Caution: We often see only what we are looking for!

When I read the moving front page story about TV host Tamara Taggart’s experience with cancer, one of the things that jumped out for me was the failure of the radiologist to identify the tumour two years earlier.  The story states:

Despite the delay in a diagnosis and the missed diagnosis by the radiologist — who has apologized — Taggart’s not bitter.

“I was upset for 24 hours when I learned the tumour was visible on a scan I had in 2010. When I met the radiologist again, I told him ‘I need you to know that I hated you for 24 hours.’ But he was looking at my kidneys for kidney stones. Only when he was asked to go back and look at the scan again did he see a tumour in my small intestines.”

A cogent example of the power of apology.  But it also highlights how we often see only what we are looking for.  Remember the wonderful video which asks viewers to count the number of bounces of the basketball and at the end asks if you have seen the dancing gorilla?  I have to admit I totally missed the gorilla the first time and when I viewed the same video a second time I was astounded that I could have missed the gorilla – he was so obvious!!

Lawyers are often so focused on finding the legal issues (that is what we were taught to do) that we may well miss other problems that our clients are experiencing that will likely inform and influence how we could help them.  Similarly, mediators need to remain open and curious and be prepared to be surprised when assisting people in conflict.  It is important that we not move the parties too quickly to solutions but allow the full picture to develop.  If we are only looking for kidney stones we may miss something much more life threatening.

Kari D. Boyle, Executive Director, Mediate BC Society

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