When my daughter Joy was 5 she had her best friend Sarah over to play. They always got along famously together and could play for hours with no adult intervention. On this particular occasion they were in the family room playing Candyland and I was in my office working. Suddenly my ears perked up when I realized there had been a tangible shift in the atmosphere. I overheard the following:
Sarah: I don't think it's fair if someone gets Queen Frostine right away. (For those of you who recall the game Candyland, Queen Frostine is not only beautiful, she is also nearly 2/3 of the way to the Candy Castle. If you draw her early in the game, you have a very reasonable chance of winning).
Joy: Well I didn't know she was on the top of the deck.
Sarah: I think if you draw the Queen first you should put it back.
Joy: But I didn't TRY to draw her first.
At this point, I stood up and got ready to go mediate before the situation spiraled downwards. My plan was to suggest that they remove Queen Frostine from the deck and play the game without the prized card. But something inside me told me to pause. Neither of the girls was speaking in a disrespectful tone and neither seemed close to crying. True, the atmosphere was uncomfortable compared to their typical happy chatter, but did it really warrant adult intervention?
Through sheer willpower, I forced myself to stay quietly in the next room while they continued to talk about their concerns in the game. I cannot recall the details of their negotiations, but I will never forget the outcome. Together they agreed to remove Queen Frostine from the deck, shuffle it, and then put her in towards the bottom. This way, whoever got Queen Frostine would have the excitement of drawing the beautiful princess, but would probably already be past Frosting Palace and would have to go backwards. Both girls were delighted with the solution, and they continued their afternoon of fun with no adult intervention needed.
The solution concocted by a couple of 5 year olds was far superior to the one my adult mind had come up with. They found a way to keep the prize in play, and increase the fun for everyone. My idea had simply been to remove the prize all together to "keep the peace." I learned a big lesson that day about pausing and listening before jumping into the fray to "fix it" when I see what I perceive to be a problem.
If you are a manager or just a professionally minded go-getter, it can be tempting to jump in when you see problems between co-workers and get involved with monkeys that don't belong in your tree. But think twice! The older I get, the more I realize how often we get caught up in situations that don't require our involvement, and how our solutions as "disinterested parties" are usually far less useful than the ones that the "interested parties" come up with.
So next time you see a minor skirmish occurring between colleagues, try to pause and listen to see if they really need your help before getting involved. You may be surprised at what you learn!