Karen Gimnig, Professional Facilitator
It’s the first question newcomers ask when introduced to consensus (or consent) decision-making: What if you just can’t agree? My answer is usually, “That’s when the really good stuff happens!” It is too. It’s when we are pushed to be thoughtful, collaborative and creative and find solutions no one has thought of yet. Most of us have experienced that, but sadly most have us have also experienced gridlock. Whether we’re locking horns or passively standing our ground, we get stuck, feelings get hurt, process grinds to a halt and cohousing isn’t quite so wonderful anymore.
Mostly this happens when the other guy is too stubborn or spiteful or passionate to see reason. Whichever it is, the issue is that they are so caught up in their emotions that logic gets lost and we can’t get anywhere. If that’s your story, you are probably right. Odds are that the other guy is also telling that same story about you. They are probably right too. The truth is, we humans are emotional critters. We’re wired that way. If our emotions weren’t involved, it wouldn’t be important enough to clash over. If our emotions are involved, they will tend to trump our logic. This is especially true when our emotional selves are unconscious. We are generally much better at seeing emotional drivers in the other guy than in ourselves. Thus the story that it is the other guy being emotional while you make perfect sense.
Fortunately, there are tools for getting everyone more conscious of their emotional selves and in the process, more in touch with each other. By creating an intersection of logic and emotions, we open the path to creativity and collaboration. We make way for solutions, and build closer relationships at the same time.
One powerful consciousness tool is called a Bridging Circle, because it helps us bridge the space between our perspectives. Ideally Bridging Circles are used before the clash begins, but they can help us find our way out of conflict as well. A Bridging Circle is a safe space that invites participants to venture into their beliefs and emotional spaces and do some exploring prior to trying to agree on a solution. Many people are surprised by what comes up. New perspectives are discovered and issues are framed in new ways. Bridging Circles don’t (by themselves) solve problems, but they create the common ground that paves the way for consensus or consent.
Bridging Circles are also great for:
- New groups where it can speed the attachment process and help newcomers to feel really connected and committed. Once attached, groups work more efficiently and need less time for conflict resolution.
- Conflict resolution when bad feelings linger after an unfortunate incident. Hearing and being heard makes a huge difference as we find ways to move forward in community.
- Visioning or re-visioning processes where we are working out who we are and who we want to be.
- Any time the community wants to feel more connected around a topic or issue.
Bridging Circles work best with good facilitation, which can be learned in about a day. This April, a one-day intensive on facilitating Bridging Circles is coming to the Regional Cohousing Conference in Boulder. (Click here for more details, and be sure to register for the Conference by March 10th for the early bird discount!) In this interactive and experiential workshop participants will learn how to facilitate Bridging Circles and everyone will get some practice with the basic skills needed to do this well. We’ll also touch on how these same skills can help with other kinds of meetings. At then end of this one day, each participant will be ready to lead Bridging Circles for their own communities.
Bonus offer: Free gift for participants who register for this intensive by March 31. See conference website for details.
If you aren’t able to attend the conference in Boulder, contact me for information about scheduling this training for your community or regional group.
gimnig [at] gmail [dot] com