There was once two women, who both claimed ownership of one child.
In an attempt to determine to whom, the baby actually belonged, (or who was the biological mother) the king decided to physically threaten the child in the presence of the two women through proposing to bisect the child.
The women who was the child’s mother protested. The other women kept silent and the baby was returned to its biological mother.
This story is ancient and hails from a time before lie detectors, biometric scans, and even neurolinguistics; which is why, it cuts to the heart of two human truths:
- The women who claimed ownership of the children were both driven by ineluctable inner needs.
- Threatening to bisect the baby focused the women’s attention on those things that matter.
Both of these truths are self-evident in a negotiation scenario. But here’s the thing: Sometime, it’s okay to let the baby be bisected.
Sometimes, parties need to experience the shock and trauma of loss, but not on their terms, in order to return to the table and negotiate for a better outcome.
When dealing with human lives (and “baby splitting” happens all the time in preparations for warfare) parties often count the cost and then decide to go ahead with a disastrous action. And out of that disaster comes new opportunities to focus parties on what matters, rather than getting trapped in the weeds of irrelevancies that may have previously dominated the conversation.
Parties in conflict can be lazy, deceptive, self-serving, myopic, and greedy. Clarity of purpose, drive, focus on attaining tangible outcomes that matter, and developing a relationship with the other party often stall in the real world.
And it’s in the real world, outside of the theories of how human beings should and ought to work, that the wisdom of a mediator matters the most.