Pummeling Our Opponents

Pummeling Our Opponents

by elainesuess

In the midst of election commercials and phone calls, pummeling your opponent is common fare. We regularly see ads lacking restraint, telling us who’s right and who’s wrong.

But how does this approach work for leaders, who are not simply focused on a single race, but rather, on creating wins that last long after “the battle” is over.

Inquiry and Restraint

When we’re called upon to take action in the midst of business challenges such as “employees not doing their jobs”, “colleagues overstepping their bounds” or “stakeholders who just don’t see our side of a disagreement”, we can model the way and create a win for all with a mix of inquiry and restraint.

Choosing the best approach will have lasting impact.

What Doesn’t Work

The following approaches are not as rare as they should be, and they just don’t work:

  1. Assuming – When it comes to making decisions about people and behavior, assuming doesn’t cut it. Next time you hear yourself saying “I think…”, remember that questions are assumption killers. Ask. Find out. Don’t assume.
  2. Proving you’re right because the other person was wrong. There’s little benefit in driving home the point beyond an  opportunity to learn (there is often so much gray in decision making that this one is dicey). Stay open to other ideas and away from “I told you so,” which diverts the focus away from the work.
  3. Shaming – This method often garners immediate results all right– but has lasting, negative impacts on relationships, team morale, employee engagement and retention. It is risky, and rarely appropriate in the workplace…or ever.

What Does Work

  1. Inquiry to gain understanding of why someone acted or behaved the way they did. Used appropriately (curiosity vs. judging), inquiry builds trust and helps with forward movement, momentum and decision-making. It also recognizes the genius of others and acknowledges them.
  2. Professional, Respectful Language – when we’re in reaction mode, our first inclination is to use default communication styles. Being aware you’d like to take another approach is the first step to growth. Practice the responses you’ll use:  “Help me understand…”  “Tell me about…”
  3. Be Direct/Honest – this isn’t a default behavior for everyone, and it’s easy to overplay “direct.” We can be direct and still  appropriate (see above). This approach often starts with understanding and consideration for the motivation of the other person vs. the action (which sometimes doesn’t unfold the way we intended).

Success As Teacher

Certainly, we can learn from stories of success, whether they occurred hundreds of years ago or just last week.

The history of the interaction between Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee is instructive.

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When Grant was on the brink of demolishing the confederate army at Appomattox, VA, Lee saw surrender as the only way out. The two men met on April 9, 1865 to negotiate the way forward.

Amazingly, the only thing Grant asked of Lee and his men was that they lay down their arms and go home.

It is recognized that Grant’s restraint with Lee helped shape the end of the Civil War.

Restraint in a battle this important can certainly be practiced in our own daily battles.


How will you employ inquiry and restraint in your week ahead?


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