Three blind men went to the circus and encountered a mysterious beast. They were fascinated by the energy coming from it, and each touched it in order to figure out what it must be.
“It is like a mighty snake!” one man exclaimed.
“No! It is thick and stable like a great oak!” the second one corrected.
“You are both wrong! Clearly it is tight and strong like a magnificent rope!” the third proclaimed.
Each was passionate about his belief, unable to accept it could be anything other than what he perceived it to be. What they didn’t know is that each was correct, but all three were wrong.
As a mediator, I encounter situations similar to this all the time. I listen to the opening remarks for one side of a case and things seem pretty straight forward. Then I listen to the other side’s opening statement and the picture begins to blur. Soon we move to private caucus, where I get a little more information from one side. Ok, things seem to be clearing up again, then bam! I move to the other room, get some more of their story, and come out wondering if the two sides are even talking about the same case at all!
This is when I stand in the hall alone, take a deep breath (ok, sometimes I laugh – not at the parties, but at the situation), and remind myself of key mediation and conflict resolution truths:
- 1. Absolute “right” or “wrong” is rare. Each is colored by individual experiences and perspectives.
- 2. The “true story” is not critical to resolution. There may be multiple truths, and the parties do not have to agree on one over the other.
- 3. Remaining curious and inquisitive about the differences will uncover opportunities to bridge the gaps.
- 4. When gaps are bridged, positions shift and a new collective perspective can emerge.
- 5. When a new collective perspective emerges, agreements happen and settlement can be achieved.
Remember our three blind men with the mysterious beast? Eventually, the beast’s master came along and heard the three men arguing. At first he could not understand what their battle was about, so he listened carefully as they argued their positions and perceptions with passion. When he realized the cause of their disagreements, he calmly interrupted the mayhem and advised:
“All three of you are correct in what you are saying, but have formed your from very different vantage points. This beautiful beast is thick and stable like a great oak, with the strength of its legs; its tail is tight and strong, quite similar to a magnificent rope; and its trunk curls and reaches like a mighty snake. Indeed it is all of these things in part, but it is always an elephant in whole.”
The three blind men moved on in peace, grateful for their new collective understanding of the whole.
Here’s the moral of the story: Often disputing parties have blinders on, preventing them from resolving their situation alone. This is when a good mediator becomes valuable. A curious, neutral, third party really can take the mystery out of the mysterious, enlighten as to how more than one person can be “right”, and transform complexity into simplicity. Thus the mediator creates space for agreement.
© 2013 Karen Pelot Mediations, LLC all rights reserved. Permission granted to excerpt or reprint with attribution.