Neither fight nor flight

Shamni Pande        Print Edition: Nov 13, 2011

What is your take on the striking workers at Maruti's Manesar plant? Yes, there are unmet demands. Sure, both workers and the management have their grievances. But above all, there has been a breakdown of dialogue. There are few winners when two sides take hard positions during a disagreement, as in this case. A third option is rarely found that goes beyond the two opposing views and seeks to benefit both parties.

It is much the same at the individual level. Most of us, whether at work or elsewhere, are familiar with the frustration that comes from our strongly held views meeting resistance. A manager of a large multinational company quit his job because, during an important discussion, his view was summarily dismissed. A handsome salary, a pretty decent existence all told, could not compensate for what he felt was an absence of empathy in his colleagues and bosses.

Shamni Pande
Shamni Pande
"I had a point of view on a certain project," he says, unwilling to be identified. "When I was scoffed at, I kept quiet but the incident stayed with me. I quit when an opportunity came my way." Would he have done better to have pursued the matter, insisting he be heard? Should he have asked those who opposed him to explain? "Perhaps, but I took it in my stride," he says. "However, it led to my walking out of the company."

People respond to opposition or put-downs in different ways. Some fight back. Some portray themselves as victims, hoping someone else will intervene for them. Still others dodge the issue by trying to 'think positive' and living in a state of denial.

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Actually, sharp differences of opinion need not lead to acrimonious feelings or deadlocks. But each of us has a responsibility to understand ourselves and respond to confrontations in a healthy manner. Most of us do not take the trouble to evaluate our own triggers, motives and blind spots. The paradigm should be 'I see myself '. It is usually: 'I see my side'.

"In any conflict, how we see things determines what we do, and what we do determines the results we get," says Stephen R. Covey in his latest book The 3rd Alternative. The biggest successes are achieved when people, businesses or governments reach out for a third alternative during conflicts, says Covey. "It's not your way, and it's not my way. It's a higher way," he adds.

Among his examples of those who sought such a way, are Mahatma Gandhi and scientist Ashok Gadgil, who tackled the problem of providing safe drinking water to the poor in a unique manner - by inventing a lowcost water purifier which uses ultraviolet rays. He also mentions the makers of LEGO toys, who chose to let customers make their own designs for the toys - instead of seeing the initiative as a threat - and thereby created a new business model.

From 'seeing oneself', one has to move to seeing others as individuals, not stereotypes. "'I see you' (is then) followed by 'I seek you out' and, finally by 'I synergise with you'," says Covey. So long as people keep labelling others - 'boring', 'bossy', 'unfair' and so forth - they have not understood where they themselves stand and where they want to go. 'Fight or flight' remains their response. Let us hope the participants in the 'Occupy Wall Street' movement against unequal wealth distribution and corporate greed, currently raging in the United States, realise this. We will wait and watch how the stand-off progresses.

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