I'll tell my brother

Published: Feb 21 , 2013
Author: Alan Smith

When I was younger, so much younger than today - I would occasionally find myself in situations which I really struggled to handle.

Let me give you an example. There was this particular chap, whom we will call Ian Sharples for the purpose of the story; he was 2 years older than me, considerably bigger, and to be honest, a bit rough-looking. Even his mother struggled to love him.

He lived a couple of streets away from me on an unfashionable council estate in Rochdale. For some reason he had taken a real dislike to me. I never really got to the bottom of it, but he took great delight in being unpleasant and physically intimidating.

It's not as if I stole his girlfriend or anything (I was only 11!); I wasn't particularly good looking (probably still true, to be fair); I wasn't even a snappy dresser. But every day on my way to school, I had to walk the gauntlet of his front gate in fear and dread, worrying about the insults and harm that might come my way.

On one occasion he threatened to meet me on the way home and give me a "sound thrashing" (although not maybe in that language; this was Rochdale in the 70s not Tom Brown's Schooldays). Unsure of what to do to prevent this I threatened to escalate the conflict and include my brother. He was 3 years older than me, much bigger than me (and Sharples, for that matter) and I felt that his involvement might get me off the hook.

Of course there are situations in conflict when such an escalation may be both necessary and valuable. We may want to divorce the day-to-day relationship from the problem at hand. If we can protect the relationship, for example, by leaving the numbers and details to the respective finance departments to sort out, then all well and good. If we can get our managing director or CEO to meet up with theirs, again maybe that is a good thing.

There can, of course, be problems with this course of action.

In the end game and having resolved all the major issues, we may decide to roll in the big guns for the final meeting. Perhaps the negotiation is over and all they have left to worry about is the price. That creates at best a haggle or at worst a slow surrender by one side or the other.

Sometimes though, there is no getting away from the fact that we have to fight our own battles. Protecting the relationship by avoiding conflict can actually lead to a relationship without strength.

My brother saw that aspect all too clearly. He would never get involved in my battles saying I had to sort them out myself. Mind you, and were you to ask me, I think he was just scared of Ian Sharples's big brother - think "Tyson meets Klitchko" and you are beginning to get the picture.

Alan Smith


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