Using the Tool of “Turn and Learn” in Meetings

Have you ever spoken up about an important topic in a meeting only to feel misunderstood? Maybe you didn’t articulate it as well as you wanted, or you just felt like the other people in the meeting focused on the wrong part of what you said. Perhaps you’ve spoken in response to a challenging topic but without time to gather your thoughts, and you left the meeting feeling like the words that came out of your mouth weren’t really what you meant to say. If you lead meetings, how can you ensure that everyone is both able to speak, and to have their voice heard? When you’re discussing a major project, or addressing challenging issues as a group, how do you find out if you’re all on the same page and/or hear different perspectives?

Last week’s post on Social-Emotional Learning touched on the topic of pairing up team members for reflection prior to opening a large group discussion. In the traditional SEL realm of education, these paired shares are often referred to as “Turn and Learn.” In these turn and learn times, every person in the meeting is a) contributing their own response, and b) listening to the contribution of another. In particular, education consultant and author Jeffrey Benson outlines the brain science of turn and learns as follows:

  1. “Think time” to gather thoughts – A common recommendation is to give 30-60 seconds of silent “think time” in response to a question prompt before turning to a partner and taking turns answering that prompt. This helps alleviate the “what are we talking about?” chatter at the beginning of the paired share, and allows people to think about their response.
  2. Putting thoughts into phrases to share – Both the think time and the act of sharing help each person to articulate their thoughts; the very act of putting words to your concerns and desires can be enormously powerful.
  3. Hearing yourself share your ideas – Sometimes hearing yourself say something out loud can be empowering; other times it can help you discern if that’s really how you feel, and ascertain something deeper or different.
  4. Taking in your partner’s reactions – Saying something directly to another person allows you real-time feedback – Am I being understood? Are they hearing what I want them to hear? Are there other things I want to say?
  5. Hearing your partner’s ideas – Along with sharing, you listen to your partner’s response, encouraging active listening as well as potentially adding further reflection and nuance to your own response.

All of these can lead to more fruitful large group discussion. Once someone has shared their thoughts with a partner, they are more likely to be willing to share their thoughts in the large group; especially because they’ve effectively practiced what they would say and received real-time feedback to help them articulate clearly what they mean to say.

Whether or not you lead meetings, how might this tool of “Turn and Learns” be helpful for you this week?

This Week’s Tip:

Try implementing turn and learns this week – whether in a meeting setting or elsewhere.

  1. If you manage a team and/or lead group meetings: Try implementing turn and learns this week. If you already use a paired share model similar to this, try incorporating the “think time” piece beforehand.
  2. If you do not lead meetings: Try implementing an informal turn and learn with a colleague. Ask if you can talk with them briefly – about a particular project, or issue. Be conscious of sharing your thoughts succinctly and using the real-time feedback to see if your words are being clearly understood. Then ask them to share their thoughts, and practice your active listening skills and open-ended questions.

Try these out this week and let us know how it goes in our Facebook group – we’d love to hear what you learn about yourself and others as you do.

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Published by Ian Jackson

Ian Jackson is the founder of Building Bridges Leadership, which works with individuals, teams, and organizations to create authentic community in the workplace. He also writes children's fiction and teaches creative writing.

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