Let the Other Man Save His Face

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Years ago the General Electric Company was faced with the delicate task of removing Charles Steinmetz from the head of a department. Steinmetz, a genius of the first magnitude when it came to electricity, was a wash-out as the head of the calculating department. Yet the company didn’t dare offend the man. He was indispensable—and highly sensitive. So they gave him a new title. They made him Consulting Engineer of the General Electric Company—a new title for work he was already doing—and let someone else head up the department.

Steinmetz was happy.

So were the officers of the G. E. They had gently maneuvered their most temperamental star, and they had done it without a storm—by letting him save his face.

Letting him save his face! How important, how vitally important that is! And how few of us ever stop to think of it! We ride roughshod over the feelings of others, getting our own way, finding fault, issuing threats, criticizing a child or an employee in front of others, without even considering the hurt to the other person’s pride! Whereas a few minutes’ thought, a considerate word or two, a genuine understanding of the other person’s attitude would go so far toward alleviating the sting!

Let’s remember that the next time we are faced with the distasteful necessity of discharging a servant or an employee.

“Firing employees is not much fun. Getting fired is even less fun.” (I’m quoting now from a letter written me by Marshall A. Granger, a certified public accountant.) “Our business is mostly seasonal. Therefore we have to let a lot of men go in March.

It’s a byword in our profession that no one enjoys wielding the axe. Consequently, the custom has developed of getting it over as soon as possible, and usually in the following way: ‘Sit down, Mr. Smith. The season’s over, and we don’t seem to see any more assignments for you. Of course, you understand that you were only employed for the busy season anyhow, etc., etc.’

“The effect on the men was one of disappointment, and a feeling of being ‘let down’. Most of them were in the accounting field for life, and they retained no particular love for the firm that dropped them so casually.

“I recently decided to let our extra men go with a little more tact and consideration. So I have called each man in only after carefully thinking over his work during the winter. And I’ve said something like this: ‘Mr. Smith, you’ve done a fine job (if he has). That time we sent you over to Newark, you had a tough assignment. You were on the spot, but you came through with flying colours, and we want you to know the firm is proud of you. You’ve got the stuff—you’re going a long way, wherever you’re working. This firm believes in you, and is rooting for you, and we don’t want you to forget it!’

“Effect? The men go away feeling a lot better about being fired. They don’t feel ‘let down’. They know if we had work for them, we’d keep them on. And when we need them again, they come to us with a keen personal affection.”

The late Dwight Morrow possessed an uncanny ability to reconcile belligerents who wanted to fly at each other’s throats. How? He scrupulously sought what was right and just on both sides—he praised it, emphasized it, brought it carefully to the light—and no matter what the settlement, he never placed any man in the wrong.

That’s what every arbitrator knows—let men save their faces.

Really big men, the world over, are too big to waste time gloating over their personal triumphs. To illustrate:

In 1912, after centuries of bitter antagonism, the Turks determined to drive the Greeks forever from Turkish territory.

Mustapha Kemal made a Napoleonic speech to his soldiers, saying : “Your goal is the Mediterranean”, and one of the bitterest wars in modern history was on. The Turks won; and when the two Greek generals, Tricoupis and Dionis, made their way to Kemal’s headquarters to surrender, the Turkish people called down the curses of heaven upon their vanquished foes.

But Kemal’s attitude was free from triumph.

“Sit down, gentlemen,” he said, grasping their hands. “You must be tired.” Then, after discussing the campaign in detail, he softened the blow of their defeat. “War,” he said, as one soldier to another, “is a game in which the best men are sometimes worsted.”

Even in the full flush of victory, Kemal remembered this important rule (Rule 5 for us):