Recently I had the opportunity to facilitate my workshop, “Difficult Conversations: The art and science of thinking together,” with the community leaders of Redding, California — the state's tenth most conservative large city, according to voter registration figures.
Sponsored by the city's Chamber of Commerce, The McConnell Foundation and Euphrates.org, the workshop brought more than 80 prominent government, business, non-profit and religious community leaders together — including city council members, the past and future mayor, the chair of the County Board of Supervisors, the county sheriff, and more.
Redding’s interest in the workshop was driven by necessity. Like many communities Redding is facing serious challenges, from rising crime and homelessness to a growing opioid epidemic. But as a recent editorial in the city's major newspaper pointed out, their biggest challenge is coming together to find solutions in a political and civic environment plagued by poor communication and lack of trust.
Redding needed a reset — something that would help them repair relationships and find common ground. City leaders thought my workshop might help, and the feedback indicates it did. More tellingly, they've asked me to return in February to lead the workshop again for those unable to attend the first one.
But perhaps my favorite indicator of success is an anecdote about two of the attendees: one was a city councilwoman facing a recall effort, and the other was a man leading that effort. Both stayed for the entire workshop.
Days later I asked what became of the recall, and learned it fizzled after failing to get the requisite number of signatures. Then I read an op-ed by the man behind the effort, reflecting on his experience.
In it he wrote that it was time for the community “to abandon its focus on the differences and begin to address the distrust of each other as we instead focus on common goals,” and to “come together, to break the bubbles we have existed in and the echo chambers that have given us feedback that has been flawed and one-sided."
The workshop in a nutshell.