Dialogue within the US House of Representatives

Mark Gerzon

Private facilitator, Mediator, Trainer, Author and key organizer of the Congressional Civility Retreats

Interviewed by Julian Portilla, 2003

This rough transcript provides a text alternative to audio. We apologize for occasional errors and unintelligible sections (which are marked with ???).

Q: How did you structure the process of the retreat?

A: The first thing I did, unlike the other people they interviewed to do this, was I went and listened to them. I said "Why do you need somebody?". Everybody else came in and made their pitch and I didn't. I came in and said, "You have a very talented staff, a very talented group of people, why do you need to hire anybody from the outside?"

Q: Even though you had an opinion

A: I had my opinion but I said, "Could each of you", there were about eight Congress people sitting at the table, "Take thirty seconds and just say why you're looking for somebody from the outside?" They each spoke for thirty seconds. Then I made my whole pitch based on what they just said. They said it far more eloquently than I. Like one of them, an old Democrat from Texas said, " Well, hell, we're in this fix because we don't know how to fix it, if there were somebody here who knew how to fix it, we wouldn't in the fix for the first place, so we need to go outside otherwise we're just going to repeat what we've just done". He said it with just a really kind of country drawl, just said it. and then it was very easy for me to say, "Well my approach would be not to build it around an outside facilitation team, but to train a group of you to do the retreat, to work together, to run the retreat yourself. So that when we're all done, you will have been trained and you won't be going back and saying "Well, the facilitators were great or facilitators were lousy", because you will have been the facilitators and you will develop a capacity in the House that will stay in the house floor, there even when we leave."

I was very conscious that I was being hired on the outside for a period of time and my job ended. But their jobs continued, their staff's jobs continued. And they liked that approach.