March 22

“Examine in three ways the person who is talking with you, as superior, as inferior, or as an equal: if they are superior, you should listen to them and be convinced by them: but if they are inferior, you should convince them; if they are equal, you should agree with them; and thus you will never be guilty of being quarrelsome.” – Epictetus

In life, we are going to have to deal with people. In life, we are also going to need to solve problems. Sometimes, we are going to need help with a problem we are trying to solve. Sometimes, we are going to be the ones helping someone else solve a problem. Finally, sometimes we will have to solve problems with the help of others who are not necessarily more or less versed in the area of the problem.

When we require help from a person with more knowledge on a specific problem than we have, if does us no good to try to convince them to see things our way. We don’t have as much of the picture as they do. Instead, we should listen to the advice they are giving us, be convinced that it is the best way to handle our problem and then only interject when we actually find we have pieces of information that the other person will need. In this way, we are actually helping the person help us solve the problem.

In a similar fashion, when someone comes to us for help in solving a problem that we understand better than they do we should not find ourselves struggling to convince them that our way of handling the problem is the best way. If we can not convince them, we need to look at the way we are communicating with them by stepping back and detaching from the conversation a little bit fund a better way of explaining it and then proceed. We should always be ready to hear pieces of information that we were not aware of, specifics of the situation that may alter our approach for example. In this way, we make the other person a teammate. If still we can not convince someone that our way is best, it is better to stop trying to help than it is to argue and force our way.

In most situations we will be dealing with equals, in these cases there is no right or wrong way to approach the problem. We would do well to keep an open mind and listen more than we talk. If we have a way that is truly better, others will be easy to convince, if the other person’s way is better we should be easy to convince. When two solutions are equal we should always defer to the other person, especially if that person ranks below us in our organization. This way they will own the approach and will put in maximal effort along side us. Even if the other person’s approach is a little inferior but doesn’t change the actual outcome, we should take their approach for the same reasons.

In doing these things, we stay out of arguments and are less likely to become distracted from our end goals.

Virtus Fortis Vocat

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