Between friends differences in taste or opinion are irritating in direct proportion to their triviality.
W. H. Auden
Yesterday, I got to witness a meeting unlike anything I’ve ever seen. An actual, official meeting, where the chair walked out midway through. There was a lot of antagonism in the air, and a lot of it took place between two people – the rest of us were more or less indifferent. As it was my first time seeing the group and watching them interact, I had a blast observing the way the situations developed.
The situation was essentially that a smaller group of people had been in charge, and some group members from outside that inner circle had expressed their criticism a few days before the meeting. In writing. With a few derogatory adjectives thrown in for good measure.
The content of the text was partly accurate, partly inaccurate, but a part of it was clearly about the kinds of people these inner circle members were – according to the writers’ opinion. Understandably, these members were quite irate after being personally attacked.
All this became apparent through the status battle between the two main figures. There was only one member of the inner circle present at the meeting, although he did have some support from the sidelines. It was one of those “Ooh, you didn’t just say that to him, did you?” kinds of conversations that was painful yet fascinating to listen to.
“This is just my opinion”
Both sides did have their justifications, but both of them made crucial communication errors that ultimately escalated into one of them, the chair, leaving the meeting midway through.
Both of them expressed their own opinions as factual information, backing it up with anecdotes of experience. Furthermore, when the attacked party mentioned that they were quite insulted by the writing, the writer expressed his right to have an opinion, and that the recipients should not be provoked by it.
Yes, you’re entitled to your opinion. If you think the other person is incapable of doing their duties as well as an annoying, stuck-up elitist, it’s perfectly all right to think so.
But come on, writing a memo for an official meeting and expressing your opinion about the person – not their actions or accomplishments – in no uncertain terms? When it has absolutely no bearing whatsoever to the agenda of the meeting? Oh please.
And then, when confronted with the hurt you’ve caused, defending yourself by saying that others shouldn’t be provoked by your opinion, and that it’s not about the people, it’s about the topics?
Having a strong opinion doesn’t justify being obnoxious.There are ways to criticize people’s behavior without criticizing the people themselves. And if you have insulted and hurt someone by expressing your opinion, the grown-up thing to do is to acknowledge the hurt and be sure to rephrase your opinion. Unless your original goal was indeed to create dissonance and hurt people.
Everyone’s got one, and they tend to stink
Truth be told, the person in the receiving end didn’t come through with flying colors, either. From the very beginning, he discarded the memo as rubbish, even the valid points made in it, because the ending was so obnoxious. He also categorically trumped every suggestion made by the writer during the meeting. Furthermore, he repeatedly expressed his dislike of the writer – who was present – in front of the rest of the group, calling him replaceable, stupid and incompetent.
Even when his “side” tried to get us onwards in the agenda by telling him to discard the insults, he persisted in talking about the hurtful things the writer had said. In front of more than a dozen people, who had been patiently listening to the charade for almost two hours at that point.
Sure, he was hurt. Some of the other participants of the meeting did acknowledge the fact that he was hurt. But by fighting fire with fire, he ended up making a mountain out of what could have been a molehill.
From what I gathered, these people had had some antagonism before. In that case, in my opinion, it’s even more important to settle things face to face, without an audience.
Maybe that was the point, though. The audience. If people agree with me, my opinion is more valid than the other person’s opinion. In a private situation, I have no-one else to support me, and I might even have to admit I’m wrong in something. It’s easier to keep up a tough image when there’s the pressure of other people.
Thank you for stopping by, feel free to share your opinion in the comments – and keep catching those insightings!