The Three Stories

As human beings we are drawn to stories, using narratives to make sense of our lives, our experiences and who we are.

We do it all day long: we tell ourselves a story about what’s happening in our lives, about other people, about ourselves. When I call them “stories” … that doesn’t mean they’re false, or that they aren’t based on the truth. It just means we’ve constructed a narrative based on our experiences, a perspective on the world around us, an interpretation of facts as we see them. Not false, but not necessarily the entire truth — just one perspective.

A different person could look at the same situation and tell a very different situation.

My Story and Your Story

In any conflict situation there are usually two main stories, my story and your story. My story is how I see the situation and express my viewpoints. Your story is how you see the situation and express your view points.

What we don’t often consider in these situations is that there are hidden aspects of our respective stories. I don’t know everything about your story and you don’t know all about mine – certain things are obscured. These hidden aspects may be relevant to a situation, but ones that we are unaware of.

They can also be thought of as what lies under the surface of the story, or what we can think of as ‘the story behind the story’. While we can show one level of depth graphically (see below), the true situation might be that there are multiple levels of depth to any single aspect of a story. So, part of what we do in a restorative dialogue, is to better understand the ‘story behind the story’.

The Third Story

The Third Story is how an independent third person would describe the situation that encompasses My Story and Your Story without judgement or opinion. It takes into account both points of view, where the two stories overlap and where they differ. It is like a neutral judge in a court of law summing up a case for the jury without taking the side of the prosecution or the defence.

The Third Story is the one that embraces My Story and Your Story. It makes use of what is called in the Difficult Conversations book, the ‘AND stance’ - accepting that the two stories exist and working forward from there. Another way of accepting diversity of viewpoints.

In Restoring Relations, we have slightly modified the approach taken to the Third Story in the Difficult Conversations book. Our approach introduces an extra stage at the end of the dialogue process. Once the Third Story has been detailed and understood through the information brought together using the three lenses (see below), in some circumstances, it is possible to embark on the equivalent of a Learning Conversation.

In this conversation, the dialogue is extended into an exploratory conversation about future practice: what we might both (all) do differently going forward. While the Restorative Dialogue process does not seek to “find solutions”, in this additional step, the Third Story is translated into the joint aspirations for how we might jointly create/ work/ interact/ function better in the future.