Deciding How to Engage Citizens in Making Decisions

Engaging citizens in making decisions about their communities, cities and towns is the heart of democracy. “Citizens…are members of the broad public within a jurisdiction or affected by a particular decision.” (Kahane, et al) Although voting for candidates or referendums is an important part of democracy, it is or should be only a small part of it. Here are three of the multiple challenges to effectively engaging citizens in making decisions. First, there is the … Read more…

Deciding How to Decide

Making decisions is at the heart of most meetings. Some decisions are small and innocuous. Others are important and impactful. Deciding how to make decisions is an important step because how decisions get made significantly influences the quality of the decision and the commitment to implement it. Be strategic in deciding whether and how to engage others in making decisions and to make how you want to engage them explicit at the start of a … Read more…

Oh, the Stories We Tell Ourselves

Too frequently we behave as if our untested inferences or beliefs about what we observe and hear are “the truth.” What we infer from or believe about what we see and hear is often quite different from what we actually see and hear. In other words, we make up stories about our direct experience instead of paying attention to it. Recently I was teaching mindfulness meditation to a group of “transition age youth.” As I … Read more…

Why Are We Meeting?

People’s time and interest are precious, limited resources. Only convene meetings that require interaction and have a clear purpose and specific desired outcomes. I follow three guidelines. First, I won’t go to a meeting unless the convener communicates beforehand what they want to accomplish. Second, if I ignore the first guideline and go to a meeting without knowing the purpose, at the start I ask, “What do you hope to accomplish at this meeting?” Third, … Read more…

Cognitive Hijacking #3: Cognitive Dissonance

Each of us brings unique perspectives, experiences, and beliefs to every conversation. Because of this we regularly encounter ideas that conflict with or challenge ours. Given the brain’s need for certainty (it likes to know what’s what) and to be in relationship with others (we feel safer), we can experience a significant amount of discomfort or cognitive dissonance in meetings. Unfortunately, in order to reduce this tension, we tend to develop arguments or stories to … Read more…

Cognitive Hijacking #2: Loss Aversion

Multiple studies substantiate that we humans feel the pain of loss more keenly than we do the enjoyment of gain. Remember Lance Armstrong? He apparently abhorred the pain of loss down to the core of his being. “I like to win, but more than anything, I can’t stand this idea of losing.  Because to me, losing means death.”  He did anything he could to avoid losing. After a long doping scandal, Armstrong was stripped of his … Read more…

Cognitive Hijacking

You might be more familiar with emotional hijacking than you are with the cognitive variety. Emotional hijacking occurs when we get scared or angry and diminish our ability to access the executive function in the prefrontal cortex. When this happens, we lose awareness, go on automatic (become mindless), and can infect others with these emotions. Cognitive hijacking occurs when we perceive, think and make decisions with unconscious biases and impaired functioning of the brain. This … Read more…

The Siren Call of Certainty

The human brain craves certainty. It likes to feel sure. When we feel uncertain about the future the more primitive parts of the brain go on alert and shift into self-protection. In this state, we search for and grasp anything that will make us feel safer and more certain. Unfortunately, our self-protective instincts are being evoked by siren songs from a number of presidential candidates. I get frustrated when I listen to them threaten us … Read more…

Speaking Inclusively

When we speak, we communicate our opinions. Unfortunately, we often think our opinions are “THE TRUTH.” When we convey them as such, we threaten people’s sense of safety and undermine our relationships. This is not helpful because working with others is the key to getting things done. So the question is how can we communicate what we think in ways that maintain or strengthen relationships so people can collaborate productively? Speaking inclusively is one way … Read more…

Each of us is Unique. None of us is Special.

How can we be both unique and not special? It’s a paradox. We are unique in many ways. No one has the same DNA, fingerprints, voice, or irises as you do. No one has the same life experiences that you do. No one has had the same opportunities and challenges that you have had. The world would not be the same without you. Our meetings at work or in our communities would not be the … Read more…