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#ebbfmilan – Trip Barthel on the art of consultation, synergy and consensus

You will be able to enjoy learning from and interacting with Trip Barthel during the upcoming online  pre #ebbfmilan event

coming up at 20:00 (CEST) the 28th of April and of course during a number of sessions he will offer during ebbf’s annual conference in Milan ( join us there )

Question: what drew you to the area of consultation, synergy and consensus?

when i graduated from college I was thinking of going to law school but never quite understood the adversarial approach to resolving conflict. What did and still makes more sense to me is to get parties together to find a better mutually beneficial resolution, pretty much flipping on its head everything that law school teaches.

My first step at putting those principles into practice came soon after as the general manager of a small business.

I ran that company for ten years using values and principles that instead of hindering, created very successful financial and personal motivation levels for everyone who worked there, and indeed levels of staff turnover were non-existant, no one wished to leave that environment of justice.

Q: applying values in business seems like a sound principles but why do so many people fail in doing so successfully?

One element is to treat all of our employees in a professional and respectful way, responding as best as we can to their concerns, with most decisions in the office taken as a team and not top down. But most important of all is to create an environment of trust where people feel secure and empowered. People look at their leaders, at the actions more than the words of their managers. Time and again during my professional career I saw how they were waiting for the actions before totally trusting the person and the organisation.

Q: your subsequent work was in the area of legal mediation, what is different in the way you see this taken to its most successful outcome?

In 1996 as a Baha’i, after thinking about what I wanted to do next in life this quote came to my attention and has guided me since “…The best beloved of all things in My sight is Justice…” and that when I decided I’d work in the area of justice, taking a non-adversarial legal conflict resolution masters degree.

Q: The key component I see missing in business is seeing and recognising the humanity of individuals in a company, seeing beyond the transaction or the position, seeing the human element of the people you are dealing with.

In my subsequent work in the area of legal mediation I realized that ultimately mediation is a healing work, healing from the inside out.  Many treat the process as a simple “band aid” to solve a situation, instead going deeper you can achieve much higher outcomes with all parties exiting what becomes an open, trusting dialogue in an extremely positive way.

Working in the field of conflict resolution, I have always tried to move this towards a model of true consultation. All the research and my own experience show the evidence of the truth of this quote

“When you notice that a stage has been reached when enmity and threats are about to occur, you should immediately postpone discussion of the subject, until wranglings, disputations, and loud talk vanish, and a propitious time is at hand.“  (Abdu’l-Baha)

So when people ask me, is it ok to let people vent? No it is not. it is never helpful.

We work better when we work together; the sum of the individual’s work is always less than the group as a whole. If it is lowest common denominator that is paramount then the entire group fails .  We need to work towards the highest common denominator.

Q: what does the word consensus mean to you?

In the dictionary it just means majority, I talk to groups about strong consensus, equating this to an agreement that results in action.

Spectrum is the way in which people in a team can express agreement along a line, it is a powerful visual way to first make evident the spectrum of opinions and then finding the way physically reduce those distances.

When an idea is read to a group and people in that group stand along that line, depending on how much or how little they agree on the idea will then allow them to start a conversation, suggesting modifications that lead to a consensus.

“The key to all that I offer in my mediation consultation work is driven by two steps: empathy and options, the more empathy one creates the more options become evident.”

Q: what is the spiritual element of consultation? Does spirituality have a role?

Connecting that to the two wings of consultation, the rational and the spiritual, I see the rational side as a show of frankness, being straightforward and honest.

The spiritual wing creates compassionate, loving, merciful behaviour.

Balancing the two is what allows deep progress to be reached.

It is not just mercy or just honesty, what we need to do is to bridge the virtues.

Q: which were some of your most important moments of learning?

you learn more from things that did not work than from times when everything runs smoothly.

When I teach people to become mediators and I tell them that you only really learn from the cases that don’t settle if everything goes right the parties will say why are you here? What did you contribute?

Two examples:

meeting with a married couple to resolve their issues, there was not enough emotion or meaning to hold onto, nothing that was really that bad, nothing they really wanted to resolve, I thought where do I go with this ?

I Invented on the spot reciprocal negotiation, basically only two questions, you ask each person or group: what are the things you are willing to do to resolve this? the other question being what would you like to ask the other party to consider doing?

then you go around a quadrant of what you are willing to do and what the other person is willing to do. This married couple put the paper with the output of this session on their home fridge and keep using it every day understanding the fundamental importance of “empathy about recognising the obligations you have and that others should have”

A case that did not work well was in a hospital where the CEO set up a meeting with all his staff.

I show up to the meeting, but I see that the CEO was not physically present but on camera and wanting to record the proceedings.

What happened was that when we started, people were very cautious because of the camera, but through“asking better questions“ I was able to draw them out into a discussion that initially felt uncomfortable but as time went on became easier to share. The emphasis being not on questioning what was wrong but instead an appreciative enquiry about what is right. Without the CEO physically there meant that the staff felt more empowered and enabled to take it into their own hands to build a better organization.  A new level of allowing trust was thus created between the CEO and the staff.

Come to ebbf’s annual conference in Milan to meet and interact with Trip and another 20 sessions around Consultation

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