Sunday, July 6, 2014

Curb Your Emotions

Which is more valuable to a relationship: Knowing how to fight fair or not getting into fights?

Should you learn to fight fair and use the skill to resolve conflicts or should you try to avoid conflict by tempering your emotions?

Some therapists believe that there is a special virtue in learning how to fight fair. Others recommend that you avoid fighting and arguing.

Some culture warriors have even recommended that women make the kitchen into a war zone. Others prefer to place a greater value on domestic harmony.

Unfortunately, when authoritative figures say that it is good to learn how to resolve conflicts by fighting fairly, people come away thinking that they do well to indulge in intemperate emotional excesses.

It is very bad advice. If you make a habit of trying to resolve conflict by fighting fairly you will quickly develop a reputation for being argumentative and disruptive.

It will do your marriage no good. If you practice the same bad habit in the workplace you are likely to get fired.

Business Week reports:

You know that annoying co-worker who argues with everyone about everything and tends to pick fights over the littlest issues?

Companies are increasingly trying to weed petty employees out. Colleagues who are talented but argumentative in the office can often drag down morale and impede productivity, says Ilona Jerabek, who has a Ph.D. in psychiatric genetics and runs Canadian Internet psychology testing company

“They are more inclined to get into conflict, whether it’s with a direct report, their peers, or their superiors,” says Jerabek, citing a new study of the personality traits of about 33,000 people analyzed by

“Their negative mindset and negative energy can get to people who are around them, which can be an emotional contagion in the workplace.”

For most people confrontation and argument are a way of life. They are acquired habits, often encouraged and sustained by deviant tendencies in the culture. Clearly, habits can be broken, but it is difficult to do so.

Learning the virtue of tempering your emotion, of self-discipline and self-control might just save your career and your marriage. It’s worth the effort.


David Foster said...

On the other hand---there are employees who are argumentative and generally difficult, but are extremely valuable. Deciding when a prima donna is worth keeping and when he is not is an important management function, and is not fulfilled properly by giving the simplistic answer "never."

In general, my tolerance for a prima donna is higher if (a) they are genuinely concerned about the performance of the entire organization, and (b) they are in an individual-contributor rather than a people-management position.

David Foster said...

Peter Drucker: "“In every successful organization there is one boss who does not like people, who does not help them and does not get along with them. Cold, unpleasant, demanding, he often teaches and develops more men than anyone else. He commands more respect than the most likable man ever could.”

Ares Olympus said...

The question isn't whether to "fight fair" or "fight dirty" or "avoid fighting" but to have a way to express your point of view without attacking a way to listen without feeling attacked.

I agree on "curb your emotions" as strong emotions don't bring out good thinking, so I'd rather do my ranting to a journal if I must, and figure out what's bothering me, and what my options are, in a brainstorming style. But all that doesn't necessarily make me braver in asserting my POV in person.

Maybe growing up around passive-aggression style of confrontation, and trying to figure out what's going on with people, without being able to ask, I often find direct fighting more hopeful, even if you get a sort of exaggerated position, it means if I'm calm enough to listen, I have something to negotiate with.

The big problem to me comes when one person feel entitled to blow up, and have others around him (or her) cater to that immaturity, so it seems a fine line between encouraging communication and encouraging abusiveness.

Usually, if only one person is upset, the other can avoid taking things personally, but I find I have to be careful to observe when I am taking things personally, and then set higher boundaries for respect. I mean maybe there's some inner switch, where I move from feeling compassion and feeling hurt, or maybe they're both there, and the switch comes when I can't contain my own hurt any longer?

Anonymous said...

"Be a yardstick of quality, some people aren’t used to an environment where excellence is expected.” -- Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs said in an interview that the best people are the most difficult to manage, but they do amazing work. I often wonder if business leaders either (a) can't manage talented and difficult people; or (b) they're not committed to doing amazing work.

David Foster's means of gauging a "prima donna" is exactly right, although it takes a big man to get perspective on an employee's full contribution. Most business leaders are not clear about what they're committed to, so their egos run the show. Egotists hoard all the credit fur themselves, and deflect blame onto others. A-players find that sort of thing intolerable.

Business researcher/writer Jim Collins says that Steve Jobs brought discipline back to Apple. This kind of discipline -- focus, standards, vision, etc. -- created clarity, which allowed people to be creative within those boundaries. It's a certain kind of "fairness." You know where you stand. There's integrity. That's why people such as Jobs command such respect. So Drucker is correct, as usual.

Our culture has come to believe that what gets ratings on TV is what's needed to be successful in real life. So "authenticity" is interpreted as carte blanche to create a verbose play-by-play of life's passing moments. Consider Facebook. Is social media really "social?" It's like saying television is "interactive," which it clearly is not... it's broadcast. Wearing your heart on your sleeve is about immanentizing the isms and behavior seen on Oprah, Maury and Ellen. It's a way of saying drama has relevant application in all areas of life. Yet we still call real life by its name because it's an important distinction.


sestamibi said...

I once worked with, an individual of the type David Foster described in his first comment. He was extremely difficult, but he was also extremely conscientious and of the greatest integrity. Later on when we weren't in the same group in the company he started letting his guard down and we became good friends.

I generally agreed with your thoughts here, but I'm a little wary of pussified HR departments' concern with everyone getting along and no one's pwecious widdle feewings ever getting hurt to the exclusion of everyone else. I went for a job interview four years ago in which I was asked what I would do to combat cynicism in the organization. I knew I wasn't going to get the job (and that I didn't want it either) when I gave a politically incorrect answer.

Sam L. said...

In the family, fighting with the spouse is not a good idea; but if one can't avoid it, fair is the only way to go.

Avoiding argument, or avoiding confrontation, will let the situation fester toward toxicity, which may start the fight.