Ground Rules

by Tree Bressen

At the beginning of a meeting, it is often useful to clearly state what the expectations are for framing the time together. One way to do that is by suggesting ground rules. If the group agrees to adopt them, then it’s the facilitator’s job to help remind people of them as needed during the meeting. Naturally ground rules need to be appropriate for that particular group.


0. Basics: Raise hands before speaking. No interruptions. All focus on one conversation. Fairness–no one will be called on twice on a particular topic until all those who want to have spoken once.

1. Be constructive. Create a positive context and supportive framework. Acknowledge the past fully, yet focus on the future. Make good-faith efforts.

2. Test assumptions and inferences. Ask for more information.

3. Be specific. Use examples if needed so people know what you’re talking about. (If you over-generalize, you’ll turn people off.)

4. Take responsibility for your own feelings and experiences. Use I-statements. (EX: “I felt so angry when I saw that,” Not “You made me so angry when you did that.”)

5. Go for the heart, both in the sense of center and in the sense of feelings. What do you most need to talk about? Discuss undiscussable issues. Be real, share what is most relevant. Be direct, yet kind.

In addition to the list above, here is a selection of other ground rules used by some groups.

A. Only up to 3 people at any given time will be “stacked” waiting to speak.

B. All members are expected to participate.

C. Share all relevant information.

D. Hands will be called on alternating by gender.

E. In order to promote common ownership of ideas, we won’t use names unless necessary for clarity. We are here to discuss ideas, not personalities.

F. Focus on interests, not positions. Explain the reasons behind statements, questions, and actions.

G. No judgments or evaluation during brainstorming.

H. The minute-taker reads back the final proposal before official agreement.

I. Be respectful by avoiding stereotypes, cheap shots, or jokes at someone’s expense.

J. Begin and end on time.

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