A reader of both my blog and my book, Bridges to Consensus, inspired me to adapt this blog article from one of the sample dialogues in the book.

Like many of the sample dialogues, Dialogue 6 revolves around the following scenario:

Fran, a hard-working volunteer, has organized an annual [church] fundraiser banquet and auction for the last fifteen years and takes great pride in getting prestigious speakers at a discounted price. The caliber of the speakers has more than made up for the honoraria by attracting many visitors from outside the congregation to the event.

For the last couple of years, however, some of the younger adults haven’t attended. After speaking to Yolanda, a member in her early twenties, Spencer, the minister, concluded that some young people might find a speaker boring and prefer to have games instead.[1]

Spencer would like to persuade Fran to consider a change without hurting and possibly alienating such a devoted volunteer.

For her part, Fran heard that one rather flighty young parishioner, Yolanda, has been lobbying for a game party. Based on her experience, Fran is certain that a game party would not bring in nearly enough revenue, and would actually be more complicated to organize. She also believes that attendance last year suffered because a nearby church held an event on the same night.

Fran has taken steps to avoid similar schedule conflicts this year, and has also found several potential speakers who would interest younger people, even children.

Now if only she can persuade Spencer not to throw the baby out with the bath water by pressuring her to switch to a game party.

In most of the sample dialogues about this scenario, Spencer is the one using the consensus building skills. However, in Dialogue 6, Fran uses the skills to persuade Spencer without offending him or appearing hostile to Yolanda.

Specifically, Fran uses the skill of shifting gears. Here’s part of what Bridges has to say about this useful practice:

Another approach, when a short pause doesn’t provide a ready answer, or when answering at all is against your better judgment, is to shift the conversation to a different aspect of the matter at hand. Your unconscious mind will work on the stickler while you focus on the new aspect. You can return to the original point later, if need be. However, sometimes the newly introduced aspect will prove so fruitful that returning to the original point becomes unnecessary.

Here’s an example of a fundraiser dialogue in which shifting gears in this manner works well for Fran. [Fran’s and Spencer’s statements are in the left hand column; Fran’s thoughts appear in the right hand column beside the statements they pertain to]:

Dialogue 6: Fran shifts gears



Fran’s View:


I was thinking we might have games at the fundraiser this year instead of a speaker. What do you think?


Fran feels upset. She recognizes this feeling as a cue not to speak at this moment.




Let me grab a cup of coffee and we’ll sit down and talk about this.


She buys time to let her emotions settle down.
S: Sure.


F: (Returns with coffee) So, you were saying?


Asking Spencer to restate his point buys additional time till she’s ready to respond. And maybe she’ll learn more from his restatement.


S: Well, I’ve heard some of the younger folks favor games.


Maybe this wasn’t his idea.
F: By younger folks, you mean?


She begins to explore whose interests she really needs to address.


S: (Laughs) Well, younger than you and me.


F: So not kids. Young working adults?


S: Yeah. But that gives me an idea. We could have different sets of games for different age groups—toddlers, grade schoolers, teens, young adults, middle-aged, seniors. That way everyone could find something they like.


Fran thinks, Brother, you have no idea what an organizational nightmare that would be.
F: Have you been dissatisfied with the speakers in the past? Fran decides to shift to a different aspect instead of responding directly to Spencer’s nightmare plan.


S: No. I like them. But, I mean, I just think some of the younger folks, well they’re so used to having something to look at—computer screens, slide shows. They weren’t raised on lectures like we were.


Spencer has revealed more about the interests of those who suggested games. Maybe love of games isn’t driving this, but rather dislike of lecture-style presentation.
F: One of the speakers I was considering is an astronaut who has some great slides and exhibits to show.


Fran suggests a different way of addressing these interests.
S: Wow! I’d like to see that. But, on the other hand, I still like the idea of all age groups having something.


This further refines the interests to be addressed.


F: Suppose we have games for the smallest kids only, at the same time as the speaker? And any young adults or teens who don’t want to sit still for a speaker can run the toddlers’ games and tend the infants.


Fran suggests a way to address all Spencer’s known interests without going back to the nightmare plan.
S: That could work.


F: I’ll check around and see if enough people are willing to give up hearing an astronaut in order to run games.


Indirectly suggests that perhaps only a few people don’t want the speaker.
S: Hmm. Even the toddlers might hate to miss an astronaut. But they wouldn’t sit still for a program that would interest the adults.


He’s not entirely happy with her alternate plan, but she can modify it.
F: Maybe the astronaut can first do a very short thing for the toddlers, then a longer multi-generational program for everyone else. I could get sitters for the tots during the long program.


She modifies her plan to satisfy all interests better.
S: Yeah. That sounds good. Keep me posted on what you find out. Whew! Dodged that bullet. She didn’t have to accept Spencer’s nightmare plan, nor offend him by rejecting it.[2]

As the full title, Bridges to Consensus—in Congregations, implies, most of the examples in the book occur in congregational life. However, as most of my readers discover, they are equally applicable to any situation where thinking people think differently from one another.

I hope you find Dialogue 6 and my commentary as helpful as the reader who encouraged me to write this article.

[1] Bridges to Consensus—in Congregations, p. 36

[2] Ibid., p. 137