The Transition Agony Aunt on helping quiet people find their voices.
By rob hopkins 10th March 2015
“Dear Agony Auntie. I notice in our Transition group that there are a few people who rarely chip in and contribute. They clearly enjoy being part of things as they keep coming back, but they tend to hang back and keep quiet. Any suggestions for how we might coax them to get more engaged?” D.P.
It is very common for some people to not engage as much as others in meetings – and we’ve probably all had the experience of not feeling ready or confident enough to join in – and of getting tired of hearing the same voices dominating discussions.
Probably the most common reason is that people who are newer take time to feel confident, to be sure they understand enough about the issues that they will make useful contribution (and not waste time or say something that might sound stupid). Actively supporting new people to understand the background will help – maybe a long serving person can meet them and fill them in on some history – and sometimes it’s good to invite them to take a role in the group so they can feel they’re making a contribution rather than waiting for them to volunteer.
We all have different styles of engaging, and different speeds. Some of us are quicker at sorting out our thoughts, some people work through images or physical movement more than words, and some are more confident at speaking in a group. Making sure there’s enough time for each agenda item helps those who need a bit more time, and the techniques below can help take the pressure off talking in a larger group and give different ways of contributing.
It’s a good idea to have a quiet chat with anyone who’s not talking much and check out whether they’re enjoying the meetings, and whether anything could work better for them (asking them outright why they’re not contributing more probably isn’t a good idea!) If people are turning up regularly to the meeting then that is a good sign that they are getting something out of it. Here are some ideas for inviting people to get involved.
Have a go around
In Transition Network we always start and end meetings with a go round. At the start we ask people how they are doing and one thing that they are happy about at the moment (the questions you ask change for each meeting.) This helps people to start to contribute, and connect with each other beyond the business part of the meeting. At the we end ask “what did you enjoy or appreciate about the meeting, and is there anything we could do better at next time?”.
The Chair / Facilitator prompts engagement
The chair of the meeting has a really important role in getting feedback from all members of the group. If there’s an important issue the chair might ask everyone to respond “Let’s go round and hear all your responses to this”. When discussing a topic, the chair should give all people the opportunity to contribute by taking notice of who has spoken, stopping people dominating the meeting and by drawing out contributions by specifically asking people for their views. It is also the responsibility of the rest of the group to control themselves and allow others to speak, or to ask people what they think so that the meetings feel inclusive and welcoming. If there are people who are taking up lots of time you might want to create some group agreement (or add one if you already have some) about giving time so that everyone can contribute, and it being ok to remind people who sometimes speak a lot.
Here are some techniques for getting input
Discussion is just one way of getting people to engage in your meetings:
- You can ask people to break into groups and discuss a topic and then feedback, so it is less intimidating to contribute.
- You can do a group brainstorm, by getting people to write their thoughts on post it notes and add them to a big piece of paper and then ask people to explain what they have added.
- “Where do you stand?” exercise. Another way to get people’s views is to get everyone to stand up and then read out the question and ask people to stand at one side of the room if they agree with the proposal and to stand at the other side of the room if they dont, with a sliding scale in between. Then the facilitator can ask people why they have positioned themselves in that space.
- Use circles to get people talking to each other. Form two circles inside each other so that people are facing each other, then get people to talk to each other for a set amount of time, before rotating the circle.
All of these techniques are really useful for engaging people in your meetings and are simple to run. The most important thing to bear in mind when trying to engage people is that people have different ways of engaging, so try to maximise those different opportunities for engagement.
There are more involved structures like World Café or Fishbowls which you can find described in the Project Support offer or on line.
Today’s Agony Aunts were Sophy Banks and Transition Network’s Support Co-ordinator, Mike Thomas. Do you have a question for the Transition Agony Aunt? Email firstname.lastname@example.org.