Archive for November 29th, 2010

Be an Arbiter

November 29, 2010


My best boss was also the toughest. He would not let disagreements in the office grow to the point of explosiveness.  As a teller in a financial institution, my best boss would settle disagreements or teach us how to settle those disagreements.

There was another teller in the office and we did not really get along too well. Sometimes personalities are just different. The relationship between the two of us continued to deteriorate and the signs of tension were visible to everyone. Once it got the point where we were barely talking, the boss summoned us into his office. This was as pleasant as a root canal without anesthesia.

He invited both of us to sit down in the conference room and to share what was going on. He wanted us to get the problem out on the table. However, he set some ground rules for how discussion would go.  First off, one of us would share their side of the story and then the other would share their side of the story. Finally, we would work out the differences between the two of us. However, once the other person talked I could not state my position without restating her position in my own words to her satisfaction. And, vice a versa; she could not respond to my position without first restating what I said in her own words to my satisfaction.  This was the hardest thing to ever learn at work. 

It is not human nature to restate the other person position in your own words to their satisfaction before you respond. Normally, in an argument you just restate or scream your point of view repeatedly. This forced you to listen to their point of view and to restate it before you were able to respond.

She said the problem stemmed from a time when I was in a hurry and I seemed to throw paperwork at her station rather than to hand it to her and ask politely. From that moment on, things just continued to escalate. She said, “I did not think you liked me and so everything you did just grew out of proportion.” I told her I meant no harm and could not even remember the time it occurred. That is classic about disagreements, they just continue to grow. By sitting us down and using this technique, it helped me in the rest of my work world because I learned to listen first, and paraphrase before I responded. That was an incredibly helpful tool in my life. It was one of the hardest skills to learn, especially if you are angry with someone, but it helped get everything out in the open and we were able to work together because we learned to talk that way with each other when the situation got tense.