Discover more from Admired Leadership Field Notes
Ground Rules That Promote Open Discussion
Creating open and candid discussion is never easy, especially in large groups. People feel inhibited for a host of reasons, including the fear that what they say may be used against them in the future.
That’s why many leaders establish discussion ground rules that work to encourage a more open and honest exchange of ideas.
The most well-known of these directions is the Chatham House Rule. Named after the London headquarters of the Royal Institute of International Affairs, the Chatham House Rule allows people to express and discuss controversial opinions without attributing the source.
The rule explicitly states that those in attendance can use the information discussed but cannot identify the source. Those in attendance are free to voice their opinions and to debate without concern that what they say will get back to others not in the room.
This rule also encourages people to express views that may not be in line with those of the team or organization they represent.
Another useful guide to encourage candid discussion is the Rule of Charity. This rule states that everyone will assume what others say is well-intended. The presumption of good intention suggests people should listen with an open mind rather than becoming defensive. When participants in a group presume positive intent, they are also less likely to attack the views others express.
All group conversations stand to benefit from the No Interruption Rule. Just as it sounds, this rule asks participants to allow everyone to finish their advocacy or opinion without interruption. This rule works best when combined with a rule limiting how long participants can hold the floor. The adjacent rule of a 90-second-to-three-minute speech duration asks people to be succinct and prevents the need to interrupt them in the first place.
Leaders might also consider the Inexperienced First Rule, where the least experienced or tenured people offer their viewpoints first. This, of course, gives the floor to those least likely to offer a view. Or the Agree to Disagree Rule, where participants acknowledge quickly when they are unlikely to sway another’s view, at least during the discussion.
Group rules like these and others can promote a more open discussion and enhance the quality of the experience for everyone. Leaders who desire more participation and more candidness would be wise to consider stating them before the discussion takes place.
In fact, making attendance dependent on the acceptance of a ground rule, especially with people who don’t know each other, is a strong way to make sure the rule is understood and enforced.
Even the best working groups can benefit from sound ground rules to guide the interaction. Simple rules can materially enhance any discussion or exchange. Did we forget to mention the No Cell Phone Rule?