Shut Up and Talk to Me

Wren on June 29th, 2008

Wow, talking bes hard. The communi in communicate is so true–If you don’t get the other person to buy in to finding a solution to the problem or conflict between the two of you, then you’re an unhooked battery, all charge and no current.

Intentional Community is a laboratory for communication and conflict resolution.

At Heathcote Community, all members agree to a flexible process for addressing conflicts in a timely manner, and we agree on certain rules of engagement. If I have an issue with Jane Heathcoter, I’ve agreed not to carry it around, stewing in my juices. I must ask her for a “checkin.” Depending on the voltage of the charge, Jane and I might

  • sit down one on one
  • ask another Heathcoter to mediate or
  • take our issue to the entire community for help and support.

This is what new members can’t always prepare for in advance: Intentional Community is a fishbowl, a small one. Everyone else sees your baggage. They’ll be impacted by it and call you on it. Processing this is the deepest, hardest, most sacred work of community. Sustainable living, beautiful scenery and community dinners are in a way just the trappings of it.

Some people have the self knowledge that this is work they dream of doing. Others have the wisdom to know it’s not for them. Some believe intellectually that they want this, but are shocked by how hard the work is, how bruising to the ego, and how hard that ego is to put down. Good communication is a skillset, not just good intentions.

In my thirteen years of observing communication and conflict resolution at Heathcote and other communities, I’ve come to recognize these components in successful processing:

  • each speaks her or his truth without agenda or manipulation, sticking to facts and speaking from experience, putting down that ego and the need to be right or wise
  • each listens so as to understand the speaker’s experience, walking that mile in her or his moccasins–”Oh, that’s how it is for you…” putting down filters, not preparing for debate
  • everyone looks at all the cards on the table, looking not for the solution they had in mind at the beginning, but for the win/win that arises from new understanding and acceptance of each other

Even after thireen years in the fishbowl, I still fall into all the traps of bad communication. But I try hard and, because of the sacred work we’ve done, I’ve created trust and mutual respect with my long time community mates. I have enough safety to bring them just about any subject and speak with transparency.

At Heathcote we’ve brought in outside trainers to improve our skills in conflict resolution and consensus, as well as meeting facilitation. We’ve added to our communication “toolboxes.” Many of us have found processes like Zegg Forum, Non-Violent Communication and Imago very powerful and helpful.

Are you seeking community where you can have lovingly honest relationships with your friends? Do you want to learn skills of sharing and listening without agenda, noticing when you get triggered and looking at the causes?

Do you live in community now? I’d love to hear your adventures in conflict resolution!

I often say that Intentional Community is the toughest gift you’ll ever be glad you opened. If you’ve been considering seeking community, I’m inviting you in. Now that you know about that secret gift, welcome to the fishbowl.

Meet you in the deep end!

–Wren Tuatha

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