Have you ever participated in an executive or board meeting when the conversation around the table became divisive or charged? Ever felt like you were watching a ping-pong match between two real enemies? Rarely is anyone declared a winner in such situations, except perhaps the loudest speaker. And usually everyone comes away with a distinct feeling of frustration and exhaustion (again, except perhaps the loudest speaker).
Contrast that kind of meeting with one in which opinions are respected, or, better yet, encouraged and appreciated; the kind of meeting in which members build on previous statements instead of tearing them down; the kind of meeting that results in a very real sense of community, innovation and excitement? What was the mood when you left such a meeting? Wouldn’t you like all meetings to be more like the latter than the former?
Healthy discussions — ones in which all participants are able to speak about the issues freely, understand them fully, and consider them honestly — are vital to reaching educated solutions and to securing support for decisions from all parties in a meeting. These are critical components of the type of decision-making a team may be asked to make. Healthy discussion optimizes the varied experience, talent and wisdom that the group members bring to the table.
Healthy discussion does not have to be elusive. In fact, by following two simple meeting discussion rules, any group can foster healthy discussions at all meetings. So, what are the rules of healthy discussion? If each participant in the meeting follows them with a dogged determination, the following two are all you need to bring a better level of discussion and decision-making to your meetings:
First, team members must be able to say, and believe: “I, myself, don’t have the whole answer, but together we can find it.” This does not discount any individual’s knowledge or expertise, but rather, requires each member to acknowledge that others bring their own wisdom to the table. If a member comes to the meeting believing he or she already has the answer to a problem, the chances are good that the member won’t really hear or synthesize what anyone else has to say.
The second rule builds on the first. Team members must accept and believe that their fellow teammates are equals; colleagues. This is critical to successfully engaging in healthy discussion. If one member lacks respect for another — or even if he respects him, but views him as less educated or less experienced — he will be inclined to devalue the other member’s opinions and comments. Everyone’s experience is different, if not completely unique. Therefore, it can add value when it’s tapped into.
And really, that’s it. Two simple rules to healthy discussions. It is not rocket science. But it does require a thoughtful approach to discussion around any meeting room table.