What makes people willing to work together to come to consensus over polarizing situations? Whether it’s a construction project, new development, a piece of legislation, or any dispute, the way the parties interact and consider the issues will significantly influence that level of willingness.

Let’s observe two parties discussing a new project in the planning stage – How would you rate their level of willingness to work together?

  • Had either moved off their original positions by the end of their discussion?  – No.
  • Did either acknowledge that the other had a valid concern or interest? – At times.
  • Had either offered any suggestion or option that was an accommodation to the other? – No.
  • Was any level of trust evident between the parties? – Enough to meet to discuss the issues.

How many times have you seen conversations get quickly off track like this, yet everyone started out the best of intentions to work together?  How do you change the dynamic to get parties back to moving towards consensus? What is the heart of consensus building? To move towards consensus there has to be some level of trust established between the parties.  In the “Thin Book of Trust” by Charles Feltman, trust is defined as choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.  Key in that risk assessment is the demonstration of CARE.

CARE – You have the other person’s interests in mind as well as your own when you make decisions and take actions. When people believe you are only concerned with your own self-interest and don’t consider their interests as well, they may trust your sincerity, reliability and competence, but they will tend to limit their trust of you to specific situations or transactions. On the other hand, when people believe you hold their interest in mind, they will extend their trust more broadly to you.

So, how could CARE have been demonstrated in this same video scenario?

1. Acknowledge the interests of each party

Party 1 – “We recognize that the committee feels strongly about this project being planned in their community and that all the potential impacts need to be addressed”

Party 2 – “We understand that it’s your responsibility to focus on the cost and important to meet the regulatory deadline”

2. Open up the discussion to addressing interests and needs

Party 1 – “Help me better understand the committee’s specific concerns about the traffic and construction impacts on the schools and residents”

Party 2 – “What do you need from the committee to quantify our community impacts in your evaluation?”

3. Offer suggestions and options to move the process towards consensus

Party 1 – “Would a preliminary meeting with the committee to get comments on the alternatives be a better first step?

Party 2 – “How about a workshop for the committee to rank alternatives using expanded criteria where we work together on the weighting”

These steps will open up the conversation and develop a better mutual understanding and consideration of each other’s interests; ergo, CARE. Demonstrating trustworthy language and behavior will help earn and maintain the trust needed to move the process towards consensus.