Conversations and Tone

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Today’s ramblings will include more than dance.   I will say that the Snowball was a great deal of fun.  The dance floor was roughly the size of a postage stamp and it made for a bit of full contact dancing.  For some reason OwnerGuy included a Viennese Waltz and a Two Step on the playlist.  I think he just enjoyed watching the chaos.  Actually, Kid T and did fairly well avoiding others although it required a significant number of hesitations in the Viennese Waltz.  Only got stepped on twice so it was a good night.

What is truth?  Well that’s certainly a loaded question.  I ask because of a random sort of thing that happened yesterday.  There was a story in our local paper about someone who was suspended from a public service job for something that was said.  I had two people tell that story to me yesterday.  One came away thinking the suspension was totally justified and the other felt it was totally unwarranted.  The interesting thing was listening to them tell the story and which facts they used and how they exaggerated certain parts and left certain parts out and arrived at their conclusion.  Two people can essentially read the same story and come to totally different conclusions about the final outcome.

Of course, this is a case where there really isn’t “truth” and I think each person had already reached a conclusion early on in reading the story and then just rearranged the facts to fit their conclusion.  Good thing that they weren’t together because I suspect their could have been an argument.  To be honest, this is why I rarely get into these kind of discussions with anyone.  Oh, I’ve got one guy I like to mock argue with but it is all in good fun.  For a lot of these stories (and politics in general), I stay silent and just listen.  I think sometimes it might lead people to assume that I believe with them which is OK.  If I had a particularly strong opinion, I might say something.  For the most part, I don’t see a whole lot of reason to get into a heated discussion in cases like this where there is no real objective truth and people can take the same set of facts and twist them to support their opinions.

Then, I had another little coincidental thing happen this week.  Two days in a row, I had women in my office crying about a conversation with a coworker.  Turns out to have been the same coworker in each case.  This is my all time least favorite thing about being in a management position.  Because, in both cases, the words were not the problem but both of them said “I didn’t appreciate her tone”.

See, if the words were the problem, then I can go speak to that person and tell them to stop saying inappropriate things.  But the tone?!?  Again, that’s a subjective thing and so someone is assigning meaning to tone based on their perception of what it means.  So how do you tell someone to “talk nicer”.  I have and will continue to point out to this person that she can come across a little rough at times but that’s about the limit.  (I’m aware that I may have been the one offended by a tone in one of my many dealings with Z.  I’m sure there is a post like that somewhere deep in the archives.)

The benefit of having done a lot of reading on personality types is that it becomes easier to recognize and accept that we are all wired slightly differently.  The golden rule about do to others as you would have them do to you doesn’t always may not be the best advice.  There are people who are direct and blunt and don’t take any offense if someone is direct and blunt with them.  In fact, they probably hate it more when people get all indirect and dance around something because they are trying to be “nice”.  One of the women said to me that she would never act that way.  And I said, yes, but that doesn’t make what she did “wrong”.  It is only “wrong” because it represents a different behavior than you expect.  Which didn’t go over all that well.

There’s a common thread to both cases.  Both women are likely Guardians in the Keirsey Temperament thing.  They also have strengths as achievers and want to be known as someone who works hard and is very competent at what they do.  They both have respect for authority figures and the coworker in question is in a more senior role.  In both cases, I happen to think that the real bottom line is that they felt she was calling their competence into question and so they perceived that in the tone to feel put down.

And it is tough to steer a middle ground here.  If the words were belittling, then that is one thing.  But that wasn’t the case here.  But I can’t invalidate their feelings and just tell them they need to be tougher.  On the other hand, since I didn’t witness the conversation, I can’t very well accuse the other person of taking a disrespectful tone.  In both cases, I told them that they needed to talk directly to this person and let them know how they felt about what she said.  With one, I recommended that she focus on feeling statements – when you said that I felt … rather than just launching into a “I didn’t appreciate your tone” kind of thing.  Of course, in both cases, they decided to avoid the problem completely which is the worst possible answer.  They just both assumed that this person would know how they felt which is silly but what can you do.

Maybe it is just my nature and maybe it is because I’ve read a lot about various personality types and differences.  There are always two sides to every conflict.  Again, what is the truth?  Typically, it is not all on one side or the other but it comes because someone sees an action by another person and interprets it through their filters and personalities.

So let’s end on a happier note.  My new boss was in town today.  He had been here all week for other meetings.  No wait, let me back up and just remind you a bit in case this doesn’t make any sense.  As part of the recent job cuts, I will have a new boss for the first time in 20+ years since my current boss is being retired.  That won’t happen until March so, right now, we have this awkward transition of trying to plan out a new structure while the old one is still in place.  In case I haven’t mentioned, this new boss is located in Europe since we are a big global country.  This is why he was meeting with us today.  At the end of the meeting, he gave us all a bag of Christmas cookies that his wife made and that are somewhat traditional in their country.  (I guess US Customs hassled him a bit for bringing in unauthorized baked goods but they didn’t confiscate them)  For me, this was a real gesture and a very nice thing to do and it definitely made me feel more positive about the future.  But, I have another colleague who is mostly all business and doesn’t really appreciate this type of thing.  I saw him take the cookies but I could tell it really didn’t mean anything to him.  Two people have the same experience but come away with totally different reactions.

What I really need is a good wrap up but I know that I seem to struggle with that.  Would like to tie this up in a nice neat bow since all three experiences have a similar theme.  Like most workplaces, we focus a lot on diversity and inclusion and those are important things but we don’t often pay as much attention to the fact that even with a “group” there can be a great of diversity in thought and personality and that has the potential to create significant conflicts.  If we all could somehow learn to see the world through other eyes and accept that there isn’t always a “right” way to think or act, then we might actually get closer to peace on earth and goodwill towards all.  Ah, this time of year just amps up my idealist personality.



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