This week my Grandpa would have celebrated his 97th birthday, but lived a long, fruitful and thoughtful life to 96 years old.
I took the opportunity to study one of the many books he deliberated over in the 1950’s called Dare to Reconcile, by John Oliver Nelson. Nelson gives prescriptive descriptions on how to create “settings” NOT “sittings” in which to build community, specifically Christian, and dare to talk seriously.
This reminds me of the many “sittings” or meetings I have endured in my lifetime: business, family, volunteer, nonprofit, advisory, etc. Even when the meetings held moments of meaningful information and productive conversation, it was discouraging when I walked away feeling deflated rather than excited. I’m finding time is precious and attention is short and how we come together to create “settings” for conversation makes a difference when passionate people are serving a purpose.
My Grandpa was not one to waste words nor pass an opportunity to speak strategically. So, with his help and that of Nelson here are three ways you can speak with meaning, dare to engage conversation and create settings for purposeful community – not just attend another “sitting.”
Intend Your Purpose
Understanding your personal intention of participating in a meeting is imperative. It sets the tone for how you show up and what personal responsibility you take on as a member of a community. Each person can have an intention. My Grandpa’s intention was to strive toward excellence in service and virtue that pushed him to stay healthy, to continuously learn, and to give back to his community.
Usually people thrive and sustain purpose longer by an internal evaluation of what is significant to them and what they can give to those around them, not one that is appointed or voted by someone else. And even if you are voted in to a position it still is significant to reconcile within yourself what purpose you are providing to your committee, team or community. Nelson identifies that skill and patience are required to have conversation in a group; to me that means preparation and intention.
Know the Information
Can you attend a meeting unprepared? Yes.
Would my Grandpa call you out if you were not prepared? Yes.
The likelihood of you not being able to contribute as fully is greatly impacted by your ability to know basic information and follow conversation. Nelson shares a story where a village priest is to have his wine vat filled by the parishioners and one brings a jug of water instead of wine thinking that it would not make a difference, but as the priest poured a glass all that came out was water. Nelson states, “Don’t expect in a conversation group, that everyone else will bring something, so that your emptyhandedness will go unnoticed.”
The impact of not preparing is that you will have nothing to add you will be lost, or you could lead the discussion in a different direction. Knowing the information is also knowing your limits to knowledge. If you don’t know something don’t make it up. To make the most of your setting, ideas need to be relevant to the information. Knowing the information is simply reviewing shared content, researching your own questions, or finding clarity on the topic. And if you knew my Grandpa his stern seriousness would jolt you into action to know your facts.
Speak, Don’t Talk
Wasting words –my Grandpa was not a fan of a person who shared just to hear themselves talk. Speaking means there is sincere thought behind the spoken idea or question. It means the information has been inputted, mulled over, and brought to a considerable idea. There are motivations to speak, whether the purpose be to encourage, strategize, deter, or create.
Nelson utilizes a Three-Way Panel to create thoughtful discussion where a group is divided into threes creating the “realists,” the “hopefuls,” and the “observers.” Taking time for all three groups to study the topic and present as a shared voice for that perspective even if they don’t personally agree to the presented opinion. The point is not to “win” Nelson shares, it is to “lift up the main outlines of a crucial subject.” Speaking is how to utilize and demonstrate passion. If you are engaged in delivering ideas in a conversation you will be able to draw more people into the content and have a shared understanding.
So, next time you are preparing for a meeting, consider how you can contribute to the “setting” and how impactful your intention, learning and words can be to your team. And while my Grandfather’s face would remain stern he would give you a hug, squeeze your shoulder, and without words you would know he was proud of you.