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Les Miserables

Beth Peakall

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I was driving down to Somerset, a journey of around three hours. I enjoy listening to music as I drive as I find it relaxing. I was listening to Les Miserables, and the duet between Javert and Jean Valjean got me thinking about communication.

Briefly, Javert is a police officer. Jean Valjean has broken his parole and disappeared. He has just promised a dying woman to care for her child when Javert shows up. The two of them embark on this duet, singing at and over each other which reminded me of communication confrontations I have had - and you probably have too.

Javert wants to haul Jean Valjean back to prison now. Jean Valjean asks for three days to sort out the child, which, predictably, is not accepted. In the end, Valjean and the child escape.

I realise this is a work of fiction, but there is truth in the human dynamic. What is the confrontation about? Not the big issue - both men agree that Valjean should return to prison. It's when that the argument is about: the detail. This supports the old saying that “the devil’s in the detail”. By shouting and not listening, both men contribute to the impasse.

Most of our arguments are around the detail. In the end, neither man got what he wanted. Javert didn't have his criminal, and Valjean spends his time hiding. They missed the opportunity to stand on the common ground - the big issue - which meant the detail became the big issue.

The next time you find yourself headed down the path of confrontation, stop and look for the common ground. When you find it, stand there with the other person, and you may find that together you find a way forward that clears away the details. If you do that, you can both get not just what you want, but what you really need.

Beth Peakall is MD of TCLuk Training and TCLuk Housing one of the UK's leading housing consultancies.


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