Skills For Living Together

Tools for better understanding yourself
and others in your community
and how to get where you want to go

One of the articles in Living Together (IC#29)
Originally published in Summer 1991 on page 52
Copyright (c)1991, 1996 by Context Institute

Community is all about getting along. But as anyone awake at the end of the twentieth century knows, getting along is often quite a challenge. It takes intention, practice, effort, and skill. Fortunately, the skills can be learned, and while learning them isn’t always easy, not learning them makes life harder still. As the preceding articles demonstrate, people skills – understanding how to listen, lead, manage, resolve conflicts, understand the differences between people, and most importantly, understand oneself – are an essential curriculum for anyone wanting to develop community.

Context Institute administrator, researcher, and resident group process guru Duane Fickeisen, an ecologist who also holds a Master’s degree in Whole Systems Design, has put together a "people skills survival kit" to get you started – and help keep you going.

Commitment of the heart is a necessary – nearly sufficient – condition for community building. People who are seriously committed to living together in community seem to rise to the challenges of differing goals, values, and strategies. There are some tools and skills that help develop community – but the best of them are of little use without that underlying commitment.

But if you already have a passionate commitment to living together, here are some ideas that may help you move toward community.

HONORING DIVERSITY

Successful communities find ways to draw on the unique strengths of their members. Awareness that not everyone else learns, thinks, feels, senses, or is motivated to action in the same way that you do can be very helpful in developing effective ways of working (and playing) together.

These personal characteristics can be examined through many different lenses – books, ideas, models, diagnostic instruments, role-playing games, group processes, and the like – that can provide insight into your own strengths as well as those of others. But I urge you to approach any of them with caution. The models are necessarily simplistic, and each represents only a piece of the truth. They are at best lenses that provide a view of reality from a single direction. After experimenting with several of them, you may choose those that seem to "fit" best for you.

In my experience, the primary value of such tools is in awakening awareness of the special abilities and talents each person brings to the community. From that you can seek complementarity among your combined skills.

HERO ARCHETYPES

One of these windows on ourselves makes use of a model of the "hero’s journey" and six archetypal heroes defined by Carol Pearson in her book The Hero Within (San Francisco: Harper and Row, rev. ed. 1989). The six archetypes are innocent, orphan, wanderer, warrior, martyr, and magician. This model suggests that during our lives we typically experience stages when different hero types are active. Each archetype has distinct goals and fears and approaches life differently.

The innocent is both pre- and post-heroic. We are born innocents and may return to the innocent archetype after completing one or more of the hero journeys. Innocents have no need for goals, fears, or tasks.

When confronted with the need to take up the journey, the innocent "falls from grace," often feeling betrayed and orphaned. Pearson argues that the fall is necessary for our development and that we can return to the grace of love and abundance only after taking the journeys of the hero archetypes.

The fall from innocence casts us into the orphan archetype. We have been abandoned, and we seek safety. People in the orphan stage may cope with their sense of abandonment through various forms of addiction as a way to deny danger and seek answers and protection from others. In the heroic stage of the journey, the orphan learns that suffering is universal, and that we are not powerless, despite our dependency on each other and on the earth around us.

The wanderer usually begins the heroic journey fleeing from a villain (the person, organization, job, or belief that is causing their misery). Life becomes an adventure of exploring new ideas. The task of wanderers is to find their identity in order to claim their independence within the context of relationships with others.

The warrior hero has an identified enemy and works to eliminate it. He or she wants to change the world to conform to his or her own values and is willing to work to mold others to meet his or her expectations. The warrior is a strategist, monitoring progress toward his or her goals. The task of the warrior is to learn to be assertive and to establish boundaries. When one completes the warrior’s journey, he or she learns to respect one’s friends, colleagues, institutions, and one’s self.

The martyr hero seeks salvation through embracing suffering. People in this stage of their journey sacrifice for others or for a cause that is important to them. When the sacrifices made are inappropriate, and made in the expectation that the sacrifices will lead to redemption, martyrs move further from self-understanding; but when the sacrifices are appropriate and are made in the spirit of giving rather than expecting a return, martyrs create the opportunity to learn about their own values and goals and about the depth of their commitment.

The magician archetype recognizes that the universe is not static, but in the process of development. A magician is ready to take responsibility for his or her role as a co-creator. The goal of the magician is to find wholeness and balance from which to practice co-creation – but caution must be exercised to avoid misuse of the magician’s powerful tools of creativity and change.

There is no "best" archetype. Each has its unique strengths and weaknesses, and each faces special challenges and dangers. A community made up of one predominant archetype may experience itself overly focused on the tasks of that archetype. A community with people in many phases of their journeys may benefit from their various perspectives and strengths.

PERSONALITY TYPES

Personality differences can be viewed though the lens of the Myers-Briggs Typology. For a primer, see David Keirsey and Marilyn Bates, Please Understand Me (Del Mar, CA: Prometheus Nemesis Book Company, 1984), which includes the "Keirsey Temperament Sorter" to indicate your "type."

According to this model, the ways we gain energy (introvert/extrovert), gather information about the world around us (sensor/intuitive), process that information (thinker/feeler), together with our comfort with decision-making (judger/perceiver) define sixteen distinct personality types. People tend to pick careers, avocations, and mates according to their type. Identifying and recognizing such differences in type can help build relationships and mutual understanding.

The typology may also help identify tasks and responsibilities that are aligned with your preferences or that will stretch your experiences beyond them.

LEARNING STYLES

We also have different ways of learning. Harvard educator Howard Gardner proposes that there are at least seven different human intelligences (verbal/linguistic, logical/mathematical, spatial, musical, kinesthetic, interpersonal, and intrapersonal). We develop skills in each of them to different degrees, and group learning has been found to be enhanced significantly by use of all seven in teaching. In addition, we also exhibit cognitive style differences: some of us are field independent, preferring a learning path that leads from the details to the big picture, while others are field dependent and prefer to have the big picture first. [See IC #27 for a more detailed look at both these ways of understanding learning].

Another model of learning, developed by David A. Kolb ("Learning Style Inventory" and technical manual, available from McBer and Co.; 137 Newbury Street; Boston, MA 02116; 617/437-7080), assigns preferred learning styles based on preference for abstraction or concreteness and preference for action or reflection.

Learners with a preference for concrete experience and active experimentation are accommodators. Accommodators learn from doing. They like to implement plans and get things done, and they tend to accept risk. Accommodators also rely more on other people for information than on their own independent analysis. They excel at getting things done and providing leadership.

Those who prefer concrete experience over abstract conceptualization, and reflective observation over active experimentation, are divergers. They tend to learn by integrating and synthesizing information from many sources. Divergers like group discussion but need quiet time for reflection. People with this style are innovative and imaginative and seek involvement in important issues. They excel at recognizing problems and understanding people.

Those with a preference for abstract conceptualization and active experimentation are convergers. Convergers have a need to know how things work and learn by testing theories. They value strategic thinking. People with this style have limited tolerance for uncertainty and need to know how things they are asked to do will help in "real" life. They are valuable in drawing a discussion toward completion and in bringing closure to an issue. Convergers excel at problem solving and decision making.

The assimilators are those with a preference for abstract conceptualization and for reflective observation. Assimilators have an appreciation for logic and tend to form theories and seek facts. They learn by thinking through ideas, value sequential thinking, and need details. People with this style want to know what experts think. They are enthusiastic group members. They excel at planning and creating models.

A community may find it valuable to examine learning styles and to draw on the unique characteristics of their members as needed for the issues at hand. For example, if the community finds itself to be predominantly divergers, it is likely that they will find difficulty in bringing closure to a discussion. In that case, it may well prove helpful to empower the divergers to make an intentional effort to move things along and to empower any convergers in the group to help focus on decision-making once several alternatives have been identified.

MOTIVATIONS

Yet another window on diversity is the Strength Deployment Inventory®. This diagnostic questionnaire measures factors that "motivate" behavior. The underlying model is that we are motivated by desires to be directive, helpful, or analytical, and the instrument measures the importance of each of these three factors both when things are going well and when we experience stress. Scores on each of the three dimensions are used to define a style of behavior.

I have found this model particularly helpful with members of a team. It helps members of the group understand each other’s behavior, support effective action, and complement group strengths.

These and other windows or lenses on diversity provide alternative ways of understanding and finding the value inherent in differences. None of them captures the whole truth, yet they each contain important elements of truth.

My advice is to explore several of them and use those that seem to fit for your group. Avoid assuming that the types are inflexible, or that they restrict your range of abilities. And don’t get trapped into introspection to the exclusion of action! These tools take on increased meaning when they are experienced through application to real problems and projects.

GROUP PROCESS

One of the best ways to experience your strengths is in the context of a community. In a community you’ll have an opportunity to discover the synergistic effects of different styles of behavior – both when they enhance each other and when they conflict.

But don’t expect the groups you affiliate with to remain static. All groups experience stages in development that can be quite well defined. Most models of group development assume that there are several stages of development that a group experiences in a patterned order, and the development of the group can get stuck at one or more of these stages until the issues of that stage are resolved.

Of course no group follows the models precisely, and progress through the stages may be complicated by being stalled, or by reverting to an earlier stage. It is helpful to recognize which stage the group is in so that appropriate facilitation can resolve issues related to process.

A model proposed by William C. Schutz (The Interpersonal Underworld. Palo Alto, CA: Science and Behavior Books, 1966; originally published in 1958 as FIRO: A Three Dimensional Theory of Interpersonal Behavior) describes three stages of development: Inclusion, Control, and Affection.

Inclusion * When a new group begins, its members face issues of discovering if and how they fit into the group. Individuals face the paradox of wanting to be recognized and included, thus seeking to draw attention to themselves, and at the same time denying individual differences. Most of the information that is shared is superficial, and there is a high need for conformity.

At the inclusion stage, the group is likely to be dependent on a designated leader and to carefully watch and model the leader’s behavior. Group productivity is usually low, and there is a focus on understanding basic goals and developing norms for structuring the group. The effective leaders will focus on clarifying broad objectives of the group, clarifying expectations for participation, and modeling commitment to the group through punctuality, attendance, and welcoming new members.

Control * Once the issues of who is in the group are resolved, issues of control arise. At this stage conflict is common as differences become apparent and individuals fight to get their way. The group faces issues over how it makes decisions while individual members face issues over their influence in the group.

Group development is facilitated at this stage if the leader is comfortable with conflict and chaos, and does not attempt to ignore the reality of the control issues, but helps guide development of procedures for participation and decision making.

Affection * If the group successfully works through the issues in the control stage, it may move to the affection stage. Members let go of being defensive and of the judgment and assumptions that have created barriers to effective communication. Individual differences are respected and used effectively to assist the group rather than to divide it.

Conflicting views are welcomed and worked through to resolution. The group becomes much more effective, and members feel close to one another. Leadership of the group moves among members, and a unique culture begins to emerge with its own jargon, roles, rituals, and norms. Experimentation and innovation are prevalent, and there is a high level of energy.

In a sense, any group or community is a new one each time it meets. Not only may attendance vary – new people join the group or current members leave – but those who are present will have had different life experiences since the last time the group met. So the group may find itself moving temporarily back to a stage that it had already moved out of. Also, the group may find that a new issue causes it to move back if the current norms for operating don’t take into account the new situation.

PARTICIPATION AND INFLUENCE

The degree and quality of participation in the group is an indicator of the stage of development of the community and of its ability to use diversity and conflicting opinion constructively. There are many styles of participation, however, and the person who is actively listening and says relatively little may be engaged as much as the more vocal members of the group.

There is an important difference between influence and participation. Influence is not necessarily proportional to participation. For example, it may well be that the person who quietly listens, and occasionally offers a synthesis or summary of what has been said, will have more influence than those who are actively debating an issue.

Effective group leaders notice which members dominate the discussion and ensure that others have an opportunity to speak if they desire. This "gatekeeping" role is often shared among group members. A discussion leader may also ask if anyone can summarize the content of what has been said as a means of moving the group process ahead. This can serve to assure those who have expressed their views that they have been heard and thus enable the group to move on.

TASK AND MAINTENANCE

Task functions are those that move a group toward a particular goal or solving a problem. Maintenance functions are behaviors that help the group build relationships and effective processes. Both are important for the long term, effective health of a group.

Task functions include initiating discussion, seeking and providing information and opinions, giving directions, evaluating options, summarizing the discussion, and diagnosing problems.

Maintenance functions include encouraging participation, harmonizing and compromising, facilitating communications, observing and commenting on process, building trust, and solving interpersonal problems.

Responsibility for these roles should be shared and flexible. While it may be helpful to designate a "process observer" from time to time, or someone to provide process directions, usually groups operate without such formal roles. However, leaders within the group should be aware of the two kinds of functions and monitor the group’s progress for a balance between the two. When problems arise, it may be helpful to try to identify whether they are related to being stuck in working toward completion of the task or to ineffective relationship maintenance.

COMMUNICATION SKILLS

Our sensory organs gather far more information than we are able to effectively process and use. To cope with the overwhelming amount of information, we have developed filtering mechanisms. Our filters enable us to hear or see only what we want to hear or see to a greater extent than many of us recognize.

Communications are further complicated by non-verbal factors. Perhaps as little as 7% of what is communicated face-to-face is contained in the verbal message; the remaining 93% is non-verbal. Both the verbal and the non-verbal elements are subject to our filtering mechanisms and to our interpretation.

High quality communication takes a lot of effort. But fortunately, communication skills are learned, and we can learn new ones. Begin with practicing active listening – really paying attention and affirming the speaker. Listen to understand, and don’t get distracted by formulating your response. Instead, ask clarifying questions and check out your understanding.

One way to check out your understanding is to paraphrase – tell the speaker what you think they have just said, in your own words, and ask whether you have gotten it correctly.

Another important element in good communication is to be explicit about describing feelings. If you rely only on your non-verbal cues, you may not be understood, so describe your own feelings by identifying and naming them. Feeling statements have the form, "I feel angry" (or happy, anxious, calm, nervous, etc.). Note that statements beginning with "I feel that …" most often describe what you think rather than what you feel.

When you interpret another person’s feeling or purpose, check out your interpretation. Start by describing the behavior you observe, giving your interpretation, and inquiring if you are correct. For example, "Your face is red and I suspect you are angry with me. Is that right?"

Don’t give up on these new communication skills when they feel awkward. With practice you will become more comfortable with them.

DECISION MAKING

One of the most important decisions a group makes is deciding how to decide! Unfortunately, this most critical decision is often ignored or made by default, at least until there is a critical issue involving high stakes at hand.

Decision-making methods range in the degree that those who will be affected by the decision are involved in the process. Decisions can be made by:

  • a single decision maker without input from others
  • an expert on the question of concern
  • a single decision maker with input from others
  • averaging of individual decisions or positions, without discussion
  • a sub-group or committee
  • majority vote
  • consensus

No single method is ideal: the appropriate one to use depends on the situation.

With a high degree of participation in decision making, there will be more support for its implementation. Additional time and effort spent reaching the decision may be offset by reduced time and effort to implement it. It usually takes more time and energy to reach agreement with high participation methods. In some cases the issues don’t merit this degree of involvement, and the process may become burdensome and inefficient unless alternatives are found.

When a group has reached the stage of development where differences are welcomed and there is a high level of trust (Schutz’s Affection stage, described above), it may be appropriate to use consensus for decisions that require greater cooperation to implement and when the stakes are high. However, for those decisions that are less important, when group members lack relevant expertise, and when implementation does not require full cooperation, it may be appropriate to use one of the less demanding methods of decision making, for example, decision by an expert or by a committee.

CONFLICT RESOLUTION

Conflicts are unavoidable in human relations. Our approach to them can be one that makes use of conflict as a means of building trust, creating innovative solutions to problems, and strengthening relationships. But unless serious attention is given to resolving conflicts constructively, they can generate distrust, destroy relationships, and stifle creativity.

Conflict is often approached as a zero sum game with the assumption that there must be a winner and a loser, and that the winner can only gain at the expense of the loser. Sometimes that’s true – for example, when a limited resource must be divided between competing interests. But often a creative alternative can be found that meets the needs of both parties.

A key to conflict resolution is to identify the interests of all the stakeholders. Knowing clearly what your own interests are allows you to evaluate proposed solutions from the standpoint of meeting your underlying needs.

Interests are the underlying principles that are non-quantifiable and cannot be negotiated, as opposed to positions or issues which are measurable and can be bargained. For example, one’s interest might be to have good nutrition. A related issue would be wanting to have access to a 400 square foot garden spot in which to grow vegetables in raised beds. It would be possible to negotiate for the location and size of the garden spot, but not over the desire to have good food.

In conflicts it is often helpful to make the interests of all of the stakeholders explicit and public. Clear understanding of everyone’s interests may lead to creative ways to meet all of them.

Individual styles of dealing with conflict cover a range of behaviors that differ in their focus on the importance of the stakes and the importance of the relationship. If neither are important, it may be appropriate to avoid the conflict or flee from it. If the relationship is important but the stakes are not, it may be appropriate to accommodate the other party. Conversely, if the stakes are very important but the relationship is not, then compelling the other party to agree to your position may be the best strategy. A collaborative solution is called for when both the stakes and the relationship are important.

LEADING AND MANAGING

There is an important distinction between leadership and management. Leadership is involved in the process of creating new approaches and innovative ideas, envisioning a purpose, and enrolling others as co-creators. Management is the reactive process of maintaining the status quo, organizing resources to accomplish a goal, and solving problems that threaten to interrupt progress. Both are needed for effective community action.

Many corporations are overmanaged and underled, and they are attempting to develop leadership. Consequently, literature on the difference between leadership and management often seems biased toward leadership as a preferred style. However, both are needed, and it seems more likely that a community will suffer from lack of management than from a lack of leadership.

Management roles in a community include monitoring progress and tracking resources. The manager translates plans into action, monitors progress against milestones, and finds ways to recover from setbacks or unexpected turns of event that threaten completion of the project.

In a group that is functioning effectively at the Affection stage of development, leadership is a shared responsibility. Leadership qualities are not necessarily related to personality type, nor are they something we are born with. Rather, leadership involves a set of learned skills and behavior, and most of us are quite capable of learning these skills. Of course, there is also an art to applying leadership skills, but with practice that art can be developed.

One model of leadership, adapted from the work of William D. Hitt (The Leader Manager: Guidelines for Action, Columbus, OH: Battelle Press, 1988), describes seven key activities of leadership.

Envision * Create a vision of the preferred future. Make it specific and allow it to create its own reality in your consciousness. Involve others in its development and talk about the vision often. Keep it visible and present as you go about your work.

Enroll * Get others to join in sharing the vision you have created. Enlist their support and find ways for them to participate meaningfully.

Empower * Facilitate processes of group development. Find ways to define roles and processes of working together. And discover the skills represented within the diversity of your group.

Engineer * Develop an action plan to accomplish your vision. Make it specific and be sure to include not only who and what, but also when and with what resources each task is expected to be accomplished. Make sure the resources needed to accomplish the project (people, funding, materials, equipment, skills) will be available at the right time and place.

Enact * Assign people responsibility for the roles needed to accomplish the task and provide the authority they need to carry out their roles. Implement the plan and do the project.

Encourage * Be a cheerleader for your team! Assist by facilitating problem solving and conflict resolution and celebrating the completion of interim goals.

Evaluate * Take time to evaluate the effectiveness of your actions as a group in terms of the results you accomplish and the relationships you are developing. Evaluate the process as well as the results. Examine your own role as leader.

The Envision, Enlist, Empower, and Engineer steps comprise a design phase. The Enact and Encourage steps are an action phase, and the Evaluate step is a time for reflection – and celebration!

PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER

Well, that sounds like a lot of work. It is a lot of work! And it can be frustrating to focus on process. But getting to know who you and your colleagues are, how you relate to each other, and how you work together is the most effective way I know to build and sustain a community. Even so, knowing how to do it isn’t enough.

You must do it – experience community. That takes courage, creativity, and commitment as well as skills. It all starts with a simple decision to be in community – a decision of the heart that, once taken, creates its own fulfillment.


Living Together, Or Living Apart?

Cerro Gordo is a planned community in Southern Oregon that has been under development since 1971, though it was stalled for many years while waiting for bureaucratic clearances (see IC #25, "The Town That Time Almost Forgot"). Its members have shown remarkable persistence, and today Cerro Gordo is moving steadily towards realizing its ambitious plans to be a demonstration ecological community.

But when members of Cerro Gordo first began considering land use, many of them wanted large home sites – which would have scattered the planned 2,100 residents about the 1,158-acre property in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains near Eugene. With large home sites, it was thought, each family would enjoy privacy and a piece of the natural environment that drew them to the place.

Over the years, however, as the members learned more about the site and about each other, their vision for development of the property shifted. From ecological studies conducted as part of the planning process, they began to understand the larger place and the complex interrelationships among the natural communities of plants and animals that also called Cerro Gordo home. And from their work together they realized the value of another kind of community – a community of neighbors and friends. Large, scattered home sites, they realized, would neither protect the foothill ecosystems nor promote the developing relationships among future human residents.

The answer they came up with was clustered development. By grouping several home sites on small parcels of land and leaving plenty of open space between the clusters, they were better able to protect the meadows and forested areas and at the same time to live in community with each other.

The model of cluster development with preservation of open space is one that other communities could well adapt as a means of providing affordable housing, conserving energy, protecting ecosystems, and encouraging development of human communities. Current zoning that requires 2.5 or 5 acres per home site is perhaps the worst way to plan land use in developing rural areas [see, for example, the illustration on page 47 of this issue]. Innovative land use regulation – and a shift in understanding and values like the one experienced by Cerro Gordo community members – is a badly needed remedy for suburban blight.

Duane H. Fickeisen

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