skip to Main Content

How can setting strong Guidelines or Protocols Improve your Difficult Conversation?

I facilitate many large and small group discussions and always find that setting norms or guidelines beforehand helps to keep the conversation respectful and productive.  A discussion on guidelines before beginning provides an opportunity for reflection, awareness and developing responsibility.  A set of behaviors don’t become norms or guidelines until everyone has some input into them and agrees to use them. Leave sufficient time to discuss and develop a common understanding of what the norms mean to those present so that they will be implemented consistently and effectively in the meeting.

I suggest that participants should not expect that the facilitator alone identifies every time someone is acting at odds with a ground rule. I ask that all participants share this responsibility and sometimes take time to agree upon how individuals will intervene when they see others not using a ground rule.  This might sound like ‘ I know that we agreed to avoid judgement and blame and I’m worried that the conversation is leaning in that direction. What are others noticing?  I’m wondering what might be required to shift away from this?’ 

I wanted to share some of the more common norms or guidelines that I discuss with groups.  The group will develop their own list, or pick and choose from these depending on how applicable they might be in their particular situation.

  • Come with a positive intention
  • Be curious and open-minded
  • Be Kind while remaining direct and transparent
  • Listen Actively
  • Speak from the “I” perspective ( ‘I’ experienced this, vs ‘you’ did that)
  • Lean into discomfort
  • Be mindful of judgement, blame, advice or correction
  • Assume positive intent of others
  • Honor Confidentiality
  • Monitor your own participation and others
  • Speak one at a time
  • Monitor your tone and body language

It can also be helpful to take five minutes at the end of the meeting to discuss where the guidelines were used well and where they can be improved.  This will provide an even more positive starting point for the next conversation.  What are other norms/guidelines/protocols have you implemented that helped to ensure a productive conversation?

Share This