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Top 10 List #3

At Dialogue Partners, we’re fans of top 10 lists: top 10 words of the year; top 10 foods that will make you healthy; top 10 wines of the year; top 10 places to see before you die…

So we thought, why not a top 10 list of things we’ve learned? 

In reality, this list could be the top 1000 things we’ve learned, but we know you might not read it if it was that long, so we just do 10 things at a time.  This is Top 10 List #3. To view the postcard version click here and the expanded version is available for download here.

Our other Top 10 Lists can be found on our Top 10 page.

10. Singing, dancing and improv make their process way more fun than yours.  As we noted in our Lessons from the Sound blog in the summer of 2012  people who come together with similar values and perspectives and who coalesce around a cause, do so with deep passion and conviction.  It turns out they also have a really good time.  There is singing, dancing, art, poetry – it is a life affirming experience focused on joy and belief.  The experience fosters connection, belonging and linkages between community members.  It is a fun event to get together and share a meal and stories and sing songs about what you believe in. Now, how about your process?  Auditorium style seating, boring lengthy presentations, options and proposals that seem to have little linkage or connection to their views and values, talk of benefits and materials designed to persuade, and sometimes shouting, anger and a feeling of powerlessness.  Which approach would make you want to come back?  Which approach would motivate you to participate? Enough said.  You need to give people something to be FOR, rather than something to be AGAINST.

9. The hills have eyes. Sounds creepy, we know.  Plus it is the name of a horror film.  Here is the thing: community members are smart, capable and thoughtful people.  They understand things about the community you may never understand.  When you come to town with your project, they will have done their homework.  They will have researched how you have operated in other communities, how you have treated stakeholders in other projects, and will have come to conclusions about your words, actions and behaviours.  Community groups and organizations will also have researched how to stop your project (if they don’t like it) and how others have done so successfully.  They will know the tools and techniques of opposition, divide and conquer, and protest.  They will be prepared to use their voice and exercise their rights.  These things are all good – they demonstrate an active citizenry and a value of engagement.  It means you will have to be completely authentic, open and transparent in your dealings.  Start with a blank slate, and be prepared to meet participants all the way – so you can create something better together.  Anything less will demonstrate that they were right to not trust you.

8. Compromise and negotiation will backfire in the long run. We have a picture we use in one of our presentations of people dressed in 1970’s wide collars and feathered hair from a negotiation manual.  The dated picture tells you what we think of this approach to resolving conflict – it might have been effective when the dinosaurs roamed the earth, but it hasn’t worked for a long time.  Traditional methods of negotiation and compromise are focused on what people will give up in order to be able to move forward, and result in everyone being a little less and a little bit diminished when they are done.  We noted in #1 that you need to give people something to be for rather than something to be against.  In this same way, the focus of your conversation should be about what you can build together that is different – and better – than what you each have now.  A positive and affirmative approach grounded in hope and positivity will get you long-lasting solutions in ways that asking people to give things up will never do.  There is a reason dinosaurs are extinct.

7. Being from “away” can be a good thing. It is important to take the time to understand a community or organization so that assumptions aren’t made, relationships are built, and the tensions and connections between people and organizations are fully understood.  That means that sometimes it is really helpful to have a person who is part of a community to help you navigate the waters, and connect you to people.  However, you should never underestimate the value of neutrality and a lack of bias that is presented by a neutral third party, especially in situations of conflict and controversy.  Bringing in someone from “away” means they won’t have a stake in the outcome of the decision or the conversation, they won’t be aligned with a particular viewpoint or perspective, they won’t have a stated view on the issue, and they will be able to serve all views, voices and ideas equally.  This becomes even more important in situations of escalated conflict or high emotion.

6. Just saying “NO” doesn’t improve the quality of discourse. We love that many grassroots organizations take direct action in raising their voice and values on issues that are important to them.  We think these groups are not only responsible for many of the really important, progressive changes in the world but also for increasing the accountability and transparency of decision-making.  However, we know from sitting in the P2 practitioner seat, that mounting campaigns where hundreds and thousands of people send in the same letter, or sign a petition to an elected official or decision maker frequently don’t have the hoped-for effect. Often, they are counted as 1 input for purposes of analysis, with a note about the quantity of times that single view was presented.  These campaigns support a premise of groupthink and don’t differentiate the reasons for the opposition so they can be considered by decision-makers but instead sometimes get dismissed as irrelevant.  You can read more about groupthink on our blog.

5. A meaningful conversation takes more than 140 characters. It’s hard to convey respect, openness, curiosity and trustworthiness in 140 characters or less.  We’re still figuring out what this means for the use of Twitter in situations of mistrust and emotion. We know from experience you can’t resolve conflict in short bursts of opinion, and it requires in depth conversation.  You also can’t have a full and thoughtful conversation in sound bites, and you can’t solve complex problems that way either.

4. Everyone likes to move it, move it. If you have children, it is likely that you have seen the movie Madagascar, and our all-time favourite character, King Julian, a precocious lemur. In King Julian’s words, “It’s time to move it, move it!” often announced in time to a drumbeat and a bootie shaking dance.  Turns out King Julian is wise as well as funny.  Physical movement not only changes people’s headspace it also changes their views and their perspectives.  It gives them space to think, allows them to make a transition, collect themselves or re-orient to a new situation.  It is an important part of supporting people in having hard conversations – allow for physical movement into your space and place.

3. Children really are the future. Youth see the world through a different, more creative and more open lens than adults.  They have courage and openness and the ability to connect people who are adversaries.  Everyone in a community wants a better, brighter future for youth.  However, youth have important and valuable ideas about that future that are quite different than the views of adults, and their voice should be valued.  You can see some of our work with youth in the Northern Village of Sandy Bay in this report (see Chapter 2 for video excerpts produced by community youth).

2. Know when to walk away, know when to run. I can hear this Kenny Rogers song running through my mind as I write this. These lyrics are a guide to sticking to your values and ethics and listening to that voice in your head that tells you something doesn’t feel right.  In the end, you are measured by the actions and behaviours of your work, whether you have lived by those values and ethics, and if held yourself to that standard, regardless of the consequence.  Sometimes that means hard choices or stating things that might be uncomfortable. In the end, you need to be able to look yourself in the mirror and know you did the right thing in a hard situation.

1. Leaders have followers. We have had the privilege to work with some inspiring, courageous, participatory, ethical and visionary leaders.  We’ve also had the experience of working with leaders who are focused on control, have certainty in their own answers and direction with no room for others, or who are swayed when the wind blows.  Really great leaders actively seek out diverse perspectives and views, and stay the course, holding a variety of tensions until they can connect emotion with reason and make meaning. They seek to understand loud – and quiet – voices, and stay the course when the wind blows a different direction.  Great leaders have followers who believe in them, rather than holding positions of power while they follow their supporters, benefactors or contributors.

Practice gratitude (and positivity too). We put this item in our first two top 10 lists but we feel it is worth repeating and remembering again, and again. We believe this is the best job in the world, and we are so lucky to have it.  We believe the people we get to meet, who care about the issues under discussion, whose communities and families matter to them – they are a gift.  We are grateful that we get to help organizations make better decisions, that communities and people get a chance to access their voice or their stories; even if it just for the time we are together.  We feel privileged they trust us with their words and cares. Keep giving, keep believing, keep being thankful – life is short and you get back what you put into the world. We’re grateful for the opportunity to have learned enough lessons to be able to make a list like this.