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« Mickey Hay's Comments on Level 3 Listening | Main | Finding Common Ground »

My trip to common ground

The act of finding common ground, I've decided, is a bit like trying to create a venn diagram.  I'm one circle. You're another circle, and the challenge is to find out where we overlap.

I've spend the last week traveling back and forth across Arkansas, meeting with coaches all over the state.  I've driven, I figure over 700 miles,  seen a lot of the state, and met many wonderful people. Travel like this, it turns out, is a great opportunity to try out finding common ground. I want to share three experiences I've had this week as I've tried to create venn diagrams for myself and others.

Experience #1. I stayed over night in a wonderful bed and breakfast the Edwardian Inn in Helena. Over breakfast, before I headed to the workshop site, kind of sleepy and lost in my coffee, eggs, and internet, I suddenly remembered our common ground challenge. I decided to search for some common ground with the host of the inn, and I asked him about the BB King poster he had posted in a corner of the hotel.  That simple question led to a lively conversation about the musical history of Helena.  It turns out that the town has an incredible history. The famous King Biscuit Flower Hour radio show had its start in Helena. The awesome Levon Helm, from the The Band, grew up in Helena.  And the "crossroads"made famous by Robert Johnson were only about 30 miles from Helena in Clarksdale, Mississippi.  These are just some of the things I heard. There were other stories about Conway Twitty and Bessie Smith, and the Helena Blues Festival.  I loved the conversation, and I now have a much deeper appreciation of Helena, and I feel I got to know a really nice fellow.  If you go to the Edwardian Inn, be sure to say hi for me.

Experience # 2. Driving from Little Rock to Fort Smith, I stopped at a gas station off the road.  The two people running the station seemed to be just putting in time. I noticed, however, that they had accents that sounded a bit like they were from India, and it turned out I was right. I shared that I had just been there, and we had a great, lively conversation about the food, the scent, the traffic, and the sense of harmony I felt was central to the Indian way of life.  In a flash, it felt like we were friends. I felt a real connection with them, and we all had fun.  Finding common ground was joyous; it brought me closer to two nice people, and when we found that common ground we were all happier and more energized. I really believe this is our natural state--happy, connected, and enjoying each other's company. Our communication challenge is all about getting us back to that state.

Experience # 3.  I put a post on twitter from a hotel in Magnolia, the first night of my trip. The comment linked to a video that recorded a lot of racist statements by a certain group. Someone wrote back within minutes to say she didn't see any racism. Well this was a time when I wanted to be respectful, but I also knew I had to say we were different.  I wrote back, as nicely as I could, that if she didn't see racism there, she really needed to do some thinking.  Finding common ground, then, has its limits. What I learned in experience # 3 is that when we find the overlapping part of our circle, there is still a lot that doesn't overlap. That difference means we see things differently, and sometimes we also need to share our different perspectives. We should never back away from speaking the truth.  The thing is, if we find common ground, there is a better chance that others will hear us.

What have you learned this week?  We'd love to hear.

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I had a wonderful experience finding common ground this week! I'm privileged to serve as a director of the Council for the Advancement of Standards in Higher Education, and we just had our semiannual meeting in Washington, D.C. Part of the fun of meeting with people from all over the country in our nation's capital is that there are always wonderful people with whom to explore fabulous restaurants.

One evening, a group of us went to Againn, a restaurant described as a "contemporary British Isles bistro." Several of the members of our dining party were new friends, and those of us who have travelled the British Isles had a wonderful time sharing stories about our adventures in Scotland, Ireland, and England.

One person in particular is becoming a very dear friend to me. Each time we meet, we seem to find another interest in common. That night at the restaurant, amidst our discussions about places in the world we've lived, I mentioned that in a former life, I was an archery instructor in Alaska. This friend started to laugh as she told me that she is an avid archer. Yet another point of connection!! What fun!

The feeling I get from many of these occurrences, and they seem to happen more and more often to me, is how connected we really are to each other, how small the world is getting, how more "normal" experiences of coincidence and serendipity are becoming.

The upshot of these kinds of experiences is how finding commonalities among this board has led to significant advances in our work together. Many of our processes that used to be for me excruciatingly laborious are now becoming streamlined and smooth. I once perceived this board as a group of individuals with competing agendas. I now feel that the group is aligned and focused on common outcomes. Did I change? Or did the board change? I don't know the answer. I just know that working with this "tribe" is a joy.
April 26, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMickey
I was a bit nervous as I was driving to the office of my assistant supt. of the school district where I worked. I wanted to find out if I qualified for the early retirement package, if I could possibly work part time next school year in my current role, etc. I had never had a conversation with this gentleman before and was not looking foward to this conversation based on rumors of what the results of the meeting could be depending on what his "mood" might be that day. All the way there, I just kept thinking about how was going to find common ground with this man so our conversation would be pleasant and he would be open to any employment opportunities I wanted to propose. When I sat down across from his desk, we began to talk about my years of teaching experience and discovered that 30 years prior, we had taught at the same school in another city at the same time. Awesome-a little common ground. As I was quickly scanning his office, I saw he had a picture of a pet just like mine, a picture of his little girl in a Halloween costume alot like my grandaughter's and on and on our common ground began to grow. We had a lovely conversation about our commond grounds which lead into a pleasant and productive resolution for next years employment plan. The appointment that I entered into with such apprehension and fear quickly turned and I left his office with a whole new understanding and appreciation for a person that I was apprehensive about due to "rumor". It is truly amazing when we put forth effort how much common ground we do have with everyone we meet. Everyday since I have made it a goal to find that common ground with each new or unfamiliar person I encounter. What a difference it makes..........
April 29, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristie Lofland
Kristie and Mickey thank you so much for your comments. What you wrote made my day. I think we really underestimate how powerful this simple strategy can be.
April 29, 2010 | Registered CommenterJim Knight
Well, our "common ground" connection may be the wonderful coaching experience we shared in Little Rock, AR around the "Unmistakeable Impact" we have on student achievement by equipping and supporting teachers. However, it may also be your experience in Helena and mention of Clarksdale, MS where I was reared and matured within my deep southern roots. As I begin a new journey as an instructional facilitator for a single district, I reflect upon all I have learned as well as all I've yet to experience. Thank you for having a powerful and positive impact on my decision.
May 4, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterYvonne Furniss
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