Running Effective Meetings: Encouraging Constructive Participation

In the first three blogs in this series about running effective meetings focused on the Organizational Skills:

Running Effective Meetings: Encouraging Constructive Participation

As we continue our discussion from previous blogs on facilitating effective meetings, we now move from the Organizational Skills of Getting Started, Keeping Moving and Generating Action and Concluding to the Leadership Skill of Encouraging Constructive Participation.

Do you really care what I think?

There are several things that can influence group participation, but two factors are critical for a successful meeting:

  1. The facilitator’s behavior
  2. The participant’s expectations


Effective facilitators use their listening and observation skills and behaviors to decide when to:

  • Coach,
  • Intervene,
  • Redirect, or
  • Stand back.

Participant’s expectations and the internal feelings they bring into a meeting are based on:

    • Previous Results: When participation is not expected, or reinforced, group members quickly learn how to respond or not respond in meetings.

  • Lack of Knowledge: Sometimes participants are overly cautious. They hesitate to contribute anything until they are certain that they understand what is going on in the meeting or they feel they do not know enough about the topic to contribute. This usually means any potential valuable input that they could add is lost.
  • No Reward: Some participants feel contributing ideas creates negative returns. For example, if they raise the issue, they’ll get stuck with finding the solution.
  • Lack of assertiveness: Some participants simply don’t have the kind of assertive behavior that allows them to feel comfortable contributing.
  • Sensitivity: A few participants may be overly sensitive to other’s reactions or to the topic.

Most people will have some of these expectations or feelings at some point. Effective facilitators recognize this and actively look for ways to draw people out. They know that personal and group success in meetings depends upon active and thoughtful participation.

Encouraging Constructive Participation

By applying the following Key Actions, facilitators can learn to generate constructive participation.

Key Actions

1. Specify the type of participation desired.

By clearly stating the type of participation desired for the meeting or each agenda topic, the facilitator encourages informative, active involvement and a great deal of confusion and misunderstanding is removed. Generally, the kind of participation expected is determined by the purpose of the meeting or topic. For example, if the purpose is to provide information only, the type of participation expected would be seeking clarification, asking questions, and having limited discussions. If, however, the purpose of the meeting is to seek opinions and feedback, the type of participation would be providing ideas, reactions, recommendations, and suggestions.

2. Create a participative climate.

Open, inviting climates encourage participation. Participants are more inclined to raise tentative ideas or give honest reactions to a disagreement. Cold or non-participative climates bristle with tension and creativity may be stifled.



Some Best Practices that can help create a participative climate are:

  • Hold back. The facilitator needs to provide the time for input from others. They may need to limit the length of their remarks to give others a chance to speak.
  • Wait until last. The facilitator saves their opinion until last. If they state their views first, it may limit other’s input, especially if it differs from the facilitator’s.
  • Explain expectations. The facilitator tells participants what they expect with regards to their participation. They might say:
    • I want your reaction on a tentative decision.
    • A final decision has been made so I would like to hear any questions you may have or points of clarification you may need.
  • Ask open-ended questions. The facilitator asks questions that open the discussion versus closed-ended questions that limits input and participation.
  • Discourage frequent participant-to-facilitator dialogue. The facilitator develops an easy flow of information by focusing attention away from themselves and on to other participants in the meeting.

3. Draw out contributions from specific individuals:

Participants need to feel that it is safe to participate. As mentioned earlier, insecurities, expectations and bad experiences may discourage participation. When facilitators sincerely ask a participant, “What do you think?” they send the underlying message that the participants input is valued. To obtain full participation, the facilitator must make specific overtures to individuals to encourage their participation. To miss a person’s contribution may be unproductive for the purpose and desired outcome of the meeting.

Some Best Practices to draw out contributions from specific individuals is to:

  • Direct questions to individuals.
  • Encourage input from all participants.
  • Draw out the uninvolved.
  • Encourage those who have expertise with the situation.
  • Protect persons with minority views.

4. Acknowledge and reinforce constructive participation:

Success breeds success, and constructive participation enhances constructive participation. Participants repeat what has been reinforced.




Some Best Practices to acknowledge and reinforce constructive participation:

  • Give verbal and nonverbal reinforcement through nods, hmm-mms, smiles, and thanking individuals for their input.
  • Protect new ideas and encourage expression of partial ideas that can grow into relevant solutions.
  • Collectively acknowledge the group by letting them know how much their attendance is appreciated at the beginning of the meeting and thanking them for their input at the end.

Positive reinforcement encourages an atmosphere of innovation and creativity. It instills confidence rather than caution and safety. It allows people and ideas to grow. Encouraging constructive participation creates an environment where ideas can develop into positive results.

Final Blog in this Series

Our final blog in this series will summarize some common pitfalls and traps to be aware of when facilitating meetings. For more information on how to enroll in Facilitation Skills: Running Effective Meetings, please email Geoff Nolan

FKA President
Michael Nolan