Ten suggestions for how to hear from everyone in a group

Techniques exist to encourage people to speak out in meetings (See my post of May 8, 2008: instant feedback after a meeting.). These ideas are most constructive in staff meetings where members periodically convene.

  1. Remind senior lawyers and big mouths before the meetings start not to dominate conversations.

  2. Start with the most junior or quietist lawyers when you ask for comments rather than opening the topic to anyone or “going around the table.” Going around the table can create anxiety and it can cause people to force comments that have low value, since everything has been said already.

  3. Allow people to submit questions anonymously that they feel should be brought up during the larger meeting.

  4. Be sure to welcome and support comments by people who do not say much. All it takes is a less-than-appreciative comment after they have spoken up to deter them from doing so for a long time.

  5. Have someone keep track during several meetings of how many times each person speaks and roughly for how long. This need not be precise but it will tell you about patterns of contributions.

  6. Try a rule for a while along the lines of “No one can speak again until everyone has spoken at least once on the topic or passed.”

  7. Use electronic voting software (See my post of March 12, 2006: electronic voting software.).

  8. Have the speaker recognize the next speaker rather than permit a free-for-all won by whomever speaks most loudly or interrupts most effectively.

  9. Have the “moderator” of the particular point being discussed recognize speakers, and chide those who butt in.

  10. Invest in some group dynamics testing or training so that members understand more effective communication styles.

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