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How to Create Meetings Where People Want to Speak Out
August 14,2018 [ by Larry Chao ] 882 Read and 0 Comment

A clever facilitator can open people up and create a great meeting experience. It is all about understanding business issues and context, and creating an atmosphere where people feel safe and want to express what they think.

One of the reasons people do not speak out in meetings is the fear that they will be criticised, ridiculed or ignored. No one wants to be embarrassed this way.

The problem, according to Professor Amy C. Edmondson of Harvard, is that there is low “psychological safety.” People feel it is not safe enough to take risks and speak out.

Yet the value of meetings is to create productive discussions to explore ideas, solve problems and build commitment. To do this requires strong participation and two-way, open communication.

So how can you do this?

The ideal way is to develop trusting relationships with those you work with. This happens over time and should be a leader’s number one priority. But there are more immediate solutions available.

For example, if you have ever tried karaoke at night, you know that after a while [often hastened by a few drinks], even shy people start singing. People do not care if they can’t sing, because they are uninhibited and enjoying themselves. Karaoke is an excuse for people to act without risk. There is a high degree of psychological safety.

A skillful facilitator knows how to create similar psychological safety during the day in meetings when people are sober. This encourages people to speak openly and truthfully about serious topics.

To do this, in addition to understanding business context, the facilitator must be able to read and quickly connect with the audience. He/she must be able to create an atmosphere of trust. The facilitator much be able to de-personalize issues so people can focus on issues and objective solutions, not attack each other.

Authenticity, sincerity, and good-natured humour help a facilitator relax people and make them feel safe enough to express how they feel. This evokes genuine, natural conversations. A good facilitator then knows how to drive discussions forward and draw meaningful conclusions.

Of course, preparation is vital. Good preparation informs the facilitator and gives credibility and the opportunity to build trust with participants, even before the meeting begins.

Effective facilitation creates psychological safety, which is vital if you want people to speak openly and get the most out of them and your meetings.

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