Saturday, August 28, 2010

Interpersonal conflict

Interpersonal conflict, a common problem to most of us, has played an imperative role in my life as I am grow up. Let me tell you guys a story that happened not long time ago. It took place in Rag I participated in this year.

*(What is Rag? Rag is one of the biggest projects in Kent Ridge Hall every year. A team of about 30 students will sacrifice their vacation (from May to early August) to build a float to appreciate donors who donate to the society via the Hall charity events. The amount donated could sometimes exceed 1 million in a year. One of the most interesting facts is we use recycled materials to clad the hand-made float. Rag is not an easy task. Everyone will understand it only when he or she experiences it as a member in the team. Please feel free to watch our performance at if you are interested.)

For confidential purpose, I will disguise a character's identity and name him as ‘XX’ in the story.

Rag is a labor-intensive job, a blue-collar work, a slummy life. However, it is where you will find your good friends. Having a close-knit friendship was the main reason I decided to join rag. However, sometimes you might not get what you expected. One of the engineers, called XX, regretted to join rag. He didn’t like to work for a long time and in the midnight. He didn’t like to be obedient to his leader and didn’t work seriously.

One out of millions of examples was skinning dance blocks*. There were two dance blocks to skin and I was partnered with XX for the task. So, each of us should skin one dance block. As an experienced engineer, I demonstrated to him how to do it at the beginning. However, he didn’t follow what I taught him. I thought he found a better way to skin it and so I didn’t bother him. After skinning my dance block, I looked at his product.  (#@*&#:;%*@#...) No word could describe how lousy his product was. I didn’t say any words though. Well, bad news came in the next morning. The technical officer and chief engineer were disappointed with me. On the other hand, assistant chief engineer asked me to re-skin his dance block. I hated redoing so much. However, I still spent another 3 hours on his dance block and smiled at him. To avoid any quarrels to happen, what I could do was just suppressing my anger.

My anger at him grew up again when XX slept while all other people were working. A female engineer complained that XX had slept for many times. 

Enough is enough. We had been implicitly telling XX that we need his hands to complete the float. How did he dare to read novel books while others were sweating on their work? However, I still had to smile whenever he talked to me. Yea, I have finally realized why our Mr. Blackstone always says that some people smile when they are angry.  In fact, teamwork and friendship are important in Rag. We could never afford any fights among the members, or else we would never complete the float. That is why we were encouraged to tolerate with him. ACE indeed told me that he ignored XX’s existence in Rag.

Haiz… Can you tell me how a person could be so self-centered?  To accommodate ourselves with the timing on Rag day, whereby we could stay conscious for 48 hours, and also to complete the gigantic float in time, we worked from 12am to 6am, 18 hours every day in the last 2 weeks before the Rag day. I believed that we could rest more if he worked hard and didn’t leave at 3am every day. He didn’t change even after our Rag Chairperson had advised him.

To ensure that the big project could be done in time, I didn’t lose my temper with him but showed him that the whole team was like a family so that he would repent his irresponsibility. I didn’t scold him but was reminding him to contribute to the ‘family’. This was the solution I adopted. However, it didn’t work. Hey guys, how would you have encouraged XX to be responsible for his work? :D

  * The dance block is an item we used in Rag dance. Its structure is made of timber and skinned with plywood. "Skinning" is a jargon term in Rag, which basically means making skin for a item with frame only. Generally, we use plywood, cardboard, newspapers, or wire-mesh as materials for skinning.

I am sorry for the incomplete description. :)



  1. Wow! If the scenario you have depicted is true, XX will be one difficult person to deal with. Obviously, XX completely had no interest in helping out in your Rag project at all. Though, I like the way how you all try to make XX repent his irresponsibility by treating him well and not blaming him for all your problems doing your Rag. I believe this will work against most people, but if XX really does not feel a thing after what you guys did, then I beleived that the main problem was XX was too self-centred. If this is the case,then this problem has to be dealt with in the hard way.

    I am afraid that XX can only corrected by learning his lessons through the hard way. Scolding him would not be enough, he must experience the pain of dealing his problem alone without anyone helping him out. Only by experiencing the pain itself then he would reflect on his own actions and decide to turn over a new leaf. This is just my point of view, because I cannot guarantee whether it would work on such person like XX.

    On that Rag event, I would suggest that you should also personally ask XX what were his problems and why he was not interested. Then, you should try to motivate him to take the event more seriously so that he would make himself more useful in helping to make the float.

  2. If reminders don't work, sometimes I feel that you have to talk to him in a firm manner and show that you mean business. But that does not mean losing your temper.

    I'm not entirely sure about this, but is there a way to remove him from the group? That would be the last resort I guess.

  3. Hi Yong Feng, thanks! Actually, the suggestion to remove him from the team kept flashing through my mind during Rag. However, the chairperson didn't want him to leave because we were short of manpower. :(

  4. Hi Min Hau!

    Wow! This is a tricky situation!

    Some people are like bulls that will not move no matter how hard they had been whipped.

    You showed good leadership and EQ in dealing with him by not flaring up at him!

    If I was in your shoes, I would have a good talk with him and find out what is causing him to show this attitude.

    Some people need to feel more appreciation for all the hardwork that they put in before they will work. They need to be in leadership role before they will shine. Others need to feel at home and feel that he is working with a close knitted team before he shows his true self.

    So if he belongs to this category, maybe the chairperson could had gave him some responsibility to show his leadership or do some team building activities with him and he might shine. Else, don't waste time with these people. Just get him out of the team.

    See you around in class!

  5. Hi Hau
    I think most of us have been in your position in this way or that.
    I think one of the five elements of EQ which we discussed in class would have helped you solve the problem. That is EMPATHY.
    As mentioned in the article "Emotional Intelligence", "Empathy is the ability to identify with and understand the wants, needs, and viewpoints of those around you."It is a common mistake, which I am also guilty of, that people assume people think the way they do. As shown in your post, you value the friendship built in Rag most and you tried to "win" the person over by being "friendly" to him. However, friendship may not be what he values most.
    I beleive there is a reason behind the person's "irresponsive" behavious. You may want to find out the reason so that you can find the right way to motivate him.
    Hope this helps.

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  7. Thanks, Hau, for sharing this conflict. I can see your passion in the description. Unfortunately, though you comprehensively detail your description with details, it's not complete, mainly because you make assumptions about what the reader understands. I don't know what a dance block is. So I also don't know what "skinning a dance block" means. In addition, I don't know what ACE refers to.

    Finally, I don't know what the dilemma is. You do give your solution, which seems to go against the requirements of the assignment. And yet you pose a question, yes, but not one that is well focused on some aspect of this conflict. You should have asked something like this: How could I have encouraged XX to do his share of the work? or By what process could XX been made to complete his tasks?

    In additon, there are some language problems that I would like you to consider:

    a) as I am growing up >>> ?
    b) What interesting >>> ?
    c) sometimes things never go well >>> ?
    d) Let’s me tell you guys >>> ?
    e) teamwork and friendship is >>> ?
    f) was just swallowing back my anger >>> ?
    g) lose my temper at him >>> ?

    You have, still, generated lots of good feedback, and I do appreciate your hard work!

  8. hi Brad,

    I apologize for the mistakes. I have corrected them. Hmm... I gave the solution because I wanted to know how my classmates would resolve the conflict given that the solution did not work. I failed to communicate with him using the solution. :)