At a meeting of our children’s summer reading committee a couple months ago, a children’s librarian brought up an idea that was shot down almost immediately with little discussion.
As she told me later, she was dismayed not that the idea didn’t have support, but that it was so easy for a few vocal folks to voice negative opinions that drowned out any possibility of alternate viewpoints. It’s possible that the idea wouldn’t have flown even after a thorough discussion, but it didn’t get the chance.
As the person who presided over this meeting, I felt terrible – I want to make sure that all ideas have a fair chance to be heard.
For the future, I’ll try to use these methods:
- Establishing groundrules
- Establishing a method of coming to decisions
Establishing groundrules – The group decides on these together, as the first agenda item at the first meeting. They can govern everything from how discussion will go to how decisions will be made.
The key is that groundrules should be couched only in positive terms. For example, not “do not interrupt other people” but rather “we listen carefully while others speak.”
Two groundrules that will be useful to me in future meetings might be something along the lines of “we discuss benefits of an idea first” and “we will raise concerns about an idea by asking questions.”
For example, rather than saying “That won’t work – it’s too expensive!”, someone might say (after all benefits had been brought up) “I wonder how we could pay for that program.” This continues the discussion rather than shutting it down.
Coming to decisions – I must confess, this is a hard one for me, especially when there isn’t unanimous consensus. My inclination is to continue to gather information and feedback, but sometimes a decision simply has to be made.
Therefore, it’s important that the group has already discussed not only what decisions will need to be made, but also what information is needed for that decision and how it will be made.
Decisions don’t need to be unanimous, but there needs to be support for them. One way to determine this, without using a yes/no vote, is to use a finger scale. 5 fingers up means “absolutely yes,” 4 fingers up means “acceptable; I support it,” 3 fingers means “okay; I’m not enthusiastic, but I support it,” 2 fingers means “I don’t fully agree, but I won’t block the decision”, and 1 finger up means “I don’t feel we’re ready to come to a decision.” A fist would mean total disagreement with the decision.
What is helpful about this method is that even with no 5s, a majority of 3s and 4s would show general support for the decision. And while it would be preferable to have no fists, 1 fist is by no means a block to the decision. If there was general support otherwise, the leader would be able to say, “This is our decision.”
One thing is always certain in our profession these days – change is coming, and lots of it! Committees and task forces will need to be making all kinds of decisions, tiny and large – and these are two simple ways to ensure this gets done effectively.