Deep Democracy is a vision, method and theory in one. It is a practical and powerful decision-making method for inclusive decision making, where every opinion is heard, acknowledged and counted. This process recognizes, acknowledges and includes alternative points of view. Deep Democracy is also a method of conflict resolution which helps solve conflicts.
Making decisions which include minority voices
The decision making methodology used has been designed to work for highly diverse groups. The vision aims at inclusive decision making where good quality, durable decisions are reached. The key idea of this method is: collect as many differing points of view beforehand, paying particular attention to divergent points of view. These points of view are valuable: they often actually contain a grain of truth. During everyday meetings we often forget to listen to someone who brings in completely different ideas. We see them as illogical, crazy or weird. Sometimes we don’t want to listen because we want to make a quick decision. Treating opposing opinions in this way impoverishes our decision making. With Deep Democracy, divergent opinions are acknowledged, listened to and encapsulated in dialogues and decision making. A certain degree of safety is required to ensure people can give their opinions.
Deep Democracy works in a process oriented way. This means that there is constant attention paid to a safe climate so that staff members feel able to be vulnerable and to express themselves freely. Deep Democracy paves the way for saying what needs to be said, so that teams and departments can take good quality, durable decisions, to which everyone is committed. In this way, there is no opposition below the surface, which often rears its head again at a later stage leading to decisions being revised or destroyed.
Solving conflicts: holding brave conversations
Deep Democracy is also a conflict resolution method: if there is too much tension in a group and a lot is happening below the surface, it can be very tricky or even impossible to take any decisions. Often, we don’t know exactly what is wrong, but we sense that there are unspoken issues. Deep Democracy gives us tools to work with this difficult and often intangible material. Deep Democracy has developed conversation models and tools so that difficult issues can be discussed constructively and solved together. Deep Democracy assumes that groups can find their own solutions to the problems they encounter by making it easier to say what needs to be said. Opposite and conflicting opinions are investigated with the group without avoiding any conflicts. This allows staff members to practise their ability to be flexible and to think dialectically. Through listening actively and with empathy and by reflecting on what has been said, the group can arrive at a deeper level of listening.
Teams which regularly talk in this way develop respect, appreciation and trust and learn how to share leadership.
As soon as the conflict and tensions have been resolved, the team will be able to work together again effectively and the decision making will once again become more self-evident. This works like a brisk thunderstorm clearing the air.
Deep Democracy offers a vision on participative leadership. This philosophy promotes an inclusive culture where every staff members voice counts. Deep Democracy views strong leadership as linked to organised consultation with staff members; answering complex leadership questions in a swiftly changing world means that you, as an organisation, need to remain agile. Deep Democracy aims to put as much as possible of the wisdom and potential of each staff member to work, for the simple reason that you, as a manager, can never know everything there is to know; your own individual view is inevitably limited and professionals are getting better and better at their work. Deep Democracy allows you to make optimum use of the combined knowledge in the group.
The basic model is the ‘Iceberg’. The iceberg is not used for individuals but for the group. A certain degree of trust is needed so that organisations and teams can work together effectively, as well as a continual awareness of which information needs to be shared to carry out the work. How can you achieve this foundation of trust? And how can you ensure that information is shared? The key to this lies in lowering the ‘water line’ of the proverbial iceberg so that trust increases and the information required comes to light. Above the water line, everything that happens in the team is conscious and known to the team. Below the water line, everything which is unconscious and unknown to many takes place. If the water line is lowered, then the feeling of safety increases and more facts, data, motives, interests, emotions and opinions will be shared. The result is that more knowledge will become available and that staff members will feel listened to. They will notice that their contributions are valued. Through this process-oriented approach, communication will become smoother, decision making processes easier, relationships will deepen and it will be possible to work together constructively in a pleasant atmosphere. It speaks for itself, that this leads to better results.
Deep Democracy is successfully employed in 35 countries all over the world by managers, social workers, lecturers, mediators, artists and, although it has nothing to do with politics, also by local and national politicians. There are various examples where the Deep Democracy conflict resolution method (in combination with supportive circumstances such as the Truth Commission) has prevented large-scale armed conflicts from breaking out, despite decades of apartheid, racism and repression. Sierra Leone, South Africa and Colombia are examples of this. Deep Democracy has also been used in many places where tribal wars are looming, such as in Kenya.
I employ Deep Democracy in change processes, self- management, team coaching, participative leadership, when solving conflicts and as a method for improving communication.
Teams and organisations which work with this method are more effective.
Some misunderstandings about Deep Democracy
“Deep Democracy slows everything down.”
Deep Democracy does mean taking some training. Without meta-skills such as neutrality, for example, it is difficult to guide a process. As a manager, it is also important that you learn how you can combine your role as a manager with a more facilitative role and how you can make this transparent. As you grow more at home with these skills, you will notice that decision making actually starts to speed up, particularly if the group is used to this new way of working. In addition, there is no ‘bounce back’ effect any more after a decision has been taken: decisions are not revisited and any staff members who didn’t agree with the decision and who didn’t feel listened to, don’t have to ‘counter’ it, consciously or unconsciously. They have stated their position and their minority point of view has been included in the majority decision. Endless committees and repeatedly postponing a subject until the following weekly meeting become a thing of the past.
“Deep Democracy is just another facilitation method.”
Deep Democracy is different to other facilitation methods because it includes emotions in decision making and conflict resolution processes. The exact wording and tools have been developed to work in a process-oriented and deep way where other methods often remain at a rational or cognitive level. In organisations, we often think that we are only dealing with rational processes: aims, targets, strategies. In reality, processes are far from rational. They are always about interpersonal relationships where emotions, interests, unspoken motives or conflicts are at play. Most managers spend a lot of their time dealing with these kinds of problems. According to Margareth Heffernan, studies carried out on European and American managers show that 85% recognize that they had problems with conflicts on the work floor. Deep Democracy gives you tools to get more grip on these often-tricky issues.
“Deep Democracy is ‘vague’”
Deep Democracy has many applications. The Lewis method has its origins in the theories of Arnold Mindell, psychotherapist and quantum physicist. He also drew inspiration from the Tao. Deep Democracy is rooted in spirituality, which means only “consciousness about the human spirit or human inner nature, which has its origins in transcendence or which relates to a higher reality”. Myrna and Greg Lewis, who were trained by Arnold Mindell, have made this thinking usable by professionals without a Psychological background. They have structured the theory and developed a workable model and added practical tools to use. The method is employed in a business context and in companies, and is viewed as very workable, to the point and effective.