August 23, 2012

Don’t Compromise: Collaborate

My husband doesn’t’ t like compromise: He prefers to collaborate.

His reasoning? Compromise is giving something up. Collaboration is working together to create something new.

Semantics? I used to think so. I’ve since come around to his way of thinking.

When we met, each of us had been single for a long time. We’d been managing our lives in ways that worked for each of us. Getting married and sharing a household meant having to rethink many established ways of doing things.

We quickly learned if we each stubbornly clung to our own ‘right’ way of doing things or grudgingly went along with the other’s, life could be unpleasant. We didn’t want that: We loved each other and wanted to find a way to be together that worked for both of us. We recognized that we needed to create something new.

How might this apply to congregations?

The definition* of compromise suggests loss or risk; giving up something you value. When we give something up, we may feel loss or resentment or perhaps powerlessness, all of which can impact our ability to fully accept the compromise solution.

Collaboration suggests a win/win. Working together to create something new.

Our ECF Vital Practices’ reader surveys include these two questions:

  1. Reflecting on the past six months of your ministry, in what area have you needed the most help/guidance in?
  2. Looking ahead, what one area of ministry are you most interested in exploring and/or learning more about?

Change is always among the top responses to these questions. Reader comments indicate that resistance to change is a major stumbling block for many congregations.

Reflecting on the process my husband and I use, I’ve identified four steps we follow when faced with a difference of opinion about how or what to do:

  1. We start with generosity and try to step outside of our ‘but I’ve always done it this way' position and open ourselves up to imagining a different way of doing whatever ‘it’ is. 
  2. We listen to each other, letting each person share their thoughts about possible solutions, ideally without interruption. This can be difficult; it takes practice and discipline to let go of the sense that our solution is the ‘right’ one and being truly open to both listening and considering other options. In a group setting, the use of a talking stick or other object may help limit interruptions. (The person holding the talking stick is the only one who may speak. The stick is passed to all members of the group so each may be heard.)
  3. We begin to imagine a new way of doing ‘it’ that may or may not include some or all of the ways we’ve each done ‘it’ before. 
  4. We try out our newly imagined process and evaluate/adjust until we find a solution that works for both of us.

Collaboration continues to works for us when we find ourselves doing things in ways that don't work for who we are today. I invite you to try it: It might work for your congregation as well.


*Here are the American Heritage Dictionary’s definitions:

  • Compromise (v) as “1. To settle by concessions. 2. To expose or make liable to danger, suspicion, or disrepute.”
  • Collaborate (v) as “To work together, esp. in an intellectual effort. 2. To cooperate reasonably, as with an enemy.”