A person in the What? stage of the commitment curve lacks relevant factual information. He or she either knows nothing about the situation or may have misunderstandings about the facts and their relevance to the situation.

For the person who lacks information, the leader must provide the facts—starting with the basic, foundational information—and build from there. A person lacking information becomes more informed when the leader can connect the situation to information the person already understands.

For a person with misinformation, the leader must understand what the person believes. Sometimes what seems like misinformation to the leader is actually a perspective the leader has not considered. For example, a community member might know something about federal environmental standards that is relevant to the community decision. The leader must not casually toss this “misinformation” aside. Look instead for ways to learn what has led to the person’s position and what part of the information may be based on relevant facts.

The leader should not argue about which facts are relevant. Arguing often causes the person to cling more tightly to what he or she believes. It will take time for a person to unlearn misunderstandings and replace them with a relevant, fact-based perspective.

At this stage the leader should focus on understanding the individual’s perspective and begin to establish a set of community-relevant, shared facts about the situation.

Characteristics of a person in the What? stage:

  • uninformed
  • misinformed

What the person needs to proceed to the next stage:

  • the relevant facts
  • chance to assimilate new facts and let go of irrelevant and inaccurate information

How the leader can help:

  • Gather and elicit relevant facts and provide them to the community.
  • Provide opportunities to have conversations about each other’s facts.
  • Listen for and incorporate new, relevant facts.

— Previous book post: Leading with the Five Stages of Engagement

— Next up: Stage 2: No!

Greg Ranstrom and John Blakinger are authors of the new  book The Moment of Oh! a guide to help communities make tough decisions.