The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

RLF Recap: "How to Frame Three Hard Cases"

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The halfway point of the term was marked with a stimulating session of the Rockefeller Leadership Fellows program, taught by Government Professor Sonu Bedi. A scholar of legal rights, Professor Bedi utilized his extensive knowledge of the rationale for and against different controversial rights in crafting the session. Through the example of three such rights, Professor Bedi taught the Fellows a new strategy for approaching difficult conversations during his time with the students.

As Professor Bedi stated, “As leaders, it matters how we structure our conversations.” In the previous week’s session, Professor Wheelan made a similar argument with his discussion of the power of language. His lessons were effectively extended by Professor Bedi’s focus on instructing the Fellows how to turn “fights about rights into conversations about reasons.” Especially when discussing issues that spring out of deeply held values, it can be hard to have an effective conversation about these issues with someone that stands in opposition to you on the issue. Yet, as Professor Bedi pointed out, focusing on the right rather than the reasons we support or oppose that right is an automatic obstacle to a productive conversation. Learning to reframe important but difficult issues as an investigation of the reasons we feel different ways can lead to deeper insights and a realization of important similarities between stances that at first appeared to be diametrically in direct contrast.

Leaders have a responsibility to those under their authority to hear all opinions out entirely and always seek to understand those with whom they are working. Without success at these responsibilities, a leader can lose the trust of those with whom they work by alienating others for misunderstanding their opinions or else unsuccessfully seeking out similarities between different stances on an issue. Through the strategy proposed by Professor Bedi, the Fellows are now equipped with one strategy for employing language responsibly to reframe important but difficult conversations as conversations about the “why” and not the hot button “what” of the issue. As the past two sessions have made clear to the Fellows, language is an important tool that leaders must learn to responsibly and effectively command.

-Written by Maria Smith-Lopez, Class of 2021 Rockefeller Leadership Fellow and Student Program Assistant

As Rockefeller Leadership Fellows, seniors gain a better understanding of the qualities and responsibilities expected of leaders. As Fellows take part in the workshops, discussions, and team-building exercises, they examine their skills, qualities, and attributes as leaders and analyze how these influence teamwork and achieving goals. 

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