Friday, September 16, 2011

Reflection Paper #1

BACKGROUND: I'm taking a class titled "Managing Differences: Resolving Conflict & Negotiating Agreements." We met for the first time this past Monday, and went through an oil pricing exercise. The class was divided into small groups, and then paired up with another group. Each small group represented an oil-exporting country in direct competition with our partner group for exporting oil to a (third) neighboring country. We had to decide how to price our exported oil based on a given matrix for profits, with the goal of maximizing our country's profits. We couldn't talk with the other group initially, but then after a couple rounds, we were able to attend a "summit" with them.

The first couple of rounds, we were able to maintain prices at their, relatively profitable initial level. When we attended the summit, we negotiated a price increase with the other country that would benefit both of us. 

We got *totally* ** PUNKED!** The other group undercut us and made a huge profit for themselves, but *completely* destroyed the future potential for continued friendly relations between the group. 

Our homework assignment from the exercise was to write a short paper, reflecting on our reaction to the events. Here's mine:

PAPER: I tend to think that most everyone shares my perspective that the world would be a better place if we could all at least consider others’ needs along with our own. Unfortunately, my experience in the oil pricing exercise definitively illustrated that this is not the case. Our Alban (the other country) counterparts went into the negotiations with a clearly stated objective of luring us into a trusting relationship solely to take eventual advantage of the situation. I was also disappointed that they saw the exercise as a win-lose environment instead of one in which both parties could fully optimize their circumstances. The situation made me feel na├»ve and upset that my trust was used against my pursuit of a potentially mutually beneficial goal. 

For the last 12 years, my professional (and a great deal of my personal) life has been dedicated to being underway on Coast Guard cutters. It has been a very team-oriented existence. Not much happens on a ship that involves a single person; nearly everything requires the significant effort of many people working together. Trust is quickly built…or nothing gets done. The bridge watch has to trust the engine watch to keep machinery running within parameters, and the rest of the crew has to trust the bridge watch to, well, not run into anything and to navigate the ship safely. With this background, trust comes easily to me.

As the Commanding Officer, I worked hard to diligently and conscientiously build trust and camaraderie among my crews through shared missions, clearly communicated expectations and sincere respect of individuals’ talents and abilities. It is a source of personal pride to me that those crews--my guys--trusted me to be their Captain and lead them during difficult and dangerous situations. So, while trust comes easily to me, I also take it very personally. 

During the exercise, when our Alban counterparts nefariously lured us into believing that they would also raise their price to $30/barrel in the fourth month, I took it personally that they blatantly lied to us. It meant that I hadn’t done as good a job as I could have communicating the benefits of a long-term commitment to increased prices. It meant that they were only hearing what they wanted to hear, rather than what we were saying. It meant that we didn’t have common goals. It meant that our trust in them was unfounded. It might even have meant that they were bad people.

The major insight I gleaned from this exercise is that other people’s motivations are not my personal burden. As long as I make my best effort to clearly state relevant concerns and opinions, I am not responsible for their independent actions. If their goals are different, it does not make them bad people. Even if they are deceitful, I have no place to either judge them or take on their "salvation" on as my own cause.

There is a balance required between getting so personally involved that I lose my objectivity and am emotionally hurt by people with less honorable intentions and being so detached to not care one way or the other about the outcome. The balance point will likely change with each circumstance. But maintaining an awareness of my tendency towards emotional involvement may help to find that point at which I can be passionately committed to achieving my own objectives, which usually include some consideration of the Other’s situation with the ultimate goal of making the world a better place.

ON ANOTHER NOTE: I got a call from my Assignment Officer today, which is not an insignificant occurrence, especially when I'm waiting (somewhat breathlessly) to find out what office I'll be working in for the next few years. He had a "short-fused" assignment opportunity he wanted to talk to me about. 

We talked yesterday; I tried to reiterate to him exactly which office I want to work in (which just happens to be open, and wanting an off-season transfer). He didn't commit to anything, but definitely indicated I was in the running for my top two choices.

This morning he told me he had reviewed my record again last night and thought that I would be a good candidate for a *VERY* high profile, like ridiculously prestigious, assignment within the Executive Branch. Would I consider applying for it?

Um...WOW!! Holy crap!! Lil' ole' me?!? Hunh-uh, you're joking, right? Ok, deep breath, calm down, and...say no.

I thanked him first for deciding that my record of performance indicated that I might be competitive for this particular assignment; it's a huge honor to even be briefly considered for it. He asked me why I said no.

I told him I didn't think I'd be a good fit for it, that there is likely someone much better suited to that kind of highly visible job, and that, truthfully, I just don't have the social skills necessary to be good at a job like that. He thanked me for my honesty, and told me I was still in the running for the jobs I had asked for. We quickly finished our conversation.

I stood at the dining room window for a moment, looking out into my yard, breathing a little shallowly, at the thought that I had just turned down the opportunity probably of a lifetime. I'm still a bit shaken by it. I *know* I wouldn't be good at it. I'm awkward in social situations, prone to saying stupid things, don't think especially quickly on my feet. But...did I really turn it down just because I'm scared of all those things? Or am I scared of being potentially successful and influential far beyond my wildest dreams? Or am I using that as an excuse (lack of advanced social skills) to avoid something I don't want to do?

I like to think that I'm pretty good at taking on challenges, stretching my capabilities, testing myself. But this...I'm just not sure that I *want* to be good at the things I think this job would require. I don't want to be able to know at a glance who is the most powerful person in the room, and the entire pecking order on the way down from there. I don't want to be good at politics. I like the fact that I'm oblivious to a lot of that stuff. I like the fact that I say what's on my mind, with very little self-preservationist-censorship. I like the fact that I'm kinda rough around the edges and not always fit for polite company. 

In the end, I think I made the right choice. Someone else *wants* that job, would be better at it, and wouldn't embarrass the Coast Guard just by being called for an interview (as I likely would). 

But it's pretty freaking cool that the AO thought, even for a small second, that I might be the right person for that job!


JB said...

the best advice I've ever read is from a book by Roger Fisher and Scott Brown, Getting Together: Building Relationships as We Negotiate. Fisher is director of the Harvard Negotiation Project. Simple, counterintuitive guidelines, such as :
*be unconditionally constructive (even if they are not)
*be wholly trustworthy, but not wholly trusting
*learn how they see things (do not assume common goals)

This actually applies to your own teammates, in addition to those you perceive as "other."

small paperback, worth a read.

Uncle Heathen said...

I am sending you a collection of books JB & I accumulated, me mostly during my macr experience. peruse them if you have time, you may find them helpful, or not. I found them illuminating (that doesn't mean burn them).

Azulao said...

Well, I'm glad that you figured out that other people being assholes is not your fault! You can't generally inform people out of selfishness, in my experience.

On the other one, what, getting tattoos means that you lack social skills? I am confident that you would have hit that job out of the park no matter what!!! Silly Girl...but you know best, and hopefully they'll give you your first choice.