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16 Steps for Creating Unity from Differences

October 22, 2010

16 Steps for Creating Unity from Differences:

E Pluribus Unum means, “Out of many, one” That is a motto on the Seal of the United States. Creating unity out of a diverse population is easier said than done. Sustaining in as the population becomes more diverse and seemingly polarized may be even harder.  Perhaps we lose sight at times of what brought us together and our common interests and objectives. The same may be true for the various cultures, communities, institutions, and organizations. However, I believe there are ways to improve our dialogue and collaboration among one another – whether it’s between two people, groups, or among millions.

When I listen to people debating issues or defending their positions, frequently they are basing their arguments on different assumptions and often make inferences about the motives of people on the other side. These assumptions are based on how they interpret a set of data, personal observations, and cultural or group values. One root problem often stems from participants in the discussion focusing on different data sets. Even if they overlap by 80%, the 20% that is different is at the heart of the conflict. Another cause is the import or varying degree of relevance participants place on different factors. These differences may lead people to talk past each other or focus on invalidating the other side’s point of view.

So how do we get past all of this?

  1. Listen carefully, check for understanding, and demonstrate respect for the other parties. Encourage others to do the same. If some people are maligning another side’s motives, address the issue and seek to stop it.
  2. Focus on facts and needs, not personalities.
  3. Proceed on the basis that everyone can gain from finding the best solutions, and that it’s not a zero-sum game.
  4. Identify ways to build or restore trust and take the first step.
  5. Define what success looks like for all sides and what a good solution should do.
  6. Identify the needs (not positions) that a good solution should meet for all parties.
  7. Identify areas of common ground and common interests. Move beyond positions, which are usually pre-determined and often one-sided “solutions” advocated by the various parties.
  8. Develop a common set of criteria for evaluating options based on what a complete solution should do.
  9. Identify all the relevant common data points, including those outside of what each party was considering previously.
  10. Agree on common objectives before judging or debating the relative importance or relevance of various factors.
  11. Proceed from the combined set of relevant facts and discuss how they can be interpreted; work in good faith toward common interpretations.
  12. Identify each side’s logic path, the facts upon which they are based, and any misperceptions. Seek and use verifiable facts to bridge differences and develop common interpretations.
  13. From the common interpretations, reach agreement on reasonable assumptions to which all parties can agree.
  14. Develop solutions that meet as many of the criteria as possible, especially the most important ones for each party. You may need to formulate several options that approximate the definition of success or complete solution established earlier.
  15. Identify where and how various parties can be flexible and potential trade-offs.
  16. Develop solutions that meet the most important criteria for the various parties and reach agreement.

This may seem like a long and hard process. In my experience, it’s shorter, easier and less stressful than the alternative of ongoing conflict, people feeling alienated, and allowing issues to remain unresolved or letting differences fester.

This process can lead to solutions all sides can support and feel good about, which serves everyone’s interests long term. It strengthens commitment and trust. Then each party must fulfill its obligations and commitments. Together, everyone can truly focus on achieving common goals as one team – with one overriding purpose.

Steve Weitzenkorn

Steve Weitzenkorn, Ph.D., is a learning innovator, organizational advisor, experienced facilitator, and lead author of Find-Fulfill-Flourish: Discover Your Purpose with LifePath GPS – a book, tool kit, and workshop series focused on guiding people toward more meaningful and fulfilling lives.

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