Lessons in Objectivity

As a person who tends to be aggressive and defensive when slighted or accused, I’ve developed a mechanism of sorts that almost automatically prevents me from acting on those impulses and overreacting. The result is usually an objective, even diplomatic response to the antagonist.

The problem with such an approach is that I often get the nagging feeling I didn’t stand up for myself. I suppose I still have some way to go before I can consistently strike an optimal balance between aggression and submission. However, while past conflicts have led me to err on the side of caution, I do pride myself on being objective.

Objectivity entails a lack of favouritism toward one side or another. Of course, this can get rather complicated when dealing with friends and family. It’s a tricky line to toe, making personal decisions in an objective manner. And while you already know I’m no expert on the subject, here are a few tips I’ve compiled, based on my observations over the years.

Never work with friends — unless you can compartmentalize. I once had to submit a negative peer evaluation report because a project mate (to whom I was close at the time) had barely done her share of the work for our assignment, despite repeated reminders from the rest of the group. I told her, very plainly, that it would be unfair to those who had done their job to give her a score similar to theirs. She wasn’t overjoyed, but she understood. That same night, we went partying together as if nothing had happened.

That is the power of compartmentalization. Our friendship and her performance were seen as separate issues, leading both to be treated as they should have been. The result was fairness on both counts, and the prevention of unnecessary unpleasantness between her and I.

Unless you are directly involved, never take sides. Several months after an almost four-year relationship had ended, the friend who had introduced the ex to me called me to announce his engagement. I didn’t hear from him for a couple of months after that, so I called him to see how things were going, only to find out he’d decided not to invite me to the wedding he’d so proudly announced to me not long ago. His reason? The ex, along with his brother and the latter’s girlfriend (both of whom have always disliked me), were in the wedding party and as such, “it would be weird”.

Friendship aside, it’s in bad taste to announce your upcoming nuptials to someone, then intentionally exclude that person from the festivities. While it is your wedding and therefore your guest list, whether it will be “weird” for the ex of one of your groomsmen to be in attendance is up to her to decide, not you. After all, decisions are like cake batter — always better when not pre-made for you by outsiders.

Also, grown men and women need not and should not “pick a side” when mutual friends end a relationship, be it platonic or romantic. Unless you were in the relationship yourself, bear in mind that what went on between your friends is none of your business. You may hear about it from either or both of them, and may even offer advice to either or both of them, but unless you’ve been unfairly implicated by one of the parties in the process, picking a side reeks of immaturity. That’s reserved for preschool kids after a playground spat, not for adults.

Just don’t get involved (or involve the uninvolved). Recently, a colleague made a comment online about our company’s CEO, which was deemed disrespectful and inappropriate by someone on the board of directors. Instead of speaking to him directly, however, she emailed a screenshot of his comment to the CEO and the entire board. My colleague retaliated with a lengthy, brutally honest reply, which he sent to the whole company.

At this point, it would have been wise for the CEO to speak to him one-on-one. But because the beauty of simplicity was lost on these people, our department head was expected to get him to comply with their terms and conditions, i.e. an ambush in the office, where my colleague was to face the board and repent for his grievous sins. To make sure he would acquiesce, I was also asked to speak to him.

In response, I made it crystal clear that while I did not condone my colleague’s actions, things would already have been resolved had there been direct communication instead of screenshots and shaming. I also said, in no uncertain terms, that I would not play messenger for anyone, because objectivity was paramount in minimizing further complications.

“He’s an adult,” I said. “Have one person from the board speak to him and resolve the issue. I wasn’t involved and I’m not about to be. We merely work in the same department, and this shouldn’t be our department head’s problem, either. Neither of us is responsible for his actions, so deal with him directly. The more people you involve, the worse the situation will be.”

As a mere executive, my words went unheeded. The colleague in question was promptly removed from a project he’d been overseeing. And my entire department was left more jaded than ever.

See, what I’ve learnt is that objectivity usually spares feelings that don’t have to be hurt, dispenses with unnecessary complications and saves a considerable amount of time. It’s one of those underrated assets whose power is rarely harnessed, but when handled correctly, rewards the user manifold.

Objectivity, people. Use it, and use it well.

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