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Effective Discussion Skills

This KnowledgeBase archive includes content and external links that were accurate and relevant as of September 30, 2019.

Effective discussions are necessary for effective meetings, which in turn, are necessary for effective teams. Every team meeting should include actions that facilitate the process of discussion. The following techniques are presented in the framework of team meetings, but they are useful whenever an effective discussion is important. This document, reproduced from The Team Handbook authored by Peter Scholtes, may help team members have effective discussions.

Ask for ClarificationIf you are unclear about the topic being discussed or the logic in another person's arguments, ask someone to define the purpose, focus or limits of the discussion. Ask members to repeat ideas in different ways.
Act as GatekeepersEncourage more-or-less equal participation among group members by "throttling" dominators. Make openings for less aggressive members by asking their opinions directly or making a general request for input.
LIstenActively explore one another's ideas rather than debating or defending each idea that comes up.
SummarizeOccasionally compile what has been said and restate it to the group in summary form. Follow a summary with a question to check for agreement.
Contain DigressionDo not permit overlong examples or irrelevant discussion.
Manage TimeIf portions of the agenda take longer than expected, remind the team of deadlines and time allotments, so work can be either accelerated or postponed, or time re-budgeted appropriately.
End the DiscussionLearn to tell when there is nothing to be gained from further discussion. Help the team close a discussion and decide the issue.
Test for ConsensusSummarize the group's position on an issue, state the decision that seems to have been made and check whether the team agrees with the summary.
Constantly Evaluate the Meeting ProcessThroughout the meeting, assess the quality of discussion. Ask: Are we getting what we want from this discussion? If not, what can we do differently in the remaining time?

The Team Handbook, Peter Scholtes and other contributors, pg. 4-6 - 4-7. Portions of these materials are copyrighted by Oriel Incorporated, formerly Joiner Associates Inc and are used here with permission. Further reproductions are prohibited without written consent of Oriel Incorporated.

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