Be the Better Person

“Or, I could be the better person…”  –  My daughter, Amanda Wright

These were the seven words my daughter said to me, words that immediately stopped the conversation and left all of the adults in the car in a shameful silence – literally!!!  Not a single one of us had a good response to these prophetic words.

My daughter’s comments came following advice we parents had given her about ‘getting even’ and ‘setting things straight’.  You see, my daughter had been the victim of hurtful behavior from one of her friends.  The type of behavior and comments you know aren’t true.  Meant only to make someone else look better or to manipulate the situation.  It was the behavior that so often occurs with teenagers.

As parents, it’s easy to get caught up in the motion of a situation like this.  Your first reaction is to come to the side of your child – to defend them – to set things straight.  “Do the same thing to her,” we suggested.  “Let her know how it feels.”

“Or, I could be the better person…”, she replied.

If only we had the wisdom of a child.  The perspective they can bring to such a situation.  The ability to put aside our feelings and draw upon the principles and values we were taught at such a young age.  I marvel at the clarity in which they can often bring to such events.

And here is the funny thing – situations like this don’t stop when we grow up.  And they aren’t just left to our personal lives.  It happens all the time in the work environment.  Ever had a colleague who twisted the facts, or misrepresented the situation for their own personal gain?  How about a client who turns on you without warning?  Who praises you one minute, then criticizes your efforts the next?

I had one of those situations this past week, and it happened to be work related – a criticism on the quality and value of our performance, vicious and damaging but completely inconsistent with past performance.  The type of situation that can bring you to the edge, where your emotions run unchecked and your reasoning is lost. Anger and frustration cloud your mind, and rage flows through your body.

Time to get even, right?  Time to tell them ‘how it is’‘By God, they need to be set straight!’ was my first thought.  Maybe I ought to just pick up the phone and put this to bed once and for all.  Call them out and let them know I won’t stand for this.

And to what end?  Risk the business and all we’ve worked for just to satiate my frustration?  Put at risk the jobs of those team members who support that client?

“Or, I could be the better person…”

That’s the funny thing about growing up.  You would think the wisdom of experience would prevent such an emotional response.  And yet, as we get older we tend to let the ‘principles of fact’ override the ‘principles of value’.  And in doing so, we lose control of the situation and instead allow the situation to control us.

So what can we learn from my daughter’s words of wisdom when faced with a situation like this?

  • Bridle Your Emotions – While it’s easy to become emotional, it doesn’t help solve the situation. Take a moment to step back and clear your mind before you respond.
  • Put it in Perspective – What is behind the situation?  Why did this person lash out?  Or twist the facts?  Often there is an underlying cause driving it.  Perhaps their job is at risk.  Or they are receiving pressure from their management.  Whatever the circumstance, understanding their perspective gives you the clarity you need to gauge your response.
  • Leave Yourself Options – The emotional response almost always limits your options.  When put on the defense, people often respond with similar emotion.  And the situation escalates.  Pretty soon there are no options.  No way out.  No resolution. So the better course is to step back and explore all of your options first.
  • Take the High Road – There’s an old military expression that suggests the best way to defend a position is from the highest point.  The same holds true in situations like this.  Remove the emotion and defensiveness from your response.  Take the more strategic approach – ‘the high road’ – and elevate the conversation to a more constructive one.

I’m not suggesting that you take every punch without dishing a few back out; I’m just suggesting you do so with strategy and finesse, and remain in control.


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