How to recognize the opportunities hidden within conflict

Conflict happens.  Did you ever hear the one about the elephant and the three blind men? Three blind men went to the circus and came upon an elephant. There were no elephants where they came from, and they were thrilled to encounter such a great beast. The first blind man grabbed its trunk and declared “It is like a mighty snake.” The second grabbed its hind leg and exclaimed “No, you are wrong! It is like a great oak tree.” The third held its tail and protested “You are both wrong! It is like a strong rope.” Interestingly, they were all right and all wrong. Their descriptions were honestly based on their individual perceptions; and their perceptions were based on their individual experiences. Just like life! And for our purposes today, just like conflict.As a mediator of civil cases, I have found the existence of empirical “right” or ‘wrong” to be extremely rare; in fact, arguably, non-existent. Now, I can already feel some of you disagreeing with that statement, but hear me out. I realize it is not terribly unusual for one side or the other, or both, to twist information in order to cast a certain light on their case.

I also recognize there are times when flat-out misrepresentations are present in a case. Most cases, however, are not so extreme. They generally boil down to differing perspectives about how reports read, how a witness presents, and ultimately the value of the case. Of course, it is that last one which is the basic nexus for the conflict, and exactly what you pay me to bridge.

At the end of the day, resolving a conflict through mediation is not about who is right or wrong, or which perception of the facts is the truth.It may surprise you to know the truth (whatever that means) doesn’t matter at all – at least not from my perspective. What does matter is how effective I can be in bridging the distance between the two, or more, perceptions of the case. That distance is often narrowed by helping the parties gain an objective perspective of what a jury will likely hear, if the case proceeds to trial. And, importantly, how difficult it might be for a complete outsider (a juror) to sort through conflicting expert witness testimony and decide who is “right” and who is “wrong”. Only to then be faced with assigning a dollar value to that assessment. This is a potentially daunting task when everything they heard during trial – like the descriptions of the elephant by the three blind men – is both right and wrong. This strategy is neither plaintiff nor defense oriented; it is collective participant oriented.My job as your mediator is to present your perception of the instant case, to the opposing party, in such a manner that they not only intellectually understand it, but are moved to take action because of it. I have learned that remaining curious about the differences (rather than judgmental about comparisons) leads to possibilities. I have also learned that when there are possibilities, perspectives can adjust and sometimes even change. In the end, neither party necessarily affirms the “rightness” or “wrongness” of the other, but there is a new collective perception: one that makes resolution the only logical conclusion.

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