Tom Jones — the Welsh Elvis — has been singing “It’s Not Unusual” for decades, whilst being pelted by women’s undergarments.
“It’s not unusual” is a great mediation phrase. It can help us normalize difficult situations, and help separate the person from the problem, à la Fisher and Ury in Getting to Yes.
“It’s not unusual in a city as loud and crowded as ours for neighbors to have issues with noise.”
“It’s not unusual for a couple who’ve been together as long as you have to challenges communicating”
Of course, we want to avoid minimizing our clients’ issues. We don’t want to say or imply that their situation is no big deal, nor do we want to compromise our neutrality. The subtext of the above examples shouldn’t be “New York is loud — deal with it, chump” or “Yeah, nagging is part of relationships — take my wife…please”
Like all mediation tactics, we need to proceed with caution. “I know how you feel” (or worse, “I know exactly how you feel.”) may be a well-intentioned statement designed to normalize the emotions of someone in pain. But we never really, really know how someone feels, no matter how empathetic we are.
If you’re having a hard time getting the song out of your head, my work here is done. If not, hopefully this‘ll do the trick.
drawing by yours truly.