Re: Process Workshop Recommendations
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Tue, 4 Nov 2003 08:40:12 -0700 (MST)

On Monday, November 3, 2003, at 08:14 PM, Becky Schaller wrote:

Our Process Committee is researching different types of process workshops
for our community.   We seem to be looking at basically two general
1.  How to make decision making more efficient.
2.  Improving communication skills particularly when we disagree.


The things which block our decisions are (1) lack of sufficient information to make a decision, (2) lack of clarity about the purpose of the decision (what are we trying to accomplish), and (3) exhaustion from all the circular and meaningless discussion that results from not having done (1) and (2).

A major block that we seem to have worked through is believing that decisions are final and irrevocable. Reminding people that "this is not forever" helps lot. Sometimes you just have try something before you have enough information to know what the "best" decision is.

I've done a lot of career advising and a typical situation is that a person has several options and doesn't know which one to choose. The solution that I found worked best for most people was to go with the one that seems doable right now. If it doesn't work, try the next one. You have to do the research and some of the research is done in the trenches.


Research on team functioning consistently shows that in the long term how people feel about each other and how well they function is related to how well they do their jobs -- content, not process. The emphasis on communication as "skills" can be very artificial and distract from real issues -- getting the job done. With success in performance, seemingly impossible skill-less people work perfectly well together.

Defining the job and understanding why it needs to be done is the best solution to communications skills.

We just went through a bout of name calling, negative characterization, and angry attacks, in person and on email. Since the attackers (from my perspective as the person being attacked) included a social worker who teaches family therapy, a Methodist minister, a perfectly competent group facilitator, and several otherwise-normal, perfectly "non-violent" people, one who does peace work, skill training was not the issue. All of these people have been through all the training they could possibly go through -- voluntarily! -- and consider themselves to be fine examples of the truly good and proper among us.

The fact remains that in the end what we had to do was sort out the issue -- the content. The whole incident happened because people had been avoiding an issue I needed to have dealt with and they wanted to continue avoiding. In such situations, I push decisions -- it's my genetic makeup. It drives people just as nuts as their avoidance drives me nuts.

But by pushing everyone's buttons in October about how we spend all the December holidays, we established both a wonderful schedule of inclusive community events early enough that the calendar does not get filled with conflicting exclusive private events AND established a procedure for dealing with that type of content the next time we need to deal with it.

I could easily have filed libel and slander suits against several of these people. We could easily have spent days and weeks in workshops and spent hundreds of dollars on an outside facilitator. Sorting out the tangible issues with a calendar on the wall worked much faster, with a better result. When the issue remained a content issue -- the schedule of December holidays -- only _one_ of the name-calling people attended the meeting. All the name-calling was speaking for others, not oneself. Along with my refusal to respond to name callers with anything more than a request for an inclusive plan for the holidays, a simple rule, "we speak for ourselves and allow others to speak for themselves," enforced by the meeting leader stopped the chaos.

After reading many "process" books, the best remains one that is not process at all, Thinking Critically by John Chaffee. This is a textbook so it is expensive (though not that much more than NVC and the NVC workbook together). He has a second book, The Thinker's Way: 8 Steps to a Richer Life that I haven't read but I'm sure is equally helpful -- and much less expensive. Amazon is the best source for these -- new and used.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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