I’ve joined the chorus of cars that stop outside playschools each morning to drop off kids. My son, Ruben attends a wonderful playschool near our home. His teacher welcomes him to school each morning by squealing his name from across the playground, and with a big hug. It’s a special kind of person.
The rules of the school are that children need to be potty-trained. Totally understandable. So when the beginning of the term arrived and Ruben wasn’t trained, Elaine went past the school to tell them that we wouldn’t be bringing him until he was trained. They reassured her that we could bring him and that it wasn’t a problem. Elaine (the person that I’m married to, and the mother of Ruben) does not like to take advantage of other people’s generosity, but reluctantly agreed to take him. The impression she got was that it wasn’t such a big issue to the staff.
We love the school and are glad to leave Ruben there in the mornings.
But last week, after almost a term has gone by, a note came from the school expressing frustration with us that we are not adhering to the “nappy rules” of the school and pleading with us to begin nappy training. Their note gives the impression that they were happy to give us 3 weeks grace, but after that, expected the issue of nappy training to be resolved.
Elaine and I were surprised by this sudden expression of frustration. Elaine wondered why they hadn’t expressed their concerns earlier. Obviously we feel embarrassed that they have been thinking we are taking advantage of the school. Elaine is convinced that they never gave her any indication of a time limit. She doesn’t remember any mention of a “3 week” period. She has been waiting for the July holidays, when we would have Ruben at home all day, to begin nappy training.
So we wrote a letter explaining our perspective and understanding of the situation. We won’t take Ruben back to school after the holidays until he is trained. But Elaine was at pains to say that she wasn’t told about the 3 week expectation. Later when Elaine spoke with one of the staff members, she responded positively but added “But I did tell you”.
So, who is right? We won’t pursue the issue. But this little everyday misunderstanding has helped me to think about conflict and resolution… in a conflict situation basically good people come into the conflict believing that they are right. Elaine is sure that they didn’t mention any period (and I am inclined to believe her because they are so overwhelmingly accommodating kind of people). They are sure that they did tell us.
Saying “but i did tell you” or “but you didn’t tell me” is trying to resolve the conflict by asserting our own “rightness”. But this, by definition, makes the other person “wrong” and is not likely to invoke a response like “oh, yes, you’re right”.
I think that we will live with greater ease through conflict situations if we are able to move beyond the need to say “but I did…” (firming up our rightness). Beyond rightness is a place where we are able to consider that the other party might be acting in good faith and according to their own understanding (or misunderstanding as the case may be.)
I think that Elaine and I have to accept that whether the staff told us or not they are operating on the assumption that they did. And it would be helpful if the staff at the school were able to trust that we were acting according to what we understood to be the “agreement”.
I also think that Elaine is right – speak up earlier! Don’t let a misunderstanding escalate into frustration and resentment…
Fun, fun, fun… everyday!