We’re In the People Business

Posted on March 20, 2019

valarie jarret quote

AJ FawverThis is a monthly blog by AJ Fawver, the Planning Director in Lubbock, Texas. She’ll share her perspectives on land use, planning, and community development in this series. Learn more about AJ from her GovLove interview!

While we sometimes forget this, working in local government means that we are in the people business.  That’s what appeals to so many of us who made a beeline for positions in communities.

The thing is, sometimes we find ourselves powering through a sea of deadlines, suffering from analysis paralysis, or swept up in the back-to-back-to-back-to-back meeting schedules we all encounter.  

So, let’s not forget the relationships. The relationships with stakeholders, citizens, interest groups, non-profits, neighborhoods, colleagues, board members, our counterparts in other cities, and so many others are directly linked to our work.

Honestly, this is a big reason ELGL appealed to me from the beginning.  The camaraderie with people working in other communities, the sharing of information and resources, the original content tailor made for people like me – it is all about relationship building that pays dividends.  

However, some of the relationships we have are more complicated; complicated by stigma, regulatory authority, criticism, being associated with every issue someone has experienced with your organization.  

The question is, how can that be overcome? How can we both work to serve the people who we are fighting for, and the people that want to fight with us?

I recently found myself in a situation with a small group with which relationships are imperative but are also incredibly complicated by external factors.  Talking with someone I trust and admire prior to the next meeting helped me with a strategy for moving forward, connecting, and managing the situation.

It also served as a reminder that we likely all need support and brainstorming and a different way of thinking about things from time to time.  

Here is some great advice, and great advice is always meant to be shared, so I present it to you in hopes that you too find it useful.  Put these things to use when it seems the situations are complicated and take a step back periodically to remind yourself of the importance of relationships in this work.

  • Treat every interaction as an opportunity to create or improve a relationship.
  • Think about what they want, what motivates them.
  • Is there a way to incorporate their wants/motivations into what you do?
  • Be willing to meet people where they are & give them your undivided attention.
  • Approach every conversation with the strategy to listen more than you talk.
  • Ask for details and ask questions, to help the discussion to stay focused.
  • Develop objectives together.
  • Demonstrate a commitment to helping them.
  • Involve them in the situation by asking what they think would work.

I like this quote, too.  It helps me brush off the frustrations and stay on course.

When you are in local government, you are on the ground, and you are looking into the eyes and hearts of the people you are there to serve. It teaches you to listen; it teaches you to be expansive in the people with whom you talk to, and I think that that engagement gives you political judgment.” – Valerie Jarrett

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