Most of us have that person (or persons) that we just can’t seem to work with — a fellow student, employee, colleague, faculty member, administrator…you get the picture. “Oh that so-and-so, s/he’s just a complete [insert favorite adjective here]. S/he’s impossible to work with; everyone says so.” Sound familiar?
So here’s the thing — if you want to change that dynamic, perhaps the person that needs to change is *you*.
I met someone recently who does mediation for a living. When I asked what was new in her profession, she started talking about “narrative mediation.” The basic premise is this: conflict is derived from how we perceive the situation or person we’re dealing with. In the case of personal conflict, we create a narrative for the person based on some limited set of interactions and/or events, and then filter all subsequent communications and interactions through that narrative. We may even completely filter out some things the person says or does because it doesn’t fit our narrative.
So, if you want to change the interactions, you need to change your narrative. Or, alternately, change *their* narrative of *you*. Or both.
Of course this is easier said than done. It’s hard to see past an initial impression, or an early slight, to conceive that someone’s actions may not be driven by the things you perceive them to be. And then there are subtle external influences that help to shape our narrative about people, groups, or situations.
Take, for example, the IT-faculty relationship. Ask an IT person about faculty and you may get a roll of the eyes and a comment like “oh, you know those faculty…they’re a different breed.” Go to an IT conference and you’re likely to hear a crowd giggle and clap for statements like “faculty, a thousand points of no.” (Yes, this really, truly was said by a very prominent speaker at a conference I attended).
With this type of priming, it’s no wonder that even the slightest negative interaction with a faculty member — who may be completely and rightfully upset about malfunctioning technology in his/her office and/or classroom — feeds a narrative that serves to perpetuate the bad IT-faculty relationship many have come to accept as “normal.” And it works the other way, too, with narratives that faculty have created for IT folks.
A colleague wrote an article recently that referred to faculty as “a thousand points of know,” which I thought was a rather clever reshaping of the original quote, and, perhaps, the narrative that goes along with it. Would your narratives (and the relationships that go along with them) benefit from some reshaping, too?