Planning the Physical Location of People within the Group

What Should a Leader Do When –

L33 – Planning the Physical Location of People within the Group

1 The positioning (physical location) of Members can have a significant influence on encouraging or discouraging Members to talk to each other.

2 The following points assume a conference situation which has Group Members on at least three sides of a square, with the Conference Leader on the fourth side. A curved shaped would prove better*, but most Conference- Room furniture only allows a straight side so that, usually, at least three or four people sit side by side.

Communication Between Leaders and Participants

3 Leaders will more readily talk with, have an awareness of, and receive communications from, people in front of them – as compared with people to the side of them. Thus if they want to pay particular attention to one or more Members they have more chance if they place them in front of them rather than sit the Members at the side.

4 A quieter member who sits in front of them will usually get more of their attention.

5 If Leaders want to quieten some Members they can put them on either side of them — called the blind spot. The “blind spot” for Conference Leaders lies on either side of their right or left. This “blind spot” increases if Leaders move their chair and/or themselves towards the Group’s centre i.e. towards Participants opposite them. At that stage a Member in the blind spot will sit almost behind a Leader.

6 Thus, the closer Leaders put the person to them, the greater the oppor— tunity of decreasing their attention to this person.

7 If Leaders have a tendency to look more towards their left, then the position on their right constitutes a greater blind spot then the position on their left; and vicersa-versa.

Communication between Two Participants

8 Leaders who wish to decrease communication between two Participants (e.g. those who have a tendency to argue with each other or start side conversations) should put them on the same side of an open-square arrangement but not next to each other. That arrangement means they have less chance of seeing each other and therefore will talk less to each other.

9 Conversely, if Leaders wish to encourage two Participants to talk to each other, they should sit them so they face each other.

* The ideal physical arrangement for Conferences has seating so that all Members can see the face of all other Members. Straight sides mean that some people cannot see each other without moving forward.

The Participant arrives late.

What Should a Participant Do when -

P4 – The Participant arrives late.

1 Whenever a group of people meet together invariably some one  arrives  late.

2 Participants should realise that the manner in which they enter the meeting room will affect the way other Members conduct themselves.

3 Participants who come into the meeting room will disturb the meeting whenever they:

     (a) apologise to the Chairperson/Leader for their late arrival

     (b) talk to one or more other Members about why they arrived late

     (c) greet one or more other Members in the meeting

     (d) converse with one or more other Members on some subjects other than the topic under consideration by the meeting at the time of entry

4 Participants should realise that all these activities waste the time of a meeting. In effect Members commit two faults: they arrive late and then they waste meeting time by the way they act after they arrive.

5 Probably most people will wish to apologise for their lateness. Possibly, Participants should do so.

6 However it would prove better for all groups who meet regularly if everyone accepted the idea that people do not come late intentionally. Thus they should agree to use the following approach. Enter the room in the quietest possible way and take their place in the meeting with the least amount of disruption to the progress of the group’s current discussion.

The Meeting uses one or more unsatisfactory Procedures.

What Should a Participant Do When –

P3 – The Meeting uses one or more unsatisfactory Procedures.

1 Several steps apply when a Participant wishes to change the procedure used by a meeting. The Participant can try to:

     (a) Get the Group to stop its topic discussion and change to – consider the ineffectiveness of the current procedure.

     (b) Offer a new and better procedure.

     (c) Get another Participant to offer a new and better procedure.

     (d) Gain Group support for a new procedure (to increase the probability of the Group using it).

Stop the Discussion and Consider a New Procedure

2 Participants will have more chance of getting the Group to alter a procedure if they offer an alternative.

3 Without an alternative, Participants who wish to stop using their current procedure aim only to convince the Group that they should not use the procedure. Sometimes they will achieve this point. However, without an alternative, they have to hope that someone will support their criticism and produce a new and better procedure.

Communicate Clearly the New Procedure

4 This section does not distinguish between who offers a new procedure. As shown in paragraphs 1 (b) and (c), one Participant can offer a new procedure or encourage one or more other Participants to do so.

5 A change in discussion topic from a content topic to a procedure one (should we change to procedure “X”) will sometimes confuse some Participants. Some Participants will not understand the choice open to them. If called upon to contribute to a straw vote, they may vote without really understanding the situation.

6 Sometimes a suggestion of (almost) any new topic will help to achieve a change if the Group feels dissatisfied with the existing (old) procedure.

7 However to gain genuine and lasting support, Participants suggesting a change should aim to ensure that all Participants understand the new procedures and the advantages of changing.

Gaining Group Support

8 Sometimes Participants will find themselves opposing an Official Leader in wanting to change to a different procedure. In this case, support from other Participants will increase the probability of gaining a change.

9 Thus the “changers” should encourage others to support their idea by such phrases as – “Will you support me in this idea Frank?”  “Louise, won’t you agree with me?” “Mary – you see the advantages of this new procedure, don’t you?”  “Harry, what do you think about changing?”

Butterflying Between Procedures Provides an Unsatisfactory “Procedure”

10 In many Conferences, procedures usually come from a statement by the Leader. However sometimes Participants suggest procedures. Sometimes a procedure evolves from the ideas and discussions of various Members.

11 Conference Members often “butterfly” from one topic to another without control; they often butterfly from one procedural approach to another also.

12 Members often disagree on the correct procedure to take at any one time. Such a situation occurs because it will often prove impossible to know that one procedure will prove better than another will.

Sometimes some Participants “Know” the Correct Procedure but cannot convince Other Members to follow their idea.

13 Sometimes more-experienced Members will judge well the usefulness of a particular procedure. However sometimes they will not have much influence. Thus, they will have to let the Group find out for themselves that they have taken “the wrong path”.

14 Participants should train themselves to accept such situations without annoyance. However, they should also use it as an opportunity to educate less-experienced Participants.

The Participant wants to act as a constructive and useful Participant

What should a Participant do when -

P2 – The Participant wants to act as a constructive and useful Participant

Make Wise Contributions 

1 Probably Conference Participants* should accept as their major role the making of wise contributions.

2 These notes state that anyone can take a leadership role – defined as “Making procedural contributions”. Usually the phrase “wise contributions” refers to the content of the contributions. However, it can also include procedure contributions.

3 Broadly, a wise contribution includes anything which helps the Conference achieve its objectives.

4 This point ignores the possibility that a Conference could have a worthless end objective.

5 The very word “Participant” describes an important part of the role. Anyone who attends a Conference and says nothing usually plays no useful part in achieving the Conference Objectives.**

Listen Carefully

6 To make wise contributions, Participants need to listen to conference discussions and decide whether they support, oppose, or feel neutral toward, the ideas of other Conference Members.

Relate at least some contributions to contributions of other Members. 

7 After listening carefully, Participants should evaluate the contributions of others and make contributions relevant to helping to achieve the Conference Objectives.

 * In these notes, the word “Participant” refers to all Conference Members other than the Leader. The word “Leader” refers to the Official Conference Leader.

** An exception occurs if a person’s very presence has an influence on the way people behave. Example. A Manager of one or more Members attends a Conference yet takes no part in the Conference except to lend support by attending.

8 Once they hear a contribution, Participants can:

     (a) support the ideas put forward by another Member – in order to help gain consensus,

     (b) oppose some ideas which they rate as incorrect – in order to avoid consensus on some idea and/or action which they feel will stop (further) progress by the Conference,

     (c) keep silent – when they believe their contribution will not really assist the Group’s progress, or

     (d) keep silent – when they disagree with a Member’s ideas but they -

           (i) do not believe it relevant to the progress of the Conference and/or

          (ii) believe it will not prove useful overall to disagree with the contribution.

9 Helpful Participants will contribute useful ideas (content) to the discussion.

10 Very helpful Participants will also:

     (a) realise that the Conference procedures need improvement and

     (b) suggest better procedures.

11 Examples. (a) “Mr. Chairman, I think Dick wanted to get a vote on the matter of “(b) “I think Betty has a useful idea and it needs further consideration. I wonder if we could ask Betty to repeat her idea and have everyone listen to it carefully.” (c) “I wonder if you have everyone’s view on this matter, Madam Chair.” (d) I suspect that some people do not want to change the subject matter of the discussion. Perhaps you should take a straw vote on the matter.”

Encourage wise behaviour in other Members especially the Official Leader.  

12 Useful Participants will also help by:

(a) encouraging quieter Conference Members to contribute

(b) maintaining silence at appropriate times

(c) pointing out when off-the-topic contributions occur

(d) answering questions put by the Conference Leader and encouraging others to do likewise.

13 However the above points assume that Conference Leaders have enough wisdom to recognise helpful attempts when they see them and will accept them. Wise leaders will not feel defensive about their own role as the Official Leader or feel annoyed at anyone who attempts to help them.

14 However helping other Members will not prove completely straightforward. Sometimes Leaders will have a strategy by which they aim to deal with a Conference situation. The helper’s contributions will sometimes upset that strategy.

15 Thus, probably, wise Participants will delay their procedural contributions for (say) a minute and/or three contributions — especially where they believe their procedural idea will have a major impact.

16 However sometimes they will need to move quickly because they believe they can stop a Conference Leader from doing something quite unwise.

Help relax a tense situation.

17 Where Participants can do so, they will help to relieve tension. Sometimes a humorous remark will do wonders to relax a Group.

Study appropriate material before the Conference.

18 Before a Conference, useful Conference Participants will have studied any material that Participants should have studied. They will have done their “Individual-think” before they reach the stage of “Group-think” and discussion.

Train Members in effective Conference Leading and Participating.   

19 Sometimes helpful Participants will find their contributions limited by the knowledge other Members have. What will prove helpful to a Group who know how to achieve effective Conferences will annoy, or seem like unwarranted interference to, a less knowledgeable group. In these cases (and where further Conferences will take place), skillful Participants will aim to teach some of the other Conference Members something about how Conferences should function. Official leaders will often need such training.

20 In summary, Members who want to play a useful part in the success of a Conference, will:

     (a) provide sound content contributions, which relate to the topic and help move the Group towards the Conference Objectives,

(b) support a Leader’s moves to retain control and generally assist the Group, and

(c) help the Group achieve procedures that advance the discussion towards the Conference objectives.

A Chairperson has obvious deficiencies.

What could a Participant do When –

P1 – A  Chairperson has  obvious  deficiencies

1 Useful approaches to helping a Chairperson with obvious deficiencies will vary with the type of deficiency.

2 In general, the approach involves suggesting some positive action to such Chairpersons. Often they will readily accept an idea because they do not know quite what to do and any suggestions will prove welcome to them. But sometimes they will see Participants who make suggestions as people who want to reduce the power (authority) of the Chairperson.

3 The following lists some examples of useful approaches.

S i t u a t I o n

W h a t    t o    s u g g e s t

4. The Group’s attitude to a major point seems unclear Mr Chairman – I suggest you take a straw vote on this matter.
5. The chairperson does not seem to understand the content of the discussion Madam Chair – I wonder if you would agree that the following summarises the situation – ……..OR I wonder if everyone would agree that this disagreement exists mainly because Tom and others believe ….. While the rest mainly believe ……. …..
6. The discussion appears “bogged down” on a minor matter. Mr Chairman – I suggest we should move off this minor matter. We have discussed t for a long time and no one appears to agree. IN any case, do we need to get agreement on this minor matter?
7. The discussion appears likely to get nowhere because no one has suggested a definite objective.
8. The chairperson has difficulty in putting forward a structure on which people can vote.
9. The Group has “butterflied”(many topics at the one time)  off the topic.

Help decide the Usefulness of “the path” the Group has decided to travel or have actually travelled in some way.

What Should Members Do To –

M33 – Help decide the of “the path” the has decided to travel or  have actually travelled in some way.

1 Sometimes a Group will try to achieve a particular sub— (travel down one particular path) to achieve an objective.

2 Sometimes at the start of the path or later, after having experienced the path, one or more Members will feel that they have chosen the wrong path (sub-objective).

3 The question then arises – “What can one Member do to encourage other Members to examine the correctness of the path and/or consider choosing a new path (sub-objective)?”

Some Questions that aim to encourage Members to check the correctness of their current Path.

An important approach to choosing a correct path involves using the question – “What do we hope toachieve by trying to go down this path(achieve this particular objective)?”

5 An attempt to answer this question encourages Members to consider what they will find at the end of the path i.e. what will achieving the current sub—objective help them to achieve.

6 Once Users of the first question (paragraph 4 above) receive an answer they can follow up the question by saying: “And just what help does achieving that objective give to achieving the Conference Objective?” Alternatively they can ask – “Assume we “travel” to the end of our current path how does that help us to choose our next path?”

7 Sometimes the answer obtained will show such Enquirers that they have not really identified a specific problem. They may have started out with a vague feeling of “wrongness” about the path and the answer to their question convinces them of the usefulness of the path.

8 Sometimes the answers will convince them of the unsuitability of the path. In this situation sometimes they will convince others that they should move to a different path. Sometimes they will fail to achieve this objective and continue down the path with the rest of the Group –  unless they wish to annoy others and make themselves unpopular.

After one Failure when should Members try again.

9 When Members fail to convince others of the correctness of the idea that they have chosen the wrong path, they need to watch for just when should they put the question next. They should not push the point too frequently and at too short an interval. If they do they may get other Members to a stage where they will not support the people who want to change paths even though they might finally believe in their ideas. They act stubbornly and refuse to budge. Thus they have the problem of the appropriate timing to allow more people to perceive the situation as they do and they need to put it in a way which encourages people to change. They must allow Members to save face; rather than rubbing their noses in the dirt with some phrase such as “1 told you fifteen minutes ago we would waste our time if we continued.”

Methods for a Second Try.

10 Perhaps they might use some such phrase as : “M Chairman, I wonder if it would prove useful to the Group if they could vote again on whether they believe they should continue to go down this path (try to achieve this sub- objective)?

11 Perhaps they should ignore the path altogether and use some phrase such as: “I recommend that we change from this sub-objective and try a different approach. Madam Chair, could you ask who agrees with me?”

12 If the Member who feels the Group have chosen the wrong path also occupies the position of Official Leader, this person will need to make some more approaches than those suggested above. Again it will prove a nice point to decide just when to make firm suggestions to the Group that they might now care to change their minds about their procedure.

Reduce the conflict between Listening and Thinking

What Should Members Do To –

M32 – Reduce the conflict between Listening and Thinking.

1 Members continuously have a conflict between (a) listening to another Member’s contribution and (b) thinking about a particular contribution and/or the topic as a whole.

2 This point applies even during Members’ own contribution – they think of a point while talking.

3 Members who try to remember their ideas risk having to concentrate on that idea and so reduce their capacity to listen. If they switch back to listening after getting the idea clear in their mind they risk forgetting the idea.

4 No method will completely eliminate this conflict. However Members can practise some techniques which will reduce it.

Make a quick Note of what you want to say.

5 Most people will find they can reduce the problem by making a quick note of their idea in writing on a pad beside them. Then they can switch back to giving their full attention to listening.

Check back to the Note during a low-information period.

6 Sometimes a period will occur when Members can half listen and half do something else (e.g. when a Contributor says something in a longwinded way and/or says something which the Listener anticipates that the Speaker intends to say). In such situations Members can remind themselves quickly of the particular point they wish to put before the meeting by glancing at their pad.

7 When they get the right to speak they can often hold the attention of the Group long enough to glance down at their pad.

8 Sometimes Members will want to contribute regarding what another member has just said. This Member may disagree with a number of points that the other Member has said. For such situations Members should use the same technique – write the points they wish to make on a piece of paper in front of them.

Improve Listening by making notes to summarise Speakersd’ Ideas and add own Ideas

9 People who really want to force themselves to listen hard can jot down the main ideas in the contributions made by a Speaker. While doing so they can quickly add some additional points on their pad without reducing appreciably their ability to listen to the Contributor.

Problems of thinking how to say Something.

10 Unfortunately some Members want to spend time thinking out ] to put forward one or more of their ideas. For this objective a few notes jotted down will help a little but almost certainly these people will need to stop listening. When they do they should try to find times when the Speakers take a long time and quite a few words to communicate their ideas.

11 However if they do not stop listening they may miss some vital points which will make their well-thought-out approach of little value.

12 Members should weigh up the advantages of a better-prepared speech with the wrongcontent as compared with the rightcontent, not so well expressed.


Problems of listening for time to “get in”.

13 Some Members stop listening to what people say because they only listen for someone to stop speaking.

14 They should try to train themselves to listen to content and for pauses – at the same time.

* The  notes on – How to Listen Better provide much more i formation on the topic of listening.

Deal with the Problem of not having an Official Leader

What Should Members Do To –

M31 – Deal with the Problem of not having an Official Leader.

A Meaning for Official Leader.

1 The term “Official Leader’t describes one Member appointed to take charge  of a Group for a specific task (achieve one or more objectives) and/or for a specific time.

2 A Group may find someone (e.g. Conference Originator or Conference Planner) has appointed an Official Leader. However for a variety of reasons some Groups find they have no Official Leader.


Does the Group need one official Leader?

3 Each Member in a Group without a designated Leader should consider two

(a) Does the Group need an Official Leader?

(b) Who should get the position?

4 Presumably the questions imply that many Groups need an effective Leader. Thus each Member should have some idea of what constitutes an effective Leader or, better, what an effective Leader will do and will not do.

A Meaning for Effective Conference Leader.

5 One definition of a Conference Leader states: “Anyone who makes a procedural contribution takes the role of a Leader for that particular contribution”.

6 Presumably effectiveLeaders would mean people who persuade the Group to act on their procedural contribution. However, from another viewpoint, effective Leaders would mean people who got the Group to act on their procedural contribution and the procedural contribution helped the Group to achieve its objectives. This latter viewpoint considers the wisdom of the procedural idea.

7 Unfortunately the word “objective” or “objectives” still does not clarify the situation completely. The Leadership contribution may help the Group to achieve the objective of a topic discussion. However achieving the topic discussion objective will sometimes hinder the Group from achieving the overall end objective of the Conference.

8 Thus effective procedures need evaluation from a viewpoint of the overall conference objective, as do the shorter—term objective of the topic discussion.

Any Member can act as a Leader .Therfore no need to select the most effective.

9 However if Readers accept that any Member can act as a Leader, a Conference Group may not need to identify the most effective Leader. Some or all Members could pay attention to making effective procedural contributions and decide not to have one official Leader.

10 No one Conference Member will know/suggest all the useful, or effective, procedural contributions. Therefore the Group should listen to all procedural contributions. Sometimes even a Member who usually makes poor procedural contributions will suggest one which solves a Group’s problems.

11 Thus this viewpoint suggests that a Group need not necessarily have one Member designated as the Official Group Leader. If Conference Members realise the need for procedural contributions and make them at appropriate times, sufficient leadership activity will occur – for some Groups to achieve some objectives.

12 However many Groups do not consist of sufficiently—well-trained Members to allow them to function well without them having one Member whom they can treat as the Official Leader.

Who will best fill the role of official Leader?

13 The following idea provides a simple answer to this question - the person who can do most to help the Group achieve its objective(s).

14 However a better answer would state — the person who can do most to help the Group achieve particular objectives, at a particular time in the Conference, with the particular Conference Members.

15 This latter answer implies that for some situations one Member can lead best at one time while a different Member will lead best at a different time.

16 Some Members will know more about and/or have a greater interest in achieving some objectives. Sometimes a Member will lead well at one time but will not feel so well at another time and his/her ability will suffer.

17 Further, some Members will participate well (or poorly) for some Leaders. One person may have great skill at running a Conference but if the Members of that particular Conference do not want that person to run the Conference, he/she will have a low probability of succeeding as the Official Conference Leader.

Detailed Points to consider in selecting an Official Leader.

18 In practice, the idea of selecting a person who can best help the Group achieve its objectives will often prove of little value. If the Group do not know each other they have no basis on which to choose a Leader. Simi larly if Conference Originators do not know the Conference Members they have no basis on which to choose.


Avoid the loss of Ideas – especially useful ones.

What Should Members Do When They Want to –

M30 – Avoid the loss of Ideas- especially useful ones.

Identify quieter Participants who have useful Ideas.

1 Conference Members (especially Leaders) should watch for quieter Conference Participants who have useful ideas but fail to get others to consider them.

2 Some Participants have quiet voices and/or put forward their ideas tentatively. Some may not put forward their ideas often enough to make an impact on the Group.

3 Sometimes these types of Participants have much to contribute to a discussion.  However the Group loses the benefit of their ideas because of the manner in which they communicate them.

4 Wise Leaders and Participants will look for, and identify, such people. They will watch for when these people want to contribute and they will help them to do so. They will help ensure that the Group hears the comment and considers it.

5 A Member can use the following types of approaches -

     (a) “Dick has made an interesting comment I suggest you all listen to it again and comment on it.”

     (b) “I think you wanted to make a comment Sally – would everyone please listen carefully to her ideas.”

6 However Leaders should realise that they have conflicting objectives between encouraging an individual to speak and encouraging others to listen.

7 Thus, with respect to paragraph 5, it may prove embarrassing to the Member that the Leader has “held up” their idea for consideration by the Group.

8 Thus Leaders need an approach that will encourage others to listen to a person but not to the extent of discouraging the person to speak.

9 The identification of a particular person as in paragraph 5 may upset a person who lacks confidence. However, Readers should note that a quiet person does not necessarily lack confidence. People may rate as quiet for other reasons besides a lack of confidence.