Standing in the Fire

Leading High-Heat Meetings With Clarity, Calm, and Courage

Any time people get together to wrestle with serious issues, there is the potential for a high-heat meeting, one where participants become so polarized, angry, fearful, and confused that any meaningful work seems impossible. If you facilitate meetings for a living, you’ve probably found that your well-learned techniques often fail you in volatile and unpredictable situations like this. If you lead meetings as simply one part of your job, you doubtless feel even less able to cope.

The answer is not yet another technique — not something you do to people. Veteran facilitator Larry Dressler has learned the hard way that what makes the crucial difference is the leader’s presence. You have to develop skills that allow you to remain steady, impartial, purposeful, compassionate, and good-humored. To work with people in high-heat meetings you have to work on yourself.

In Standing in the Fire Dressler outlines six “stances” — mental, emotional, and physical ways of being that will enable you to master yourself so you can remain firmly in service to the group. He offers dozens of simple but profound practices for cultivating these capabilities before, during, and after any meeting. Throughout the book Dressler draws not just on his own experiences — good and bad, humorous, and harrowing — but also on the insights of thirty-five distinguished leaders, process facilitators, trainers, and change agents, all with an eye to helping you stay relaxed and focused enough to make the kind of inventive, split-second decisions these pressure-cooker situations demand.

In meetings, as in the natural world, fire can be creative rather than destructive — but only if handled skillfully. Larry Dressler gives you everything you need to become a masterful fire tender.

In running tough meetings, the most important person for us to influence is ourselves. In self-mastery lies true power. In this wise and stimulating book, Larry Dressler draws on his rich experience to show us how to bring our personal best to facilitating polarized group situations. I wish I had had it to read years ago!

William Ury

Co-author Getting to Yes and author, The Power of a Positive No

Practical, insightful, and filled with entertaining stories. I recommend this book for anyone working in the arena of public engagement and deliberation. Larry Dressler’s insights and suggested practices offer us a way to overcome our personal challenges and become the leaders we aspire to be.

Sandy Hierbacher

Director, National Coalition for Dialogue and Deliberation

Consensus Through Conversation

Convene High Stakes Conversations

If you want to bring about real change, you won’t do it through decree, pressure, permission or even persuasion. Sustained change comes when people are passionately and personally committed to a future that they have helped to shape. If you want to turn your organization’s cynics into owners, give them a voice in the decisions that impact their work. Consensus Through Conversation shows how.

Consensus is a cooperative process in which all of a group’s members actively develop and agree to support a decision that’s in the best interest of the whole. It’s not mere acquiescence-consensus goes several steps beyond, moves people from being resigned recipients of instructions to dedicated champions of an idea. Larry Dressler discusses the basic concepts behind consensus, shows you exactly how to prepare for a successful consensus-building process, takes you step-by-step through that process, and offers tips for success and traps to avoid. Throughout, he provides a host of tools and examples that make this an eminently practical and immediately useful guide.

At a time when organizational hierarchies are flattening, workforces are becoming more geographically dispersed, and workers are demanding a say in what they do, consensus is needed more than ever. Consensus Through Conversation guides leaders and facilitators toward the proper use of consensus and away from applications that create the ‘illusion of inclusion’ and false agreement. It is a handy, vital reference readers can turn to in their efforts build enthusiasm and commitment on high-stakes issues.

This small book delivers a wealth of wise and useful information. And its format makes it incredibly easy to use. This is such an important topic — I’m grateful that Larry assembled such a rich resource.

Meg Wheateley

Author of Turning to One Another

Larry Dressler has created a brilliant work that is a must read for any manager that wants to effect meaningful decisions in their organization.

Mike Ferretti

CEO, Great Harvest Bread Company

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