Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Sharing Your Opinion? Try the "Goldilocks Test"

Permission for reprinting granted by Samaritan Center of Puget Sound

In recent days, communities across the USA have held town hall meetings to discuss proposals to reform our health care system. Many of us have been taken aback by the hostility and vitriol expressed at these meetings – we’d like to see a more civil, constructive dialogue about the issues facing us all. When you are in a group and have a viewpoint to share, what’s the most effective way to express it? In their book, Crucial Conversations, Patterson, et al, suggest using the “Goldilocks Test.”

You remember the childhood story about how Papa Bear’s porridge was “too hot” and Mama Bear’s porridge was “too cold” but Baby Bear’s porridge was “just right.” When entering into a discussion of controversial issues, there is a danger of stating your case too strongly (“too hot”) or too timidly (“too cold.”) How can you voice your opinion so it’s “just right?”

The key to sharing your opinion so others are willing to listen? Be confident but tentative. Confident because you’ve done your homework, have thought the issues through and have something worthwhile to add to the conversation, and tentative because you are open to learning from others’ perspectives and are expressing your opinion, not irrefutable facts. A “just right” statement invites others to test your ideas and add their own perspective which can lead to a constructive, problem-solving discussion.

Here’s an example, using the current issue of health care reform:
Too hot: “You’re a hatemonger! Why don’t you just shut up and sit down!”
Too cold: “Maybe I’m overly sensitive, but your accusations and claims are hurtful.”
Just right: “I’m suggesting that we avoid name-calling and focus on the issues.”

Notice that the “too hot” statement invites an angry, hostile response and will generate more heat than light. The “too cold” statement invites the other side to dismiss you as weak or irrelevant. The “just right” statement invites a reasoned response that can move people in the direction of learning from one another and finding a constructive solution.

By Marty Hawkins, M.Ed., Certified Mediator, Samaritan Center of Puget Sound

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