Two kids are arguing over the last orange. In order to be diplomatic, dad takes a knife, cuts it in half, tells them it’s settled and sends them each on their way.
The next day a proud dad asks the first kid if he had learned a lesson. “Yes. I only could make half of the amount of orange juice I wanted, but that was fair.” He goes to the second kid with the same question and hears, “yes. I only had half of the orange peel I needed for the cake mix, but that was fair.”
When teacher’s use this story they usually leave out the part about dad palming his face, questioning his humanity, and weeping while he tries to iron out his crumpled soul. They leave in the lesson that we should always figure out what both sides want before we make a decision.
Not all halves are created equally. There are the peel AND the pulp halves, and the peel OR the pulp halves. We don’t want to make arbitrary rulings, we want to truly arbitrate and settle things in as beneficial of a way as possible. The objective is always to listen first. “What do you need the orange for” would have been a hugely valuable question in this scenario.
It’s a messy world out there. When we make sure our first step is to pause and listen versus reacting we will find better outcomes. This is true for clients, teams, and coworkers alike. Don’t be arbitrary, arbitrate.