The Value of Perceptive Moderation

We’ve all been in meetings, workshops advisory boards and brainstorming sessions where, even with the best of intentions, chaos reigns. The reality is that in any group of people, there will always be a range of factors that directly affect the quality of output. Varying degrees of knowledge, ego, confidence, motivation and interpersonal communication skills all shape how the dialogue takes form and often determines the value (or lack) of what emerges. This is where a technique I call “perceptive moderation” can be critical to making a difference.

Perceptive moderation consists of five key characteristics: clarity, attentiveness, empathy, independence and determination. Having a group of people and a moderator who value this approach to conducting a discussion can make the difference between what is commonly referred to as “group think” and the generation of meaningful (and actionable) content.

  1. Clarity – Go into the session with a commonly understood sense of purpose. The moderator should reinforce the objective respectfully and provide the discipline to have the group stay focused and on topic.
  1. Attentiveness – This goes beyond the obvious, which is that the moderator must be an effective listener. Often opportunities reside in those things that are not spoken. An effective moderator probes and understands how to read each of the participants. Further, it is the moderator’s responsibility to be attentive to all in the room, solicit different perspectives and challenge convention.
  1. Empathy – Any effective moderator must be able to understand the perspectives of the participants. Viewpoints are often powered by strong emotions (sometimes rational, sometimes not). The moderator should be able to relate to everyone in the group, but also have the ability to sort through feelings that are generated to elicit relevant content – all while creating an environment in which everyone feels comfortable sharing without being judged.
  1. Independence – There can be tremendous value in having sessions led by an independent moderator. This helps reduce biases and provides a foundation of neutrality. This also can add a fresh perspective that can be useful in uncovering perspectives that may have otherwise gone unexplored.
  1. Determination – There should always be a starting point and an ending point in mind that correlates to the session’s objectives. The moderator can help guide the conversations and help identify worthy tangents and cut off superfluous rants. The moderator must be determined to help the group stay focused and maximize the group’s time together.

It’s frequently said that in these forums there are no bad ideas and that all thoughts are welcome. The truth is that it is just not that simple. Without perceptive moderation, sessions can drift, time can pass and meaningful output may never materialize. It is essential to be respectful of everyone’s time and opinion. Part of that is making sure that these opportunities are maximized.

by Jonathan D. Katz