An Amazing Conference Story. AND "Crucial Conversation" Workshop Presentation Material Sought
From: Ann Zabaldo (
Date: Tue, 7 Jul 2009 21:05:04 -0700 (PDT)
Hello all!

Let me add my voice to those who have praised this year's annual coho conference. GREAT job! Extremely well run. An "on the ground team" that was Johnny-on-the-spot! I hope more of the conference material gets up on the cohousing website so those who missed the conference or who want to review a workshop or who couldn't be in two places at one time can get the workshop material.

Great segue into my request for workshop material.

But first I have to tell you the most AMAZING cohousing conference experience I've had in all of the conferences I've attended.

WAAAAY back in Nov/Dec of 2008 Martie Weatherly (Liberty Village Cohousing in Maryland )and I were thinking out an idea together about the need for "Crucial Conversations" in our respective communities. Probably in every community there is an ongoing conversation about pets, parenting, kids, bike storage, workshare, meal programs, etc. These conversations bubble up to the surface depending on what's "hot!" at the moment, cool down and resurface again sometime later on.

I am particularly interested in the conversations we're NOT having. The ones that have a veneer of This is Personal and for which we as a community are unclear about the boundaries. What's personal business? What's community business?

Three that I identified right away are: how will we take care of our elders (Aging in Community), what actions do we take to attract people w/ disabilities and what can we as a community do to support those who become disabled after joining the community and/or become more disabled over time (Disability and Inclusivity), and ... in this time of economic minnestrone soup (spel?) how do we help those in our community who have either lost their job and/or are upside down in their mortgage? (People would much prefer to tell their most intimate details of their sex lives than discuss their finances. It's a tricky conversation to have but when a member can't pay their mortgage and is out of work it affects the whole community. We can lien their home like any other condo but cohousing gives us an opportunity that other cooperative living situations do not have available. Crucial Conversations is about exploring options and initiating the conversation.)

Isn't this a great idea for a workshop?

People at the conference thought so because 40 of them showed up. To my surprise. Because ... Martie, unable to attend the conference, had canceled our workshop back in April!

Now ... Raines Cohen never lets a perfectly good workshop opportunity go unused so he said "let's do it!" and rallied the participants while I thought for three minutes of what to do exactly. Exactly what I did was say straight out we had canceled the workshop, I was unprepared, no handouts, no take aways, no notes, no nothing except what was in my head. That didn't bother a single person. The participants created their own workshop around these three "Crucial Conversations" outlined above. It was an amazing experience. The workshop ran itself. The participants were actively involved in their respective group and there were calls for repeating the workshop at the next conference. People are hungering for conversations of depth and quality.

To wit ... we divided into three groups, one topic each, and reported out to the whole group the top ideas/actions for initiating these Crucial Conversations in our communities. The scribes in each group were to send me the lists. I've received the one on finances. I need the ones for Aging in Community and Inclusivity/Disability. If you were one of the scribes please send me the info so I can post the info to this list and to Or if you know who the scribes are please let me know so I can contact him/her. This was good stuff!

There are many other Crucial Conversations out there we're not having -- one that is so ready for cohousing is race. Why do I say that? Because living in cohousing allows us to do what can not often be done in other settings: it gives us daily proximity and a long enough time line to devote to the conversation (we live here! We're not going anywhere!) And, as homeowners in cohousing we are stakeholders in our community. We aren't the condo down the street.

One suggestion I have for initiating a Crucial Conversation is to become skilled at using Nonviolent Communication or NVC. It opens many doors. I used it when initiating a conversation w/ a couple in my community about the sale of their home which was tied directly into their personal finances. (Upside down in their mortgage, maxed out credit, etc.) It works!

I'm interested in hearing what Crucial Conversations YOU are interested in having in your community. And what techniques you suggest for having them.

And I still want those notes from the workshop!!

PS -- I'm taking Crucial Conversations outside cohousing to various churches. I'll be talking about this topic at the Northern Virginia Ethical Society in the Fall. There's no reason other communities should do w/out this valuable tool.

Best --

Ann Zabaldo
Takoma Village Cohousing
Washington, DC
Principal, Cohousing Collaborative, LLC
McLean, VA
703 663 3911

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