Some Agreements For Civil Discussion

When I was in the Peace Corps in Togo, West Africa, I was immediately impressed by the way that meetings were held in that "undeveloped" country. In Togo, speakers were listened to respectfully. There were not the rude interruptions to which I'd become accustomed in the United States. In Togo one in the meeting is said to have "la parole" (the floor, essentially), and others respect that. One may ask for "la parole", and the moderator of the meeting hands "la parole" to one or the other at the meeting. It is a marvelous system.

Here are some rules that I have seen used in meetings, and I think that it's worth considering each one in any meeting:

  1. One mic ("la parole")
  2. Share the mic (if you've been talking a lot, back off; if you've said nothing, ask for the mic)
  3. Ask questions by raising your hand, not by interrupting
  4. Use the "bike rack" (put things that are going to lead the meeting astray on a board, for consideration outside of the current meeting)
  5. Take care of yourself (feel free to get up to go to the bathroom, to get a drink of water, to cool off)
  6. Recognize your feelings
  7. Silent "jargon finger" (when you hear a word that you don't know, put up a hooked finger)
  8. Silence cell phones
  9. Silent "louder signal" (an "L" when you can't hear)
  10. In a large group, the one with "la parole" should repeat a question from the audience.
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