RE: Breakdown of Process in Cohousing
From: Rob Sandelin (
Date: Thu, 2 Jan 2003 09:40:02 -0700 (MST)
There are some interesting symptoms described which  seem to indicate that
your community (It was not mentioned which or where) has some obvious and
painful dysfunctions. Mental illness is a tough challenge, distrust and fear
are  tough  challenges. Without some sort of leadership from somewhere to
design some work to meet these  challenges, then these things will continue
to be major  dysfunctions which can drive people away, and make it very
difficult to find new members. So it is in the interests of everyone, if for
no other reason than to be able to resell their units, to work on a plan for
coming to some resolutions.

I have used a four step process to work with groups in distress. Its fairly
simple and seems to work much of the time. Not always, but most the time. It
parallels a little bit the Non-violent communication process described in
another email.

The first step is to describe the behaviors clearly, without emotionally
laden terms of which several were used in the email. What does, "out of
control", actually mean in terms of describable behaviors? Get together with
folks and describe the behaviors that make people feel uncomfortable. Not
labels, not accusations, actually observed behaviors.  For example, On
Friday, I watched Jonathon come into my courtyard, and hit the planter with
a bat and break it, then run away. That is a description of an actually
observed event. Factual to the point. Much better than saying: Jonathon went
out of control again and irresponsibility destroyed community property. In a
factual behavioral description there are only the facts, and all adjective
are neutral. It can be a good exercise to write this description down on
paper, so you can review and adjust it to just the observable facts. Taking
the labels out  of it reduces unnecessary defensiveness and keeps to the
point. It is a classic response to an accusation to respond to the label,
not the action. By being clear and factual, this response is not available.

Next step, is to talk about how these behaviors make you feel, using your
experiences and speaking only for yourself. This can be intense, and the
people in this group  doing this should be prepped by forewarning of
intensity. People may cry, or yell, or speak with dramatic tones. This is

The third step is to see if there is agreement about how  people feel about
a behavior. Are we all in agreement that when planters are destroyed it
makes us feel uncomfortable? You may be surprised to find that in a group
you may be in a minority that feels uncomfortable. If the group as a whole
does not find a behavior uncomfortable you will find less support for any
agreements that may arise later. It is very instructive to find out, for
example, that you are the ONLY member of the group who is uncomfortable.
This tells you important things about yourself in relation to the group. In
this situation, you should probably consider that you are in the wrong

The final step, is to work out 5-6 potential solutions for mitigating the
behavior. I say 5 or 6 because if you count on one solution, and it fails,
and usually the first one  does, you may become demoralized by the failure.
By creating several plans and ideas you build in the notion that one or more
may fail and then we try out a different plan. So you are  less likely to
become demoralized by the initial failure.

While it seems like you could just go to the planning step, what I have
found is that groups that do this tend to get horribly muddled, unclear
about exactly what they are trying to deal with, unclear whether they all
agree its worth dealing with. Also, if you are going to hire a professional
family counselor to help you, AND I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THIS, I suggest
bringing them in on the planning  step, after you have gone through the
first three.

I know it seems a bit vague to say, create 5 or 6 plans. There is no formula
that I can easily describe to do this, but if you have collaborative process
experience you will find that people will come up with ideas. Again, having
professional help add experience  to these solutions will give you a great
possibility of success. But no guarantee. A group relationship is enormously
complex, and yours has, judging from the email, had some traumas which
effects your relationships in ways that are often not apparent but
significant. It may take a couple years to get past these effects and into
more of a collaborative and close relationship. It may never do so. Only
time will tell.

Good luck

Rob Sandelin
Sky Valley Environments  <>
Field skills training for student naturalists
Floriferous [at]

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