I overheard two people the other day involved in an escalating discussion about who was more busy. As one person complained about how much she had to get done, the other one vied to show how long his to-do list was. Then he told her about the consequences of not meeting a work deadline and she narrated the terrible result of missing an appointment. This went on and on, back and forth, for about 10 minutes. I glanced over at my business colleague who was composedly eating her sandwich seated across from me at our small table. She smiled, well aware that I had been unabashedly eavesdropping on the neighbouring conversation.
“I’d handle it differently,” she said, in response to my unspoken comment.
“What do you mean?” I asked.
“If you start competing in a conversation like this,” she said, “it quickly spirals out of control. Far more effective for me to empathize and offer to help. It creates goodwill and actually makes me more productive.”
Curious, I said, “tell me more.”
“I’d rephrase back to him what he was complaining about; that way he knows that I understand what he’s going through. Then I’d make one very specific offer to help … such as offering to run some reports that would help him meet his work deadline. By doing that instead of trying to one-up him, I’ve now created goodwill and made him feel better. Chances are he’ll probably offer to help me back, but even if he doesn’t, this small act of helpfulness on my part makes me feel better. And when I feel good about myself, I am more productive and feel less irritable about everything that I have to do. Plus, it stops the competitive whining from getting out of control!”
What a great idea! I must admit that this approach had never occurred to me before. What do you think? Good idea, or waste of time.