This is a story about change and how changing things is as much as about making changes as it is about allowing change to happen. This is a story about how something really frustrating and annoying turned into a great gift. This is a story about the power of being superbly human. Enjoy.
The last couple of months I wake up at night. Why, I don’t know. But when I’m awake I lay there listening and I hear a buzz coming out of the hallway. I was convinced that the noise was caused by my neighbour’s fridges. He’s running a bakery and his fridges are next to our hallway.
So I decided that I had to talk to him. But I kept delaying our meeting. And at the same time I started making up conversations in my head. I started to make scenario’s, started to design strategies about how to obtain my goal, how to anticipate a possible ‘no, I don’t believe you’ and so on. The more I waited, the more tensed I became and the harder it seemed to get in touch and talk about what I thought was happening.
I even got to a point where I thought I wouldn’t be able to keep calm enough to have a proper conversation. And so I talked about it with my coach. He wrote a wonderful letter, showing understanding and compassion. He was familiar with this experience and urged me to be compassionate towards myself and my neighbour. Bottom line was: give each other the chance to have a fruitful experience in trying to find a solution together.
Further on in the letter he introduced me to MAGIC, a technique to solve conflicts. So what’s the trick then? MAGIC is an acronym for Mapping, Aspirations, Ground, Innovations, Solution.
When in a conflict, the first thing you can do is map. You observe and jot down your observations. Try to make a distinction between what you know and what you think you know. Try to seperate the interpretations from the facts. Write them both down, but label them as either interpretation or observation/fact. Mapping will help you finding the blanks, which can result in great conversation starters. It’s far more easy to ask information about factual stuff than talking about feelings and emotions. Having your facts right can solve a great deal.
What do you want to obtain? What’s your goal? And what could be the goal of your conversation partner when he/she engages in the conversation? This last question is an invitations to spurr your imagination and allow you to discover your ability to empathise and be compassionate. It’s also a great way to get more interesting questions for your upcoming conversation. Because it’s definitely worth finding out what people’s goals are, to discover what they want and why they want it. Finally you may ask yourself which aspirations the both of you have in common. What I’ve learned so far is the more fundamental your aspirations are, the higher the chances that you have them in common.
Ok, now you’ve written your map and your aspirations you can start looking at the ground. What’s the starting point, what’s already there. Everything counts here. You smile to each other every day? Ok. You’ve talked about the wheather lately? Ok. Whatever there is, it matters.
What counts here is this: small changes can make seismic shifts (or not). But everything you can come up with matters. So what are the little things which can help you reach an agreement? Be bold. The more you list, the better. Think small and remember, nothing’s wrong and impossible so far.
What will you actually do to make this work? What do you agree upon. This is something which is reached while engaging in a conversation.
And so I sat down and wrote my MAGIC-formula for a conversation with my neighbour. So far, so good. Only after I’d written down my MAGIC I refrained from getting in touch. And again, the more I delayed the conversation, the more annoyed I got.
Until one night I was so fed up I sat down in the middle of the night and wrote a gentle letter to my neighbour. I told him I was having a hard time sleeping because of a buzzing noise which I thought was coming from his fridges. And I invited him to come over for a coffee and talk about it. I had some solutions in mind – which I already wrote down – but I’d rather had his opinion about this as well. I expressed my sincere hope to work this out together and to get rid of the buzzing noise.
When I wanted to post the letter I was stunned by the fact that I didn’t even know his name. We lived next to each other, greeted each other every day and I didn’t even know his name. It made it very clear to me that my fears and my urge to anticipate every answer resulted from the fact that I just didn’t know my neighbour. If my neighbour would have been my dad, I would have got in touch immediately, no problem. But now I didn’t know him I got scared for no reason. I came to realize distrusting him without knowing him was just my lizzard-brain talking to me. It was a primary instinctive thing to do. Make sure you don’t get hurt and avoid every possible ‘attack’ which may harm you.
A bit puzzled, I posted the letter. Two days passed. Nothing happened. This morning I went to see him. My wife had persuaded me to get in touch and get things over with. By the way, she wasn’t hearing any noise at all so she didn’t really understand what I got so fed up about. And so I walked into the bakery. My neighbour sat a table, reading his newspaper. When he got up he smiled en shook my hand. He had read my letter and did want to talk to me.
After I had breakfast I returned to his bakery-annex-tearoom and we sat down for a talk. His ten year old daughter gave me a coffee. So he asked whether I heard noise during the night and whether the noise came from his bakery. I told him I thought it came from the fridges because it was a buzzing sound coming from around that area. He suggested we’d take a look. And so we went into the bakery. There we were, next to the fridges. And all was quiet. And the walls around us were properly isolated.
In a way I was relieved. It couldn’t have come from here. My neighbour, his wife and his youngest daughter stood around me showing me other machines that could have made the noise. I assured them it wasn’t coming from here. It couldn’t have come from here. The room was isolated and the fridges were quiet. I told them I was grateful because they wanted to show me around, figure things out. And I also properly introduced myself. We shook hands, shared names and smiles.
I felt warm inside, and it wasn’t because of the heat of the baking ovens in the background. It was mostly because of the kindness and the consideration of my neighbours. They genuinely cared about my peace and quiet. They kept asking whether it could have been something else. They kept assuring me that whatever there was, I could get in touch with them. We went back to the tearoom and finished our coffee tossing up ideas about what might cause the buzzing noise. Later on it turned out to be a water softener which was installed in the garage.
As we stood in front of our house, I invited him in for a tour. It was as much symbolic as it was real. He had been so kind to let me look into his heart, to be open and genuine. He had put me at ease, made it easier for me to open up for which I was very grateful. After the tour I invited him and his wife to come over for dinner. His eyes twinkled. He took my hand and shook it, both firmly and softly.
I think something magical happened this morning. Because when I do hear the buzz in my hallway now, I feel his handshake and his smile, I feel the genuine hospitality I’ve experienced when expressing my worries. I feel the warmth when I understood that he cared about my well-being. When I hear the buzz, I feel superbly human. And it feels great.
A few days ago I wrote a post about how every touch is an invitation to receive a gift, an invitation to be compassionate. I’d written that post shortly after I had dropped the letter in my neighbour’s mailbox. I think I’ve just come to understand the full meaning of that post. Only by allowing what touched me to be an invitation I gave myself the chance to discover what my neighbour had to offer. Only by allowing what touched me to be an invitation I gave my neighbour the opportunity to share one of the most beautiful gifts in life: compassion and care.
And for that I thank him. Sincerely.
Oh, and if you want to experience this kindness yourself, please visit the bakery:
Bakkerij Aktief – Hoveniersstraat 1 – 9050 Ledeberg, Belgium