Michael & Jennifer

One Monday morning Jennifer, the Marketing Director of Global Manufacturing International Inc. strides into the office of Michael, the company’s Chief Financial Officer. As always, Jennifer seems to be in a hurry. While she walks in, Jennifer is flipping through some documents. She stops in her tracks, right in front of Michael’s desk, mumbling “Morning Mike” without establishing eye contact. Michael greets Jennifer with a warm “Good morning Jenn! How are you today? How was your weekend away with the kids? I hope you guys had a really, really good time!”

Jennifer, still focused on the documents in her hands, answers with a curt “Yeah, thanks”.

She then looks up, looking Michael straight in the eye, and says: “Listen Mike, for our project meeting of tomorrow I urgently need a report on the production results of last week. I guess you can fix that for me, right? Tomorrow eight-thirty?”

Michael, somewhat overwhelmed by Jennifer’s businesslike, abrupt and direct approach answers: “Eh… yeah… sure Jenn! I will do my best to get that for you… Sure… it may be a little hard pressed to get this done within your requested time frame, and… well… as you probably know, my team is quite busy with the closing of the quarter… but anyway… sure! I’ll get it for you…”

Jennifer, after picking up on Michael’s words “Yeah” and “Sure”, responds with a quick “Thanks Mike”, while turning around and walking out of Michael’s office in her usual fast pace before Michael can ask more detailed questions about what Jennifer really needs.

After Jennifer leaves the door, Michael is left with an awkward feeling. After Jennifer’s visits, it always somehow feels as if a tornado has passed by, leaving chaos and a deafening silence. Michael is now left with more questions than answers. Why does Jennifer need that report? And why as always last minute? What information exactly should be in the report? How should Michael get this done without disrupting the work of his team members too much? They are already working so hard on getting the quarter’s closing done properly.

Michael however doesn’t want to disappoint Jennifer, or burden her with any more questions, as it is obvious that also Jennifer is under a lot of pressure. Michael decides to work on the requested report himself the same evening, after getting home. He will figure out how to do it, and what details he needs to be able to deliver the report as expected.

After getting home however, Michael’s wife Sarah needs his urgent help with getting some errands done and putting the kids to bed. After that, Michael is tired, and thinks “I’ll do the report tomorrow morning, before I drive to the office”. Sarah really needed his help, and of-course he couldn’t disappoint her.

Unfortunately, he next morning there is no opportunity for Michael to draft the requested report. The usual hectic around getting the kids to school and making sure that Sarah doesn’t miss the 8am train is taking all his time and attention. With a lump in his stomach Michael drives to the office, hoping that Jennifer will be reasonable enough to give him more time to get the report done. After all it was an impossible deadline, and Jennifer will surely understand that.

Just after Michael arrives at his desk, Jennifer already strides in, in her usual pace. After a short “Good morning Mike” she straight away asks for the report. Michael greets Jennifer with his usual warm good morning wishes, and then continues: “Eh… yeah… the report, yeah… well, why don’t you have a seat for a moment Jenn…, just for a quick moment. I’d like to talk about the report a little bit… You know, and I’m sure you will understand; it’s been very hectic, and…” Before Michael can finish his sentence, Jennifer interrupts Michael with an impatient voice: “The report… you didn’t get it…?!”  Michael starts informing Jennifer about how much hectic there has been at work and at home and says that Jennifer having children herself must surely understand the daily juggling game between responsibilities at work and at home, but Jennifer, angry now, says: “Darn Mike, I knew I shouldn’t have asked you to fix this report for me…!!” She then continues with “Why didn’t you call me last night that you wouldn’t deliver…?!” while pacing out of the door, leaving Michael again with the feeling of a tornado that just passed by.

Michael, feeling bad about what just happened, quietly sits at his desk for a few minutes wondering what has gone wrong. He feels that he was just trying to be honest with Jennifer about a completely understandable situation that every now and then happens to everybody with a family. Why doesn’t Jennifer understand that? “She just doesn’t have any empathy”, Michael thinks. His sadness about the situation slowly turns into feelings of resentment. “I would never bother a co-worker with a problem after working hours” Michael says to himself, imagining how that would be for Jennifer’s family. He realizes that he actually doesn’t like working with Jennifer; she never has time for a normal conversation, and she hardly ever shows empathy or sympathy with her co-workers. Everything is always about her priorities and results, without considering how people feel, or what other people’s priorities or needs are. He realizes that he is glad not to be in the shoes of Jennifer’s husband. It must be hard to have a wife who relentlessly works most of the day and night.

Michael takes a deep breath, and realizes it is time for the daily nine-o-clock morning coffee with his team. It is always one of the highlights of his day, in which he gathers with his team for about twenty minutes to discuss the priorities for that day, and to see whether the tasks are divided equally among the team members to assure that no-one has too much on his plate. Usually someone brings some pastry from home, and Michael smiles with the thought. It is such a wonderful team.

Obviously, Michael lives in the presumption that people will always take other people’s situation into careful consideration, and will adjust their requests and needs to what is actually possible in the eternal juggling game of life. Life is full of surprises and unknowns, and all one can do is give one’s best to fulfil the needs of others. Due to the nature of life there however never is a guarantee. Consideration, understanding and harmony are of key importance to Michael, and when everyone lives along those principles a lot more good work can be achieved together. To Michael, commitment is all about the effort.

As you may have noticed: a simple word like ‘commitment’ has a completely different meaning to Michael than to Jennifer. It is safe to say that this applies to most words. It is therefore crucial to understand that the language of another person may be very different from your language. Words don’t always have the same meaning.

Read this same case from Jennifer’s perspective →

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