re: group construing
Thu, 16 May 1996 21:37:11 +0000

So what happens after we agree to differ?

Once one's obtained the results of a group grid and explored
a) the issues on which participants have negotiated an agreement
b) those on which they've agreed to differ

here's an activity in sociality which group members have found useful. Bill
Ramsay and other colleagues who have found my comments in this thread
interesting might want to try it as and when the occasion presents itself.
Let me describe it in terms of a story rather than a straight procedure.

We were involved in a supervisor development short course. "We" were
myself, and a group of employees of a newspaper company. Seven of us
collaborated on a group grid, in the course of which it became apparent
that there were two irreconcilable perspectives. There was the Advertising
Supervisor (whose job it was to drum up the advertisements the revenue from
which supplemented the cover price of the paper sufficiently for it to be
viable as a newspaper read by _us_, the general public. No advertising
revenue, no newspaper, in other words.) And there was the News Editor,
whose job it was, among others, to supervise people who would decide on
which news appeared where in the newspaper. He couldn't understand how,
after a reporter sweated blood on a story for several days, the advertising
people would insist on postponing the story for today's edition (and
therefore effectively killing it since it was topical) because it would
mean dropping a half-page of advertisements. The whole point of a newspaper
is to inform the readers with news and features, dammit!

An agreement to differ. And notice the pace at which these people work:
it's a _daily_ newspaper. That means that the presses have to roll at a
given time every day, with everything in place just so. Including
constraints like having exactly the right amount of material to fill 32
pages, or 30, but not 31 because the insertion of a single, rather than
dual page, is messy and troublesome. The print run is 60,000 copies, _every
day_, week in, week out. Screw that up, and you've blown a vast amount of
money and lost both readers and advertisers: how _can_ a daily newspaper
not appear on one particular day??!!

What proved very valuable was the exercise in which we took part after this
"agreement to differ" had been identified. The two people, Advertising
Supervisor and News Editor, sat down opposite each other, facing each other
exactly, with their knee-caps touching (nothing like sitting well _within_
one's social distance for increasing attention and concentration!) The
Advertising Supervisor stated out loud the News Editor's position, "as
accurately as you can, with as much consideration for the pressures on him
as you can express". The News Editor then "Correct the statement you've
just heard on any matters of fact, assumption, or interpretation that he
misunderstood." The rest of the group, as onlookers, "Note the key issues
of assumption or interpretation which were raised."

Now it was the News Editor's turn to "State out loud the Advertising
Supervisor's position as accurately as you can" etc.; the Advertising
Supervisor then "Correct the statement" etc. The rest of the group "Note
the key issues" etc.

It took just 15 minutes, 5-8 minutes or so per cycle. The onlookers then
fed back their "issues of assumption or interpretation", which was
particularly valuable because it took the pressure off the pair of
participants while providing a group-concensus view of points which the
other of the pair had already noted and pointed out to the other. "Give
them both a clap before you do the feedback" sounds naff when I say it now,
but was a much appreciated way of "blowing down the boilers" in what had
been a quite stressful exercise for the two main participants...

Was there (Ah! the usual question which arises when tales of O.D.
interventions are told!) a happy ending?

Well, I hope so, but it wasn't straightforward. The reaction of both
participants after the exercise was "Well okay, I can see what you mean in
the sense that I can _say_ it, but dammit, you _still_ can't sell
newspapers without advertising/news stories!" respectively. What I found
intriguing was the way in which the two of them were subsequently found to
be negotiating along the lines of "look, if I do this (to satisfy _my own_
priorities) in this (new, amended, way), will that take some of the
pressure off you?" And, of course, "but here's where I have to draw the
line in accommodating you... _YOU CAN SEE WHY NOW_, can't you?"

We can agree to differ in a bloody-minded way, or in a way which _takes
cognisance of the constraints_ on the other person, I guess. And often
that's the most one can hope for!

And what about me? It was satisfying for me because of the way in which the
problem, perhaps the classic one of newspaper production (not surprising,
in retrospect, that it surfaced during my course) was reconstrued by both

You see, the usual way in this business in which a conflict of this kind is
resolved if it becomes intractable is by both sides appealing to the
Editor-in-Chief, who decides on the spot in favour of one or other party
for the particular edition in question (with a newspaper, you haven't the
time to muck about, remember!)

One way of construing such a resolution is to label it in terms of
"Appealing to Father" or "Looking to God". And I personally found it
satisfying to witness a situation in which the "Deus ex machina" was _not_
invoked: one in which the two parties worked it out for themselves.

If the circumstances are right (a reasonable feeling of rapport, well into
a training course rather than at the outset!!!) this kind of exercise can
be helpful.

Kindest regards,

Devi Jankowicz