“Glass Half Empty or Half Full”? It’s A Matter of Perspective


Everywhere we go, if we look closely enough, we learn about respect. Even on the exercise mat.

The other day, I was at our local gym at the same time as a seniors’ exercise class. We were all on the mat together.

Within the first 10 minutes, an elderly gentleman approached our area looking for the “red exercise ball”. He was furious that it was missing. He loudly complained about the fact that the “young people around here” never return the equipment to its designated location despite all of the signs all over the walls directing them to do so. He went on and on about “that generation” and “those people”. His anger ruined the energy (which made my ab exercises that much more difficult).

A few minutes later, an elderly woman – around the same age as him – also came looking for the red exercise ball (note to self: try out that ball when I get a chance). She, too, noticed it was missing. She laughed to herself – and all of us – and proclaimed “I bet someone is using it right now. Who do I think I am anyways? It’s not like I am the only one here who uses this equipment”.

Two individuals – same age group, same exercise class, same need for that red exercise ball yet two completely different “reactions” to the missing ball.

How does this relate to respectful workplaces? Like some employees and leaders, the first participant jumped to conclusions about the ball on the basis of very little information. He created a divisive “us versus them” scenario and assumed that “they” (whoever they were) had done something wrong which negatively impacted him. He shared his negative “story” about “them” with others, not once considering that there may have been an alternate, more forgiving explanation.

The second participant didn’t jump to any conclusions about what had happened. Even though she was as “inconvenienced” as the first person, she gave the “benefit of the doubt” to others in the gym. Her commentary was positive and created a sense of community, inclusion and tolerance.

Same situation. Two very different responses. Two very different effects on the overall atmosphere.

Many workplace situations that lead to ongoing dysfunction often start with that “red exercise ball”; a situation that could be interpreted in one of two ways. Individuals may choose to jump to conclusions, assume the worst and go to the dark side or they can give others the benefit of the doubt and consider whether alternate explanations might explain what they have observed/experienced.

Next time you are triggered by someone or something in the workplace, think of that red exercise ball. Know that how you respond to others’ comments or behaviour will very much influence the outcome: will you assume the worst and stir the pot of negativity and dysfunction? Or will you commit to becoming curious about what happened, explore whether there’s an alternative explanation to the story in your head and strive for an early and constructive resolution of your differences?

Although we have little control over others’ conduct, we have complete control over our response. And that is where we should focus our efforts.

Thanks for digesting our food for thought.

– Marli Rusen

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