Do you ever get frustrated because attempts at working with others seem to get bogged down with the same issues? Whether you’re taking part in contentious negotiations in a real estate deal, trying to merge two different brokerages, or working on bringing disparate groups together in a committee or association context, it’s important to learn how to bridge common divides. Christina Cleveland’s book, Disunity in Christ, is a great tool to have in that effort. She uses similar issues in churches to analyze those group dynamics that work against collaboration and work against the people in the organizations seeking greater seeking closer ties. The book provides clues that brokers, agents, and REALTOR® associations might find valuable in working with others.
In my position as the National Association of REALTORS®’ director of diversity and inclusion, I often use Disunity in Christ as a tool for helping local associations that desire to become more inclusive. Many of the diversity questions raised by Cleveland are also often raised in local strategizing sessions.
The book examines some of the common dynamics in groups looking to tackle these goals. For example, there are usually only a few group members who actively seek inclusion, and they get frustrated when others in their groups ascribe negative motivations to them for wanting to come together. While there are usually a few members in both groups who actively seek ways to bring the two groups together, usually a significant proportion of each organization does not see any value in bringing the two groups together, except on their own terms.
Cleveland also outlines the types of tensions that are heightened when the groups are of different sizes. The larger group usually wants the smaller group to be absorbed and the smaller group wants to maintain its unique identity. The larger group often thinks of itself as the gold standard, and has trouble understanding why others wouldn’t want to be a part of it. Both groups will create divisions—if they do not already exist—to distinguish themselves from the other. Those in the smaller group that attempt to build closer ties are often perceived as traitors by others in their group, while those in the larger group reaching out are seen as naïve or wasting their time.
Cleveland offers some suggestions on ways to overcome these obstacles and build meaningful lasting collaboration. Using words like “we” and “us” when referring to the total community and not using “they” and “them” to distinguish the other group can help reduce barriers. Consider the creation of the real estate industry’s Hope Awards, launched in 2001 to recognize those who work to bridge the ownership gap between white and minority households. When they were initially created by more than a half dozen different groups, the awards were not identified as being the REALTOR® Hope Awards, but simply used a new name that was able to better represent all the groups involved. The name, along with a shared purpose, created a feeling of unity and affirmed the intentions of all those in all the organizations who sought closer collaboration.
It’s also important to think of how separate groups physically get together. Inclusion is difficult if we only ask the smaller group’s members to come to our meetings, our house, our events. Instead, Cleveland suggests we schedule events where the other organization is the host, those in the larger group are the outsiders. Putting it another way, we can’t have inclusion unless we go to where those we wish to include already are gathered.
Reading this book will provide insights into the dynamics of groups in all parts of our lives. By using the church, an institution many are familiar with, but which contains many divisions, Cleveland provides road maps to help us in our work to be inclusive of all who make up our industry and profession.