Author: Craig Freshley

Shared values

Good Group Tips

In principle, values are those things most important to us, the things we value. For most people, they are ideals, beliefs, rules to live by. We are generally drawn to people who share our values. At the core of every defined group of people are shared values.

Practical Tip: Discuss values as a group and make a written, short, agreed-to list of the values you have in common. Simply having a discussion about values helps us understand each other. Deciding which values we share defines our group and helps people decide if they want to join the group and it also helps people decide to leave. A written list of shared values also serves as a code of ethics, a place to turn for guidance when the decision making gets tough.

Shared values are the steadfast ground on which we stand when things are in turmoil.

– Craig Freshley

Click here for one-page PDF of this Tip, a great way to print or share.

Good Meeting Guidelines

Does your group have Meeting Guidelines? Should you?

Meeting at The Nature Conservancy, Craig noticed the “Good Meeting Guidelines” posted on the wall. He needed to learn more!

So in this on-the-spot video Craig interviewed TNC’s Maine State Director Kate Dempsey about why and how they use the Good Meeting Guidelines.

What a great idea! Decide your meeting guidelines, post them in your meeting room, and actually practice them!

By the way. No rehearsals. No second takes. No editing. Kate didn’t even know what Craig was going to ask her. She did a terrific job.

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Craig: Hi everybody! Hey it’s Craig Freshley and I’m here with Kate Dempsey. Kate is the director of the Nature Conservancy headquartered right here in Brunswick, Maine. I have been meeting with Kate and some of her staff and I couldn’t help but notice these Good Meeting Guidelines that they keep right here  in their meeting room. And I presume you use these?

Kate: We try to keep them actively in front of us and in our brains at all times.

Craig: So how was it that you decided to even do this and come up with these particular guidelines? Can you tell us a little about that?

Kate: Yeah. We’re an organization that actually spends a lot of time in meetings with partners and amongst ourselves. So over time we figured out that we really needed some guidance for ourselves about how to be active participants in meetings; how to make sure we’re hearing a diversity of opinion, even if it’s the same group of people that always meet together. Years and years of practice, in theory, means we are a little better than we would be if we didn’t practice. And I think it really does help because we have a lot of people coming through this office; we meet with a lot of partners and other partners use this space. So it helps share the learning and remind others that this is the culture we’re trying to create.

Craig: I love that; that it’s not just for you but for all the people that come through here. So do you have a practice of reviewing these and talking about them at the start of most of your meetings?

Kate: It’s funny we were just talking about how we needed to re-practice doing that. We’ve had a lot of new people come on to our team and — really in the last year — a huge amount of influx of new energy and new people. So I was just meeting with my director of operations and we were just saying how we really need to think of ways to make sure we are doing just that.

Kate: We are very good about being really clear about meeting purposes. We’re reminding ourselves about what the decision process is in any given situation and who’s making decisions and what input that group is seeking. And I think respecting the clock, we’re actually quite good at. Always reminding ourselves but I think we are very good at that.

Kate: And then I think that being open minded and listening honestly and having inquiring mindsets – what’s good about having this up front is that it allows someone to respectfully remind someone that maybe they’re jumping to a conclusion without seeking first understanding. So it’s a nice way of being able to practice together without anyone feeling badly if you question them.

Craig: Right, I love that. So many good reasons that you just pointed out for having ground rules.

Craig: If you are in a group that meets regularly, maybe even in the same room, you might consider investing in some Good Meeting Guidelines like The Nature Conservancy has. Thanks for explaining this to us.

Kate: Thanks Craig for being here.

Craig: Thanks for listening everybody.

Plan, meet, write-up

Good Group Tips

In principle, the three fundamental steps that help make a meeting great are:

1. Plan what you are going to meet about,

2. Actually meet according to the plan, and,

3. Write up the meeting results.

Practical tip: Prior to an upcoming meeting, the meeting facilitator (or whoever is going to run the meeting) and group leaders should huddle and get clear on the meeting objectives, agenda, roles, how it will be recorded, and logistics such as advance notices, space, food, nametags, etc. Talk it through and plan out how each part of the meeting will work. Advance planning increases chances that you will have on hand the things you need for the meeting to go well and sharing the plan in advance increases chances that participants will come prepared and that their expectations will be on target.

Then, run the meeting according to plan, although always prepared to be flexible and responsive to things unplanned. Meeting according to plan provides security for participants. After, provide participants with a write up that is more than a simple, chronological transcript. Organize the thoughts and stories shared, name the themes discussed, and format the write-up so it is pleasant to read and easy to refer to later. In the write-up you can provide a logical organizational structure even if things seemed quite confusing during the actual meeting.

Don’t skimp on the pre-planning or the post-write up. These are the two things that often distinguish a great meeting from a mediocre meeting.

– Craig Freshley

Click here for one-page PDF of this Tip, a great way to print or share.

High School Facilitator

In this video Craig interviews Chloe Beattie, a high school senior interested in how people with adversarial positions can talk to each other with respect. She sought out Craig and with his help, planned and facilitated her own meeting on a controversial topic. She did this for her senior capstone project.

Chloe tells us why she is interested in meeting facilitation and shares her advice for others who want to learn more about it. And Craig tells about how he found ways to practice facilitation when he was getting started.

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody. Hey it’s Craig Freshley. I am here today with Chloe Beattie. Chloe is a local high school student. She’s a senior, and part of being a senior at her high school is doing some sort of community project. It’s called a capstone.  She reached out to me because she was interested in meeting facilitation. We talked about what she was interested in, she actually came with me to three different meetings that I facilitated, and watched; we talked about them before and after each meeting. And then she planned and facilitated her own meeting, to which she invited people. So I’m really thrilled to talk about this a little bit after your experience.

Craig: Tell us, first of all, why did you choose meeting facilitation? Why are you interested in that?

Chloe: Well, first I was inspired by the thing you do on the side called Make Shift Coffee House where people come together from all different viewpoints and discuss a topic that they all don’t always agree on, and I was really inspired by that because I find that I have a really difficult time listening to people and getting past my own thoughts and really respecting others. So I thought that why not try this out and see how you do it and learn the skills myself, but also why not teach them as well? So I thought that facilitating a meeting myself would help me share what I’ve learned and help others that I know learn the same skills.

Craig: Awesome. That’s so cool that you came with those interests. So Chloe designed a meeting and we chose a topic. Do you remember what the exact question was?

Chloe: Yes, yeah I do.

Craig: Why don’t you tell us the question?

Chloe: The question was, “What do you think are the effects smartphones have on society?”

Craig: It was pretty cool. We had people in the room from age 11 to over 70. And Chloe did a really nice job of facilitating this conversation so we could understand each other. How did it go from your point of view, the meeting facilitation?

Chloe: Um, I thought it went well. When you did the debrief at the end and everyone got to give me some feedback I thought that I did better after that, after I got to hear what people had to say. I was really nervous to start but once it got going it felt good and people responded and had things to say. So I felt like it went pretty well for my first one.

Craig: Yeah. I asked the people at the end, “What do you think she did well?” And the comments came one after another – you did a lot very well. Here’s a question that you didn’t know was coming but I just thought of and I think it will be of interest. Do you think that meeting facilitation is something that you’re born with or that can be learned? Do you think it’s something that, you know, some people just have a gift and you either have it or you don’t? Or do you think it can be learned by anyone?

Chloe: I think that some people have a natural ability with it. I think there’s a lot to learn, but I think some people might be more comfortable than others to speak with a bunch of people. A lot of times that’s something that people get really nervous about. But I do think that with hard work and with learning I do think that people can learn it.

Craig: Right, it helps if you’re not afraid to speak in front of people.

Chloe: Right, that’s just an added bonus.

Craig: If there’s somebody out there, maybe even somebody your age or in college or starting out in a career and they want to learn meeting facilitation skills, would you have any advice?

Chloe: I would say, I went to a couple of your meetings and got to see how you did things and I wrote down some notes, and I would say find someone that you really respect in how they do what they do, and talk with them. We’ve had a lot of really good conversations that have really helped me. You asked me a lot of questions without telling me what you thought; I got to kind of think for myself what I thought. So I would say, if you’re interested, to find someone who really brainstorms your own thinking as well. And take what you like but then use it as well and use what you like and mush it together if you want.

Craig: Okay. And by the way, Chloe, when you came to me you took notes. I mean you were pretty thoughtful about what you observed and then we talked later. I’m going to add onto that a little bit – you might have touched on it when you said “Make it your own. Take what’s useful from what you’ve learned from somebody else and make it your own.” But then you gotta do something with it. You had your own meeting and you made it your own, and I really think it helps to practice. When I was starting out learning meeting facilitation I sought out groups where I could volunteer, be a volunteer facilitator. I mean, I took some risks. It takes courage. I was over my head more than once. But you know, that’s how you learn – when you jump in and you just try to run a type of meeting that you’ve never run before on an issue that you don’t know much about with people you don’t know. Just try it, that’s the very best way to learn. That’s how I learned a lot – on the street, on the job, in the meeting room.

Craig: Chloe, any last things you would like to say before we wrap up our little video?

Chloe: I would say that I came into it with two goals. One, learning the skills myself, and then the other, teaching the skills as well. I think the big thing that I learned was how to listen and how to respect others’ opinions and really try to understand them. And I’m definitely going to carry that on into my everyday life. Sometimes I might slip up a little bit, but I just think it’s really important and I hope that people I facilitate for will be able to take that too because I think it’s a really important thing that I learned here.

Craig: Awesome. I wish the same thing for all the meetings that I facilitate, that the people I work with become better listeners, and me too.

Craig: Thanks a lot. That was great.

Chloe: Thanks.

Resentments have roots in expectations

Good Group Tips

In principle, when we have expectations of others that don’t pan out it often leads to resentment which often brews discontent which often causes conflict. I have heard someone say that expectations are planned resentments.

The surest way to avoid resentment is to not have expectations. When I fall into a victim role it’s helpful to remember that I am rarely a victim of others and often I am a victim of my own expectations.

Practical Tip: As a participant in group decisions, I try hard not to develop false expectations. I expect from people only that they have specifically agreed to, and even then I keep in mind that most people are not capable of doing all that they agree to.

I focus on the good things that my group and the people in it have done, and what they could do, rather than what they should do according to my expectations.

– Craig Freshley

Click here for one-page PDF of this Tip, a great way to print or share.

Act as if

Good Group Tips

In principle, making good group decisions is really hard, a lot harder than making bad decisions. Getting along with each other and making peaceful, lasting decisions takes a lot of practice.

Act is part of the word practice. We don’t get better without action. We do things poorly until we can do them well. It is not so important that we succeed, but that we try.

Practical Tip: We practice the principles of good group decisions as best we can. For guidance we ask ourselves, “What would a peaceful person do?” We don’t just talk about how to make peaceful decisions, or read about it, or think about it — we practice making good group decisions. Most of us are not very good peacemakers but when we try to act as if we are, our world becomes more peaceful.

– Craig Freshley

Click here for one-page PDF of this Tip, a great way to print or share.

A Culture of Listening

In this video Craig explains some highlights from an essay that was just published called A Culture of Listening. Read the essay for yourself right here!

It’s an essay about a conversation among people with different histories, different values, and different interests. It has hidden lessons for civic dialogue and building community.


This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody. Hey it’s Craig Freshley here. I just finished reading an essay, I want to tell you about it. It’s called, A Culture of Listening – restoring civic dialogue where lives intersect on the land.

This essay was written by my friend and colleague Amy Scott and a guy named Peter Forbes, her collaborator. Peter runs something called the Center for Whole Communities [Actually, Peter was the co-founder but doesn’t run it anymore. He is a facilitator based in Vermont]. Amy runs something called the Bethel Area Nonprofit Collaborative.

Bethel is a town in western Maine; lots of mountains and lots of dependence on the land for different things. You might say that Bethel is going through a transition; a long transition from a logging, forest-based economy to a tourism, recreation based economy. And these different types of uses of the land are often in conflict with each other. Amy and Peter convened a conversation in Bethel among people who have different interests in the land, different history with the land, and frankly different values.

They started this conversation not by identifying shared values. A lot of us who convene conversations among people who are different are apt to start with identifying things that we share, but in this case they realized that if they were to start a conversation around shared values that might actually alienate a lot of people because people might think that they don’t have the same values as the conveners and therefore not participate in the conversation.

So instead they began by identifying different values and accepting that different values are okay. We can think of things differently; we can believe different things and still the part of the same community and still build a shared future together.

Another thing that Amy and Peter did — which in my opinion is a little distinctive — they realized the importance of history. I want to read you a quote here. I might paraphrase a little bit but this is right out of the essay. It says, “A foundational step of civic dialogue is better understanding the land-and-people history and the social dynamics that have resulted from that history. Exploring and revealing history demonstrates active awareness of something that is real in another person’s experience and that’s essential to creating a welcoming context for civic dialogue.”

It’s like, “You know, if you had the same history that I have had, you would believe the same things I do!” By understanding each other’s history and by understanding the history of our community, we understand where our values come from and why they’re different and it’s not because we’re just bad people and don’t like each other. Our values are a result of our history.

The essay is called, A Culture of Listening and that’s because when Amy first approached Peter about doing the project she told him, “I want to create here in Bethel a culture of listening.” And Peter said, “That’s brilliant because listening is the foundation of relationships and relationships are the foundation of community.”

Thanks for listening.

I hope this helps you help your group make good decisions.

Interests rather than positions

Good Group Tips

In principle, when someone comes into a meeting or a negotiation with an already established position, it limits prospects for creative, innovative, win-win solutions. When I state my position on an issue early in the discussion, my focus thereafter becomes defending my position and trying to persuade others to agree with it. I might even get side-tracked into defending my pride rather than considering what’s best for the group.

On the other hand, if I’m able to speak clearly about my interests (what I would like to get out of the issue without attachment to a particular way of getting it) and I’m able to listen openly to others’ interests, we have a much better chance of all getting what we want.

Practical Tip: Focus first on what you really want rather than how to get it. If you are leaning toward a particular solution, peel back a layer, dig a bit deeper, and ask, “What desire in me does this solution attempt to satisfy?” Ask yourself, “What is my fundamental interest here?” Identify what you are really interested in, give it words, and speak the words to others. Listen carefully to their words about their interests. As a group, hear and understand all interests before crafting solutions.

Positions spoken early invite argument. Interests spoken clearly invite win-win, creative solutions.

– Craig Freshley

Click here for one-page PDF of this Tip, a great way to print or share.

No complaining without contribution

Good Group Tips

In principle, if I haven’t tried to make something better or if I’m not willing to help make it better, I have no business complaining about it. Rather than stand outside the circle and complain about the decisions others make, I do well to appreciate those who are willing to do the hard work of group decision making.

In fact, complaining without contribution actually hurts group decision making because it demoralizes current decision makers and discourages potential new ones.

Practical Tip: If I am unhappy or disappointed with the decisions of my group (perhaps an organization I belong to or perhaps my government), before criticizing I should first be grateful for the decision makers’ efforts.

Second, I try to understand their perspective, how it’s different from mine, and why.

Third, if my discontent is real and lasting, I ask myself, “What am I willing to do about it?” I ask myself, “Am I willing to change my personal behavior in some way to make things better? Am I willing to somehow participate in the next round of decision making?”

A thoughtful statement about what you are going to do — followed up with action — is always much more effective than a lazy statement about what someone else should do.

– Craig Freshley

Click here for one-page PDF of this Tip, a great way to print or share.

How to Use Microphones for Group Interaction

Using microphones in a large group so everyone gets heard can be tricky. In this video, Craig explains his tricks! He even explains how modern-day microphones are like ancient talking sticks.

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video

Hi everybody! Hey it’s Craig Freshley here.

A lot of times I do meetings with really large groups; so large that we need to use a microphone and a PA system, otherwise known as a public address system. My rule of thumb is about 40 to 60 people: if you have more than that you probably need to use a microphone.

When a microphone is called for, I like to use wireless handheld microphones because whenever I’m talking with a group, it’s going to be interactive. I’m not just stationary at the front. I am calling on people and I want to hear from other people and everybody who speaks in such a meeting needs to be using a microphone.

My preferred set up is a lavalier mic for me and two wireless handheld mics for me that I maintain control of. I like to get out and run around the audience and hold microphones for people. Sometimes I will let a person hold the microphone by themselves; and I’ve still got one to go take to somebody else. If I let that person hold the microphone while they’re talking, I circle back around and get this one. Sometimes I hold the microphone for somebody and whenever I do that I kneel down and get myself out of the way.

Using a microphone has an interesting effect on a meeting. It acts as a “talking stick.” You may be familiar with the Native American tradition of passing a talking stick in a group and the rule is that you can only talk if you’re holding the stick. A microphone is a lot like that and the good thing about it is it ensures that only one person talks at a time. And not only that, if I’m facilitating the meeting in the way I just described, I’m the one that gets to manage who talks when. The microphone can be extremely effective at preventing shout outs, crosstalk, interruptions, etc.

On the other hand, sometimes we want that spontaneity. We like it when people can quickly comment on each other’s comments, and if you have a strict rule that everyone who talks needs to talk into a microphone, you lose that.

Look, a lot of places that I speak and give workshops they have a house PA system. They have their own wireless microphones, lavalier mics, etc. But not always, so I went ahead and bought my own wireless microphone system. I’ve got two wireless mics and a lavalier mic and they channel into this receiver and then I plug the receiver into a simple 30 Watt amplifier. I take this on the road with me and this works pretty well for most situations that I’m in.

Look here’s just a few tips about how to use microphones in a meeting where you want audience interaction.

I hope this helps you help your group make good decisions.

Thanks for listening everybody!