At my monthly town clergy meeting yesterday we discussed these “guidelines for mutuality” which are ways to overcome conflict, and resolve differing points of view in a group. These guidelines were presented for a church context, but hold for committee work and families as well. Running these institutions is harder than a business model because you cannot simply fire people who do not agree! (We will find that we most need to understand the people we disagree with most…)
These guidelines are mostly about creating an environment that builds trust, respect and understanding. It requires that we be humble enough to be honest with both ourselves and others. We also need to allow for occasional aggressiveness in others through this process as well as suspend any tendency to use the process to manipulate our own ends. To do this well takes not only maturity, but a willingness to stop trying to effect outcomes, and instead focus on really hearing and understanding what others are saying, whether you agree or not.
You can be assured that an issue is simply about egos when small issues become huge ones. This is why this process of finding common ground is so important to cultivate in communities, where there is room for third alternatives to surface that might satisfy everyone. And in this method, even if every view cannot be accommodated, at least everyone will come away feeling respected and heard, and able to participate helpfully in the next decision to be made.
Guidelines for Mutuality
• “Try on” someone’s point of view like a pair of shoes while shoe shopping. You may find something you like better than your preconception, or you may understand better why it does not resonate as a good fit. Trying something on does not mean you have to buy it.
• It’s okay to disagree, but it is not okay to blame, shame, or attack oneself or others. Groups tend to swing to one extreme or another regarding this. Either no one thinks it is okay to disagree or disagreement quickly mushrooms to personal, unproductive and vicious levels.
• Practice “self-focus. Speak in I statements rather than representing a larger group, and mind your own mouth instead of those of others. Watch and govern your own reactions. Know how you want to be treated and approach the discussion in that way.
• Take 100% responsibility for one’s own learning. Do your own research about an issue. Work on moderating your own speech, emotions and actions.
• Practice “both/and” thinking. Do not think in terms of right/wrong thinking or either/or. Do not speak in sentences that list good things followed by a “but” that negates everything that came before. Train yourself to use “and” there instead and you’ll be amazed at how that changes what others feel and how they in turn respond to what you are trying to communicate. Leave room for multiple ideas and solutions, as well as win/win solutions neither side had previously considered.
• Notice both process and content of the proceedings. Often we get hung up on disagreeing with content when we can agree on process. Or we think content is the crux of the problem when process really is. How a decision is arrived at is at least as important as the decision itself.
• Be aware of intent and impact. Often we are only aware of our intent without considering fully what impact that has on others. Overtly consider the impact of your intentions and listen for clarification of those impacts on those effected by the intent.
• Maintain confidentiality. What others have shared privately with you is theirs to share more widely, not yours. Respecting this boundary goes a long way to creating an environment of trust where difficult things can be shared openly by the appropriate parties.
• It is okay to be messy. In fact, expect it to be; this process is very healthy but rarely tidy. Give your permission to let it look worse before it looks better. Like in spring cleaning where you pull all the furniture out to deep clean behind it, trust that it will not be left in a jumble in the middle of the room. Follow through with the process throughout and beyond the messy parts until the overall situation is much better than before.
• Say ouch. If someone says something hurtful, let them know. They may not be aware, and they need to know if they have been offensive. Do not be long-suffering, and trust that others do not wish to be hurtful or inconsiderate.
(Note: The bold headlines were the bullet points on the handout discussed in this presentation, with my comments in italics summarizing the discussion. The content of this comes from a book called God’s Tapestry: Understanding and Celebrating Differences, by William M. Kondrath, which I am told is an excellent book, and I look forward to reading it.)