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  • Writer's pictureBarb Bickford

Can a sense of purpose mend a disagreement?

Updated: May 2

Everyone in the planning group expected the upcoming meeting to be contentious.

"Will we continue in person or online?" "Can we try hybrid again?" Competing voices in the planning meeting grew more and more anxious.

"I nominate Bick to lead it!" To be honest, I wasn’t all that excited about navigating this conflict.

A little background: Some time ago, the whole group, which had been meeting either in person or online, had decided to try hybrid meetings (simultaneously in person and online) for a 4 week trial period. The experiment ended early because the “in person” faction refused to sign into the meetings. And the “online” faction hated the tech set-up, which was a camera mounted high at one end of a large room that echoed a lot. Over the months, each faction grew more frustrated and increasingly vocal about the other faction not meeting their needs.

While preparing to lead this meeting, I asked members of each faction three questions:

  • “What is the primary purpose of this group?” To serve a certain population.

  • “Is this purpose being met?” Well, somewhat, but positioning to meet personal needs was distracting the whole group from their primary purpose and threatening their unity.

  • "What do you really want?" Both groups, in their own way, wanted intimacy, trust and connection. But their strategies were in conflict.

And I asked myself, "How could I possibly pull these two factions together?"

Here's how it unfolded:

  • I started the meeting by describing the tension I felt in the room and in myself and that I appreciated their trust in me.

  • I asked for a moment of silent reflection on the group's purpose and who they serve.

  • I briefly reviewed the group's ground rules and how it would make the decision.

So far so good.

Then I named the elephant in the room and group tension began rising again. Not so good. So, I specifically declared that the needs of each faction mattered, and that their respective strategies were reasonable from their perspectives. I reminded everyone again of their common purpose and how their bickering was undermining it. Heads nodded.

I called the question: “How can we both meet the needs of the group and retain its unity and common purpose?” and I braced myself for the disagreement.

Someone proposed a solution. The group held a respectful and thoughtful discussion. Each faction listened to and felt heard by the other. New concerns were raised and addressed. After only 20 minutes, they were ready to decide.

Almost unanimously, they agreed to split into two groups having the same purpose but different meeting formats. They are happily implementing their decision, without rancor. Voila!

This was not the solution I had envisioned. But it worked for them.

So...yes, a clear sense of purpose can mend a disagreement.


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