Process Manual Meetings and decision-making in Green locals
Meetings will make or break your local. If they’re well-planned and give people a sense of their own power, you’ll do well. If they ramble and wander and never seem to get anywhere, you won’t have a group very long.
The first thing you need to decide about a meeting is, “why have one at all?” Face it, we all have better things to do with our time, and too often groups organize meetings “because that’s all groups do, right?”
The program of your organization should consist of action, not meetings. It is very easy to slip into the opposite: a program of meetings, not action. If you are having one meeting a month, then you need to have one activity at least once every two months or people will stop coming to your meetings.
If you substitute educational programs at your meetings for planning action, you will attract a different kind of membership, which will make it hard to get the local back into action. Education is important, but it’s hard to measure whether you’ve “educated” people. Study groups and educational presentations should be organized as appropriate, but should be seen as only part of what you are about. (See “Inreach” in the Building Your Local section.) We’ll say it again: your local should be action-oriented. Education is a means to this end.
Make it real
Every meeting should have concrete and measurable goals, such as:
- Deciding and developing and issue or electoral campaigns.
- Recruiting new members.
- Deciding organizational positions.
- Planning a rally, protest, or other “action.”
- Planning for the future.
- Doing actual work: writing letters, phoning new members, and so on.
Planning the meeting
Remind people to come. Don’t rely on mailings or a phone call a week or two before. Call whoever should be there starting three nights before the meeting. Have as many people as possible make the calls (they will convince themselves to come by doing so). Remind everyone of the date, time, and place. Tell them why the meeting is appropriate in terms of the issue group is working on and mention the main decision(s) which will have to be made at the meeting. Determine who needs help with transportation. Ask each person directly, “Can you come?” Then say, “Good, I’ll be looking forward to seeing you there.”
Always plan for fewer people than you expect, and don’t make any disappointed comments about the size of a meeting. Whoever shows up, shows up. If recruiting and participation are problems, put them on the agenda.
Different types of meetings
One important reason that you should be clear about why you are meeting is that you should divide your meetings into at least three completely distinct types: introductory, membership, and working.
Introductory meetings are just that: a way to introduce your organization to new folks. PLAN THEM CAREFULLY!!! Although you will want to act folksy, accessible, grassroots, maybe a little rough around the edges, the reality is that your debut (for that’s what it is) should be a tightly choreographed as a Bolshoi Ballet. Nothing turns off new people quicker than disorganization.
Schedule down to the minute. Rehearse your lines. Triple-check all your props, equipment, supplies, resource people, everything.
Plan the meeting at least two weeks (if not a month) later than you think it needs to be—you’ll probably need the extra time.
Distribute or post the agenda, but don’t put it up for debate—just launch into it.
As an experienced Green, you should see introductory meetings as a gold mine of information that you can use to build the movement. Remember, these are people that were interested enough by something you did (you don’t know exactly what) to take a big risk and come to your meeting.
It’s easy for experienced organizers to forget the process by which they became politically interested and engaged. If you let this happen, you’ll lose your effectiveness. One way to keep reminding yourself is to really listen to new folks as they come in, but you’ll need to figure out ways to do this. One way not to do it is have seventy-five people sit in a big circle and talk about why the came. Here’s why not:
First, it’s too time-consuming.
Second, new people (especially shy ones) will tend to say what they think will sound good to a big crowd, not necessarily what’s on their mind.
Third, people will tend to ignore the remarks of those speaking before them, thinking instead about what they’re going to say when it’s their turn.
There are a multitude of creative things you can do in an introductory meeting. Basic small group discussions are always good, with reports back to the main group. It’s best to have at least one experienced member in each small group conduct a brief agenda, including hearing introductions, personal history, hopes, fears, and so on from each participant.
A frequent, if well-intentioned, mistake that new Green organizers make is trying to turn their first introductory meeting into a membership meeting. “We need to get as many people as possible involved in our decisions right away,” the reasoning usually goes. In extreme cases, organizers will call an introductory meeting and not even set an agenda, believing that it’s more, “democratic” to let whoever shows up decide what the meeting should cover.
This kind of organizing can fatally handicap your efforts to start an effective Green local. The sad truth is that people will quickly dismiss such well-intentioned efforts as disorganized and ineffective, and you will lose some of your best potential recruits immediately. What’s worse, the Green name in the community may take years to recover its reputation. Treating an introductory meeting like a membership meeting opens the door to disruption by newcomers who may have no commitment to your local’s long-term success. Too many times, big talkers come in, dominate the show, go on at length about their vision for your local’s success, promise to take on all sorts of work, and then never show up again.
You can avoid this sort of problem by starting with a carefully-organized introductory meeting that’s set up to empower all the participants, and follow this meeting up not with a membership meeting right away, but a number of working meetings and task nights which give new folks an opportunity to get their hands on something right away. A membership meeting six weeks after the intro meeting, with the interim filled in with some work and concrete activity, will be much more effective. You’ll be more likely to have the really committed folks attend.
You may find that there are tons of people waiting for your local to form. Be warned: don’t over-publicize your meetings unless you can accommodate volunteers into your structure. If there are a lot of discontented people mumbling “Well, I tried to join, but they didn’t know what to do with me,” then your group will look ineffective.
GET THEM INVOLVED! This means careful planning. You shouldn’t organize a big intro meeting without at least two task nights set to go, so that new folks can get involved right away. You’ll also need to grapple with the questions raised in the Building Your Local section: setting some direction, keeping focused, deciding how many working groups you can realistically sustain, and so forth.
For further ideas for effective introductory meeting exercises, see the books Resource Manual for a Living Revolution, Joining Together, or Training for Transformation.
Your membership meetings are where the most important decisions get made, about finances, campaigns, structure, legal issues, and so forth. They should be as broad as possible; all your members should be there.
(See the section on Structure for a discussion of the question, “who is a member.”)
You don’t need to have full membership meetings every week or even every month. Quarterly seems to work fine for many Green groups.
Setting an agenda for a large membership meeting takes some planning, and the process for doing so should be spelled out in your group’s internal structure. You may wish to have your coordinating committee (if you have one) do it, or a special agenda committee set up specifically for that purpose. The agenda should be set and mailed out beforehand, so that your members know what might be decided at the meeting.
There’s two basic ways to go about setting an agenda: proposal-driven or problem-driven. Newer and smaller groups tend to use problem-driven agenda setting, which is as simple as it sounds. A problem area (“Finances,” “Outreach,” “Incinerator Campaign” and so forth) is put on the agenda, brainstormed, discussed, and debated, and (hopefully) a group proposal eventually emerges which is accepted.
Proposal-driven agenda setting
As groups mature and start to deal with more sophisticated issues, problem-driven agenda setting becomes a limitation. It becomes more and more necessary to break big problems down and present clear alternatives to the group, because of time constraints and other things the group may be doing. Proposals can come from single individuals, but they are much better coming from two or more members, or a committee, working group, or caucus. Some groups may even want to enact policies on this.
Proposal-driven agenda setting is not a cure-all, and it can be very erosive to trust and empowerment in newer groups. The person who consistently shows up with neatly printed proposals when the rest of the group are still just getting to know each other will likely be perceived as insensitive, domineering, or having an agenda.
New members at the membership meeting
Taking care of business and cluing new people in to what’s going on are two mutually exclusive goals. Your membership meetings (if they are well-attended) will naturally attract new folks. It’s very important for you to provide some space and time to get them oriented. You’ve got three imperfect options:
- Apologize that they’ve come to a business meeting, tell them when the next introductory meeting is, tell them that they’re welcome to observe, and send them home with something to read (not the warmest reception, but you’ll get your business done).
- Have someone take them aside and give them a mini-presentation on the Green movement and your group (nicer, but you may need all of your members present at the meeting).
- Set aside time for an introductory presentation that the whole group participates in (nicest, but you may not have the time).
There are several types of working meetings, depending on your local’s current campaigns and structure. Don’t be fooled by the fact that this section on them is brief: having successful working meetings will be the life or death of your group. It’s just that there’s so many different ways you can structure your group that it’s hare to make useful generalizations here.
Generally, working meetings are smaller, more focused, and (hopefully!) briefer than either introductory of full membership meetings. Some groups have an elected coordinating body of some sort which meets monthly or so. Some groups have action committees which meet as needed. Some groups have administrative subcommittees (budget, planning, etc.). Some groups have ongoing study committees. It all depends on your priorities.
One really fun type of working meeting is a “task night,” where people get together to do physical things: stuff envelopes, paint banners, put up posters, and so on. If you can’t schedule one good task night every month you should look at your local’s strategy and priorities: how are you ever going to involve new people?
One thing does not change: be sure that you have a reason to meet! It is always best to have at least a preliminary agenda set beforehand (usually problem-driven for working groups and proposal-driven for coordinating groups); you can always amend it when the meeting starts.
Functionaries are roles that members of the group may fill to help the meeting run more smoothly.
The facilitator is the most important functionary role. Smaller meetings can often “self-facilitate,” but if you have a meeting of eight or more people it is highly recommended that someone act as facilitator.
Good facilitation can take a lifetime to learn. It’s very important to watch experienced facilitators at work and take careful note of what they do. It’s not just a matter of acting as a “traffic cop;” it’s more like acting as an orchestra conductor. Facilitators need to have a number of often-contradictory skills:
- a thorough political understanding of the issue being discussed,
- an ability to completely submerge their own views on an issue into a commitment to helping the group as a whole,
- sensitivity to a group’s unspoken signals, and
- a detailed memory for everything that has been said in a given session so far.
A facilitator’s tasks may include: keeping a “stack” of members waiting to be called upon, writing down “brainstorming” ideas, calling the group back to the agenda, keeping the member comments short and to the point, restating comments for clarity as needed, applying various processes and rules as appropriate, being attentive to the needs and input of the timekeepers, vibes-watchers, and minute-takers, starting and stopping the meeting on time, and generally keeping things moving along at a spritely pace.
In some situations (large meetings, highly charged issues, inexperienced facilitators, and so forth) it is helpful to have a backup or co-facilitator. The two facilitators can then divide the duties and stress to make a difficult situation more manageable.
Facilitators must remain alert, non-partisan and objective. If they become fatigued or emotionally charged, or if they cannot stand aside from their views on a subject, they should step down as facilitator. Stepping down as facilitator when necessary is an honorable and conscientious act and is nothing to be ashamed of.
Timekeepers do exactly what you would expect them to do. Occasionally, they may have to keep track of several things at once: for example, timing a general agenda item, a sub-item within that, and the length of a speaker’s comments.
A gentle sound that the group recognizes, such as a bell, is a fairly unobtrusive way to let the group know when a time limit has been reached. If the signal is ignored, the timekeeper may need to become vocal.
Time limits are important. If a group starts to run over, they should re-negotiate the time limit, and think about where the additional time is going to come from.
These functionaries are objective observers. They are not directly part of the discussion so they are in a position to catch things that those more closely involved may miss. They should be attuned to the emotional climate of the meeting and should point out “hidden agendas,” individual power struggles, role playing, extrinsic conflicts (unrelated to the discussion item), and smaller impediments to the group’s progress.
Vibes-watchers should also be free to comment on process issues, if the facilitator needs to be reminded at some point.
Audio and video-taping Green meetings has proven to be ineffective: technical difficulties and the time involved in transcribing are major problems. The old-fashioned taking of minutes by hand is apparently still the best way. Occasionally, it is possible to have a fast typist take minutes on a personal computer, but it seems easier for items to be missed when this is your only form of record-taking.
The facilitator should indicate whenever the group has reached a decision and how they have reached that decision, and this should be recorded by the minute-taker. Discussion may be summarized as needed for clarity, but the key thing is getting the decisions down, rather than transcribing everything said.
As an aid to the minute-taker, a proposal that is adopted by the group should be written up in its final form and submitted to the minute-taker for inclusion in the minutes by those making the proposal. This helps guarantee accuracy.
Consensus and voting
There are ongoing controversies in the Greens over the use of consensus versus voting. It is up to your local to decide your own decision-making processes. Here are some brief pros and cons for consensus voting.
|Arguments for Consensus||Arguments against Consensus|
|Produces the highest-quality, most-acceptable decisions||one person can hold a large group back from doing what it wants to|
|decisions will be implemented more quickly and thoroughly because they are universally acceptable||decisions get made by those who stay and talk the longest|
|fully respects the rights of the minority||favors the status quo in a group|
|especially appropriate for groups or organizations with strong emphasis on cohesion or the status quo, or for decisions where the risks and consequences are extreme (major organizational changes, financial commitments,the Plowshares-type civil disobedience)||dangerous illusion that unanimous decisions are perfect decisions—impossible in social change organizations where results of decisions can never be completely known beforehand|
|a small minority of power-hungry people can manipulate the process and disempower the grassroots|
|Arguments for Voting||Arguments against Voting|
|quicker, more efficient||majority rule is totalitarian and coercive|
|people can register their disagreement without being pressured to change their minds||unhappy minorities will sabotage implementation|
|more familiar to poor people, trade unionists, people of color||often overlooks possible “win- win” compromises|
|best way to decide questions where there is no status quo||a small minority of power- hungry people can manipulate
the process and disempower the grassroots
|best way to decide minor questions that won’t split the group|
Facilitating a meeting
First of all, start on time and know why you are meeting!
Assuming a suggested agenda has been assembled by a working group before the meeting (highly recommended for all but the smallest meetings), a copy of that agenda should be posted on large sheets of newsprint or on a whiteboard so that it is easily visible to everyone at the meeting. The entire agenda should then be reviewed by the group with presenters providing clarification as needed. The facilitator should then call for limited discussion regarding: the appropriateness of each item, items to be added or deleted, order of the agenda, time amounts, and if necessary, priorities.
It’s often good to start the agenda with some easily resolved items, so that people feel good right away about getting something done. But don’t keep the difficult stuff for the last; get it on the table early on, while people still have energy. Generally, set the agenda with a sense of pacing, and don’t forget plenty of breaks—you’ll get more done with them than without them.
In larger meetings where people may not know each other, everyone should position themselves wherever they feel most comfortable in a circle (the preferred shape for effective communication) and introduce themselves.
In situations where everyone does know each other, it is still customary among many Greens to have a “check-in”—a brief go-around where people can state how they’re doing, their hopes for the meeting, and so forth. Opening and closing ceremonies also help build a sense of community.
As above, your meeting may have some open-ended “problem”-type agenda items that need to be discussed. It’s hard to generalize, but if you don’t have a firm proposal on something, you may want to use brainstorming, small group discussions, longer stacks (see below) and other such tools to hear as many points of view as possible.
During discussion of a particular problem, a “sense of the meeting&r dquo; often emerges that can be put into words. When a participant or the facilitator feels that it would be helpful, they should state their understanding of the “sense” as a proposal, which can be written out for clarity. If, after further discussion, this proposal seems satisfactory, it should be carefully restated and the facilitator should call for agreement (consensus or a show of hands). The accepted proposal should then be written down by the proposer in its final form and submitted to the minute-taker for inclusion in the minutes.
Formal proposals should have a presenter who can describe them and answer questions and concerns. Much debating time can be saved by giving ample time for the presenter to respond to all inquiries.
It’s great to have general discussion, but often people who agree with a proposal will ask numerous questions that they could find out just as well by talking to the presenter privately afterward. As facilitator, disagreement is the key thing that you need to look for and draw out in the discussion. People should be encouraged to only ask questions about concerns that could lead to them blocking the proposal. If you keep reminding people on this, you will get through the agenda a lot more quickly.
One of the most misunderstood and abused facilitations tools is “the stack.” The stack is simply a list of people who have raised their hands to speak. People are then recognized one at a time from the stack.
In its most misused form, the stack contributes probably more than anything else to the Green reputation for ineffective and time-consuming process. This account from an Alaska Green convention conveys the problems:
“Because the “stacking” method of taking comments . . . does not allow people to talk to each other, but only to project detached opinions to the “group,” there was little communication between individuals. And because the response to someone’s words may come five people down the stack from that person, there was no continuity. The spirit and passion of each person’s talk instantly dried up and blew away when the next speaker started on some other subject.”
Stacks are a basic tool for equalizing participation, but don’t overuse them. They are simply one means to an end: making a good decision. The facilitator has the right at any time to terminate the stack, or to call for a new stack. This should be made clear to the meeting if necessary. Being recognized by the facilitator and “put on the stack” is no guarantee that one will get to speak.
Here is a basic recipe for using stacks effectively:
- Take a stack of five people. If someone has already spoken, try to get new people on the stack.
- Make it clear to the group that you will not recognize any more hands being raised until the five people have spoken.
- Hear the five people. It’s the facilitator’s option to call on people in a different order, for reasons of equalizing participation by women, people of color, and so forth.
- Summarize where the discussion is going, what questions seem to be key, and where the group might want to go in the discussion. If three of the five people all raised the same concern (“It’s too expensive”), you might say “It seems like there is a need to discuss cost in more detail. I will take another stack of five people who wish to speak to that question only.” Be strict about keeping to the topic.
In very few cases (such as brainstorming sessions or taking testimony) will you want to take a stack of more than five people, for the reasons cited in the Alaska example above. There are more effective ways at discovering the will of a group.
Colloquies (One-on-One Dialogue)
One very effective and under-used tool to complement stacking is the colloquy, which is a carefully monitored one-on-one dialog. Taking the above example, let’s suppose that you are in the second stack, and someone raises a strong objection to a point made by someone in the first stack. (“So and so doesn’t realize that we have extra money from the Banana Foundation that we can only spend on this project!”) Rather than forcing the first person to get on the stack again to defend their opinion, in many cases a colloquy is much more effective. Let the second person finish talking, and then turn to the first (who may be fidgeting), say you will allow a colloquy, and ask how they respond. (“Banana hasn’t guaranteed the money and anyways there are other things that we can spend it on!”) You may let this exchange proceed as you see fit, but realize that the rest of the meeting will get very impatient if it starts dragging out. Three or four brief (two-sentence) exchanges will probably be the most you should allow before returning to the stack.
Colloquies lend themselves well to a brief non-violent conflict resolution exercise. If two people are going at it hammer and tongs, stop them and have them paraphrase each other’s viewpoint as accurately as possible.
Brainstorming is simply taking suggestions without argumentation. It’s a very valuable tool for getting as many ideas, concerns, viewpoints, and so forth out on the table as quickly as possible. Remember to use it. A co-facilitator or volunteer should write the ideas down on a whiteboard or a large sheet of newsprint.
“Friendly amendments” are changes to a proposal that expand on the original idea or change it to a minor degree in a way acceptable to both the presenter and the person proposing the amendment. Friendly amendments can be lifesavers! Always look for the possibility of one.
When the facilitator or any participant of the meeting feels that the discussion is complete and no new input is forthcoming, they may “call the question.” This indicates that it is time to check for consensus. The facilitator should briefly restate the proposal or decision at hand, check to see that there is general agreement on calling the question, and ask for agreement. Participants should clearly indicate their position either with body language or vocally so that the facilitator has no difficulty determining the sense of the meeting, which should be recorded either as consensus or a passing or insufficient vote.
It may be necessary to delegate the process to a smaller group. Such a group should include skilled representatives of all sides of the issue who are acceptable to all members of the larger group. They may meet during a break or temporarily withdraw from the larger group, which should then occupy itself with some other relatively minor issue. The resolution they develop is then carried to the larger group and introduced as a proposal for discussion.
Robert’s Rules of Order are not all that frightening up close, and in fact if you’ve been meeting for any length of time you’ll see that you’ve been using many of their principles and tools without even knowing it. The interesting thing is that the motions themselves are not automatically opposed to consensus; even in a consensus process there is still often a need to refer things to a committee, recess the meeting, and so forth. The only thing that you may wish to change are whether or not a motion is debatable and by what percentage it passes (unanimous, ¾, 2/3, etc.).
The following three points are always in order, and should be recognized by the facilitator immediately:
Point of Order: a question about process, or objection and suggestion of alternative process. May include a request for the facilitator to rule on process. In order when another is speaking.
Point of Information: A request for information on a specific question, either about process or about the content of a motion. Contrary to popular belief, this is not the way to get the floor to say something you think people should know. People misusing points of information in this fashion should be overruled by the facilitator. In order when another is speaking.
Point of Personal Privilege: A comment addressing a personal need—a direct response to a comment defaming one’s character, a plea to open the windows, etc.. In order when another is speaking.
Motions are in order of precedence: motions may be made only if no motion of equal or higher precedence is on the floor. For example, don’t do number 5 (move to end of debate) when the body is discussing a number 4 (move to suspend rules). Without ordering these motions, you could go around the circles indefinitely.
Process motions usually are passed on simple majority vote. It can be very frustrating to try and solve all meeting process questions on a high majority or by consensus, because in tricky meeting situations there’s often no previous status quo and the advantage often goes to the person who’s able to frame the question first.
- Motion to Adjourn: Terminates the meeting for good; not just a particular session, but the entire meeting.
- Motion to Recess: Breaks the meeting for a set period of time.
- Motion to Appeal the Facilitator’s Decision: Allows the body to overrule a decision made by the facilitator. In order when another is speaking. A clear alternative must be presented in the appeal.
- Motion to Suspend the Process: Suspends formal process for dealing with a specific question. Usually requires 2/3 vote.
- Motion to End Debate and Vote or Call the Question: Applies only to the motion on the floor. Requires 2/3 vote.
- Motion to Extend Debate: Can be general, or for a specific time or number of speakers. Requires 2/3 vote.
- Motion to Refer to Committee: Applies only to main motion. Refers question to a specific group with a specific time and charge. Requires 2/3 vote.
- Motion to Divide the Question: Breaks the motion on the floor into two parts, in manner suggested by mover.
- Motion to Amend: If the amendment is accepted by the presenter as “friendly,” then virtually all groups will allow the amendment to stand. Strictly speaking, however, once the presenter makes the proposal it is the group’s property to amend or not.
- Main Motion: Either formally proposed beforehand (proposal-driven) or formulated out of general meeting discussion (problem-driven). At base, what you’re talking about.
Finally, if the process is to improve, there must be an opportunity to review what went on and why and a time to suggest ways to make it work better next time.
A suggestion for a large group is for the minute-taker to make list on a whiteboard or a large sheet of newsprint that the whole group can see. These heading should be placed at the top: “-“ on the left and “+” on the right. Then, brainstorm (with no discussion) what went well and what didn’t, placing each in the appropriate column. After listing, the group should briefly discuss how to improve those items listed under “-“ and ways of keeping the “+” items. This should be included in the minutes.
Other facilitation tips
DO NOT PERMIT scapegoating or personal attacks on people. Ever. Monitor the format in which criticism is given—make sure it is respectful.
Try to encourage the group to view interpersonal problems that arise as problems of the group as a whole, not just one or two people.
Discourage repetition; point it out when it occurs. Attempt to call on people who have not yet spoken before those who have already spoken.
Have people spell out abbreviations and acronyms, unless you are positive that everyone there knows what’s being talked about.
The facilitator should recognize a person before they have the floor—even for points which are in order when another is speaking. (In other words, if someone calls out “point of order,” they should not continue with their comments until the facilitator recognizes them.)
Encourage the use of humor to relieve tension.
Set an example by making all judgments in terms of “I” statements, and by separating out your feelings and observations from the interpretations you apply to them. Help others do the same.
Be aware of non-verbal cues from the group: quality of silences, eye contact, posture, movement.
Hand signals are useful and effective non-verbal means of letting the facilitator know the sense of the body. Use thumbs up, thumbs down, silent applause (or “twinkling”), “T” signal for time, circling hands for run-on speeches, and so forth.
Be a bloodhound for disagreement. The sooner you get the diametrically opposed views out on the table, the faster the process will go. State often what the “issues on the table” seem to be. Separate out real disagreements in values, ideas, and approaches from perceptual error and miscommunication.
Keep close track of what the current question is. There’s nothing worse than a group feeling lost, which easily happens if you wander into a thicket of stacks, motions, countermotions, colloquies, and so forth. (“Now, what were we talking about?”) Stay on top of why you are on your current discussion, and be strict about keeping people on the topic. Point out areas not requiring the decision of the entire group.
Keep to the allotted time or have the group renegotiate the time.
If you run into a real “can of worms” situation, you may wish to explicitly call for some discussion on meeting process. (“I will take three comments on the current process gridlock this meeting is in. Suggestions as to a new process for discussion would be most welcome.”) However, endlessly discussing process (deciding how to decide how to decide) is a notorious Green weakness.
If a good process proposal presents itself, grab it and run. Don’t put every process question to a vote; that just bogs things down even more and tends to make people unhappy.
If your meetings seem to be exceptionally frustrating, consult the Resource Manual for a Living Revolution—it has a wealth of tips and exercises for improving group process.
Start from the assumption that you are there to move the meeting. You are the facilitator, and if people don’t like what you are doing they will let you know. Don’t be shy. You have been explicitly empowered to set the discussion agenda: when will a stack be taken, how big it will be, how long people can speak, when a stack will be postponed or cut short, when a colloquy will be allowed (and when it won’t), when proposals or motions will be entertained, when the process will be discussed, and so forth.
Tips for meeting participants
Listen with respect and dignity, especially if you disagree strongly with the person speaking. Keep your disagreements on the content level, not the personal level; respond to the ideas, not who is saying them. Don’t label.
Pay attention to what the speaker is saying, not what you are planning to say when your turn comes up.
Ideas are useful, wonderful things to be tossed back and forth like balloons, not thrown like sharp rocks.
If your feelings seem to be getting in the way of quality participation, take a step back. Evaluate what may be bothering you, and if necessary leave the room for a short time. If this happens, you may want to have a friend accompany you and listen to you gripe for a minute or so.
If you feel you or someone else is not being respected, say so in a clear and patient manner.
Come prepared for discussion: be on time, and ready with whatever you need. Read any relevant documents beforehand; people will be anxious to get on with the business and not eager to bring you up to speed.
If you have something to say, please say it. Don’t let things go by you feel are important, especially if you have a history of shyness or fear in large groups. To quote the SEAC organizing guide: “Every time a good idea doesn’t get heard because you didn’t speak up, an acre of rainforest gets blown away.”
BUT—If you are generally free with your opinions, monitor your participation. Be painstakingly conscious of how much you talk; set limits and then raise your hand about half as much as you think you are “entitled” to.
Speak fitly or be silent wisely
Don’t speak for the sake of speaking. If you’re on the stack and someone makes your point, don’t repeat it. (“That Friend speaks my mind” is what the Quakers say.)
(Hey guys!) Common Male Problem: repeating women’s ideas without giving credit where due.
This guide was adapted from a number of sources, including the original Process Manual of the Green Committees of Correspondence, the SEAC Organizing Guide, Organizing by Si Kahn, Organizing for Social Change by the Midwest Academy, the Resource Manual for a Living Revolution by the Movement for a New Society, On Conflict and Consensus by C.T. Butler, the DSA Youth Section Organizing Manual, the San Diego SEAC Organizing Manual, and miscellaneous handouts and flyers. This is a living document and criticisms, additions, and changes are always welcome.