Monday, February 9, 2009 by Dave Blum

When I’m not leading scavenger hunts and other team building activities, I’m generally in Golden Gate Park, playing volleyball.  So there I was in the park,  yesterday, playing ball, thinking I was far away from the “swelter” of my busy work life when, despite the cold, rainy San Francisco weather, things on the court started to heat up, emotionally.  Most of the sizzle was coming from this guy, Neil, who was talking some trash to my teammate, Orhan: junk like “Get that weak stuff out of here,” and “Is that all you got?!!”  Orhan, as one might imagine, was returning the trash talk in kind.  Pretty soon, the game had devolved into a two-man grudge match, with fisticuffs seemingly only a moment away.  So who’s task was it to step into the fire?  You guessed it.  🙂  Who else but the resident leader of corporate team building activities?   So much for my day off!

Summoning up my courage, I walked over to Neil at the game break and said, “Hey, there’s a lot of acrimony going on between you and Orhan.  You can certainly keep up that storyline, but it’s not very pleasant for the rest of us.  It’s certainly not working for me.  But it’s your choice.”

Neil:  “Well, he started it.  It’s not my fault.”

Me:  “Yeah, well, whoever started it, you have the choice whether you want this to continue.”

Neil:  “All right, I’ll cool it, if he will.”

Me:  “Thanks!  Much appreciated”

Did I navigate the conversation perfectly?  Gawd no!  My emotions were totally up in my throat!  In the moment, I was completely discombobulated, feeling both angry and scared, ie.:  “Boy, I’m soooo annoyed with this situation! But wait, if I interfere, won’t they both simply turn their wrath on me?!!”  And, as we all know, when you’re caught up in the swirling eddy of strong emotions, it’s SO difficult to think clearly and articulate effectively.  At least that’s how it works for me.

The great thing about blog-writing, though, is that you get to time travel and re-write history.  So, here’s how I would have had the conversation go, in my own little perfect world:

Me:  “Hey Neil.  I’m not sure what it is, but something’s definitely going on out there, on the field.  From my perspective, it seems like you’re running the storyline that Orhan is the ‘bad guy’ and you need to put him in his place.  Is that more or less correct?

Neil:  “Yeah, he’s been talking trash to me all game.”

Me:  “Well, I’m guessing that he’s got the same storyline going — that he’s the good guy, you’re the villain, and he needs to put you in your place.  Think that’s possible?

Neil:  “I suppose.  But he started it.”

Me:  “I can’t really remember who started it and I’m not sure if it matters.  The point is that if this storyline continues, it’s going to be pretty unpleasant for you guys and for everyone else. AND no one’s likely to play their best volleyball in that environment.  Do you agree?

Neil: “Yeah, you’re probably right.”

Me:  “Cool, so how about you take the high road, drop the storyline, and let your game do the talking in the next game?

Neil:  “I will if he will.”

Me:  “Excellent. I’ll go talk to him.  And thanks.”


Ah well, I never do get the conversation perfect in the real world.  But I guess the point is, when the dirt is flying, someone has to step in, right?   Someone speaking up, no matter how sloppily, is better than no one.