The Participation Blog

Facilitative Mediation Part Two: What Does a Facilitator Do with Emotions

John Godec was asked to be part of the IAP2 webinar training on the topics of facilitative mediation, emotions and outrage. He talks about what a facilitator does to deal with people’s emotions. Since this training was for a sold out group of members, we thought that you would benefit from having this training available.

This is part 2 in the series. If you missed the first part, you may want to catch up here first.

Not Everyone Believes in Public Participation

I’m wondering if we in IAP2 have become so isolated in our own little echo chamber of righteousness, and if that’s the case I think we have a problem. The fact is, not everybody – certainly in the US – right now shares our belief in the value of broad public participation. People in power wanna keep that power. One of the biggest benefits of attending the conferences and hanging out with other people who do this stuff for a living – and we tend to laugh about this a lot: Not having to explain to people around you what you do for a living.

I’m wondering if we are being as realistic as we really need to be. We tend to view it as a given that the whole idea of public participation is not only here to stay, but is the future of democracy. Democracy is certainly struggling right now. Particularly in the United States. The field is and has been very robust in Australia and at perhaps somewhat of a lesser level, still pretty robust in Canada. We don’t necessarily see that in the United States. Quite frankly, we haven’t seen it for quite some time. Here is one of the reasons why.

If you look at the data in terms of levels of trust – people who trust government in Washington, all the time or most of the time – the percentage of people – if you go back to the 60s you can see where the numbers are, and they are staggering – very low and dropping even lower. The fact of the matter is that the level of mistrust of government by those who are poor continues to grow.

Opinion Poll 1: People Trust My Employer

John Godec: We’ve got a small handful of little poll questions that I thought would be interesting for you to take a look at. I’m gonna ask Dru to put the first one up if you can. If you don’t mind, take a look at this. It should be fairly self explanatory. Based on the statement, people trust my client or my employer. I’d like you to select one of those. Either do they trust your client or your employer a lot, do they trust them sometimes or do they trust them very little?

Emilia: Thanks John. We’ll just give people a few more seconds to respond to that. All right, Dru, let’s close the poll. Let’s see what people have to say. A lot: 9%; sometimes: 60%; and very little: 31%.

John Godec: 91% of the time, people may or may not trust your employer or your client. I think we might be onto something here. If you look at one of the more credible and one of the more prolific organizations better run for a long time, Edelman is a global communication marketing public relations firm that has been doing something called the Edelman Trust Barometer for a number of years. I’m sure that many of you are familiar with this.

If you look at the most recent results – the way they break this down – they tend to measure the level of trust in institutions; the four institutions that they talk about are nongovernmental organizations, big business, media and government. If you look at the numbers and the trends for the past several years, the trends have been dropping consistently. People don’t trust large institutions.

Most importantly, people tend to trust government the least. Government always ranks lower than even the news media in levels of trust. If you look at the US Congress, for instance, the levels of trust in congress here, something like single digits, last that I saw. 29% of Americans, anyway, view government officials as credible. That’s a pretty remarkably low number. Dru, if you don’t mind, put up the second poll question, would you?

Opinion Poll 2: Trust in My Employer Getting Better or Worse

John Godec: Here is the poll, and the question is: over time, people’s trust in my client or employer has either increased or decreased. I’d like to see what you see in terms of trends. We’ll give this a couple of minutes, or a minute I guess.

Emilia: Thanks John. All right. Dru, I think everyone should have had a chance to respond. Let’s see the results. Over to you, John.

John Godec: Something in the neighborhood of not quite two thirds of you think that trust in your client or trust in your employer has decreased, which would be consistent with what we see in terms of the data. 15% of Americans believe the government is working for them. I guess the bottom line is that this lack of government credibility clearly has consequences. How do you engage people – how do we get people to actually participate in the system, participate in the decisions that we are trying to get them to engage in – when 85% of them don’t believe government is working for them in the first place?

I suspect what we have here is kind of a chicken and egg situation. Because they are not engaged, people don’t have a real strong sense of whether or not government is working for them. How are we gonna get them engaged if we can’t build some level of trust or credibility to begin with? The key here is that as Edelman points out, things have changed pretty dramatically over the years. The fact is that trust in institutions – and the license for institutions to operate – is no longer automatically granted on the basis of hierarchy or title. The truth is that trust has to be earned.

Titles and credentials and education no longer give you any kind of credibility – certainly no instant credibility. Those particular days are over. You got to earn it. The reason behind this, if you look at the rationale behind it, how important is trust worthiness and credibility? The fact is that people who do indeed trust you tend to support you in your projects, they tend to vote for you, they tend to listen to you, they tend to agree with you and respect you. I don’t think we have to make an argument anymore than that from the importance of credibility.

You really can’t do your job without trust, and it’s being proven every day – certainly in the United States – that you can’t govern without it. The fact is that if people don’t trust you, they are simply not going to support you, like you, or work for you. They need to believe that you are actually working for them on their behalf.

Opinion Poll 3: Public Trust in Each Other

John Godec: Let’s take a look at the third poll question. Can you pull that up, Dru?

This one is slightly different. Rather than just institutions, over time, the public’s trust in other people, our trust in each other, just as a society has either increased or decreased. This is just kind of a judgment call on your part.

Interesting. The numbers are getting higher. The fact of the matter is that most of you who participated in this poll – obviously, public participation practitioners – trained professionals believe that over time, people’s trust in each other has indeed decreased. That’s pretty consistent with what I think those of us that have been around a while have seen. The bottom line here – and I think all of you would agree – when angry people … we are living in a pretty angry time right now … a pretty tough time – when angry people are ignored, they are gonna find a way to not be ignored.

This obviously results into protests that we’ve seen, the lawsuits that we see, media coverage of this kind of stuff, civil action, political action, and even violence. I’ve got a lot of interest in the subject, because most of my work over the past two or three decades has tended to be with these really volatile and really broken kinds of situations. For our little company, it’s become kind of a special need for us. One of the conundrums for people who do the work that we do, I think, falls into this category. That is, the essence of human behavior.

Most of the people on this call – most of the people that are part of our little organization – tend not to be normal people. We have advantages. Maybe they have been better educated; we’ve been trained to deal with things, looking at issues, looking at problems very objectively and very pragmatically. Science, engineers, professionals – the kinds of people that we traditionally work with in these institutions – deal with this stuff very objectively, very pragmatically and very dispassionately.

I like to refer to real people – or I like to refer to most of the people that we deal with – as real people. These are the people whose lives are either affected or think they’ve been affected by the decisions that are made by these institutions, tend to take the changes of risks that they deal with very personally, and sometimes very passionately, very emotionally. The bottom line is that the emotional reality – and the research bears this out – is that intuition comes first.

Strategic reasoning is second. People are emotional creatures. It’s critically important to remember that. It’s in our biology. It’s in our DNA. Trying to deny that I think is largely counterproductive. Anyway, that’s what I felt at the IAP2 conference in Denver last September. Knowing that we feel first and we think second. And by the way most of the research supports the fact that social and political judgments are particularly intuitive. We don’t think logically about that, we tend to react.

What Does a Facilitator Do to Find the Truth

It goes back to the old Mark Twain quote, at some point we have to come together to have reasonable conversations to resolve the 40 problems that all of us are dealing with. We are gonna have to start with some kind of a common understanding of the facts and what’s true, and we get into this whole business of fake news, fake media. What’s true? What is science anymore?

It speaks to one of my favorite George Bernard Shaw quotes: the problem really starts with communication. We all seem to share a common arrogance that whatever we write or whatever we say is going to be understood by the people that we are trying to communicate with, exactly as we’ve intended it, but the fact is that it rarely is. Communication is kind of taken for granted.

That’s the first problem. We are really not as good as it, or as good at it as we think. Communication is a powerful force at work here. A couple of weeks ago, I happened to see the movie The Darkest Hour. I don’t know if any of you have had a chance to see that. It’s the Winston Churchill biopic. The movie culminates in Churchill’s famous speech to parliament toward the end of the movie, or right at the end of the movie. Right after Dunkirk, when everything appears lost for Great Britain, and he’s warning the nation of an invasion by the Nazis.

This is the speech many of you have seen before. This is where he says we shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing routes, we shall fight in the fields, and in the streets. We shall fight in the hills, we shall never surrender. At the end of the movie, Lord Halifax, which is one of the key players here, someone standing next to Lord Halifax turns to him and said, “What just happened?” Halifax replies by saying he mobilized the English language and sent it into battle. Churchill was a rather remarkable orator, and he had a remarkable ability to be able to capture people’s imagination, and also dig into that emotion, and actually persuade and influence people to do what needed to be done.

Tune in next time, dear reader, for the thrilling conclusion of our webinar. 

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

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