Holistic Management offers a perspective to resource management that might be considered an alternative to conventional approaches. Based on the science of ecology and holism, the Holistic Management process guides planning and decision making to account for the patterns of inter-relationships that exist between all forms of life, including humans. Following this path, one discovers the thread of common needs and values that connect humans to each other. When management takes this connection into account right from the beginning, finding and agreeing on a strategy to meet all needs seems to be relatively easy. While the Holistic Management approach seems logical to many when first learning it, it’s not entirely natural to us humans after centuries of operating under the win/lose paradigm. Thus facilitation is often required to achieve the feeling of win/win.
The 1990’s in Texas were a time of great unrest in the land management community. The Endangered Species Act had landowners up in arms reacting to the rumors that they would not be allowed to cut any of the troublesome “Cedar” (ashe juniper) trees because they contribute to ideal habitat for a couple of endangered song birds. Environmentalists were the enemy to landowners, along with state and federal agencies, as property rights were loudly defended at landowner rallies called “Golden Cheeked Warbler BBQ’s.”
Whoa, pardner – this will never do. Texans are NOT still lawless and gun-slinging, or at least most are not. So HMI (then the Texas branch known as Holistic Resource Management of Texas) invited the warring parties to a conference panel to air their views—only with a twist.
Leaders of 8 organizations—4 representing the landowner point of view and 4 representing the environmental perspective—gathered in San Angelo, Texas in January, 1992. With the stated purpose of finding common ground, the panel was asked to pretend they were a management team brought together to create a management plan for a specific 5,000-acre tract of land.
The twist was that each one was assigned a role opposite from his actual position. The Sierra Club representative was asked to play the role of a real estate developer, while the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) representative pretended to be a biologist from Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD), the representative of US Fish & Wildlife became a private landowner, and so on.
As the facilitator proceeded with the standard questions of best land use, the participants hurled both soft and sharp barbs at their opponents. When the Sierra Club rep, acting as developer stated the best use of the land was to be leased as a toxic waste site, the TSCRA rep, now acting as TPWD biologist, responded that his department would find an endangered species on the property in order to prevent such action. Though the panelists agreed the process reflected real-life planning processes they also agreed an effective management plan would never be reached under this approach. They agreed to try the Holistic Management approach.
Switching back to their genuine roles, the members of this “management team” began by stating their core values, as they related to the quality of life each panelist wanted for himself and his family. The list began to grow as the panelists spoke with increasing conviction and heartfelt emotion about their desire for personal freedom to make decisions; their desire for economic, educational and cultural opportunities; financial and personal security; a healthy environment; and a thriving community. All the panel members shared these core values.
Equally important, panel members could see that their adversaries wanted the same future that they did; that they had a great deal in common; that they were fighting over how to make that desired future a reality; that maybe the holistic management framework for planning and management could facilitate a different outcome than the war that was underway. The doorway was open for a new approach and at the end of the meeting, a majority of the panel members agreed to meet again and further explore this holistic management process.
They formed the PlanIt Texas Coalition to work together as a management team to discover whether or not they could manage a rural property with endangered species in a way that satisfied all environmental concerns, met all governmental regulations and still made a profit for the landowner. To explore that adventure, you can download a pdf of the The PlanIt Texas Story Booklet.
So, gathering what we learned from PlanIt Texas and from using Holistic Management in many family situations where conflict is the limiting factor, here are a few tips to help you bridge the gap.
Tips for turning conflict into consensus
• Conflict arises from differences. It occurs whenever people disagree over their values, motivations, perceptions, ideas, or desires. Sometimes these differences look trivial, but when a conflict triggers strong feelings, a deep personal need is at the core of the problem, such as a need to feel safe and secure, a need to feel respected and valued, or a need for greater closeness and intimacy.
• Holistic Management is a value-based goal setting, decision-making, planning and monitoring process designed to take the practitioner team toward a stated goal by looking at each prospective action’s affect on the whole being managed. Creating each part of the goal as a team is crucial—Quality of Life or values, actions that might produce that QOL, and future resource base that can sustain the actions and QOL.
• Use an impartial facilitator if possible. This person will make sure each team member feels heard by the others in expressing their values and needs. He/she will keep the discussion on track and ease the stress with diffusing remarks when necessary.
• Have your facilitator act as scribe on a flipchart and accurately capture each quality of life statement as it is voiced by a team member, checking with that member to be sure it is correct. Continue to work in this manner through ideas expressed as actions toward the goal and what the landscape will look like in its ideal state for sustainability. Do not edit or censor at this stage.
• Focus on common ground. What values does the whole team agree on? Is there consensus on what forms production might take? Does the team agree on the landscape they want to work toward? How can the team feel this is a win/win in the making?
• Take a break! Relax, Refresh and Recreate together. Nothing reduces stress like laughing together and beginning to see each other as friends rather than enemies. Compassion begins when we begin to care about the needs of others on our team. Let individuals tell stories about why they feel the way they do. Respect for all on the team needs time to build. Sitting around a table eating and joking together helps. If you have chosen to go away together on a retreat, the bonding opportunities are even greater.
• Trade places. Listen with empathy and see the conflict from the other person’s point of view. Understand what each person sees as the problem that needs resolving – it may not be the same thing. Work toward a common perception.
• Brainstorm possible solutions, and be open to all ideas, including ones you never considered before. Brainstorming rules include “there are so stupid answers.” Everyone on the team needs buy-in to the solution by offering comments during this phase.
• Sincerely work toward a win-win by considering each team member’s values, needs, feelings and position toward the common goal as well as the “problem.” Be sure each member gets their most important needs met.
• Repeat as often as necessary.