Conflict on the Apprentice (Part 1) – Ignorance is an Excuse But Not a Winning One

Conflict on the Apprentice (Part 1) – Ignorance is an Excuse But Not a Winning One

Although R&B star Tionne Watkins was fired by Donald Trump in the sixth episode of the popular TV show The Apprentice, she had a good excuse.

On this task and in previous tasks, Tionne was a strong player. Based on her performance alone she should not have been fired. Others performed less well than she did.

Her being fired was less about what she did, than what she didn’t know.

As for who was expected to be fired, everyone thought it would be that week’s program manager, Melissa Rivers. Rivers herself was confident she would be asked to leave. Tionne volunteered to go back to the Boardroom with Melissa to stand by her, so she wouldn’t be alone when getting fired.

In the Boardroom, Trump asked Tionne a question: “Do you recognize the name Bradford? Somewhere right now Bradford is watching this and he understands exactly what I’m doing.” Trump was referring to a contestant from an earlier season. Bradford was also a strong player, and one of the favorites to win that year. In order to show solidarity with a team member, however, Bradford volunteered to come back to the Boardroom, i.e., to be on the short-list of players eligible to be fired that day.

Despite Bradford’s strong performance and potential, Trump said that “volunteering to be executed” showed either arrogance or unnecessary risk-taking, and he didn’t want someone working for him who showed such hubris or carelessness. “Don’t volunteer to be executed!” he said to Bradford, and fired him.

In last week’s episode, Trump said if Tionne had known about Bradford, she wouldn’t have volunteered to come to the Boardroom. “Don’t volunteer to be executed!” said Trump, again, and he fired Tionne.

You may disagree with Trump’s rationale, but consider: (1) he has legitimate hiring and firing authority in this situation; (2) all contestants voluntarily chose to compete under that arrangement; and (3) his position on offering to come to the Boardroom for the firing meeting was available to anyone who took the time to research. On terms accepted by all players and also publicly available for review, Trump was consistent. One might disagree with Trump’s reasoning, but one can’t say it was a surprise, to anyone who looked into his prior behavior.

Tionne didn’t look into Trump’s behavior, and therefore she didn’t know about Bradford. That may be a reasonable excuse, but it’s not a winning one.

If it was worth it for Tionne to put so much time and energy into being in this contest, then presumably it was worth it to learn more about the person under whose authority she would place herself, in front of a national audience, who would fire eleven out of twelve of her fellow celebrity contestants.

Facing this particular situation in the Boardroom with Trump was entirely foreseeable. With minimal preparation, it was entirely avoidable.

In fact, it would have been easier for Tionne than it is for most people, most of the time, when managing conflict and dealing with difficult people. All she had to do by way of preparation was watch some shows. It’s not often that learning about our counterparts is as simple as renting a few DVDs.

Do your homework on people you anticipate might become conflict counterparts in important situations for you. Learn about these individuals and prepare, so you can turn what might otherwise be a losing situation into something much better.

In managing conflict and dealing with difficult people, good preparation always beats a good excuse.

John Ullmen Ph.D. is a business author, speaker and internationally acclaimed executive coach. His speeches, seminars and consulting focus areas include leadership, teamwork, conflict, and communication. He lectures on leadership at the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Visit the highly acclaimed Who Wins!® Blog: Learn more about solutions for managing conflict and dealing with difficult people for your organization at

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