A common complaint that I hear from my intentional community clients as we prepare to work on a vexing issue is, “We talked about this same issue LAST year!” There is a great desire to be DONE with it already, to set it to rest, to come up with a final solution or policy that will allow us to move forward without having to discuss this point of contention ever again.

The truth is that most of these aspects of community life – disputes about private versus public space, about other people’s children and pets, about noise and clutter and the HOA budget – are actually NOT problems that can be solved or fixed. They are part of the ongoing dance of human interaction, and will be with us always. What we CAN do is learn to dance together more gracefully and step on each other’s toes less frequently.

It takes practice. When I first started ballroom dance lessons, the steps felt awkward. Each dance – waltz, foxtrot, rhumba – has a different rhythm and fits with different sorts of music. Some of them come easily to me, some are more challenging. The whole dance goes more smoothly when the roles of leader and follower are clear; the best dancers can do both!  I love west coast swing, so I practice it the most; the rhythm and basic steps are now so ingrained in my body that I don’t have to think about it anymore; I can improvise and goof off and invent crazy steps. But when I try to waltz I feel stiff and uptight and can only remember three different steps.

So it is with communication and conflict resolution skills. When our group actively practices them on a regular basis, we get better at them and they are more likely to become ingrained into our ongoing habits. Some of us take to specific tools more readily than others. Some of us lead better than we follow, or vice versa. The learning can be frustrating and even painful. But, if we keep at it, eventually we are going to be able to have a heck of a lot more fun together on that dance floor.