In group discussions, we sometimes use facilitators to manage the flow of contributions. One technique employs a queue. During the discussion, usually while one participant is speaking, another might catch the attention of the facilitator to request a spot in the queue. In person, this can be done with a raised hand or a facial expression. In teleconferences, it might occur through a "hand-raise" channel or through texting.
Queues work well for smaller groups discussing non-controversial topics. But when the energy level rises, or the headcount passes a dozen or so, disorder sometimes appears in the form of thread tangling.
A "thread" in a discussion is a collection of related contributions. In most discussions, although all contributions are related, some contributions are more closely connected than others. For instance, one thread might consist of several contributions rebutting one assertion, while another thread might offer support for an altogether different assertion.
Sometimes individual threads get fragmented, or tangled, because of the uncoordinated order of arrival in the queue. This thread tangling can lead to feelings of frustration, for several reasons.
- "Plopping" is the systematic but polite ignoring of the contributions of one or more individuals. Their contributions, whatever they are, go "plop." Consequently, the people who are ignored can feel so alienated and bitter that they cease contributing.
- Pseudo-plopping is what happens when a discussion's threads become so tangled that contributions seem to be ignored because they are forgotten or mislaid in the mess. The result is frustration, and possibly some of the same feelings as occur in plopping.
- Information overload
- People have a limited ability to remember chunks of information [Miller 1956]. The number of distinct chunks seems to be People lose track of the
conversation, or forget
some of what they
wanted to sayseven plus or minus two. Under stress, when angry, or amid interruptions or distractions, the limit is probably lower.
- Trouble occurs when the limit is less than the number of contributions intervening between the time when a participant first enters the queue and when that participant finally speaks. People lose track of the conversation, or forget some of what they wanted to say. Some feel frustrated; some feel inadequate. They experience stress.
- When three or more threads are active, the difficulty of keeping them all in focus overwhelms most people. Some have the experience of wanting to contribute to more than one thread.
- When people who want to make multiple contributions to different threads finally do speak, they have to flip from one thread to the next. Sometimes, things get so confusing that they have to use notes. They forget some of what they wanted to say, they misspeak, or worse. Discourse quality degrades.
Thread tangling makes discussions disconnected and confusing. People feel stress. Destructive conflict is more likely to erupt. Thread tangling is bad news. Next time, we'll explore some techniques for dealing with thread tangling. Next in this series Top Next Issue
Do you spend
your days scurrying from meeting to meeting? Do you ever wonder if all these meetings are really necessary? (They aren't) Or whether there isn't some better way to get this work done? (There is) Read 101 Tips for Effective Meetings to learn how to make meetings much more productive and less stressful — and a lot more rare. Order Now!
Your comments are welcomeWould you like to see your comments posted here? rbrenygzYCZyzNhsSpFNtner@ChacAGVpKLKxnyTqgPZGoCanyon.comSend me your comments by email, or by Web form.
About Point Lookout
Thank you for reading this article. I hope you enjoyed it and found it useful, and that you'll consider recommending it to a friend.
Support Point Lookout by joining the Friends of Point Lookout, as an individual or as an organization.
Do you face a complex interpersonal situation? Send it in, anonymously if you like, and I'll give you my two cents.
More articles on Personal, Team, and Organizational Effectiveness:
- Recovering Time: I
- Where do the days go? How can it be that we spend eight, ten, or twelve hours at work each day and get
so little done? To recover time, limit the fragmentation of your day. Here are some tips for structuring
your working day in larger chunks.
- How to Make Good Guesses: Tactics
- Making good guesses probably does take talent to be among the first rank of those who make guesses.
But being in the second rank is pretty good, too, and we can learn how to do that. Here are some
tactics for guessing.
- The Focusing Illusion in Organizations
- The judgments we make at work, like the judgments we make elsewhere in life, are subject to human fallibility
in the form of cognitive biases. One of these is the Focusing Illusion. Here are some examples to watch for.
- Why Sidebars Happen
- Sidebar conversations between meeting participants, conducted while someone else has the floor, are
a distracting form of disorder that can waste time and reduce meeting effectiveness. Why do sidebars happen?
- Ego Depletion and Priority Setting
- Setting priorities for tasks is tricky when we find the tasks unappealing, because we have limited energy
for self-control. Here are some strategies for limiting these effects on priority setting.
Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout
- Coming February 21: The Ultimate Attribution Error at Work
- When we attribute the behavior of members of groups to some cause, either personal or situational, we tend to make systematic errors. Those errors can be expensive and avoidable. Available here and by RSS on February 21.
- And on February 28: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: I
- Briefly, when people exhibit narcissistic behavior they're engaging in activity that systematically places their own interests and welfare ahead of the interests and welfare of anyone or anything else. It's behavior that threatens the welfare of the organization and everyone employed there. Available here and by RSS on February 28.
I offer email and telephone coaching at both corporate and individual rates. Contact Rick for details at rbrenQqLBeDpePOIDGUNhner@ChacgFHLwyCzGeoxshvJoCanyon.com or (617) 491-6289, or toll-free in the continental US at (866) 378-5470.
Get the ebook!
Past issues of Point Lookout are available in six ebooks:
- Get 2001-2 in Geese Don't Land on Twigs (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2003-4 in Why Dogs Wag (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2005-6 in Loopy Things We Do (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2007-8 in Things We Believe That Maybe Aren't So True (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get 2009-10 in The Questions Not Asked (PDF, USD 11.95)
- Get all of the first twelve years (2001-2012) in The Collected Issues of Point Lookout (PDF, USD 28.99)
Are you a writer, editor or publisher on deadline? Are you looking for an article that will get people talking and get compliments flying your way? You can have 500 words in your inbox in one hour. License any article from this Web site. More info
- The Power Affect: How We Express Our Personal Power
- Many people who possess real organizational power have a characteristic demeanor. It's the way they project their presence. I call this the power affect. Some people — call them power pretenders — adopt the power affect well before they attain significant organizational power. Unfortunately for their colleagues, and for their organizations, power pretenders can attain organizational power out of proportion to their merit or abilities. Understanding the power affect is therefore important for anyone who aims to attain power, or anyone who works with power pretenders. Read more about this program.