Imagine you are in the Canaries, sailing around the Eastern Isles.  You’ve successfully sailed into Las Palmas, It’s 4 pm, and you’re keen to moor and go for that beer, as well as sit on a “heads” that isn’t swaying!  You radio in requesting a berth – no reply, after circling several times you try again, silence.

The Las Palmas Marinero (port official) is clearly off duty.  Eventually you “park” the 46’ cruiser at the visitor’s berth.  It’s only for 12 hours.  Departure is planned for 0800 the next day for the next leg.  The following morning at 0700 am your skipper goes on the hunt again for the Marinero –  At 07.30 he returns – muttering “blistering barnacles” and such like.. Apparently you have to stay put until 0900 when the “office” opens.  You see skipper again at 09.30 and hear the following story:

Skipper & Marinero meet outside port authority office at 0700

Skipper:  We arrived last night and parked on the visitor’s berth.  We plan to leave at 0800-

Marinero: You can’t park there

Skipper: I AM parked there and we are leaving this morning

Marinero: You can’t park there

Skipper: We are leaving this morning at 0800

Marinero: No – you leave at 0900, office closed till 0900

Skipper: Can I have the forms to fill in in advance?

Marinero: No – I give you the forms at 0900 from the office

08.00 Skipper stomps up to marinero’s office to wait so he is first in line and doesn’t have to queue.

0900 – Skipper opens door to office and starts to enter

Marinero – OUT, I say when open!

Skipper waits

Finally the door is opened – by Marinero. Skipper steps inside, takes a ticket, a seat and waits to be summoned.

Marinero slowly gathers some documents, staples them together.  He then removes the staples from them, and replaces them in piles on the desk before making a lengthy phone call …

Finally a number lights up above the counter: #10.  Skipper has #09.  German group heads gleefully towards Marinero with ticket 10… Skipper sidesteps them and gets there first handing up his docket… a curt conversation ensues. Germans wisely decide not to push it and Skipper finally stands in front of Marinero with documents.

Marinero: “You need respect, SIR”

Skipper: “I’m finding it hard to respect you right now, SIR”

… and after 10 more minutes of penpushing, stamps, and glowering looks the skipper is finally free to depart Las Palmas swearing he’ll not go there again!

Yes, I was on that trip, building up nautical miles towards my coastal skipper qualification, and as I listened to the story, it hooked me.  I felt like I should be able to analyse it and apply my not insignificant conflict resolution and facilitation skills to the scenario.  How could the situation have been avoided or redeemed?  Do I see similar scenarios at work?   And why bother trying to resolve or pre-empt conflict if we can simply sail away and never come across the person again?  I was reminded of three principles:

⦁    In order to resolve conflict BOTH parties need to committed to stay in relationship with each other.  In practice this often boils down to a purely practical question – will I be interacting with this person again, or need their willing cooperation in some way down the road?  If the answer to both of these is judged to be No, then the party is unlikely to have any vested interest in putting their energies towards finding resolution.  Our marinero had formal power and authority, and no need of the skipper’s business, and the skipper decided he would avoid Las Palmas in future.

⦁    Acknowledge the impact of deadlines on the group dynamic
Conflict often occurs when there is a deadline and pressure to meet it.  There is a focus on achieving an output or outcome, and due to that the process or group dynamic is neglected.  An unpopular view is dismissed as unimportant, we forget to make sure everyone is genuinely on board in our anxiety to achieve our goal.  This is a shame, as tight timelines are a prime opportunity for groups to grow and develop together drawing on the complete wisdom and strengths of the total group, rather than a select few.

⦁    Recognise the basic needs of the other party
Our Marinero states explicitly what his basic need is: Respect.  While the timetables of both parties clash, one could argue that had mutual respect been present, the feelings associated with the interaction and transaction would have been very different irrespective of the time of day it was completed.   Marshal Rosenberg suggests that we all have basic needs.  One of these is interdependence, and relating to this – Respect. If we can move beyond our initial position, identify, empathise, and meet these needs then much conflict evaporates.  Simply put – Respect is nutritious.

Last I heard, the next Eastern Isles cruise was skipping Las Palmas!