Making Shifts Happen: From Political Drama to Finding Common Ground

February 8, 2013

By Donna Zajonc

Donna Zajonc will serve as a presenter for the interactive Leadership Training Seminar, "Making Shifts Happen: From Political Drama to Finding Common Ground," at the Congressional City Conference on March 9th, 2013, in Washington, D.C.

In this era of political drama and breakdown, the need to find common ground is a frequently heard cliché. To reveal common ground means we must give up some of our strongly held views. Why is this so challenging?

The very nature of our human operating system is based upon our desire for survival. In order to survive, our neurological system immediately signals to us when danger is near. Consequently, our ancient ancestors, who experienced danger around every corner, had to learn to make proactive snap judgments in order to avoid being eaten for lunch. Given that built-in survival trait, human beings developed a natural tendency to trust our instincts and the way we see the world. Not only do we prefer our own
opinions, we go to great lengths to let others know that our opinions are right. This brings up an interesting impasse. If every leader wants to be right, how will common ground ever be discovered and/or created?

Finding common ground requires us to relinquish a basic human trait - the need to be right - as well as our tendency to see the world through only our own eyes. This self- reflection requires courage and is often challenging personal work.

Leadership in the last few decades has evolved based upon an entirely new premise: how do we transcend our differences and create practical solutions that meet the needs of the many rather than the few? This leadership model places us squarely in conflict with our innate desire to be an independent individual. Hence each day we see played-out in our organizations, communities and the news, continuous conflict. Recent Congressional battles have become so extreme that fewer and fewer issues are being addressed. The public is wondering, "Will we ever have leaders who can work together to address our country's challenges?"

In addition to this struggle, public leaders work in a citizen culture that can be quite confusing. On one hand, citizens often say they want common ground yet polls say they want a strong, even heroic leader who knows the answers and how to fix our problems. If a public leader speaks about common ground, some citizens label them as weak or ineffective because they don't stick to their firm positions.

We are in a transformative era that demands a skillful approach to leadership and problem solving. The stakes are high and the challenges are growing. Learning to dance with the delicate relationship between holding firm on one's point of view and knowing when and how to find common ground, is one of the most perplexing questions of our time. Confronting this dilemma and being open to practicing the art of finding common ground will serve us all well. I know I am right about that!

Donna Zajonc is an Executive and Leadership Coach at the Bainbridge Leadership Center.