The Participation Blog

Facilitative Mediation and the Emotional State: Webinar with John Godec

Recently, John Godec was asked to be part of the IAP2 webinar training. It was his great honor to present facilitative mediation, emotions and outrage to a sold out group of members.

Since it was a sold out group and a dynamic discussion, we thought that you, our dear reader, would appreciate having this training available for yourself.

Introducing John Godec

Emilia: We are really excited to be bringing John in to talk a little bit about emotion and outrage. On behalf of IAP2 Canada, IAP2 USA, and IAP2 Australasia, welcome. John is one of the principles of The Participation Company, and a recognized expert in tough, contentious public communication and engagement issues. He’s an IAF certified professional facilitator, a developer of both the IAP2 Foundations and strategies courses, and one of IAP2’s original master trainers.

John is one of the first master certified public participation professionals, which we call MCP3s. John has managed hundreds of complex global communication and public engagement projects and workshops in the US, Canada and literally around the world. He’s an adjunct professor for Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and has lectured at Arizona State University, the universities of Texas, Arizona and Denver, and the Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane.

John has also worked as communications director of the Arizona Department of Environmental quality and is director of issues and crisis management for Motorola. John, quite the history. We are really excited to be able to listen and learn from you and your expertise today. John, over to you.

John Godec: Thanks, everybody, for joining us today. I’m gonna take a slightly different tack with the subject. Based on the growing research and evidence of there being inherent, and biological and chemical factors that profoundly influence people’s attitude, and their behavior and their emotions, and their political leaders, and that these factors are very important for us in public participation to understand.

The session that I did last September actually included a panel that I put together that included Doug Sarno, who is one of our IAP2’s first executive directors. He was one of the original Emilias, actually. And in full disclosure, he’s one of my business partners, as well Lewis Michaelson, who is another long time friend of mine and a colleague, and Steven Wolfe. Doug, Steve and I were the three original MCP3 recipients that Emilia just mentioned. Doug, Lewis and I have been around IAP2 since the beginning of the organization. What makes this panel of three people that I put together important to this discussion and important to the session is that I know these guys, number one, but I know that they include, politically, one self identified liberal, one self identified kind of less subcentral moderate, and one who is very conservative politically.

Some History: Are there Conservatives in IAP2?

I got to tell you guys, I think we are very hard pressed to find too many politically conservative people in IAP2. Anyway, much of the discussion was actually talking about politics and attitudes among these three with an open discussion from people in the room. Of course, we are not going to be able to do that exactly here. The point is that I was the very surprised at the reaction of some of the people who attended the session. I expected that it would be somewhat thought provoking, but I didn’t expect it to provoke the level of pushback that I actually got.

Anyway, let’s move on here. In trying to figure out how to exactly recreate what we did then, which I can’t really do here, I wanted to put it in perspective. Here it goes. I’m gonna take a little trip down memory lane, actually to the IAP2 conference in 1997, which was actually held here in Arizona where I am. At that particular conference, Chris Gates was a keynote speaker. Chris Gates was running the national civic league at the time, and he talked about the fact that at that time, we were dealing with the situation of really angry citizens of ruthless media, broken politics, an awful lot of cynicism and old approaches.

Sound familiar? That was 21 years ago. If you really wanna take a step back, and I don’t wanna get into history too much here, but I think it’s kind of informative. When you look at 1936, Dale Carnegie – whom I’m presuming that at least some of you are familiar with, wrote the book, How to Win Friends and Influence People – talked extensively about the fact that when you are dealing with human beings, you are not necessarily dealing with people of logic, you are dealing with people with a lot of emotions behind what they do and the reasoning that they do.

How to Deal with My Crazy Brother, and Those Like Him

Most of my facilitative mediation work involves dealing with really seriously broken projects and public conflict. I’m also interested at a personal basis, such as my crazy brother, after whom we titled the session. He’s not really crazy, but he and some members of my extended family are pretty deeply divided politically. I wanted to know how to better deal with him, and some uber conservative relatives that I have. So a few years ago, I happened to run into Dr. Jonathan Haidt’s book, called The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion.

It’s a fairly complex subject, it’s a great book; if you ever have a chance, and if you haven’t read, it I would recommend picking it up. One of the things that he points out in the book is that you can typically divide people into largely two groups. I’m oversimplifying here. Give me a break if you would. One group of people sort of identify themselves from a perspective of utilitarianism. Meaning that you always aim to bring about the greatest good, even if a few people get hurt along the way. Greater good is the keyword here. Kind of a liberal concept.

The other group of people tend to fall into the category of deontologists, that basically believe we have duties to respect the rights of individuals, and we shouldn’t harm people in our pursuit of other goals. Even moral goals, like saving lives. The rights of individuals are the keywords in this. During that period of time, I also showed a video clip from Dr. Gail Saltz, who is a clinical psychiatrist; a researcher who discusses identifiable differences in brain biology between people who tend to have more liberal views than those who tend to be more conservative.

If you dig a little further into this, you can find a variety of different pieces of research and evidence that suggest that what I’m talking about probably has some credence here. Some of the factoids: In 2015, the Journal of Neuroscience study found some genetic markers that deal with emotional relevance. In 2016, the 2016 Journal of Social Cognitive and Affective neuroscience study found that Tylenol reduces empathy in people.

Studies have found that the emotion of disgust can easily link to social/moral issues. People who self identify as conservative tend to be more affected by it, and tend to react to things that are found or that they believe are disgusting. If you look at more recent books, another one that I would probably recommend, Behave: The Biology of Humans at Our Best and Worst (by Robert M. Sapolsky), makes the connection between how we behave and our inherent biology.

A new expansive study that I just ran into a couple of days ago and is going to be published in 2018, shows that ibuprofen and acetaminophen – Advil and Tylenol – tend to dull empathy. How does this play into what we do for a living? The key point here is, and I’ve got two key points that I’d like to present:

  1. Decisions by people are driven more by emotional factors from our amygdala than by reason, using our cerebral cortex; that portion of our brain. The research and evidence – and there is an ample amount of it – supports that, in fact, decisions are driven more by emotional factors.
  2. People driven primarily by their emotions don’t engage or participate very effectively or make very good decisions. The fact is, and of course public participation is really about making better decisions like that. I was pretty surprised at the reaction from some of the people who attended the conference in Denver in September when we were talking about this. I was certainly convinced that I could probably have presented it better with more finesse, but frankly the pushback from people in the audience that day sort of concerns me a lot as a practitioner of conflict resolution and public involvement.

I had several people who attended the session tell me that they really enjoyed it. They found it interesting. That they hadn’t really thought about people’s differences in that particular way before. Some said they thought it was pretty valuable, and an important conversation to start. But I had several people dismiss the whole idea of any kind of biological differences. Some people even complained to the conference organizers about the session. I don’t have any problem with differences of opinion or healthy debate. And I have very little problem personal criticism, but I’m troubled by the reaction that the topic, complaining about the fact that it felt too much like political correctness – in my mind anyway.

I find that a little bit more disturbing than not.

Tune in next week, dear reader, to find out more about what happened at that IAP2 meeting and why John finds it disturbing. 

If you would like a copy of the webinar slides for yourself, please download them here:

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