Skills I learned as a pre-teen are helping me later in life.
Or hurting me. I’m not sure, but I think being the lone brother in a three- and four-child household is paying off.
For instance: On family trips back in the day, I would often be stuck in the back seat of the family sedan with my two sisters (my stepsister, between them in age, joined us a few years later). In the era before personal electronic devices, we were expected to sit still for hours – which inevitably devolved into a back-seat fight among the three of us.
Why don’t you stay in your own area? Why did you elbow me? Could you quit shifting around? Quit coughing on me! Move your legs!
I was the youngest, but I somehow knew that if I could keep my sisters irritated at each other, I’d stay out of harm’s way.
I’d provoke them to argue: “I can’t believe you said that about Aileen,” I’d say to Valerie. “I’d be mad if I were her!”
Or I’d push Aileen into Valerie, irritating the oldest sister, who would immediately push back.
The conflict would start and I’d sit back, read my Archie comic books and giggle. I was the only boy. I was the youngest. I didn’t do anything! They’re the ones fighting!
They never really teamed up against me.
Fast-forward several decades. Now I’m part of a team with two women – for the column’s sake, I’ll call them “Kim” and “Maureen.” They’re my friends and there’s no reason to think they’ll gang up on me. But I’m making sure.
In recent weeks (who am I kidding? It’s been in recent months. Or recent years), I find myself provoking them to argue with each other so they don’t turn against me. It’s a strategy as old as being stuck in the back seat for a drive across Nevada.
Last week, I was looking at a page designed by Kim – one normally done by Maureen. Oh, I forgot. They’re fake names, right? I need to remember the quotation marks.
Anyway, I told “Kim” that her work looked good. “It’s so much better than it usually looks,” I said, making sure “Maureen” heard me. Then I slinked back to my desk, smirking, as Maureen said “what?”
Several minutes later, I returned some of Maureen’s work to her.
“It’s nice not to have to wait so long to see this,” I said, making sure “Kim” understood that I was suggesting “Maureen” outshined her. “I appreciate it.”
Again, a return to my cubicle, safe in the knowledge that I was damaging any potential alliance against me.
This isn’t rocket science. It’s ancient: “Divide and conquer,” a practice used by Julius Caesar, Napoleon and Moe Howard through the centuries.
It was also taught by Machiavelli, whose work I studied as a young child. One of my childhood idols, Jack Tripper, often used the technique on “Three’s Company.” He kept Janet and Chrissy from ganging up on him, even if that wasn’t their plan.
What’s the point?
Don’t take for granted the lessons you learned as a child. They might make you immature. They might be irritating to others. They might reveal that you have a hard time getting along with people. But sometimes those lessons learned on endless family drives, trapped in the back seat, help you years later in a professional capacity.
Or they turn you into someone who creates drama in the workplace where it’s not needed.
What? I can’t believe “Maureen” said that about “Kim!”
Reach Brad Stanhope at 427-6958 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bradstanhope.