QUESTION: What can a person do to get people to participate in a meeting, whether it’s family night or at church? Some people speak up readily, and others just don’t seem to want to talk at all.
ANSWER: In planning to increase participation, you might consider the following:
1. Some people prefer to stay quiet. This is not an indication that they are bored or disinterested. They may function most effectively being what seems to you to be rather passive. The leader often may be more anxious than they are, and the leader may need to learn to accept them as just being less obviously active than others.
2. Since we cannot always know if a person is quiet naturally or due to some conditions in the meeting, it might be appropriate to have a private talk with that person to find out, if possible, the nature of his personality and what changes would be helpful and stimulating to him.
3. From time to time have an evaluation meeting. Take time out to discuss how people feel about the meeting, and ask for suggestions as to how they can be improved. Specifically ask for suggestions from the quiet members. Sometimes the more vocal members take up too much time and may need to learn to reduce the number of their comments.
4. A leader can direct discussions and ask for comments from quieter persons without putting them “on the spot.” To suddenly ask a quiet person “What do you think?” may push him back rather than draw him out. To ask, “John, you’ve had some experience in this area. Tell us about your experience and give us your suggestions,” may give him enough direction that it will encourage participation.
5. Sometimes a meeting is too large and some people become a little fearful in a large group—or just don’t find the opportunity to “get in.” It may be advisable to break up into sub-groups and ask each sub-group to discuss a particular issue or topic and report their conclusions. This gives everyone a greater opportunity to participate.
6. You can make an assignment to a quiet person to discuss an issue, or deliberately set up a sharing system, asking each person to make a comment on the issue being discussed and going around the room to get the comments.
7. If you have one or two group members who are especially skilled in dealing with people in a meeting setting, you could ask them privately to accept an assignment to look for ways to encourage and support the less vocal members in their participation.
The effective leader will get feedback, information to help him determine why a person is quiet. He will then plan a way, if necessary or desirable, of improving the meeting conditions based on the information received.
The above ideas represent possible actions that could be taken. This procedure of gathering information and then planning for change can be applied in any organization or family, when conditions exist that are not currently satisfactory.
QUESTION: Suppose you are in charge of the bishop’s youth committee of the ward. You feel the committee is not working as it should, but you are not exactly sure just how to go about getting things rolling. What might you do?
ANSWER: There are likely to be many answers to this question, but let’s describe one course of action taken by one bishop when faced with this particular problem. Let’s get it in his own words:
“To begin with, I was aware from what I picked up in stake meetings with other bishoprics that some of the youth committees of the stake were working much more effectively than others and that all of them had a special thing that they were doing or had tried to do. It occurred to me that one might take the best that each ward had to offer and come up with an excellent program. The question was: How does one do this in a way that does not keep the youth leadership dependent on adult leadership but at the same time helps them?
“My plan was to meet with the general secretary-youth and the priest-Explorer and Laurel presidents, to propose a course of action. I proposed that we divide the youth committee into teams of young people, with older and more experienced members as team captains. Each team would be assigned to one of the wards in our stake. The proposal called for me to prepare an instruction sheet that would help the captain and the team members know exactly what they were to do. For example, it would call for the captain to contact the bishop of his assigned ward to ask if it would be acceptable to him if one of our teams came to his ward to find out who the youth leaders were. It also would give instruction to arrange a visit to the next youth committee meeting of that ward, what to do, what to look for, and what to ask about.
“The youth leaders accepted the proposal and then proceeded to organize the teams and orient them on the general objective and the plan. Most of the teams carried out the plan. When they had finished their visits to the assigned wards, they came back to the youth committee to pool the results of what they learned. With the young people leading out, the committee tried to take the best of what they had observed and found out in the other wards to build a way of working together that suited our own situation.
“The impact of this activity on our young people was immediate and dramatic. Many of them, particularly the key people on our youth committee, came back filled with enthusiasm and new ideas about the youth committee and what it could and should be doing in our ward. They had a much clearer sense of what their own roles in the committee should be and the roles that the bishop and other adult leaders in our ward should assume with respect to the committee. They had a number of new ideas for activities that would be legitimate and desirable for the committee to sponsor. They proceeded immediately to act on their new ideas.
“The character of our youth committee meetings and other youth activities changed as the young people moved into the driver’s seat, so to speak, and I withdrew to a distance more conducive to growth for our young people.”
The critical factor in this case seemed to stem from the plan that had been suggested. It actually gave the young people the problem to solve as well as a general method of finding a solution to it. In the process of trying to solve it, they became informed on the structure and operation of the youth committee by watching other youth committees at work, by asking questions, and then by becoming consultants, in effect, to others on matters pertaining to the youth committee. Then, once they had answers, they proceeded to assume the responsibility for making the committee work.
QUESTION: Full attendance at prayer meeting for auxiliaries is frequently difficult to obtain. Are there some leadership procedures that could be used to increase attendance at these meetings?
ANSWER: Experts point out that a person is most likely to attend any meeting when two conditions are in effect: (1) when he has some personal responsibility for and commitment to the meeting, and (2) when there are direct and obvious benefits from attendance.
Assuming that prayer meetings are designed and conducted in such a way that those who are in attendance do receive some personal benefit from attendance, the task becomes one of trying to increase the sense of personal responsibility and commitment of each person to the meeting. One instance in which this was accomplished very effectively included the following steps:
First, a Sunday School president called a ward Sunday School faculty meeting. The date and time were carefully set so that everyone could be there. Special effort was expended to insure the attendance of those who sometimes did not come to prayer meeting.
Second, once the Sunday School faculty assembled, the president indicated the reasons why he needed the help of everyone present to achieve greater attendance at prayer meeting. In this instance, there was no question about what was to be accomplished. The question for consideration was how to accomplish it. For 45 minutes the group discussed the problem. They started out by making a list of all the reasons anyone could think of for not coming to prayer meeting. Then they systematically considered how each of the problems could be overcome.
Some problems, upon consideration, lost importance or were easily resolved. Others, such as transportation, required some effort to overcome. The process was one of problem identification and resolution.
The results of this meeting were evidenced by increased attendance at succeeding prayer meetings. The main principle underlying the process followed by the Sunday School president in this example is that people will often work harder to make something succeed if they have a hand in designing it. Responsibility is effective only when it is assumed—not when it is assigned.
When the faculty members assumed responsibility for their own attendance by solving the problems leading to nonattendance, then their behavior began to change. This same principle can operate in a variety of settings at home and church in which maximum participation and contribution are desired.
QUESTION: Occasionally I find in my class a boy or girl who seems to be ignored or left out by the others. How can I, as class leader, help this child to be accepted and included?
ANSWER: The challenge of the ignored or left-out individual in or out of the classroom is one that leaders and teachers meet in every situation. One of the greatest joys that a leader or teacher can experience is bringing this type of person into the group by providing an acceptable climate and experiences that allow class members to become better acquainted with each other. Experts say, for example, that young people don’t purposely ignore each other, but rather, have never learned to understand one another and thus are often afraid of the unknown. Perhaps this also holds true for adults.
The classroom climate is set by the leader or teacher. It is extremely important that he or she be in a position to look into the eyes of each person attending. Because so much is conveyed nonverbally as we interact, one suggestion for small groups is to have the chairs arranged in a circle.
The most important part of the climate is the leader or teacher’s ability to be warm, accepting, responsive, open, and to be his “real self” to the class. This requires the sharing of feelings, ideas, thoughts, reactions, and desires. It also requires flexibility and spontaneity in taking advantage of what are called “teaching moments.”
It is doubtful that many weeks go by in our own lives when we do not feel discomfort, loneliness, discouragement, anxiety, joy, warmth, or love. Oftentimes, whatever has occurred during that time has either perpetuated the feeling or eliminated it.
Occasionally take advantage of that “teaching moment” and share with others your feelings and the lesson you’ve learned.
Closeness comes when we are willing to share and risk being ourselves. If a leader or teacher is willing to do this, he sets a climate for the class to follow that allows them to become more “real” to each other; and this, in turn, helps dissolve the fear of others that often causes the isolation of some persons.
Here are two additional suggestions for involving an isolated person: (1) special assignments where you ask the ignored person to work with another person who you feel could give support, warmth, and acceptance; (2) pairing off the group and having them spend a few minutes together sharing with one another something about themselves. It is important for people to make their own choices so that they won’t mind sharing with another individual. Following this experience, these two people often feel closer to one another.