Sunday, November 6, 2016

The Office Clarification Post

Here is some background about the main characters in the episode I described earlier:

1. Michael

Michael is the manager of the office.  He's goofy, blunt, and often rude (but he doesn't seem to realize it).   In this episode, he decides to mediate and solve as many workplace conflicts that he can. It is normally not his job to do this; he takes over for the HR manager, Toby (a minor character in the episode, so I didn't include his picture).

2. Oscar
Oscar is one of the accountants in the office.  He is upset the his co-worker Angela has an offensive poster hung on her wall that he can see every day.  He finds the poster creepy and doesn't want to look at it.

3. Angela

Angela is pretty much known around the office as an angry cat-lady.  She's the one who is in conflict with Oscar about the poster.  She wants to keep it because it was a gift and she thinks that it is great art.

The conflict:

Oscar is mad that Angela has an offensive poster on her wall.  He was just trying to tell the HR manager how he felt about it when Michael ("World's Best Boss") walked in and asked what the problem was.

Michael goes overboard and uses his "Mediator's Guide Book" to help Oscar and Angela solve their conflict.  He doesn't listen to Oscar nor Angela's real feelings as he goes about solving the problem.  

Keep in mind that Oscar's feelings about the poster would not have been a conflict if Michael hadn't decided to step in and tell Angela all about it.  So there was never really a conflict at all.  Oscar was just venting his feelings when Michael decided to make it into a full-on conflict between Oscar and Angela.

Below is the original blog post cleaned up.  It should hopefully be easier to understand now that it's been simplified a bit and now that you've been more formally introduced to the characters:

In Season 2 of The Office, Michael decides to manage conflict between office members.  It starts when he walks in on Oscar privately explaining his feelings about Angela’s offensive poster.  He’s really just venting his feelings to the office's HR manager, but Michael decides that it is an important conflict that needs to be addressed out in the open.  
He gets Angela and Oscar together in the conference room to discuss the issue face-to-face and takes  out his “Mediator’s Tool Chest.”  The "Mediators Tool Chest" is a book of Michael's which describes different styles of conflict resolution. He begins to read aloud from the tool chest to educate Angela and Oscar on the “5 styles of conflict.”  
Both Oscar and Angela seem eager to leave, forget about the conflict, and get back to their work.  Despite this, Michael explains each painstakingly-obvious definition from the tool chest in order, starting with Lose-Lose.  “A Lose-Lose situation is when both parties lose.  This is the most ineffective style…” he says.  “Now I have to ask you, do you want to pursue a lose-lose situation?” According to the book, the best scenario is the win-win-win, a situation in which both Angela and Oscar are happy with the outcome, and Michael “wins” for having successfully mediated a conflict in the workplace.
Angela and Oscar are in a fight over an “offensive” poster on Angela’s desk.  Michael walks them both over to the poster and asks each of them to express their feelings using “I statements” and “emotion statements”.  Angela states that she got the poster as a gift, appreciates its artistic value, and wants to see it every day.  Oscar finds the poster rude, offensive, and creepy.  He doesn’t want to have to look at it, and he does not think that it’s real art.  
Next, Michael decides that they should all “brainstorm creative alternatives” to find a win-win-win solution.  He immediately comes up with the idea that Angela makes the poster into a t-shirt for Oscar to wear every day.  That way, he can never see it, but Angela gets to see it every time she looks at Oscar.  Michael is happy because the way he sees it, both of them are winning in this scenario, and he came up with the solution himself (so he wins too).  
When neither Oscar nor Angela can come up with a better solution, Michael's assistant suggests that Angela gets to hang the poster on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  According to Michael, however, that would be classified as solution number 3 known as compromise, which is “not ideal.”  Michael ranks every solution to the problem which he thinks is possible:

3. Compromise: Angela gets to hang the poster on Tuesdays and Thursdays
2. Win-lose: Take the poster down so Oscar won’t have to look at something he finds  
1. Win-win-win: Have Oscar wear a t-shirt of the poster

According to Michael’s manual, a win-win-win situation is always best, so he makes the executive decision that Angela should make the t-shirt.  Michael’s view of the situation is selfish, apathetic, and hastily made.  If anything, he has made the problem worse instead of making it a “win-win-win situation.”    
He listens to Angela and Oscar’s sides of the situation, but he takes them too literally.  As a result, he comes up with a solution that makes them both worse off.  Angela has to take down her poster, and Oscar has to wear a t-shirt displaying a poster he finds offensive.  Essentially, Michael takes the conflict-resolution manual too seriously.  He loses sight of the real issue, which is about Angela and Oscar’s feelings, only to come up with a solution that can technically be classified as win-win-win.  
If Michael could look closely, however, he would see that it is more like a lose-lose-lose solution.  Angela is left unhappy, Oscar is left unhappy, and Michael hasn’t “resolved” anything.  Angela and Oscar let Michael charge ahead with his solution by reluctantly agreeing to do what he said.  
The show moved on, and the conflict was never truly resolved.  The most ironic thing of all is that if Michael hadn’t decided to step in in the first place, Oscar would have just finished venting to Toby about the problem and moved on. 
Michael’s idea that “bringing conflict out into the open” can solve problems causes further problems throughout the episode.  Michael asks to see written records of all the complaints people have every made to the HR manager about problems they’ve had with others in the workplace. The HR manager refuses, saying that it would infringe on everyone’s privacy, but Michael proceeds to snatch it out of his hands.  “I had to use win-lose that time,” Michael says, “It isn’t pretty.”   
He decides to sort out his newly acquired pile of workplace conflicts by reading them out loud to everyone.  He says that since the HR manager merely listened to everyone’s problems then waited for them to forget about it, he hates to see such angry feelings festering in the workplace; he decided they must be let out into the open.  Michael effectively makes everyone angry with each other for bringing up old dirt (most of the complaints were marked “redacted”, meaning that the complainer decided to remove the complaint anyway).  
Every single conflict in the episode could have been avoided if Michael had decided to just mind his own business.  Sometimes, bringing conflict out into the open (through a “cage match” to put it in Michael’s words) does more harm than good.  One lesson I’ve learned from this episode is to keep any complaints about others to myself.  The most important one, however, is that listening to people’s problems rather than jumping to a solution is essential.  

I hope this makes the story easier to understand; sorry that it wasn't clear enough the first time.  Please let me know if this is understandable now.



  1. That helps a little, but really not much. I did Google the show and found its entry in IMDB. There it refers to the show as a Mockumentary. You might reflect on that some and whether the conflicts that it depicts are deliberately overblown for the entertainment value that provides.

  2. I’ve watched a few episodes of The Office show before. A professor used one of the scenes as an example of workplace harassment. I’m usually not entertained by comedy shows, so I stopped watching it… I think it’s far from realistic, and it’s more of entertainment purpose.

    In the context of the show, I think Michael handled the conflict very badly. I agree with all the problems of Michael you discussed in your post, and I think an even greater mistake Michael have made is that he is applying what he learned from the book very badly. He strictly followed the steps described in the book and did not adjust the knowledge from the book based on practical situations and real needs, which caused problems. Even the best textbook framework will not apply to every single situation. So making judgements and alternations based on actual situations before applying the tool chest is critical to solve the problem. As you said, the conflict might not have been so intense if Michael didn’t decide to step in. So Michael is doing what he thinks is right and effective with a good incentive, but making the situation worse. If he could have analyzed the situation more carefully, and applied the tool chest in a better way that is more applicable to this office, things might have worked out better.