Where are we?

April 7, 2009

Last weekend I added another way to describe the importance of seeking another’s perspective when you find disagreement. Being a soccer parent in Montana has its challenges. When your children “travel,” you don’t head across town as do my friends in Minneapolis or Washington, DC, instead you hit the road at 5 am to drive across the state. The older the kid, the farther you must venture and the earlier in the year they start playing. Thus, the season began in earnest on Saturday for our teenaged daughter with games scheduled in Billings, about 2 ½ hours east.

April 4, 2009

Yet between Friday and Saturday morning we received about 18 inches of snow in our neighborhood outside of Bozeman. It drifted across the roads and without a snowplow, I wasn’t going to make it out of my driveway.  There was also a winter storm alert for our destination. Games had been cancelled all over the state. So, the three fellow soccer team families in our neighborhood decided at midnight to forgo 4 AM snow blowing and possible dangerous driving conditions since it seemed impossible that the games wouldn’t be cancelled. There are limits.

We awoke the next morning to even more snow and emails that the games were scheduled as planned! Weather.com continued to report winter storm alerts and the transportation department tough road conditions, yet all the other team members were on their way to Billings. How could that be?

This situation then began to remind me of watching a mediation. There’s usually a time during a dispute where one party insinuates that the other must be a little crazy or irresponsible. But for a mediator, this moment should be a sign that everyone might be missing critical information.

Thankfully, after shaking my head in disbelief, I recognized I must be missing something. After making some calls, I learned that downtown Bozeman had received a few inches not feet of snow and the farther east you drove the less white stuff you’d see. Ringing a friend already cheering on the sidelines, I learned that the fields were completely dry. “Winter storm alert” in Billings meant only cloudy skies, not dumping two feet as it did south of Bozeman. The same term was used for both cities with very different results. From our winter wonderland it had seemed impossible that there would be relatively warm and dry weather 60 miles away until I spoke with someone who had just made the journey.

After my faithful spouse dug us out, the girls and I headed east to make a second game. Arriving at the fields, it was my turn to explain to the other soccer parents why our late arrival had not been…well, lazy or irresponsible! With a dusting of snow on their vehicles before leaving, they were as confused that we hadn’t made the trip as I had been that they had. From Billings we had seemed a bit crazy…just as they seemed from home!

I now hope to mumble, “they must be in Billings” when I reach that tough spot in a mediation when perspectives diverge, or in my own disputes, so I will ask more clarifying questions. I’m guessing those who know Billings, Bozeman, or Butte for that matter, are smiling as they read this since these towns sport not only unique ecosystems, but also very distinctive, and sometimes opposing, personalities…yet, don’t we all?

Deidre Combs

Deidre Combs is the author of three books on cross-cultural approaches to resolving conflict and overcoming challenges:  The Way of ConflictWorst Enemy, Best Teacher  and Thriving Through Tough Times. The books integrate perennial wisdom from the world’s lasting cultural traditions with systems theory and brain research.

Dr. Combs is a management consultant, executive coach, mediator and core instructor in Montana State University’s Leadership Fellows Certificate Program and Columbia University’s Teacher’s College Global Competence Certificate Program. Since 2007, she has also taught intensive leadership training to State Department-selected students, teachers and professional leaders from throughout the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Eurasia, Latin America and Pakistan’s FATA region.

Related Posts