Back in the "olden days," before we had instant access to our personal or business checking accounts, we used to perform this task called monthly reconciliation. With each box of checks, you would get a register to record your written checks and deposits made. This allowed you to keep a running tally of what was (conceivably) in the bank as a working balance. Alas, some things did not get recorded that you forgot about and checks might bounce.
At the end of the month, on the back of your mailed bank statement, was a form to reconcile your accounts. Although the bank is the real authority about how much money they are holding for you at a given moment in time, it does not tell the entire story. By adding uncleared deposits and subtracting your uncleared written checks from the statement balance, you can calculate an accurate working balance.
I would propose that reconciliation between people and organizations is similar: it is not that one side or the other has the whole truth or the only perspective. Different accounts and perspectives of the relationship can create a real mess. Both sides have a story to tell and there are almost always undeclared debits and credits in the relational bank that need to be brought into the open to deal with.
Dynamics like these have played out in a variety of employment or partnership situations I have witnessed, sometimes from the sidelines and sometimes when I was on the field. Whenever there is conflict, it is easy and natural to create a story we tell ourselves (hat tip to Brené Brown) that is usually in our favor.
But rarely is fault ever to be found only on one side and reconciliation requires both sides to bring their full perspective to round out the story. In matching up accounts, we can begin to form a clearer picture of what is really happening. Once when we know where things truly stand, then we can begin to work on the issues that bring us out of balance with each other.
While this kind of resolution may be the highest good for individual relationships, sometimes fiscal or legal interests restrain this from happening in corporate settings. For example, after an unexpected medical outcome, the feelings resulting from unintentional harm and loss can affect patients, their families, and medical staff. In a litigious environment, everybody starts to armor up for self-protection, because telling the truth does not always set you free, but instead gets you sued.
However, in recent years, a new practice has emerged called the Disclosure of Unexpected Medical Outcomes (DUMO). One example is a program called RESTORE, developed by MIEC Insurance. A few years ago, I attended a DUMO training they held in partnership with the Institute for Healthcare Communication. The goals of this process include early reporting by clinicians and practices, courageous engagement with patients and their families, and encouraging each side to hear the other’s story. This can lead to more amicable resolutions outside of the courtroom because patients/families feel respected by the process, much more so than when faced with a battery of defense lawyers.
Amidst a pandemic, a year of high tension around race relations, and an emotionally charged presidential election, there are plenty of things that have divided us. It is a fantasy to believe that we will always make perfect decisions in real-time – especially when they are so volatile and dynamic - because we never can see the whole picture perfectly.
In the seasons ahead, I would encourage you to take time to reflect on the decisions you have made that may have created tension with others. 2020 hindsight can be the beginning of gaining wisdom, leading us to better understand the motivations and information we made decisions with. Then, by bravely processing the “stories we have been telling ourselves” with each other, we can make mutual deposits into the bank that enrich our relationships. Although reconciliation as a relational practice may sound as old-fashioned as a hand-written check register, perhaps it is time to bring it back into vogue.