Re: Process Workshop Recommendations?
From: Sharon Villines (
Date: Wed, 5 Nov 2003 09:48:12 -0700 (MST)

On Wednesday, November 5, 2003, at 08:34 AM, Becky Schaller wrote:

Let me give two examples.  Over time, I have begun to realize that our
community often gets into trouble when we skip a process step we
previously agreed upon.

The key here I think is "agreed upon". We agreed on this -- were we mistaken to agree on this because we have new information or are we just using bad logic by ignoring what we agreed upon? In Sociocracy the emphasis is on the "argument", the decision at hand. "Argument" in the philosophical sense. The discipline is staying focused on the issue or the subject.

Another example. I remember one member who was quite upset in a meeting
saying, "I feel attacked by what Georgia said."   No one responded to
that.   After thinking about that, I now remember that in the book on
Nonviolent Communication, I read that "attacked" is not a feeling word.
 It's an interpretation.  That person was really indirectly saying that
Georgia had attacked her.  But she didn't say that directly and she
didn't specifically say what Georgia had said.  So Georgia simply sat
there - I imagine feeling a bit guilty and afraid to say anything else.

As one who is often in this position, I sympathize with Georgia. "Attacked" is an interpretation but also an accusation, not a feeling. Also 5 people in the room may also be "afraid" that "Georgia" was attacking "Claire" and 5 people will be clear that she wasn't. Another 20 will not even notice either one of them or be able to relate the incident an hour later, but they will be wondering what happened that the meeting went askew.

Unless the subject at hand is how Claire thinks she feels or on Georgia's intentions, Claire has successfully distracted everyone from the subject and focused them on herself as victim and Georgia as evil. I'm not suggesting that either of their comments be ignored but rather than making their comments the new subject of the meeting, redirecting the discussion back to the subject by interpreting Claire's comments and Georgia's comments in the context of the subject being discussed. "The subject at hand is whether we should buy a new pump for the hot tub now or wait until next summer. Georgia said the pump is not essential to the functioning of the community during the winter but Claire previously said it is. Claire, can you explain why?"

This recognizes both people equally (affirming equivalence) and returns the focus to the subject, to the decision at hand.

What I'm suggesting is that we get so lost in analyzing "process" and responding to "feelings" that are really not feelings but interpretations and allegations that we forget that the purpose of process is to produce results. That will happen much faster if the facilitator can quickly reestablish equivalence by stating the "true facts" of the situation and move the decision forward to a successful result.

BUT this doesn't mean the facilitator shouldn't be focused on process and what is happening -- it's just that the whole of the interactions shouldn't be diverted to process.

EXAMPLE: We were spending the first part of every meeting discussing how long to spend discussing each topic on the agenda. The board would spend time on this when the topics were scheduled, the facilitators and presenters would discuss it at length before each meeting. Then the whole meeting would discuss it. And while we were actually conducting the meeting we would be sitting there looking at the agenda with times on it -- 4:15, board nominations; 4:20 hot tub renovations; 4:35, parking lot resurfacing; 5:05 Budget, etc. -- like kids watching the clock in school.

I was one of the people who found this impossibly hard to understand -- how can you really be interested in a thorough discussion and coming to a real consensus if you decide from the outset that it has to be done in 10 minutes -- or even 60? And as a presenter I considered the subject to belong to the members, not to me. It was their decision how much discussion a subject needed, not mine. And there was little way to determine this until we got into the discussion.

Now the facilitators plan the meeting in consultation with others and times are not posted or discussed but the facilitators have a sense of how much time there is for each item and when a subject will need to be carried over to the next meeting or the rest of the agenda shuffled. They do this in consultation with us (as group members) but this process is their job as process people, it is no longer "the subject" of the meeting.

The distinction is subtle but very important in influencing what kind of expectations people walk into meeting with. Some people do get the idea that if we just have perfect process, life will be perfect. Process doesn't get the floor mopped.

Sharon Villines
Takoma Village Cohousing, Washington DC

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