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January 30, 2024


Conflict is always about Values

In this week’s Systems Change Newsletter…

Invitations & Announcements:

Designing Equitable Hiring Practices via Catalytic Thinking
At our February integrity conversation, we will begin designing hiring and contracting processes by applying Catalytic Thinking. This will be an exciting exploration as we design an equitable, inclusive process in real time. Want to learn alongside us? Click now!

Practice Catalytic Thinking by Volunteering!
Creating the Future’s board is seeking one or more volunteer documentarians to take notes during our meetings. This is a great opportunity to experience Catalytic Thinking in real time, with the real issues our board discusses. Details and how to apply at this link.

Catalytic Thinking Exercise:
What is more important…this or that?
Our current culture seems to be one of divisiveness and conflict. 

Having experienced the power of Catalytic Thinking in conflict situations, we've learned more than a thing or two about all that conflict, starting with this:

Conflict is always about values.

Values are our moral boundaries, the lines we will not cross. The ethical standards by which we measure ourselves and others. The talk you want to walk – and that you expect others to walk.

Values answer the question, “What is more important – this or that?”

When changemakers work in alignment with their values, that work feels smooth, in flow.

  • Smoother decision-making, because you have a litmus test that helps determine your choices.
  • Smoother employee and program evaluation, using your list of values as a checklist.

When your values guide everything from the way the receptionist greets people to the way the board performs, folks always know what to expect.

At a recovery organization, during a tough decision, one board member became uncharacteristically quiet. Eventually all eyes rested on him, as his fellow board members asked what he was thinking.

“We don’t have to struggle about this. The answer is right here,” he said, as he reached for the values statement the board always kept in the center of the table.

Within moments, the board had addressed the issue in a way that felt right to them all.

Try this
Which of the following is easier for you to answer?

  1. What are your values?
  2. What is the most important thing to consider when it comes to the issue you’re thinking about?

If you are like most people, you chose Question 2. That is because most of us carry our values in our gut. We don’t have language for those values; we just know what they feel like.

Therefore, when we are asked to name our values, we default to cliches like respect, honesty, integrity, and transparency.

But when we are asked, “What is the most important thing to consider in this situation?” we can respond with specifics pretty quickly.

The most effective approach to determining your values
will therefore NOT use the word "values."

You’ll also find that asking about what is important feels more natural in one-on-one conversation.

A friend is talking about a sticky situation. You ask her, “What do you think is important to consider in this situation?” She will likely have a quick response, as she is probably pretty clear about what is important to her. It could be that the parties respect each other, or that there is no trust, or that the parties should consider the impact on the children in their care.

Those are all values. Respect. Trust. Valuing children.

But if you had asked her about her values, she likely would have given you a blank stare.

The following are therefore some questions you can ask, to help discern people’s values. You will find a more comprehensive list of questions in the Resources section below.

  • When you have tough decisions to make, how will you know which is the right choice? What will you see / hear in the right choice vs. the wrong choice?
  • When your staff has decisions to make, what standards do you want them to pay attention to? In what order?
  • What do you always want your community to say when they describe how your organization does its work?

Because conflict is always about values, "values" questions will be a powerful tool for getting to the heart of any conflict. This is why listening for values is an integral part of Catalytic Listening. And why all of it fits into the Catalytic Thinking framework.

Catalytic Thinking Exercise:

  • READ: This free e-book is a great source of questions to kick off your values conversations. GET IT HERE
  • LEARN: Catalytic Listening helps you move beyond conflict, to bring out the best in yourself and those around you. LEARN HOW
  • LISTEN: In this wide-ranging conversation, Professors Peter Coleman (Columbia University) and John Lederach (University of Notre Dame) discuss the pathway out of toxic polarization LISTEN HERE

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eJournal Archives:
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Creating the Future's Mission
Teach people how to change the systems they find themselves in,
to create a future different from our past -
all by changing the questions they ask.

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