407 West State Street, Trenton, NJ 08618  (609)695-3481
 NJLM logo 

William G. Dressel Jr, Executive Director - Michael J. Darcey, CAE, Asst Executive Director

Taking the Menace Out of Meetings

Ever wonder what happened to civility? Meetings and public forums have a way of bringing out the best and also the worst in human behavior. Given the opportunity to address emergencies, human service needs and crises, elected officials and public participants can accomplish great things in a cooperative fashion. But more and more, public service professionals are confronted with rudeness, insolence, disrespect, and even violence from other officials and the public.

Municipal leaders face the challenge of maintaining order at government meeting while allowing and encouraging the freedom of discourse, debate and dissention. Struggling for civility, elected and appointed officials must find ways to complete missions and meet goals, while allowing strong opinions, public discourse, passionate messages, and meaningful debate to continue.

To do this, one must first explore the triggers to unruly behavior and then take action to reduce and stem this growing tide.

  1. TIMING– The human body has a limit to the amount of stress it can take each day. Most people holding elected and appointed office are employed full time or have full time family responsibilities. After a grueling day at work, sitting through a 5 hour Council, Committee, or Board meeting is difficult. How long are your meetings and at what time are they held? Look at why meetings take so long and end in the middle of the night. Structure your meetings to deal first with priorities. Research and preparation for meetings take time, so be sure all members have information in advance. Start and end on time. This forces people to make decisions. Take regular breaks during meetings. This allows time to let a stressful situation settle and give people a change of pace. Stick to the agenda and don’t divert into unrelated issues.
  2. INFORMATION LEVELS – Both the public and elected or appointed officials come to meetings with preconceived ideas and correct or incorrect assumptions and information as to what will happen, how discussions with transpire, and how decisions will be made. Assumptions and misinformation are often the roots of contention. State the purpose of the meeting at the beginning and reinforce this message throughout. Clearly specify the role of the group and the purpose of the meeting (i.e. to review zoning applications, review and approve the recreation schedule, gather public opinions, etc) and if and when the public will be allowed to speak. Review required procedures such as signing a list to speak. Starting the discussion for each decision to be made with a review of the issue, prior decisions, information gathered, and cause of or reason for the discussion, will help provide accurate information.
  3. EXPECTATIONS – What people expect from others is often determined by prior experience, what they read in the local paper and what they hear from neighbors or friends. When issues affect a person’s home, family, or community, responses and reactions are at a personal level. Expectations of what elected and public members know, understand, comprehend or feel can be skewed from reality. By understanding that there is often an underlying (and usually undeserved) level of suspicion and mistrust, elected officials can counter these feelings with openness and forthrightness. Expectations of behavior must also be established, practiced, and reinforced by the leadership and participants.
  4. LEADERSHIP – Leading the meeting takes skill and practice. The leader sets the tone for the communications and is responsible for getting things done in a timely and responsible manner. Leadership is not easy and must be learned. Keep in mind that when you give respect you’ll get respect; when you listen, others will listen; when you are focused, others will be focused. Develop and practice meeting leadership strategies. Stick to the agenda. During discussions, seek input from all members, especially those who have been quiet or reticent to speak. Let the group know when a decision is required and bring the discussion to closure. Don’t allow one person to dominate or monopolize the discussion. Hold your members accountable for doing their preparation and follow-up. If work is not done, move forward. Keep the group focused on the task and not the personalities. Talk with members ahead of time to get to know they communication styles and their expectations. Summarize assignments, future meeting days, and key decisions to be made at the next meeting. Starting and ending on time shows respect and professionalism. When the group knows 6 issues must be covered, they won’t as easily get hung up at the third.
  5. LISTENING – The human mind races ahead to what we want to say, rather than what we hear. Listening is the key to understanding. Too often, one feels pressured to cut discussion so that messages are not completed, leading to misinformation and misunderstandings. Elected officials can appear to shut out others views, resulting in increased emotional flare-ups and challenges. Listening takes time and patience and requires that the listener ask questions for clarity. If issues cannot be adequately addressed during a meeting or session, ask the person to meet with you after the meeting or at a later date to review the problem or concern in detail. When you know the underlying issue, it can be addressed openly with mutual respect.

Democracy is built on discussions, disagreement, discourse, and compromise. Municipal officials can and must find ways to take the menace out of meetings to keep government working effectively. Don’t let unruly behavior takes its toll on the spirit, the body, of your community.

 

By Carole Glade
NJLM Constituent Relations Consultant
Consumer Dynamics Interna NJLM - Skills Update - Taking the Menace out of Meetings

407 West State Street, Trenton, NJ 08618  (609)695-3481
 NJLM logo 

William G. Dressel Jr, Executive Director - Michael J. Darcey, CAE, Asst Executive Director

Taking the Menace Out of Meetings

Ever wonder what happened to civility? Meetings and public forums have a way of bringing out the best and also the worst in human behavior. Given the opportunity to address emergencies, human service needs and crises, elected officials and public participants can accomplish great things in a cooperative fashion. But more and more, public service professionals are confronted with rudeness, insolence, disrespect, and even violence from other officials and the public.

Municipal leaders face the challenge of maintaining order at government meeting while allowing and encouraging the freedom of discourse, debate and dissention. Struggling for civility, elected and appointed officials must find ways to complete missions and meet goals, while allowing strong opinions, public discourse, passionate messages, and meaningful debate to continue.

To do this, one must first explore the triggers to unruly behavior and then take action to reduce and stem this growing tide.

  1. TIMING– The human body has a limit to the amount of stress it can take each day. Most people holding elected and appointed office are employed full time or have full time family responsibilities. After a grueling day at work, sitting through a 5 hour Council, Committee, or Board meeting is difficult. How long are your meetings and at what time are they held? Look at why meetings take so long and end in the middle of the night. Structure your meetings to deal first with priorities. Research and preparation for meetings take time, so be sure all members have information in advance. Start and end on time. This forces people to make decisions. Take regular breaks during meetings. This allows time to let a stressful situation settle and give people a change of pace. Stick to the agenda and don’t divert into unrelated issues.
  2. INFORMATION LEVELS – Both the public and elected or appointed officials come to meetings with preconceived ideas and correct or incorrect assumptions and information as to what will happen, how discussions with transpire, and how decisions will be made. Assumptions and misinformation are often the roots of contention. State the purpose of the meeting at the beginning and reinforce this message throughout. Clearly specify the role of the group and the purpose of the meeting (i.e. to review zoning applications, review and approve the recreation schedule, gather public opinions, etc) and if and when the public will be allowed to speak. Review required procedures such as signing a list to speak. Starting the discussion for each decision to be made with a review of the issue, prior decisions, information gathered, and cause of or reason for the discussion, will help provide accurate information.
  3. EXPECTATIONS – What people expect from others is often determined by prior experience, what they read in the local paper and what they hear from neighbors or friends. When issues affect a person’s home, family, or community, responses and reactions are at a personal level. Expectations of what elected and public members know, understand, comprehend or feel can be skewed from reality. By understanding that there is often an underlying (and usually undeserved) level of suspicion and mistrust, elected officials can counter these feelings with openness and forthrightness. Expectations of behavior must also be established, practiced, and reinforced by the leadership and participants.
  4. LEADERSHIP – Leading the meeting takes skill and practice. The leader sets the tone for the communications and is responsible for getting things done in a timely and responsible manner. Leadership is not easy and must be learned. Keep in mind that when you give respect you’ll get respect; when you listen, others will listen; when you are focused, others will be focused. Develop and practice meeting leadership strategies. Stick to the agenda. During discussions, seek input from all members, especially those who have been quiet or reticent to speak. Let the group know when a decision is required and bring the discussion to closure. Don’t allow one person to dominate or monopolize the discussion. Hold your members accountable for doing their preparation and follow-up. If work is not done, move forward. Keep the group focused on the task and not the personalities. Talk with members ahead of time to get to know they communication styles and their expectations. Summarize assignments, future meeting days, and key decisions to be made at the next meeting. Starting and ending on time shows respect and professionalism. When the group knows 6 issues must be covered, they won’t as easily get hung up at the third.
  5. LISTENING – The human mind races ahead to what we want to say, rather than what we hear. Listening is the key to understanding. Too often, one feels pressured to cut discussion so that messages are not completed, leading to misinformation and misunderstandings. Elected officials can appear to shut out others views, resulting in increased emotional flare-ups and challenges. Listening takes time and patience and requires that the listener ask questions for clarity. If issues cannot be adequately addressed during a meeting or session, ask the person to meet with you after the meeting or at a later date to review the problem or concern in detail. When you know the underlying issue, it can be addressed openly with mutual respect.

Democracy is built on discussions, disagreement, discourse, and compromise. Municipal officials can and must find ways to take the menace out of meetings to keep government working effectively. Don’t let unruly behavior takes its toll on the spirit, the body, of your community.

 

By Carole Glade
NJLM Constituent Relations Consultant
Consumer Dynamics International
973-377-7577

 

Click Here to return to the League's Home Page