We have conversations all the time, but being a part of a conversation with multiple stakeholders is much more difficult than having a productive dialogue between two people. Here are four simple principles you can follow to successfully participate in a collaborative large group conversation and to help everyone get the most out of the interaction

1. Quiet the little voice in your mind
Yes, I just suggested that I hear voices, and the truth of the matter is that we all do. When we are listening to someone speak, especially in a large group conversation, we are constantly composing our own thoughts in our head: posing possible questions, articulating our own responses as we wait for a break in the conversation to jump in, or even just wondering what sort of shoes Brenda is wearing. It’s a very natural act, but unfortunately it’s also the worst possible thing that you can do. Instead, focus on who is talking and what is being said. Don’t think about your response, don’t compose a question, quiet the voice in your head and then react. This discipline will help make you a far more informed participant in the discussion.

2. Pose questions to the group, not an individual
As you participate in the dialogue, pose your questions to the entire group instead of just one individual. This will help invite more people into the conversation and likely introduce some different perspectives on the question than if you just address it to the person you think might have the best answer.

3. Conversely, address specific people’s questions, individually
When you are addressing someone else’s question, try to acknowledge the question originator in your response. This helps connect the threads of the conversation for everyone who is participating and more importantly, it helps ensure that the asker of the questions understands that he has been heard. Lastly, it becomes an invitation to extend the dialogue in this area if more discussion is necessary.

4.  Live in the moment, but remember the purpose of the conversation
Focus on what is being said right now, listen very carefully, but also remember the purpose or goal of the conversation. Ultimately your comments and questions should help advance the collective understanding of the group toward your desired outcomes. If you find yourself in a collaborative conversation that does not have an explicit goal or purpose, you’ve got three choices:

  • Stop the dialogue and bring the conversation back to identifying the explicit objectives you are trying to achieve
  • Hold on and wait out a wild and potentially unproductive time
  • Step out and find a better way to spend your time!