Alternatives To Conflict

Sometimes there are ways to avoid direct conflict if one thinks about the problem for a while.

For example, one manager would sometimes ask for ridiculous features or tasks out of capricious whim and was not known for changing his/her mind. We learned that this manager often forgot what they asked for such that if we ignored the task, there was a good chance they'd forget they asked. About 60% of all silly requests "just went away" using this technique.

Another example is the coffee maker. I'd sometimes leave behind a half-cup of coffee in the pot after filling my cup, and this would make "Susan" angry (pseudonym). She claimed there's a rule that if there's less than a full cup left, the person who takes the last full cup has to make a new batch. I had several reasons why I thought this was not a fair rule, but arguments about it were not persuasive to her. Most people just don't like logic, frequency, scale, and scenario analysis[1]. Since Susan was helpful for other issues, I decided to find a way around this conflict by only taking 1/2 cup under such circumstances. This would leave a full cup behind, leaving the burden on somebody else. I'd come back later for the other half, made by somebody else. Sneaky? Perhaps, but I avoided further conflict and stuck to Susan's rules. (It will be interesting to see what happens when she figures out the pattern. I suspect others are doing the same.)

Good god, you're a selfish, lazy, passive-aggressive ass. Would it kill you to make a pot of coffee? That would be among the best AlternativesToConflict you could choose. Another would be to steer clear of the coffee maker and stop sponging off the effort of your co-workers.

My proposed changes to the rules would reduce the need for such games. I'm of the belief that a good system would reduce the need for volunteer altruism and surf more off the natural power of the waves of selfishness. I agree that if I was an ideal being I should "just make some" and be a good boy, but when I first arrive in the morning, the last thing I want to do is make coffee. I'm okay with making it after I wake up and settle in. And note that I'm not the only coffee "gamer". Nobody wants to make it.

Your "proposed changes to the rules" is a classic example of the sort of overcomplicated antisocial idiocy that is only appreciated by the nerd who originates it. A "good system" would be for whoever drains the pot to make another bloody pot. Whilst you clearly work in such a lazy, dysfunctional organisation that no one wants to make a pot of coffee -- which is apparently the most onerous task in the world -- what if everyone did exactly what you do? Answer: There'd be no coffee. Ever. Therefore, it makes sense for you to make coffee. Your refusal to do so merely proves that you're a selfish, uncooperative, lazy prat. You're not looking for AlternativesToConflict, you're trying to create conflict.

I've considered the scaling impact. It wouldn't be empty because people would make it when they need it if empty. I'm happy to live by those rules if others do. People are more motivated when doing stuff for themselves as opposed to for others. It's what capitalism is based on. (Not that capitalism is always the right answer, but often is.) If you prefer different rules, so be it, but don't make it a PersonalChoiceElevatedToMoralImperative. And it's not "over-complicated", it's even simpler. It's mostly irrelevant anyhow because my "new" approach sticks to the letter of the current rule.

Another possibility is that the pot maker wouldn't have to pay the standard per-cup fee. This may requiring upping the fee a bit.

Congratulations, you've imposed work-to-rule over the office coffee pot. You're my hero. Look, if you use up the coffee, don't measure how much is left, just make a bloody fresh pot. How freaking difficult is that?

That's wasteful in my opinion. I disagree with your system, let it be.

You're not interested in conservation or diminishing waste, you're only interested in getting others to work for you. Your system is very clever. Let me paraphrase it: "Someone other than me will make the coffee."



The work-around is not my "system". And because others play the same game, those who don't play the current game get stuck with pot duty more often. It's not a fair system and not a pleasant system. My system would not expect that people be heavily altruistic. I will admit I "game" the current system and if that makes me evil, well, I'll see you in hell then. I will game systems (within the letter of the law) that I think are unfair or incorrect as a form of protest.

Clearly, you are already in Hell. It's where you "work". I imagine you demons find satisfaction in cheating each other out of fresh coffee and enjoy the disappointo-irritated looks on fellow Beelzebite faces as they encounter a lukewarm pot containing only the last foul dregs of brackish, bitter drizzle.

Just imagine how much nicer your workplace would be if you took great delight in being the first to make a nice pot of fresh java. And you could randomly bring in fresh donuts, cupcakes, or homemade cookies to share, just to bask in the happy surprise of your workmates. You spend at least eight ours a day with them. That's almost a third of your life, assuming you sleep -- probably more waking time than you spend with your wife and kids. Do you really want the experience to be as miserable as possible?

I suggest you build a time-machine and become a screen-writer for 50's sitcoms.

Tomorrow, make a pot of coffee every time it gets low or stale. Bring some donuts. See what happens.

Okay, but after I've had my morning coffee.

In my opinion, if I "go along" 100% with the existing system, I am then an enabler. I am enabling a bad system. Susan pretty much did BigDesignUpFront. If we want change, the problems have to become fairly obvious to her. That wouldn't happen if most others followed your advice. This is common social behavior and often better than direct conflict. It is a gradual organic way toward change. Eventually Susan's clue-train will be guided toward the correct tracks, or at least one more palatable to the masses.

[It's not Susan's clue-train that is on the wrong tracks....]

We need a separate page for the CoffeePotProblem?. I'm a tea-person myself and I don't understand the problem. Why can't you just have no system - if the coffee pot is empty and you want more you have to make some. Why do you have to leave some in the pot at all times?

[Probably a combination of efficiency and courtesy. In the places I've worked that have had that rule, starting a pot of coffee consists of changing the filter, measuring the coffee, and pouring in the water. The rest was handled by the machine. By always having a cup available, you could be back (with your cup of coffee) to doing whatever it is you do without having to wait for the cup to actually brew.]

I think technology can liberate us from this problem. You can buy a coffee machine that automatically grinds the fresh beans and produces a single coffee cup on demand and within seconds. It evens froths the milk and does espresso. Not something you'd buy for home use but surely your company can afford that for its employees' comfort of work. One of my former companies had one and it only employed about 30 people. Us, tea-drinking folk have it much worse - you can no longer get away with employing a tea-lady nowadays and the automatic tea-machines Americans came up with are simply sacrilege.

At my org, it's not going to happen, especially with a bum economy. But some kind of JustInTime coffee maker would be nice. Inventors, we call on you....after the FlyingCar.

[They already exist. You can get a single-cup coffee maker for about $100 that brew that cup in about 60 seconds. My current employer recently bought a machine that dispenses coffee a cup at a time (cost quite a bit more than $100 though).]


[1] This is not saying I was "right", but rather was prepared to explore it in detail.


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