Arbinger Singapore and Malaysia
I remember years ago in my first school feeling very frustrated at staff meetings because of one particular colleague. Let’s call him Ben. Our staff meetings were held on Friday afternoons from 2pm to approximately 5pm. The last item on the agenda would usually have to do with finance—things like, how much had been spent for pantry supplies? How much was spent on congratulatory gifts for staff? How much everyone would be contributing to the staff welfare fund? By 4pm, most of us would be exhausted after a long tiring week in school and all we wanted to do was to go home. Ben, who was usually quiet during meetings, would suddenly become energized when finances were mentioned and would start asking many, many questions about how money had been spent.
At the time, I had a young daughter at home, and all I wanted to do was get home and spend quality time with her. So while Ben was asking all these questions and delaying the closure of the meeting, in my mind I could only see my little Soniyya waiting for me to pick her up from Grandma’s house and bring her home. Quite a number of us were even suspicious if Ben was doing this on purpose. Maybe he was trying to attract attention to himself, maybe he didn’t like his family and didn’t want to go home. Needless to say, the energy in the room would immediately sink as people grew increasingly frustrated. It kept happening every week, and by the time the meetings would end, I would not be in a very good mood and it was all Ben’s fault.
One day I was in the printing room and Ben was ahead of me printing some test papers. I decided to talk to him and find out a little bit about him. I had never really spoken to him before and no one in our group actually knew much about him. I asked him if he had kids. His answer took me by surprise. “Oh, I have seven kids. Some are mine naturally, some I adopted . . . but if you ask me which kids are which, I can’t remember.”
He went on to say that it’s really challenging putting seven kids through school. He said all of this in a very jovial and light hearted manner. Suddenly, it was as if a lightbulb went off in my head. Now I understood why issues concerning finance were so important to him. These were his challenges and obstacles on a daily basis. I had only one child at that time, but I could understand how challenging it would be to raise a seven children. When he spoke to me about his kids, for the first time I saw him as a parent like me and not this nuisance of a man.
The next staff meeting and those following were very different for me. Ben still asked his usual questions and meetings stretched longer, but I wasn’t annoyed. I understood why he was asking these questions and didn’t assume that he was purposely making life difficult for others. I also didn’t leave school on Fridays feeling angry and victimized anymore.
When I started to understand Ben better—his needs, burdens and challenges—my mindset started to shift. I started to not see an object, but a person with genuine concerns. All of the negative energy I had immersed myself in every Friday afternoon was gone. It was as if a huge burden had been lifted off my shoulders.