A Nice Game of Chess

joe —  Sat 28-Jul-12

The ContestI had a team member say to me,

“I just can’t work with Jim. He is so confrontational. It’s like a giant pissing contest.”

“Is the goal distance or accuracy?”, I asked.


“Are you trying to see who can go further or who is more acurate?”

“I don’t know.”

“If you don’t know the goal, seems like a lot of people are going to get wet.”

Sometimes you have encounters where you don’t have home field advantage – you have to play on their field with their rules. If they decide they are going to have a pissing contest, at least know the rules so you can plan a winning strategy, or at least stay dry.

Sure, all of the highly respected leadership books are going to tell you to try and create a “win/win” strategy or at least “take the higher ground” This is absolutely great advice – when possible.

Taking the higher ground often means that you are willing to lose the battle to win the war. There are some battles, though, that cannot be lost as they are decisive. Sometimes you have to go in with a Sicilian when death is on the line..

My RulesSo if you have to win, can you find a way for your opponent to win as well? Win/wins have become a trite expression to a noble goal – great idea, but not always possible.

I believe 90% of all situational battles can be managed with one of these two methods . What about the other 10%?

If you are forced to compete AND someone has to lose, know the contest and know the rules. It would be nice if you got to decide the rules, but in all likelihood they will have already been set. Learn them.

Know where the boundaries are in the battle. Where is out-of-bounds? Is there an implied social boundary in the contest, that, if crossed, will stop the game and declare you the loser?

Do you know who the judge of the contest is? Is it your boss, your opponent, the customer? Who declares the winner?

Do you know the cost of losing? Are you prepared to accept losing? How will you relationship look with your opponent after the contest?

After you know the rules, you then can decide if you still believe there is no other option.

Then, after you have answered all the other questions, come back to the most important one:

Can this contest be won?

Maybe, in the end, the only way to stay dry is to not play at all.