In the online, on-demand course I teach on How to Have Difficult Conversations, it begins with exploring what a collaborative mindset entails.

In the course, it’s defined as:

“a way of engaging with conflict that seeks to work together for solutions that benefit both parties using a balance of empathy and assertion.”

My experience is that a lot of things go into having a collaborative mindset.

A key concept is to have the ability to perspective-take. This is the ability to imagine what the experience is like for the other person on their side of the proverbial elephant.

I often tell the Sufi tale of the 8 blind men and the elephant, which I first learned when I was teaching at the Centre for Conflict Resolution at the Justice Institute of BC. I never tire of this story because it serves as a reminder for me as to the importance of multiple perspectives.

Story goes – there are 8 blind men and an elephant. Each blind man has a piece of the elephant and is firm in what the truth of an elephant is.

The person holding the tail insists an elephant is just like a rope. The one holding the ear says an elephant is like a fan. The one holding the leg says an elephant is like a tree trunk.

Conflict arises when each of the blind men holds firmly to their part of the elephant.

The breakthrough happens when each is directed to share what their part of the elephant is like.

Each person around the elephant learns new information about the truth of an elephant. There are multiple parts to an elephant, as there are multiple parts to the truth. So, hearing each other’s perspectives causes everyone to grow their own understanding of what is occurring.

Our ability to not only perspective-take but to seek out that perspective as a way to learn more about the truth of a situation can be summed up in the mantra:

“Get curious.”

We say that a lot at the Centre for Conflict Resolution.

When there is resistance to your part of the world, can you get curious? It’s a constant challenge of mine, as I find I’d rather say no, or debate. Yes, I’d like to be right!

And, I know the way out! Thank goodness for that.

When someone’s world is understood, they are more willing to listen to your part of the elephant. Listen to be understood. Easy but not easy to practice.

By reflecting back what you hear, you “win yourself a hearing.” I can’t say that enough, as we all forget it, especially when we are thrown off balance and triggered.

“Around here, however, we don’t look backwards for very long. We keep moving forward, opening up new doors and doing new things, because we’re curious…and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” … Walt Disney