Can you see the two sides?

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CoinsEarly on in my career in the UK I worked with an icon in the IT industry. EVERYONE knew my boss. He was tall with salt and pepper hair and always wore a pinstriped suit with a red hankerchief in the pocket. It was fun to take him on press lunches; we'd go to Langans and he'd point out semi-famous people that I of course, fresh off the Silicon Valley boat, could not identify. He was full of industry stories, and I'd hear of staying at Larry's house and what a jerk Tom was.

One of the things I learnt from my boss is there is two sides to every story.

On one of our trips into London in a cab that smelt of stale cigarettes, I told him about an issue I was having with one of my peers. For months I had been at logger heads with this idiot. He sent me rude emails. He didn't like any of my ideas, and had actually red-lined a brochure I had spent months producing. Most of us would take a few minutes in the coffee area to chat and catch up – but this colleague would rarely make an appearance. When he did, he'd make his coffee and leave, only muttering a quick hello.

I thought I was being cool mentioning this to my boss. But he just locked my eyes and explained that this colleague's nine-year-old son had a life-threatening disease. Also that his wife was had virtually left him.

Feeling hot, I thought back to the emails … were they really rude? Were they perhaps just quickly constructed? Did he not feel like chit chat because he had more pressing issues? Did he red-line my work because it really sucked?

Now I always try to see both sides.

Have you ever got the wrong end of the stick?

Photo credit: gi

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  1. cresside
    03/06/2010 / 13:25

    Sometimes it’s all too easy to think that the world revolves around you/your children/your career: after all, you and yours are the most important things in life… (irrational, but subjective)
    But sometimes it’s not: sometimes people have medical complaints that they have to deal with/troubles/relationship difficulties. It’s not personal. (rational, objective)
    The way your boss talked to you was gentle enough – and obviously made a huge impact on you. Sounds like a great manager/leader.

  2. Michelle
    29/05/2010 / 21:51

    A great reminder for me, thanks. I try to see the best in every one but it is so easy to get wound up in your own little world. Mich x

  3. 24/05/2010 / 09:19

    Always are two sides. So often with children you need to look a bit harder to see why it was that they demolished your cutlery drawer (trying to help lay the table), dropped their brother (trying to help him see out of the window) etc. Good to be reminded of it on a regular basis though!

  4. A Modern Mother
    23/05/2010 / 10:03

    @nixdminx we used to go there a lot ten yeas ago… Maybe I was there !

  5. A Modern Mother
    23/05/2010 / 09:58

    @belgravia sadly no, just people like chris evans…

  6. A Modern Mother
    23/05/2010 / 09:56

    @mumeeee seeing both sides makes you more understanding, but I agree it doesn’t condone behavior

  7. A Modern Mother
    23/05/2010 / 09:53

    @expat I love the bit about going to loggerheads with the wife for two weeks.

  8. 23/05/2010 / 08:41

    There’s a teacher at our school who is extremely unpopular with most of the parents (and their kids) because of her hardline attitude and lack of compromise. I recently found out her husband had been diagnosed with cancer which has made me view her entirely differently. She may still be unpleasant at times but she must be under terrible stress and I imagine this is why she behaves the way she does. It may not be very professional but she is a human being who faces losing her husband…

  9. 23/05/2010 / 05:29

    This was real food for throught – I don’t have a huge amount of patience ( ahem ) and am always looking to solve things – when I was younger I would have asked what was going on – people doing things like this often don’t realise or don’t appreciate the impact of their behaviour. I read To Kill A Mockingbird when I was 13 – it changed the way I look at everything – this is Mrs Dubose situation.Was Michael Caine in Langans ?!

  10. 22/05/2010 / 22:23

    My daughter took her first steps in Langans.
    I’m not so sure about both sides in the example you gave; shouldn’t the poor guy have taken some time off work? Awful situation

  11. 22/05/2010 / 18:49

    I really do believe in giving the benefit of the doubt-not that it is always easy.
    When i find myself getting upset at someone I try to stop for a minute and think how I would want the person to respond to me if I was doing what they were.

  12. 22/05/2010 / 16:58

    There’s another ‘other’ side… I understand that there are people who like to keep their private life private. However, sometimes sharing your problems with a few of the people you spend your days with can help to lessen your load. While this colleague was certainly under no obligation to share the details of his child’s illness, if he had opened up with some of his work mate’s it could have been much better for him – someone to help share his burden, and less judgment at work adding to his already troubled life.

  13. A Modern Mother
    22/05/2010 / 07:38

    @rockandroll would love to! You buying? šŸ˜‰

  14. 21/05/2010 / 21:02

    I remmeber the days of lunching in Langans! i think we should meet up one day and visit one of the old haunts,
    yes I am always getting it wrong and I quickly jump to the wrong conclusion, when your under pressure and stressed its easy to do

  15. Iota
    21/05/2010 / 20:08

    What’s that quote about be gentle with everyone you meet, for we all are carrying heavy burdens? It’s so true. We never know the weight of other people’s burdens, and, actually, we all have them in some shape or form.
    On the other hand, I think it is appropriate, if you find someone’s behaviour unsettling, to ask a tentative question or two of other people. So though I totally understand why you felt hot when your boss gave his reply, I think what you did was ok. It would have been worse if you’d said something to the colleague himself!

  16. 21/05/2010 / 20:06

    I would often get the wrong end of the stick but as I’ve got older life has taught me not to jump to conclusions because there are always two sides. Easier said than done of course!

  17. 21/05/2010 / 20:03

    All the time….but also I have been on the receiving end when I have been completely misunderstood. When a friend/ colleague has a moan at me about someone, I do try and play devils advocate and see it from their point of view, but its often hard to be so guided when you are in the heat of a situation. PS. Your old boss sounds like George Clooney!!

  18. A Modern Mother
    21/05/2010 / 18:53

    @expat oh that made me laugh, and I had a terrible day today.

  19. 21/05/2010 / 17:06

    “Logger” heads! Although I much prefer your version! šŸ˜‰

  20. 21/05/2010 / 16:43

    Funny I should read this today, when for a couple of weeks I have been mulling this issue. Recently I’ve encountered two gentlemen who, from the first words out of their mouths, seemed uncommonly bitter and angry. Their eyes were bright and flinty; their faces wore what appeared to be perpetual scowls.
    But upon listening to them for several minutes, I began to realize that most people who appear or seem to be angry and rude are in fact living with a great deal of hurt and disappointment. They don’t need for me to judge them and find them lacking. All they need — all anyone needs — is our understanding, encouragement, and brotherly love.

  21. nappyvalleygirl
    21/05/2010 / 16:40

    It IS so easy to jump to conclusions about people. I have definitely been wrong before. But sometimes I do just go with my gut instinct – and it turns out to be right…..

  22. A Modern Mother
    21/05/2010 / 14:29

    @potty yes there is always that hope

  23. 21/05/2010 / 13:46

    Interesting you post this because I’m struggling with a similar situation right now. I really want there to be a subtext I don’t know about – but something tell me there isn’t. Oh well. Time to turn the other cheek.

  24. A Modern Mother
    21/05/2010 / 11:49

    @muddling a good way to approach life, I think

  25. A Modern Mother
    21/05/2010 / 11:48

    @madhouse must be the topic of the day!

  26. 21/05/2010 / 11:42

    Its good to be reminded of this – I had a boss who was a bit strange… acted funny, went missing – turned out he had a brain tumour
    Since then I’ve tried to remember there are things going on that people may not be sharing and to take that into account

  27. 21/05/2010 / 11:40

    All the time, me and the mum next door were just talking about similar with the children this morning!

  28. A Modern Mother
    21/05/2010 / 11:10

    @crystaljigsaw It is hard sometimes, especially if you are involved.

  29. Crystal Jigsaw
    21/05/2010 / 10:08

    Oh yes, I’m good at it! I’m also one to quickly say “there’s always two sides” yet I find myself failing to see them on occasion.
    CJ xx