In previous posts of excerpts from Bridges to Consensus, we’ve seen that The Golden Rule Isn’t Always Enough. And we’ve seen that People Resist Being Wrong. For this reason, I coined what I call “The Silver Rule of Consensus”: Minimize Wrong Making.”

Here’s a fact scenario from Bridges, pp. 35-6:

“Fran, a hard-working volunteer, has organized an annual 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. How can Spencer persuade Fran to consider a change without hurting and possibly alienating such a devoted volunteer?

Now, here’s how I described The Silver Rule in chapter 4, Pages 46 and 47 of Bridges:

“If love is golden, I call “Minimize wrong making” silver—the Silver Rule of Consensus.The rule serves you well because it draws others to your side, and it makes you feel right because it’s compassion in action.

“Again, the focus here is not on whether people are or are not wrong. Of course we are all wrong at times. Sometimes it is necessary to overtly make someone wrong, as in teaching a small child to avoid doing harmful things, or in some of the situations explored in Part IV of this book.

“There are also many situations in which the wrong does not carry enough emotional weight for resistance to be a significant problem. If I say we’ve got thirty minutes to set up for a meeting, I’m not likely to resist significantly when someone tells me, “Your watch must have stopped. It’s six forty-five.” I’ll even be glad he corrected me.

“But if Spencer wants to facilitate consensus on a fundraiser program plan—a plan that actually excites congregants Fran and Yolanda, rather than a ho-hum compromise that simply avoids offending either—he’ll do well to avoid making either Fran or Yolanda wrong as much as he can.”

Finally, here, from Chapter 7, pp. 90-94, is how a conversation might play out with Spencer using the consensus system. I’ve put particularly good example of the Silver Rule in bold. Spencer’s and Fran’s words run down the left-hand column, and Spenser’s thought process runs parallel on the right:

Dialogue: Spencer’s Thoughts:
S: Fran, I know we both want to maximize income from the fundraiser. It seems to me that attendance has dropped a bit the last couple of years. What’s your take on that? Asking himself “Why?” about games led Spencer to an interest broader than considering games. He begins by telling Fran this interest, then soliciting her thoughts.
F: It was a little lower last year. I hadn’t realized Oak St. church moved their fundraiser up to February, like ours. I want to re-think the date this year. He’s glad to know a date change might help. He still wants to explore programming options.
S: Good idea. Who did you see attending ours—what age groups, marital status He wants to know if Fran has noticed fewer young adults and whether she shares an interest in boosting their attendance. The impression of the lady who commented might be wrong. He first tries an open question (see Chapter 10) to avoid suggesting an answer.
F: I saw basically the same kind of folks I’ve always seen. The question does not elicit any ideas about age groups.
S: I didn’t see as many of our younger members. So he suggests an answer.
F: We can’t gear it to the young folks Fran takes a categorical position. Spencer can work from here to uncover the interest(s) behind it.
S: What are the downsides of that? A way of asking “Why?”
F: It’s us mature people who can afford to spend the most on the silent auction. “Us”? Is Fran defensive? She might feel made wrong.
S: True, and I hear a lot of good feedback from them about how much they enjoy it, thanks to you. He makes her right with a true statement and a sincere compliment that appeals to her feeling interests.
F: But…? Fran senses the other shoe is about to drop. Maybe she thinks Spencer is only stroking her.
S: (Chuckles) No buts. I have nothing but praise for the fundraiser—and for you. I’m curious to look at anything that might increase income. My workload’s so heavy that I was hoping we could earn enough to hire a part-time assistant. He reinforces his esteem for Fran and elaborates on his income interest by tying it to a what-else interest that fits the context and doesn’t threaten her.
F: Hmm. She has slowed down and started to think—progress.
S: Planning the fundraiser’s the next thing on the agenda, so naturally my mind turned to how we could make a good thing even better.
F: Maybe we could try including a greater number of modestly priced auction items that the young people can afford, but still have the big-ticket items as well. After hearing a non-threatening reason (why) that makes sense to her, Fran now shares Spencer’s interest in fundraiser changes that could increase attendance and participation.
S: Lots of small donations add up. Let’s think about modestly priced items people can donate to the auction. Rather than immediately turn the conversation back to the program issue, Spencer follows up on Fran’s suggestion, keeping an open mind.
F: Things like group dinners at people’s homes sell well. We could actively solicit younger people to donate those. No actual bidding. First 15, or whatever number, who sign up get seats for $20 or so. And they and their friends would also be more likely to sign up for those events.
S: Good. Good. And young people like game nights. This could be another way to address any interest in games.
F: They could donate game nights, and they’d only have to provide snacks, not a full meal.
S: What about having games at the fundraiser itself? Good ideas have developed, but Spencer still wants to explore overall appeal of the programming.
F: When would we have time for them?
S: What would you think about going all games instead of a speaker? Asking her opinion validates her, whereas suggesting all games might have threatened her.
F: What? You don’t want my speaker? Uh-oh. She still got upset, but probably not as upset as if he had made a direct suggestion.
S: Personally, I’d miss the speaker. I’m just thinking out loud. Spencer perseveres. Returns to interest talk and explanation.
F: Well, I’d miss the speaker, too, and so would others my age. The caliber of our speakers draws visitors as well. And that boosts income. Spencer’s approach has inspired Fran to begin talking interests.
S: Two different types of fundraisers—summer and winter? In the spirit of suspended judgment, he puts many options on the table. They can go back and choose later. (See Chapter 8)
F: (Groans)
S: If we could find another person to head the second fundraiser?
F: Auctions at both? Meals at both? Would the two events compete with each other for people’s resources? We might end up doing twice the work for the same money. Fran shares Spencer’s interest in maximizing income from a given amount of effort.
S: Yes, we’d want to avoid that. Well, we’ve given each other a lot to think about. Let’s mull it over and talk again, say Thursday at 10:00? Spencer has achieved his short-term goal of getting Fran to consider new options while keeping her involved. A think break will help them both.
F: OK.

It’s important to note that no sample dialogues in Bridges don’t represents “the” right solution to a given  situation. There is no one right solution. The book lays out six dialogues between Spencer and Fran concerning the fundraiser. Sometimes Spencer uses the consensus skills, sometime Fran uses them. Each dialogue yields a different result, and they are all good, much better than lukewarm compromise. Plus, there are two dialogues between Fran and Yolanda, yielding still other results.

The point of a sample dialogue is not what conclusion the characters reached, but rather, how they reached it using their consensus skills.

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