Gridlock - being stuck in a seemingly intractable situation - can come in many forms. It can be a colleague who refuses to believe in climate change, or an executive who, for reasons hard to understand, is holding back progress on a key sustainability initiative at your company. But it is undoubtedly something anyone working in sustainability has encountered more than once.
Knowing this is a common challenge, Gabriel Grant and Jason Jay led a timely workshop entitled “Breaking Through Gridlock: Navigating Pitfalls and Pathways in Conversations for a Better World” at SB‘17 Detroit, to help attendees figure out how to overcome specific gridlock situations. They walked participants through how to navigate hard conversations where views and values are, seemingly, at odds.
“We can’t get out of these predicaments in a one-dimensional space, where what I am for is the opposite of what you are for,” Grant said.
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from the week!Grant and Jay, who literally wrote the book on the subject, have extensive experience in this area. Grant – CEO of Human Partners and a research scholar at Yale – supports organizations in creating cultures of purpose, trust and engagement. Jay is a Senior Lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management and Director of the Sustainability Initiative there, teaching courses on leadership, strategy and innovation for sustainable business.
“We want you to take advantage of this opportunity to expand your capacity, get yourself unstuck, and break through the gridlock,” Jay added.
According to the co-authors, gridlock can often be a barrier to companies moving forward on sustainability initiatives. While the obvious focus is to blame the person holding up the plans as the problem, the first half of the workshop focused on the participants themselves, and how their own preconceptions can inhibit their ability to communicate and avoid gridlock.
As Grant pointed out: “It takes a lot of conversations to create a movement, to make a shift, but we have an opportunity with every single one of them.”
In the second half of the workshop, attendees shifted focus to the person they are trying to influence: Instead of assuming they are just against the new idea, Jay and Grant advocated understanding their values and using that as an approach to better communication.
According to Grant and Jay, the focus should be to shift from a one-dimensional framework –where what you want and what they want are at opposite ends – to a multidimensional framework that acknowledges that there is a middle ground that can provide benefits to both parties.
“Instead of inviting people into your corner, invite them into this ambivalent space where you’re exploring what you’re both looking for, together,” Grant said. “This [can lead to] innovation and flourishing.”
After sharing their experiences helping others break gridlock through their framework, Jay and Grant gave participants a conversation template to fill out. It included language for an apology for how they had approached the topic in the past, and template questions for understanding the values of that person. After working on the template with partners, participants were asked to commit to having this conversation with someone who they felt was causing gridlock in their workplaces, and report back on what took place.
SB’17 Detroit was also the launch host for Grant and Jay’s new book, written with the hope that their findings can help bring about better cooperation across companies and sectors.
“There is a huge upswell of demand for breaking gridlock,” Jay said. “We’re hoping we are building a community around this work – we are going to be able to take this to the next level and really have an impact at this critical moment.”
In an era of seemingly perpetual partisanship and limited space for change, figuring out how to break gridlock - and move forward together – is more important than ever. A digital poll conducted at the end to the workshop showed that the majority of participants planned to use their prepared conversations at their workplaces soon. Several attendees also picked up a copy of the book, looking to use it as a guide on how to break through and create more impact within their organizations.
Sometimes, all it takes to get to a mutual understanding, and progress on sustainability, is a change in our approach the challenge.