In discussions at meetings, we make contributions. We can classify them according to their degrees of openness. For example, a relatively closed contribution is an announcement that our Monday meeting will be on Tuesday because elevator D in the Tower is off line for maintenance. This contribution is mostly factual, and although we might need to address its consequences, it's presented as if we do not. Closed contributions indicate no path forward to deliberations. They might even indicate, as above, that no further discussion is needed. A closed contribution by itself doesn't invite discussion.
By contrast, an open contribution suggests that something is unresolved. The group can then choose whether or when to discuss it. Open contributions transfer control of the discussion to the group.
Any contribution made at the right time, to the right group, with an appropriate degree of openness, can be valuable. Any contribution made at the wrong time or to the wrong group can create problems. Also troublesome are contributions that have inappropriate degrees of openness, independent of timing or choice of audience.
When we make open contributions about issues that don't need discussion, we risk wasting time. Because this problem is so obvious, I won't deal with it here. The more subtle problems arise when we make closed contributions about matters that do need discussion. Here are some tips for encouraging open contributions.
- Enrich existing threads
- One example of extending or re-opening an existing discussion thread is expanding on a point previously made. Enrich the thread by showing how it leads in intriguing directions, or pose a novel question about it, or ask for clarification.
- Support open contributions of others, or open them
- When someone else offers an open contribution, support it. Pursue any leads it suggests, or ask the contributor to "say more." Using these tactics for contributions that are inappropriately closed encourages their contributors to restate their contributions in more open forms.
- Propose open contribution generators
- An open Problems arise when we
make closed contributions
about matters that
do need discussioncontribution generator is a comment, question, or exercise that generates open contributions. For example, a contributor can ask, "If we had an answer to Question Q, what new solutions to Problem P would become available?" Or, "If we had a solution to Problem P, what would we have done to get it?"
- Propose generator generators
- A generator of open contribution generators is a contribution that suggests that the group focus on generating more open contributions. For example, for groups unaware of the distinction between open and closed contributions, a proposal to discuss that distinction could be a generator, while a proposal to survey types of contributions that generate open contributions could be a generator generator.
Finally, differences in personal preferences for cognitive closure can lead to differences in the degree of openness of contributions. What can you do to encourage openness of your own contributions? Or the contributions of others? Top Next Issue
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More articles on Effective Meetings:
- When Meetings Boil Over
- At any time, without warning, you can find yourself in a meeting that boils over. Sometimes tempers
rise, then voices rise, and then people yell and scream. What can a team do when meetings threaten to
boil over — and when they do?
- Irrational Self-Interest
- When we try to influence others, especially large groups or entire companies, we sometimes create packages
of incentives and disincentives that are intended to affect behavior. These strategies usually assume
that people make choices on rational grounds. Is this assumption valid?
- Allocating Airtime: II
- Much has been said about people who don't get a fair chance to speak at meetings. We've even devised
processes intended to more fairly allocate speaking time. What's happening here?
- Toward More Engaging Virtual Meetings: II
- Here's Part II of a set of simple techniques to help virtual meeting facilitators enhance attendee engagement.
- Polychronic Meetings
- In very dynamic contexts, with multiple issues to address, we probably cannot rely on the usual format
of single-threaded meeting with a list of agenda items to be addressed each in their turn. A more flexible,
issue-driven format might work better.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming June 27: Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: I
- In meetings we sometimes feel the need to interrupt others to offer a view or information, or to suggest adjusting the process. But such interruptions carry risk of offense. How can we interrupt others safely? Available here and by RSS on June 27.
- And on July 4: Interrupting Others in Meetings Safely: II
- When we feel the need to interrupt someone who's speaking in a meeting, to offer a view or information, we would do well to consider (and mitigate) the risk of giving offense. Here are some techniques for interrupting the speaker in situations not addressed by the meeting's formal process. Available here and by RSS on July 4.
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