This is a guest post by Oscar Benavides, who is presenting at the Hogg Foundation’s 2019 Robert Lee Sutherland Seminar: Working Together for Rural Well-Being. Read other posts in this series from Sheila Savannah, Frances Dunn Butterfoss, Wendy Ellis, and Nakia Winfield and Anna Jackson.
“The humanity of others calls us not only to see them differently but also to treat them differently – as people rather than as objects.”
– The Anatomy of Peace: Resolving the Heart of Conflict, The Arbinger Institute
We often hear that systems are broken: families, education, government, healthcare, media, the marketplace, etc. It can become overwhelming to think about possible solutions, especially for individuals. What can one person do?
The good news is that any individual can make a difference in a system if they learn how to influence others and authentically collaborate. To become effective influencers, we must first recognize that we have a choice: We can either invite others to join or resist change efforts.
How to Invite People to Join You
First, look within. Humility and authenticity are at the heart of a person’s ability to build relationships. We invite others to join change efforts by seeing them “as people rather than as objects.” (The Anatomy of Peace)
When you see people as objects—roadblocks in the complex web of systems—you fail to recognize the opportunity for a mutually beneficial relationship—a key ingredient for systems change. When this is our worldview, our behaviors and words often invite the other person to resist change efforts—to reject your vision because it isn’t a shared vision.
On the other hand, when we see others as people, we recognize their humanity, perspectives and strengths as just as valuable as ours. In this scenario, we are also more likely to view their ideas and goals as important, too, and in doing so, our behaviors and words invite them to join change efforts—through a shared vision.
By inviting people into collaboration in this way, the ability to influence change that meets both parties’ needs is exponentially more possible. The Anatomy of Peace explains this open mindset as a “heart of peace.” It has profound impact on relationships and influence.
A Real-World Example
A school offered my nonprofit an opportunity to work with its students. Even though we were small and desperate for clients, I insisted that we would only take the project if we could work with the parents of the students, too. Expressing this contingency was a risky move, and my staff was nervous. What if I’d blown our chance to do something great with these kids?
Why was working with parents so important to us? Experience had taught us that our ability to make an impact on the lives of students is greatly affected by the system they live in—their families. The environments in which we live have significant influence on our ability to thrive, and it is the individuals involved in systems like families, schools and places of faith that hold the most opportunity for influence.
After discussing my proposal, the school executive said, “There is something different about you. I sense a calmness and peace about you.” I was stunned and knew that my “heart of peace” was at work. I had been practicing these principles and she noticed it. She offered me the contract to begin working in eight schools, and within a few years that number grew to 14, engaging 1,500 students and their parents—and teachers!
It turns out, by approaching my communication with the school leader as a person-to-person conversation rooted in our common desire for change, rather than a bureaucratic tug-of-war with a cog in a system, we recognized shared goals and the value of working together.
Questions for Reflection
- How can I change mindsets and not just behaviors?
- How can I focus on bigger systems to change and not just individuals?
- What can I do to have others listen to my ideas with an open mind and heart?
- What am I thinking, doing or saying that invites others to resist me?
- The Tip of the Iceberg: Managing the Hidden Forces that Can Make or Break Your Organization, by David Hutchens
- The Outward Mindset, by The Arbinger Institute