It’s the things we can’t see that we are most afraid of.

Do you still think of the Jaws movie every so often when you are swimming in the ocean?  Yep, I thought so. And if it’s not conscious it is definitely there… lurking in the back of your mind…   It’s bizarre when you actually think about how fake the shark is in that classic film. Just hearing the Daaa Nah, Daaa Nah…. Can send shivers up my spine. If you feel the need to hear it again, here it is…. By the way studies have shown the irregular minor chords can provoke some animals to attack.

Over the holidays I watched a documentary on Steven Spielberg (even being a non-movie buff I really found it quite interesting). One of the things he said that stood out to me was, that the whole Jaws movie was made on the premise “It’s the things we can’t see that we are most afraid of”. Early into filming the shark prop, affectionately known as Bruce, broke and was too expensive to fix (no one expected the film to be a hit!) so Spielberg made us terrified of the shark without actually showing us much of it. He created tension by emphasising what we were thinking but couldn’t see – water swirling making us think that it was a huge underwater monster pulling a pier apart... everyone running in terror.


Often when I am in individual preparation sessions preparing for a facilitated discussion, I am aware that a participant is “scared”. I also know that sometimes if I can just support them into the room and get the conversation started things will get better. Often our protective imagination mixed with emotion and experience has us terrified of the things based on a glimpse, or something we can’t see and probably aren’t even there, but feel overwhelmingly real. It’s like I’m on the set of the Jaws film (or a more modern equivalent) and I ask is it possible that the shark you are fixated on isn’t real and help them find different lenses to see things through.   

Don’t get me wrong, there can be dangerous things in the water and so too in a difficult conversation, but often it’s the things we are anticipating from the swirling water, things like the other person will be irrational, or abusive or fake, that actually freak us out. Whereas the swirl may just be a water current and the other person is ready to apologise, or make change or listen. Or because participants have avoided each other they become “bigger and scarier” the longer they have been kept apart.

So, my job at times is to point out that Jaws is not real (sorry if I ruined that for anyone!) and that the perspective and emotion we have around a person or an issue in the workplace needs to be pulled apart so we can think differently.  It’s to challenge thinking to consider what is real and what is not but is yet still felt so deeply.  It’s about identifying the various narratives and taken for granted beliefs and assumptions that have contributed and fuelled each person's understandings of the other and of the conflict itself.

One activity I have used successfully is “finding the facts”. I get participants to write what has happened and then get a highlighter and go back and highlight ONLY the facts, not perceptions, understandings or thoughts. 

There is a bit more to this activity and I ask lots of rigorous questions. I am happy to share it with you so please get in touch if it is of interest.  It draws on the intriguing field of narrative therapy. If you want to know more about narrative mediation this article gives a history to its practice.

So, if you know of a situation that needs some support to see things differently please be in touch.

If you enjoyed reading this you might also like these:

Understanding Donald Duck
Emotional Olympics in your workplace
The cost of conflict
 Zalt Group works with individuals & organisations who want to ...

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