Doing Things the Hard Way

by Jennifer Miller on March 8, 2011

in Personal Effectiveness, Workplace Issues

Workplace Interactions Aren’t Always as “Easy” as They Seem

When was the last time you faced a tough choice when deciding how to respond to a co-worker? Chances are it wasn’t very long ago.  Tricky interpersonal situations crop up all the time.  As you consider your options, no doubt some choices seem easier to make than others.    

So, what is the difference between “easy” and “hard” choices when it comes to workplace interactions? Take a look at the following workplace scenarios and decide: is option A or B the “hard” way?    






Scenario 1: A colleague shares some gossip about a co-worker who is not in the room.   

Option A: Politely point out that you’d prefer not to discuss this co-worker, as they aren’t in a position to contribute to the conversation.    

Option B: Quietly listen as the gossiper talks, without making commentary.    

Scenario 2: Co-worker asks you generate a report by tomorrow. You’re swamped and unsure if you can meet the deadline.


Option A: Explain that the deadline is very tight and offer a reasonable alternative solution.    

Option B: Say yes, because you don’t want your co-worker to get mad. You figure you’ll find a way to somehow squeeze it in.    

Scenario 3: You lead a weekly status update meeting. One of your peers has started showing up to the meetings with his laptop and is reading his emails during the meeting. 


Option A: In private, meet with the peer and explain the negative impact his behavior is having during status meetings. Request that he not read his emails during the meeting.    

Option B: Say nothing to the email-reading meeting participant. You figure, he’s not really hurting anything, so why rock the boat?    

So, which did you pick as the interpersonal choices that were “hard”?    

If you picked Option “B” as the “hard” choice for all three scenarios, you’re in sync with my thinking.    

Surprised?  Read on.    

While popular thinking would say that Option B is “taking the easy way out”, I see it differently. It’s only easier in the short term. If you step back and assess your difficult choice in the context of the long-term interpersonal consequences of your actions, you may shift your thinking too. While it may be initially easier to choose option “B” in the scenarios listed above, in the long run people who take the path of least resistance end up creating more work for themselves. They risk becoming known as people who talk behind others’ backs, let others down and don’t live up to their obligations.    

Of course, very few people wake up in the morning and think, “hey, today I’m going to let somebody down!”  Rather, when the moment presents itself, they tell themselves a story: “Well, I’m really swamped but I don’t want to let this person down, so I’ll figure out a way to fit it in”. See the irony? In the end, the very thing that is feared is the thing that happens.    

The next time you’re struggling with a decision and one choice has a more immediate appeal than the other— ask yourself, is this choice the truly “easy” one, or is it just forestalling an interpersonal mess?    

photo credit: istockphoto: © andrew davey

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

John M. Failla March 8, 2011 at 1:31 pm


Thank you for another evocative post! You don’t need to look far to see that values-driven organizations are more profitable. (See Fortune 100 Best Places to Work…). Conversely, organizations that reinforce a hushed don’t-criticize-the-company-leaders breed a very passive-aggressive culture that encourages more of Option A. Option B, is usually part of a healthy organization that promotes in good communication and feedback loops and mutual respect.

I love these scenarios and will most likely “borrow” them when working with young managers. Thanks, once again!

Jennifer March 8, 2011 at 2:58 pm


Please do “borrow” the scenarios with my blessing. They are plucked straight from the real world of corporate America. Sad, but true!

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