Category Archives: Negotiation

3 Ways to Burst Your Leadership Bubble

I have the most distinct memories of my first meeting with a new group or committee of people. This is true in both my jobs and my parishes.

Probably one of the most awkward ones was when I joined my parish’s liturgy committee. I have a master’s degree in liturgy, and, at the time, I was the project coordinator at the bishops’ conference for the implementation of the General Instruction of Roman Missal (GIRM). Because of the latter, I just plum knew a lot about the GIRM, but because of the former, I avoided all resemblences to the very bad joke about liturgists and terrorist. (If you don’t know it, look it up. Scary, true, and sad, all at the same time!)

We were planning Advent, and the associate pastor made a statement about something that I knew was no longer true because it had been changed in the new GIRM. While I fought in my head with how to say something, the conversation had continued with much affirmation that we should do as the associate pastor had said. Just before we were to move on, I opened my mouth, and as gently as I could put it, said something like, “I think we might need to revisit this. I believe thus and such has changed in the GIRM, and blah, blah, blah…”

You would have thought that I had suggested that we change the theology of transubstantiation from the reaction that I got.

And unfortunately, this has happened to me a lot!!!!! (Yes, this does warrant all of these exclamation points!)

Because here’s what’s going on. Leadership groups like this liturgy committee had created their own little “bubble” which included a gaggle of “yes” people, people who supported the leader’s goals and approaches to preparation and rarely challenged them.

An important thing to know, too, is that none of that was necessarily intentional. It just happens. Why? Sometimes because we hand-pick our groups. Sometimes because those who come to us weed themselves out if they don’t feel welcome.

The big problem, though, is that our leadership can stagnate and not grow when we start to operate in a bubble like this.

How do we burst that leadership bubble? There are 3 things we can do.

  1. Designate a “devil’s advocate” in the group. By designating someone, we publicly say that disagreement is good and necessary. By designating a specific person, we ensure that challenges and concerns are actively a part of the group’s work. This also gives the leader someone to look to for advice and questions when no one else is able to offer them.
  2. Identify the criteria for every decision you will make. What are the 3 or 5 needs or objectives that each decision must satisfy? The MAC planners have 5 criteria that we use to help us make decisions along the way, criteria that we established over 5 years ago. It might be a simple as meet the budget, fit the timeline, and require less than 3 people to do. Whatever they are, set them, them diligently use them (and no exceptions unless the everyone agrees to the reason.)
  3. Do as Lincoln did — keep your “enemies” close. Instead of “enemies” — because this is ministry — let’s say “advocates.” In more than one instance, I have expressly invited someone to be on a leadership team that I knew completely disagreed with me — strongly and vocally. The hardest thing for me to do was to acknowledge that that person possessed some wisdom that I did not have, and I needed it on my team.

Don’t let a leadership bubble keep you from doing all that you want or can accomplish. Put your and your team’s feet on the ground by surrounding yourself with a diverse and opinionated group of people who are comfortable disagreeing with each other and sharing their perspectives, ad maiorem Dei gloriam.

Connection or Transaction?

I am not a cat person.

Yet I couldn’t help clicking on a cat video yesterday–two cats, each with a hospitality bell next to them, and a plate. Each time they rang the bell, they got a piece of kibble. Completely Pavlovian to the point where the one cat figured out that it didn’t matter which bell he rang. As long as he rang a bell, he got a treat.

This little video reminded me that we live in a transactional society–you give me 3 oranges and I give you 6 bananas, you post a funny picture on Facebook and I “Like” it, I get rid of all of the Candy Crush icons and the bear rises above the line so I win.

This isn’t new, but transactions have grown in number as technology and the Internet are become more integrated into our daily and work lives. Email–of which I am an enormous fan–gets quicker answers than phone calls or letters. A two-minute Facetime session in the morning means no phone call. Make a quick 360 pirouette in a crowd, and we see smartphones everywhere, and people deeply enmeshed in these transactions.

I have friends and colleagues who will wax poetic on both sides of the argument–“smartphones have created greater connectedness” to “smartphones and technology have depersonalized relationships and isolated us.” These two perspectives represent specific answers to the key questions that arise when we make one of these transactions: What is the value of what we have? What do we seek to get in return for that value? And what must we give up in the exchange?

As Jesus has shown us repeatedly through the Gospels this Lent, we are called to engage in personal relationships with others, not mere transactions. That means that empathy is required of us–being able to listen deeply, hear and understand the thoughts and feelings of others, and respond.

Early in his tenure at our parish, our youth minister met with a young mother who wanted to know if her son who was developmentally impaired could receive his First Communion with the second-graders that year. This was not the first parish she had come to. At the other parishes, she was turned away for various reasons, but they boiled down to either the priest didn’t think he was capable of understanding the Sacrament or it would be an inconvenience.

She was shown very little empathy and compassion. The transaction–Sacrament to a child–required too much than they were willing to exchange.

In the end, the decision for our youth minister to say “yes” was actually easy. He recognized as the mother already had that her son was as much in the image of God as anyone else and quite capable of understanding what he was about to do. What she and her son received in return was more than they expected–they became part of a larger community that fostered and sustained them, and continues to do so. On the youth minister’s part, he gave up some extra time and work to fashion a program that met the young man where he was.

How do we move from transaction to connection? The next time you are faced with a need to connect with people, ask yourself these questions:

  • What is valuable about the connection with the other person? Is the person a friend, colleague, or stranger? Are you trying to forge a stronger partnership or tapping them for information?
  • What do we seek to get in return for that value? Is this a long- or short- or no-term relationship?
  • What must we give up in the exchange? How much time will this take? Can you commit to the exchange? How are you going to overcome what makes you uncomfortable in this exchange?

 

“Assuming makes a . . .” (Rule #4)

egg“Assuming makes an . . .” Yes, we have all heard the phrase. And I can attest to its veracity.

With the end of a contentious election season, this particular rule seems to apply more than any other.

Based on what we have seen and heard, there are many assumptions that we can conclude. But are they true?

To avoid the proverbial “egg on your face,” the best path is to test assumptions and inferences that we might make before jumping to conclusions. Ask questions–lots of them. Clarify what the intention is and what the intended outcomes are. Agree on the answers to the questions, the intentions of the actions, and the accountability for the outcomes.

Then start all over again. Our agreements and understandings can quickly turn into assumptions again. Or assumptions about the “next time” or next situation.

Because the truth is, the answers, intentions, and outcomes for each occasion or situation may differ for a variety of reasons, sometimes reasons out of our control. To avoid the potential conflict, keep asking, keep clarifying, and keep reaching agreements.

The energy, especially emotional energy, that you save in testing your assumptions can then be channeled into nurturing successful ministry.

Thwack! (Rule #6)

doorThat’s the sound of the door closing your mind when faced with someone who disagrees with you.

Here’s the key. At least don’t lock the proverbial door.

When we let ourselves maintain a closed mind, we fall into the “we’ve always done it this way” trap. And that trap is particularly dangerous in our amazingly fast changing world and culture.

A few ways to keep yourself open to different perspectives.

  • Surround yourself with people who approach problems and situations differently than you do. It’s the “Abraham Lincoln” approach–keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer (replace “enemies” with anything that refers to people who see the world differently.)
  • Keep a journal where you start with your perspective, and breakdown why others around you are taking a different approach. This approach encourages sympathy which can help breach the gap between differences.
  • Ask yourself what are the potential positive outcomes of a differing perspective.

If you have other ideas, please share them. Staying open takes energy, and it’s a lot easier when we are surrounded by others who are doing the same.

Take a Step Off the Soapbox (Rule #7)

speakerMany ministry professionals find themselves advocating for the needs and concerns of the people with and among whom they serve. Advocacy is incredibly important, especially when it is for those who have no voice or whose voices are not heard.

But advocacy without inquiry can become a blaring horn that eventually fades into background white noise.

And when two individuals advocate from opposing positions, they can almost cancel each other out.

In my young adult years, I had the blessing of teaching at an all-girls’ high school. A new teacher–new to the school, new to teaching–I had ideas, great (!) ideas, on how to improve the faith life of the school. And, as you might expect, no one took me seriously.

“You’re new.” “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” “This is the way we have always done it.”

Thankfully, my department chair had the soul of a wise man, and listened very carefully to everything, taking in and storing what might have value sometime in the future.

We spent two years of formal and informal meetings talking through my biggest idea–making all-school Masses optional–possible. And all he did was ask me questions. Lots of them.

Question after question. Why optional? How did we expect the students to respond? What issues would the teachers raise? What strategies did we want to propose to address those strategies? What was our mission-based reasoning? Lots of questions.

About midway through my third year, we met with the administration, and made our proposal. This wasn’t the first time that they had heard this proposal from us, and their faces showed it. So we posed the questions that we had identified, and offered the answers that we had discussed. We invited more questions from them, and responded as best we could.

As it turned out, “as best we could” was good enough.

By combining advocacy with inquiry, we had turned the somewhat inevitable “clash” that many of us experience when pushing a particular program or position into a dialogue by building the bridge from advocacy to inquiry. And we demonstrated right from the start that we had questions, too.

In the end, they agreed with our proposal. (And it was very successful, by the way! More than we had anticipated.)

We had moved advocacy away from being a clanging bell that the administration wanted to silence to a starting point for deeper, greater, and shared advocacy. In the end, campus ministry and the administration were partners promoting a Eucharist-based and -rich faith life in the school. A win-win for everyone.

Innovation and Faith

ChurchInnovation is the beating red blood of the American ecosystem. Think about it. In your lifetime, what radical changes have you seen in business and the economy?

The unparalleled success of Apple, first with its user-friendly operating system (true confession: I am a total Windows geek from the days of DOS and the introduction of the personal computer back in 1985) to its i-“anything” devices. Microsoft with Windows and its almost complete hold on the business market. Music moving from vinyl to tape to disc, and back to vinyl even! Electric cars, Airbnb, Uber . . .

Where have you seen innovation in the Church, your parish, your own faith life?

While Vatican II ushered in many changes, many would say that they were not “innovations” because the foundations upon which they were built existed in Scripture and Tradition.

So, where has, does, and can innovation take place? And what is your role as a leader?

One of my fav sources, Harvard Business Review, has a quote in this month’s issue:

The role of leaders is to enable diverse team members to grasp one another’s perspectives and productively share their insights.

Think about the teams that you have assembled. How have you affirmed the diversity of insights and found ways to help them share them?

We’ve probably all sat in too many parish committee meetings, watching ineffective leaders negotiate the battles between different viewpoints, only to see a worthwhile agenda slide into a black hole, never to be retrieved.

My other favorite “wise” source (Real Simple!) gave me a few ideas.

  1. Turn the polar opposite ideas into a brainstorming session. Remember, these are only 2 ideas. Don’t let your team or committee members’ comments become positions that they need to defend. These are only their perspectives, the ideas that they have an interest in, but they aren’t the be-all and end-all.
  2. Repeat what each committee member has said, then ask each to clarify. Then go back to the subject at hand or to another subject, especially if it is clear that you aren’t going to be able to resolve any differences.
  3. Pause. No! Don’t say anything. Let those who were talking know they were heard, and wait. If silence prevails, continue or go forward.

In the end, you want well-managed and negotiated diversity or you may never break out of the patterns that have led you to the present. If you want to change for the future, then change has to start in the present.