Today’s Christmas thought is simple to agree with, but difficult to follow through. This principle challenges something very close to us… our ego.
What does it mean?
The Kettering Foundation is an amazing organization. We follow their work closely and believe that if they published a bumper sticker this would be it: Decide Together By Thinking Together.
This principle is at the heart of deliberation and is essential for compromise to derive consensus.
As a starting place, we need to realize that people will never accept something they don’t understand. We also need to keep in mind that understanding is typically a journey of discovery – from the simple and straightforward to the complex, mysterious and even frightening.
Many organizations believe their public credibility and trustworthiness, i.e. their social capital, is based in always being right. Science-based organizations – those working in the areas of engineering, medicine, architecture, planning, finance, and the environment – believe they need to study a problem, or pending change, until they are confident they are going to their publics with the “right” solution. However, with this approach, they have squeezed out any possibility for meaningful engagement. Worse, if their stakeholders don’t agree with the “right” solution, they have created a debate – where there will be a winner and a loser – not a dialogue. This is not a positive approach to stakeholder relations.
What does it look like?
When the subject matter supporting a decision is complex, the risk of miscommunication, and thus misunderstanding, leading to conflict is high. This means we need to start the conversation early. Tell our stakeholders where we are “coming from” and what information we have, and invite their information (community, traditional and scientific) into the conversation – well before we have started forming opinions on the “right” solution. We need to map out the decision – its process and timeline, the givens, and scope of engagement – and then invite our stakeholders to contribute their information to join ours, in order to formulate legitimate options to address the problem or opportunity.
This concept even works when time is short and emotions are high.
In one very complex engagement, we were brought in at the last minute, before a public meeting the client had organized. Prior to, and at the start of the meeting, we spent a significant amount of time and effort discussing the rationale and thus the legitimacy of the pending decision. This was information that had not been provided previously. We were able to reduce some of the emotion and get stakeholder agreement to participate in the discussions. This improved the ultimate decision.
This is part of an ongoing series exploring Delaney + Associates’ Company Creed. Check out the introduction piece here.