Paul* came to see me because he’s not getting along with his colleague: “Ben* is the coordinator of the project I’m working on, but he’s doing it without really consulting any other members of the working group. He seems to work on the project from his office, by e-mails mainly. He does everything on his own and we rarely have working meetings. As someone who is keen on sharing and teamwork, I find this hard to take. I feel trapped, unable to change the situation. I’m even thinking about leaving the project.”
So we put our heads together and tried to define what means Paul has at his disposal to deal with the situation. Ben’s management style is diametrically opposed to his own, and Paul realises that, in order to solve the conflict, he must put himself in Ben’s shoes, so as to understand why he acts the way he does. This comes at a cost to Paul, but he recognises that, for the good of the project, he must get over his initial reluctance. I manage to convince him that taking this approach doesn’t mean that he approves of Ben’s methods.
A few weeks later, I see Paul again. “I asked Ben whether he would mind reviewing the division of labour, assuring him that I had no intention of stealing his limelight. We spent a lot of time together and I got to know how he operates. Today, I still don’t condone his methods but I remain on the project because I can make an essential contribution to its success. I’m not judging him, but I know that I won’t be able to work with Ben again on other projects.”
At times, it’s important to distance ourselves from what we feel in order to engage with others, in the interest of all. Getting to know what makes others tick doesn’t necessarily mean condoning their behaviour. Paul made the effort to get over his initial distrust, and this has enabled him to understand how Ben operates. Today, without either approving of his colleague or judging him, he is still a member of their joint project. And he reached this decision in the interest of that project.
*Names have been changed
If you’d like to comment on any of my articles or suggest a topic that I could write about, please don’t hesitate to e-mail me at Ombuds@cern.ch.