Friday, October 24, 2014

Why Cooperative Groups Fail to Accept Offers of Help

I'm currently immersed in four days of FIC organizational meetings, where a key focus has been how to make better connections with others trying to build cooperative culture. Essentially, those of us with deep familiarity in community living believe that we're learning something in the crucible of that experience that has wide application—in neighborhoods, in the workplace, in schools, and in churches—yet we're frustrated with the lack of invitations to share what we know. What's going on?

I think this declination sorts itself into three main reasons:

A. Not Open to the Idea
Some groups believe that the intentional community experience is simply too exotic to be relevant to their situation—and they may be right. Or they may not (more about this in Part B below).

Some groups believe it's more problematic than beneficial to be closely associated with intentional communities (interestingly, this can be true even if the would-be recipient is itself an intentional community!). As such, they'd rather do without. This might be because: 1) they think it's politically unwise (if their constituency finds out they've been cavorting with Hippies there may be a knee-jerk negative reaction); 2) they think it's superfluous (the would-be client believes they can handle their struggles internally, or what intentional communities offer will not address their need); or 3) or maybe they believe that the help is not replicable (we'll never be able to do what you can do, so why bother having a taste of it?).

A more subtle, yet pervasive version of this is where the group is willing to continue to muddle through because they have no concept that it can be better, or it's beyond their imagination to seek help (we may not be perfect, but we're proud of our self-sufficiency).

Some people perceive acceptance of help as an admission of failure. For some it's too embarrassing letting others get a peek at their dirty laundry. 

Thus, there are a number of reasons why groups may not be open to outside help.

B. Misunderstanding the Offer
Some resistance is tied to not wanting to be in a position of being told what to do by an outsider (I'm not saying that would happen; I'm saying there's repugnance at the thought that it might).

It's not unusual for clients to believe that their situation is so complicated or unique that it's too daunting to bring in outside help. (It would take too long to bring them up to speed; why should we pay to educate an outsider?) What they fail to grok is that people experienced in cooperative dynamics are familiar with patterns that may appear as impossibly specialized to the residents (who haven't as much cooperative experience under their belt as the consultant).

Some don't appreciate that groups are groups, and that the lessons gleaned in one cooperative setting are often readily adaptable to another.

Sometimes the folks making the offer do a poor job of casting it in ways that are accessible or attractive to the would-be client.

C. Misunderstanding the Need
It's relatively common for groups to mistakenly think that the problem essentially amounts to some small number of difficult members being jerks, rather than realizing that there's a bit of the jerk in all of us and what's needed is better tools for unpacking triggering dynamics.

If you've never witnessed a group work authentically and compassionately with distress, it may be hard to imagine that the group could use help with it.

Groups that slog through discussions where members disagree, may not understand that skilled facilitation can make a night and day difference in the likelihood of finding workable solutions without anyone selling out, or feeling run over by a truck.

• • •
One of the reasons it's worthwhile to sort out these causes is that I believe we might be able to do something about B & C (for example, through better messaging, and more careful tailoring of offers to appeal to clients' needs), while A may be intractable.

At the very least, it will help us hone in on the opportunities where we think we have the best chance of turning it around—which has got to be a better response than wringing hands, or blaming the damn clients.

1 comment:

Nenad Maljković said...

This is probably painful issue for any cooperation facilitator. I never tried to cathegorise reasons, for me all of that falls under "lack of imagination".

What you wrote the other day is also very relevant for this, I think:

"The vast majority of us were raised in a competitive, adversarial culture and we bring that conditioning with us into our experiments in cooperative culture. When the stakes are high and people disagree, people tend to respond from their deep conditioning—rather than from their cooperative ideals. That is, they fight for their viewpoint and feel threatened by those who see things differently."

Are you familiar with the concept of antiprocess? Could be part of the answer.