Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Ring in the Voice

A few days ago, I attended a workshop called "Conflict and Controversial Issues" using a model developed by the National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI), which provides skills for leaders to navigate tough conflicts in ways that help bickering sides to move toward future cooperation.  Powerful stuff!  Check out their clients here:  http://ncbi.org/our-clients/.  NCBI has helped with lots of negotiations, all over the world!

It was very cool.  The workshop was interactive as we worked through a controversy together.  It was all about self-reflection, sharing, and running from pessimism, and I ate every bite.  We learned how to practice discussing a controversial topic without revealing our own position; to listen to another's story and repeat back what was said; to identify areas of common ground between two people; and finally, to reframe an issue in a way that takes both concerns into account.

At the workshop, we chose the controversial issue:  "Should marijuana be legalized?"  Naturally, there were people on both sides of that hazy fence.  Two volunteers, with opposing viewpoints, were chosen to come forward and argue their side.  But with gentle help from our guides, there was actually a lot less arguing and more understanding that resulted.  One person argued that marijuana use led to harder drugs.  The ring in her voice was noticeable as she shared a story of a family member who moved from weed to harder drugs and eventual death.  The other person shared the story of his longtime, from childhood, best friend.  That friend developed glaucoma and finds relief in marijuana use - but only when he is visiting states where it is legal.  Their stories were full of emotion and I was biting back the tears.  In the end, they compromised - and agreed that restricted use of marijuana, for medicinal purposes, was acceptable.  They found a solution they could both support.

I also learned the difference between advocacy and coalition-building:  advocacy is the attempt to advance your own position while coalition-building is the method of finding elements of agreement among differing views in order to accomplish something together.

One of the biggest takeaways for me was the common refrain heard throughout the workshop: Think well of each other.   This was repeated a lot and I love it.  I've been wanting a new mantra . . . and I think this is it!  We have lots of things we are carrying with us, and everyone else does, too.  Most of us are doing the very best we can on our journey.  Most positions on controversial issues grow from personal experiences.  And if someone takes the risk to share their story with you, recognize that this is a gift, a gift of trust.  If someone shares their story, don't pass it on - don't re-gift!  In other words, don't pass their truth around!  Especially with the tag attached to identify the giver!  Another takeaway:  "The ring in the voice".  When someone tells their story, pay close attention to those areas of deep emotional resonance, the place where hearing typically shuts down.  That's where the essence of their truth resides, that's the ring in the voice, that's the clue to understanding them.  If the personal experience is the lock, and it usually is, the ring in the voice is the key.

Finding common ground is the beginning of taking both sides' concerns into account, in an atmosphere of optimism and hope to push forward the necessary change!

Quote of the day from our moderator, Lindsey:

"The edge of where you're uncomfortable is the edge of where the learning begins."


  1. Jen - really enjoyed - great food for thought - thanks for sharing. Lj

  2. I'm throwing away my notes from class and printing this!! As always, well said JS!

  3. I think our elected officials in Washington, D.C. could benefit from this.