The most useful and practical phrase a chair can say
It’s a little risky to make extreme claims, but in the view of Jurassic Parliament, the most useful and practical phrase a chair can say is:
Members will kindly seek recognition before speaking.
This is based on our 20+ years of experience, in which the tendency of meetings to dissolve into conversations among the members is ever-present.
When that happens, and people blurt something out, or start talking directly to each other, the chair can use the this phrase to firmly and politely remind people of the rules.
Discussion is not a conversation
As we emphasize in all our work, normally discussion at board meetings is NOT A CONVERSATION. In a conversation, dominant people tend to dominate, and agreeable people tend to let them. This leads to back-and-forth, interruptions, arguments, and shutting some members out of the dialogue.
The remedy is that superb rule:
No one may speak a second time until everyone who wishes to do so has spoken once.
The chair functions as a “benevolent dictator” by insisting that everyone who wishes to speak must seek recognition from the chair. You “seek recognition” by raising a hand or pressing a button, if you have an electronic system. In this way the chair keeps control of the discussion, and creates a level playing field.
More casual phrases to use
If these words are too formal for your group, you can phrase this directive more lightly. When someone speaks up without being recognized, you can say,
Excuse me, in order to keep things fair, everyone please wait to speak
until you have been recognized by the chair.
When someone interrupts, you can say,
Just a moment, Josh, Elaine has the floor.
Including everyone and advancing equity
This approach is also the best way to provide for equity, inclusion, and belonging. Members from less-recognized populations will receive their due opportunity. When everyone’s right to speak is equally respected, the group can develop a sense of common commitment.
And if the board is divided and at odds, this rule will at least keep order.
What do you think about this? Have you tried it? Let us know!