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Ground Rules Deep Dive #3: Everyone Participates

Together we are capable of extraordinary achievements. Over the years, Pomegranate Center has proven this by encouraging people to uphold a code of conduct that leads to creativity and collaboration. This code of conduct, what we call “ground rules,” is essential to creating a positive atmosphere that focuses on how things can be improved, free from complaints. In this series of short essays, I will look at different ground rules, evaluate why they are important, and share stories from the field.

At every meeting, there are those who feel and think that they have the only right answer. Naturally, these active individuals put their ideas forth without hesitation. They may have thought about the issue for a while, or they consider themselves more expert, or they speak longer because it confirms their leadership role. In the meantime, those who are less certain are quietly listening and observing the proceedings. They may think that, compared to these more vocal leaders, their thoughts have less value. So, unless invited, they stay quiet and keep their thoughts to themselves.

This is an easily corrected mistake. When Pomegranate Center convenes meetings, we make sure that everyone has a chance to speak. Involving all is especially essential at the first community meeting because we want to hear the whole spectrum of perspectives. We ask that everyone starts by offering only one idea and encourage them to listen to what others have to say. It is here that magic begins to happen because unexpected perspectives and solutions come forth.

For some of the more assured and vocal participants, for those confident that their idea is the only right idea, this process is uncomfortable. They come to the meeting to convince and are not open to additional new ideas. They hope therefore that they can speak longer (and louder) than others because for them the meeting is about directing the decision in their favor. We remind them of our ground rule that everyone participates, and ask them to be brief so everyone has time to offer their ideas.

Those accustomed to longer speeches can get upset, but everyone else is grateful to have a chance to be heard. People learn new things. After our meetings, individuals would tell me how the process opened their eyes, marvel at how many people care about the project and appreciate understanding the complexities. For example, in a recent project with a native tribe, we heard about the need to bring art and beauty to the site, and also do it in such a way that healing can result because people live with hurt and painful memories. People offered ideas about what should happen, and also how it should happen.

We at Pomegranate Center think that every project and meeting are opportunities to learn. When everyone has the opportunity to speak, unexpected but equally important insights surface. Most importantly, when all participate, more will feel that the project is theirs.

It is the quiet people in the room, those who listen and observe, who often bring forth insights that ultimately make projects work. Because they have less specific agendas, they are better able to see the value of many perspectives. They connect the dots because they listen to others. They often find solutions that combine two or more ideas into a single proposal. People with fixed ideas can’t do this.

In every community reside people with unusual views and perspectives and, unless we make it a conscious effort to hear from them, we rob ourselves of seeing a project’s fuller potential. Then we create for some, and not all. This is not the path to the future.

Read the second installment in the series, “Confront Internal Contradictions,” here.