It is not reasonable to expect everyone to cooperate and to get along. The world’s population is about 6 billion people, which nearly guarantees than any person or group has one or more polar opposites.
The major religions of the world guarantee dissension. Each group believes themselves to be superior to the others. Some tolerate others, while some do not. Politics guarantee acrimony. The left or the right, conservatives or liberals: there are basic, incompatible differences.
Hidden agendas, personal agendas, personality conflicts, introverts and extroverts, honest people and dishonest people all guarantee disharmony.
Do I think the world is a dire, dreadful place? No, it is a place where faith, hope, and charity exist. It is also a place to have realistic expectations.
When working with disparate groups, assess what you have to work with. Try to identify the strengths, weaknesses, aptitudes, and attitudes of each person involved. The purpose is to realize the skill sets and beliefs of the people in the group. Then, develop a plan to work with them toward the goals of the group.
Once you know the profile of your group, find common ground upon which to build a consensus. Work toward as much agreement as practical. If you set a unanimous goal, one of three outcomes will happen. You will fail to get a unanimous vote. You will compromise the true intent of the group for the sake of agreement.
Depending on the size of the group and the number of goals, break the group down into affinity groups if possible. Keep balance, quality and skill in mind. If a group can get along well and has much in common, that is good. If the smaller group is incompetent, it won’t help the overall group and might harm it. Strive for affinity, but require competence, too.
People can set aside personal differences to further a cause they believe in. Trust is a major part of making this work. If a group of widely diverse people come together for a unifying purpose, such as neighborhood association, there will likely be skepticism to overcome. In cases like this, have a written mission statement or agreement that all participants sign. If someone won’t sign, do not allow their involvement.
Be wary of those who ask questions that signal distrust, hidden agendas or a willingness to break or circumvent laws. These are warning flags. You might have no choice but to work with the person or group. When faced with this situation, keep your guard up, move slowly, and act only on written agreements.
Tim O’Brien writes continuing-education courses and presents seminars on stress management.