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99's On the Go
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Creative Learning Director of
The Flirefly Group.
© 2013 Brian Remer
Updated Dec. 2013
99's on the 9th
based on 99-Word Stories that
come to you on the 9th of every month.
Read this story aloud or make copies for your group or team members.
Stay Inside the Lines
I bought a box of colored pencils for my daughter. Printed on the package was this ringing endorsement: "Preferred by teachers." What, I wondered, does that really mean? Why do teachers like these pencils? Do they help children color inside the lines? Have schools "approved" the hues? There was no explanation.
Say, who cares what teachers think? Teachers don't use colored pencils; kids do. But parents buy them and they want to please teachers!
It's easy to please the wrong person if you haven't thought about why you're trying to please in the first place.
You can build upon the theme of this 99-Word Story by using some of the following questions for your own reflection or to spark a discussion within your team or organization.
There are many ways to understand this story as the discussion questions suggest. If you or your group would like to compare or contrast your interpretation with an outside viewpoint, consider this analysis.
Office politics! What's the right thing to say to whom? How can I do what I need without stepping on the wrong toes? Can I avoid pettiness between co-workers? As a young professional, I was baffled and annoyed. How could I continue to work in this type of environment? Ready to give up, I received some timely advice from Linda. She insisted that office politics could be a positive thing. "I know lots of people in the whole organization," she said, "And they are always willing to help me out."
Later, at a different time, in a different organization, my colleague Mary worked with young people who had extremely challenging behavior. I asked how she was able to be so successful with them. "Well," she said, "I've found that we change for people who we know care about us."
Both Linda and Mary knew the importance of pleasing other people. But what set them apart from the usual skirmishes of office infighting was their intention. They were both determined to establish genuine relationships that were mutually beneficial. Left unsaid by both women was their own role in office politics: Linda would certainly have helped anyone else in her organization and Mary was very willing to change her own behavior for the youth she was supporting.
Whether in the office, at home, or in other social situations, if I am concerned about pleasing other people, it's worth asking a few questions. Why am I trying to please that person? Do I want or need something and is this the best way to get it? Or am I desperate to be liked? Perhaps I am trying to resolve a conflict. Is there a way I can foster a relationship of mutual respect?
If I haven't given careful consideration to why I am trying to please, both of us are likely to be unhappy. Pleasing someone just because we feel we should is a type of conformity, like being forced to color inside the lines. And that may not be helpful in the long run.
Of course, there are times we should not be trying to please others. During a negotiation or conflict, our position or principles may demand that we bargain harshly. But even in these situations, there is room for nuance and subtlety. Kenneth Thomas and Ralph Kilmann have identified five different ways of responding to conflict. These preferences for dealing with negative encounters vary according to whether one is more or less assertive and whether one is more or less cooperative:
- Competing - more assertive but less cooperative
- Avoiding - unassertive and uncooperative
- Accommodating - less assertive but more cooperative
- Collaborating - more assertive and more cooperative
- Compromising - moderately assertive and moderately cooperative
Thomas and Kilmann have devised the Conflict Mode instrument to help people determine their own comfort level with each of these strategies for dealing with conflict. And, though some strategies may sound like the "right" way to handle disagreements, there is a time, place, and person for whom each of these methods of addressing conflict is appropriate.
The more we know about conflict and how to handle it, the more we know why we are trying to please others, the more options we have. It's like having our own box of pencils. We can choose our favorite colors and decide whether to stay within the lines or draw an entirely new picture.
Did you use this 99-Word Story and the discussion questions or interpretation in your work or personal life? If so, about your experience! If you would like help using 99-Word Stories in your organization, please me.
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