Myth of “2 sides to a Story”

3sidesAll of us have used to the term “there are 2 sides to every story.” We have used it to make equal the perspectives of two contrasting sides. And there is truth to this. We see things not as they are, but from where we are. The latter is based on our past experiences, our intelligence, our current or immediate-past emotional state, the opposing argument, the history of the opponent, and a number of other variables that collude together to blurr our view of what is actually happening on both sides. The problem with this term, however, is that it often implies that though their are indeed two sides to every story, that somehow they are both equal. It is my contention that in fact, one is almost always more right than the other.

A few weeks ago, I was swimming in a pool. In the lane next to me was a Dad playing with is daughter, who had to be less than five years old. Another man joined my lane after politely asking and we swam in the same lane until I got done just a few minutes later and he was still swimming. As I exited and was drying off outside the pool and getting my equipement in my bag, the man with adorable daughter switched lanes and took my spot with his daughter without alerting the swimmer. As the swimmer returned from the other end of the pool, he accidentally lightly bumped into his daughter who was just kicking and jumping around. The swimmer was surprised and apologized but also asked if he could have one side of the lane as he had with me. The father erupted in abusive language and shoved the other man. The lifeguard caught the tail of it and rushed over to break up what quickly turned into a heated exchange, all infront of the little girl. As I was a witness to all this, I was asked to provide feedback after both men were asked to leave the pool and speak to the manager. I remember the father yelling at the lifeguard because she implied that he was potentially at fault. He yelled out “There are 2 sides to this story!” I do not know how he justified his behavior to the manager, but was troubled by the notion of equality in these kinds of matters and others. The workplace is replete with explicit and implicit conflict and I am arguing that one reason for this is the lack of leadership in viewing these matters as “2 sides” as opposed to “one is more right.”

This week, in meetings and calls, pay attention to differences and how they progress. What is the approach used to process them? Are all sides considered equal or does the party with the better idea, more passion, more commitment, and more effort get more air time? Are you being fair to these high performers by treating them as equals? Once you suspend all biases and pay attention to the content and substance of differences, you will be surprised at how much more productive a team can be by rewarding those more right without punishing those less wrong.

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