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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Light Bulb Up the "Pooper" Shines Light on Workplace Conflicts

Having worked continuously as a journalist for 30-plus years since I got out of college, I like to think I am fairly well versed on the stresses and challenges that mark the modern workplace. Having been cheated out of my job two years ago at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB)--largely because some powerful, conservative folks do not like the contents of this blog--I like to think I have a grasp on the dysfunction that can invade a workplace, sometimes when you least expect it.

But perhaps the deepest insight I've received recently about the world of work came from a 30-minute television comedy. And the specific "enlightening" episode revolved around a fellow who showed up at a hospital with a light bulb stuck in a most unfortunate place.

Regular readers know that we are huge fans of Scrubs, which no longer is producing new episodes but can be found in reruns at several spots on your cable dial. Not only is Scrubs unfailingly hilarious, it provides insights on some of life's weightiest issues--life and death, male-female relationships, sickness and health, race relations, career stresses, and much more.

One of our favorite episodes, "My Office," offers a brilliant glimpse at issues that can cause, and resolve, workplace conflicts. We learn two overriding lessons from this 30-minute masterpiece:

* Humans' innate ability to be selfish and competitive helps create conflict on the job;

* A little appreciation for one another can go a long way toward resolving those conflicts.

The action revolves around a patient, the son of a wealthy donor, who presents with a most unusual problem. This bit of dialogue between Chief of Staff Bob Kelso and Dr. Perry Cox, as they view a curious X-ray, sums it up:

Dr. Kelso: So whatta you think, Perry?

Dr. Cox: I don't know what to tell you, there, Bobbo. Either this kid has a light bulb up his butt or his colon has a great idea.

The central conflict arises between Cox and Dr. Chris Turk, a surgeon. Cox rarely gets to give a patient good news, so when he discovers that a patient (Mr. Roman) won't need surgery, he can't wait to tell him. But there is a slight problem--when Cox goes into Mr. Roman's room, he discovers that Turk already has broken the good news.

"You stole my moment," Cox whispers to Turk, "and you will pay."

It turns out that everyone at the hospital needs an occasional "moment" to help them keep plodding along. We learn this when Cox and Turk finally confront their issues, with the Janitor listening in:

Dr. Cox: It's just, you surgeons ride in here on your white horse and you save the day, and the best news that I ever get to give everybody, anybody, ever, is "Oh, by the way, ma'am, were you aware that that breathing tube you have in your neck also comes in day-glo pink?"
Come on, look, bottom line: I really needed a win, I did. And I finally got one and you--ya--you stole it, man!

Turk: I needed one, too!

Is the Janitor sympathetic? Not exactly. He's wondering when his "moment" is going to come:

Janitor: Boo-hoo. Where's my win? Think anybody thanks me for cleaning bathrooms?

Turk: Janitor, the bathrooms are filthy.

Janitor: Well, no one was thanking me, so I quit cleaning 'em.

I've used that line on Mrs. Schnauzer to explain why I sometimes fall behind on my household duties. Strange . . . the line is a lot funnier on TV than it is in real life.

Want a bunch of laughs--and some lessons that might help you in the workplace? Check out these highlights from "My Office":

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