‘I think they need to sign up for one of your workshops!’ So said a friend last Friday when he sent me the video of the now infamous Handforth Parish Council meeting.
Like millions of others I watched and laughed – the committee meeting from hell, with added Zoom delights.
But what would we have done if The Creative Conversation Company (TC3) had been asked to help smooth the troubled waters of the Handforth Parish Council?
Here – heavily qualified by the awareness that a little knowledge is a dangerous thing – are three observations.
Conflict and confusion
The first thing that struck me was the degree of conflict and confusion on display. As we teach in our Conflict 101 workshop, these things often feed on each other, driving a confused and conflicted downward spiral.
Everything is bitterly contested about this Extraordinary Meeting – exactly who’s in charge, whether the Standing Orders apply and even whether they're technically meeting or not.
So central to all of this, as with all conflicts, is the need for clarity – including, crucially, about the status of the person invited in to try to sort things out, the indomitable Jackie Weaver, chief officer of the Cheshire Association of Local Councils.
Cue my second observation.
‘You have no authority here, Jackie Weaver’
Authority comes in several forms – legal, moral, the authority of experience or expertise – but when playing honest broker in a conflict it’s crucial to be accepted and trusted by the parties on all sides.
This is the true source of authority in this context. And the fact that Jackie Weaver is not accepted by a key player in this dispute – the Council Chair – means that her role as peacemaker was bound to be difficult, if not impossible, however benign her intentions.
In fact, as she was invited in by one side of the dispute, it’s unsurprising that she might be seen as lacking impartiality by the other side, especially if she’d kicked some of them out of a previous meeting.