Sustaining a Partnership Community
Tips for sustaining a partnership community include: common characteristics of success, partnership communication, and navigating common challenges together.
Common Characteristics of Successful Partnership Communities
While each partnership community will have its own interests, leadership, organization and goals, following are some elements common to all successful efforts:
- A group of people with a common interest.
- Committed leadership.
- Willingness to dialogue, listening to every voice, dealing with the inevitable conflict and disagreement in a positive, respectful way.
- Ability to articulate message and engage people in it.
- Patience, perseverance and belief that change is inevitable.
- Securing needed resources of space, books, materials and sponsors
Following are some core characteristics of partnership communication at which all group members will want to become skilled:
- Using language that promotes respect, even in times of disagreement
- Act in a spirit of truth
- Respect each other
- Learn more about various positions
- Respond after stating what was heard and asking for clarification
- Indicate agreement as well as disagreement
- Share concerns directly with individuals or group with whom we disagree
- Speak from personal experiences related to the subject of disagreement
- Refrain from labeling or name calling of others
- Focus on ideas instead of questioning people’s motives, intelligence or integrity
- Maintain community with each other though the conversation may be intense
Navigating Common Challenges
The group needs to engage participants on a level that works for everyone. For example, if people are energized to work on a group project, a conference, run a booth at a community fair, adopt an elementary school or a nursing home and model partnership values there, they can succeed. Or, if a group agrees to be a sounding board where people can come to be inspired and supported to take individual action toward partnership, that is great. However, when a group's clarity of purpose either gets fuzzy or has not been clearly defined, conflict can arise.
The group must have consensus about why they are gathered, beyond the global notion that partnership is a great idea. This will also help to avoid the trap of competing interests, or uneven participation in which some people do ‘all of the work’ while others just show up when it is convenient. There will never be an evenly divided amount of commitment, but expectation of group members needs to be clear. Strong partnership leadership that facilitates the process toward its greatest good will help.
Another challenge that can arise is the human tendency to want to be "right" about our understanding of partnership. Believing that there is only one right way can lead to a “more partnership than thou” attitude which can be really off-putting. The very passion that people bring to partnership can actually be a turnoff when dealing with others. Inclusivity and partnership communication are essential.
Here’s an example of this dynamic. Suppose you have a partnership supporter who is passionately convinced that a vegetarian diet is "more partnership" than eating the Standard American Diet (SAD). Suppose you also have a supporter who is in a position of influence in a big company and came to partnership from a different entry point--from more of a systems perspective. These two people might disagree about diet issues, with the passionate veggie’s view, “If you eat the SAD you are a dominator.” The SAD eater--who doesn’t have the time or inclination to examine or change her diet and doesn’t want to be made to feel like a dominator--is offended and never comes back. Now, what was once possible in that community doesn’t happen.
There has to be a lot of room for people to be encouraged and supported and not judged. This requires a high degree of self-awareness and partnership communications skills.
Adapted from materials prepared for the Center for Partnership Studies by Kathleen Hermes, M.A. Transformative Leadership, Partnership Concentration at the California Institute of Integral Studies