Re: looking for alternatives to long email conversations
From: Mac Thomson (
Date: Mon, 2 Mar 2020 10:28:56 -0800 (PST)
Congratulations for breaking ground!

A couple lessons we learned during design work 20 years ago and on email since 
then, which might be helpful:
We quickly learned that having the plenary decide design issues was way too 
slow for the thousands of design issues that needed to be decided. We formed 
teams for common house design, private home specifications, etc. The community 
decided on the general design program, but then only the people particularly 
interested in a working on a particulate design team and willing to invest the 
time was involved in all the detailed decisions.
We have learned that email conversations are very useful for some information 
exchange, but is very hazardous territory when emotions heat up. At the first 
hint of heated emotions, someone will suggest that we move the conversation 
offline and  to face to face instead.

Mac Thomson

Heartwood Cohousing
Southwest Colorado

"It takes two to speak the truth -- one to speak and another to hear."
         - Henry David Thoreau

> On Mar 2, 2020, at 6:37 AM, Marcia Zuckerman via Cohousing-L <cohousing-l 
> [at]> wrote:
> Hi,
> I’m at Bay State Commons (Malden, Mass).  We just broke ground, and are open 
> to new members, but that’s not why I’m writing. 
> We currently have extended conversations by e-mail to discuss issues around 
> planning the building, which sometimes become contentious or high-volume. 
> It's good that we have a way to hear the range of opinions and brainstorm 
> solutions outside of our twice-a-month consensus plenary meetings.  But the 
> email discussions also have disadvantages, such as:
> - Some members are overwhelmed at the volume
> - Conversations can provoke polarization via perhaps-unintentionally 
> inflammatory statements, which aren't smoothed over as readily as with 
> in-person conversations
> - Members with more free time on their hands have an outsized contribution 
> that might not reflect the group's overall sentiment, yet may color the 
> perception of what the "consensus" is
> - It can be very confusing to track where the conversation is if it splits 
> into multiple threads
> - Members feel stressed by the pressure to keep up, and feel they can't step 
> away in case their silence is equated with agreement with whatever is being 
> said
> We’re thinking about other options.  We’re a mix of techies and technophobes; 
> some people could set up Slack channels, but others would likely avoid 
> discussions there because chat can feel even more urgent/stressful, or 
> because they don't understand it.
> Most people in the group do okay with Google docs and spreadsheets, so we're 
> thinking about that, as well as surveys or forums. Have people found good 
> ways to have discussions through Google docs? What other methods do people 
> use?
> Thanks,
> Marcia Zuckerman
> Communications Committee
> <>
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