by Gail FairhurstGF 7-15-15

Gail Fairhurst, Ph.D., is a Professor of Organizational Communication at the University of Cincinnati. She is the author of The Power of Framing: Challenging the Language of Leadership (Jossey-Bass, 2011).

Recently, CBS News interviewed U.S. Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer. He let the audience in on a little secret: the Justices meet regularly as a group to discuss the cases before them—and such conferences can produce strong, passionate disagreement and conflict. (Just think about some of Justice Scalia’s controversial opinions!) Valuing civility, on arrival, before they begin their deliberations, they always shake hands, and then follow two simple rules:

Justice Breyer: “The two rules are, nobody speaks twice ’till everybody speaks once, and the second is: ‘tomorrow is another day’. You and I might have been absolutely at loggerheads in case A. The fact that we were at loggerheads has nothing to do with case B. On case B, unrelated legally, we could be absolute allies.”

These rules have a civilizing effect.

The first assures that everyone is heard and reins in the tendency of some to hog the floor.

The second helps manage conflicts caused by the carry over of hurt feelings or disagreements from previous meetings.

Collectively, both rules encourage a process orientation of how to work collaboratively, and provide a roadmap for what is going to happen as the Justices move from case to case.

Of course, it would be human nature to ask whether or not Justice Breyer’s rhetoric matches the reality of their ongoing deliberations. All I can say is that he seemed fairly confident and persuasive that these rules really worked.

Now, if we can just get Congress thinking along these lines…

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