August Newsletter: Imposters, White People and Flashlights

Dear Valued Associate,

I’m writing this from 9F, a window seat on the starboard side, off to flyover country on another public adventure. I like window seats for the marginal solitude they provide, better reading light, and I still think the views at 30,000 feet are kinda magic. I don’t really understand window-people who never even bother to raise the shade and I’ve noticed a lot more of them lately – I dunno, but maybe that says something about how we’ve changed.

You know it’s funny, when I travel I look forward to getting home, and when I’m home a while, I start looking forward to the next trip. So, in spite of what Sister Mary Mercy used to say, I think my short attention span is finally paying off. Anyway, we’re well into the Dog Days of Summer in the desert, and trips out of the furnace for a few days are welcome. I think you’ll find some useful things in this month’s newsletter; note that we’ve added a couple of new open classes later this year. Maybe we’ll see you in Victoria at the sold out IAP2 conference next month – enjoy the rest of your summer.

Stay curious,



Soft Skills, My A%$

Eventually we’re going to have to figure out how to talk to, deal with, and work with people that we don’t agree with or maybe even don’t like very much. That’s going to require (re)developing a skillset that feels like we’re losing. I’m seeing more being written about the need for these supposed soft skills. Calling them soft skills sounds pretty demeaning – people with soft skills aren’t soft.


Your Imposter Syndrome

Working with the public and facilitating groups, especially oftentimes upset people, isn’t for the faint of heart – it takes courage, and courage requires confidence. For most healthy people, I think confidence can ebb and flow; it isn’t an absolute constant, and sometimes, when confidence is a little low it’s easy to feel like an imposter. Here are some tips for weathering your imposter storm.


White People Own Flashlights

Good issue and stakeholder assessments are key to planning and executing effective public participation projects. The more we really know about the issues and nuances and the more we learn about the people who will be or think they’ll be affected by some action or plan, the more we’ll understand how to involve them, which leads to butterflies, unicorns, world peace and an outcome that everybody needs. Learning about the issues and people involved makes or breaks your project. No facilitator, meeting format or whiz-bang technique can overcome a haphazard assessment. Doing it well takes time and work on the ground talking to people – you can’t assume or guess at it. It may also require some real analytics, and the amount of data collected about all of us is staggering. Check this out.

Working in Groups Can Lower Your IQ

Spoiler alert: Although it wasn’t intended to be, I see this next piece of research as a pretty good argument for skillful facilitation. The social dynamics of the groups seem to be the root cause. This only references one study from Virginia Tech, so take it for what it’s worth, but I thought you’d find it interesting.


Burying The Lead

Most people working in public service come to it with advanced degrees. They’ve usually learned a specific way of presenting factual information and arguments. That scientific method works great for scoring good grades but not so much for public presentations and documents. Leading with the main point is important. If you don’t believe me, maybe you’ll believe David Cornwell, or John Le Carre.


You Can’t Read Anybody

Empathy is a big part of our craft and we talk about it in many of the courses that we teach. There’s a misperception, however, that people with lots of empathy can somehow magically read other people’s minds, when the fact is we can’t. Understanding other people requires a connection and an eventual relationship of some kind. And eventually you’ll get an opportunity to ask them – with empathy.

Managing Yourself in Tough Meetings

If you’re ‘lucky’ enough to deal with public confrontations and tough meetings in your work, you know that managing your own emotions and reactions is one of the challenges of the facilitation profession. I hope you’ll find the following useful.

Public Participation, Managing Public Opposition and Trust (Re) Building Training

We’ll help you understand what success with the public looks like and how to get there. The Participation Company (TPC) facilitates, consults, coaches and trains civil service, NGO and business people about their community conflicts and building effective public engagement programs. Our job is helping you do yours.

Open upcoming 2018 IAP2 ‘Public Participation Foundations‘ (5-day) classes:

·       Chicago, IL – September 24-28

·       Asheville, NC – October 29-Nov 2

·       Salt Lake City – December 3-7

Open upcoming 2018 IAP2 ‘Strategies for Dealing with Opposition and Outrage in Public Participation’ (2-day) classes scheduled for this year:

·       Chicago, IL – October 18-19

·       Denver, CO – November 29-30

IAP2 courses from The Participation Company are eligible for Certification Maintenance (CM) credits through The American Planning Association (APA)’s professional institute, the American Institute of Certified Planners (AICP).

Click here to join us and watch for more IAP2 and other original TPC courses coming up. We mostly work with a variety of public and private sector clients to customize in-house training, coaching and facilitation for their specific challenges. We’re your huckleberries.

You’ll also find more original ponderings from Debra Duerr, Wendy Lowe, Doug Sarno, me, and other very stable geniuses at our blog.

The Participation Company LLC is also a strategic partner and provider for the International City/County Management Association (ICMA).