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How Not to Do Well in a Job Interview

August 21, 2012

I’m back! Apologies for the absence from your screens dear readers, it turns out that moving countries, planning a stag party, beginning to plan your own wedding, starting back at your old job, interviewing for a mortgage and applying for a nice shiny new job leaves one with little time to write irreverent meanderings on all things martial.

Happily, though, that is all behind me now and I am back in the game again. Less happily, I didn’t get the job. Dumb job. Didn’t want it anyway. The gruelling, three-stage process with assessment centre to-boot wasn’t entirely without merit though, as it has inspired – or at least given me a decent in-road to – a very overdue blog post. As you are about to discover.

One of the questions I was asked, given that it was a management job I was applying for, asked me how I have dealt with conflict in the workplace in the past. Unfortunately given how much else was bubbling about in my cortex at the time I decided, inexplicably, that this was an invitation to wax lyrical about the cultural differences between Chinese and Western culture, and the potential conflict that can arise as a result. And for all my knowledge of non-verbal communication, my understanding of cues and tells, half smiles and awkward coughs, I spectacularly failed to notice the puzzled expressions lined up in front warning me I’d ventured further off-topic than Richard Dawkins at a Bible convention.

“China can be a difficult place to live” I enthusiastically began. “The culture is so far removed, the way people interact is so different, and the concepts surrounding person boundaries & space are so alien, that it can be easy to get offended or become angry when you first arrive.”

The furrows on the brows of my unwitting audience deepen. I, blissfully unaware, stride onwards into the dark, twisting forest of figurative folly:

“But the longer you spend their, the more you come to understand the logic and rationale behind the culture. It’s not our logic or rationale, but it’s logic and rationale nonetheless. What’s intrusive to us is respectful to them; what’s rude to them is polite to us. What you come to realize is that everybody sees the world through their own, unique prism. There is no right or wrong, polite or rude; just unique interpretations of these rules. Most people in a given culture have similar interpretations, but everyone’s differs slightly.”

At this point I’d begun to cotton on to what was happening: it’s hard to ignore it when your regional manager has shaking their head in despair whilst two others are looking at you like you’ve just painted your genitals blue and decided to answer their questions through the medium of interpretive dance.
But it was too late to save myself now, and well I knew it. I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more, Returning were as tedious as go o’er. So Shakespeare writes in Macbeth; and so it was for me. “Screw it” I thought; “let’s see where this ends up”.

“This has taught me a lot about conflict management. Whenever you encounter conflict, it’s generally because there’s a clash between what two people deem to be reasonable, or correct. If neither party is able to accept the others’ perspective, the scale of the conflict can only increase as each party digs in and defends their own view more and more vigorously, until all reasonable avenues of argument have been ruled out or ignored. If we are able to pause, if just for a moment, and see understand that our opponent is actually operating from exactly the same perspective as we are, yet seen through their own prism of the world, it should become easier to resolve things.”

Yeah, I know. I may as well have stood on the chair and started singing John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’: “You, you may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope some day you’ll join us, And the world will be as one.”

I looked up, expectantly, John Lennon’s mancunian melodies trailing through my mind. If this were a film, there would be a painful silence that went on for an eternity, followed by an unexpectedly positive response. Maybe even a standing ovation. The underdog went for broke, and managed to hit a home run. Sadly, in real life, one cannot have his cake and eat it to and all that was on the menu here was blank stares, and a vacuous emptiness where the applause should have been.

So, I didn’t get the job. Hey ho. I did find myself thinking about what I’d said on the long drive home though.

People see the world through prisms. In self defense, we often talk about behaviour, about responses, about communication. But we rarely ask the victim to put themselves in the shoes of their assailant. Why not? For that assailant, at that time, there is a perfectly reasonable justification for their attack. We might not agree with it, but we don’t have to. It’s on their terms. We’re in their world. And if we try to respond using the rules of our own world, which if you’re anything like me don’t usually involve violent solutions, then you’re going to find yourself running out of runway fairly quickly.

If you’re facing the same way as your assailant, then you’re not going to crash in to each other. If you’re walking home alone on a dark night, think like a mugger: ‘where would I hide? Who would I target?’. If someone’s getting angry with you, put yourself in their shoes: ‘What does he think I’ve done? What have I done, and how has he interpreted it? What can I change? What else is going on with him to make him ok with attacking me?’ and if you’re being attacked, think: ‘what are his rules?’ because if his rules allow for picking up a lump of timber and swinging it at your head, you’d better get out of your game and in to his if you’re going to walk out of there intact.

Chew on this for a while. But for the love of God, don’t bring it up in your next interview.

Got a story that could get the How Not to Get Hit treatment? Email it to us at nathaniel1979@googlemail.com

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