Local government needs effective
By Jeri Marxman
"Many attempts to communicate are nullified by saying
too much." – Robert Greenleaf
Has it happened to you? In a discussion of a controversial
issue where there are differing opinions and viewpoints, are your
colleagues so busy expressing their own viewpoints that they
don't listen to your opinions and suggestions?
Why is this? It occurs when the meeting switches from
problem-solving to a win-lose competition. Effective
communication is at the core of all productive relationships. If
policies are to truly serve the public good, it is essential that
all participants make a real effort to understand the issues from
all perspectives. That means we all need to spend more time
listening to each other and less time stating our own point of
How can we change this deeply ingrained habit of arguing and
debating instead of building collaborative solutions? We begin by
committing ourselves to working on solutions that meet all our
needs. While this is easy to say, learning this new skill can be
In most policy discussions, we begin by individually
diagnosing "what the problem is" and then constructing
a solution. Each of us comes to the meeting with "the"
solution to the problem, and the meeting proceeds as a debate
over these opposing solutions.
What's wrong with that? It may be that our view of the
problem is different from others' view of the problem. When
we are debating solutions we are not in agreement of what problem
we are solving. By listening more effectively, we can first agree
on the problem and the underlying causes of the problem. Then we
can work on a solution.
- Jeri Marxman, U. of Illinois Extension Specialist, Public