Seeing the other side clearly

19 August 2017

Human relations are fraught with hazards and none are more destructive of these relations than entrenched positions. Holding to a position, entrenched or not, makes it impossible to relate to another person or to communicate with them in any meaningful way.

Disagreements are inevitable and they can be resolved through clear and honest communication. However, for this openness and honesty to manifest, both people need to be able to hear what the other is saying and to discern the meaning of what is being said.

There have been many psychology studies that show how we filter everything we see and hear through preconceived notions and assumptions. We interpret our input through these filters. If we also have an ‘attitude’ to the person we are attempting to communicate with, the filters are even more opaque.

“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I am not sure you realise that what you heard is not what I meant.” (Robert McCloskey)

Imagine you are in a valley with a wide river flowing through it. There is a vista of the other side but it is almost obscured by mist hanging over the water. You get some idea of what is over the other side, but it is vague and you try to interpret the little you can make out.

Finally a breeze blows along the valley, the mist disperses and the vista is revealed in all its detail.

It is such a breath of fresh air that can clear the fog that lies between two people at odds with each other. This may require the intervention of a third person who can help create an environment in which the conflicting parties can feel safe with the lifting of the fog.

In mediation, the mediator can create that safe environment. For a start, the parties are assured that they are free to say anything they like to the other without the threat that it may come back to bite them. They can air grievances openly and then explore possible solutions.

This exploration of solutions is more productive if the parties have truly been able to hear what the other has to say. It is even more powerful if, with the mediator’s help, each can imagine her- or himself in the other’s shoes and contemplate what that is like.

The mediator has no interest in the dispute other than to assist the parties in navigating through a process that will, hopefully, allow the fog to lift and have the parties see each other more clearly.

© 2017 Daan Spijer

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20 August 2017

We tell stories about people often — some good, some bad. We filter everything through the costumes we’ve brought for them. It would be lovely if we would actually, honestly, and deeply communicated with an open and wanting heart.

It’s a great thing to be the person who can be the breeze that blows away fog.
Cristina Loughrey