In one process, the planning team was surprised by the level of anger that arose. Two camps, representing different geographic sub-regions of the community, developed serious animosity toward one another. The primary energy was voiced through two individuals who stood up, pointed fingers, and made accusations. In reality, each was representing several other people who also attended but who spoke less.
Previously, both had been fine participants, engaged and appropriate, and yet one evening the tension rose and rose until their interactions escalated into a shouting match. The facilitator called an end to the meeting and suggested that the process be put “on pause” until further thinking could be done. At this point, no future meeting dates were set up; the process had come to a standstill. To move forward, the planning team set itself an initial goal of assessing what was really going on with the key protagonists. This led to the development of a hypothesis that the two camps had very different basic views of the world and they had two different senses of what was important to them.
One camp saw the world holistically and multi-generationally. Most residents had lived in their neighborhoods for generations. For them, long-term environmental benefits were the key to any agreement. The other camp was caught up in the day-to-day discomfort of their community living situation. (They were in a construction zone, living in urban sprawl, dealing with poor urban planning decisions.) Most of this group had only recently moved into this area. They needed discussions with the sponsor that addressed, “What can you do for my community today?” As the planning team saw it, the two camps’ very different worldviews had apparently hardened into deepening animosity as the meetings proceeded.
When the planning team proposed the sit-down with the group with the longer view, they contacted the elders of the group, not only the individual who had been so outspoken that evening. In this way, they achieved the support and understanding of the whole group behind the vocal participant.
The objective for resolving this standstill was to get the camp with the longer view to become more tolerant of the folks who had the urgent stresses on their lives. They did not initially see the validity of the other perspective, because they did not understand the deeper worldview of the group reacting to short-term stresses. Their initial reaction was that signing an agreement that had short-term remedies was offensive to them. To get them to understand the other worldview, the planning team sketched out two cartoons to illustrate the differences between perspectives. The facilitator then sat down, two or three times, with the key members of the group with the long-term view, and described “the picture” to them. This group gradually became willing to accept that the ultimate agreement would need to include short-term remedies as well as long-term remedies; the package had to include both.
The planning team then went to the second group, who threatened never to come back to the meetings. The planning team communicated to the second group that their worldview was now understood by the first group, that their views would be treated respectfully in future meetings, and that their needs would be addressed in the final agreement.
At the end of these conversations, the elders met with the other members of their own group and gained their support for what took place in the sit-down. Members of the planning team then also spoke directly with the most vocal participant to explain the rationale and reinforce the plan going forward.