Chairing (or facilitating) meetings – whose turn is it to speak?

A colleague highlighted an important issue when she asked about the order in which the Chair allows people to speak. Normally when you are chairing or facilitating a discussion you note (you can write it down) the order in which people are raising their hands and invite them to speak in that order.

However, what if one person is asking for information and another person is giving that information, but the next person to raise their hand wants to speak about something else? As my colleague rightly pointed out, if the Chair sticks rigidly to the order in which people are raising their hands, the flow of the discussion can be interrupted by questions or comments relating to a totally different issue.

So what’s the answer?

I refer you to this great quote:
“Let’s cherish each other and listen to each other like jazz musicians do”, Richard Holloway (former Bishop of Edinburgh)

We know that although it’s the Chair’s responsibility to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate, it’s the responsibility of everyone in the meeting to support her or him in that. So if your question doesn’t relate to the current issue, don’t raise your hand until you can hear that the discussion has moved on. We all need to take responsibility for the meeting being fruitful and effective, so we need to think – is my contribution helping this discussion?

So it’s not always about rules – the rules are there for a reason, they’re a structure but they are not the answer to every situation. We can make all the rules we want but in the end people’s attitudes and awareness are more important.

Here’s a link to an excellent TED talk on precisely this topic, I think it’s wonderful!