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:
- Let Me Finish, Please
- We use meetings to exchange information and to explore complex issues. In open discussion, we tend to
interrupt each other. Interruptions can be disruptive, distracting, funny, essential, and frustratingly
common. What can we do to limit interruptions without depriving ourselves of their benefits?
- Questioning Questions
- In meetings and other workplace discussions, questioning is a common form of conversational contribution.
Questions can be expensive, disruptive, and counterproductive. For most exchanges, there is a better way.
- Discussion Distractions: I
- Meetings could be far more productive, if only we could learn to recognize and prevent the distractions
that lead us off topic and into the woods. Here is Part I of a small catalog of distractions frequently
seen in meetings.
- On Facilitation Suggestions from Meeting Participants
- Team leaders often facilitate their own meetings, and although there are problems associated with that
dual role, it's so familiar that it works well enough, most of the time. Less widely understood are
the problems that arise when other meeting participants make facilitation suggestions.
- What Groupthink Isn't
- The term groupthink is tossed around fairly liberally in conversation and on the Web. But it's
astonishing how often it's misused and misunderstood. Here are some examples.
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.
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