Some top tips from the Learning Network

1. Set ground rules

Agree these rules at the start. Examples of good ground rules could be things like 'respect others' opinions' and 'be kind and courteous'. Then, if you feel the tone of the conversation is becoming combative, you can remind people of these rules you all agreed. 

2. Agree expectations

At the start, ensure everyone knows what you are aiming to do during your time together. For example, are you planning to agree some firm action points, or are you simply gathering people's ideas at this stage? Make sure this is clear.

3. Challenge assumptions

Be prepared gently to push people into considering the assumptions behind their comments. For example, let's imagine that someone insists that all mission activities should result in higher attendance at Sunday morning worship. You might want to challenge the notion that Sunday morning gathered worship is the only way of measuring faith engagement.

4. Reframe negative comments in a more positive way

If someone claims "this church doesn't pray enough",  for example, you might respond: "so, you would like to see more opportunities for prayer in this church?"

5. Actively seek contributions from quieter people

To avoid the same one or two people dominating a conversation, try asking for five minutes' quiet for everyone to write down their thoughts on paper (or in the Zoom chat). Then you can call on quieter individuals for their thoughts, having given them some thinking time. Or try asking people to "step up and step back". Invite them to notice if they're talking too much, and need to "step back", or not at all, and need to "step up".

6. Don't be afraid of silence

You don't need to fill it. Some people need peace and quiet to let their thoughts percolate. You might want to explain "let's just hold this silence for a few minutes", to allay people's anxieties.

7. Mix up the seating arrangements

This changes the dynamics, and allows people to talk with others, perhaps gaining new insights.

8. Invite participants to summarise 

You don't need to summarise the conversation - have a participant capture everyone's thoughts in their own words.