You are facilitating a group of twelve stakeholders working to build an agreement about a long-term conservation plan. The group is made up of local elected officials, land owners, and members of local land trusts as well as professional conservationists. Your experience is that some people talk easily and often, while others rarely speak.
What participation tool can I use to get thoughtful participation from each member of the group? Named for the Quaker traditions of equality, listening and allowing time for silence, the discussion method called Quaker Dialogue promotes equal participation and careful listening. It allows quieter members of a group to get the floor and helps people move from forming rebuttals to listening carefully.
How Quaker Dialogue Works
- Go around the room, asking each person to speak in turn.
- No one interrupts the person speaking.
- No one (including the facilitator) summarizes or makes comments on another’s contribution until everyone has had a chance to speak.
- Silence between speakers is encouraged, so that the previous speaker’s comments can be absorbed.
- Anyone is free to pass. The facilitator will come back to those who passed and offer another opportunity to speak.
- After everyone has spoken, the facilitator may summarize the “sense of the group”, ask the group what they learned from listening to one another or open the floor for discussion.
- The facilitator will intervene, if necessary, to maintain the above process.
Quaker Dialogue Example
Your group of stakeholders has strong and disparate ideas about priorities in the conservation plan. Several group members have been very vocal for and against certain ideas. The group needs to slow down and hear one another’s thoughts. You decide to use Quaker Dialogue to encourage deeper listening. First, frame the question or issue to which people are responding, e.g., What do you consider the top priorities in the plan and why? After explaining the purpose and process of Quaker Dialogue, go around the room offering each person the opportunity to give his or her thoughts without interruption. If someone interrupts a speaker, stop them and remind them to hold their thoughts until all have spoken.
Before opening the floor to questions and discussion, check with the people who passed during the first round to see if they want to speak.
Listen for the underlying agreements, hopes, concerns or key issues being expressed as people speak. These are what you want to reflect back to the group, not a detailed summary of what everyone said.
This process works best with a group of 15 or fewer members. Though it doesn’t have to take long, it requires an unhurried environment.
About the Authors. Dee Kelsey and Pam Plumb are authors, facilitators, trainers, coaches and founders of Great Meetings Inc. This article comes from their monthly newsletter that you can sign up for at www.greatmeetingsinc.com.
Have you, or are you willing to try this or a similar dialogue process? I invite you to share your questions, feedback, or experience on this topic in the comments area below.