Making Room for Give and Take

May 08, 2017 | EDR Blog

By Dan Adams for

Recently, I spent 17 days on the islands of Cebu and Negros in the Philippines.  It was a powerful cultural experience.  As a conflict resolution practitioner, I was especially taken by surprise as I witnessed a complete absence of conflict, anger, or frustration exhibited by anyone on the roads.  Whether on a motorcycle, bus, taxi, or the Philippine preferred mode of transit, a “jeepney” or “tricycle,” I never witnessed a single bit of roadway conflict.  This goes for the walking and cycling public as well!  I never saw a pedestrian get their dander up over vehicles whizzing by inches from their children or their box full of chickens.

Arguing over transportation “rights” is a hallmark of much of the world today.  Yet, in a country with virtually no traffic laws, people almost seamlessly work it all out.  How?  To answer this question, I asked every driver possible over 17 days how it worked.  The answer was almost identical from every person asked: “In the Philippines we believe in give and take.” and “We believe in giving way.” One driver explained, “I give way (in traffic) because I never know when I will be in a rush and need others to give way for me.”

Register for the third quarterly Dialogue on Collaboration to be held on Thursday, June 15, 2017, from 1-5 pm. Topic:  Fostering Productive Dialogue in Divided Times »

This observation then led me to contemplate if such a system could ever work in the United States and why or why not.  Words and phrases such as, “always in a rush,” “I have no time,” “tired,” “rights,” etc. came to my mind.  I doubted whether we could ever adapt to a world without rules, regulations, and laws.

In addition, I thought about the recent work I have been engaged with here in the U.S. regarding tribes and local, state and federal government.  There are some cultural similarities with Filipinos and Native Americans and how they engage with the rest of us on our roads but also in how they communicate and resolve conflicts.  I am confident that tribal leaders I know would tell me that they have a long history of “give and take” and they have tried to act in good-faith but that has often led to their “giving” and others “taking.”

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So how can we effect change here in the United States where people of all races, creeds, and colors could let down their guard and give and take without fear of inequality or one group being taken advantage of in the amount one gives and another takes?

To help local, state and federal agencies work better with tribes in Utah, The Langdon Group recently co-hosted the second quarterly Utah Dialogue on Collaboration, a component of the University of Utah Environmental Dispute Resolution Program’s Utah Program on Collaboration.  At this event we invited tribal leaders in Utah to present as a panel, then to interact with event participants (including leaders from a variety of agencies) in small group discussions.  Both tribal and non-tribal participants shared their thoughts on current challenges and opportunities for working together better (how we can balance the give and the take).  Tribal members shared their desire to be respected and to have their culture understood by others.  A common takeaway from non-tribal participants was that they needed to go and spend time with tribes on tribal turf to develop relationships and understanding, before arriving with a request.

I have also been stuck by the thought of how we can all experience a little less stress and get along better!  From these two examples, I want to accept the challenge to give way even when I feel I have a right (e.g., “I was in line first”), and go and take the time to develop meaningful relationships with others on their turf.  We have all heard the metaphor of walking a mile in another person’s shoes.  That is something that I am going to do.

NOTE:  Register for the third quarterly Dialogue on Collaboration to be held on Thursday, June 15, 2017, from 1-5 pm.  Topic:  Fostering Productive Dialogue in Divided Times



Daniel R. Adams, M.A. is a mediator/facilitator, public involvement strategist, and organizational development consultant. Dan has worked as a consultant since 1997 and has worked with local, state and federal government as well as a host of nongovernmental organizations and corporations.

Dan developed the 5P’s Model of Engagement as a diagnostic and problem solving tool for multi-agency and multi-organizational collaboration helping Political, Policy, Program, Project and Public levels of agencies/organizations.  This change management model helps representatives from diverse interests work hand-in-hand in bridging gaps and developing actionable solutions for agencies at all levels.

Dan has led the Langdon Group since 2004 with offices in four western states.  He is a nationally-known expert in collaboration for highly complex cases that involve science and environmental policy.  Dan is also known for helping stakeholders convene effective and systemic engagement that is transformative and helps participants work together better in the future than they have in their past.