Friday, December 31, 2010

The Conversation Game

We have a family that likes to discuss politics. There is one of us who is liberal/progressive. The rest of us are firmly conservative/libertarian. Recently at a dinner hosted by the liberal/progressive, I noted that she could not get many words in edgewise due to the passion of her guests. Being an old parliamentarian for church and other social groups, I naturally concluded that "rules of order" might be employed. But to use Robert's Rules for such an intimate family affair would be stifling! So I whittled down what Robert gave us, leaving just two broad rules:

1) Participants select a topic, the total amount of time to discuss the topic, the maximum length of time allocated to each participant to speak at any one time, and who will preside (if necessary) and keep time.

2) When it is a participant's turn to speak, they control the conversation for that slice of time. They may make statements and ask questions of (i.e., debate) other participants. During their turn, this person has the sole privilege to interrupt any other participant. When the participant is finished, regardless of how much time remains, control moves to the next participant.

Robert's Rules provide that no other person may speak again until all have had the opportunity; only then does the next round of speech begin. This is preserved implicitly in Rule 2, while still allowing for natural back-and-forth conversation.

The need to exercise Rule 1 is based on the tolerance of participants for a topic and for each other. The last sentence in Rule 2 might be called the "Forrest Gump Clause", as he often said "That's all I have to say about that," and then promptly moved on.

We have not all gathered yet again to try this game, but momentum has built towards wanting to try it. I'll post you on our results. If you should try these rules, let me know how your experience went. I suspect some groups may need the formality closer to Robert's Rules, while others will need less.

In all your political discussions, be courteous, and have fun learning!

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