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Because The Other Side Has A Perspective

by John DeGroote
May 2012 John DeGroote

Sometimes I don’t need to hear why, or how, it happened — the thing just speaks for itself. A few months ago I read an article in The New York Times and made up my mind by the third line, which detailed the audience’s anger as “a cellphone began ringing – and ringing, ringing, ringing without cease – during a performance by the New York Philharmonic.” Through first-hand accounts available from thousandfold echo, Superconductor, and Max Kinchen, we now know that no one cared why, or how, it happened. Fellow concertgoers yelled, “Thousand dollar fine!”, “Get out!”, and “Kick him out!”.

Later I learned the rest of the story, and the case of the unrelenting marimba ringtone is now an easy way to make an important point to mediators, lawyers, and the the clients they serve.

Patron X’s Perspective
“Every truth has two sides; it is as well to look at both, before we commit ourselves to either”. Aesop’s quote made sense over 2000 years ago, and the rest of this story reminds us it’s good advice today. Unlike me, The New York Times asked “Why?” and “How?”, and their follow-up tells us a few things about the man who apparently couldn’t turn his phone off. Patron X (as he is known today):

  • Is a 20-year subscriber to the orchestra (hence his seats down front);
  • Changed from a BlackBerry to an iPhone just one day before the concert;
  • Made sure to turn his new iPhone to silent mode before the concert began;
  • Had no idea his iPhone’s alarm was set — or that phones even had alarms; and
  • Had no idea an iPhone’s alarm would sound even in silent mode.

Yes, Patron X’s alarm rang and, as alarms do, it rang and rang and rang — all within the oblivious reach of its owner. None of these facts will bring back the final measures of Mahler’s Symphony No. 9, but we now know “why,” and “how”, and this is no longer an open and shut case.

Have You Asked “Why?” and “How?”
Lately I have noticed mediators, counsel and the other side arguing against the mediation joint session, citing the emotions or personalities of the parties. Apparently there’s a bit of a debate on this, and posts from Diane Levin, Victoria Pynchon, and Joseph C. Markowitz explore this dispute further. Without wading into the joint session debate here, I do believe the parties need to understand the other side’s perspective, and they need to understand it early in any dispute.

Michael Hyatt’s post Both Sides of the Story reminds us that jumping to conclusions is a problem we all face:

The problem is that most of us (me included) forget [that there are at least two sides to every story] in actual practice. Someone comes into our office and shares their tale of woe. We listen carefully, nodding our head in sympathy. We are surprised by how our colleague was treated. We may even become angry. Their response to the situation appears perfectly reasonable. Then, without further reflection, we take some action that we later regret.
So what do we do? A million miles or so ago I wrote One Secret the Two Million Miler Club Has Taught Me, where I told the story of the $24 breakfast that catalyzed the end of an eight-figure, multi-year dispute. The short of the story is that — despite temptations to the contrary — I set up a meeting, got on a plane, and sat down to listen to the other side. By the end of breakfast I understood how the dispute had started and why the other side thought they were right, and we were well on our way to settling our differences.
The next time you’re ready with your side of the story, ask what the other side’s is. You’ll be glad you did.


John DeGroote is a nationally recognized practitioner, author and speaker known for settling disputes and getting deals done, both as a business executive and as an advocate. With particular expertise in early case assessment, detailed case analysis, and innovative disposition techniques, Mr. DeGroote’s background includes service as Chief Legal Officer and, previously, as Chief Litigation Counsel of a global company for 10 years.

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