I am sharing with you a conversation I had with three young women leaders, launched by one of them about a situation in which she found herself.
She revealed that she had indeed refused to be the 'tea-girl' and quite assertively so, but it turned out that other staff provided the service at the following board meeting and consistently thereafter.
She wasn't aware of how this came about, but she was relieved that she no longer risked being placed in this awkward situation.
Others in our group now had their say, one suggesting she would have just put the tea on the table without actually serving the man, and another saying she would have smiled as she responded, whether accepting or rejecting his request.
She now had two of the women play the role-play, with one acting the role of the man. How do you feel when a request is rejected on Quora? Was he embarrassed? It's good to put oneself in the other's shoes.
As we continued, we decided to call our wife, who has over the years been the only woman on the board. No, she hadn't told me, but if asked, she would have done so - with a smile and a light touch.
I then brought the conversation back to emotional intelligence, which I suggested is about negotiating win-win outcomes. The challenge here was how to deal with a tea request in such a way that both parties ended up feeling OK about it all.
For me that meant giving way at the outset, while finding gentle ways to prevent recurring occurrences. In addition, not necessarily by directly speaking with the other person, but possibly seeking the intervention of a third party, a mediator.
One aspect of emotional intelligence is that sometimes we must find the capacity to separate how we feel from how we behave.
The lady board member resented being asked to be the tea-girl. My thought was for her to swallow her short-term pride to allow for an easier long-term resolution.
Here we were talking about a small matter, however, the lady in question felt demeaned. The advantages and minuses of the different approaches we discussed among us regarding the tea-serving application apply much more widely. It is between older and younger individuals, senior and junior individuals, the more and less educated individuals, and other pairings where one side feels unduly entitled to favors.
In the case of such aggressive women who won their fight, one of their key measures is that men will lose. No, I say. I support women's rights, but where possible to go after them in elegant, elegant ways that allow for win-win all-around, I am an absolute supporter of women's rights.
In the early 20th century, there were two groups: one that was confrontational and dramatic, and another that operated more quietly but at least as effectively. I would have been with the latter.
So to the women reading this, I say, smile rather than frown as you advocate for your cause. And to the men, go get your own tea.
Eldon is chairman of management consultancy The DEPOT, co-founder of the Institute for Responsible Leadership, and member of the Kepsa Advisory Council.