A class role play of a meeting started out by asking various stakeholders what they would like to see happen to address the booming transient population in a hypothetical mining town. My students went around the table and listed their wishes based on their assigned perspectives — and did so in a calm and civil manner.

I don’t think this would be the case in a real situation. Focusing on the differences from the start would have quickly devolved into a b*tch session and made it hard for the facilitator to wrangle the group in a positive direction.

Much more could have been achieved by beginning with an exercise that helped participants focus on a common vision — identifying their shared goal for the town and joint needs that could be solved through collaboration. If the group started with something that unified them rather than divided them, I believe there would be a much greater chance that they could find ways to work together to achieve a higher purpose.

How you frame a discussion, meeting agenda, evaluation, or proposal is shaped significantly by how you start. Choose that opening question or statement with great care to anchor others’ perspectives and the comments that come next. Your opening remark becomes the tone-setter for all that follows.

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