A Metaphor From The Midwest
Once you have your field, the next step in preparing for the harvest is to till, or cultivate, the soil. This means preparing the soil for planting, which includes both plowing to break up the soil and fertilizing to add nutrients. Both of these help the seeds you subsequently plant to grow.
In our political field, trust – a respect and belief in the integrity, good intentions, and capabilities of others – is the soil that helps us grow and flourish as a society. The trends discussed in our last post have depleted our communal trust. Using the rubric of “trust taxes” and “trust dividends” described in Stephen Covey’s “Speed of Trust“, these trends have resulted in a destructive tax on the citizenry. This is evidenced through the growing number of citizens who view those not of their own political party as “the enemy”, the excessive defensive posturing and legal positioning by our political parties, and the general level of venom used in discussing differences of interest or information. All of these factors suggest a “trust tax” of 60% or more. This is a very high burden.
So how might we use dialogue to remediate some of the damage that has been done? Below are three actions that can help break up the hard crust of fear and anger that has formed, followed by two that can help prepare the ground for new growth.
- Invite. Invite others into dialogue. Simply choosing to use dialogue rather than debate – to move beyond the right/wrong, win/lose framing used in debate and actually explore the complexities of intersecting issues — is a step towards building trust. By choosing dialogue you are moving from an “Us” v. “You” competitive dynamic into a more inclusive “we are in this together and will be stronger together” partnership and problem solving mode. You might begin by acknowledging differences in values or interests while also exploring similarities, by exploring the different questions being asked, or by comparing and evaluating the different sources of information that are being used. An invitation can be as simple as asking questions like “How would we like it to be? Why?” Although you can introduce dialogue in everyday conversation, there are also many resources and organized efforts you can connect to and invite others to join. Two current efforts include the Kettering Foundation’s annual “A Public Voice” collaboration and the Better Angels “One America” bus tour.
- Align. If you are going to invite others into dialogue, once you are there you need to act like you mean it. The communication patterns that promote dialogue are the opposite of competing factions spitting “trigger words” at each other or ridiculing, rather than engaging with, other points of view. No one likes to be attacked, dismissed, or shamed. If you are going to sustain a dialogue, you will need to act in ways that show interest in, and care and concern for, the others in dialogue. This means aligning your comments with a focus on the relationship, not just the issue being discussed. You can also think about how to align your narratives and questions with stories of wisdom and the common good.
- Listen: Often we ‘listen’ simply to find the gap in the conversation in which we might insert our own views, or to harvest fragments of statements to use in our rejoinder. This is not what we mean by “Listen”. Instead we mean listening in ways that attend to the speaker. This includes reflecting back an understanding of the speaker’s emotions and concerns, and inviting further thoughts on what might help the speaker move forward. This kind of reflective listening calms emotions and enhances the speaker’s ability to process new information. It also strengthens relationships and builds trust by demonstrating respect for the speaker’s presence in the dialogue.
- Educate. John Dewey once said, “Democracy must be reborn in every generation and education is its midwife.” Oliver Wendell Holmes observed that “The mind, once expanded to the dimensions of larger ideas, never returns to its original size.” As the last election showed, many citizens lack an understanding of how their government actually works, use very different sources of information, are unsure of their own ability to influence the decisions that are made, and might benefit from additional skills in the areas of communication and critical thinking. Dialogue can help in all of these areas. Note that in dialogue, education occurs through asking open-ended questions, sharing resources and experiences, and inviting reflection, not through lecturing or proselytizing.
- Commit. Studies in different fields demonstrate that taking personal responsibility for one’s views and actions improves how information is processed, shared and evaluated. It also builds trust. This kind of commitment and willingness to be accountable for what one says and does is aligned with sincerity. It is the opposite of the “bullshit” discussed in the last post. Taking responsibility for what you think and say, admitting what you don’t know, and inviting others to do the same, is the essence of effective dialogue.
Posted in Communities In Conflict, democracy, dialogue, government, Dialogue, politics, Resources, Working With Conflict
Tagged Best Practices, communication, community, Dialogue, facilitation, government, political discourse, politics, teaching, thinking, Trust, United States
Earlier this month we published a new e-book, “Understanding the Facilitation Cycle.” This is the first in a series we are calling “Facilitation Analytics,” short guides that provide practical, focused insights you and your team can use immediately.
On April 8, Sarah also presented at the Annual Conference of the American Bar Association’s Section of Dispute Resolution with Conna Weiner on the topic of Unpacking, Mapping and Evaluating Conflict. You can download their written remarks here.
Posted in Announcements, Communities In Conflict, democracy, dialogue, government, Dialogue, Online, Our Tools, Our Work, Resources, Working With Conflict
Tagged analytics, e-books understanding conflict, evaluating conflict, facilitation, guides, mapping conflict, Tools
Last month I was sitting with friends and discussing recent events at the University of Missouri. One of those present – an African American – said with sadness “it’s getting to the point where I hope there isn’t another African-American president in my life-time. I don’t remember it ever being this bad.” Another member of the group replied: “Sometimes you have to lance an infection so it can heal. What first comes out is ugly but that’s what starts the healing.”
Since then I have been thinking about wound care, and what we as facilitators can learn from it.
First, like an infected wound, unresolved conflict festers. When lanced, or when the stitches previously put in place are pulled, there is often an explosion, and at least a quick leeching out, of the infectious agents and residue. Opening the wound allows this not just to be released; it allows the infectious agents to be examined and removed, and the infected site to be cleaned and treated.
The worst infections are healed through “open wound care.” This is a slow process, requiring constant care and vigilance, until the surrounding tissue begins to heal itself from the inside out. When that happens the tissue becomes lively and vibrant. Still check-ins are needed at regular intervals to prevent the infection from recurring.
Healing an infected wound takes considerable time, setbacks are not uncommon. Patience and perseverance are required.
Even when the wound seems to be healing well – or closes on the surface, pockets of infection may remain. Ongoing monitoring is still required, and use of the surrounding muscle may cause pain. There is a need to go slow, to remain vigilant, and to be patient.
We have a long history of hate. Dialogue can help us heal. Yet that dialogue needs to be ongoing, consciously worked at, not sporadic. Vigilant monitoring with a readiness to intervene when needed is required to sustain progress and restore us to to health. In this season of peace and hope it is worth remembering that we each have the power to speak up, to pursue dialogue with others, and to disturb the patterns of hate when we hear them. Working together we can make 2016 a better, healthier year.
“America’s diversity offers so much richness and opportunity. Take a chance won’t you? Knock down the fences which divide.” – Justice Thurgood Marshall
Posted in Communities In Conflict, democracy, dialogue, government, Dialogue, Working With Conflict
Tagged Conflict, Dialogue, hate, healing, patience, perseverance, vigilance
Last week on a call with others who are working on “naming and framing” various issues in their communities, someone asked for recommendations on how to sort the notes of various volunteers into a summary document that would be useful. As we discussed on the call, one simple low cost approach is to set up a spreadsheet (using a platform like Google Drive allows for easy sharing) that corresponds to the five sources of conflict. As they take notes, volunteers can code them (V = values, S = structure, R= relationships, IN = interests, and IF = information) and then sort those later into the corresponding sections of the spreadsheet. Levels of intensity can also be marked on the notes with a + corresponding to higher levels of emotion and ++indicating an even higher level of tension evidenced by “us v. them” language and active expressions of threat or fear.
As a baseline, those coordinating a project might map what they expect to hear based on sources like newspapers and blogs and then, as notes are entered, analyze whether what they are hearing confirms or challenges those expectations. Other sources external to meetings or planned dialogues could also be captured and compared throughout a project.
Another tool we have used to track dialogues is to sort comments and questions into a grid tracking “What” (what topics are coming up, what themes are appearing, what information is being used, what values are referenced, what tensions are present; what regulatory or other limitations exist, etc.); “Who” (who is present, who is missing, who is referenced, who would be affected, who can help, etc.); “How” (how would we accomplish that, what resources are available, how can they be accessed, and “Why?” (this category encompasses mission, and vision (why are we doing this?), ideal scenarios (why not dream big?), and creative thinking (“why not do this a different way?)). Grouping things this way during a discussion has the added benefit of helping the facilitator in real time identify, sort, and sequence questions in ways that promote effective group discussion.
A complementary process that might be used as volunteers report in, particularly to capture new people and organizations being brought in, ideas generated, and actions taken, would be to track those through ripple mapping. In any event, planning questions or categories in advance that help you “harvest data as you go along” will make the job of compilation and analyzing what you have much easier!
In this post, we continue to look at things that public officials sometimes do which erode trust. The following 5 behaviors round out our list of 10:
6. Presenting false choices: Presenting limited “either/or” choices– particularly when the “options” are overstated or when neither is of much interest to the public — while ignoring or limiting discussion of other options that are available, inevitably leads to an erosion of trust. This erosion is generally evidenced by citizens complaining of “poor leadership” or “lack of vision.” In our own home city in the recent past, voters were told that they had to approve new funds for improving sewer infrastructure downtown or “no new development could occur.” The funding issue did not pass. Development downtown continues. Leaders suggest it was all a misunderstanding due to “poor information”. The resulting decline in trust continues to reverberate through other issues.
7. Misleading statistics: I recently heard a local elected official quote an inflammatory statistic without any context and then declare “Now that’s reality!” Actually numbers devoid of context and without any explanation of how they were calculated (starting point, end points, methodology, exclusions, etc.) are pretty much meaningless. And most of the public knows that. The public continues to be interested though in information that is fairly presented as shown by the success of the Marquette Law Poll.
8. Saying one thing and doing another: This one needs no explanation. When the “action” also benefits groups that are perceived as monied special interests distrust becomes active cynicism.
9. Dismissing portions of the public: How many times have you heard a civic leader say something like this about a group that disagrees with one or more proposals on the table: “They’re just a small group”; they’re not well informed”; “they’re just against progress”, or even worse “they’re not the ones that matter”. None of this builds community. One doesn’t have to agree with a group to acknowledge their concerns and share other information, to sympathize with emotions, or to recognize their voices should be heard. There is always some level of the message being offered that can draw a response which demonstrates respect. Respect builds trust; disrespect erodes it.
10. Grandstanding: There are many ways in which officials pander to the interests of a particular group, generating distrust among others in the community. This includes championing options that are simply not feasible. One example would be encouraging the public to demand that a building site that is privately owned and being developed be instead used as a “public park” even though there are no public funds available for purchase, the owner has already contracted for sale, and the property is legally zoned for development. Other examples of “grandstanding” include dramatic gestures such as county officials ordering flags to be flown at half-mast to protest a court decision that they dislike, or an elected leader demanding to know why the public is not more “outraged” by the “disgusting” or “vile” action that a person or organization on the other side of the political spectrum has said or done. Most of the public correctly dismisses such grandstanding as “sound and fury, signifying nothing”; and refuses to engage.
Posted in Communities In Conflict, democracy, dialogue, government, Dialogue, Working With Conflict
Tagged build trust, building trust, civic engagement, Dialogue, errors in civic engagement, false choices, grandstanding, integrity, respect, Trust, working with the public