Human interactions can be both, pleasant and unpleasant. The outcome is dependent upon how the interacting parties decide the ending to any meeting.
It is an extremely difficult task to segregate between issues and the people associated with the issue. For this reasons, we find very few managers who possess the admirable quality of sifting between the two. Those possessed of this virtue are managers and supervisors, who know how to dispassionately handle the gravest of conflicts between all staff and also within team members. When two distinct individuals, with equally diverse backgrounds relating to their education, training and experience, meet up, it is but natural to have “noise” in their relationship. So long, as it is positive clamour, it is not an issue.
However, if the noise has negativities attached to it, there is a problem, either in the process of germination or it may be in full bloom. The clash of opinions can be between titans or pygmies- when it is between titans, the grass (other colleagues) suffer the most. And, when it is between pygmies, it results in creating murky corporate waters that flow and pervade across the organisation. But if the clash is between a corporate pygmy and an even stronger corporate titan, the result is either a “cannabalised meal” for the titan or an “irrevocable insult” for the titan; this consequence is dependent upon who between the titian and pygmy is perceived as a “winner”.
“It is not he who gains the exact point in dispute who scores most in courtesy but he who has shown the most forbearance and the better temper” (Samuel Butler in a essay titled-Reconciliation). In any corporate argument, there is in my view no concept of an absolute win or an abject surrender. In enlightened organisations, conflicts between people are thrashed via the route of mature deliberations (soft and hard), where there is “give and take” and the consequence, invariably is, “consensus by discussion”.
Naseem Jabir (name changed) was a senior manager, attending the annual meeting called by the General Manager (GM) to review the previous year’s results. The two, in their past lives, had not enjoyed a good working relationship so the remnants of their cold war were visible to many. I was, in attendance, too. During the discussion, Nasim made some indirect disparaging remarks and comments, which were completely non-palatable to the GM (chairperson), who visibly was showing signs of discomfort and consternation, by fidgeting and shifting, in his chair. The GM, who was being patient, but was also sitting on a powder keg (matter relating to the past events), between the two, suddenly went into a frenzy of anger -akin to a volcanic eruption- he shouted remarks, which fell only a short meter away from the skirting of decent language. He blurted. He turned crimson red. His voice had begun to quiver. Lo and behold! He stood up and stormed out of the conference room. Being the next the most senior person in the room I tried to take charge by pacifying Nasim, and simultaneously at some length, reminded everybody present about the need for handling dissenting views with managerial grace. I paused the meeting for a comfort break of ten minutes.
I moved to the chamber of the GM and in exasperation, I said, “What kind of spectacle have you made of yourself, by throwing child like tantrums?” “You have played into the hands of the manager (Nasim), I reminded him, by reacting the way, he had planned you to react (Nasim, because of his long association with the GM, knew the latter’s weakness of being in possession of hugely inflated balloon of ego, that mostly harbored on arrogance). Nasim laid the trap and the GM walked into it. I said to the GM, “Who do you think has been made to look a loser? Not Nasim certainly. It is you, I told him plainly and with a straight face”. Those who choose to fight pigs must not complain about the dirt and muck that will certainly land upon them.
Since I was uniquely privileged to be the GM’s “favorite” colleague; he listened to me, with much calm, patience and interest. Upon my request he returned to the Board room. And, amazingly, he stuck to my counsel of not even referring to what had happened a few minutes earlier. The passive attitude of the GM made Nasim sulk further. His objectives of throwing the meeting into a spin were dashed to the ground.
From another senior colleague, at a different geographic location, I learnt that the best way to avoid or even handle a office conflict, is to take the path of least resistance. This senior colleague was calm as the “Pacific Ocean”; regardless of how grave and challenging the bad news, he would be confronted with -never gave knee-jerk responses. He was a great “sponge manager”, who could without any visible emotional strain, absorb the worst possible or even the unthinkable. Following an unpleasant event, he would after a necessary mature pause, move swiftly to take the guilty apart, as per his judgment to the corporate dungeons, which was as cold, dark, and frightening as the “Chambers in the Tower of London”. All this was done with zero public display. He resolved issues by restraining himself first, before he would restrain the warring staff members. It was a delight to work with him and watch with idol like adulation, his amazing grace, while handling conflict. The man-management skills of his were not entirely unknown but having seen him from close quarters, I found him a manager, who sincerely empathised with colleagues, both juniors and seniors. All colleagues need to be handled with inexhaustible supply of empathy.
In losing an argument, you can be at least the beneficiary of having gained the most, through the experience. Unfortunately, many colleagues worship arguments. Before deciding to take on colleagues, be your own adversary, and then decide, if it makes sense to stoke an argument. From the Aesop’s fable, we learn early in life, that “He who incites to strife is worse than he who takes part in it”.
All organisations have their own share of corporate heretics, who are unbreakable in thought. They do not bend to anyone. They ceaselessly engage in creating dissension in ranks. With innocence faked upon their apparent faces, they make passively the most lethal remarks that ignite negative sentiments between individuals and teams.
There is a Khematic explanation that says: “If you meet a disputant who is more powerful than you, fold your arms and bend back. Confrontation will not make him/them agree with you. Disregard their evil speech; your self control will match their evil utterances and people will call the ignoramus”.
Be the flowing water that does not ever stop from its inherent nature of flowing, despite blockage and impediments. If you are not in conflict, do not also be the cause of conflict between colleagues. Avoid, being the collateral damage, when titans fight.