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AASHE 2011: Breaking the Circle of One

So far AASHE 2011 has been a combination of inspiration and practical advice—a good mix, I think. It’s all a bit overwhelming, though. After spending a day and a half meeting people from colleges with lots of resources devoted to sustainability, sometimes with a couple dozen people in their AASHE delegations, I was wondering how I fit into all of this. I’m not a college president, or a sustainability manager, or even a faculty member able to make decisions about how to allocate her classes’ time. It was beginning to make me feel a bit useless and lonely.

So Carman Schlamb’s session couldn’t have come at a better time. It was titled “Breaking the Circle of One, or Am I the Only One on This Campus Who Believes in Sustainability?” Schlamb talked about her frustration at years of effort that didn’t seem to lead anywhere. Without a sustainability office at Seneca, students focused on on-the-ground projects, administration focused on economic factors, and there was no institutional memory—whenever a passionate person left, all their work left with them. It wasn’t easy to ferret out what she called the “hidden curriculum” and “hidden partners.” She reached out to people through educational poster sessions and open forums where people presented what their areas were doing. Students helped her to break the barriers between offices. Through this process, Schlamb found that there was a person interested in sustainability just one floor below her!

Bill Dillon’s talk later that day complemented Schlamb’s perfectly. He’s vice president of NACUBO and a certified negotiation trainer, and some of his tips were familiar from the (one!) Negotiation and Conflict Resolution class that I took at Tufts. His main point was that every negotiation is not just about achieving the immediate objective, but also elevating your relationship. He pointed out some tactics to be aware of when others use them:

  • Emotional tactics: confrontation, threat, tease, body language
  • Power tactics: only the messenger, it’ll never get approved, third-party pressures, violins, deadline
  • Logical tactics: limiting, foggy memory, fair and reasonable, expert info

He also suggested some alternatives, like creating a neutral environment, asking first for input from others before sharing your ideas, disclosing your feelings, depersonalizing, and pausing for 10-seconds (it’s a long time!). These may seem obvious, but I find I actually need to think consciously about things that other people may do instinctively.

These two sessions back-to-back emphasized that building a sustainability movement takes a lot of collaboration. I’ve been trying to encourage that at Berklee, but I think I need to do it more consciously in order to be successful.

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