Perspective is Paramount

Blog by Tracy Stock, CSP

Last month I was involved in a three-car accident. My car endured $11,000 worth of damage, with the entire right side of my vehicle smashed from front to back, including two fairly nice-sized holes in the right rear door and right back panel. The auto-body technician said he had never seen anything quite like that before. That comment was concerning. My beautiful, shiny, sporty white car…no more.

From driving down the street on a gorgeous sunny day without a care on my mind to suddenly this…police statements, insurance forms, calls from the agent, calls from my insurer, calls from the adjuster, calls from the body shop, a call from the rental car company, more forms, a call to the doctor, more paperwork, a call from the other insurance company, more doctor appointments, and still…more paperwork. Overall, it was a tough pill to swallow. But as the saying goes, it’s just a car and it could have been so much worse. No one was thankfully seriously injured; yet the neck and back pain likely won’t leave as quickly as it came.

What I found to be amazing, though, was the difference in perspectives. The three drivers were all there. We all experienced the same accident. Yet how two of us recount the events couldn’t have been more different.

After calling the police, three officers arrived quickly to the scene and began to assess the situation. One officer walked to driver #1 and asked him to explain what happened. He responded, “After checking for traffic, I pulled out from this parking spot and she hit me.” I walked closer, took a deep breath and calmly said, “I hit you?” He replied, “Ya.” I asked, “How is that possible? If we look at the damage on my car, how could me hitting you have caused this damage? Or am I wrong?” After seeing a confused expression on the driver’s face, I then turned and looked at the officer, awaiting his response.

I honestly believe this young man thought I hit him. At the very least, he was somewhat convincing…even to me. I started to question myself. How crazy is that? I did and still do feel bad for that young driver. It was a simple mistake and he is going to pay for it, likely with his license. I realize that it is the responsibility of each driver to be mindful and careful, but I am also a Mom, and I feel for young drivers when they are involved in accidents. Although, I didn’t feel bad enough to accept the blame, nor should I. He was given a citation and I was left to deal with my wrecked vehicle and minor injuries.

So my feeling on this accident is that we all share perspectives that we see through our own lens. It may be “the truth” or it could be “our truth.” The challenge is to figure out which perspective is right. It isn’t about “they” versus “us.” Instead, it is about listening, questioning, and truly trying to understand. Real listening, better known as “active listening”, is something many of us take for granted…like it is a skill we all possess. Unfortunately, many do not either have this skill or exercise it as often as s/he could. If you want to learn more about how to engage in real listening, William Ury is one quality source. He is a world-renowned mediator, and works with conflict involving board-room battles to ethic wars across the globe. Click here to “listen” to Ury’s perspective.

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