Ground rules beyond the meeting room.

Some of the best workshop and meeting facilitators I know use a basic tool called Ground Rules. Essentially these rules are decided upon by the participants and guide their behaviors in the meeting. But what if we took these ground rules beyond the meeting room?

During a recent coaching session my client and I were talking about all of the different type of conversations in business and how we each have expectations about how the other will behave. As I thought more about it I wondered – what would it be like if we established ground rules for conversations?

Here are a few ground rules that I’ve experienced and a few thoughts of how they could be transferred into the context of a less formal conversation.

Keep distractions to a minimum

During meetings and workshops this usually refers to turning your mobile phone on silent to avoid disruptions. But in a one-on-one conversation, there is no better way to show your respect for another person than to give them your undivided attention. How many times have to stopped by a colleague’s office to talk only to find yourself talking to the back of their head as they faced their computer screen? Pay attention.

Start and end on time

Respect is again the motivator here for all members of the workshop and for the same reason it transfers well to conversations outside of the meeting. Of course this holds only for scheduled conversations but there is a twist to this for impromptu conversations as well – know when to end the conversation and let the other person go. We are all juggling multiple priorities and a packed calendar. Don’t linger.

Everyone gets a chance to speak without interruption

There are two parts to this ground rule. First is that everyone gets a chance to speak. This ground rule applies beautifully in a workshop with a facilitator. The facilitator can make sure that everyone has an opportunity to share their point of view. Unfortunately, many two person conversations can be more accurately described as monologues instead of dialogues. Take Turns.

The second part of this ground rule refers to letting the person speak without interruption. You would think this ground rule would be easier to implement in a two person conversation than in workshops with many more people, but for some it’s difficult to hold their excitement or comments until the other person is finished. The key here is to respect and listen to the person as they complete their thought before providing your opinion or feedback. Wait your turn.

Establishing ground rules beyond the meeting

So how do you establish these ground rules in conversations? Some of these can be done by only one person in the conversation, like allowing the other person to speak first without interruption. However, many ground rules require that both parties agree to them before the conversation begins.

No, I don’t think we need to have formal ground rules for every conversation in business, but I do thing that if any of these behaviors (interrupting, starting/ending late, being distracted and not paying attention) are a problem with you or one of your team, it may be a good idea for all of you to get together and agree on these for your office conversations.

We all struggle with communications at one point or another in our career. To become a better communicator why not take responsibility for your own behaviors?  Enlist the help of your team to bring everyone to the next level as communicators.