Gordon was a senior partner in a law firm.  He was a qualified solicitor and headed a small team of lawyers specialising in employment law.  Employers anxious to avoid tribunal hearings, or to win them, drew heavily on Gordon’s considerable expertise.  He kept abreast of every nuance of employment law – national, European and international – and was totally at home reading pages of small print and making copious notes in the margins.  Such was Gordon’s reputation that his views were often sought by civil servants when writing briefs for ministers or drafting new legislation.

Gordon was a quietly spoken, mild mannered man who had never been known to become ruffled or lose his temper.  Indeed, he was famous for exuding a calm air of rationality no matter what. Sometimes Gordon’s colleagues would mischievously test his patience to see if they could provoke him.  But Gordon always remained calm, displaying no hint of irritation – or even any sign that he realised he was being teased!  He would gaze at them through his thick lenses, nod his head sagely, and give a measured opinion. If asked to repeat it, he would do so patiently as if reassuring someone threatening to jump off a high ledge.

One day Gordon had a client who was particularly trying.  He was an HR Director from an organisation that was downsizing and coming under fire from the unions who represented their staff.  The situation was very fraught.  A programme of compulsory redundancies had been announced and there were many tricky disputes to resolve.  Quite understandably, the HR Director, who had never experienced such a crisis before, and was under pressure from his bosses to find ways to limit the damage, was feeling nervous.  It was as though he was paralysed by fear. He’d ask the same question over and over again – invariably starting with the words, ‘With all due respect’.  And Gordon would keep cool and calmly reiterate the answers as if he were saying them for the first time.

Gordon followed up each meeting with a detailed written summary of the points covered sent as an email attachment.  But that only unleashed a spate of emails listing detailed queries and questions of clarification.  Characteristically, Gordon would deal with them all with the utmost care.

At the fourth meeting with this particular client, Gordon, together with three members of his team, once again faced the twitchy HR Director.  Hearts sank as they realised he needed to go over everything again for the umpteenth time. 

After the sixth ‘With all due respect’, Gordon leant forward and said quietly, ‘May I offer you some feedback?’.  The client looked surprised but gave a slight, almost imperceptible, nod of the head.  Gordon leaned even further forward until the tips of their noses nearly touched.  Suddenly he yelled, ‘You piss me off!’

After years of rigorous self-control, poor Gordon had finally exploded.

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