Can compromise get in the way of listening?
I was talking with a leader a few days ago about how to bring together two “warring” factions. Apparently there were two important divisions with extremely divergent perceptions of a major problem the organization was facing, Not only were they proposing opposite solutions but they characterized the problem entirely differently. Each time she brought them together they ended up trying to disprove the position of the other, and thereby each becoming more entrenched in their own opinions as they defended themselves.
I had a suggestion that came from a podcast I had listened to in the car not long ago. I download Krista Tippett’s On Being from America Public Radio and listen to the hour long broadcasts while traveling from one meeting to the next. Whether listening to Bobby McFerrin talk about connecting people with music, or Sherry Turkle from MIT talking about technology and how it is changing us, I always find my thinking stretched and my spirit engaged.
The particular podcast of relevance was an interview with Frances Kissling, a well known pro choice activist. What intrigued me was not her opinions which I know well and support, but her stance on compromise.
She saw the coming together of people with disparate opinions to look for compromise as a loss of an opportunity to understand. In looking for compromise, we look to see how the other person or group thinks like us. We look for how we are the same. We discard carelessly what we don’t agree with or what looks uncomfortable. When in fact, to truly understand one another, we have to look far more closely at how we are different.
Several years ago I had the good fortune to participate in a workshop with the Chasins of the Public Conversation Project, a nonprofit in Watertown MA using their very structured way of creating real dialogue and real listening between people with “deep differences in identity, beliefs, or values.” One of their comments was about the importance of agreeing not to convince one another or be convinced. We took turns speaking and we took turns listening and we saw one another for perhaps the first time.
I suggested to this leader that representatives from both groups be brought together with the goal of a full and complete expression of their differences. Only their differences. After each presented, they then had to fully and completely express the others’ point of view, as if it were their own. So each had to see and understand the entirety of the opposing arguments in order to express them completely. Each group had to seek corrections if they misstated the others’ opinions or left out any of the supporting data statements. Once each party had a full picture of the other’s position, they separated. There was to be no attempt at that time for any compromise.
I’ve used this technique successfully with individuals. There is a different level of listening that takes place.
Although this has yet to play out, my suspicion is that this will allow each group to more completely see the whole picture and they will end up with far more information to make a better combined solution.