When I was a boy in sunny Sheringham in Norfolk, I vividly remember attending the “Little Theatre” to see a show about the famous (infamous) devil dog of folklore – “Black Shuck”. Apparently, seeing this creature was a sentence of death and much to be feared. For some reason I felt sympathetic towards the Shuck – I don’t now remember why.
As years went on we fell in love with our own Black Dog – my beloved Digby and about a month ago my wife and I spent time in a room at our vets hugging our big soppy friend as he went asleep forever. Now, I have a big space in my heart that is the right size and shape for our black Labrador and, despite being a sensible adult (well I try) I cannot really get past this at present.
Everyone I come across appears to have a black Labrador; and around my office there are at least two with a further golden one. I find myself filling up at the slightest thing (like writing this). I guess emotion gets you like this.
A good place to be when considering mediation. Emotion is very powerful and gets you in an unusual way – just when you are least expecting it. It is also very real and needs to be taken into account. It can be a big positive as well as an equally large negative. As an accountant I am very logical (painfully so some would say) but the flow of very powerful emotion can still knock me sideways when least expected. One of our friends recently lost her husband and is doing well. However, every time she comes across ice cream (which her husband loved) she falls apart. Whilst losing our dog is not the same at all, I have a much better understanding than I did beforehand.
Mediation sessions, even in the Civil, Commercial and Tax related areas that I deal with, give rise to strong emotions. Sometimes irrational, but always important and which often over-shadow the whole background to the dispute. Something which cannot be weighed or measured on a balance sheet or in a bank account but every bit (perhaps more) real than either. Understand this and, sometimes, it provides a key to try and move those in deep disputes. Ignore it and it will definitely be a stumbling block.
Churchill called his depressions his “black dog”, something to avoid and fear. My “black dog” is a warm, soppy, fur-shedding friend and someone (yes, I think he was a “person” as far as my family is concerned) who loved uncontrollably, ate anything and taught me lessons I could do well to remember. As I wrote in a previous article, Digby would have made a great mediator (doggedly determined) and slow to judge. His loss, and the emotions stirred still has a lesson – underrate the emotions behind conflict at your peril.
I hope that we may be able to bridge the gap in our hearts with a puppy (Mrs King and I are yet to fully agree on this [does anyone know a good mediator?]). Other disputes can be much more complicated to sort out. However, I try to ensure I appreciate the emotions involved and do not reduce things to a financial or even a rational answer. Perhaps that will be my “black dog” – I certainly think I will never forget him. His fur is still turning up in our home along with ghostly pad marks on parts of the solid floors.
It is also true that every mediator should carry a good supply of tissues!
ADR Accredited Civil and Commercial Mediator, Certified Accountant and member of the Chartered Institute of Taxation (former Chair of the East Anglia Branch), university lecturer and trainer and a member of the CIOT Dispute Resolution and Litigation working group.