Communication Contribution Managing Self

Holding conversational spaces

Written by Julia Menard

“In conventional collaboration, we move forward by agreeing on the problem, the solution, and the plan to implement the solution, and then executing this plan… But when we are in complex, uncontrolled situations, we need to experiment with different possible articulations and actions: we need to take a step forward, observe what happens, and then take another step.”
Collaborating with the Enemy, Adam Kahane, p. 69

Adam Kahane’s new book articulates a key principle in working with conflict: the importance of holding solutions “lightly” – to come to agreements but to expect the agreements to be revisited regularly.

This idea resonates for me strongly and has given me a new insight into how to transform the energy of conflict.

Until now, I’ve seen my work as coming into a conflict situation and opening up a space where conversation can happen. But when I leave, that conversational platform doesn’t often continue. The conversations about what is going on and how to address it, are assumed to be over. There was a problem and now we got ourselves out of it. Phew! Let’s get back to work!

However, Kahane’s quote above challenges the idea that there is a point in time where the problems end. What I’ve come to realize is these conversational spaces need to continue beyond when the crisis is over. In our individualistically oriented culture, it’s easy to miss the needs of the community.

Kahane calls for multi-disciplinary groups or stakeholders to be in dialogue together over our challenges. I believe conflict can become destructive because there is complexity. Complexity requires ongoing, sustained talks.

I have been reflecting on four of the team mediations I have done this year – one in the for-profit sector, one in the non-profit sector, a team in government and one in an academic institution. In all four of these contexts, the teams were not having the kind of conversations that were about the dynamic of the team. It is common enough for teams to meet to discuss the “business” of work – the content.

But teams also need to make the time to discuss the dynamics going on – where are the kudos to be shared and what are the rubs? Teams need to have a high positivity ratio to be able to bring up those issues that aren’t working. So, having a conversational space that allows for both recognition and problem-solving is a must.

What about the teams you are part of? Do you make the time regularly to acknowledge the positives? What about creating the space for problem-solving together? To be able to experiment – take action and then reflect on that action and adjust actions – one needs a regular, ongoing conversational space!

About the author

Julia Menard

Have you ever wondered why you can be so calm and rational for your clients, but when it comes to your own life, stress can creep in so easily? That’s the quest I set out on when, after 20 years as a mediator, my own marriage disintegrated. I teamed up with a therapist from Portland, and we wrote a book that captures much of what I’ve learned over the last five years about finding a the calm in the chaos. Hold On To Yourself: How to Stay Cool in Hot Conversations is the result. If you are interested in mindfulness, finding the leader within and engaging the gifts in conflict, then check out my website and sign up for my free monthly newsletter at:

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