The conversation was robust. We had been going through the issues for the past three hours – some had dug their heels in and simply said: “This is not going to work”; others complained: “You have not even given us a chance to prove that this could end up positively for all of us”. Emotions started surfacing and people were taking sides. The conversation quality was swiftly deteriorating and no further ideas were forthcoming. The discussion had reached a dead-end.

There are times when discussions during meetings or workshops come to an impasse – employees refusing to budge from their respective points of view. The manager’s responsibility is to jump-start a stalled discussion and get the conversation and creativity flowing again. Being sensitive to the context and to individual perspectives, the manager could do one or more of the following activities:

  • Return to the original question at hand or goals of the meeting – restate, write on the flipchart and get everyone’s buy-in to achieving the same.
  • Summarise that which has been accomplished already or agreed to – summarising is a good technique to get employees back on track and focused on the issues at hand.
  • If necessary, ask for data to be presented to support the opposing views – data helps clarify perspective and overcomes generalisations and absolutes (e.g.: “many say that …” – data tells you how many).
  • Get everyone to participate in a non-verbal activity (no talking) – all must draw what they would like the outcome to be, or write down what they feel is most important about the points that are being made.
  • Suggest that the group finds a new approach – divide the large group into smaller groups and get them to be creative with finding a new way of getting to the solution.
  • Attempt to separate causes from effects – get small groups to identify the issues that “drive” the others.
  • Facilitate a prioritisation exercise – get individuals to indicate, by means of a sticker dot, the issues that for them are priority. Deal only with the high-scoring items.

Stalled meetings and workshops cause frustration and levels of creativity diminish. The manager must find ways of jump-starting the discussions again.

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