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Visual cues in discussions – Jeff Patton’s Cup & E.L.M.O.

A while ago, I added this 1-pager about the hand signals we use at my work to give feedback non-disruptive feedback in discussions. No need to interrupt someone speaking, just convey something with your hands.

If you are only with a group for a short bit, learning hand signals might be too much. But you can still use visual cues to allow a group of people to keep each other on track. Check out the 1-pager for techniques such as Jeff Patton’s Cups, cards and Elmo.

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Content of 1-Pager:

Visual cues in discussions – Jeff Patton’s Cup & E.L.M.O.

Have you ever been in a discussion and someone just keeps talking and talking? You are wondering to yourself: “Is this still relevant? Are the others still interested? Do they look bored? But I don’t wanna interrupt. What if the others want to hear it?”

Depending on your cultural background it might be considered rude to interrupt. Visual cues to the rescue! They convey the message to the person
speaking (and everybody else) without breaking the flow. It allows
people to self-adjust. Most people want to stay relevant and wel-
come these hints.

In a real life meeting you use white paper cups as cues: Write messages such as “tangent” or “sold” on them and place them on the table as
hints. Everybody can create additional messages as needed.

In a remote session you can you hold up cards with messages. Buy special sets of postcards for this or just create your own on the fly. Additionally, some tools have built-in mechanisms for non-disruptive feedback such as the reactions in Zoom.

Visual cues enable a group of people to keep each other on track – in discussions with or without a dedicated facilitator.

The E.L.M.O. technique is similar but uses only one visual cue: An Elmo doll (or drawing). When a topic has run its course but people are still talking, hold up Elmo to signal “Enough, let’s move on!”


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