RE: Arguments & Arguers: Long response
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Wed, 25 Aug 1999 20:26:39 -0600 (MDT)
I have done work in communities around this issue. I am going to genericise
the issue to: Dealing with behaviors that cause other people to feel bad and
cause ineffectiveness in the group. My assumption is that yelling and
arguing is a behavior you find makes you feel bad. First step is to check
this with the rest of the group. Does it make most people feel bad? Do most
people want this behavior to stop? Or is this just your perception?

I teach my facilitation students that intervetion is  one of the key skills
of being an excellent facilitator. Along with those skills goes planning,
observation, sensitivity and evaluation. To be excellent requires a large
commitment. Most people are not that committed. Thus finding someone to
intervene effectly may take hiring an outside resource. A good family
counselor can help some as much couples counselling can be applied in larger
group situations.

If your observations are that the behavior is causing the group to be
ineffective then the people who are paying attention to your process should
consider an intervention.

First problem to solve: how
committed are the members causing the behavior to the community? Often I
find in cohousing groups there is wide variation in peoples commitment level
to the concept of "community". A lack of commitment to making things better
for everyone means little personal energy will go towards changes. I have
heard, on several occaisions words to the effect of, "I did not come here to
do personal growth work, this aint no new age commune. This kind of stuff is
not what cohousing is about". If your group has this lack of commitment to a
community building will clearly make it very difficult to move forward.

If you have feelings meetings and people don't show up that shows a low
level of commitment which in my experience means little will be
accomplished. I have observed severely dysfuntional behaviors which
individuals use to delibrately create havoc and cause issues. They refuse
counselling and mediation work and use their behaviors to accomplish their
own ends. This obviously creates huge problems.

Most groups that are not cohousing just move out these folks. Cohousing,
based on private, individual ownership, has no way to deal with serious
personal dysfunction if the individual is not willing to cooperate. In those
circumstances, the best you can do is heal yourselves and create strategies
to work around the problems while being aware that the intention to disrupt
or damage only succeeds if you let it.

Assuming individuals with problem behaviors that are willing to do the work
I have used a tiered intervention system with some good success.

The first level of intervention is large group general intervention. We do
not specifically note individuals just note issues in general,and people
discuss impacts of behaviors in a general way. The format: brainstorm a list
of effective behaviors. Then make the list of ineffective behaviors,
defining effective as those behaviors which help us work together and feel
good about ourselves and our community.

Use the format: WHen __________(behavior) happens it makes me feel
_________. This is sometimes all it takes
for a individual to self correct a behavior. This intervention may cover
several issues and I simply collect them, make everyone aware of them, and
look at general solutions, such as creating group ground rules,
communication rules and processes. Having clear group ground rules is an
important first step.

The next level of intervention is individual and private. I meet with the
individual and explain to them the goals the group is trying to accomplish.
I get them to recognize those goals as being worthwhile and worth doing.
This works best if there are clear ground rules I can refer to. If
I succeed there, then we compare the behavior against the goals, I use
specific examples of where the behavior causes impacts on the group that do
not meet the goal and I do so in a way that is not confrontational but
collaborative. I carefully watch for defensive reactions and smooth them by
applying praise and goal orientation. We are working together to make a
better situation for everybody right? From this discussion and work I try to
create a contract. The contract acknowleges the behaviors impacts and the
commitment to work to specifically change the behavior. I then reinforce the
contract by making a point to praise the individual for their work whenever
I can.

Sometimes I have used a simple private communicate signal system to help the
individual self correct, for example, I might have worked out with the
individual that if they talk too loudly in a meeting I will look at them and
rub my ear, indicating that I think the behavior in contract is being
displayed. This helps them self correct and keep their contract.

The last level, and one I personally dislike using the most, is the public
direct intervention. In this case, we have done the first two steps, it is
still not working, and I publically intervene in front of everyone,
capturing the specific behavior and its consequence to the group at that
moment. I have not yet succeeded in doing this in a way that 100% of the
time the individual feels non-defensive and I tend to do so as a last
resort. I might throw it out as something like: "I feel we need to stop this
process and look at what just happened." What I just observed was: ____. How
do people feel about this? (I would direct the group to use I statements if
this is not how they usually operate). This opens up the individual for all
kinds of potential attacks, and it is enormously difficult for pretty much
anybody to hear negative feedback in a angry tone. Keeping this productive
takes a good talent, great finesse and sensitivity and a plan. This is
absolutely something you need to add to your meeting plan, think about very
carefully and be prepared for.

People with family counseling backgrounds often disagree with my approach,
saying that the direct public intervention is the most effective. I find
that the first two approaches almost always seem to work to accomplish the
behavioral contracts and that it spares the individual the potential of
having their neighbors dump on them. However it does take considerably more
time and effort on the part of the intervenor.

Obviously there is lots more detail involved with doing an effective
intervention but that's the outline of what I have done in several
situations with good success in curbing ineffective behaviors by group

Rob Sandelin
Northwest Intentional Communties Association
Building a better society, one neighborhood at a time

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