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What It Takes for Groups to Be Less Conflicted about Conflict

Laird's Blog -

About half the time, when I get hired as a cooperative group consultant, I'm asked to work one or more embedded conflicts—things that have been festering for a while and the group doesn't know what to do with them. Sometimes I know that going in, and sometimes I don't. The group may be hiring me to look at something else yet the conflict intrudes into the conversation and then we're off to the races. While it's better when I know ahead of time, conflict goes with the territory, and I'm no longer surprised when it pops up. I just deal with it.

I have a reputation for this, and it's often an element of why I'm hired: either to help a group extract itself from deep mud, or to demonstrate why it's valuable to learn that skill, or both.

Even though all groups experience conflict (by which I mean non-trivial distress in response to something another group member is perceived to have said or done), only a small fraction of groups have sufficiently invested in developing their internal capacity to handle it in the flow of everyday life. Here are the steps I think it takes to get there:

1. Recognizing that conflict is going to occur and learning not to pathologize it. In other words, moving away from the mistaken notion that the incidence of conflict is a metric of the group's health (low conflict=health). Groups need to develop an understanding that conflict is naturally occurring, and the main challenge is working with it well; not trying to extinguish it.

2. Accepting the necessity of the group providing support for people who struggle to find their way through conflict on their own. While I think it's a great idea that groups encourage members to learn to be less reactive and develop their ability to work through their own distress (Nonviolent Communication, for example, can be good for this), it's naive to think that everyone will get good enough at this to never need assistance.

3. Identifying one or more methods for engaging constructively with conflict. There are a number of decent ways to productively approach conflict, but it is not enough to have only a general agreement that there will be help—you have to spell out what methodologies are on the menu, so the would-be user can have an inkling of what will be asked of them. Expecting people in distress to step forward to be black box guinea pigs is not a good plan.

4. Developing the capacity to consistently deliver positive results with the methods selected. Beyond agreeing on how support will be extended to members, the team needs to demonstrate that it can deliver in the clutch. This goes beyond being able to explain the theory of support; you need to show that you can manage the dynamic moment. For the most part the acid test is functioning in the presence of fulminating rage—though for others, rampant tears may be the litmus test.

5. Orienting all members to the availability of support and how to access it. It won't work if the team is hiding its light under a bushel. It has to actively make clear to members what the team offers, how support works, and how it can be invoked.

Beyond that, there are a few forks in the road that you need ot be aware of when setting this up.

Key Question A: Is the support group authorized to be pro-active? Must it wait for conflicted parties to agree to ask for assistance, or can it initiate inquires on its own judgment, or at the request of third parties?
Best answer: All too often, conflict resolution teams are underused (see my blog of Nov 24, 2014: Why Conflict Resolution Committees Are Like Maytag Repairmen). In part because people are reluctant to ask for help (or to admit that they need it); in part because there is a lack of confidence in the skill of the committee; in part because we come out of a culture that considers it meddling to insert yourself into other people's tensions. In recognition of that, it can make a big difference if the committee is authorized to initiate inquiries when there's the appearance that dynamics are stuck and starting to leak into group business. The bottom line here is getting out of the mud, and it's painful to watch stubborn people tolerate longstanding feuds because they're too proud to ask for assistance.

Note: Authorizing the team to be pro-active will not work unless there is a concomitant agreement that all members will to make a good faith effort to resolve tensions if they are named as a player in a conflict—regardless of whether they think they are.

Key Question B: What are the standards for transparency, in tension with confidentiality?

Best answer: Lean toward transparency as far as you can. Learn to describe distress even-handedly in minutes and reports, and then let all group members know the outline of what happened: what the tension was about and what the resolution was, including any agreements about how things will be different going forward. The flow of information is directly related to trust in the whole group. Thus, while it may be unintentional, a consequence of keeping information confidential is that trust is eroded. This is not what you want.

If you keep information confidential for fear that it will be misused, you are helping to create the environment  where that very thing will happen.

Note: I am not advocating that transparency be rammed down people's throats. I think it's best to allow protagonists to set their own limits about what is shared with others. That said, I'm encouraging groups to purposefully work toward an atmosphere of wide sharing within the group, with the clear expectation that individuals will use appropriate discretion when it comes to sharing beyond the group.

Key Question C: How are new members made aware of what the committee does and how to access it? If you are relying on osmosis, that's not a very good answer.

Best answer: Conflict teams should take it upon themselves to help create the culture in which they can thrive. This means regularly educating members (both new and old) about how to be better communicators, how to employ the methodologies for working conflict that the group adopts, and how the committee can help.

Risparmio energetico e vita di comunità: il co-housing piace alle famiglie di Ferrara - Dire

Cohousing News from Google -

Risparmio energetico e vita di comunità: il co-housing piace alle famiglie di Ferrara
cohousing FERRARA – “Tramite il nostro progetto di cohousing puntiamo al risparmio delle famiglie, alla tutela dell'ambiente, alla solidarieta' tra generazioni, a invertire un modello di vita in cui la solitudine e l'emarginazione sociale avanzano ...
Risparmio energetico e vita di comunità: il co-housing piace alle famiglieRedattore Sociale

all 2 news articles »

Denton Cohousing

New listings on ic.org -

Website: http://www.meetup.com/Denton-Cohousing/ City: Denton State: Texas Zip: 76205 Contact Email: francespunch@gmail.com Content Phone: Contant Name: Francis Punch

Asheville, Buncombe property transfers for Aug. 7-13 - Asheville Citizen-Times

Cohousing News from Google -

Asheville Citizen-Times

Asheville, Buncombe property transfers for Aug. 7-13
Asheville Citizen-Times
•Lot A4 Westwood Cohousing Community, $295,000, Lewis Gelfond, Susan Jensen to Daniel and Theresa F. Sandoval. •Unit 308 of the Pioneer Building Condominiums, $242,000, Boulevard Development Group LLC to Lucia Bertini. •Lot 224 (and a portion ...

Winning the Holidays

Laird's Blog -

Now that Halloween is in the rear-view mirror, I suppose it's only natural that retailers will have their full attention on Black Friday and the visions of sugar plum receipts that are dancing in their heads.

As a full-blooded American I thought I'd become inured to the annual full-court press that constitutes Xmas marketing, but a recent internet ad slipped through my defenses. It was a video clip from a big box store exhorting listeners to buy something expensive (that would come in a big box) and thereby assure that you'd "win the holidays."

It made me want to puke. 

I get it that we live in a competitive culture and that it's considered fair game to manufacture demand, but who needs to "win" Christmas? Don't get me wrong. I am not a Scrooge about giving gifts, and I'm not writing to defend the role of Christ in Christmas. The holidays are precious to me for family time, and for reflection. It's precious as a fortnight when less work is expected and we honor more the relationships that should arguably be the center of our lives year round.

This year I will be with my two kids and their families in Las Vegas (at my my daughter Jo's house) and I am wholeheartedly looking forward to it.

I love the rituals of the holidays because they help renew ties among the people, and evoke common memories. Some things have been continued through the generations (in my case it's opening presents Christmas morning, rather than the night before; making pinwheel cookies and plum pudding with hard sauce) and some things have to be adapted to the situation—I won't be looking for a white Christmas in Las Vegas (there may be a dip in Jo's backyard Jacuzzi instead), yet I'll be blessed to be with both my kids and our extended family that day—eating, laughing, and playing games together.

My revulsion is over the notion that: a) Christmas gift-giving (a ritual I enjoy in moderation) has morphed into a competition; and b) you need to outspend everyone else to achieve satisfaction. Relationships among loved ones should precisely be the place where competition has no play. You don't buy love. Nor do you acquire your way to happiness.

While I'm OK with Green Bay battling upstart Minnesota at Lambeau Field for the NFC North title on the last game of the regular season Jan 3 (still comfortably within the 12 Days of Christmas), I draw the line at competing for love around the Christmas tree. It's a sad commentary on how far our culture has drifted when contributing to the GNP has become the reason for the season.

For retiring boomers, co-housing is a livelier way of growing old - The Globe and Mail

Cohousing News from Google -

The Globe and Mail

For retiring boomers, co-housing is a livelier way of growing old
The Globe and Mail
In Saskatoon, the three-year-old Wolf Willow Cohousing complex is designed to encourage interaction. It has 4,500 square feet of common space and a whiteboard that fills everyone in on what is happening, from movie nights to communal meals. Thirty-five ...

Google News

Hazelton, Telkwa residents believe cohousing projects pave the way to a good life - Smithers Interior News

Cohousing News from Google -

Hazelton, Telkwa residents believe cohousing projects pave the way to a good life
Smithers Interior News
The Three Rivers Cohousing Project will form its own community, where residents live on individual slices of property within a shared piece of land. The subdivision is arranged in a circle around a communal space for recreation and amenities, such as a ...

The Morning After

Laird's Blog -

As you might have expected, the sun rose in the East today.

The thing that's different is that for the first time since May 1987 I am no longer occupying a central role in FIC. At the close of yesterday's fall organizational meetings the torch was officially passed to my successor, Sky Blue. Oh, I still have a number of loose ends to wrap up, and I promised everyone that I wouldn't just start watching day time soap operas or reading vampire novels to while away my idle hours. 

Though I'm officially retired as FIC's main administrator, my days remain populated with compelling choices:

Concurrent with my time serving the Fellowship, I've been developing my career as a cooperative group process consultant. Both started in 1987. In that capacity I've never been busier and I'm happy to continue that work going forward. 

By way of illustration, I have four jobs between now and Thanksgiving, plus one more in December. It's my hope that this work will create the economic flow I need to make ends meet (now that my paid work with FIC will be drawing to a close), while at the same time providing a suitable platform for my ongoing social change work. 

It's wonderful being able to make a living doing heart work and I hope to continue that for a long while yet.

Paired with my consulting is teaching the art of facilitation in cooperative groups. I have a two-year program I started in 2003 and that I've delivered eight times (each iteration involves eight three-day weekends, spaced approximately three months apart). In 2016 I will be running three versions of this training concurrently: one in New England; one in Portland OR; and one in North Carolina.

I also offering a variety of one-day workshops related to various aspects of group process, including consensus, delegation, membership, conflict, and power dynamics.

I've been authoring this blog for nearly eight years now, and am also a regular contributor to Communities magazine (FIC's quarterly periodical). In addition, I write lengthy reports for all of my consulting gigs.

One of the things that I'm looking forward to in the months ahead is having the time to regularly devote to reviewing my writing and organizing it into one or more books about cooperative group dynamics. That should go a long ways toward keeping me off the streets.

Dancing with my Partner
I'm happily at the front end of a highly promising intimate relationship with Susan Anderson, and the shift in work load offers excellent chances to enjoy a good deal more time with her. Instead of seeing her once every six weeks, I'm going to try to reconfigure my life to have her be a regular part of it (instead of an exceptional part of it—exceptional though she is).

I'm thinking that some of that will be traveling together; some of it will translate to our being on the same couch together; some of that will be in the same kitchen together. I'm looking forward to all of it.

Cultivating Relationships
Over the course of my career as a community member and community networker I've met an incredible variety of people, a good number of whom have become friends. I'm hoping to create sufficient spaciousness in my life to make visiting friends more of a destination, rather than what I can squeeze in between work assignments and public appearances.

Building Community
In the last year I lost my community base in northeast Missouri. While that wasn't what I was hoping for or expecting, that shift also created an opening to build community elsewhere, and the good news is that community is needed everywhere—so you can hardly pick a bad spot.

When I explained to a friend recently that I was anticipating strengthening a sense of community in a neighborhood setting, she got all excited to see what I could do. I was touched by her faith in me. 

While it remains to be seen what I can deliver with respect to all this, I can promise you that "retirement" will not be dull.

Mary Jane's Retreat

New listings on ic.org -

Website: http://www.maryjanesretreat.webs.com City: Eros State: Louisiana Zip: 71238 Contact Email: brenda.fritz@live.com Content Phone: Contant Name: Brenda Fritz

What Happens at FIC Board Meetings

Laird's Blog -

I'm at Liberty Village (Union Bridge MD) this weekend, for the FIC's fall organizational meetings. These will be the last set of meetings at which I'll be the main administrator. Starting Monday I'll be offloading the lion's share of the executive tasks to my successor, Sky Blue of Twin Oaks.

As is common, we have a lot on our plates:

2016 Budget
Our essential challenge is keeping our appetites in line with our menu. We have no trouble whatsoever thinking up good things to do faster than we can manifest the money to accomplish them. That means we constantly need to rein in and prioritize our ideas, funding only the most important and most promising over the next 12 months.

In particular, we'll be creating the new position of Social Media Director in a better attempt to stay active and topical in those newer communication channels. We're also boosting the size of our travel subsidies to get Board and staff members to meetings.

Relations with Sister Organizations

The Global Ecovillage Network is headquartered at Findhorn in Scotland, and operates worldwide. After many years of operating as parallel yet mostly independent entities, communications between us have picked up in the last two years and we're exploring ways to collaborate, including the possibility of a unified directory of communities, and more regular participation in each other's activities.

The Cohousing Association of the US is a network that covers one of the vibrant subsets of the intentional communities movement. As such it behooves us to think about ways to strengthen the lines of communication. Coho/US recently announced a conference on Aging in Community for May 19-21, in Salt Lake City—but that's awkward for FIC because we've scheduled our spring organizational meetings for May 20-22 in Oregon, making it hard for us to have a presence at their event. We're looking hard at whether we can reconfigure our spring meetings to avoid this conflict.

Coho/US is also encouraging all cohousing groups in the country to hold an open house this coming April 30. This seems like a good idea to us, and we'll be checking closely to see how that goes.

—School of Living
This Mid-Atlantic network has roots that go back into the 1930s and Ralph Borsodi. It includes a community land trust that holds six pieces of property in three states (PA, MD, and VA), and they approached us to discuss the possibility of joint events, joint grant applications, partnering on educational programs, and youth initiatives.

—Goddard College
This Vermont-based school has been a leader in developing online courses, and we discussed the possibility that students might find it appealing to get college credit for hands on learning in intentional communities.

Overhauling our Directory Listing Questionnaire 
Last spring we made the decision to publish a new edition of Communities Directory (our seventh), and we're busily at work trying to get all the ducks in line. We took advantage of several key players being in the same room to overhaul the Directory listing questionnaire for the first time in 20 years, and coordinate the timing of publicity associated with next week's launch of our Kickstarter campaign to raise production funds for this effort. (I'll blog about this again next week, when we actually start the campaign.)

This has always been an important component of FIC's mix of programs, even though we haven't always had the staff to be active. Our essential challenge is how to keep the costs of events affordable while at the same time generating enough income to fairly compensate staff for the substantial investment it takes to pull off a quality event.

In the discussion this weekend we've been looking at some far ranging ideas for approaching this differently, including videos tours of communities that are offered online (a virtual event); Earth Day open houses; a music tour where name artists give house concerts at intentional communities, followed by workshops; and a robust webinar series where people are brought in initially by free content.

Strategic Planning 
This work is a continuation from the spring. Starting with something we drafted six months ago, we're devoting time this weekend to polishing a revised vision and mission statement that we can use to assess program elements and new ideas.

In addition we got clearer on the relationship of staff to Board in light of how things have been reorganized following my stepping down as the main administrator.

In all, FIC meetings can be regularly relied upon to keep several of us off the streets for three days every spring and fall.

Cohousing expert to discuss intentional communities at Eno Fellowship - News & Observer

Cohousing News from Google -

Cohousing expert to discuss intentional communities at Eno Fellowship
News & Observer
Katie McCamant, cohousing expert, will speak about “Senior Cohousing: Thriving in Community” from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 13 at Eno River Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, 4907 Garrett Road in Durham. Baby boomers are looking for ways to do ...

Día de los Muertos 2015

Laird's Blog -

This is my annual post, taking a moment to remember people impactful in my life who have passed away in the last 12 months. I enjoy this seasonal ritual far more than an orgy of candy consumption.

Mildred Gordon (Jan 4)
While I wrote a eulogy to Mildred when she died 10 months ago (Mildred Gordon Crosses the Bar at 92), I'm happy to salute her again here. She was one of my two main mentors in my work as a process consultant, and special to me for her efforts to integrate the rational and the emotional—something this culture tends to do badly.

Mildred worked with others in one of two ways:

a) One-on-one (or one-on-two in the case of couples), where she'd be more flexible and patient in helping people find their way through conflicted thoughts and feelings. She was adept at saying things in multiple ways, so if her first approach didn't work, she'd simply try another. For example, if a direct exploration didn't land she might try a role play. Her door was always open for community members seeking advice.

b) In open group discussion, where she was the facilitator and impresario. In this role she was more directive, and would often pause to make a teaching point. While anyone could speak and raise a concern, she would never relinquish control of the conversation. It was a weakness that she couldn't share the center spotlight.

Her stamina was legendary, willing the group to remain with her through the examination of dynamics—sometimes for hours.

One the things I admired most in Mildred was her ability to speak plainly and to convey difficult concepts in easily understood words and metaphors.

Though Mildred tended to be obsessed with the possibility of dying young (as many others in her bloodline had), she reached the exalted age of 92 and enjoyed life in full measure.

Marshall Rosenberg (Feb 7)
While I never met the man, I read his book and listened to his audio tapes, and his seminal work on Nonviolent Communication (NVC) pervades the field of cooperative group dynamics. 

One of my consistent messages to groups is that they need a way to recognize and work constructively with conflict—that not having any agreements in this regard doesn't work. Once groups recognize the need, NVC is one of the most common choices made about how to proceed. Partly its appeal is its gentle language; partly it's because trainers are everywhere, so it's easy to get support.

While I approach conflict somewhat differently than Marshall, you have to tip your hat to someone who's body of work has become so widely known.

Bigger than life, Marshall's work was successful enough that it suffered from getting codified and ossified (which is probably an inevitable consequence of success), with practitioners latching onto the structure instead of the underlying compassion, with the unintended result that "certified" teachers were applying an NVC formula regardless of the audience or the application—to the point where sometimes expressions of anguish were being discounted because they we're not delivered as proper "I" statements. I can only imagine that this was painful for Marshall to observe.

Still, you have to love a man who devoted his life to the active pursuit of peace, and who sought out conflicted dynamics in which to insert the balm of his approach.

Marshall was 80 when he died.

Alma Hildebrand (Feb 13)
Alma was the mother of my friend and long-time fellow Sandhill member, Stan Hildebrand. In all the 40 years I lived at Sandhill, Stan was the person who lived there with me the longest: 34 years.

Over those decades, his parents, Jake and Alma, came to visit a number of times. When Jake's health failed to the point where he could no longer travel, they stopped coming. Yet Stan would religiously head north to Manitoba in early Dec, both to miss the Xmas craziness and to celebrate Alma's birthday, Dec 4.

Alma and Jake were Mennonites and Stan was their eldest son. They were farmers in the Red River Valley (that forms the border between Minnesota and North Dakota, and flows north into Lake Winnipeg). The homemade meat grinder that Sandhill uses during deer season was donated to us by Jake and Alma, and we always enjoyed the connection of both being farm families: there's was traditional and ours was new age, but the carrots and chickens couldn't tell the difference.

After Jake died, Alma moved to an assisted living facility in nearby Altona. Fun loving and social, Alma always had a jigsaw puzzle going or wanted to play cards (canasta and Uno were equally big).

I can only imagine that they have multiple deck cards games in heaven, too, and that Alma is playing still. She was 92.

Eyesore Norwich site could be turned into Danish-style cohousing scheme - Norfolk Eastern Daily Press

Cohousing News from Google -

Norfolk Eastern Daily Press

Eyesore Norwich site could be turned into Danish-style cohousing scheme
Norfolk Eastern Daily Press
The Sussex Street Cohousing group wants to custom build 17 houses and flats, with shared facilities and communal gardens. Cohousing is an idea which was pioneered in Denmark in the 1960s when young professional families bought properties next door ...


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