One-on-One’s: Rusty but Ready

Background/Risk. I was raised Catholic, went to a Catholic college, did the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC), worked at a Catholic college, and later came to U, also a Catholic college. I love the mission of social justice and at the same time, at each of these institutions, I have been heartbroken by the gap between the mission and the institutions’ decisions on issues ranging from women’s leadership to divestment to workers’ wages. I’m wondering if U will be different? Is there a willingness to live our mission through our financial choices as well as through service and other forms of social engagement?

Questions. Tell me what brought you to U? What has made you choose to stay here? How do you see the institution living its mission? Where are the gaps between mission and engagement from your perspective? What’s the most challenging aspect of the work here for you?

(Reflect back what they have said, summarize, and see if it feels right to connect it to what I have said. Then, if it is, this is an opportunity to talk about the CPA. Note to self: Ask about this point – do most of the meetings others have done start with the premise that CPA is a discussion point, or is it more important to get in front of the person and then bring it up as a result of meeting the needs they have expressed?)

Relational vs. transactional. I think the hardest part of this is that, although I learned one-on-one’s as part of my class with Marshall Ganz, it has been nearly two decades since I used this conversational form. At the time I learned from him, I was with fellow students and other organizers who were also trained in this approach. When I moved to Los Angeles a couple of years later, this was not the common model for organizing conversations, which I found to be more like a battle of wills. I remember shaking life a leaf after a call with then-head of SEIU, Andy Stern, who yelled and threatened and taunted before agreeing to my “ask” regarding their participation in a statewide anti-poverty initiative. Shortly after that, I abandoned organizing and one-on-one’s and moved into more traditional social work-type jobs, where the conversations are based predominantly on listening and reflection rather than goal-directed for an external outcome. In short, I’m rusty at this approach. 🙂 And I imagine asking for information about aspects of the institution’s budget and related decision-making will be uncomfortable. There has been a lot of conflict at the U due to low morale, which stems in part from anger about poor compensation and opaque decision-making by the U’s executive team. The people who are executing the resulting strategies are just doing the best they can, and they can get defensive when they hear something that sounds like criticism or questioning their actions.

Models. Felipe is really good at this, and so is Juan Francisco. My colleague Ashley, too. They are all good at being succinct, sincere, using humor, and bringing a level of self-assurance to the conversation that makes me feel calm and able to think clearly. With each one, their clarity of purpose is like a beam of light that cuts through the fog. Whether I decide to go along with them for the ride or not, that kind of clarity is compelling. It makes me want to get clearer also, and that’s where creative problem-solving seems to begin.

Meetings.

Meeting #1: CL, Chair of Faculty Senate. She is on “grant-writing strike” so I know she is frustrated with the institution and will likely be supportive of bringing in approaches that meet needs and help the institution recover.

Meeting #2: KS, Director of Campus Ministry. She knows a ton of people on campus and has a very loving but detached disposition. She can help to provide a perspective on whom to speak with next.

Meeting #3: RG, Director of Facilities. I understand from colleagues that he is overwhelmed, so I think he will be open to possibilities that will make his work load lighter.

Reflection Script

Who else have you found who shares this heartbreak? Who on campus is speaking about it? Sometimes kinship and action help ease my own heartbreak.

I was in a faculty meeting earlier this week and I heard a colleague allude to the need to organize faculty regarding issues of institutional governance. It occurred to me that I will need to find a time to meet with him to find out his origin story and to see what shared commitments we may be able to discover that can be the basis for shared action.

What does your gut say? What do you think would be appropriate? Why? How would this change for each person or role? I think there’s no one right answer, and you probably won’t know the answer until halfway through your conversation, but how could you prepare scenarios? And based on those scenarios, how could you create a favorable outcome to move the ball forward for each?

Great questions! I am not sure, but I know a good local strategic conversation partner whom I can ask J

Do you feel your agenda (under development, potentially even during the discussions) will be perceived as criticism, or questioning, even though you are approaching the dialogs as “meeting needs” and “lightening work loads?”

Yes, thanks so much, Alessandra. And, so far, it seems like any kind of change or new ideas seem to be received as criticism. Long-standing members of the University community tend to be so overwhelmed, they seem to experience difficulty taking in new possibilities or having hope for a new future.

Are you involved in any organizing or organization outside of CPA or the U in which you might be able to practice a more classic one on one without it interfering with your goals on this venture? Have you sat down to consider which personal stories are origin stories of you being agitated or acting? This is something I know I need to brush off. Telling a succinct story is often a challenge.

I’m doubly curious about your reply to Jessica’s questions above about what personal stories illustrate the depth of your commitment to the values so challenged at U today. That seems like a rich source of potential connection between you and others who may be willing to act over these shared values.

Magelette, thank you for your question about the brush off. Jonathan, thank you also for asking about sharing stories. I think sometimes I am not sure what origin stories to tell because sometimes the most true story is the one most difficult to share. For example, for the past two years of living in Miami, I have rented two different apartments, both of which turned out to have major issues, such as windows that don’t work or are broken so that they are a hurricane hazard. I took a risk to share with my departmental colleagues my concerns about the cost of living here and the difficulties I have found in locating a rental that is both safe and affordable. I wanted to drive home some related concerns my students have had and also to see what the response would be so that going forward, I have a better sense of shared pain points. My colleagues either looked uncomfortable and changed the subject or made unhelpful suggestions and changed the subject. I was committing a “faux pas”; as academics, we analyze poverty, we don’t actually experience it, or at least that was the message as I received it. They have resolved their pay issues primarily through marriage and other forms of familial wealth; I am broaching uncomfortable realities by bringing up such matters. So, perhaps it is finding a story that is resonant and also less uncomfortable for my colleagues?  

What’s one part of yourself you’re excited to exercise here in a way that feels like it might be important to what’s next for you?
What’s one thing you learned about yourself in writing this? (Felipe)

I learned that I still need to work on which story I choose to share in order to maximize the motivating impact while minimizing unproductive discomfort.

5 thoughts on “One-on-One’s: Rusty but Ready”

  1. Hey Sheila,

    I appreciated your note to self about whether or not to include CPA in your internal agenda for these one on ones. Technically I think most one on ones, especially as first contact, almost require we walk in with no agenda other than understanding the others self interest, motivation, and what they might be willing to act on. In practice though we often are looking for leaders for existing campaigns and/or on issued we have already heard resonate and one on ones for leaders have always felt slightly different than for paid staff, to me personally. All that to say that I am very much thinking of these one on ones as a hybrid in which it’s ok to have CPA feasability as an agenda item in ones mind.

    Are you involved in any organizing or organization outside of CPA or the U in which you might be able to practice a more classic one on one without it interfering with your goals on this venture? Have you sat down to consider which personal stories are origin stories of you being agitated or acting? This is something I know I need to brush off. Telling a succinct story is often a challenge.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Love this post, Sheila! Especially fascinated by your journey with organizing, including that terrifying phone call with Andy Stern. Yikes. Battles of egos sound exhausting.

    I’m drawn to the heartbreak you describe at the gap between the stated and acted values of U. Who else have you found who shares this heartbreak? Who on campus is speaking about about it? Sometimes kinship and action help ease my own heartbreak.

    I’m doubly curious about your reply to Jessica’s questions above about what personal stories illustrate the depth of your commitment to the values so challenged at U today. That seems like a rich source of potential connection between you and others who may be willing to act over these shared values.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Sheila! The low morale, mistrust, and exhaustion you describe regarding the environment at U is so palpable. Bookending the discussions you are about to have with your last 1:1 experience – where you mention you were left “shaking” – could feel ominous. However, it sounds like you have a lot more clarity on what success looks like for the upcoming conversations than you give yourself credit for. You’ve already taken time to empathize with each of the people with whom you’ll be meeting, understanding the source of their frustrations and being aware enough to know what the campus-wide challenges are to achieving the mission with transparency.
    “There has been a lot of conflict at the U due to low morale, which stems in part from anger about poor compensation and opaque decision-making by the U’s executive team. The people who are executing the resulting strategies are just doing the best they can, and they can get defensive when they hear something that sounds like criticism or questioning their actions.”
    Do you feel your agenda (under development, potentially even during the discussions) will be perceived as criticism, or questioning, even though you are approaching the dialogs as “meeting needs” and “lightening work loads?”

    Liked by 1 person

  4. What’s one part of yourself you’re excited to exercise here in a way that feels like it might be important to what’s next for you?
    What’s one thing you learned about yourself in writing this?

    What we notice in others is often what we’re noticing / becoming aware of in ourselves, right?
    “succinct, sincere, using humor”
    “bringing a level of self-assurance to the conversation”
    “clarity of purpose is like a beam of light that cuts through the fog”

    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Sheila!

    It’s such a joy to read you! You’re quickly becoming one of my favorite people ever, and I’m so humbled about how you write about me. 😀

    Regarding this point “– do most of the meetings others have done start with the premise that CPA is a discussion point, or is it more important to get in front of the person and then bring it up as a result of meeting the needs they have expressed?”

    What does your gut say? What do you think woud be appropriate? Why? How would this change for each person or role? I think there’s no one right answer, and you probably won’t know the answer until halfway through your conversation, but how could you prepare scenarios? And based on those scenarios, how could you create a favorable outcome to move the ball forward for each?

    Also, don’t forget about the relational meeting set up for tomorrow! You may think he is a done deal, but this is a very sophisticated relationship to be managed! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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