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Image by Peter Secan

Keeping the Discussion Focused?


It’s hard for facilitators to keep discussions focused and help groups reach a conclusion on a course of action. The agenda item may be clear, and someone may even have presented good background information on the topic, but then people “respond” or “contribute” and the conversation wanders. Follow-up statements aren’t necessarily connected to the information just presented (the “that raises another issue” approach), and speakers become frustrated because it feels as if no one paid any real attention to what was just said. 


Dialogue is replaced by consecutive monologues that don’t connect clearly, explore the issue, or suggest a plan of action. 


Here are a few ideas for how to stay on topic and avoid the feeling that contributing to the discussion isn’t worth the effort because no one’s listening anyway.


First, before you make your response, acknowledge what the previous speaker has just said.


It may not be clear to anyone else, no matter how clear it is to you, just exactly how your comment connects to or was derived from the previous statement. An acknowledgement can be something as simple as:


I hadn’t thought about it like that before.

That’s something important to consider in the larger picture.

I had another take on it.

That’s what I was thinking, too.

My experience with (this topic) has been a bit different.


Then, after acknowledging what has been said, create a transition to your comment or response.


I hadn’t thought about it like that before. Here’s what I focused on.

That’s what I was thinking, too. It would affect my operations by . . .


Questions serve as good transitions as well as acknowledgements:


Would we also have to take into account (this other whatever)? 

Could we approach it from another point of view, too? I just heard that . . .


Without connecting your statement to the rest of the discussion, your point may not be clearly understood and its implications not considered or addressed. Your contribution may get lost.


Of course, you can leave this “connecting” task to the facilitator, but making the connections yourself gives you credibility for having paid attention, recognizes the previous speaker’s contribution even if you disagree with it, and ensures that your point is clearly made. Why leave that contribution to someone else?

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