It’s all a matter of perspective – Going South !

 

I recently attended a gathering of NC ombuds and we had an excellent meeting with far ranging discussion. These are great meetings for ombuds to share ideas and ask for input on issues and ombuds processes.

At one point we were talking about how each visitor to the office usually comes in with only their own perspective and that part of our role is to help folks consider multiple perspectives. While we’ve all heard the phrase “there are two sides to every story” I’ve decided that this is not correct and that there are more like 6 or 7 even with only two people involved! And, as I’ve said many times in my mediation career, when asked about a situation, the answer always depends on which chair you are sitting in.  Thus, I think from the start of any visitor meeting that for each issue, dispute, or conflict there are multitude points of view and my hope and effort is to help people gain broader perspectives on the situation.

And, while we were on the topic of perspectives at the NC Ombuds meeting, someone brought up the use of the term “south” as in “things going south.” This is a phrase most are familiar and generally holds a meaning that things are not going well. We wondered why those of us who live here in the south, don’t instead say “things are going north”!!

I did a little research (not very scientific) and the thought seems to be that “things going south” as a negative statement is fairly recent in origin coming from business settings where a chart showing a decrease was headed down, the same location as “south” on a map; hence, “things going south” connecting with bad news.  Apparently in England, the phrase was “things going west” for a time although “going south” has made its appearance.

In any event, as we ponder how we consider a situation, including even language choices, an important step for those seeking to resolve issues is about shifting perspective or at least examining a situation from many vantage points. When such shifts occur people remove boundaries from their thinking, the constraints come off, and solutions may appear.  One significant perspective shift is the idea that the issue is not me versus you; instead it is “us” against the “problem” and together we can move forward.

Contact the Faculty & Staff Ombuds office if you want to consider how you think about a situation and then we’ll head south for a good outcome!!

The Third Way – 18 Camels

 

I met with a faculty member recently who shared a situation and how they responded. It was explained that when X happened, then the only choice was to do Y. The faculty member was upset, angry about the situation, so I listened. I then summarized what I’d heard to make sure I had the various pieces and to acknowledge the faculty member concerns. The faculty member visibly relaxed (they were heard) and then I said: “Let me make an observation and ask a question. When you shared the situation you framed it as X and then Y, as either or – what’s the third way?”

I have long stated that the idea that there are two sides to every story is wrong; instead, there are six or seven (even if only two people are involved)!  We all carry multiple perspectives within and these show up when we are in conflict. As I think about our multiple sides to every story, I recalled the work of William Ury, one of the authors of Getting to Yes, who has more recently talked about the Third Side of conflict resolution. Ury has an excellent Ted Talk – “The Walk from No to Yes” on the subject where he shares the story of 18 camels.

Here’s the story:

“One of my favorite negotiation stories is about a man who leaves his herd of 17 camels to his three sons as their inheritance. To the first son, he leaves half the camels; to the middle son, he leaves a third of the camels; and to the youngest son, he leaves a ninth of the camels.

The three sons get into an intense negotiation over who should get how many, because 17 doesn’t divide by two, or by three, or by nine. Tempers become strained, so in desperation they consult a wise, old woman.

She listens to their problem and says, “Well, I don’t know if I can help you, but if you want, at least you can have my camel.” Now they have 18 camels, so the first son takes half of them, or nine camels; the middle son takes his third, or six camels; and the youngest son takes his ninth, or two camels. Nine plus six plus two adds up to a total of 17 camels. There is one camel left over, so the brothers give it back to the woman.”

As Ury explains and as I asked the faculty member visitor – what’s the third way to consider the situation? Too often we think in either/or, we polarize situations, and don’t consider some other path.

Thus, next time you are stuck or better yet, before you get stuck, visit the ombuds – let me help you find the third way.