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John Forester: Dealing With Differences

From John Folk-Williams’s blog Cross Collaborate

Dealing with Differences 192x300 John Forester: <em data-lazy-src=

Dealing with Differences uses this same approach. Through his skillful interviews with dozens of facilitative leaders, he elicits the stories that capture choices they made in the midst of contentious disputes. This is the immediate drama of discovery experienced by practitioners and participants alike. As he summarizes his method of interviewing:

Asking “What did you think about X?” we have found, gets us a theory or speculation; asking “What did you do when X happened?” gives us a flow action to consider. Asking what someone thought about a bluff or strategy gives us the considered opinion of a spectator; asking how they responded to the bluff or strategy gives us the considered judgments of an engaged actor — and that’s what this book’s about: the hows of dealing with differences of interests, values, and power.

How adversaries manage to learn from each other is one of the book’s major themes. The diverse practitioners who tell their stories share an ability to help people locked in confrontation to set aside their combative mindsets. We hear exactly how they moved groups from the conviction that fruitful communication could never occur to an openness to learn from differing views and exchange new ideas for future action.

  • We listen to Shirley Solomon describing the moments of human understanding and learning between county and tribal residents in Skagit County, Washington. By talking together about what they valued in the place they shared, rather than arguing political positions, they were able to set aside decades of conflict to focus on practical steps.

  • Mike Hughes in Colorado talks about progress on HIV/AIDS issues that surprised stakeholders who had thought any constructive outcome impossible because of deep value differences. The approach in this case was to agree to respect those differences rather than waste time trying to convert each other. The stakeholders could then move on to consider specific areas of possible cooperation.

  • Carl Moore describes how he shifted residents of a midwestern city away from repetition of familiar problems to possible action for the future.

  • In facilitating a roundtable on the highly charged issue of off highway vehicle use on public lands, Lisa Beutler relates how she was able to reframe discussion and shift from hostile argument to dialogue on practical issues the stakeholders could work on.

An important dimension of Forester’s approach is his broad view of facilitative leadership. He does not limit himself to professionals who devote their careers to mediation and dialogue. While their work offers valuable examples, his larger concern is for the thousands of planners, managers, elected leaders and others trying to use collaborative methods in many different professional roles.

Like Peter Adler in Eye of the Storm Leadership, John Forester understands that it is these leaders who will play critical roles in spreading knowledge of the usefulness of collaborative methods far beyond a single professional circle. Dealing with Differences John Forester: <em data-lazy-src=


John Folk-Williams

I’m John Folk-Williams, the publisher and editor of Cross Collaborate. Since the early 1980s, I’ve been a practitioner and writer in the field of public policy collaboration, interest-based negotiation, mediation and the involvement of citizens in the decisions that affect their lives. A site like this is itself a collaboration… MORE >

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