Sunday, February 14, 2010

Economics @ Home © Volume 2 Issue 4

Sitting on the Fence

The first thing that comes to my mind when I read or hear something like sitting on the fence is that it would be a very painful thing to do. In any context, literally or figuratively speaking, sitting on the fence is not a fun thing to do. In this issue of Economics @ Home, we will be discussing the issue of taking sides when handling conflicts and what are the things that we have to think about before making decisions.

First and foremost, we must understand why we have an inclination to take sides. But what is taking sides? What does it mean to support a side? Without getting too distracted with philosophical details, taking sides just means what it intuitively means. We generally support the side that we align our beliefs to. It could even be in the form of supporting a football team. Nonetheless, the repercussions of taking sides are much less serious when it comes to sports.

Today, we will talk about something a bit more serious, which is taking sides when it comes to friendship. In what scenarios do we have to take sides when dealing with friends?

First, when you have two friends who have conflicting interests. To have a more constructive argument, let us consider a more tangible example. Consider the case of two best friends, Rachel and Monica. Let's say that Rachel recently found out that Monica has been dating Rachel's ex-boyfriend, Danny for 2 months. Rachel and Danny broke up six months ago. Ethically speaking, no one cheated on anyone but Rachel is uncomfortable with Monica and Danny dating because of their history and the awkwardness when she has to be around them. Rachel confronts Monica about this but Monica feels that Rachel and Danny are over and is adamant about dating Danny. Rachel and Monica's relationship soured and both of them feel distanced but are too arrogant to admit it. Now, this is where you come in.  Both friends have confessed how they felt about the situation and seek your advice on the matter. Each one feels that they have their own right to feel the way they feel.

If you think the question I am going to ask is "So how do you advise them?", then I hope you are not disappointed. The real question is not what you tell them, but what are the things that we have to think about in situations such as this? Obviously you would want to take care of the feelings of both parties and can abstain from picking a side by simply advising them to talk it out among themselves. This may or may not be the right solution but it is what I classify as sitting on the fence. Because this is an example, it is easy for you to feel detached from the scenario and say that it is not your problem and they should dish it out. Try to engage yourself a little bit and you will realize that sitting on the fence simply entails the feeling of helplessness, resigning to the fact that you can't or won't do anything to help them.

But that's not the real issue yet. Imagine yourself feeling that Rachel should just move on and let Monica have her shot with Danny. I am inclined to feel that way. So the real issue is, do you go out and support Monica and suffer the consequences of being alienated by Rachel or do you sit on the fence as described above? I wonder which is less painful.

Another difficult situation is when one has to choose between a colleague (which inevitably is your friend), and an employer. Let us first establish that conflicts in the workplace are almost always unavoidable. Also, having your own cliques within your workplace is just as natural. Some personalities just gel well together, while some others just don't. Imagine that Sarah has been working at Company A for about two years. In this two years, she has performed her role satisfactorily, nothing extraordinary, but meeting every single expectation. One fine day, because of some personal issues on the home front, Sarah turns up to work in a foul mood and makes a reasonably costly mistake. Approached by her boss, Jim, Sarah becomes defensive and soon, tempers flare up within, but both refused to budge. Nonetheless, the issue was settled by a mere "I hope it doesn't happen again".

Ever since that moment of friction, Sarah and Jim's relationship had been tense. Now, this is where you come in. At lunch or in the break room, when you and Sarah are alone together, she casually brings up several of Jim's habits and makes jokes about them. As innocent as this may seem, it is possible that she may have raised these remarks out of spite, or for whatever reason. While trying to appear supportive and at the same time, fearing that Sarah might label you as being over-sensitive, you did not confess your discomfort about her making fun of your boss. Not that this gossiping and bitching out sessions are very often, but they do occassionally occur and innocently, you let it pass and this goes on for another few months.

Because of the regularity of such sessions, and your closeness with Sarah, naturally, your opinion of Jim begins to change as you start noticing more and more bad things about him, while forgetting the positive qualities that you may or may not once admire. One day, while thinking about it, you realize that Sarah and Jim used to enjoy a productive working relationship. Ever since that moment of conflict, their relationship became cold and one that was strictly over-professional, if such a thing exists. You also realize that Sarah is becoming anxious over her career prospects at the company because of her friction with Jim, especially if Jim is both your immediate superior. At the end of the year, Sarah confessed that her bonus was a little lower than expected. She felt that she was being treated unfairly since her "retaliation" that one time. She said Jim began ignoring her and they no longer enjoyed the fun working relationship they used to have. She contemplates handing in her resignation.

Herein lies the issue. You realize that in part, Sarah, with her pride and sometimes short fuse has in part to be blamed for the crumbling of her working relationship with Jim. Also, in your own experience, Jim is a great person and you felt that your proximity with Sarah has also led you astray from the relationship you enjoyed with Jim. Nonetheless, Sarah is your closest friend at work and you'd hate to lose her as a friend. You have also tried to raise this issue up with Sarah in hopes of her reconciling her working relationship with Jim but Sarah denies having any problems with Jim and believes that it was entirely Jim's fault that she was in that predicament.

What this example intends to illustrate is that it is almost impossible to choose between your boss and your friend. Do you support Sarah's resignation in hopes that you will no longer have to face sitting on the fence, not knowing whether to side with Jim or Sarah? Do you urge Sarah to stay and convince her that she will be making a mistake and she has to wake up while risking your friendship?

These are just two very difficult issues that many people face in their lives and sometimes treat lightly. If you feel disappointed about the lack of a solution or a proper ending to this issue, please note that even I do not have the solution. It could be the case that there are many solutions and it varies from person to person. But that doesn't say much. One can only wish that one was taught how to handle these tough situations in school.

No comments:

Post a Comment