Author: Craig Freshley

A way to talk

Good Group Tips

In principle, in order for people to avoid conflict there has to be a way for them to talk. When in tension with someone else in my group, rather than talk with them directly, it is easiest to assume a superior position and take steps to prove my righteousness. It is also relatively easy to propose changes to the system in which we both operate: new rules, new policies, new ways of doing things that I think will make the tension go away. But both of these approaches create conflict and/or burden for my group.

Sometimes the barrier to direct communication is of a mechanical nature such as language or physical proximity or connection. But most often the barrier is our own fear about having a hard conversation. We don’t trust ourselves to say the right things or react the right ways. We are afraid that in a one-on-one setting we will lose the battle we are trying to win.

Practical Tip: Don’t view tensions as battles to be won or lost but rather as shared problems to be solved in shared ways. Before doing anything else, seek first to find a way to talk with those who are part of the problem.

If there are mechanical barriers to talking, work to fix them. In today’s world, going to war because one party can’t physically communicate with another is no excuse. If there are personal emotional barriers in the way, work to fix them. You are part of the problem; have a talk with yourself. Creating conflict or requiring your group to consider systemic changes because of your own emotional issues is selfish and inefficient.

And if someone else proposes a way to talk with you about a shared problem, accept the opportunity. Always talk first. Find a way.

– Craig Freshley

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Hear, hear

Good Group Tips

In principle, groups can be very efficient when there is a culture of quick and visible agreement, like in the British Parliament when someone makes a statement and others yell, “hear, hear!” On the other hand, groups can be very inefficient when there is a culture of making points over and over in different ways with different nuances with additional tidbits of information.

Further, in group settings we are often quick to find fault and air concerns, a method of group critique that we often assume will result in a better end product. It is refreshing when critical comments get balanced with positive, encouraging shows of support.

Practical Tip: When someone says something you agree with, show it instantly with a “hear, hear” or at least a head nod. It is very useful for the whole group to see such cues. If your general view is expressed by someone else, restrain your need to present the view in a different way with a different spin with a few extra tidbits of information.

Encourage your group to adopt a “hear, hear” culture where members readily show their opinions to the whole group. Saying “hear, hear” is one way but variations include thumb signals, keypad voting, and standing line ups.

Instant, positive feedback. Hear hear!

Right to be wrong

Good Group Tips

In principle, in relations among equals, people have a right to be wrong.

Often it is only by being wrong for a while — trying on an opinion that doesn’t fit — that one comes to realize what is truly right. Without the freedom to be wrong one is often in tension, discontent with the present, wishing for a different way.

When I think you are wrong and I am right, the question is not “How can I make you change?” but rather, “Given our different opinions, how shall I move forward peacefully?”

Practical Tip: If we disagree and I think you are wrong and I am right, it works well for me to say my opinion but it doesn’t work well for me to talk down to you or think bad of you. It works well for me to hear your opinion with a genuine desire to understand but it doesn’t work well for me to shut you down or write you off.

Let us acknowledge our different opinions but move forward anyway. Rather than stall and fight, let us either live with our differing opinions for a while, try on more opinions, and continue our dialogue with mutual respect; or let us go our different ways in peace.

Just like you have a right to be wrong, so do I, and it works well to be always mindful that perhaps I am.

– Craig Freshley

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Good Group Tips

In principle, failure is an option. In fact, it is only through failure — the timeless evolutionary principle of trial and error — that we adapt, innovate, and ultimately succeed.

Strategies like “failure is not an option” or “avoid failure at all cost” often result in simply prolonging failure until the cost is significant. The strategy to “fail fast and fail cheap” is often much more productive in the long run.

Practical Tip: Plan for failure and then learn from failures to build success. Build prototypes. Do demonstration projects. Run trials. Make small decisions that you know are not perfect and then perfect them, rather than investing lots of time and money into huge decisions that you hope are perfect.

When you think or see that something has failed, call it a failure. Accepting failure opens the door to new learning and forward progress. “What went wrong?” is an extremely valuable question. Pretending you succeeded when you really didn’t closes the door on forward progress and perpetuates more failure, no matter what you call it.

Define ultimate success for yourself, your project, your group, and simply view failures as stepping-stones along the way.

 – Craig Freshley

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Fertile soil helps creativity

Good Group Tips

In principle, collaborative decisions are creations. Creativity comes from putting together two or more things, events, or ideas. Germination leads to new things. When water mingles with seeds, fertile soil facilitates and supports the interaction. Fertility helps creativity.

Practical Tip: Make your decision-making environment fertile. By design of meetings and communications, facilitate the interaction of multiple ideas. Develop a culture of support and nurturing for new ideas. This might be done via ground rules or operating norms. Be consistent in their application. Uphold and stand by your ground rules, your process values, in all situations. Deliberately attend to and nurture the environment in which you are trying to grow.

– Craig Freshley

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Clarify, discuss, decide

Good Group Tips

In principle, groups make their best decisions when certain steps are taken before deciding. Making decisions too fast without clarity and without the benefit of discussion is a set-up for bad decisions.

The best decisions are made when everyone understands the situation, the available options, and likely consequences. The worst decisions are made based on incomplete or incorrect information. Further, group decisions are often better than individual decisions because groups have the benefit of multiple perspectives and ideas. No one is smarter than all of us.

Practical Tip: Be deliberate about your group decision making steps. Before sharing opinions with each other, share information about the situation and potential consequences of deciding this way or that. Before forming your own opinion, make sure you are clear about the situation and the available options.

Before the group decides, make sure that there has been adequate time for discussing ideas and their implications. This maximizes creativity, increases prospects for innovation, and decreases the likelihood of unintended consequences.

Structure group meetings to focus on these three steps separately, maybe even separate meetings. Discourage sharing opinions before clear understanding. Discourage conclusions before everyone has had a chance to discuss. Encourage the discipline that no one decides until we all decide.

– Craig Freshley

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How to talk across our political divide

Good Group Tips





Photo credit: Brunswick Times Record

In principle, when people in a country, state, town, or family have opposing political views, it’s really hard because political views reflect our core values and our core identity. It’s hard when your sense of identity is threatened. It’s no wonder people opt out of politics or don’t like it when things get political.

Yet opposing political views also reflect our diversity; that we come from different places with different experiences and different beliefs. Our diversity helps us learn new things from each other and helps us craft new solutions to our problems.

Disagreement can have really positive outcomes when people understand where each other are coming from. Disagreement can have really negative outcomes when people misunderstand each other.

Misunderstandings almost always lead to conflict. Someone acts on a false assumption. The act gets interpreted as intentionally aggressive. More assumptions result. More aggression results.

Even when we disagree, understanding each other has some very practical benefits:

  1. If I feel that you have heard and understood my perspective I am much more likely to peacefully accept the outcome, whatever it is.
  2. If I truly understand your perspective I have a much better chance of making a decision that doesn’t backfire or miss the mark or result in bad outcomes that I didn’t even see coming.
  3. If we understand each other we have a much better chance of finding a solution that works for us both.

Practical Tip: Engage in actual conversations with people who have different political views so you can better understand them. It works well to invite someone to such a conversation rather than force it on them. And it works well to talk and listen with respect and not try to change each other’s minds.

Listen to understand where an opposing person is coming from, how they came to such points of view, and why such views are important to them. Demonstrate that you have heard them. Tell how your experience has influenced your political views.

You don’t have to agree on all the facts. State facts that contribute to your viewpoint and hear facts that contribute to theirs. It’s okay to point out differences in the factual accounts; that leads to new learning. If you shame someone for not believing the same facts as you; that leads to new levels of conflict.

It’s okay to walk away without minds changed or agreements reached. If you walk away with even just a bit of increased understanding or increased respect, that’s terrific.

If you feel misunderstood or mistreated, ask the person why they are being that way. Listen to understand. Show that you have heard them. Then say how the misunderstanding or mistreatment affects you.

If someone has no interest in understanding your view and intentionally chooses to mistreat you based on false assumptions, that’s more than political divide. That’s prejudice, oppression, abuse. The principles and tips for that are different I’m afraid.

An Experiment
: In my hometown of Brunswick, Maine we tried an experiment called the Make Shift Coffee House. It was a gathering on a Saturday night to understand each other’s political views, and hang out. We had live music, good food, and political conversation. It got written up in the local paper and several people made comments at the Make Shift Coffee House website. Learn about it here.

Also at the website I have assembled discussion guides, articles, videos, and podcasts all about understanding each other across political divides. Find resources here.

I would love to facilitate more Make Shift Coffee Houses; more conversations across political divides. It’s what we need. If you would like to partner with me on this please speak up.

Last word: It’s our political divide; not my political divide or your political divide. It’s ours. We’re in this together. It’s our country, our state, our town, our family. The most effective way to stop group infighting is to establish a common enemy; a common cause. Understanding each other is our best hope to reveal our common cause; a cause bigger and more important than our political divide.

– Craig Freshley

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In this short video, Craig explains how music can serve multiple purposes in a meeting.

This video has captions. To see them, click CC on the video screen.

Here’s what Craig says in the video.

Hi everybody! Hey, it’s Craig Freshley here, about to start a training session. There’s something that I want to show you. Come on inside.

We got all set up before people are arriving. Look, we’ve got food over here. We’ve got the tables for people to sit, we’ve got a blank wall, slides.

But, do you hear that? We’ve got music playing. I find that it’s so helpful to kind of lighten the atmosphere and help people feel cheerful if you can have some music playing on arrival, right? Why not?

And you know what? I’m going to use music too, for some of the breaks.

I’m going to ask people to change tables today – several times. And the way I’m going to do that is, I’m going to turn on some music. I’m going to ask people to get up out of their chairs and walk around randomly while the music plays and (you’ve probably got this figured out) when the music stops, sit down wherever you are. It’s a really fun and quick way to get people to sit in different places.

Look, there’s a lot of seriousness going on in the world. A lot of seriousness about our meetings and training sessions. If we can lighten things up with a little music, why not?

I hope this helps your group make good decisions.