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Parliamentary Procedure Time

Distractions and Disruptions

Just this past week, I chaired a meeting of people in the meeting business, no less. Imagine my chagrin when during the meeting, we were constantly distracted by private chatter, talking back and forth across the room, and no regard at all for those who were trying to get a chance to be heard. I was rather forceful and insisted that all the members direct their remarks through the chair. The disruptive behavior stopped but I think the noisy members interpreted the direction to mean they should not offer any further ideas.

I attribute their total shut down to not understanding the rules of debate very well. Now I like informal discussion about as well as anyone. The flow of ideas should be encouraged and nurtured. There is such a thing as common courtesy though and I think the rules of debate found in Robert's Rules of Order Newly Revised, 10th edition, give us all a framework that allows everyone to have a chance to speak without interruption. The chairman has the authority to guide the conversation with fluidity and regard for all members. It's much more efficient than cross-talk, talking over others, and just plain rudeness.

The rules are fairly simple too: One person at a time, one topic at a time, direct all remarks to the chair, and everyone should have a chance to give their two cents before anyone gets to chime in a second time.

I say to the gregarious talkers -- try the rules, you might like them!

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Ann Guiberson


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