Author: Craig Freshley

Criticism private

Good Group Tips

In principle, the cause of most criticism is the critic’s need to react to something painful, yet public reaction often causes more pain. When you think someone’s action or statement deserves criticism, first consider why. Will criticizing make you feel better? Teach them a lesson? You can probably accomplish these by criticizing privately. You might even achieve the first one by talking with a friend, or yelling or crying; get it off your chest. If you want to criticize in order to start a fight or create conflict, then you might want to do it publicly (for instance, send an e-mail to more people than the person you are criticizing). Sometimes that is what is called for, but only sometimes, when more peaceful means of achieving the group mission are exhausted.

Practical Tip: When you have an adverse reaction to someone’s words or actions, do not react right away. First try to understand the behavior or words better. Be thoughtful about the reason for your reaction; what purpose will it serve? Only when you think your group needs public conflict should you publicly criticize. Otherwise, talk privately with the person you have an issue with. Start with asking a question about what they said or did.

PS: Another reason we sometimes criticize is to make someone feel small. This is never a good reason for public or private criticism. Good group decisions result when people make each other feel big, valued, appreciated.

– Craig Freshley

Click here for one-page PDF of this Tip, a great way to print or share.

Teacher Appreciation

Thank you Professor Eugene Mawhinney!

In honor of Teacher Appreciation Week, Craig explains what made his teachers great and encourages us to teach each other, by example.

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.

It’s teacher appreciation week and here in Maine our Commissioner of the Department of Education is encouraging people to make little videos thanking their teachers.

I would like to thank Professor Eugene Mawhinney who taught Constitutional Law at the University of Maine. Gene Mawhinney was a great teacher because, not only did he have command of constitutional law, he also held us to high standards. But he also engendered in us a love for law and for the Constitution.

Here’s inside the book by the way; pretty beat up, written all over. I loved this course. Duct tape on the outside.

Now many of us have had great teachers in the classroom; you might call it book learning. But a lot of us learn about good group decisions from other people in the group. Those are our teachers too; the elders, the veterans, the people who don’t just talk about how to do things but who do things in ways that work really well for the group. Follow those people. And if you are one of those people, continue to set a good example and be a good teacher.

I hope this helps you help your group make good decisions. Thanks for listening everybody.

Direct communication

Good Group Tips

In principle, the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. When it comes to communications between two people, the shorter the better. It’s often easier to get information indirectly, and usually more fun. But indirect information is more like entertainment than fact. Direct communication builds true understanding.

Practical Tip: If you are wondering what someone thinks about something, or why they did something, or what they plan to do in the future, ask them directly. Do not speculate about it with others. Do not proceed based on assumptions. Get the story straight from the source. If you want someone to know what you think, or why you did something, or what you plan to do, tell them. Do not be silent, sneaky, or circuitous and “let them figure it out.” When you hear information indirectly like “she thinks this,” or “he said that,” know that what you are hearing is out of context, altered by the messenger, and only one side of the story.

Good group decisions are built on true understanding and true understanding comes straight from the source.


Good Group Tips

In principle, one vote per person works well to assess support for a single issue or to choose a single candidate, but to establish several top priorities from among a long list or to assess group preferences among multiple choices, try a multi-vote. A multi-vote is where each group member is given three or more votes to allocate among several alternatives. For instance, after identifying several ways to solve a problem and writing them all on the wall, each group member might be given three small sticker-dots (votes) and told, “Put your sticker-dots on your three favorite ideas.”

Placing two or even three stickers on a single item is typically allowed. After voting, the whole group can step back and see how the votes are distributed among all the ideas. There is an immediate shared sense of the group’s top priorities.

Practical Tip: Use a multi-vote to decide where to focus conversation. Rather than continue conversation about a whole list of ideas, multi-vote results indicate which ideas are worth further group consideration, and which are not.

To use multi-vote results to actually make decisions, have repeated rounds of multi-voting with each round limited to the top priorities of the previous round.

Apart from using sticker-dots, there are several other multi-vote methods such as hand-written or on-line surveys. Some groups use keypad voting where each participant is given a remote keypad and results are digitally tabulated by a computer and displayed graphically on a screen.

Multi-voting is a great way to quickly engage all participants and immediately see preferences of the group as a whole.

– Craig Freshley

Click here for one-page PDF of this Tip, a great way to print or share.


Good Group Tips

In principle, groups work best when a facilitator manages the process. When it is someone’s job to look after the group’s process, everyone else can focus on substance. When I know that someone is managing the order of speakers, I can pay full attention to what is being said.

When there is no objective facilitator and group members can manipulate the process, it tilts power toward a few, limits creativity, and clogs efficiency. It is typical for Congress, state legislatures, and town governments, for instance, to spend a lot of time debating process issues, agenda setting, committee membership, and rules…often in order to influence a particular outcome.

To maximize efficiency, equality, and creativity, high-functioning groups engage a facilitator who works for the group as a whole, manages the process, and does not try to influence the outcome.

Practical Tip: If you want good group decisions, invest in good group facilitation. Like any kind of professional expertise, group facilitation expertise is learned through study and experience. There is a body of knowledge and a proven set of techniques that can move a group forward by leaps and bounds.

Engaging a facilitation expert, whether a paid outsider or volunteer insider, brings knowledge, skill, and objectivity to your group process and substantially increases your chances of making good group decisions.

Lose now, win later

Good Group Tips

In principle, more important than winning any particular decision is the health of the relationships that we carry into the next decision. Is it worth it to jeopardize a long-term relationship in order to win a short-term decision? Maybe, but not likely.

Further, a group member holding out for a win may block the group’s forward progress and perpetuate conflict. They are sure that they are right and that the group is wrong. Is an individual win more important than group peace? Sometimes, but not often.

The good thing about losing is that it often allows one to move on, let go of the battle. Compared to being stuck in conflict, losing and moving on can be very beneficial.

Practical Tip: Be thoughtful about when to fight and when to accept. Stand tall enough to see beyond the immediate conflict. Is it more important that I win now or that we win over the long run?

– Craig Freshley

Click here for one-page PDF of this Tip, a great way to print or share.

Bring you

Want to help your group? Work on yourself. Figure out who you are and what you stand for. Bring THAT to your group. When we bring false personas or fake aspirations we just mess things up and cause inefficiency. In this video Craig tells the story of Zushya, and the question that he fears God will ask him.

Thanks for holding the camera, Chris!

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. Today I’m in North Station, Boston.

You know that a lot of my tips are actually about individual attitudes and individual behaviors, because it’s individuals that add up to good group decisions.

Today, the story of Zushya, the Rabbi Master who was sad and worried on his deathbed.

His followers asked, “Why are you so worried?” and he said, “I have finally figured out the question that the Creator is going to ask me.”

“What’s the question?” they said.

“He is not going to ask me, ‘Zushya, why weren’t you a Moses who led your people into freedom?’ He’s not going to ask me ‘Zushya, why weren’t you a Joshua who led your people to the Promised Land?’ He’s going to ask me, ‘Why weren’t you Zushya?'”

The idea is that we have to be ourselves. That is the calling to greatness and if you really want to help your group, don’t bring the person that you think is going to get into heaven. Don’t bring the persona that you think your group members want. Just bring you.

I hope this helps you help your group make good decisions.

Thanks a lot everybody.


Good Group Tips

In principle, all stories are true and some of them really happened. Stories are kernels of truth passed on in colorful ways that help us understand the truths they contain. Most of us relate to stories much better than we relate to facts and figures. It’s not so important that a story really happened but how is the story like my story, like our story? What truth does the story contain about human experience, about our nature?

Practical Tip: Make time in your group for story telling — within meetings, before and after meetings, while sharing food. Read and hear stories of other like groups, other like people. Pass on stories that ring true for you.

It is by telling and hearing stories that we come to understanding. It is by understanding that we come to good group decisions.

PS: Like most principles among these pages, I didn’t make this one up. I heard it somewhere, added a little color, and passed it on.

– Craig Freshley

Click here for one-page PDF of this Tip, a great way to print or share.

Say your third thought

In this video, high school student Coutia Giriteka explains how she got the idea to always “say your third thought.” She came up with this idea while participating in a program called Can We? It’s a collaboration of seven Maine High Schools to promote understanding and civil dialogue on hard issues.

Thanks Coutia!

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.

I’ve just been learning about a project called “Can We?” where high school students from several different high schools came together and they learned how to talk with each other about really hard things.

One of those high school students: her name is Coutia. She goes to Deering High School here in Portland, Maine. She had this idea that it’s probably best not to say your first thought but you should always your third thought. I’ve asked her to explain that idea. Here she is.

We were having this really intense dialogue on race and it was just, for the first hour and a half, it was just screaming back and forth with people waiting for one person to finish talking and then jumping in. And in the midst of that there was this one girl who did an impassionate speech about what it’s like to be a person of color and the response that was given by another persons opinion just really irked me. Because I was like, “That did not come from a place of really understanding someone else’s feelings. That came from a place of like Oh you’re done talking now I’m going to talk.” And it really made me think about how people should take a moment, pause and say their third thought (or maybe not the first thing that comes to mind). And I think that’s when I really adopted the motto of: ‘Say my third thought.”