Conflict resolution: Stumped by a paddleboard pinch, Part I

Spencer's photo on FlickrAs some of you know, I’ve spent the last few months living and working from a quiet bay on Baja’s Sea of Cortez. (If doing your dissertation literature review looks a lot like solitary confinement, why not confine yourself somewhere you can paddleboard?) But it’s not been all quiet.

The Sierra La Giganta mountains rise at our backs, and a pristine group of islands sit on the close horizon – a designated marine preserve and UNESCO World Heritage site for their geology and ecology. A well-intended eco-development was started here about 10 years ago, but went belly-up during the recession. Barely crawling out about 18 months ago, the community includes an unlikely mix of the original nature loving residents (mostly Canadian), snowbirds and golf enthusiasts from the United States, and investors from Mexico City. People are feeling more secure now. The single hotel at the end of the beach has just been purchased by Mexico’s wealthiest man (5th wealthiest in the world, I hear).

Which brings me to my story

I’ve been flying back to the States once a month to meet with a group of leaders in a leadership development Hothouse I facilitate. We’ve been working on leading through conflict… And down here on this quiet beach I ran smack into a pinch.

Hothousers – and others intrigued with deepening their communication skills – help a paddleboarder out!

A Sunday morning surprise

It was Easter Sunday – a big go-camping-on-a-beach-with-your-family occasion in this part of Mexico – I went out for my morning paddle and saw something new. A yacht, with anchor dropped right in the center of our small bay. And I mean a YACHT: three decks, pulling a tricked out fishing skiff, you get the picture.

I was irritated. Except for the occasional clam diver floating in a little fishing panga out in the channel, I’ve never seen a boat here. Who gave this one permission to block my view of the islands?

My partner was amused by my frustration. “But I don’t want a bay overrun by motor boats,” I insisted hotly. “This isn’t Cabo. Next thing you know, there will be jet skis.” I hate jet skis. I think of them as leaf blowers on the water. Get a rake! You were going to go to the gym anyway, weren’t you? Anyway.

“Have you seen a jet ski yet?” she asked. I had to admit I hadn’t.

First contact

On our paddle that morning, I detoured casually by our visitors (if you can call paddleboarding across an otherwise empty bay straight to the giant yacht in the middle of it, “casual”). Two men in deck shoes and uniform polo shirts were standing at the stern on the lower deck.

“Hi there,” I said. “Whereabouts are you coming from?”

They waved south, vague. “La Paz area.”

Silence.

“What brings you here?” I asked, fishing for an opportunity to comment on how beautiful the natural environment was here. I paddled a bit closer.

“Oh, just out and about,” one replied.

Then I saw it. A ginormous jet ski, tethered to the back.

The men were standing, watching me.

I had nothing.

“Well, enjoy this beautiful day,” I said. I turned my board and began to paddle. As I put distance between myself and the yacht, they thawed a bit. “You too,” one said. “Have a nice Easter,” said the other.

Stumped

I fretted. Inside, I knew if I did nothing, I was chickening out on something I cared about. But what should I do? What could I say?

“I personally will not be able to concentrate on reading my journal articles unless you assure me no one is getting on that jet ski here”? Who cared? I’d tell me to just get over myself. Besides, I was just a renter. “You’ll spend the rest of your life rotting in a Mexican jail if you disturb the peace in this bay,” sounded ludicrous, even to me. “The community has a rule against jet skis”? Truth was, I had no idea what the community thought about them, let alone what formal rules or authority might exist. I’d barely talked to anyone with my nose buried in all those books.

“Have you seen anyone actually use the jetski?” my partner asked calmly as we paddled over the coral. She had a point.

ArrrrrrrhhhhhhhHHHH…

An hour later, reading back on the beach, I heard it. A huge tail of water arced behind the jet ski as its rider sped across the bay. Doughnut after doughnut until the water roiled. Then, the jet ski came back toward the yacht and began carving another circle around it, again and again. It reminded me of a friend’s adolescent son years ago. His mother, my friend, told him if he was going to ride his snowmobile he needed to stay close, and he buzzed ferocious circles around the cabin for hours, much to her chagrin.

An older man I’d seen around was taking a walk down the beach. He stopped by me, and we watched for a moment. “We’ve never had a boat like that here,” he remarked, then turned to continue his walk.

FREEZE.

Let’s pool our collective intelligence on this one. What would you do next? Respond by posting a comment with your best thinking below. I need some (other) perspective.

(In a few days, I’ll tell you what actually happened – and tuck your insights into my life jacket for next time.)

 

13 thoughts on “Conflict resolution: Stumped by a paddleboard pinch, Part I

  1. Oh boy – this is a good (and tricky!) one.
    I debated whether or not you should initiate a conversation, but decided that you should. This was obviously an issue that you felt sincerly concerned about and your gut wouldn’t let it go. Though you don’t know the legal regulations regarding motorized vehicles in the area, it seems that the intention of the community (to be a peaceful marine sanctuary) is clear and the gentleman walking on the beach reinforced that the social system probably backs up your gut feeling on this.
    The bottom line for the yacht dudes? They want to have fun. I’ll assume that they are unfamiliar with the area and innocently there to play in a new bay. The fancy boat and jet ski certainly suggest that their lifestyle and definition of “fun” is different from most of the residents (temporary or otherwise) along the bay and it makes me wonder why they landed there (and not in another area with other yachts and partiers of the same ilk), but I’ll believe that their intentions are good.
    Now for the conversation. I would suggest something like this:
    Hey There! I see that you’re having fun with your jet ski. I feel conflicted. I appreciate that you want to enjoy our beautiful bay but I’m guessing that you don’t know that this area is a designated marine preserve. Can we talk about this?
    The risks here include them responding with something like “We don’t know what the problem is…we didn’t see any signs saying we couldn’t be here,” or “Who made you the water police?” But hopefully it opens the door to an honest conversation about the culture and intentions of the community. If you know of another nearby area that might be more appropriate for jet skiing, you might recommend it. Or maybe you even offer a jaunt on your paddleboard – to enjoy the feel of a different kind of ride?! 🙂

  2. Thoughts for Julie….
    I would paddle back out to the yacht and say ” I see that you have a jet ski with you”, I feel concerned, the story in my head is that I relish the beauty and peace of this quiet bay and that getting on the jet ski will negatively impact this idyllic environment. What do you think?”

  3. I would first gather information. In order to have a conversation, you have to have the facts. Are there laws against motorboats in the bay? Is there a law against the noise factor occurring in the general vicinity? If not, then you really have nothing to do except for take a walk in the opposite direction and give them time to leave. If it were me, I’d go and recreate in another location until the yacht left. How long could they stay around? 1 or 2 days? No big deal. I would just count myself blessed that I had been able to enjoy as many days in the region of quiet and calm and continue along my merry way. Sounds like these people have their own agenda and are not really the friendly type that wants to hear what a paddle boarder has to say.

    • So in reading a little farther it appears that I need to write an experience wheel for actually interfacing with these people rather than simply walking away and ignoring the issue (as it really is my issue and not theirs – as far as I know). So, here’s my try on a wheel:

      Just now, I noticed that you are the only motorized boat out here and the only Jet Ski in this environmentally friendly location
      Your motoring makes me feel disturbed
      The story in my head is that you would like to ride your jet skis around this bay despite what anyone else living here and enjoying the quiet here thinks or hopes for.
      Let’s find a solution that we can all live with. I’d be happy to teach you how to paddle board!

  4. next day on your morning paddleboard up the yacht again:

    I see you are new to the bay and you have brought a jetski.
    I am concerned.
    I am thinking that the boat and jetski will alter the nature of this quiet and calm beach community and will lose the serenity that it is know for.
    I want to know what you think.

  5. First, there may be a perfectly acceptable reason for the yacht to be in the bay. Getting more data/information on what is allowed may help to keep the assumptions minimized.

    It appears that you are concerned about expectations not being met when they may not have been set in the first place. Besides, talking with the deck-hand may not be the person best suited to manage the conflict. More information may be of value in determining if the yacht is actually in the wrong.

    I would start with getting more information on what is allowed…without assumptions…and continue to enjoy the view.

  6. I can’t wait to hear how you really responded. This is a tough one.

    I see you have the only yacht and jet ski used on this quiet normally motor less bay.
    I feel taken over
    The story in my head is that you don’t realize the yacht and Jet Ski disturb the natural ambiance that brought me here to paddle board and work on my dissertation.
    Help me understand where you are coming from?

  7. Tough one Julie!

    In that situation I would have made more small talk initially to fish (pun intended) for answers. Like when you said: “What brings you here?” I asked, fishing for an opportunity to comment on how beautiful the natural environment was here. I paddled a bit closer.

    In my experience with my patients and my children for that matter, they seem to give very little information in response on the first two-three questions and then sometimes they crack and just started spilling it as you press for answers.

    It sounds like to me that what is really important to you is not the noise or distraction of the yacht and jet ski, but that you envision the area being the eco-development marine preserve that was intended. The small talk might go down that path, asking questions about are they familiar with the area and its history. You could share the common interest of the area and brag about its UNESCO World Heritage classification. I feel like the staff would be more receptive if you were a resident and had a common interest in the area and its well being. From their perception they may be short in their responses because they think you are approaching them gawking at their “impressive” vessel rather than having a concern.

    The extra small talk is probably my blue personality trying to gather as much data as possible before making any decisions. If they were to continue to blow me off I would try to gather data regarding the laws and regulations of the area to see if these gas guzzlers were jeopardizing the UNESCO World Heritage classification. Having concrete evidence of someone breaking the law would be easier to rally the rest of the population around, rather than an opinion regarding the fun factor or necessity of jet skis.

    The wheel could look something like this:

    I noticed you have decided to anchor here in the bay. I feel concerned. I assume that you were unaware that this area has been trying very hard to become a marine preserve. I want to get on the same page regarding how we can make this area even greater.

    If all else fails try to make friends with them. Since they have a yacht like that, they probably have a lot of money and a lot of power and they might feel guilty about their actions and want to donate some money to the area for its restoration 🙂

  8. Part of me is thinking that the ship left before you even had a chance to have a pinch… Another part can’t stop thinking/picturing your face while you first talked with the deck hands on that first encounter… I digress… Being Blue, first thing I would do is to see if they are actually doing anything “wrong”, give myself a little ammunition. My pinch might go something like this (hopefully to the owner of the boat), “I see that you guys stopped here in the bay, I’m curious and 1. assume you are on a quick stop going north (or insert direction here) or 2. assume that this is a deeper section of the bay for you guys to stop. What are you guys up to? I would need to keep fishing for more info until I could ask them to politely move the ship slightly out of view. I think the real issue is the dislike for people who are not very considerate to others around them (and probably would not respond well to someone politely asking them to move slightly). Again, I am thinking the ship has already sailed…literally

  9. My version of the pinch wheel

    So I noticed you were having fun earlier using your jetski on in the bay.
    I am worried because the story in my head is that you are unaware that this bay is a designated marine preserve along with a world heritage site which makes the residents very accustomed to having a nice quiet and peaceful bay.
    I would like to find out if you intend to continue using your jetski and if so would you be open to alternative ways to enjoy this beautiful area. I would be more than happy to help you explore it on a paddleboard if you are interested.

  10. Hothousers! Thanks for diving into the water to help me out with my pinch. You guys are impressive – you really tackled the learning and practice with gusto. And your suggestions and questions added perspectives well beyond what I could see at the time. ~ Trying to Preserve the Peace without Becoming the Water Police

  11. What a great dilemma! I love the story and appreciate any opportunity to think about conflict facilitation. I know I’m late to the conversation, but here’s what I might do:

    First: Become irritated and make wild assumptions about the unconscious privilege of the folks on the yacht.

    Second: Breathe. Go internal. Meditate on possible ways in which I am like “those people.” How are they showing me something about myself? I’d ask myself if I sometimes tend to enter places where I may not be welcome, if I sometimes take up space and stick my big nose in the middle of other people’s business. Do I sometimes behave in ways similar to those yachters and do I need to think about curbing my impact? Or alternatively, perhaps I should be a bit more like them in a symbolic way—more “entitled” and less sensitive to other people’s space. Hopefully this short but challenging meditation shows me how the “other” is reflecting a part of myself. It might restore my sense of equilibrium, provide me with insight or at least improve my mood.

    Next: I would try to gather information about the rules and regulations of the bay.

    And lastly: Armed with knowledge about the rules of the bay and with the understanding that in my own small way, I am sometimes like those yachting folk, I would approach the boat with a sense of inner neutrality. I would tell them that I am sorry to complain because I too love to break the rules. (I’d make friends with them.) Then I would state my position and request with the hope that they feel understood rather than judged, and therefore be receptive.

    • Ahh… This ‘short but challenging meditation’ resonates – as does starting a conversation from a place of connection. Beautiful. Thank you for bringing such a thoughtful, integrated voice to this learning-about-conflict-facilitation party!

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