Pause to hear what you heard


After hours and hours of listening to the public – and answering tough questions – during a series of public engagement events, my client took a few moments to hear what they heard. It was powerful.

My client is an organization at the beginning of a multi-year negotiation process with another organization. Caught in the middle are a number of citizens that will be directly affected by how this shakes out.  After a series of meetings with the affected citizens, my client pulled together all staff involved in the engagements to debrief. The objective of our debrief was simple Рto pause and hear what we heard over the last month.

We took the first 15 minutes of our hour-long meeting to pass a talking piece around the table, allowing each of the 15 of us to notice our response to this question.

With all that you have heard, what is resonating in you?

Here’s what they noticed:

  • Citizens are searching for a place for their voice to be heard
  • Citizens are searching for a place in the decision making
  • Citizens are confused by mixed messages
  • Citizens want to know how the proposal will affect them personally
  • There are many voices among citizens – they are not unified
  • There are varied reactions to the proposal; for some it’s a threat, for others an opportunity

They moved past the information collected, and they moved past the process used to collect the information. They discerned the undercurrents of the work they are doing.

The process underway is complicated and complex and will take years, the result of which is uncertainty and confusion. Most importantly, they recognized that their work affects peoples’ lives in real ways.

Here’s what they noticed about themselves:

  • We are here to serve citizens
  • “Us vs. Them” does not serve us – or citizens
  • As an organization, we need to step up
  • When threatened, it is hard to listen
  • We need to demonstrate that we care. Saying it is not enough
  • We have a lot of work to do internally to ensure we can deliver what we say we will deliver

They learned to take a few steps in others’ shoes, and they let those steps change how they dance with others. Wonderful.

As you read this, what resonates with you?


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