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.