Changing the Culture of a Meeting - Or a Church!


What can one person do to help build a culture of safety, of openness, trust, and healthy dialog? There are some very simple and concrete things that will help.

Meetings as a place of encouragement - how I long for it.   But how little I contribute to it.  I ask questions that are intended to point out problems.  I tell stories of past failures to caution against too much enthusiasm.  I pose alternative ideas before really digesting what's already been suggested.

Deacons often build their meetings around problems, needs, shortfalls, and concerns.  In a way, that's their job, but the wise deacon has her attitude shaped by graceful abundance, rather than by anxious focus on the problems.  So how can one deacon make a difference in how a meeting flows? It takes some persistence, and a real determination not to be derailed.   

How do I listen? Listen for the idea I can affirm, the comment I can build on. Say so. "I like Rob's comments earlier and I'd like to build on what he said." Listen for the opportunity to encourage a speaker, and take the opportunity. "Sheila brings some experience to us that none of the rest of us have, and I wonder if we could explore her idea a bit more?"

How do I speak?  When I get a flash of inspiration, a great idea, or an insight too good to pass up, I just have to blurt it out.  But I've learned instead to jot it down so I don't lose it, and that helps me keep paying attention to whoever is speaking.  Rather than stepping on someone else's comment, I can listen all the way to the end, and take it in.  Showing consideration at all times is an important step toward building a culture of encouragement.  It helps people feel safe and affirmed.  

Keep a sort of general picture in your mind of who's talking and how much. Try to draw out people who haven't talked, without putting them on the spot.  Suggest a pause in the flow so that people can collect their thoughts, and make space for people who don't feel quite comfortable jumping into an intense conversation. Balance your own comments so you are not taking up more than your share of air time.  

Finally, what will you NOT say?  You will not say 80% of the negative ideas that come to you. You'll pick the best and most valuable and most helpful 20% of the problems or negative opinions that pop into your head, and you'll only share those, maybe, if no one else does, and if it's absolutely necessary to make an essential point in the conversation.

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A wise analysis on social etiquette that is tough for me too.  Thanks Karl



Faith Alive used to have a devotional book called "Beyond the Agenda," which I thought gave great ideas for devotions to help build community within church committees. I also think that facilitation techniques are so important for good, productive meetings, yet they aren't taught very much in our circles.