Several years ago, I was chair of a school committee when a crisis came up. It was summertime. School was out. While our whole school committee was well-versed in the situation at hand, I misjudged how much little the larger community knew about the situation. Misinformation filled this gap.
Parents were furious. Community members without kids were angry. In the middle of a particularly contentious community meeting about the situation, one woman told me I was a bad example for children.
There are different ways to deal with this type of situation. One is to dig in your heels and shut down dialogue. That’s it! Time’s up! No more discussion.
This approach works on one level: Protest stops. But people will still be angry, and not just about the original issue. They also will be mad that they haven’t been heard – layering a deep, personal insult on top of everything else.
It was at this point that I learned the value of letting people vent.
Setting aside your own pride and agenda to let people tell you exactly what is on their minds is not the easy way to go. People may end up telling you a lot of uncomfortable things, and you may have to take quite a bit of grief about secondary matters before people get to the underlying problems that are truly bothering them.
It also is not good enough to just sit through this process, waiting for it to be over. You have to be willing to actually hear the feedback, absorb it, and learn from it.
Why go through all this pain?
Listening deeply to others who may not agree with you is the only way to get past division to dialogue, a point of compromise, mutually acceptable outcomes, and a sense that we are all in this thing together.