Being the bigger person

I’m really good at winning any argument or fight. Usually I have the facts on my side, but sometimes the facts aren’t enough. Sometimes I’ll find myself arguing with someone who simply refuses to consider my point of view. Sometimes emotion gets in the way and clouds better judgment. Sometimes the fight will be purely theoretical, philosophical, a contest of ideas. Sometimes it could be grounded in the real world. Sometimes it’s not even a question of facts or points of view. Sometimes I might just step on someone’s feet and this person won’t take my apology and instead wants to yell at me for a while. Sometimes, sometimes, sometimes, sometimes. But there’s a different strategy to win every different type of confrontation.

Let’s say I’m butting heads with someone at work. It happens every now and then. There are always a lot of people doing many different things at the same time, so it’s pretty easy to unintentionally get in somebody else’s way. When it’s really busy, both people involved might not have time to thoroughly step back and assess the situation.

Say I bump into somebody else, or, somebody else bumps into me, or, more likely, there is a definite bumping into by two coworkers, but we are both so busy that it was probably both equally our fault. I always like to let the other person react first, so I can best judge how to respond appropriately. I might get a curt, “Watch it,” a cold, under-the-breath muttering. To me, this is a little selfish of the other person. They clearly want to engage, to express their frustrations, but they only want to do it a little bit, halfway, just enough to make a claim that they were wronged, but not loud enough to really deserve a rebuttal. Maybe it was so quiet I barely heard it at all.

But I definitely heard it. So I’ll go back with a louder, “Watch what? I was here first!” It doesn’t matter who was where first. What is important is that I’m staking a claim to my own space. And by saying it in a voice loud enough for everyone else to hear, I’m making a public challenge that anything was ever my fault in the first place. This is going to continue in either one of two directions. Most likely, the other person is going to let it go, having not expected me to respond so forcefully. But maybe this person is of an equally strong will. And he’ll step right up and say something like, “Oh yeah?”

You might think my next move would be to get even louder, to say “Yeah!” really loud, for everyone to hear. But that’s never the way to go. At that point, other people might start noticing, and somebody might try to get involved and play peacemaker or something, and that wouldn’t resolve anything, it would just leave the wound open, ripe for infection. No, this has to get settled. But I’ve already escalated as far as I want to escalate. What if this guy gets crazy and pushes me or something? I’ve already drawn him out as far as I want to verbally. I don’t want him trying to lure me out physically.

So it’s at this point, now that things are loud enough that everyone can hear, now that everyone knows that we’re having a disagreement that’s getting a little more heated than usual, I’ll say in the same loud voice, but really steady and calm this time, “You’re right. I’m sorry. I’m going to be the bigger person and apologize. It was my fault.” And then I’ll extend my hand in peace and smile a really big smile.

Now everyone knows that I’m the bigger person. I’m willing to not let the small stuff get in the way of a productive workplace environment. I respect my coworkers so much that I don’t want to involve them all of this unnecessary drama. And everyone’s looking at the both of us, this other guy clearly still upset, reluctant even to take my hand, and me standing next to him, tranquil, ready to let bygones be bygones. When everyone is talking about it later, they’ll say, “Well, whatever started this fight in the first place, it clearly couldn’t have been Rob’s fault. He’s too mature to get drawn into such petty squabbles. Just look at the way that he expertly diffused the situation!”

And when the other person takes my hand, I’ll give him the strongest handshake ever. It’ll be one of those handshakes that’s definitely way too firm, maybe it even hurts a little, maybe his knuckles start to buckle under the sheer stress, but everyone respects those handshakes, so what is he going to say, I’m shaking his hand too hard? He’ll look like a total wimp. And I’ll just look him right in the eye while I hold my grip just a second too long, barely noticeable to anybody else, but he’ll get the message.

Or maybe he won’t take my hand. Maybe he’ll look at me and say something like, “Whatever man!” and storm away. And I’ll just be left there hanging. But that’s fine, because I’ll look like an even bigger person. I’ll just stand there and shrug it off, the fact that he slighted my apology not even registering on my face. And I’ll look at my coworkers and be like, “Man, what’s his problem?” And we’ll all kind of laugh to ourselves lightly, but not too hard, because that guy is walking this way again, and I want him to think that we were all laughing about him, but I don’t want him to have any proof. I just want him to see the very end of our smiles, so that if he confronts anybody, we can all say that he’s acting crazy and we don’t know what he’s talking about.

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