The Quaker Business Method of conducting meetings for business and arriving at decisions is quite different from that of most businesses.
The primary objective is to seek unity in decisions: to find a way forward that is acceptable to all present. This is not so easy to do, especially when the issue is a controversial one, or when there are strongly held opposing views. The outcome is not necessarily one that everyone agrees with, but one that all present can accept, in the knowledge that their views have been heard and considered. We must recognise that a minority view may continue to exist.
There are some Quaker ways of conducting meetings which others might find useful.
The use of silence
Silence itself has no magic. It may be just sheer emptiness or absence of sound. However, the effective use of silence in business meetings can create a powerful atmosphere for the receipt of inspiration and guidance.
Quaker meetings for business always begin and end with a period of silence. At the beginning the silence helps us to quieten the ego and to break off from what was being done before the meeting. It also gives time to focus on the task at hand and to concentrate on playing your part in discerning the way forward. Silence at the end helps to provide a peaceful closure and reflection.
Some of us have found that in tense or emotionally charged situations, a short period of silence can have a calming effect. When discussions become heated, the call for a few minutes’ silence to reflect on the matter under consideration often helps.
Conduct of business meetings
Every meeting for business is chaired by an appointed clerk. The clerk’s job is not just to keep the meeting going according to the agenda, or to record the proceedings in minutes that will be disseminated afterwards. The clerk’s primary role is to be able to gauge the sense of the meeting, and to bring minds together so that an acceptable way forward can be agreed. When the way forward has been found, the clerk drafts a minute recording the decision, which is agreed by all those present.
This method takes patience and insight, but it has advantages. It enables all opinions to be heard so that everyone should be comfortable with the outcome. It creates clarity because the minute has been agreed at the time, whilst the issues are fresh in people’s minds. This reduces subsequent differences of opinion and revisions to minutes. The entire meeting has ownership of the minutes.
Meeting for clearness
This is a special form of meeting to help a person or group of people make a difficult decision or to seek guidance at times of change or difficulty. A small number of people are appointed for their special knowledge or experience to help those present become clear about possible options and ways forward. A relaxed atmosphere of trust is important and confidentiality must be maintained within the group. A facilitator should be chosen to assist in clarifying the questions. This is a time for listening with undivided attention.