Lessons From #thedress Controversy

Posted in | by Jiehui Kwa on 26 March 2015

Last updated on 4 October 2018

What had started as a simple picture uploaded onto a personal Twitter account had quickly spiraled into a viciously viral internet phenomenon, sparking heated (and oft-antagonistic) debate across every noticeable corner of the online world, making headlines on all major news outlets. Yes, I’m referring to The Dress, or #thedress, as it is now endearingly known.


Jokes have since surfaced that this debate over #thedress has driven indefinite wedges between two clear camps of people: team black-blue, and team white-gold. Even Kim Kardashian has tweeted about how #thedress has been a source of diverging opinion in her marriage.


Now vapid as it may seem, some key lessons can be distilled from this bizarre phenomenon. How can we, as members of the corporate world, help manage our own disputes in the work place? The following are some nifty ways to resolve our everyday disagreements with peers:


1. Always be willing to listen

The two camps in the dress dispute have done nothing but rage about their own opinions without really listening to each other much. I suppose that sort of fighting was what blew up the entire thing. From a normal tweet about a dress, to a major internet meme.  Likewise in the workplace, it will always be good to listen to what the other party has to say should disagreements truly arise. If you don’t, it may blow up, just like #thedress did, and that would be disadvantageous to all parties.


You never really know, sometimes another person’s ideas could be just as feasible, or even better. Try to take this in stride, accept another opinion, and focus on working towards a solution together.


2. Find common ground

I know, it might seem difficult to find common ground when a disagreement literally means that two opposing or non-cooperative sides of an argument are involved. But let’s look at #thedress. On the outset, it probably appears to be an anti-thesis to this so-called finding-common-ground thing that I am talking about. But that’s actually not true. Even when the entire fight was centred on the supposed colour of the dress, and the two camps black-blue and white-gold are basically polar opposites, there is still common ground to be found. For instance, at the very least, we can all agree on the fact that that is indeed a dress. That’s a start. We can probably also agree that that is a very awful photo indeed, what with the bad lighting and washed out effects. So both sides are somewhat valid in that sense. There, we’ve established some common ground.


Doing this for any disagreement would arguably recognise, at the very least, that not all points raised by the two sides are at odds with each other. Who knows, maybe once this commonalilty has been laid out, you’ll find yourselves understanding each other’s views more. That would definitely make coming to an agreement a much easier deal to sort out.


3. Make compromises

Yes, this point is perhaps the most frequently mentioned in the barrage of dispute management toolkits already available online. And for good reason, despite how difficult it is to achieve. With #thedress as a case study, we can probably infer that the lack of compromise between the two sides was what fuelled the spread of the meme and enabled it to become such a sensation when really, it’s about a very plain and altogether unextraordinary dress.


Making compromises and conceding to one another might be hard to do, especially when one is at loggerheads with the other, but it is necessary for things to move forward. Disputes are inevitable in the workplace, and if nobody is willing to make any compromises to appease that, then no firm will be able to function adequately. Play nice with each other now.


4. Be sensitive

Language is versatile. It’s easy to mean one thing, but connote something else entirely just from a little slip of the tongue. We’ve seen various people joking about #thedress in a way that clearly demeans the visually impaired. In all likelihood, this wasn’t their intention. But once those words are out, the tweet sent, what you have said can have the potential to hurt people. When you’re already in a disagreement, it would just be unwise to fan the flames.


When talking out a disagreement, always remember to use polite and amiable language. Be sensitive to the other party, or well, people in general. We can see this as a humane practice, but it’ll also aid in diffusing potentially stiff situations and prevent any escalation of conflict.


Remember: disagreements happen. It’s how you handle them that makes all the difference.


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