outlines tools for groups to reach higher ground with creative
More and more people today are expected
to accomplish important work through group activities and group
decisions. Not only in the globally connected workplace, but in
today's busy homes and active families, churches, professional
organizations and civic life, collaboration is a growing necessity.
as most people also have experienced, groups can be places where
much energy is expended and little is achieved. Diverse groups
are routinely called on to sit at the same table and present complex,
conflicting and sometimes divisive views. Even the rules of what
is "civil" are seen as relative and changeable in different
recently published book by E. Franklin Dukes, a mediation specialist
at U.Va., aims to help large or small groups function at their
best. In Reaching for Higher Ground in Conflict Resolution:
Tools for Powerful Groups and Communities, Dukes and co-authors
John Stephens of UNC and Marina Piscolish of Antioch University
assert that few groups -- whether a local school board, a business
team, a deeply divided community, or a family facing important
issues -- truly harness the power of their members' collective
wisdom and aspirations to achieve something out of the ordinary.
In fact, despite widespread understanding of the idea of seeking
"win-win" common ground, effective and positive group
experiences tend to be exceptions, they say.
In their "reaching for higher ground" approach to group problem
solving and conflict resolution, they urge setting up a group
"covenant" and then maintaining shared expectations and commitments
to an agreed-upon vision as an integral part of the effective
group process. More essential than basic ground rules such as
"no interruptions" and "listen first, ask questions later," this
establishing of "relatedness" among members can help create authentic
community and sustainable agreements, the authors say.
book, illustrated with real-life "snapshot" examples of group
problem solving, is meant for anyone who works with or in groups,
including managers, committee chairs, team leaders, mediators,
consultants and teachers. It outlines techniques for helping groups
articulate the values that members hold dear, develop the principles
that will guide their efforts, and set clearly the shared expectations
that will be honored throughout their work.
People are recognizing that through careful communication and
creative problem solving, they can find ways in which their own
interests can be satisfied without denying the needs of others,
said Dukes, who is director of U.Va.'s Institute for Environmental
Negotiation. He has worked closely as a mediator in discussions
among tobacco farming communities and public health interests
in seeking ways to sustain rural communities while promoting health
going even beyond attempts at "win-win" solutions, he said, group
members can find that they can "connect with others in ways that
affirm both oneself and the other," transcend self-interest and
"seek not just common ground but also the common good."
vary depending on the size and purpose of the group, but following
are six key elements that can help groups reach for higher ground.
Seek understanding and agreement about the need for shared expectations
for higher ground.
Offer sufficient support, including time for reflection and discussion,
illustrations of other covenants or ground rules, examples of
how rules have been used and abused, and indications of commitment
to developing and honoring a covenant from group leadership.
Begin by envisioning the desired outcomes that will define higher
ground for your group, then develop the specific rules that will
allow you to reach those outcomes.
Work actively to give each group member a real voice in developing
Be accountable. Honor the agreements made.
Evaluate, modify and recommit whenever necessary.