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 noncontroversial 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? rbrenogMhuqCxAnbfLvzbner@ChacigAthhhYwzZDgxshoCanyon.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.
This article in its entirety was written by a human being. No machine intelligence was involved in any way.
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:
- Smart Bookshelves
- If you like to browse in bookstores, you probably know the thrill of new ideas and new perspectives.
When I find a book worth reading, I want to own it, and that's how it gets to my shelf. Here are some
tips to help you read more of what you really want to read.
- Ten Reasons Why You Don't Always Get What You Measure: II
- Although many believe that "You get what you measure," metrics-based management systems sometimes
produce disappointing results. In this Part II, we look at the effects of employee behavior.
- Risk Creep: I
- Risk creep is a term that describes the insidious and unrecognized increase in risk that occurs despite
our every effort to mitigate risk or avoid it altogether. What are the dominant sources of risk creep?
- Performance Mismanagement Systems: I
- Some well-intentioned performance management programs do more harm than good, possibly because of mistaken
fundamental beliefs. Specifically: the fallacy of composition, the reification error, the myth of identifiable
contributions, and the myth of omniscient supervision.
- Subject Lines for Intra-Team Messages
- When teams communicate internally using messaging systems like email, poorly formed subject lines of
messages can limit the effectiveness of the exchanges. Subject lines therefore provide a powerful means
of increasing real-time productivity of the team.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming December 13: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: I
- To take the risks that learning and practicing new ways require, we all need a sense that trial-and-error approaches are safe. Organizations seeking to improve processes would do well to begin by assessing their level of psychological safety. Available here and by RSS on December 13.
- And on December 20: Contrary Indicators of Psychological Safety: II
- When we begin using new tools or processes, we make mistakes. Practice is the cure, but practice can be scary if the grace period for early mistakes is too short. For teams adopting new methods, psychological safety is a fundamental component of success. Available here and by RSS on December 20.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenogMhuqCxAnbfLvzbner@ChacigAthhhYwzZDgxshoCanyon.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, )
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, )
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, )
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, )
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, )
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, )
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 500-1000 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info