I tend to spend a lot of time in a place which, incidentally, has a piano freely accessible. A few students work there and enjoy each other’s fellowship. Sometimes, people come in just to play the piano. At times, of course, this can be an annoyance and distraction from work (especially scales. Minor key renditions of pop songs are always welcome). For many years, though, this did not cause an issue: cohabitation between piano players and other users was friendly; there even was a decent overlap between the two groups. At one point, a small group started using the piano extensively, to the point that it interfered both with casual piano players and those wishing to study. So a logical solution was implemented by the powers that be: rules governing piano use were put into place. They stated that people should not use the piano for longer than 30 minutes; and no more than twice a day (to get ahead of those who would have 5 minute gaps between those 30 minute intervals).

Problem solved. That compromise was fair to everyone, and there has been nothing to complain about since.

Photo of a piano, with The Rule written on it

Photo credit: mararie, reused under CC license


My attitude changed when the rules got introduced, so perniciously that I didn’t realise it until recently – two years on!

If I was working, before the introduction of the rules, I would just deal with it. I’d be annoyed, potentially, and if I really wanted to do work (which is a rare occasion), and if nowhere else was available,  I would go and ask whoever was playing whether they could play less loudly, or how long they would be, or something to that effect. If I wasn’t working, then unless all the people were doing was scales, I’d happily welcome the music.

After the introduction of the rules, regardless of whether I was working or not, I would find myself checking the time as soon as the people started. I would wait the half hour and “graciously” grant them somewhere along the line of 10 minutes before going to speak to them. Worse, some times, I would be outraged that they would  dare to keep on playing over their allotted time, even engage in comments with other students about how the piano players were annoying; but would not go and ask them to stop.

The difference? I was entitled to tell them off. Not simply after the half hour, but also while they were playing – in anticipation. Similarly, they were entitled to play for that half hour. Between us stood the screen of the Rule. Rather than leading to harmony, the Rule led to the creation of two distinct groups and made any interaction more difficult.


Why did it get to this? Because:

  • the mindset that led to the creation of the Rule was one of solving problems, not dealing with people. By going for the compromise – the “line of least resistance”, the people were treated as commodities. Amusingly, this half-arsed compromising attitude is what the Church of England is blaming the goverment of doing with same-sex marriage (point 23); but could be accused of doing with the issue of women bishops and the famous amendment (clause 5.1.c).
  • the compromise was fair, and therefore accepted by all. There was no need for interaction without reference to and acceptance of the Rule.
  • once the problem was “solved”, it was out of sight, and even when the circumstances that led to the creation of the Rule had changed and the culprits were long gone, the Rule stood without being reviewed.

Leaders: how do you approach conflictual situations? How do you get out of the “problem-solving” mindset?