backgrounds and skills.
Conflicts are likely to occur when:

  • individuals work together to achieve a shared goal
  • their work roles complement each other
  • resources are shared.

When conflicts arise, it is necessary to negotiate a solution, one which all parties involved are happy with and which allows them to continue to work together (a win–win situation).

Involving team members in discussion of problems is one way of ensuring the solution reached is creative and owned by team members.

The five steps in shared decision-making are:

  1. Identify the problem and who owns it.
  2. Realise that those who are most affected by the problem will be influenced by the decision made.
  3. Brainstorm solutions or gather ideas together.
  4. Collate the suggestions.
  5. Ensure consensus is reached, that is, most team members agree with the decision.

 

Advantages of using this approach to decision-making include:

  • Worker esteem. Participants feel their ideas and input are valued.
  • Group ownership. The results of the decision are more likely to be successful.
  • Better decisions. Many perspectives are put forward, rather than just one.
  • Strong commitment to decisions. The team is likely to support the decision, as they have been part of the process.

 

Staff meetings are one forum where shared decision-making can take place. Staff meetings allow team members to interact openly and discuss achievements, issues or problems that have arisen.

There are many benefits to holding regular staff meetings. They include the following:

  • All team members receive the same information about occurrences in the workplace.
  • Problems can be freely discussed.
  • Other staff can provide feedback.
  • Social bridges are built between members.
  • Time is available to plan together and distribute tasks.
  • Creative ideas are generated and can be tested out.

All team members are given the opportunity to contribute to decision- making.

Assertive Communication Skills (in a Nutshell)

Each person has the right to be treated with respect, the right to have and to express feelings, opinions and ‘wants’, the right to be listened too and taken seriously by others.

Too often in conflict situations, these rights get ignored. Assertive communication is critical in resolving conflicts so that all parties win.

There are two important skills in effective communication: assertive behaviour, i.e., clearly expressing what you feel and saying what you want; and active listening, i.e., listening in an understanding, non-judgemental and supportive way

There are a variety of behavioural styles of communication: passive, aggressive, passive-aggressive, and assertive. Although any of these behaviours may be appropriate in certain circumstances, the assertive style offers the most effective behaviour for dealing with and reducing conflicts.

Individuals treat each other with respect and an attitude that says “I’m OK; you’re OK,” results in both parties feeling they have benefited from the encounter.

Assertive behaviour is the basis of resolving conflict in a collaborative way.

 

Characteristics of Communication Behaviours

1 Passive Behaviour

A passive person says, in effect, that he / she will let someone else decide what will happen to him / her. Passive behaviour is revealed when we:

  1. Don’t participate or share our thoughts and ideas
  2. Always stick to the middle-of-the-road, refraining from taking a stand
  3. Allow others to make decisions for us
  4. Keep our voice low or avoid eye contact; keep from calling attention to ourselves
  5. Verbally agree with others despite our real feelings
  6. Bring harm or inconvenience to ourselves to avoid harming or inconveniencing others
  7. Consider ourselves less knowledgeable or capable than others.

 

2 Aggressive Behaviour

The aggressive behaviour of response is essentially the complete opposite of passive. An aggressive behaviour is revealed when we:

  • Interrupt others when they are speaking
  • Try to impose our position on others
  • Make decisions for others
  • Accuse, blame and find fault with others without regard for their feelings
  • Bring harm or cause inconvenience to others rather than to ourselves
  • Consider ourselves stronger and more capable than others
  • Accept responsibility and positions of authority for the purpose of manipulation or to give us a means of influencing others

 

3 Passive Aggressive Behaviour

Obviously, passive-aggressive behaviour is a combination of the two previous behaviours. Passive Aggressive Behaviour is revealed when we:

  • Don’t participate and share thoughts when it is appropriate, e.g., in a meeting, but become very vocal when the issue can no longer be addressed, e.g., in the back room or with one or two people
  • Deny people an opportunity to deal with dissent since opinions not expressed openly are difficult to deal with openly
  • Whisper or exclude some people from hearing your point of view; or make side comments that all cannot hear and no one can respond to since the comments were not addressed to the entire group.

 

Assertive Behaviour

Assertive behaviour, in contrast, is self-enhancing because it shows a positive firmness.

Assertive behaviour is revealed when we:

  • Allow others to complete their thoughts before we speak
  • Stand up for the position that matches our feelings or the evidence
  • Make our own decisions based on what we think is right
  • Face problems and decisions squarely
  • Consider ourselves strong and capable, but generally equal to other people

Face responsibility with respect to our situation, our own and others’ needs and rights.

Three Steps to Assertive Communication

List other situations in which you can practice assertive behaviour:

Active Listening Skills

Active listening is essential to successful conflict resolution. Here are some characteristics of listening actively:

  • Listen in an understanding and supportive way, using your whole body, not just your ears.
  • Listen for the whole message by paying attention to body language, feelings, and the meaning of what is said rather than what is not said.
  • Do not prejudge because of previous history, dress code, accent or other irrelevant characteristics.
  • Do not interrupt the other party.
  • If you disagree, do not become aggressive. Restate the other party’s comments, present your point of view, and return the dialogue to the other party by asking for a reaction to your views.

 

(NOTE: cultural norms of different nations and societies vary greatly and thus have a major influence on the skill of active listening)

 

Active Listening Techniques

  • Attending: using non-verbal indicators such as leaning forward, nodding your head, sitting in an open, receptive posture
  • Paraphrasing: repeating in your own words what the other person has said; the restatement should not judge in any way
  • Speaking from the self: using “I” statements, rather than speaking for others (we all think) or speaking in the passive tense. Do not make assumptions about others, their opinions, and feelings.
  • Clarifying: asking for further clarification or an example to illustrate often helps find clarity in the meaning.
  • Asking: probing questions; identify and explore options and alternatives e.g., use probes such as short, open questions to dig deeper into issues. These may be non-verbal such as a look that asks “Then what/ How?” Silence can be used to encourage the speaker to continue.
  • Encouraging: asking a person to “tell me more about” or give them a supportive comment like “good idea” or “I like that approach”.
  • Reflecting: playing back the communication as you hear and feel it, e.g., “you seem to feel very strongly about that”
  • Summarising: giving back a review or summary of what you heard. This helps make sure the communication is accurate and that the main ideas expressed reached you, the listener.

 

Negotiations Skills

Negotiation is a process of interaction between parties directed at reaching some form of agreement that will hold and which is based upon common interest, with the purpose of resolving conflict, despite widely dividing differences. This is achieved through the establishment of common ground and creation of alternatives.

 

What is negotiation?

Negotiation is a technique of discussing issues amongst ourselves and reaching a conclusion benefiting all involved in the discussion.

 It is one of the most effective ways to avoid conflicts and tensions. When individuals do not agree with each other, they sit together, discuss issues on an open forum, negotiate with each other and come to an alternative which satisfies all. In a layman’s language it is also termed as bargaining.

Negotiation is essential in organisations as well as personal lives to ensure peace and happiness.

Your employer / manager asks you to submit a report within two working days and you know that the report is critical and needs more time. Will you agree just to please him / her?

Your yes might make him / her happy then but later you will land yourself in big trouble if you fail to submit it within the desired time frame.

It’s always better to negotiate rather than accept something which you know you may not be able to complete within the deadline. Ask for more time or explain that you are going to encounter difficulties in making an exhaustive report.

Negotiation is a better option as it will prevent spoiling your relations with your superiors later.

Negotiator

An individual representing an organisation, or a person, who listens to all the parties carefully and comes to a conclusion which is willingly acceptable to all, is called the negotiator.

Skills of a negotiator

A negotiator should ideally be impartial and neutral and should not favour anyone.

He / She needs to understand the situation and the parties well, and decide something which will benefit all.

There are times that people will not easily accept the negotiator’s decision; they may counter it if they feel their personal interests are not satisfied. In such a situation, where the negotiator is left with no choice, he / she must use his / her power to impose his / her decision on the matter. It is not possible to please everyone and a decision will have to be made.

A negotiator has to be tactful and smart enough to handle various situations and reach to a conclusion.

Elements of Negotiation

 

  • Process – The way individuals negotiate with each other is called the process of negotiation. The process includes the various techniques and strategies employed to negotiate and reach a solution.
  • Behaviour – How two parties behave with each other and interact during the process of negotiation which is referred to as behaviour. The way they interact and the way they communicate with each other to make their points clear all come under behaviour.
  • Substance – There has to be an agenda on which individuals negotiate. A topic is important for negotiation. Perhaps the first experience of negotiation was for permission to go to the late night movie which you had to negotiate with your parents as well as your friends.


To conclude, negotiation is simply a technique, or a discussion among individuals to reach to a mutual agreement where everyone gains something and conflicts are avoided.