Thursday, May 8, 2008

Pulling Proposals out of a Hat (or Some Orifice)

This is the counterpart I promised to my May 4 posting on how to get the most out of plenary Discussions. After you've flushed out all the factors that the group agrees need to be taken into account (the main objective of the Discussion phase), then it's time to start crafting solutions. Often this step is begun by a cmtee, but sometimes the plenary is on a roll or there's time pressure encouraging the group to proceed with all deliberate speed. In any event, I will offer here four aids for efficient and energizing Proposal Generation:

An Atmosphere of Curiosity, not Embattlement
The key moment is when someone says something that differs substantially from what you're thinking. How do you respond? It will make an enormous difference if your initial reply is less like, "That won't work for me... " and more like "Wow, that's really different from what I was thinking. Tell me how you got there; maybe I'm missing something... "

In the former, you're assuming a fight. In the latter, you're wondering if your mind will be changed by new information or new insights. The trick is developing the mind set that different perspectives can be a strength—they let you see the problem more completely—rather than as an occasion for a battle.

In the mainstream culture, we learn to capitulate or fight in the face of differences; in cooperative culture we need to learn wonder in the presence of differences.

Stretching, not Pulling
As a practical matter, the initial responses to suggestions are crucial for setting the tone. If people can learn to begin with what they like about a suggestion (rather than with "But... ") there will be a lot more flexibility (and hence, creativity) with which to reach the finish line. The image I offer here is how can everyone stretch to reach what others are offering, rather than how can you pull everyone toward your position. [Remember, the object here is not how well your initial suggestions hold up; it's how efficiently the group finds the best solution.]

Bridging, not Advocacy
When facil
itating Proposal Generation, insist (gently, yet firmly) that all suggestions be attempts to combine and balance what came out of the Discussion phase. Let's suppose that there are a list of factors labeled "x" and another list labeled "y," both of which need to be taken into account. What you don't want (now that you're in Proposal Generation) are statements in support of just "x" or just "y." Been there, done that.

So, when a person proposes something that appears to only address "x," a savvy facilitator will respond, "I get that your suggestion will satisfy "x"; help me understand how it also satisfies "y." Generating solid proposals is essentially about bridging all the factors; it is not about pushing until you get your way.

Build on Interests, don't Get Stuck on Positions
For many, their nightmare dynamic (short of fulminating anger) is where the group is more or less evenly divided on some non-trivial issue: one side favors doing "Z"; and the other side favors doing "not Z." That is, the positions are diametrically opposed and each side is fairly passionate about it. What to do?

There's generally a way out. Almost always, "Z" (or "not Z," if you prefer to look at this the other way around) is a conclusion, and not a fundamental value. The key to getting unstuck is peeling back the deadline positions to the underlying interests. Most times, each side is looking at the same problem through a different lens, each of which is a legitimate group value. So, for example, would it be that shocking if an analysis focused on affordability came to a completely different conclusion than one emphasizing environmental impact?

The good news is that affordability and environmental impact are not sworn enemies. By identifying these two as baseline interests you now have much more room to work with. Let go of Z and not-Z; focus instead on finding proposals that do a decent job of balancing these two interests. [Hint: in the end it may turn out that Z (or not-Z) is actually a good proposal; but the energy around it will be completely different because everyone has acknowledged and honored that both core interests need to be taken into account. People can be amazingly graceful about specifics if they feel that their core interests are fully understood and will be taken care of.]

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