Monday, June 20, 2011

The Invisible Third Party

Sometimes a fight can't be resolved because the person causing the fight isn't in the room. We call that the "Invisible Third Party."

The first time we recognized this phenomenon was when we were mediating in Small Claims court during our apprenticeship as mediators. A 14 year-old boy was suing one of the customers on his paper route for not paying for her papers. I think everyone in the room was a little in awe of the chutzpah of this "child" having an advanced enough sense of justice to have filed the suit in the first place.

The prim and upscale woman he was suing kept slipping into that awe and respect, as she listened to him make his case, and if it weren't for the complete difference in her understanding of the facts, I think she would have just paid him the small sum.

But whenever it was her turn to talk, her facts were so different from his, she would slide back her position: she just didn't owe the money.

It seems she had gone away for the summer, and had called the paper and asked them to turn off delivery while she was gone. The paper said they would take care of it, and she left for several months.

However, that same man she had called, kept her name on the boy's list of papers to deliver, and charged him for those papers. When the boy came "collecting" she was so irate because she knew she had cancelled her subscription and so she thought she was being ripped off. She even confirmed with the paper that they had her cancellation on record, the first time the boy came collecting, so now she assumed he was the one trying to rip her off. But the paper hadn't toll the boy or credited him - he had called the paper and they had confirmed that he owed for the papers.

So neither party in the room held the secret to this problem, or the solution, it was the invisible third party.

This pattern repeats often in Marriage Mediation cases. Mothers-in-laws, bosses, irate neighbors, kindergarten teachers, even dead goldfish and pizza delivery boys can show up in marital conflicts as the "invisible third party" which makes it impossible for the two "disputants" to solve "their" issue.

The solution, as always, is to assume the "best possible interpretation" of your partner. Since we are all trying to just get our Universal Human Needs met, and they are always coming from life-affirming, positive intention; if you can't find the positive intention in your partner's actions, then you are missing something, and you need to check out the assumptions behind your disappointment.

Q4U: Are you holding a grudge against someone right now? Can't find the positive intention in their position? What are you missing?

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