A Chair and a Pocketbook: How Misunderstanding Can Turn into Controversy
Yesterday morning, I had the opportunity to observe something that I considered to be so fascinating. I was attending a Christian conference and the organizers offered attendees a complimentary breakfast; a pleasant surprise! Food in hand, I went to find a seat (I was attending the conference alone) and noticed several chairs positioned, like dining room furniture, around a coffee table. The first chair I thought to sit in had someone’s pocketbook on it, resting on the inside of the chair’s armrest. Both the pocketbook and chair had a similar color, cream, making it difficult to notice the former. Had I not been looking closely, I would have missed it completely. The owner of the pocketbook wasn’t around, but some of the other chairs at the coffee table were occupied by fellow diners.
I had been eating for about 10 minutes when a woman came over and placed her tote bag on the chair with the pocketbook. I presumed that she saw the pocketbook resting on in the armrest of the chair and was just placing her tote bag there temporarily. However, her husband came over and they both sat down next to me, with the lady sitting next to the chair with the pocketbook (which is now accompanied by her tote bag). After a few minutes, her husband left to do something, and this is where it gets interesting. The owner of the cream pocketbook returned with a plate of food in her hand, sitting down without looking at the chair. It wasn’t long before she realized that someone had placed a tote bag on her reserved seat. The woman who owned the tote bag turned to me with a look of, “Did you see what just happened?” She then begins to tell the other woman that the seat was taken. It was obvious by this point that she hadn’t seen the cream pocketbook in the chair.
Humbly and respectfully, the owner of the cream pocketbook, knowing that she had left it there to hold the seat said, “Is someone sitting here?” The woman with the tote bag replied, “Yes.” She then pointed to another seat and suggested the woman go and sit there, to which see agreed. The suggested seat turned out to be taken, but fortunately, someone else offered her their seat.
What fascinated me about this situation was how this misunderstanding could have evolved into controversy. Then I thought about how many times in our lives we have been in similar situations, particularly when we see (or hear) part of a situation and jump to conclusions without knowing all of the facts. Sometimes the evidence (pocketbook) is right in front of us, but we are so focused on our own needs that we can’t (or won’t) see the bigger picture. We end up acting on what we believe to be true, firmly holding our position despite evidence to the contrary. Unfortunately, in our everyday lives we often don’t “throw in the towel” and arguments quickly ensue, usually followed by grudges. Both parties in the situation consider themselves to be “right” and both expect an apology.
In this scenario, you had a mature, humble woman who gave up her seat (position) without question, something most people wouldn’t have done. However, had she not acted so gracefully, I would have been happy to clarify the situation and confirm her right to the seat. But, what about those situations where it isn’t what’s said, it’s the way it was said? Hmmm…
This occurrence was a great reminder for me that oftentimes we don’t know the full perspective of a situation and form conclusions based off of that.
We all have baggage that we enter relationships, including the workplace, with and it affects the way we interact with others. I am reminded that a narrow perspective can lead to misunderstandings, and controversy, and we should always look before we sit … or should I say, pause before we speak J It takes two to engage and one to disengage.
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