Minnesota Nice, People of Color, Conflict Resolution, and Collaboration

Young beautiful African American couple, happy and apparently in love

After the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis Minnesotans are taking a good hard look at themselves. This is causing conflict at levels not seen here before at least in my time in Minnesota (since 1983). So, what does Minnesota nice, people of color, conflict resolution, and collaboration have to do with each other? Everything. Giving this some thought as a person that works on conflict resolution; diversity, equity and inclusion with the Minnesota State Bar Association with the board of the Alternative Dispute Resolution Section; someone that has taught on this topic; and someone who conducts regular research on this topic, here are some thoughts and ideas as Minnesotans wrestles with these issues.

 

Minnesota Nice

 

What is Minnesota Nice? An article[i] based on actual research on companies in Minnesota written for the Minnesota Society of CPAs provides some real insights.

An overwhelming majority of those interviewed believe that employees want to do a good job. Therefore, leadership needs to be open and honest with all employees to help them achieve greatness. Overall, there is a genuine interest in doing this with each other to come up with reasonable solutions.

Some of the companies I contacted have highly-tenured employees who know each other very well and understand the norms of their organizations. They have learned how to avoid conflict with one another.

This may very well be part of the problem in particular for newcomers and people of color.

According to Wikipedia Minnesota nice is:

The stereotypical behavior of people from Minnesota to be courteous, reserved, and mild-mannered, is popularly known as Minnesota nice. The cultural characteristics of "Minnesota nice" include polite friendliness, an aversion to open confrontation, a tendency toward understatement, a disinclination to make a direct fuss or stand out, apparent emotional restraint, and self-deprecation.

Minnesotans are also known for being generous, with the highest volunteer rates in the nation, highest voting percentage in the nation, and other very positive elements.

If you are white you know what this is. Look how well the state is doing.

Minnesota has one of the highest literate and well-educated populations in the country. It is first in the nation with percentage of residents graduating from high school. It consistently is in the top two or three with ACT and SAT scores. Economically it is doing well. Of course, this is prior to the Coronavirus with the rest of the nation too. Here are some key stats from a historical perspective.

 Overall Minnesota ranks #3 in the nation according to U.S. News and World Report. Here are just a few of the items.

Natural environment #3

Opportunity #3

Infrastructure #6

Healthcare #10

Crime and corrections #16

Education #17

Economy #18

However, stepping back it’s this aversion to open confrontation and a tendency to not address issues that has put Minnesotans in an uncomfortable position with the death of George Floyd. With all the positives not everything is rosy.

 

What about people of color?

 

For example, while more than 90% of high school seniors graduate, about 6% of white, 28% of African American, 30% of Asian American and more than 34% of Hispanic and Native American students dropped out of school.[ii] 

There are very major disparities between whites and people of color in Minnesota.

For example, share of households that own their homes is 48th in the country with whites at 76% and blacks at 24%. Racial profiling has significantly impacted housing and segregation in Minnesota. Educational attainment is 39th with 36% of whites 25 and over with a college education compared with 20% for blacks. Unemployment is typically more than twice as high for people of color than whites.

It is referred to as “the Minnesota paradox” in a 2018 book co-authored by Prof. Samuel L. Myers Jr., director of the Roy Wilkins Center of Human Relations and Social Justice at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota.

Myers contends that the large gap is largely due to special benefits made available over time to the white population that’s led to substantially higher wealth than blacks. And he argues that wealth results from the favored treatment whites have long received from banks in making loans.

On a scale of 1 to 50 of where states rank on various racial gaps, like measures for educational attainment or unemployment, Minnesota is consistently 47th to 49th.

This has now come to a head here in Minnesota.

 

Conflict Resolution

 

This situation was, has been and now is once again ripe for analysis. It’s not like Minnesota haven’t noticed this before. However, it has consistently lacked the political will. In 2009 after a two-year bi-partisan study on poverty by the Minnesota Legislature, the report entitled, Legislative Report: Commission to End Poverty by 2020 was finalized. This report addressed steps we can take now (in 2009) and over the next 12 years to address these issues. The results: not implemented. The results: widening gaps. People with a keen interest could not find the political will in the electorate to make it happen.

The cause was and has been apathy.

The opposite of love is not hate. The opposite of love is apathy. That is what has happened here. There may be sympathy. That is acknowledging and seeing the pain. What is needed is empathy. That is feeling the pain, and taking constructive actions to help. It is one thing to by sympathetic at a funeral. It is another to be empathetic and bring a meal to the family or make a donation in memory of a loved one. The same implication is true here.

 

Collaboration

 

So, what can be done? How can Minnesotans come together with the murder of George Floyd? There are two elements that could be a spark to address the long-term concerns going forward. These are:

The Minnesota Legislators People of Color and Indigenous Caucus discussion on how to respond to the murder of George Floyd.

and the recently released Minnesota Department of Public Safety Working Group Police-involved Deadly Force Encounters February 2020 report with specific recommendations.

 

     What will it take going forward?

 

It will take all parties truly wanting to develop connecting relationships, listening actively, and educating judiciously in order to build bridges to negotiate closure. In short. They need to apply The Collaboration Effect®.  In short they have to work with each other and trust each other in order to make meaningful change.

The question that has to be asked at this time, is whether all parties are willing to work with each other and come together for the public good and make a real difference during these difficult times.

The economy is down. The COVID-19 pandemic is real. The budget negotiations are going to be tough. This once again can be looked at and stated that now is not the right time. However, there has never been a better time to promote collaboration given the public will to come together and make a real pivot in our thinking for the public good. Will Minnesotans lead? This is not theory. This is a real world in process example of The Collaboration Effect® being tested.

 

     An upcoming legislative session

 

With an upcoming special session in Minnesota of the Legislature can they put aside partisan concerns and come together for the sake of all Minnesotans? Stay tuned.

For many Minnesotans even reading this given Minnesota nice, will take us out of our comfort zone. Maybe we need to come out of our comfort zone to move into the learning zone and listen to each other.

 

 

 

[i] How Minnesota Nice, conflict and leadership come together, by Michael A. Gregory, Minnesota Footnote a publication of the Minnesota  Society of CPAs  August 2017