Engaging Across Difference

Many of us are working hard to generate solutions to today’s complex and interrelated challenges in ways that are resilient and beneficial for all. This requires new and creative ways to bring people together who have not traditionally worked together. This is hard work. As a facilitator, I had multiple experiences with groups where not everyone felt heard and the group did not reach its potential. This set me on a journey to understand how we can engage with difference and create spaces where difference can be generative and creative.

agreementsCritical to this work is creating environments where different perspectives and experiences within a system can be openly shared and all are equally valid and valued. It requires us to develop our capacity to respond to difference with curiosity, not defensiveness, and to respond to the discomfort that may result with a learning orientation, not withdrawal. When groups come together with this stance, new insight and possibilities almost always emerge.

Building relationships across difference is a necessary foundation. In our work, one way we explore difference is from the inside out beginning with engaging across internal differences in how we learn, process and communicate. Through experiential exercises we invite participants to engage in self-reflection about individual internal differences (such as our sense of time, or our patterns for processing new information). The purpose of this starting point is to establish an environment where everyone can participate in the conversation while shifting the entry point to one that is less charged.

We also introduce the Power and Privilege Progression to help us understand how internal differences are “preferenced” in systems and how power and privilege accrue as a result. Participants can begin to recognize systemic archetypes of power and privilege and build capacity to engage with the tensions around difference for the more emotionally and socially charged conversations around race, culture, class, gender, and historical oppression.

While difference and tension around difference can be thought of as negative, as something that slows us down and gets in the way of progress, our experience has been just the opposite. Acknowledging tension and getting curious about it can help us ask questions about whether an action we are considering has the potential to perpetuate negative aspects of the old system or to be transformative and create a better future for all.

If you would like to learn more, we will be offering a workshop with this approach at the upcoming conference of the National Coalition on Dialogue & Deliberation (NCDD) in Boston on October 14-16.

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