I'm not a rookie at what I do for organizations, small businesses and small towns. After over 16 years in the field I have learned a lot about how I can help a company, organization or community succeed; that process is called Solution Oriented Community/Company Organizing (SOCO). My goal, always, is to find a common ground and a solution to move forward. It is how I operate in the world and what I bring to the table when I am brought in as a consultant.
My first rule is no whining. No one wants to hear complainers complain. Probably because we have heard a similar complaint before. People get stuck in their stories and they tell the same ones over and over. The more often they tell the story the more "true" it becomes. It may not be really true, but it is what they believe to be true.
Someone can't do one more thing, they are too busy. Someone else just can't get ahead. Another team thinks that one person is to blame for all of their failure. Someone else spouts that about how it was always done in the past. You know these people, you are probably one of these people for some issue, idea, cause. We all are.
What I bring is that I can cut through the stories to find the kernel of truth. Often those repeated stories have some feeling or emotion built into them - most often that feeling is fear. Fear of success, fear of failure, fear of the unknown, fear of feeling hurt - it is all in there. My technique is to try to listen, then stop the story and re-frame it to help them see another side of the picture they are sharing.
For instance, in my small town the story is often that the downtown shops are not open at night. That was true 10 years ago. It might have rung true 5 years ago. Now, though, that is not true. Stores are staying open longer - especially on the weekends. But what has happened is that collectively the entire town remembers the experience they had years ago and continue to tell that same story. They tell that story to visitors, each other, leaders in the community, the press, and anyone who will listen. Is the story true? No, but the the listener isn't going to do the research 99% of the time to figure that out. They believe the story and so the cycle continues. People think downtown is closed up at 5PM, visitors don't come, shops feel frustrated they are staying open, etc.
One on one, when I hear that particular story I share a new story. The story of how it is today and invite them to experience it now. I coach others to tell the new story. I co-create a Solution to the problem. 9 times out of 10 people can start to find a new story, but often only if they are listened to and coached through the fear of learning a new way of moving forward. My goal is that they learn to tell a story of possibilities.
Next Up: How This Process Works With Individual Small Businesses