Couldn't We at Least...

Posted by Angie Balsley on 12/8/2017 7:00:00 AM

Finding common ground with others, especially those with different views, is a way to get past disagreement and begin to form consensus. The third essential question from Dr. James Ryan’s book “Wait! What?” is “couldn’t we at least….” This question forms the core of a series of questions rather than one specific and complete question. It’s a good way to get unstuck or to get started even when you aren't entirely sure where you’ll finish.

Ryan believes that the key to maintaining a healthy and productive relationship is consensus. Asking “couldn’t we at least agree…..” is an invitation to find common areas of consensus. Asking this essential question will not resolve all disagreements, but it can at least reduce their scope. Finding common ground can help isolate true areas of disagreement. This is especially helpful in preventing opposing sides on a particular issue from wasting time questioning the motives of their opponents.

In addition to inviting agreement, “couldn’t we at least…” is a great way to get moving, even when you don’t have fully formed plans. Too often, whether because of procrastination, fear, or a desire for perfection, we hesitate to begin a project. Ryan writes that “once you commit to something, you often end up mobilizing a stream of resources, ideas, and assistance that you never imagined would come your way” (Ryan, 2017, p.75). He concludes the chapter by stating that “couldn’t we at least….” sparks movement. It is the question that also recognizes that journeys are often long and uncertain, that problems will not be solved with one conversation, and that even the best efforts will not always work. At the same time, however, it is the question that recognizes that you have to begin somewhere. It is absolutely essential to ask”(Ryan, 2017, p.82).

Note: This article is a piece of a seven-part series featured in the “Lessons In Leadership” section of the Earlywood Special Edition. Each of the seven articles elaborates on life’s five essential questions from Dr. James Ryan’s book “Wait, What?” which he published following his widely popular commencement speech in May of 2016 at the Harvard Graduate School of Education ceremonies. If you’d like to borrow a copy of Wait, What?, it is available through our Earlywood lending library.