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October 07, 2015 Wednesday 05:28:16 PM IST

Counter aggression with creative options

Creative Living

“My new boss is a brute and bull. He is inimical to me. He mobs me and works towards killing my career. He nips my initiatives in the bud. He takes away from me important assignments. He seems to be anxious in power and considers me as a threat to his position. He keeps me away from all decision-making bodies, in an apparent attempt to silence me. I feel choked. I am afraid that my creativity will eventually erode. Shall I better quit and seek a new job? Please advise.”


You are posing a tough question asked by any creative person amidst his struggle to manage an open conflict with his/her boss.


Conflicts at workplaces can be deeply perplexing to creative minds. You may develop the feeling of gradually losing the creative power and wasting your time and skills. The inner urge to contribute may fade, if you are not careful. You may want to take resort to escapist ways and may want to quit the job. However, the better option would be to prove yourself as a truly creative person. You shall have to confront aggression with creative options!


So have the prophets and masters faced critical challenges to their life and career. They did not subdue themselves to the brute forces. Some of them were sent into exile, some others were stoned, and yet others were persecuted and even killed. But they did not compromise their convictions. Nor did they sacrifice their creativity. They were never at their wits’ end. And created new ways of being human, enhancing the horizons of existence.


Or, what is meant by Jesus who asks his disciples to “show the other cheek to the one who strikes you on your right cheek”? He requires them to keep creative options alive in the midst of animosities that might even lead to physical assault. If you return the aggressors in the same coin, what is the difference between you and your aggressors? Is it the only option you have? You rather gather enough moral strength to counter the aggression with non-violent and moral means. It is but a creative option! Centuries later Gandhi recognized the power of non-violent response and developed it into a weapon of mass liberation. He tested it both in South Africa and in India. His experiments added a creative tag to the Indian struggle for independence, being one of the first creative and moral national liberation movements. It proved to the world that international conflicts could be better resolved using moral power than brute power.


Jesus said: “But whenever they persecute you in one city, flee to the next; for truly I say to you, you will not finish going through the cities of Israel until the Son of Man comes” (Mt.10:23). You shall not be trapped in any city. The “city” here represents your “Sitz-im-Leben”, your “comfort zones”. It is easy that you get trapped in your “comfort zones”, if you are left with few creative options. You may then resist being sent out of your “comfort zones”. You may then compromise with your convictions to keep power, privilege or position. However, if you are endowed with a multitude of creative options, you will rather choose to flee from your “city” to defend your freedom. Before you finish going through the cities of “Jerusalem”, you will experience mysterious interventions from unexpected corners! You will never be allowed to be depleted of your creative options! Surprises will happen at the “right moment”!


This does not necessarily mean that you have to quit your career in the face of aggression. You may rather invent your career new, redefining your roles and functions. Consider the aggression of your boss as a trigger to this fleet from one “city” to another. And keep your creative options unlimited!


Does this command hold equally good for Gandhi and ordinary mortals like you and me? Is it possible to counter aggression without “opposing the wicked”? Is it an effective strategy to redefine your career in the face of unjust aggression?


Even Gandhi faced sharp criticism with his proposal of non-violence as a weapon against despots, like Hitler. If the aggressor is apparently morally insensitive or dead, would a moral weapon be an effective tool? Is non-violence the only creative tool available? Will non-violence function in “worldly and temporal sense” at all? The Statesman editorial challenged Gandhi and said: “Christ is the supreme example of non-violence and the indignities heaped upon Him at His tortured death proved once and for all that in a worldly and temporal sense it can fail hopelessly.”


In his reply Gandhiji wrote: “Though I cannot claim to be Christian in the sectarian sense, the example of Jesus’ suffering is a factor in the composition of my undying faith in non-violence which rules all my actions, worldly and temporal… Jesus lived and died in vain if he did not teach us to regulate the whole of life by the eternal Law of Love” (As reported in Harijan, January 7, 1939). A hard thesis even for the most creative!


They shall enhance their creative options in the face of fatal challenges!


Mobbing at workplaces is a common phenomenon today. It is prevalent in political, academic and professional circles. It does not spare the religious spheres even. It demands an enormous amount of moral courage to win over in such a situation. You need to overcome temptations to cling to your own comfort zones, while not allowing yourself to be cowed down by the aggressor.


Modern bosses are even trained in the “art of mobbing”. They learn how to fight against so-called “superficial congeniality” in the system. They might adopt less human means to hire and fire people. Their sole norm is to enhance profit. According to an infamous “Rank-and-Yank System” due to Jack Welch of General Electric, staff needs to be tuned over on a regular  basis by so-called “forced firing” to keep the firm fit. He has based his theory on a “vitality model”, which considers the “top 20” per cent of the workforce as most productive and 70%, called “the vital 70”, who work adequately. The bottom 10% (“bottom 10”) is considered non-productive, eligible to be forcibly fired on a regular basis.


Another company, besides General Electric, which adopted a similar approach of forced categorization and firing of employees was Enron. The downfall of Enron is attributed to the inflated results by the employees in part to protect their job.


Recently Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer instituted a Quarterly Performance Review (QPR) using a similar forced ranking: Greatly Exceeds (10%), Exceeds (25%), Achieves (50%), Occasionally Misses (10%) and Misses (5%), which created great insecurity feelings among the workers. They develop deep distrust with the organization. Only time will prove her wrong.


A creative mind may prove the mettle also by turning tables against the aggressors, bringing a creative twist to the entire dilemma. According to Kaveh Mir, the author of Wars at Work: An Action Guide for Resolving Workplace Battles, “conflicts are on its own neither good nor bad; it depends on how it is managed”. Conflicts could plough the fertile land suitable for the seeds of innovation to sprout. You need to deftly steer the course of conflict. You may need to win over the aggressors by spending time face to face with them, patiently listening to them, understanding their paradigms and preparing yourself to find pragmatic resolutions. All you shall do without ever sacrificing your turf. That requires sheer creativity embedded with a practical mind.


You shall also develop sufficient tolerance to conflicts, knowing that it is necessary to keep you creative! According to Versace, “creativity requires divergent thinking, a conflict of ideas. Conflict generates creative solutions, and creativity better resolves conflicts. You need to peel the conflict of its emotional outer layer, to explore its creative core. The tougher conflicts require sharper creative skills to break the logjam it might create.


At any cost, you shall not subdue yourself to brute power. If you’re enough creative you will not shy away from appreciating the opponent’s standpoint. You may soften your original position without harming its substance. You may defer judgment to develop new ideas and explore alternative ways of looking at the problem. You may try to be playful with the conflict. Using your soft skills you may generate many possible approaches to address the issue and select mutually satisfying solutions, without violating your integrity.


You may also differentiate between relational conflicts and task conflicts. Task conflict refers to disagreements in opinions, viewpoints and ideas about a task of the group, whereas relational conflict refers to interpersonal disagreements and clashes. Relational conflicts only deplete your sap, your vitality.


The following symptoms will tell you whether your conflict is a relational one or not. Do you experience negative emotions like stress, frustration, fear and anger? If yes, your conflict is purely relational conflict and not a task conflict.


Task conflicts alone trigger creativity. Relational conflicts, on the other hand, negatively impact creativity and innovation. It develops rigidity in thinking, creating numbness of mind, which is detrimental to developing creativity skills. So, minimize relational conflicts even when you feel aggressed upon.


In short, you need not quit your current job immediately. Rather, explore the hidden seeds of creativity at the heart of the current conflict. Take care not to be cowed down by the abusive prowess of the aggressor. But never retaliate. Retaliation belongs to cowards. Rather, activate creative options within your career. Reinvent and redefine it, if you can. Consider aggression of your opponent as a trigger for this metamorphosis in your job. Let the beholders bewilder at your creative resources. And wait patiently for the definitive time of unexpected interventions!

Dr. Varghese Panthalookaran

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