Gun violence, Student safety, CRT…oh my! Issues that bring out resistance, reactions, strong emotions, frustration can make for difficult decisions and daunting conversations. Using a well-thought-out approach can help you lead/facilitate those conversations resulting in collaborative solutions.
In The Wisdom of Crowds, James Surowiecki explores the intriguing and well‐substantiated idea that the collective judgment of many people is almost always better than the opinions of just a few even the experts. People have their own perceptions, interpretations, values, and experiences which can help us get a more well-rounded understanding of the problem at hand. Collaboration improves quality, increases commitment, and sends powerful messages about value for others (Creating and Sustaining Decision-Making Excellence). When anticipating difficult conversations, plan your approach with these 3 steps in mind:
- Listen and learn. “Listening is more than being quiet while the other person speaks until you can say what you have to say.” (Krista Tippett on Listening) “The need to be heard is one of the most powerful motive forces in human nature…” (Why Listening is So Important). Listening gives you the opportunity to learn perspectives, goals, content, intentions, and plans. Acknowledging other perspectives without judgement gives rise to respect and appreciation. That respect and appreciation go a long way in helping improve staff and community relationships essential to successful implementation of action plans.
- Gain clarity. Asking the right questions, for example, from the Situation Appraisal Process, can help you develop a comprehensive, shared understanding of the issues at hand. Probing questions like: What seems to be important? What threats and opportunities do we face? What do you mean by? What else is of concern to you? What is the seriousness? What is the urgency? What is the potential growth? can help you delve deeper into understanding the issue or problem at hand.
- Stay focused and centered. When you have a clear road map or process to follow up front, you can steer the conversation back to the main objectives to avoid getting stuck or lose focus to those who are trying to drive the conversation elsewhere. Keeping the conversation focused on the issues at hand helps you continue to move forward efficiently, removing high emotions from the table.
The benefits of different perspectives and experiences can bring greater understanding of the issues at hand and more successful actions taken. The risks inherent in divisive topic discussions – wasted time, outburst of emotion, and conflict- can be avoided by being prepared for difficult discussions with a pre-determined process.