(knowing and learning)
In my trainings, I encourage facilitators to gather
information from a wide range of sources, with
diverse points of view represented. This might
start with research before a meeting, but generally
happens within the session itself. I try to create
an atmosphere where participants can speak
honestly from their own understanding and listen
with an open heart and an open mind to others’
points of view.
Understanding the facts of the situation and
exploring the reasons behind the actions helps
everyone see the possibilities. If need be, I instruct
those present on how to ask open, positive ques-
tions that promote positive answers. Six Thinking
Hats uses the White Hat to ask what information
we need to make a decision. It’s a good model for
beginning any exploration.
A high school was facing a difficult situation about
having open campus over lunch time. A meeting of
teachers, students and parents, was held. During
the meeting, the students honestly recognized the
challenges they would face with an open campus.
When the parents and teachers saw the students
were being open and honest, they agreed to let the
students take responsibility for their own actions.
Everyone grew that day.
(meeting and greeting)
If you are working with others to solve a problem,
devising a principled set of rules for your interaction
is paramount for success. These rules are the first
agreement. Based on truthfulness and trustworthiness, they should lay the foundation for a possible
They should also focus on what group members should do (aspirations) rather than what they
should refrain from doing (prohibitions). World Café,
for example, offers a wonderful set of ground rules
that focus on the positive, among them, mindfulness and brevity.
When I was working with a group of 250 citizens
who were upset over a large construction project, we
created and agreed on only two rules:
1) Show respect
2) Everyone can speak once before anyone
speaks a second time.
These two simple, positive rules created a sense
of fairness and safety, which allowed the group
to discuss a difficult issue in a very civil way and
led to insights that might otherwise not have
come out. The television cameras probably didn’t
(feeling and connecting)
AF uses empathy to build emotional rapport through
positive questions and heartfelt responses. The
saying “I don’t care how much you know until I know
how much you care” emphasizes the need to begin
with feelings, and then move to understanding the
facts. Since the majority of our communication is
nonverbal, even in silence we speak volumes. This is
really the most important part of the process. Before
discussing the merits of any conflict, I try to find ways
that the participants can connect and see each other
as living, breathing, feeling human beings. We know
from research on Emotional Intelligence that physical
attunement allows our moods to align. So positivity
can be transmitted non-verbally.
A Native American community was having conflict
around the future of their education program. People
were expecting strong emotions and loud voices at
the meeting. When everyone was seated, one of the
group pronounced a blessing that set an empathetic
tone. Each person was then asked to write down on
a piece of paper their best idea for the future of the
education program. Each person then passed their
paper to the person next to them and the idea was
improved. They did this five more times (based on the
tradition of seven generations), posted the improved
ideas on the wall in natural groupings, and named and
prioritized the groups. Without speaking a word, in
30 minutes we were ready to begin our discussions.
By focusing on the best, the resulting body language
engendered empathy and created a positive climate,
dispelling the impending conflict.