?My clients and I often wish we could remake our co-workers and managers in our preferred image. But, the reality is that we generally have little or no control over the words and actions of others, even if there are negative consequences for us. So, I encourage my conflict coaching clients to look at their share, however small, in a problematic interaction.
I had a chance to revisit this issue for myself while on my favorite neighborhood walk, which includes winding through a residential area and walking around the local park. Park regulations say dogs must be on leashes, but there is no enforcement, so some owners let their dogs run loose anyway.
As I was walking briskly on the park path, an unleashed dog blocked my way, and with an aggressive, stiff legged stance growled at me menacingly. My heart was pounding as the owner came up and grabbed the dog, and I told her, vehemently, that she should put the dog on a leash.
I wasn’t very tactful, which I’m sure influenced our interaction. But, her response was still illuminating. Instead of taking any responsibility for her dog running loose, she said defensively that her dog rarely reacted that way, and it must have been my “deportment” that had caused the behavior. In other words, she blamed me for her dog’s threatening behavior.
After I left the park, I decided to explore what small responsibility I might have had, even though I thought she was at fault. I realized that at my usual fast clip, I had come up on the woman and her children very quickly. Perhaps the dog had interpreted my speed as a potential attack on his human family and reacted accordingly.
I still think the dog should have been on a leash and that I should be able to walk as quickly as I want. But being right won’t protect me if another unleashed dog decides I’m a threat. I have no power to enforce the law and no superhero ability to make dogs (or people) obey me.
So, next time I approach an unleashed dog in the park, I’m going to slow way down, because my speed is the only factor I can control in that situation. I shouldn’t have to change, but, if I don’t, I could end up with the dog’s teeth in my calf.
This kind of situation comes up all the time in the workplace. Ask yourself: Are you maintaining a righteous stance about a minor issue, hurting yourself and your relationships at work? Is it really important to you? If so, why?
When the issue is truly serious for us, we need to honor our principles. But if it is something minor, we may want to ask ourselves whether it is worth the sacrifice in good will and effectiveness. Like me, you may decide it hurts less to let go of being right rather than to bite and be bitten.