This is part of an article that I wrote for the ICA International newsletter, Winds and Waves, which will be published in the next few weeks.
"I believe that facilitating methods that guide local people to think beneath the surface and listen to each other can give us a way forward. In 2002, Margaret Wheatley wrote a book “Turning to One Another”. She urged people to gather their neighbours and have dialogue around kitchen tables. She didn’t say how to have those conversations, but her idea is a vital one. The hard part is finding and inviting people who think very differently to come together.
Once they come together (over food if possible), the “talking stick’ tool supports dialogue. Sitting in a circle, each person has a turn holding the stick, and speaks without interruption while holding it. When finished, they had the stick to the next person in the circle. More than one round is possible so that all the ideas are out on the table.
The Focused Conversation method helps people listen to each other, keeps a conversation moving, and digs beneath the surface for deeper understanding. The decisional level doesn’t have to be complete agreement.
Guiding any process on a difficult topic does require the facilitator to be totally detached from his or her own opinions. The facilitator must be prepared to intervene if anyone starts to cut someone off or argue with them, referring back to any ground rules set at the beginning.
I once said to the members of a City Council, “If you ask people for their wisdom and you really listen, they will think YOU are wise! And they will re-elect you!"