Different Angles 8: Working With Complaints in Meetings

Issue 8: February 2016

In This Issue

  • The Three Complaints Exercise – for when things get tense in meetings
  • Link to a new article on Taking Good Meeting Notes
  • Upcoming PCC Workshops: Running Meetings That Work, Moving From Complaints to Collaboration
  • Featured Training: Team Building

Know somebody who would benefit from reading this eNewsletter? Please forward it to them using the link at the bottom. Thanks!

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Happy almost spring, at least for those of you who are here in Portland. I have been doing a lot of exciting and interesting work this last year, including putting into practice the Organizational Diagnosis training I did with Sam Kaner at Community at Work in December of 2014, digging deeper into the relational engagement work I’ve been doing with several organizations, developing and delivering several new trainings, and expanding my work with co-housing groups.

I’ve been doing a fair amount of writing, but all in the context of workshop/training development and work with individual organizations. My hope this year is to translate some of that into more regular newsletter articles, starting now.

I would love your feedback as I share some of this new work; let me know what does and doesn’t feel useful, and what areas you might want me to expand on. I am particularly curious about whether the exercises feel like something you can use on your own, as I am intending.

Please do call or email me if you have questions about any of what you read here, or want to talk about what emerges when you use any of these exercises; I very much enjoy those conversations and appreciate the opportunity to clarify or help you sort out how to use an exercise in your particular context.

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The Three Complaints Exercise – For use when things get tense/difficult in meetings

Sometimes when issues get contentious and tensions begin to build in meetings, it is useful to give people a productive way to complain. This gives them permission to say things they would not normally say, and often brings to the surface information that might otherwise stay hidden.

The keys are to create a safe way for those complaints to be spoken, and to use the complaints as a springboard for forward movement, rather than getting bogged down in the energy of complaining. This exercise is designed to do just that. It may take 20-30 minutes, but is often well worth it.

  • Give the group an overview of the goals and the process of the exercise and set a clear time frame for it.
  • Hand each person three slips of paper (I recommend cutting a piece of standard paper in 6 strips, preserving the 8.5” as the length, so the writing stays legible), and ask each person to write down three complaints they have about the situation under discussion, each on a separate slip of paper.
  • Collect all the strips of paper in a hat or similar container.
  • Pull one out, read it, and ask the group to:
    • Reflect on what the person might be feeling (not thinking).*
    • Translate the complaint into as many requests as they can think of. This translation process is essentially a response to “what does this person want?” The person who wrote the complaint may or may not want to claim it as his or her own, and either way is fine. (You can use the categories on the expanded, downloadable version of this exercise to spark a good list of requests.)
  • Do this with another randomly drawn complaint or two.
  • Ask each person to go back to her or his own complaints and spend a few minutes translating them into requests (generally 5-7 minutes is about right for this).
  • Invite the participants to make any requests that they want to make of the group as a whole in service to moving forward on this issue. Note that other requests of the group can be made at other times (and make sure you create space for that), and that people are encouraged to make requests of individuals they may have written down if they think it will help them feel more comfortable, gain understanding, or participate more fully.

This was inspired by, and is an extension of, an exercise in the Facilitator’s Guide to  Participatory Decision-Making by Sam Kaner et. al.

*Important note: Often what we call “feelings” are thoughts/a story about how we are being treated – i.e. put upon, disrespected, misunderstood, insulted, let down, left out, ignored, rejected, etc. Things that are actually feelings don’t require another person. Examples are: anxious, frustrated, discouraged, sad, disappointed, lonely, confused, shaken. (You’ll find a list of “Feelings” that Blame, and a Feelings and Needs List at www.wiseheartpdx.org under Links and Handouts.)

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Join the conversation…

•  Share your experience if you try this out.

•  What other tools do you use for dealing with complaints or contention in meetings?

You can ask questions, share your experiences, and be part of the conversation at the bottom of the page.

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Pass it on!

If you know people you think might find this article useful, please feel free to forward this newsletter to them using the link at the bottom. Thanks!

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Bonus article: Taking Good Meeting Notes

I just wrote a “cheat sheet” on taking good meeting notes in response to a request from workshop participants. You’ll find it on the Tools for Board Development page of my website.

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Upcoming Workshops at PCC

I am doing three workshops through PCC’s continuing education division in the next three months:

  • Running Meetings That Work on Wednesday, February 17th from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at PCC’s CLIMB Center
  • Running Focused, Engaged Meetings (same workshop as Feb. 17, different name) on a day still to be determined the week of April 4th from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at PCC’s SE Center
  • Moving from Complaints to Collaboration on Wednesday, May 11th from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at PCC’s CLIMB center

They are $29 each, and you do need to pre-register through PCC.

You can find more details on the Workshops page of my website.

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Featured Training: Team Building

Could your organization or conference use a workshop that provides participants with concrete tools for strengthening mutual respect and trust and improving their ability to collaborate and accomplish things together?

This workshop gives participants a deeper understanding of the foundations of good team building, and some specific tools for helping them function better as part of teams, and support their teams in functioning better. Topics include building mutual respect and trust, the importance of delegation to team building (and how to do that well), and ways to use small group work to both increase collaboration and get the board’s work done efficiently. It includes exercises, resources and discussion time.

I’m offering the two-hour version of this workshop for $250 inside the Portland Metro Region (outside the region I add travel expenses). It is an inspiring and practical introduction to the framework and a few key tools, and will give participants what they need to start making changes. A 90-minute conference version, and longer versions that provide more tools and more opportunity for practice and application to existing organizational challenges, are also available.

You can lock in the price by getting the training scheduled by April 30th — it can happen anytime in 2016.

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Looking for in-house training designed to meet the specific needs of your staff or board?

My approach to training integrates approaches from organizational development and coaching to give you powerful new tools to address the specific goals and challenges you are facing.

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What People Say (from workshop evaluations):

“A very different way of viewing and dealing with difficulties. It was rewarding and had very good results.”

“(provided)…new paths toward solutions — clearing away the clutter”

“Gives you tangible tools to use on your own.”

“Exceeded my expectations”

You’ll find more about my approach to training on the website. Please contact me to talk about your needs and what I can offer.

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Do you feel like you are pushing boulders uphill as you try to get your work done?

Get a New Perspectives Organizational Boulders Assessment

I offer a free, 90 minute organizational assessment in which you’ll get:

  • New perspectives and insights into what’s causing many of the challenges to effective teamwork and leadership development in your organization (where you are pushing boulders uphill when you don’t have to be);
  • New tools you can use immediately to address some of the core causes of your organization’s internal challenges;
  • A renewed sense of what is possible, and renewed energy for making needed shifts happen; and
  • A list of next steps for making your organization’s internal work easier and more effective.

If you are interested in setting up a Boulders Assessment, please contact me.

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   © Tasha Harmon, February 2016. All rights reserved.

You are invited to share this eNewsletter with friends and colleagues as long as it stays intact, with all acknowledgements and contact information in place. If you’d like to reprint an article from my eNewsletter, written permission is required. Please do contact me about this if you are interested. Thank you.

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