Sunday, November 13, 2011

Laboring Pains

One of the key concepts in consensus is "laboring," also sometimes referred to as "threshing." This is when there's a disagreement that doesn't resolve easily. The group (most likely led by the facilitator, though not necessarily) is said to be "laboring" when leading a deeper exploration of the issue and each player's relationship to their position—for the purpose of finding potential bridges that each stakeholder can walk across without feeling like their walking the plank. That is, their core interests are respected in what they're being asked to go along with.

The important point here is distinguishing laboring from pressuring. Leaning into the disagreement is not the same as leaning on the protagonists. Here's a generic protocol for laboring:

1. Establish that the group has a full grasp of each advocate's position—this expressly includes any significant emotional relationship to the issue, as well as a delineation of what's at stake.

2. Lay out clearly the points of commonality among the positions, as well as the points of difference.

3. Cast for pathways that everyone can travel. Essentially this means looking for actions or agreements that each person can live with because the request is workable in relation to what they report matters most.

Hint #1
: When you find something that works well for all, it typically means that no single person is getting everything they want, yet all stakeholders feel their essential interests are being honored.

Hint #2: It can make all the difference setting the right tone for this conversation. Once you get to laboring you should have moved passed advocacy and be only hearing suggestions for how to connect positions—not how one position is superior to another. When laboring is productive it is more creative than combative.

Caution #1: it can be essential that you establish an understanding of what matters to the speaker (to the speaker's satisfaction) before requesting movement from them toward what others want. If a person is not confident that they've been fully heard and understood, the request that they shift in the interest of a balanced response can be heard as a request to sell out—which tends to be met with more than casual resistance. One of the most common ways to trip up is moving forward when you felt you'd fully understood the speaker, yet neglected to ask if they felt you fully grokked them.

Caution #2: Be aware of pacing and beware of proceeding faster than people can let go of attachments to their own positions. People vary widely in how much time they need to be ready to shift, and hurry never helps. If possible, give people an advanced peek of what's coming so that they have time to go through their reactions and come out the other side.

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