Brenda Smith: Take a walk in my boots

The power of persuasion rarely buys bonus points at the collaborative table and it's not the power fueling the Oregon Way.

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Now to the post!

Current director of High Desert Partnership, a nonprofit organization in Harney County, Oregon that seeks to find common ground through collaboration.

Out here in Harney County a good number of folks are now working through the winter chores. It’s a to-do list that’s well-known, long-followed, and, of course, labor-intensive. Cattle are being fed for those long winter nights; Ranchers are bringing first calf heifers into closer pastures and barns to keep a better watch over the soon-to-be calving; Folks are chopping ice to make sure the livestock have their daily water; And, the wildlife—at least those not hunkered down for the winter—are doing their own chores, working to make a living (sometimes opportunistically) in the high desert.

Everyone and everything is prepping for anything Mother Nature might throw at us next. We do our best to be prepared as possible all the while knowing that we can never be entirely ready for what may come. If you followed any creature out here, you’d likely come to respect their dedication for looking out for themselves and their loved ones in occasionally difficult conditions.

 “Walk a mile in my boots” is a saying I often apply to navigate my actions and reactions in my collaborative work of bringing folks to the table to help solve the tough issues. We often can’t know all of the life experiences that bring people to a collaborative process. That’s where the intentional relationship building part of the equation comes into play—the hard work of preparation.

The easy (or lazy) approach is simply assuming things about others, rather than working hard to understand them more fully. We all know what happens when assumptions are made, which makes walking in another person’s boots all the more important. I have found out the most astonishing things about people’s lives by just listening. Through that simple act, I can come to see the path that brought them to rural communities or to stay in one.

What I have found helpful is to recognize is that everyone has a set of life experiences that—along with their upbringing and education (formal or otherwise)—have shaped their perceptions. And, importantly, it is their perceptions that is their truth.

What seems important when going into a collaborative setting is knowing what motivates you to come to the table as well as the motivations of others. If you think collaboration is a forum to make people accept your ideas, deal with your frustrations, or protect what you claim as yours, then I can say pretty firmly say that a collaborative process is not the place to put yourself.

If you come to the collaborative table with an interest in helping solve issues, knowing that your life experiences can help inform the problem at hand and potentially be part of a problem-solving process, then great—we hope you can join us. One collaborative partner once told me “I just thought that if I could explain my point of view, then everyone would understand and would agree.” Funny how life doesn’t quite work that way. 

The power of persuasion rarely buys bonus points at the collaborative table. What does seem to work is holding your truth while listening to other’s truth with the idea that problems can be solved if you try even in the slightest to understand where the other person is coming from. 

Is the Oregon Way keeping the concerns and interests of others in mind to solve our community issues? 

Is the Oregon Way being prepared to solve issues together even through your life experiences have brought you to the table with a different point of view?

Is the Oregon Way being interested in what other people think and why they think what they do?

I would like to think that all those things make up the Oregon Way and I would like to think it is alive and well out here in Harney County.

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