A Fight Won with One Finger

Last night I was playing with our children by bouncing them on an exercise ball. They loved it but they had a difficult time respecting each other’s turns. Although both were completely dependent on me to bounce them, they acted with absolute assurance that if they reached the ball first, it was their turn to bounce.

After a few failed attempts our son finally was able to sneak his way past our daughter and grab onto my shirt enough to be able to bounce on the ball himself – without much assistance from me. Our daughter stopped, assessed the situation, and calmly got down from my lap and went behind our son.

She stood behind him and I assumed that she was just waiting for her turn. Then is a matter of seconds, she pulled her brother’s pajama pants down as he was busy bouncing away and put her finger in his butt. Our son immediately stopped and got out of her way. There was no yelling, no negotiating, no nothing. Our daughter effectively won the power struggle by going straight to the point she knew would yield the most results with the least amount of conflict.

In fact, for the rest of the evening our son respected our daughter’s space, something we had tried and failed to enforce for months. While her behavior was shocking and non-traditional, it was very effective.

Our is daughter is two years old, so her behavior is not out of line for her age and experience. However, there is some wisdom in her actions the rest of us can glean. While I don’t recommend do what she did to anyone you’re in conflict with, there is something to gained by acting swiftly and effectively in business and in life.

Sometimes business stinks. People lie, exaggerate, manipulate, and will discard some of their most prized ethics for the alure of money or prestige. Ego can push leaders into some unsavory behavior and those impacted often endure a level of disharmony that can echo straight abuse.  These leaders are not unlike our son who assumed because he didn’t get caught, that the rules of cause and affect didn’t apply to him.

From my perspective, a common trait that exists amongst unpopular leaders is the default starting point of thinking other people are like them. When they are scheming, they are only thinking of what their reaction would be if they were whoever they are targeting. This applies to the boss who is overly confident their employees won’t quit their low paying job because “they need the money” or the supervisor threatening the loss of employment if a certain shift isn’t covered, or some arbitrary rule isn’t followed.

The corporate machine tells us why our economy is the way it is or how we can “make” employees do their bidding. They use terms like “head-hunter” to describe how they recruit prospective talent. Offer advice about how to make the workplace more inviting, or whatever the coined word of the day is. All this translates to preventing good talent from fleeing while attracting new talent that will stay, instead of balancing the workload and pay of existing employees accordingly.

However, there is one variable that these corporate predators cannot account for; free will. Those who let money and prestige drive their motivation will forever be vulnerable to those who do not.

Over my working years, I’ve played in several corporate sandboxes and had the entertaining experience of many lengthy meetings with corporate leaders. One practice in these meetings was to list off employees and discuss why they were or were not a risk of leaving the company, a practice that always seemed counterproductive to me.

A conversation from one of those meetings stands out in my mind. An employee, who was paid far less than he deserved, was deemed not to be a risk of quitting because he interviewed so poorly and lacked social graces. The reasoning being no one would take the risk to hire him, therefore they could justify continuing to pay him far below what he was worth.

The employee in question was someone I had worked with on a technical level and knew better than to let his social skills deflect from the technical agility he possessed. I spoke up and said he was a risk because he was not even close to market value in pay. I was ignored. A few weeks later he put in his notice; he had been offered a job for double his salary without ever doing a formal interview. To this day that story makes me smile.

Those who take on the attitude of “it’s better to be the hunter than the prey” are only seeing half of the equation through their own ego filled lens. Some of the most lethal animals on earth became that way after eons of being preyed upon. Poison frogs, scorpions, black widow spiders, and of course the disgruntled employee.

Much like the shock my son received when his sister defended his advances to her time on the bouncy ball, companies are shocked when an employee, who they had counted on to be docile, revolts without mercy. What is a restaurant without cooks or a hospital without doctors? The answer in one word: Closed.

Today, I remember that I am one amongst many, and that I do not know anyone’s story but my own. Straight forward communication is the best strategy in my personal and professional life and that the relationships I develop in either realm should be treated with the upmost respect. The employee of today could be the boss of tomorrow. Business isn’t personal but the people in it are.

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