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The Effective Planning Commissioner

Meaningful Dialogue With the Public

Read an excerpt from this article below. You can download the full article by using the link at the end of the excerpt.

Encourage people not to repeat what someone else has said, but be patient with repeaters. They may have been concentrating so much on their presentation that they have not listened to those before them. It may help to move matters along by keeping brief notes of the salient points each person presents. At an opportune time, sum up what you have heard and request those following to confine their remarks to something new.

If you are asked a question that is somewhat long or ambiguous, paraphrase it. "As I understand it, Ms. Carlson, you want to know ..." If Ms. Carlson nods, you can proceed. If she shakes her head, invite her to rephrase her question.

Some people just have a statement to make. Hear them out in the allotted time and move on. Do not invite their further participation by asking if they have a question.

Some people just have a statement to make. Hear them out in the allotted time and move on. Do not invite their further participation by asking if they have a question.

Answer questions succinctly and to the point. Do not digress into irrelevancies that do not advance the discussion. Avoid plannerese and jargon, always keeping in mind you are talking with laypeople.

Show by your body language that you are listening. Lean forward, with hands discretely on the table or in your lap. Never roll your eyes, shake your head, or tap a pencil or pen -- all sure signals you are impatient or distracted.

Do not fall for "red herrings" or baited questions. If necessary, repeat what you or other commissioners have said or explain your answer in more detail.

Avoid a "one on one" with any questioner, broadening your answers so they are general and relate to the concerns of most or all the people in the audience.

Always be polite. You may have to agree to disagree, but insults and innuendo are never appropriate.

End of excerpt

photo of Elaine CoganElaine Cogan, founding principal of the Portland, Oregon planning and communications firm of Cogan Owens Cogan, has consulted for more than 36 years with communities undertaking strategic planning and visioning processes. Cogan has been honored for her work on a variety of citizen involvement projects.

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