Culturally, we are immersed in the notion of polarized human dynamics. On one side, there are the “good guys”, and on the other are the “bad guys”. Good versus evil. Heroes against villains. Almost every good novel, movie, or tv show has an element of this in it. Usually, as you’re reading or watching, you can tell very quickly who is on which side.
But what about real life?
Naturally, most of us consider ourselves to be one of the good guys. From our perspective, we are doing the best we can for ourselves and the people we care about. On occasion, we may even go a bit overboard.
Recently, a friend shared a situation with me where there are conflicts of interest in how business is being conducted within her organization of which she is a part owner. The reaping the most benefit is another business partner who has created controversial administrative and business policies without agreement from the other business owners. In essence, she has created a system where she collects administrative fees from the other owners in an arbitrary way – between the prices that are set, and what is charged. Over time, it has become evident that she is unaware of her conflict of interest, and feels she has done nothing wrong. Although she has realized high financial gains at the expense of her other business partners without clear discussion or consensus, the outcome has been overlooked, and even hailed as a right of her business ownership.
In this situation, the question of ethics and basic social responsibility are obvious. However, what is also interesting is that the business partner feels she is absolutely without fault. In her paradigm of thinking, she is doing the best for her part of the business and is doing well. She’s one of the good guys.
This scenario reminded me that the vast majority of people are operating under the assumption that they are one of the good guys. And if they are the good guys, then those who oppose them are probably the bad guys. But when it comes to human interactions and communication, consider for a moment the following two things:
- In a conflict, both people usually think they’re on the “good” side. So, rather than taking the natural polarized us-and-them approach, recognize that both sides actually have something in common. Usually, both are doing the best they can for themselves, their families, and/or a business. If you’re feeling wronged, seeing the other person as trying to do the best they can humanizes them enough that maybe they’re less of the villain you thought they were. Conflict resolution is about finding commonalities in goals and motivations. Criminal activity or extreme ethical violations aside, if you can find and hold on to a common element, discussion and negotiation can take place to find better consensus.
- Second, consider that maybe you may not be right. At the very least, to your adversary, you’re not right. Is there something to that? Perhaps your perspective isn’t as absolute as you may think. Are you hurting someone else for a certain gain? Is there another perspective you can take or a solution that is a win-win, where someone doesn’t have to be the fall-guy and no casualties are actually needed?
Regardless of the situation, being aware of our basic assumptions and those of others can help us improve our interactions and business dealings. Our everyday lives may not be as simple as being divided between heroes and villains, but we sometimes treat circumstances as if they are. Moderating the polarization takes us out of the world of storybooks and the silverscreen and back into the real lives we’re living and affecting.
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