Video and transcript from Michael Wilkinson’s talk at Austin’s 3rd Annual Facilitator Summit, Control the Room

Recently, we hosted our annual facilitator summit alongside our sponsor MURAL, but this time, it was virtual. Instead of gathering in Austin’s Capital Factory, 172 eager learners, expert facilitators, and meeting practitioners gathered online for a 3-day interactive workshop. Our mission each year at Control the Room is to share a global perspective of facilitators from different methodologies, backgrounds, races, genders, sexual orientations, cultures, and ages. We gather to network, learn from one another, and build our facilitation toolkits. 

This year’s summit theme was CONNECTION. Human connection is an integral component of the work we do as facilitators.

When we connect things become possible. When we are disconnected there is dysfunction. When ideas connect they become solutions. When movements connect they become revolutions. 

Control the Room is a safe space to build and celebrate a community of practice for facilitators, which is paramount to learn, grow, and advance as practitioners and engaging in a dialogue that advances the practice of facilitation. We must learn the tools and modalities needed to foster connection and be successful facilitators in the new virtual landscape. 

“We must establish a personal connection with each other. Connection before content. Without relatedness, no work can occur.” —Peter Block

This year’s summit consisted of 18 expert facilitator guest speakers who presented lightning talks and in-depth workshops, where they shared their methods and activities for effective virtual facilitation. 

One of those speakers was Michael Wilkinson.

Michael Wilkinson, CEO and Managing Director of Leadership Strategies, presented techniques to getting to “Yes” in a disagreement; understanding the issue is key to coming to a solution. According to Michael, three reasons people disagree are due to information, different experiences/values, and outside factors. Exploring the type of disagreement – information, different experiences/values, outside factors – and asking questions are instruments to solving the disagreement. In his workshop, Michael equipped attendees with a clear understanding of the three reasons people disagree, three methods for establishing a consensus-focused process, and five techniques for getting to “yes” when disagreements occur.

Watch Michael Wilkinson’s talk “Consensus Building: Techniques for Getting to Yes” :

Read the Transcript

Michael Wilkinson:

Well, welcome, and thank you for being a part of this lightning talk. We’re going to be talking about consensus building, how do you get people to yes. And what you’re going to find right from the very beginning is something that many of us have found difficult to believe. We’ve trained over 30,000 people and we’ve found that there literally are only three reasons people disagree, literally only three, every disagreement in the entire world, there are only three reasons people disagree. I know you may find that hard to believe, but again, we haven’t had someone tell us there’s a fourth. So, in this lightning talk, I want to take you through the three reasons people disagree. And in the full presentation we’ll be talking about, okay, how do you resolve those? So, I’ll be giving some very quick tips in this lightning talk. So, let’s get started shall we?

We call our model Mountains and Beaches, and I want to show you just an example from a role-play of a typical disagreement that might happen between a couple. So, imagine they are planning their vacation and here’s what the wife says, she starts with saying, “I’ve got it, I’ve got this great idea. I’ve been thinking about our vacation for next year and there’s a 10-day tour of Italy that takes us to eight cities, Rome, Venice, Tuscany, Florence, it’s perfect. What do you think?” So, you can imagine, you’re the husband now, you’re hearing your wife’s excitement and joy about this idea of a 10-day city tour of Italy. Here’s his response, “That sounds like a wonderful tour.” Notice, he starts with the positive, really good. But then he adds, “I’ve really been looking forward to going to the beach this year.”

Okay, we are now set up for a disagreement. Husband wants to go to the beach, wife, 10-day seven city tour of Italy. So, how do you think the wife’s going to respond now that she’s heard her husband’s objection? Well, she goes sweet, “Oh, come on, let’s go to Italy. We haven’t been there before, it will be fun, so let’s do this together.” So, she takes the group view. So, what’s the husband going to do now? How is he going to respond to this clear, hey, let’s do this together. His response, “Oh sweetheart, darling, baby.” So, I happened to know this couple, so this is a real disagreement. And so, he puts on his best Barry White imitation, “Oh sweetheart, darling, baby. Let’s go to the beach, it’ll be quiet, restful. I’ll rub your back.” So, notice now he’s trying to up Annie a little bit, see, here’s what’s a good thing for you for going to the beach.

Now, how’s the wife going to respond? Watch carefully. She says, “Now you’ve been out of town a lot this year, which has left me home to do both my job and take care of the kids solo, so we should really do what I want to do. Let’s do Italy.” Got it. Now she’s dropped back from, hey, let’s work together, this great thing we’ll do together to, hey, here’s why you should do this for me. Look joker, you owe me. I’ve been staying home with the kids and doing my job, we should do what I want to do. The husband’s response? Well, of course, if he’s a smart husband, his answer would be, “Okay, sweetheart. I really care about you, let’s do that.” But that’s not where we are today. He says, “You’re right, I’ve been out of town a lot this year and it’s worn me out, I really need a break. Let’s go to the beach.”

Okay. So, you see what’s happened here, right? We’ve now gone from together to separate interests, wife needing a break, husband needing a break, so both having what seems to be competing needs. How’s the wife respond? Well, she says, “Nope, we are going to Italy.” Husband, okay, we are now digging in, “No we’re going to the beach.” “No, Italy.” “No, beach.” There we go. And before you know it, we have a huge argument. You get the picture. And so, if you look at this argument, you will see, it seems like they’re arguing about where to go on vacation, but they’re really not. What they’re really arguing about, if you lift up the cover on this disagreement, is the purpose of vacation. See, look at it, what’s the wife’s purpose for going on vacation? Doing things fun, interesting different experiences. What’s the husband’s purpose of vacation? Regeneration, relaxing.

So, they will have this disagreement every single year, gentlemen and ladies, every single year until they come together and come with a common agreement on what is the purpose of their vacation. So, let’s break down this disagreement. See, this disagreement, when we look at it, you’ll see we call it, it’s about mountains and beaches is what we call it. So, the wife wants to go to the mountains of Tuscany, husband wants to lay out on the beach for seven days. So, mountains and beaches. If you look at it, they’re really positions, that’s what they are. Husband wants to do this, the wife wants to do this. If we stay at the position level, if we stay at that level, the best outcome we can get is win-lose. Someone’s going to win, someone’s going to lose. And if you know my household, the wife is going to win, the husband is going to lose.

It’s the best achievable outcome, is win-lose, if you stay at the position level. Sometimes you get lose-lose, where they both lose. Where the husband goes, “Well, I’m going to the beach?” Wife’s like, “Fine. I’m going to the mountains.” And they lose the benefit of each other’s company. So, often you get lose-lose. So, think of it this way, the positions are the tip of the iceberg, it’s the tip of the iceberg. And like with any iceberg, what’s really important is what’s under the surface. And so, the key, we’ve got to get under the surface to understand what are the real issues that support those positions. What’s really going on that says, this person wants to go to the mountains of Tuscany, this person wants to go to the beach? What are the real issues? And then if we get at the real issues, then we can create solutions that addresses both of those real issues.

But at the position level, you can’t address it. And when we get to the issues, you can come to agreement. And we know, as facilitators, only one method to get at the real issues. You’ve got to ask questions and it’s important that you know which questions to ask. So, let’s take a look at the questions we’d want to ask. So, let’s just say the husband drops out of advocacy mode. See, if you ever see two people arguing what you’ll see, just watch the argument, it typically sounds like this, statement, statement, statement, statement, each side making statements. And unfortunately we call that advocacy mode. Each side is advocating for what they want. If you ever pass an argument that’s going on, you’ll see advocacy, advocacy, people making statements. If one of them would drop back and go into inquiry mode and ask questions, now we can have a different discussion.

So, let’s just say the husband says, “You know what, let me understand my wife a little better. Why do you want to go to this 10-day seven city tour of Italy?” “Oh, it’ll be exciting, we’ll have a great time.” “What else?” “Oh, we get to visit different places, oh yeah, and various local activities, meeting new people. It will be great.” And then she drops back and goes into inquiry mode, “Well, help me understand, why do you want to go to the beach?” He might say, “Listen, I want to relax, take it easy. It’s been a rough year. I like to sleep in the same bed every night. See, when you go on a 10-day seven city tour of Italy, guess what you’re doing? Changing hotels just about every night. That’s what I do when I’m working, why would I want to do that on vacation?” Says the husband.

“Why else?” “Love the water sports. Hey, I love the scenery at the beach.” Be careful husbands, careful. In any case, let’s check this out. You may come up with a solution that looks like this, or maybe a solution that combines these things. So, we’re not talking about mountains and beaches anymore, we’re talking about exciting, different places, relaxing, sleeping in the same bed. So, your solution may not be a triangle or waves, it might be a Pentagon, heck it might be a diamond. Or in this case, it might be Lake Tahoe where you get both. The key is to get under the positions and at the real issues. And as we said, we only know one way to do that, and that is to ask questions. So, with that as an introduction to this model, let’s talk about the three reasons people disagree. Number one reason, information. Most disagreements are level one disagreement, each have not clearly heard and understood the other’s alternatives and reason for supporting them.

So, basically once more, they’re making statements, making statements and not hearing each other. If one of them would drop back and go into inquiry mode, ask questions, here’s what you hear, because level one disagreements end the same way every time. “Oh, is that what you meant?” When you hear those words, you can just rub your hands and say, my job is done here. That’s how level one disagreements end. See, they’re not really in a disagreement at all, they really agree. Just one has information that the other doesn’t have. So, level one disagreements, it’s solved. How do you do it? By asking questions, that’s how you do it. So, I want to do a quick role play here, take a listen to this role-play and see if you can hear when the role-play changes. So, let’s take a look. Quick sip here.

These are two partners in a business, Joe and Larry. So, Joe says, “I’ve been thinking about this for some time, I think we should close down the home office in Denver and just operate the business out of our three satellite locations in LA, Chicago and New York.” Check it out. Larry says, “Are you out of your mind? That can’t work, couldn’t possibly work.” Joe responds, “Sure it can. You said yourself that there’s a home office mentality that sometimes forgets that there’s a customer. Get rid of the home office, problem goes away. As well, we save a whole lot of money, something we happen to need right about now.” Larry says, “Yeah, I don’t think so. Joe, we’ve been partners for some time, this has got to be the craziest idea you’ve come up with for a while.” Joe says, “I don’t understand why you don’t like it.”

Larry says, “Well, first of all, we have a home office because there are certain administrative activities that need to go on. So, genius, we’re going to stop billing our customers? And what about legal counsel? Are we going to have each of the field offices have their own? Sounds pretty inefficient to me. And what about all the price breaks we get by central purchasing? Will we end up paying more because of each of the field offices are buying their own stuff? And what about…?” “Whoa,” says Joe, “Hold on a second. I’m not sure you’re hearing me. I said close down the home office, not decentralize. We still need to centralize certain functions, but let’s centralize them in the field. For example, we could have New York take over billing activities and other administrative functions. We could have LA responsible for HR. Their HR coordinator out there is better than anyone we’ve had here in Denver.”

And then Larry says, “I get it. You would then have Chicago handle customer service and operations. You may be on to something. We could even offer jobs to those who are willing to make the transfer. By doing all this, we drop the overhead of the fourth office, increase customer focus at the same time. I like it. But why didn’t you say that in the first place?” Joe says, “I did say it. You just weren’t listening. I said I wanted to operate our business out of three satellite locations. What did you think I meant?” Did you hear it? Level one disagreement, level one disagreement where they were arguing. I think we should do this. No, it’s a bad idea. Yes, it’s a good idea. No, it’s a bad idea. Why don’t you like it? Well, I don’t like it because…

There you go. Well, there was a shift in this conversation and during the full consensus building workshop, we’re glad to examine, when did this shift happen? And what you will see is, the way you solve level one disagreements is by asking questions. Because when you ask questions, when you can figure out a nice way to get one person to say, hey, shut up, listen to that person. You, you speak. Then you turn to the other person, hey, shut up, listen to that person. You speak. When you do that, you have to find a nice way to do it, that wasn’t very nice by the way, but find a nice way to do it. What you’ll end up hearing is what I’ve said before, “Oh, is that what you meant?” That’s how level one disagreements end all over the world. That’s a level one disagreement, let’s go to a level two disagreement.

Now, a level one disagreement is about information, level two’s about values. Each has heard and understood the alternative and supporting reasons, meaning they understand each other, but they’ve had different experiences or hold different values that result in a different preference. So, remember mountains and beaches, the couple, they had different values. What did the wife value in a vacation? Different experiences. What did the husband value in vacation? Wow, he wanted relaxing and so on. So, even though they have different values, they can still come to solutions. How do you do it? First, you’ve got to isolate those key values and then create new solutions that combine the values. Again, in the talk, we’ll talk through processes for doing that systematically so that you have a method for dealing with level two disagreements. Level three disagreements are different from that. So remember, level one, information, level two, different experiences or value, level three disagreement is outside factors.

The disagreement is based on personality, past history with one another or other factors that have nothing to do with the alternatives being discussed. Meaning they just don’t like each other. Let’s do a quick role-play again. This time, this is Tom and Francis, they’re board members of a nonprofit organization. And Tom kicks in, “One of the things that we could do to improve our board governance is to add one or two board members with strong financial backgrounds. This way, we can better understand the financial ramifications of some of the proposals we’re considering.” Francis responds, “That won’t work.” Wow. Okay, Francis. Tom says, “Sure it will, we just need to make sure we get the right people.” Francis says, “No, it won’t work.” So, the facilitator steps in and says, “You may be right, Francis. Please explain why you believe it won’t work.” Francis insistent, “It just won’t work.” Facilitator tries to recover. “Okay. How might we improve it?” Once more, Francis, “There is no way to improve it, it just won’t work.”

Facilitate tries a final time, “Help us understand, Francis. Why are you so convinced it won’t work?” Check out Francis’ response, “It just won’t work. He thought of it. It won’t work.” There you go. Now we’re in it now so we can see right away, there is something going on here. And so, how do you solve level three disagreements? It’s different. See, level three disagreements can’t be solved at this level, it’s got to be taken to a higher level. So, if it’s level three, just quickly, here’s what we say when you have to recognize the characteristics, it’s really important stuff, it’s irrational, no commitment to finding a solution. And then you take the action. We say, take it to a higher source. If you’re in a meeting, take a break, get agreement that we’ll work together with the parties, whatever you do, solving level three disagreements in the room is really difficult.

So, when we get together, please join me for this session that we’re going to be doing on consensus building. We’ll continue the same. You’re going to see our comprehensive methodology for dealing with facilitation. You see in the middle there, it’s all about consensus building. We’ll follow up with six strategies for getting to yes. And finally we will close with next steps for those who want to learn more. With that said, it’s been my pleasure. Look forward to seeing you soon.