Lauren Collver ’25 (DCI Fellow)
There are many clear takeaways one expects from participating in a deliberation. New perspectives, deeper understandings, and opportunities to exercise constructive discussion. When going into my first facilitation experience, I prepared for disagreement, miscommunication, and heated discussions. In my mind, the biggest challenges I would face would be finding common ground, keeping track of a multitude of ideas and views, and keeping deliberators on time. These challenges turned out to be barely issues at all…
- Finding common ground? Almost the entire group was connected to the Davidson community, and excited to celebrate our differences.
- Keeping track of ideas? I quickly developed a note-taking method to easily keep track of people’s main points and primary values.
- Keeping people on time? Participants were often grateful for interruptions and reminders to keep us on time (a very pleasant surprise).
With all of my main concerns out of the way, I found myself confronting the most unexpected challenge of all: agreement. With all of my preparation having gone towards preparing for disagreement and focusing on finding common ground, I found myself unexpectedly lost when in my first D-Team meeting the conversations continually came to a lull, with an increasing frequency of comments such as “my thoughts are very similar to the previous person” or “I’m not sure I have much more to add to the conversation, all of my thoughts seem to have been said.” The problem here was not so much the presence of agreement; it was my underlying sense that people had not actually found common ground so simply but were relying on the convenience and comfort of agreement.
This problem makes sense in the context of a formal deliberation where a diverse group of people across a wide range of generations and experiences find courtesy and politeness more comfortable than disagreement. The statement “sure, that makes sense / I can see why you feel that way” is far more comfortable than statements like “I actually disagree with you on that” or “I’m not convinced that your point is entirely fair.”
It was here that I was able to fully realize my value as a facilitator. As someone without a stake in the deliberation or a point of view to defend, I was in a position to demonstrate paths towards constructive disagreement. I started using statements such as “If i might push you on that point a little bit there” or “So, I’m hearing that you think X because of Y, and I’m wondering if others in the group may have different perspectives on this point?” With this strategy, I was able to both invite deeper discussion and demonstrate to participants how they could do the same while maintaining the courtesy they found comfortable.
With deeper discussions underway from our first meeting, the second two D-Team meetings led us to a great perspective on agreement. We realized that a lot of those initial statements expressing passive agreement came from a reflexive focus agreeing upon the existence of problems, rather than discussing the historic and cultural causes of such problems.
For example, participants could agree that confidence in election security is an issue that the American government is currently facing, but could fundamentally disagree on the causes of the lack of confidence in the first place. When we realize that we can agree on the existence of problems while disagreeing on the root cause of the issue, we can focus on exploring solutions rather than getting caught in circles of disagreement.