In group discussions, we sometimes use facilitators to manage the flow of contributions. One technique employs a queue. During the discussion, usually while one participant is speaking, another might catch the attention of the facilitator to request a spot in the queue. In person, this can be done with a raised hand or a facial expression. In teleconferences, it might occur through a "hand-raise" channel or through texting.
Queues work well for smaller groups discussing non-controversial topics. But when the energy level rises, or the headcount passes a dozen or so, disorder sometimes appears in the form of thread tangling.
A "thread" in a discussion is a collection of related contributions. In most discussions, although all contributions are related, some contributions are more closely connected than others. For instance, one thread might consist of several contributions rebutting one assertion, while another thread might offer support for an altogether different assertion.
Sometimes individual threads get fragmented, or tangled, because of the uncoordinated order of arrival in the queue. This thread tangling can lead to feelings of frustration, for several reasons.
- "Plopping" is the systematic but polite ignoring of the contributions of one or more individuals. Their contributions, whatever they are, go "plop." Consequently, the people who are ignored can feel so alienated and bitter that they cease contributing.
- Pseudo-plopping is what happens when a discussion's threads become so tangled that contributions seem to be ignored because they are forgotten or mislaid in the mess. The result is frustration, and possibly some of the same feelings as occur in plopping.
- Information overload
- People have a limited ability to remember chunks of information [Miller 1956]. The number of distinct chunks seems to be People lose track of the
conversation, or forget
some of what they
wanted to sayseven plus or minus two. Under stress, when angry, or amid interruptions or distractions, the limit is probably lower.
- Trouble occurs when the limit is less than the number of contributions intervening between the time when a participant first enters the queue and when that participant finally speaks. People lose track of the conversation, or forget some of what they wanted to say. Some feel frustrated; some feel inadequate. They experience stress.
- When three or more threads are active, the difficulty of keeping them all in focus overwhelms most people. Some have the experience of wanting to contribute to more than one thread.
- When people who want to make multiple contributions to different threads finally do speak, they have to flip from one thread to the next. Sometimes, things get so confusing that they have to use notes. They forget some of what they wanted to say, they misspeak, or worse. Discourse quality degrades.
Thread tangling makes discussions disconnected and confusing. People feel stress. Destructive conflict is more likely to erupt. Thread tangling is bad news. Next time, we'll explore some techniques for dealing with thread tangling. Next in this series Top Next Issue
Do you spend
your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrencEDCTsDyGHcznhWqner@ChachZQLIisdzzPsbosfoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- When Your Boss Is a Micromanager
- If your boss is a micromanager, your life can be a seemingly endless misery of humiliation and frustration.
Changing your boss is one possible solution, but it's unlikely to succeed. What you can do
is change the way you experience the micromanagement.
- Think Before You PowerPoint
- Microsoft PowerPoint is a useful tool. Many of us use it daily to create presentations that guide meetings
or focus discussions. Like all tools, it can be abused — it can be a substitute for constructive
dialog, and even for thought. What can we do about PowerPoint abuse?
- The Hypothetical Trap
- Politicians know that answering hypothetical questions is dangerous, but it's equally dangerous for
managers and project managers to answer them in the project context. What's the problem? Why should
you be careful of the "What If?"
- Asking Brilliant Questions
- Your team is fortunate if you have even one teammate who regularly asks the questions that immediately
halt discussions and save months of wasted effort. But even if you don't have someone like that, everyone
can learn how to generate brilliant questions more often. Here's how.
- How to Find Lessons to Learn
- When we conduct Lessons Learned sessions, how can we ensure that we find all the important lessons to
be learned? Here's one method.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming July 25: Exploiting Functional Fixedness: II
- A cognitive bias called functional fixedness causes difficulty in recognizing new uses for familiar things. It also makes for difficulty in recognizing devious uses of everyday behaviors. Here's Part II of a catalog of deviousness based on functional fixedness. Available here and by RSS on July 25.
- And on August 1: Strategies of Verbal Abusers
- Verbal abuse at work has special properties, because it takes place in an environment in which verbal abuse is supposedly proscribed. Yet verbal abuse does happen at work. Here are three strategies abusers rely on to avoid disciplinary action. Available here and by RSS on August 1.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenBlzfQecdTNPGRjCqner@ChacvslBfVhzpfApBwpBoCanyon.com or (650) 787-6475, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.