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Is what we want holding us back?

Since March this year and the introduction of restrictions to what we thought of as normal life, I have spent more time reading than at any time in the last few years. I’ve been reading lots of non-fiction management style books and have been introduced to interesting thinkers, researchers and writers like Brené Brown and Simon Sinek. But, it is a novel that has stuck in my mind the most.


Matt Haig, for those of you who don’t know, is, according to wikipedia, an English novelist and journalist. He has written both fiction and non-fiction for children and adults, often in the speculative fiction genre.”


His latest novel, The Midnight Library, is a number one Sunday Times Bestseller, and a New York Times Bestseller. I won’t include any spoilers here and will just say it is a fantastic read from start to finish.


There is however, a paragraph that leapt out at me as I read it:


Mrs Elm studied Nora hard, as if a passage in a book she had read before but had just found it contained a new meaning.

“Want”, she told her, in a measured tone, “is an interesting word. It means lack. Sometimes if we fill that lack with something else the original want disappears entirely. Maybe you have a lack problem rather than a want problem.”

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig


Matt Haig’s zeroing in on want as another word for lack resonated so strongly with me at a time my brother and I were setting up NeithPax and figuring out how we wanted to talk about mediation.


When disputes arise between individuals or organisations, invariably everyone involved has a very strong view of what they want. They will also almost certainly have a strong feeling of grievance. And when grievance and want are combined they typically forge a heavy anchor that prevents people being able to find workable solutions.


When we mediate, Kenwyn and I see our job as helping the people we work with discover and understand the lack that is stopping them moving beyond the grievance. People’s ingenuity and creativity is incredible, and once the lack, or need, rather than want, is understood, individuals can then start to bring their own highly tuned problem solving capabilities to bear.


Nobody wants to stay in a dispute indefinitely and formal proceedings can add years and huge costs to resolving disputes. They drain our emotions, our finances and our futures, but want and grievance can bind us to the dispute.


Where there is a dispute perhaps it is worth considering hiring an external expert. As mediators, our problem solving ability is not aimed at the specifics of a solution. We are experts at helping untether people from their want and grievance anchors so they can uncover what they need. Then, their own problem solving capabilities mean they are far more likely to devise a solution they can live with, as opposed to having one imposed on them.

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