Who is Blameworthy?

When I transitioned into a new leadership role in my job, I found myself working alongside a long-time employee in the department. It did not take long to feel the angst between us. I heard from my colleagues about how she would talk about my lack of experience and naive point of view to others when I was not around. I, in turn, would dwell on her controlling demeanor and need to stir up drama to make the day more interesting. In other words, I responded in-kind. Why could she not see how hard I was trying and how much better I was making things? Why did she feel the need to cut me down in front of others? As these thoughts began to pollute my thinking, the more contentious and worse our relationship became.

It is interesting that in relationships and conflicts such as this, we invite the very things we complain about in the other. As long as I saw her as a problem, an object, and an obstacle to blame, all she would ever be is a problem worthy of that blame. I knew I had to start doing something differently, or the entire office atmosphere was going to continue on a downward spiral.
After attending an Arbinger workshop hosted by CornerPeace, here in the community, I was moved to do something about this particular relationship. I decided, as in other interpersonal situations over the years, that the more difficult of a time I had getting along with someone, the more time I had to invest in talking with that person– counterintuitive to human nature indeed, but it had served me well in the past so I decided to try again.

I came in early one day to sit with my coworker and spent the first 10-15 minutes of my day getting to know her better. There was something different about that day than any other, she seemed to be open and “nicer.” This peaked my curiosity about her, and a sense of honoring this individual came to me like it had not before. By asking genuine questions about her life, interests, and career at the institution, I began to understand her better. I not only got to know her better as an individual, but was able to see her perspective more clearly. All of the sudden, I began to consider how I might be the problem, and how I was towards her only made me as blameworthy as I thought her to be.

How would I feel if someone my child’s age came in to “my” department of 25 years, and started acting like he or she knew what was best? That is all I was allowing her to see, as my resistance to her permitted no other options. How would I feel if my years of institutional knowledge were not sought out when making decisions that could impact the department I was so dedicated to? I never bothered to see the vast experience she had, as my agenda was all that mattered before, but now things seemed so much different. When I began to see her as a person, whose needs and desires mattered just as much as mine, I was able to see how natural her reactions were and how I had only presented myself as a problem to her. The problem I had been complaining about this whole time was in the mirror, me. In person, and in public, I started recognizing her as an equal and sought her opinion and knowledge on matters; I openly and honestly expressed my appreciation for her expertise and support whether or not she was in the room; and I stopped the “watercooler talk” about how difficult she was making my work-life. In essence, I stopped justifying any dislike I had towards her. An interesting thing happened, the dislike began to fade away.

It is no surprise that things got better and that through our collaboration and teamwork, we accomplished more together than we ever could have done alone. We became partners in many things and tackled some of the “monsters” that were dragging the department down. If I had not changed my mindset, my perception of her, and regard for her as a person, not only would I have had a miserable working experience, I would have missed out on a friendship that will likely last beyond my colleague’s days at the institution.
The only thing that was different that day I walked in early to work to sit down with my coworker than from any other day, was me. She was not all of the sudden more open and “nice,” I just came to work that day with no reason for her to be closed off and indignant. Not only am I amazed by what has come from all of this, but I am awestruck by how quickly and efficiently things began to get better. I changed that day, not her, and that changed stemmed from the very root of how I regarded her as a human being; and through my change, she became exactly the person I had hoped to work with from the beginning. The days before all of this, she did not matter like I did, now she does.