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 “We would like to know how can we handle difficult people…you know…some are patients and some are colleagues .”

“Yes!  That’s what we need too…dealing with a difficult person…we have quite a few of those.”

These were the responses from learners when discussing the objectives of a session that I facilitated this week. One of the activities we work through to help meet this objective involved reading and interpreting John Godfrey Saxe’s (1816 – 1887) version of an Indian legend: The Blind Men and the Elephant

There were a few frowns, some smiles and chuckles and then a discussion followed regarding the learning points from reading the poem. Points that were highlighted included:

  • We perceive the same situation differently
  • What we perceive we believe and unless we find out more from the other person we will see the other person as difficult and they will see us as difficult
    • We need to ask questions so that we can be more objective – this will allow a discussion to get to a solution instead of getting stuck and arguing.

As a group we looked at what the word, “difficult” meant to the group, what makes people “difficult” and then explored ways to communicate effectively with the person. What is your learning point from reading the poem?

The Blind Men and the Elephant

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind.

The First approach’d the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, -“Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out his eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he,
“‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can,
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Then, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong!

John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887)