Everyday English for Health and Social Care and Education Support 2
Everyday English for Health and Social Care and Education Support 2

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Everyday English for Health and Social Care and Education Support 2

3.3 How to have a good discussion

Discussions can go wrong quite easily. Some people talk too much, while others struggle to get their points across. Often there is not enough time given to sharing facts and information so that everyone understands what is under discussion. There are no clear decisions and the discussion seems to go round in circles.

Here are is a summary of common reasons why discussions go wrong:

  • The purpose of the discussion is not explained clearly.
  • People are not introduced to each other.
  • People are not sure why they are there.
  • Key people have not been invited.
  • Some people do all the talking.
  • Some people do not say anything and should do.
  • Information is not clear.
  • No one asks any questions.
  • Too much time is spent on irrelevant items.
  • There are too many disruptions, such as phone calls.
  • Important items are left out.
  • Decisions made are not clear.
  • No decisions are made.

Activity 13 When a discussion goes wrong

Timing: Allow about 10 minutes

Watch the video below in which a group of people discuss an issue that has arisen in their village. List the things that make the discussion go badly. You may find it useful to refer to the list above for guidance.

You may also find it useful to pause the video as you go along, so that you can write down your ideas.

Download this video clip.Video player: bltl_vid_03_eng_12_bad_discussion.mp4
Skip transcript

Transcript

ANNA
Hello, everyone. Right, let's crack on. Anyone got any ideas about what we can do?
ROGER
Sorry, I don't even know what this meeting is about. It just said urgent meeting on the letter.
ANNA
Oh, OK. Well, someone wants to bulldoze the wood at the bottom of the road and build a load of flats on it.
SUE
Right. So what are we supposed to do about it then?
ANNA
Duh, that's what we're here to talk about. Honestly, what a question.
BERNIE
Does anybody know anything about this company?
ROGER
Sorry, but who are you?
BERNIE
I'm Bernie. I've just moved into number 41. Who are you?
ROGER
I'm Roger from number 23.
BERNIE
Nice to meet you.
ROGER
Yeah, nice to meet you.
ANNA
Can we get back to the subject? I've got a few ideas about what we can do.
BERNIE
So if I can just go back to my question, do we know anything at all about this company? I'm wondering, perhaps, maybe someone at the parish council might know something.
ANNA
They never have the information you need. Maybe look it up online. Anyway, as I was saying, I've got a few ideas about what we can do. The first thing is to write to everyone in the village. Ask everyone to complain.
SUE
But complain about what? Everybody knows there's not enough affordable housing in the village. People might be glad of homes that their kids can afford.
ANNA
I'm sure people won't be happy about it, and they'll want to complain, and there's also the local newspaper. They'd be interested in the story, and actually there is someone on the parish council who'll be interested. She's called Miriam.
SUE
Shouldn't she have been invited to this meeting then?
ANNA
I'll give her the lowdown later.
BERNIE
Sorry, do you live around here too?
SUE
Ah, yes. I'm Sue from number 14.
BERNIE
Oh, nice to meet you.
SUE
Hi there.
BERNIE
I'm Bernie. 14, that's the one with the maple tree, right?
SUE
Yeah. Yeah, it is.
BERNIE
I look forward to seeing it in the autumn. The leaves turn that lovely shade of red.
SUE
Yeah, they do. I bought it from the garden centre last year, 50% off.
BERNIE
Oh, really?
ANNA
You have to be very careful, though, that they don't take over your whole garden. I bought one five years ago, and it's absolutely a giant now. In fact, the tree man's coming tomorrow to take off some of the branches.
SUE
I'll have to keep an eye on it then, tell it not to get too big.
ANNA
Anyway, where were we? Um-- I think we've got a few good ideas about protesting against these flats. Let's see how it goes.
BERNIE
Could I suggest something else we could do?
ANNA
OK
[PHONE RINGING]
Hold on a minute. Sorry, I need to take this. Hello? Hi. How are you? Is everything OK? Mm-hmm. Sorry, can I call you back? OK. Yeah, speak later.
Right. Well, it's getting late. Let's call it a day. I'm sure we'll stop this housing development in its tracks. I'll see you next time, everybody.
SUE
Thanks, yeah.
End transcript
 
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Discussion

Here are some of the things that you may have noticed about the discussion:

  • Its purpose was not explained. One participant at least had no idea why he was there.
  • Participants’ comments were not always treated respectfully. (’Duh! … Honestly, what a question!’)
  • People were not introduced to each other at the beginning, so not everyone knew each other or why the others were there.
  • Questions and opinions were dismissed by the chair, for example when she said, ‘The Parish Council never have the information … look it up online.’
  • One person – the chair – seemed to dominate the discussion: ‘Anyway, I’ve a few ideas as to what we can do.’
  • Someone who would have been helpful to the discussion was not invited (Miriam from the Parish Council).
  • Time was taken up talking about something quite irrelevant (the maple tree).
  • Only at the end did one of the participants have the chance to make a suggestion, as the chair dominated the discussion so much. Even then, he didn’t manage to say anything as he was interrupted by her mobile phone.
  • The discussion was disrupted by the chair’s mobile going off and her answering it.
  • It was unclear at the end what decisions had been made and who was going to carry out the suggestions that had been made. It felt unlikely that anything would actually be done following the discussion.
  • All the participants other than the chair looked unhappy by the end of the discussion. They may have gone away and immediately organised another meeting because the discussion had been so unhelpful!

In the discussion you have just watched, the chair didn’t help the discussion go well. She didn’t make sure that everyone knew each other or understood the purpose of the meeting. She didn’t ensure that everyone had a chance to speak.

Note that some groups prefer to work less formally, without a chair. They create a set of ground rules about how discussions should be managed. Everyone is asked to agree to these beforehand.

In the next video, you can see how a chair can help a discussion run smoothly.

Activity 14 When a discussion goes well

Now watch the video below. The discussion is on the same topic. As you watch, make a note of the things that make it go rather better than the discussion in the previous activity. Why does this discussion go well?

Again, you may find it useful to pause the video while you write down your ideas.

Download this video clip.Video player: bltl_vid_04_eng_12_good_discussion.mp4
Skip transcript

Transcript

ANNA
Hello, everyone. Thank you for coming. Does everyone know each other?
BERNIE
I'm not sure I actually know everybody. Would you mind if we went around the table and introduced ourselves?
ANNA
Good idea. I'm Anna from number 8.
BERNIE
I'm Bernie. I've just moved into number 41.
SUE
Hi. I'm Sue from number 14.
ROGER
I'm Roger from number 23.
MIRIAM
Hi. I'm Miriam, and I'm from the parish council.
ANNA
OK, just a quick recap. We're here because a property developer has applied for planning permission to build a block of flats on the land at the end of the road where the wood is. It would mean the total destruction of the wood. So we're here to work out what we can do to stop the flats being built. At this point, we're looking at all the ways we can protest against the planning application. Miriam, do you have any information on the company?
MIRIAM
Well, here's what I know. The company that want to develop the land are called Prime Building. They've applied before, back in 2009, but their application was rejected, because the wood is a site of scientific interest. But they're reapplying now, because the housing shortage is so bad within this area that they think they're in with a chance.
ANNA
Thank you. Any questions so far?
ROGER
Have the company built any housing around here before? I mean, have they had any applications granted?
ANNA
Good question. Miriam?
MIRIAM
They appealed a decision a few years ago over the other side of the village and lost, but I'll check the records to see if they've been building anywhere else.
ANNA
Thanks, Miriam. Now, we need to work out what we can do to stop them here. Any ideas, anyone?
SUE
Well, we could write letters to everyone in the village, ask them to email the council. Everybody loves that wood. It's a really safe place for the kids to play, the dog walkers love it too, and in the springtime, it's full of bluebells.
ANNA
That's a great idea. Could you write the letter, Sue, and distribute it?
SUE
Yeah. Sure. I can do that this week.
ANNA
OK. What else?
ROGER
How about getting the local nature society involved? They could write to the planning people, because it's a site of scientific interest. That way, it's then a benefit to the whole country, not just to the local people.
ANNA
Great. That would be a really strong point. Could you get in touch with them?
ROGER
Yeah, certainly.
ANNA
I'm sure they'd support our campaign. I was thinking, we should contact the press, at least the local newspaper. Has anyone got any photos of the wood we can send, you know, looking beautiful in different seasons?
SUE
I'll ask around when I take letters around this week.
ANNA
Sounds good. Bernie, do you have any other ideas about what we could do?
BERNIE
Well, I was thinking about getting in touch with the village school, because I know they use the woodland a lot to study the trees and the animals. And I think maybe they might want to go down there and take some photos or draw some pictures and things and tie that in.
ANNA
Brilliant. Anyone know the head teacher?
BERNIE
I do, actually. Yeah, I can give him a call tomorrow, if you want.
ANNA
Thank you. Miriam, is there anything the parish council can do?
MIRIAM
Well, I can pick this up at the meeting, on Thursday, but I'm sure they'll support your campaign.
ANNA
Great. So here are our decisions and actions. Sue will write to everyone in the village. Roger will write to the nature society. Bernie will contact the school, and Miriam will raise the matter at the next parish council meeting. Great. Well, shall we meet same time next week?
SUE
Yeah.
ANNA
OK. Thank you.
SUE
Thank you.
BERNIE
Thank you.
End transcript
 
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Discussion

  • People introduced themselves so everyone knew each other and why they were there before the discussion started.
  • The purpose of the meeting was made clear right at the beginning.
  • Relevant people with useful contributions to make, such as Miriam from the Parish Council, were present. She had already done some research on the issue, which was helpful.
  • During the discussion, the chair asked if anyone had any questions; she made sure everyone understood what was going on.
  • The chair invited suggestions from all the participants, including from someone who had been quiet. She didn’t dominate the discussion, but kept it moving and made sure everyone participated.
  • The chair made it clear who had to do what and at the end summarised all the decisions and actions. It felt as if something really was going to happen after the discussion!

In this section you have looked at:

  • how to prepare for a discussion
  • how to move a discussion along
  • why a discussion can go wrong
  • the things that make a discussion go well.
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