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052: The Water Nerd’s Guide to Rocking Public Meetings, Part 2, with Dr. Larry Schooler
22nd April 2019 • Water In Real Life • The H2duO
00:00:00 00:50:55

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Be sure to check out part one of our conversation with Dr. Schooler in EP051 first.

Dr. Larry Schooler is the father of two and husband of one. He is also a mediator, facilitator, consensus builder, and public engagement consultant. He spent eight years developing and overseeing the public engagement division for the City of Austin, one of the first of its kind in the country. He is now director of consensus building and community engagement at CD&P, a Texas-based consulting firm. He’s also a senior fellow at the National Civic League and the Strauss Institute for Civic Life at the University of Texas, and a subject matter advisor for 100 Resilient Cities. He divides his time between Texas and Florida and enjoys long walks on the beach, long runs on marathon courses, playing the piano, and rooting for Houston sports teams. His first book, on public engagement in truth and reconciliation and how the public can help resolve big conflicts, is due out later this year.

Top Takeaways:

  • The nuts and bolts of public meetings–
    • What are some things to come prepared with?
    • What are some things to keep in mind?
    • What are some things you need to have in mind to keep your head right if you are facilitating meetings?
  • Empathy is at the core of effective communication. Communication isn’t a person with a megaphone, it’s a dialogue. Both parties in the conversation may not agree, but the conversation is necessary. Ultimately, that’s how change is made.
  • People don’t always agree with every decision made that affects them, but they are more likely to be supportive or have trust in you and your organization if they were given an opportunity to have their voice heard and if their input was taken into consideration during the process.

Show notes:

[3:20] Stephanie’s worst-first-date analogy. Is only talking about ourselves and only about the negative things creating the mob killing the messenger vibe?

[4:23] The agencies spending the time meeting with people when the temperature is average or low find public engagement to be a lot easier to handle than the agencies who only show up during a crisis. Relationships matter.

[5:00] When people say “build trust” what they’re really saying is (a) show that you know what you are talking about and (b) demonstrate an effort to building a relationship–don’t remain a generic, faceless entity.

[5:29] Meet people where they are. People are bringing their own perspectives to public meetings. Empathize with them. Talk about their feelings regarding the issue at hand.  Share perspectives.

[6:55] “I’m not there to convince them they are mistaken. I simply need to share what this looks like from our vantage point and why it’s important to us, which hopefully leads you to hear it in a different way.” Larry, on his role as a facilitator.

[7:17] Keep in mind that the natural reflex is defensiveness. Saying things like “no decision has been made,” even if it’s true, automatically makes people think a decision has been made. Understand this and be prepared.

[8:26] The more an agency can anticipate and prepare responses, the better. Anticipate answers to Frequently Asked Questions. Come prepared to lead with empathy.

[10:12] Ways to manage a “difficult” room.

[13:19] Anecdotal story about handling heated conflict in the moment.

[14:41] How do we get more people to show up at public meetings? 

[15:16] Make it simple for your attendees. Larry gives us things to keep in mind when planning your meeting.

[21:59] Larry explains how he develops facilitators. Yes, YOU can do this.

*BONUS–Check out Larry’s facilitator pop quiz–Dr. Larry Schooler’s Facilitator’s Quiz

[28:48] Responding to participants that think you don’t get it.  

[31:47] Larry’s take on staying neutral and objective as a facilitator and what entities working with facilitators need to keep in mind.

[34:23 ] Dr. Larry Schooler tells us more about the book he’s working on focused on how the public can resolve big conflicts.


Book: The Great Believers by Rebecca Makkai

TedxToronto: The antidote to apathy by Dave Meslin

Dr. Larry Schooler’s Facilitator’s Quiz

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