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Core Agreements
From the very start of such a session, set up at least some of the following "Core Agreements" or "house rules for this session," to make it easy for you to swiftly and gently guide and focus or refocus your people into, through, and out of highly involved, highly interactive "buzz" sessions:


1. Waterglass Rules
Have on hand a waterglass or chime which can be heard easily when everyone is talking at the same time—so your voice won't have to compete with all the other voices...

o  Three 'bings' = Instant pause in talking.

Rule: the moment you hear 3 bings, pause in talking not only in mid-sentence but in mid-word so that you and others can hear the next topical question or step of instruction.

o   One 'bing' = Half-minute's notice (before the 3-binger).

Rule: keep on doing what you are presently doing but be ready a half minute after this one bing to pause in talking to hear the next instruction.

o   Hand-Up = Instant Talk-Pause + Hand Up (this simple device is often used by the Scouts). This is best for very large groups, of one hundred or more members. (On-off flicks of the room lighting can serve the same purpose.)

Rule: the instant you notice either the leader's hand go up or other people's hands going up, pause instantly in your talking and get your own hand up!

2. Relevancy Challenge
Make a triangle of your thumbs and forefingers, sight at the speaker through that triangle.

Rule: in that instant, whoever is speaking must (1) demonstrate how his/her remarks relate to the topic; or (2) return to the topic; or (3) yield the floor. Instantly. (How many times have you been reluctant to shut off someone's story but had to stand there bleeding internally while s/he got further and further off the subject and broke the context?!?)
You can see how, with just a little simple pre-arrangement, major group dynamics can be set in motion or stopped, directed and focused, how you can orchestrate them to maximum effect in terms of learning or of meeting the goal. Simple arrangement of easily used hand signals as standing rules or agreements allows you to orchestrate a wide range of group behaviors virtually without effort or delay. On the same principle, from time to time you may want to set up these special-occasion rules for particular situations.

3. On-Task Pointer
Fingertips steepled together and lightly bounced, pointing forward and the person so signifying leaning forward. This sign represents someone's perception — within the group or from outside it, such as by a wandering-by instructor — that the group has gotten off-task and is encouraged to get back on the main track. Easily keep your groups on-track and highly productive, with this little sign. Even establishing this sign, as an agreed-upon meaning, helps orient your participants or students toward keeping on task, and a little light (and good-humored) maintenance can get almost unbelievably fine production from your participants.

4. Support-First Rule
Every major system of creative problem solving has some form of this rule. To obtain creative production, fresh ideas and perceptions, innovations, and answers to questions or issues whose outcome is not narrowly predetermined, and to get more and better ideas contributed, the first response to the contributing of an idea should be a positive reinforcement.

Rule: No matter how off-the-wall an idea or input may seem at first, the first response to it must be some form of meaningful, content-related support!
After that meaningful first support, then it's okay to carve that weird notion into corned beef hash, so long as the support came first. To use this rule effectively, simply put it in this form:
o   Any time you observe an idea not getting supported first, whether yours or someone else's, clasp your hands together over your head for a second or so while looking wistfully upward, then go on.

o   Note: the best ideas usually are those which were greeted first with a burst of laughter. You may wish to give those laugh-burst ideas special attention. In any case, make sure that the first response positively reinforces the act of creating and contributing ideas and fresh perceptions. Win your way past the usual reflexive self-censorings which stifle creative thought and perceptiveness.

o   Don't use this support-first rule where you don't want richly expansive creativity, multiple considerations, and enthusiastic participant expression.

5. Three-sentence limit
Or 4, or 2, or simply a 1-minute limit per input, depending upon the size of group and the nature of the process you are working. Once this rule is invoked, any time you notice someone going beyond the set limit, simply lean forward with hands clasped in front of you.

6. Make Record of the Run-Pasts!
This corrects the main frustration about any group discussion or process which gets interesting enough to provoke a lot of desire to participate.

Rule: Anything you notice that seems worthy of mention, but which the group process (or lecturer!) has stampeded past — make a written note or record of it, immediately!
So reinforce your own perceiving of overlooked aspects, not merely that particular point. And clear the traffic jam in your perceptions between thinking about what you have to say and giving more attention to what others are saying now. And if others also follow this Record Run-Pasts Rule, your inputs when you do get to make them will receive attention.

Sometimes there is a chance before the end to pick up some of these points and consider them — but the main purpose of this rule is to reinforce your own perceptiveness and integrity of view. Any time you notice someone else seething with an overrun item, point to his or her notepad and waggle pen or pencil at it.

7. Namas-Te
Hands together parallel, pointing upward, accompanied by a slight bow. This can be a powerful positive reinforcer for a brilliant contribution to the group process, delivered without breaking up context or taking time.

The original, more spiritual meaning of the Namas-Te gesture from India was, "The Divine in me greets the Divine in you." In broader secular use here, establish the context and meaning to be, "The genius in me (or us) recognizes and salutes the genius in you!"

Using this is a very splendid concept. Considering the powerful natural Law of Effect ("you get more of what you reinforce"), this can become a very powerful positive tool and resource, for both sender and receiver. Where a group or a class establishes this as a very special-occasion gesture not lightly used, careful not to cheapen it or use it routinely, but where all spontaneously follow suit pointing the hands toward the contributor, after the instructor or another participant has appropriately so signified, this can become a very powerful experience.

By following these dynamic-format procedures you are, in fact, likely to get more and more high-quality responses from your participants, several or more of which may well deserve this salute.

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