I just read my horoscope. It states: “You feel as if you are being pulled like taffy as you listen to both sides of a story. Encourage the parties involved to respect each other’s differences.”
Welcome to mediation… and to life! My horoscope reads like a “best practices” maxim for mediators, and for the rest of us as well.
When someone tells me about a situation or another person’s behavior or actions, my mediator mindset automatically responds: “Hmm. I wonder if there is another side to this story.” Or, “What would the other person say about that?” It’s undeniable: there are ALMOST ALWAYS two sides (or more!) to every story.
When mediating a case, or talking about an incident or another person, it’s commonplace to “cherry-pick” the facts or slant our version to gain our listener’s sympathy, if not agreement. It’s likely that the other party is doing the same thing. In fact, both parties may think they’re telling the truth. Can there be more than one truth?
Before venturing into that thicket, imagine what would happen if we were embedded with an “anti-taffy/truth-seeking” microchip. This device would trigger us to ask whether there’s another account of what we’re hearing. “Is my friend leaving something out?” What if we withheld judgment on what someone is telling us until we heard the other side’s version? How would that impact our assessment of what we’re hearing?
Equipping our bodies with an “anti-taffy/truth-seeking” microchip is pure science fiction. At least, for now. But what if we behaved as if we were equipped with one? If every time we heard someone complain about a situation or another individual, our “I-wonder-what-the-other-guy-would-say- about-this” response mechanism clicked in?
It may minimize our penchant for gossip, idle chatter, and (need I say?) downright fabrication. It may even make us pause and think when we’re the one complaining.
And take the stretch out of taffy!
Beyond Dispute Associates
© Sig Cohen and Beyond Dispute Associates, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sig Cohen and Beyond Dispute Associates with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. – See more at: http://toughconversations.net/what-i-love-about-elder-mediation
Cousin Lyn says
Great column Sig! Never has two sides to the story been so true as in today’s world!!
Paul Kemp says
The answer to your question whether there can be more than one truth, is unquestionably ‘Yes’. I have a vivid recollection of the time when I had a PA who had a degree in philosophy and a doctorate in theology (don’t ask why she was working as a lawyer’s PA – it’s a long story and not relevant). But we had some fascinating discussions. He doctoral thesis was about epistemology – the study of truth – so she knew a thing or two about it. The epiphany moment for me was when she came into my office and I commented that I was sure that the chap I had just seen had been telling me ‘the truth’. ‘Yes Paul’, she replied, ‘but whose truth?’ A reading of chapter 2 of the Monk/Winslade volume ‘Narrative Mediation – A new approach to conflict resolution’ dealing with the theoretical underpinnings of Narrative Mediation completed my education on this theme. I recommend the reading of that chapter to any lawyer or mediator who still believes that there is only one truth in their cases. Nowadays, I work on the basis that absolute truth is something to seek in theology (and even there I will usually find more than one interpretation of the truth), not in family dispute resolution. There are many discourses that direct our narratives as well as many interests that will mould our constructive of the way we narrate our ‘truths’. Getting mediation clients to listen to each other’s truths is a challenge, but one worth confronting.
Andy Jewell says
Discerning the “truth” is less important than not falling for a lie.
Marie Robbins says
I was always told by my father when I began to study mediation and arbitration, that are three sides to every story, the two sides and then the truth.
Lisa Scholz says
What a simple but crucial reminder for mediators and anyone else hoping to resolve a conflict in any walk of life. I was sitting in a courtroom where I volunteer as a civil harassment mediator and the stories during a particular trial were not adding up. They were both extremely convincing and the judge said as much. She added that people will often see the same situation in a completely different way; that they are not necessarily lying but not remembering it accurately. Until the chip is available, identifying both sides/perspectives of a conflict is a necessity.
Nancy Radford says
Our version of truth and our memories are coloured by our viewpoint, our interpretation of what is happening, and what we know of the story behind what we see. What we remember is what was important to us and what emotions we felt at the time. The more we remember that we all see things through different eyes and tell ourselves different stories, the more we realise that because I am telling my truth it does not mean your truth is false…substituting “and” for “but” in the statement below then ending it with “so?” can set off a new train of thought as you accept both statements as true and look to reconcile them.
Carolyn Parr says
Thanks, Nancy, for your reminder of the and/but dichotomy. I like the “So?” on the end, a new thought for me.