Years ago I was called in to mediate a situation between a business owner and a youth that was caught defacing the owner’s property. The business owner was visibly pissed. He owned a seasonal business that only ran in the warmer weather and his shop was typically spray painted at least 3 times a summer. It happened so many times that he finally put a security camera up to potentially catch perpetrators. The kid and his friends came across the business one night and decided it would be fun to ‘tag’ the building. The camera was unable to pick up the kid’s friends, so he was the only one that had the pleasure of being caught.
The three of us spent some time in conversation and it was clear that the business owner had something on his mind that he needed to say. So I asked him, “how has this kid’s actions impacted you and your business?”
That’s when the floodgates of information opened. The owner began describing the stress that he was experiencing as a result of this continued problem and that he was contemplating closing the doors of his seasonal business. The kid was shocked! He asked the owner, “why would you close the doors because of this?” The owner began to describe the cost associated with cleaning up the graffiti tags. Staff had to notice right away, call in staff for additional support to start cleaning up the mess, buy paint to cover up the graffiti and pay for someone to administer that paint. All said and done, the owner was paying close to $5,000 every time his store was defaced with graffiti. Since it happened so often to his store he was paying a minimum of $15,000 per year just in graffiti clean-up expenses. For a seasonal business, such as his, it just wasn’t worth the money or the headache to deal with this constant issue.
If you’ll remember, effect is in the private realm. It’s hidden. We can guess at the effect that an action had on someone, but really at the end of the day, it’s simply a guess unless the individual honestly shares his or her perspective of what happened. Additionally, we assume intent based on our effect as well. Take the business owner for example, he was impacted by this situation negatively and in my conversations with him he assumed the worst about this kid. When we feel that we have been slighted, overlooked, or hurt we often assume that the other person did that on purpose.
This is where the important work really starts. The work of listening. When we listen to how people have been affected by our actions, we start to see how their story can form. A few weeks ago, one mediation client said to the other, “Before I had no idea how you got to your interpretation of those events, but now that you’ve explained your perspective, I can see how my actions would have impacted you.”
When the business owner and kid sat down and chatted, they both shared how this situation has impacted them. The owner talked about his business, the kid talked about pending charges and the potential impact on his college career. What ended up happening? Well, they agreed that the kid should pay a certain portion of the damages. So the owner suggested, since the kid had no job or income, that he came and worked for him and that once everything was paid off, then they could talk about the kid staying on as summer help. A couple of years after this conversation, I heard that the kid was now a supervisor at the store and worked there on the summer’s he was back from college.
If this business owner and kid never sat down and brought their effect from the private to public realm, none of this would have happened. When we keep effect in the private realm we can’t expect others to be able to read our mind. We can’t expect others to own their side of anything if they don’t know your story. The longer we keep intent and effect in the private realm, the bigger the recipe we are concocting for miscommunication.
How can you bring effect into the public realm? What’s holding you from sharing it? How might you explore how you’ve affected other folks? What questions might you ask to bring that information into the public realm?
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