Kicking the (Big Blue) Can Down the Road



Isn’t she a beauty?

95 gallons of recycling capacity on wheels. Who wouldn’t love having this baby delivered to your front door, ready for use? No more stinky bin sitting around in my mud-room collecting cans and paper. Instead, she’s neat, she’s tidy and, best of all, she lives out doors. Like the cat.

While I was happily making room for Big Blue in our lives, my neighbors weren’t quite as enamored.

I live at the top of a gravel road so for me it’s a quick (wheeled) trip down the driveway and out to the curb. My neighbors however had to bring their bins to the top of the longish drive, which wasn’t such a big deal when they could stick their bin in the car, truck bed, trunk…. Big Blue? She’s not going to fit. And the collection trucks don’t go down the gravel drive.

One of my neighbors caught me on my way out the door to work and asked if I would mind if she just left her can up against my shed. Where it would be easier for her to get to the curb. I had visions of everyone down the road asking for the same and suddenly, the image of a Big Blue family reunion without end practically undid me. If I said yes to her…..where would it end? Yet I’m sympathetic. It is a long way to go, and for some people it won’t be an easy task. We live in society, we don’t want to be the grouchy automatic nay-sayers, and we want people to like us.

In my perfect world, the exchange would have proceeded with me having just the right graceful “no” on hand, she’d have walked away completely understanding my point of view, and we’d be all set.

Instead, we had one of those cringe-inducing conversations where I stammered and she backed away, and I couldn’t quite say no, and she’s a wonderful person who probably realized how unexcited I was about the idea and we left it with one of those awkward “I’ll get back to you” things….and I hurried off to work.

So what now?  After I cancelled the “replay” tape, I got to thinking. It wasn’t too late to have the graceful no. And it also wasn’t too late to address the situation my neighbors were facing. I can call the recycling folks and pass along the concern my neighbors have. Perhaps there’s a way they can help the folks who are having a hard time dealing with the new cans? Maybe they’ve already anticipated this and have smaller trucks handy since they’ll need new equipment to collect these new bins? And I can let her know what my concerns are with saying yes (where does it stop?) and let her know that I’ve heard her concerns and passed it along to the right place.

And then? Hopefully we’ll all recycle to our heart’s content.

Have you wished for a “do-over”? How did you handle it?

Tear Down the Argument to Build Agreement



We had a department store in our town that is being converted into a new movie theater and shops. I drove by today and all that was left of the old store were piles of debris and the metal structure sticking out in the 90* heat.  I could still imagine where the door had been, the shoes, the connection to the rest of the mall, but it looked so different that I could also imagine big theater screens, new seating, and openings to restaurants where there had been blank walls.

I love this stage of renovation, when you’re freed up from what you used to know about a space or a place, and your mind begins to see the possibilities.

In the middle of an argument or conflict, it can feel like you’re dealing with a lot of “knowns” but, if you can get down to the structure of the situation, there are usually more possibilities than we first see.

The metal framework is the essential area for discussion. The bricks, doors, windows, wires, tiles – they’re all extra. They shape the final form and function of the space, turning a two-story box into a department store, a theater, or something else altogether.

Usually, when we walk into a negotiation of any sort, we come with our building. We know what we want from the interaction and how the agreement should look when we come out.

What’s difficult is to engage with an open mind about what the other person sees, to work with them to tear down their building (and yours!), and construct something together that works for everyone.

At the heart of this approach is listening to understand. Since we’re not mind readers, we have to ask questions. Lots of questions.

I deal with a lot of situations that appear to be black-and-white at first. “We can’t do that, can’t approve that, it has to be like this, that’s impossible, can’t be done, this is the only way….etc.” These are position statements.

Usually, there’s a very good purpose behind the initial statement. Finding out what they’re concerned about (safety? cost? management? precedent?) and sharing your interest (and don’t slip a position in here – be genuine about what’s important to you) gives you an opportunity to ask my favorite question: “Is there a way for us to meet both our needs here?”

This approach takes time and a willingness to remain calm, keep asking and digging, and listening for the interests and concerns behind the words.

“How do we both win?” It’s the golden question that, when coupled with really hearing what the other person needs are, can help move us into constructing a shared solution.