Author proposes dialogue as answer to Baptist wars
March 15 2001 by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor

Author proposes dialogue as answer to Baptist wars | Friday, March 16, 2001
  • The "occupation game" was once centered on ways people mark their territory or space, but has spread to information, relationships and decision-making authority, Simmons said.

    People make up reasons to hoard information, she said. In churches, some people can be territorial about their relationship with the pastor.

    Simmons said the move from hierarchical authority to participative decision-making requires new skills for church leaders.

    "No one told us we'd have to sit through hours and hours of meetings where no decision is made," she said. "While the group is trying to make a decision, someone grabs the decision and runs.

    "In the world of perception, if you get there first and if you get there in a legitimate looking way, it's yours. It's hard to undo."

  • The "intimidation game" happens in meetings when people try to scare others away from a decision. One form of intimidation is to pepper someone with so many questions that they finally shut up, Simmons said.

    "That wall is just as real as a brick and mortar wall," she said. "It's a function of intimidation to simply make something too hard."

  • The "filibuster game" occurs because people have learned that if they talk long enough, it will keep the group from making a decision. Most of the time people don't realize they are playing this game, Simmons said. They might just be so nervous they keep talking.
  • The "camouflage game" can involve creating a distraction or emphasizing the inconsequential. Simmons said people play this game by bringing up something with which no one can argue. At a nuclear plant, it might just be the mention of a "safety issue." In a church, it could involve the claim that "God doesn't want us to do this," or a quote from the church constitution.
  • The "manipulating information game" happens during the implementation of a plan. It involves withholding or putting a spin on information or giving false information.

    Simmons said people come to a meeting believing that it's not good to bring 100 percent of the truth.

    "Even though we do this ourselves, we think we have to for whatever reason," she said. "No one will call us a liar, but that doesn't mean they don't know. Believe me, they know."

  • The "strategic non-compliance game" occurs when people agree to actions that never happen.

    Silence is not agreement, Simmons said.

    "When they agree to our face, then go do something else, we assume it's their problem," she said. "That's not true.

    "A system is not perfect if it's never implemented."

  • The "invisible walls game" puts up a roadblock to the details of implementing a proposal. People can create a negative perception of the plan and make it difficult to proceed.

    Simmons said tone of voice, rolling eyes and facial expressions can all become a territorial game.

    "Anything that creates a negative perception, we must now own as a game," she said.

    Territorial games are played on a social level, Simmons said.

    "Everything you do where there are human beings present is personal," she said. "Especially at churches."

  • The "shunning game" excludes someone from the group. It can be as subtle as walking away from someone when they come in the Sunday School class, Simmons said.

    Shunning can decrease trust, making it less likely that the shunned person will agree to join a committee or give their opinion on an issue, she said.

  • The "powerful alliances game" involves using relationships to activate other territorial games. Name-dropping is a good example, Simmons said.
  • The "discredit game" occurs when people use personal attacks or criticisms to diminish other people.

    "It doesn't have anything to do with anyone's competence or rightness," Simmons said. "Your credibility is the only thing you have to create action."

    Simmons said that she believes that people are naturally territorial.

    "The good news is that it's not your fault," she said. "The bad news is when those jerks over there do this stuff, it's not their fault either."

    Simmons said reacting to territorial games often worsens the situation.

    "The one thing that you can do that is guaranteed to make things worse is to embarrass somebody," she said. "The best we can do is give people an opportunity to self-examine."

    One of the best ways to encourage that self-examination is to have people draw "metaphor maps," Simmons said.

    "Ask people to draw pictures to tell what's going on and use metaphors," she said.

    When people show their drawings, church leaders should expect to see other people sitting with their arms folded, Simmons said.

    "That's good news," she said. "That's the look of someone changing their mind."

    During discussion of the maps, people should only be allowed to talk about the metaphor, Simmons said.

    Those discussions can lead to dialogue, which Simmons calls "extra-strength conversation." These "truth-telling sessions" can change behavior, she said.

    "One of the things I know about dialogue is if it's boring, it ain't dialogue," Simmons said. "When it becomes interesting, that's dialogue.

    "It is underneath our disagreements that we find our connections."

    Simmons encouraged church leaders to shift the expectations of those participating in the dialogue. Many of them have been through similar experiences that failed, she said. The leader can tell stories about conversations that have been successful dialogues.

    The group also needs to reach some agreements about the dialogue, Simmons said. The agreements that are made are less important than how they are made.

    Some possible rules for the dialogue are to suspend roles and status, to have no leader, to have no task, to reach no decision or to not "fix" or convert others.

    "It's the choosing of three or four (rules for dialogue) that gets them to dialogue," Simmons said. "Convenience is not your friend here."

    Trust happens when the participants let the others see their flaws.

    "When you create a space for that to happen, you create a sacred space," she said. "People can be transformed within that space and frequently are."

    Simmons talked about a five-stage model for creating expectations. Managing expectations requires a love for conflict.

    "When I stand before people in conflict, it warms my heart because I know I stand before people who care," Simmons said.

  • Politeness and pretending mark the first stage of creating expectations.
  • Chaos appears in the second stage.

    "We don't like conflict because we think it'll tear us apart," Simmons said. "It's only through facing what has the potential to tear us apart that we find that we can't be torn apart."

  • Discarding and redefining of perceptions is the "worst" stage because people don't think they're getting anything done, Simmons said. "We think we're right when we walk in the room. Until we get to the stage of discarding and redefining we can't see that there's a bigger right."

    This stage is also known as the "groan zone," she said.

    "It's scary in the middle of it," Simmons said. "It takes a tremendous amount of faith to let go and walk into uncertainty. Until you walk into uncertainty you won't have the potential to learn anything new."

    Simmons said leaders have to let the participants redefine their perceptions.

    "We sabotage dialogue when we won't let the silence be silence and when we try to sound like we know what we're talking about," she said.

  • Resolution is the moment of euphoria when truth is revealed, Simmons said.

    "All we need to do is abandon our little 't' truth long enough so we can collectively see big 'T' Truth," she said.

    The resolution is almost never what people thought it would be, Simmons said.

    "If you're a control freak, this will nearly kill you," she said.

  • Closure occurs when the group returns to "normal" conversation, Simmons said.

    Simmons suggest that the entire process last about eight hours, with the dialogue portion lasting no longer than two and a half hours.

    "The beauty of asking people to do this temporarily is there's less faking it," she said.

    Simmons said people need to deal with the frustration that comes by sticking with the process until there's an outcome. They also have to get over their natural bias for action, she said.

    "If we come together as a group, we really want to leave with that action plan," she said. "We've managed our meetings so efficiently that no dialogue happens."

    Leaders need to try to teach groups to facilitate themselves during dialogue.

    "We do the group no great service when we see the group about to come to an insight by stepping in and saying it for them," she said.

    Groups need to dialogue about twice a year, Simmons said.

    "If you're doing it right, you'll want to do it again," she said. "If it's superficial, no one will want to do it again. Nor should they."

  • Friday, March 16, 2001

    Author proposes dialogue as answer to Baptist wars

    By Steve DeVane BR Managing Editor THOMASVILLE - Baptists usually settle their "turf wars" with a church split. "There is another way," said author and consultant Annette Simmons.

    Simmons led a workshop on "Building Trust in Congregations: The Art of Dialogue." The event, held at Memorial United Methodist Church in Thomasville, was sponsored by the Center for Congregational Health. About half of the 80 people attending were N.C. Baptists.

    Simmons, author of "The Story Factor: Secrets of Influence from the Art of Storytelling" and two other books, has led workshops on cooperation and dialogue for the Department of Defense, NASA and numerous other government and business groups.

    During the Thomasville meeting, Simmons talked about how to decrease resistance to cooperation, discussed ways to help people examine themselves and showed participants how to get people to honestly dialogue with each other.

    Simmons focused on "turf wars" while discussing resistance to cooperation.

    "When solving turf wars, finding out who started it is of no value," she said. "Blame is our enemy."

    Simmons said she has discovered 10 behaviors, which she calls "territorial games," that people play to keep people out of their territory or to grab territory.

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    3/15/2001 11:00:00 PM by Steve DeVane , BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments
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