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Five Tips for Dealing With an Adversary

February 2, 2010

Does this situation sound familiar?

There you are in the conference room, discussing an important issue with your team. Eventually you make a well-purposed recommendation, one which everyone knows that you are extremely well qualified to offer.

Just when you expect the applause to break out, you instead begin to sense a palpable whoosh of negative energy blowing in from one corner of the room.

“Forget it,” says one unenthusiastic team member. “Bad idea. It won’t work.”

But you, being the hard-charging and persistent manager that you are, won’t take this without a fight.

“Oh yes it will work,” you retort. “It will work very well because of x y and z. I’ve done my homework and I know what I’m talking about.”

Your adversary, however, is also a very competent and tenacious manager who has shown you again and again that he is intent on making his opinion known, and will see it through to the death.

“Well, have you thought of A, B and C? Last year we were stuck with six weeks of inventory because of some other clown’s similar lame-ass idea.”

You bristle at the opponent’s liberal use of foul language in mixed professional company, because that is not how you roll.

“Hold on!” You say, “You can’t be serious – comparing this proposal to last year’s debacle? This is an entirely different situation!”

Voices rise, blood vessels bulge, and the innocent onlookers shrink back in awkward embarrassment. A conflict ensues, right there in the middle of the conference room, and everyone around the table knows that at least one and possibly both parties will come out looking like an ass.

When facing a situation in the office where we disagree with a colleague over a project, course of action or decision, often times we find ourselves fighting to win.

Rather than digging in the heels and insisting on our own way, an alternative is to stop for a moment and view the potential outcome in terms of what is God’s way, what is best for the organization. That is who you are working for, after all, being God’s good and faithful servant, right? The Lord? The shareholders? The greater good of the organization?

Here are some tips to help get you there.

1. Stop being defensive.

Being overly defensive in your position does not score points. Instead, it makes you look desperate and immature. Usually what is perceived as a personal attack is nothing more than an attempt to make an improvement, or it may possibly even be a legitimate point of view. Remove your ego from the situation, and see if it looks any different when you start to view the facts.

Okay, sometimes it really is a personal attack. But these tips will still work for you just the same.

2. Maintain a calm tone of voice.

It’s easy to get sucked into the vortex of an emotional whirlpool, especially when the person on the other side begins to raise their voice, use aggressive hand gestures or hostile body language. You will do much better if you can maintain a calm, confident approach, even when you are in the epicenter of a volcanic-size outburst. Take a deep breath, say a quick prayer, count to five, and keep your cool. Controlling your voice is the key to controlling the situation. You might be surprised at the respect that this alone will win from the other observers in the room.

3. Don’t retaliate with criticism or personal attack.

In your mind, view the experience on a higher, spiritual plane instead of a simple conflict between two alpha-managers. Instead of retaliating, begin to ask probing questions, and get at the heart of the opposing point of view. Turn the conversation towards what is best for the organization, not about who will win.

4.  Acknowledge the other person’s idea as legitimate

One of the most counter-intuitive things you can do in the heat of an intimidating argument is to build up the other person by giving them credit for their opinion, even if you vehemently disagree. Usually that is what they are after anyway, to soothe their own ego. Try complimenting the other person on the validity of their idea, and it may very well diffuse the negativity and lead to a more productive discussion.

5. Look to God’s outcome for the situation.

If God is truly present in your life and in your organization (which He is), then you must trust that he has a purpose and an outcome that is bigger than you or your opponent. Picture yourself as the conduit for God’s grace and purpose to pour into the situation at hand, and see how that changes your attitude. And the outcome.

Now get back in the ring, and don’t come out until you’ve made peace!

Photo by Salvator Vuono at freedigitalphotos.com

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20 Comments leave one →
  1. donkimrey permalink
    February 3, 2010 12:07 am

    Wise words. Very wise words, indeed! My prayer continues to be that more and more people will read what you say and apply the principles you identify. ~don

  2. February 3, 2010 8:22 am

    Thanks for these practical approach to a calm and constructive discussion! It’s real easy to fight back if someone kills your idea. But with these tips you’ll probably turn an idea-killer into a killer-idea!

  3. February 3, 2010 8:31 am

    This is really good – reminds me of Proverbs: “A soft answer turns away wrath.”

    It also reminds me of a book on child-rearing by author Danny Silk, “Loving Our Kids on Purpose.” Your tips for the conference room work just as well in my confrontations with my two-year-old sometimes. She has a mind of her own…

    Great post – and thanks for your visit to my place. Your Nichole Nordeman catch was the first.

  4. February 3, 2010 12:43 pm

    i think this is one of your best posts.

  5. February 3, 2010 12:51 pm

    You can also anticipate and plan. If you know to expect opposition, and you usually do, you can work through all of the possible things that might be said. And how you will, with love and gentleness, answer them. Part of the planning is to anticipate how you yourself will react when and if challenged like this.

  6. Andrew Turner permalink
    February 3, 2010 2:35 pm

    I must agree on every point, and also with Nancy. But you forgot Number 6: “Sometimes folks just got to be told.”

    This is the verse right after “As far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Paul wrote it and then backspace backspace backspace…

    My dad, in teaching me to handle conflict, taught me according to one thru five, but then added number six. And I’ve found all six serve me in good stead.

    A few years ago, my wife and I were working at a Bible camp that was seriously ill. The new director was a bully, and one of the senior staff, also. So, in so many words, I took senior staff aside and told him that if he was looking for a fight, he’d get it (basically saying that I’d punch him in the mouth). The director I advised to mind his own business, and we’d get along fine. And so it worked out well.

    I’m not sure if it was a good idea. But you’ll notice that Christ, Paul, David, and other biblical figures were often plainly antagonistic towards people. It gives a soul something to chew on.

    • February 4, 2010 7:32 am

      Yes, I always viewed the Apostle Paul as somewhat cantankerous. Maybe it was that thorn in his side that kept him a little on edge, but you do get the feeling that those early apostles did NOT put up with any crap.

  7. February 3, 2010 3:05 pm

    All good stuff to practice, in and out of the office.

    Using the mirroring technique, which is part of intentional dialogue, can be disarming and defusing. Say the person’s words back to him, then add, “Did I get that right? Did I miss anything? Is there more?” Wait for the response, then mirror again.

    The technique works for couples trying to talk about a difficult issue, with children, and with employees and co-workers.

    • February 4, 2010 7:34 am

      Simple but great advice – probing techniques, right? To do this still requires us to calm our minds and demeanor in order to have the presence of spirit to ask these questions, take a humble posture and actually show reflective attitude. But what a way to diffuse the aggression.

  8. February 4, 2010 11:35 am

    So glad you came around to my idea. 😉

  9. February 4, 2010 11:35 am

    (kidding, just kidding! You knew that right? : )

  10. February 4, 2010 11:46 am

    I always take criticism with a serious look at myself. If someone doesnt like my idea — or me — I honestly evaluate if there is some truth in their opinion.

    I may not agree with the entire criticism, but there is always something I can take away from it.

  11. February 4, 2010 12:11 pm

    I must admit: I’ve been in loud arguments! Some were constructive where everyone held nothing back, were honest, and left there closer than ever. On the other hand, I’ve been in the middle of needless shouting matches.

    I’m glad you gave some insight into getting the former and not the latter:)

  12. February 5, 2010 8:09 am

    These are fantastic strategies and I’m going to bookmark this post.

    Just in case anyone ever disagrees with me…

  13. michele permalink
    February 5, 2010 8:05 pm

    Very timely. I have had a blogpost on this exact topic in head for several months but have held back writing it b/c the guilty would know who they are if they read my post and my coworkers would know exactly who I’m talking about. I have some awesome examples of crazy lately that would be quite entertaining.

    The intro to the post in my head goes like this: His 6′5″ tall frame towered over me in a room full of colleagues as he pounded his fist on the conference table and bellowed, “I will die on a hill before you will print our brochure without the tagline on the cover.” I would then reference the colleague who let me know that if I put a human being on the cover of her brochure, I should not print very many because she would not use it. I love it!

    I’m now going to go log out and post this anonymously for fear of being found outing my colleagues.

  14. February 8, 2010 5:45 pm

    Great blog! Love the bit about not being defensive. Well said!

  15. February 9, 2010 1:13 pm

    These were clear and easy to remember. Esp. #5. #1 is key to keeping the rest in check. That’s the hard part, but if I can do it, I’m able to be more at peace.

  16. February 15, 2010 5:30 pm

    The defensive part is a low blow. It’s hard not coming to the defense of your genious project! But, that also acknowledges that my ego forgot to give credit to the One who inspired the idea in the first place!

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