What better to think about on Labor Day weekend than how to best work well together—in our families, our communities, our workplace? Relationships are a part of human life. We are social beings. We need relationships to be constructive, to discover meaning and find satisfaction. And they can easily be stressed or disrupted by aggravations that come from poor communication, or differing perspectives and unrecognized assumptions.
These are natural challenges. They can be addressed intelligently, respectfully, if we care enough to do so. However, relationships become far more complicated and charged with emotion when they involve power and vulnerability. This is true in businesses and institutions, and certainly in governance. And nothing can disturb a marriage faster than false assumptions or the unjust use of power.
We cannot understand each other when we fail to listen with the intention of understanding.
In the degraded society we live in today genuine dialogue is rarely tolerated. Conversations between disinterested or self-indulgent individuals are little more than disconnected monologues. Decisions are often made with limited information and isolated perspective. In the disengaged clamor of raw factionalism, an unheeding polity may even avoid input that bears on their own interests.
Suppose there might be value to be gained from an unfamiliar perspective or lived experience? What if we examined all available knowledge and diversity of experience—and listened to ideas with inquisitive interest? In the end, what is lost by expanding our personal knowledge and understanding?
Are we afraid to integrate our own creative thinking—constructively, judiciously—with that of others if it produces beneficial outcomes? Why?
I address you here with a practical concept: How can consultation and decision-making be made productive and comfortable for everyone?
Each of us needs a free and supportive atmosphere to represent ourselves for who we are—to share our point of view, to represent our values, to be treated with dignity. Above all, we need to be heard and responded to. Otherwise, our presence has no purpose and no community is possible.
Most of us have experienced the frustration of participating in typical business meetings. And we are familiar with the mediocrity of the usual outcomes. I invite you to consider an entirely new way of thinking and doing—a way of engaging with one another respectfully and constructively.
Effective decision-making requires the use of the knowledge, experience, and creative thinking of everyone participating.
Listening and understanding is essential. Some people are shy or fearful or generally reticent. We need to tease out potentially useful thinking, and this requires patience and inquisitive interest. Similarly, a difficult personality can mask a potentially valuable perspective. Creative ideas or insights can remain hidden if we fail to seek them out. Curiosity is essential.
Problem-solving solutions can emerge unpredictably in even the most complicated circumstances when we assemble them from the aggregate of all available contributions. The outcomes thus produced are often new and unexpected.
Our purpose here is to reach solutions or develop plans which are not only mutually agreeable, but are actually the most effective outcomes possible.
This is not consensus. Consensus reduces outcomes to the lowest common denominator. Consultative decision-making does the opposite. By incorporating the knowledge, experience, and creative imagination of every participant, decision-making produces outcomes more fruitful and effective than anyone could have expected.
Respectfulness and full participation are essential. Outcomes must receive buy-in from everyone. No one can be shut down or sidelined.
In an increasingly degraded and dangerous world, it is in everyone’s interest to build fully engaged and agreeable relationships with our neighbors. All our neighbors.
Cooperative engagement and good will that creates safety and security are possible despite significant interpersonal differences—when we activate genuine community with steadfast patience. There is no need to compromise personal values.
Detailed guidance will be made available in my forthcoming book.
Diversity of perspective and experience are extremely valuable resources. We would do well to make use of them.