to Establish Great Relationships: the Three Sides to Every Situation
Recently a friend of mine, who is also a member of an active discussion group to which I belong, asked us all for advice. He had a contract for a three-week school program for which he planned to take off time from his regular employment. What he hadn't known at the time the three-week commitment was made was that he would be receiving a promotion in the company of his regular employ that would not only mean a better income for him and his family, but also many more hours of work and no chance of being able to take off three weeks.
He felt terrible and guilty, but knew that he would have to "face the music" so to speak. He found a fine substitute for his program and then contacted the teacher with whom he had made his initial contract and was dismayed by her reaction to his dilemma. As you might imagine, this well meaning man stirred up a variety of feelings among the discussion group members.
The numerous interchanges made me consider what went wrong and what might have been a more workable solution. But, most of all, it reinforced the importance of realizing that there are three sides to every situation - my side, your side, and the real side, somewhere in the middle. In this article I will expand on this idea and give my thoughts and opinions on ways to handle sticky situations with clients - and all others, for that matter.
Start by dealing with your emotions. When the teacher was informed of the change, it appears that she overreacted and sent my friend an e-mail accusing him of "non-professional" behavior. This is when he overreacted and told us all the story, including references to "sleepless nights" his "22 days and nights" working away from his family due to the extra work of the new position. Now, I am not passing any judgment because I only heard one side of the story. Many others in our group, however, reacted - because they respect and know my friend well - with a number of critical remarks about the unreasonable and "hardened" teacher. Then a couple of group members tried to look at the whole situation from the teacher's point of view, and everyone became even more emotional. It is so natural for us to let feelings - especially if we have a passion for what we do - take over. This whole scenario caused angry words among the members of our usually congenial group. And, it most certainly didn't solve anyone's problems.
It did, however, in my case, make me reconsider some of my reactions to a few of the unsavory situations I have faced with clients and peers.
Take a walk in your adversary's shoes. In an unsettling and/or unnerving situation when we feel we are "right" and the other person is "wrong" or unreasonable, I suggest we step back and tell the story from the other person's point of view. During this whole debate, I was reminded of a class I took from a wise mentor. He had us write a paragraph describing a co-worker who bothered us - either through their actions, words or attitude. I wrote about Marvin who lacked drive and the willingness to do his share of any job. In my paragraph, he was a shirker and lazy. Then we were to pretend we were the person we had written about and to write a paragraph in their words about what they thought of us. What an eye opener! We finished the exercise by writing a final paragraph about what we liked about our antagonist. It was amazing that after walking through Marvin's paragraph about me, I had plenty of good comments to make about him - his laid back, easy going nature with a smile and a hearty laugh for everyone, no matter what was happening. And, from that day onward, I stropped being bothered and began really liking him.
If we can't see and empathize with all sides of the situation, we will damage the relationship we have with a peer or client permanently. Many in our group condemned the teacher and suggested that my friend talk to the principal. Personally, I feel that this might worsen what was already a far from perfect solution. It reminded me of a program that I had set up last July for an organization to which I belong. The presenter was giving the program to our group in November - yes, I had booked him four months in advance to be safe. We touched base in October - all was on track. And then, one week before the date of the program he called to say that because of a family situation, he wasn't going to be able to speak. He could send us his slides and a copy of his talk, or try to find someone else. I tried to understand his side and empathize, but it was difficult. We lucked out, because he gave me the name of a young man who was terrific - probably, even better than the original man. I know, however, that I would never suggest or book the first man again for any program. It isn't fun to have someone back out of a commitment, even if they have good reason.
So, the next time I face a sticky situation - especially with a client - these are the steps I plan to take:
Accept the fact that there may not be a reasonable solution that makes everyone happy, but I suggest that if we consider the problem from the other person's point of view, and make them realize that we understand how they are feeling, there is a better chance for, at least, softening the blow.
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