How To Make People Feel Comfortable

Meeting participants will feel more comfortable, if:

■ A meeting adheres to a common format.

■ The facilitator provides guidance.

■ The facilitator uses context-free questions to solicit needs and feelings.

People feel comfortable if they know what they can expect. Think of that recent Sunday church meeting. How is it different from the one before? It is the content that is different, but not the format. A common format makes people feel comfortable that they can participate and that they know how. This is also the secret formula of toastmaster's meetings. Every meeting has the same format, an invocation, a joke, two speeches, and table topics followed by evaluations. The content is what is different. One can think of the familiar format as a ritual that makes participants feel at ease.

A standard format for the different types of meetings will provide comfort, as people know what to expect and how to participate. Exhibit 2 presents formats that may serve as suggestions for particular meetings.

Exhibit 2. Suggested Meeting Formats Information Exchange Meeting

Share general information

Follow up on decisions and action items from previous status meetings Summary of accomplishments

Outlook of upcoming work and decisions in the different functional areas Summary of action items Decision-Making Meetings

Presentation of facts

Input and comments from stakeholders

Discussion and evaluation

Decision making

Summary of decisions made and postponed Problem-Solving Meeting

Share problem perception

Joint problem definition

Joint problem analysis

Joint development of alternative solutions

Evaluation of solution

Decision making

Summary of solution

Even if meeting participants are familiar with the format of the meeting, they still appreciate some guidance through the meeting. Just as written overviews, summaries, and transitions are included to help a reader understand the written word better, spoken transitions, summaries and overviews help meeting participants to follow along better. By suggesting an agenda, the facilitator can provide an overview of the meeting. Articulating a transition will remind participants to move on to the next topic. The facilitator can bring closure to a discussion by summarizing the items of agreement.

Gerald Weinberg and Donald Gause in Exploring Requirements — Quality before Design[2] point out the importance of context-free questions in requirements gathering. There is also a place for context-free questions in meetings. The purpose of context-free questions is to clarify and define the process. Example questions are:

■ How much time should be spent discussing a particular item?

■ How should decisions made in meetings be documented?

■ How should decisions be made?

The facilitator can use context-free questions to solicit and comment on the perceived mood, to verify a common understanding, and to inquire whether or not the needs of individual participants are met. Example questions are:

■ Did people get all the information they needed?

■ Is the meeting moving too slowly?

■ Does this summary express it clearly?

[2]Donald C. Gause and Gerald M. Weinberg, Exploring Requirements — Quality before Design, Dorset House, ISBN 0-9322633-13-7.

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