Scene – a mediation
First there was the anger, the reiteration of old slights and hurts. The litany of infractions, some real, some imagined. Half forgotten meetings and misremembered conversations. The inevitable grievances. Then came the dossier, the email trails to prove a point, passages highlighted for emphasis – a quest to justify and convert the listener.
A second voice is added. The accusations fly, point and counter point. Claims and rebuttals. Contention and conflict. The other side of the equation, another perspective but no less entrenched, just different. The conversation expands to fill all the available space in the room. A claustrophobic situation, the released energy heating us all but no windows can be opened as we continue our confidential session, discordant and exhausting.
“Is this betrayal of trust something we can work from? The place we draw the line under?”
Slowly but surely it shifts. A certain mutual respect is evident, it’s grudging but it’s there – like it always is. Sometimes I wonder whether it’s just the time of day, the prospect of an end to this fighting, a chance to go home and lick the wounds before rejoining battle. Yet in the next thought I know it’s not. It’s deeper, a more visceral response.
“I just needed to be heard.”
That’s the moment it changes, the moment where a resolution becomes possible. It’s not always stated as clearly as it was that day but it’s what happens. Being heard – in turn it allows them to see themselves differently. They don’t have to occupy their previous positions. Five years of intractable conflict starts to become the basis for resolution, not perhaps a reconciliation but maybe a new narrative that they can co-create.
Scene – a resilience course arranged for a group of people at risk of redundancy.
The formal session is over. The afternoon is rotating cast of characters entering and leaving for their “coaching”. The only constant is a man with one question.
“How can I help you today?”
The answers fly thick and fast, often a question in reply
“It’s the weed mainly, that and my marriage”.
“Should my cv hide my work as a union rep?”
“I don’t know. What have others wanted from you?”
“How did I get trapped here?”
“It’s my second redundancy – is it just me?”
“Well my two children are in a special school and I really need the job.”
“I’m full of anger, what can you do with that then eh? What can we do with 20 minutes?”
“I’m gonna be ok but I want to be able to help my colleagues.”
Keep listening, two ears, one mouth is the mantra. Rinse and repeat. Person after person. It’s hard, no break, no time to really reflect. I try to give each of them a little more time than their allocation. I’d make a terrible doctor, always running late as I listen for one more word, one more silence. There’s always time to allow one more tear, another moment to compose themselves before they step out.
I’ll never know the stories, how it all turns out for them. All I know is that they were heard. How do I know? It’s in the handshake, in the final look we exchange.
This is my job – to hear people.