When my black labrador was six months old, and he decided to chase after a cat, I did what any other person, with little experience of what a hyper-energetic, brainless puppy would do… I ran after him, yelling and calling; which incidentally had absolutely no impact on the dog whatsoever.
The labrador eventually was returned to us, by one of the neighbours who said the dog must have lost sight of the cat, then decided the open door of their flat was an invitation for him to go in and give them a big greeting.
The incident, in itself, was not memorable if I just looked at the facts of a puppy running away to chase after a cat. If this was all there was to the incident, it would soon be forgotten. The context is what made it memorable to this day.
At the time my labrador ran away, I was running a traditional 312-strong first year Hall of Residence. The staff had surprised the residents by transforming the Hall into Hogwarts overnight. When the residents woke up, the floors had been renamed into Slytherin, Ravenclaw, Gryffindor, & Hufflepuff. Pictures were changed, the dining room was transformed into The Great Hall, and the courtyard was turned into a Quidditch pitch. All the staff were dressed as one of the Harry Potter characters for the day. I had transformed into Dumbledore thanks to the costume.
I was in the courtyard, which the residents windows faced out onto, when Sirius (for those of you not familiar with Harry Potter - Sirius Black was the name of a character who transformed into a dog) decided to do his runner!
So there I was, dressed as Dumbledore, chasing and yelling “Sirius, come back…”, while all the residents watched me. After a couple of minutes of running, by this stage I was out on the main road feeling somewhat foolish.
There are some parallels with what happens when we don't have all the facts and simply rely on what we have either, seen, heard or felt.
In a mediation or complaint situation often the facts are the tip of the iceberg. It is only when a person is able to tell the ‘story’ do you discover the context to their words or actions. Sometimes the reason something has escalated has very little to do with the actual situation.
We can quickly make a judgement on a situation based on first impressions, or just on the facts initially presented. We may be missing part of the story. This often leads to an escalation of an issue to a point where parties start to lose trust in each other, because neither feels or think the other party has understood them properly, or have the “correct understanding of what happened”.
It is not beyond the realm of possibility for someone to have had a rough nights sleep because of a baby teething, slept through an alarm, missed the bus, forgotten to take their phone, arrived to work 30 minutes late for an important meeting, and then reacted when someone commented on the difficulty their being late created.
The simple question of “Help me to understand…” can - and does - lead to a richer conversation, and more opportunity for either party to get a better understanding of context, and what informed a person’s actions.
Towards the end of the Hogwarts day, I overheard a group of residents comment about how much Simon had got into it, running around yelling out Sirius Black. It was only at that point that I clicked they hadn’t seen the dog running away, and could only see me running and yelling dressed as Dumbledore…If only they knew!