Snatching Defeat from the Jaws of Victory

October 10, 2017 - 5 minutes read

Good relationships are precious beyond the scent of night blooming jasmine, and unless you pay close attention, they are as equally fleeting.  Everyone benefits from forming, maintaining, and deepening those precious relationships that are worth sustaining for a lifetime. That takes training and practice and often the help of outside advice.

Carole, a colleague, taught me an invaluable lesson this morning when she came into my office.

“Alan, I have a problem.”

“Okay.  Have a seat.  What is it?”

“My old boss was always saying nice things to me, like “Good work,” or “I value your contribution to the office.”  That felt good and I was encouraged.  I went out of my way to help everyone, which is something I like to do anyway.

“Sounds good.  I work for appreciation myself, probably more than anything else.”

“Well, Alan, my new boss is more demanding, and that’s fine, but in three months she has never given me a single word of encouragement or appreciation, though she has shared many words of criticism.  That’s why I’m circulating my resume.”

Carole’s statement hit home with me for several reasons.

First, I was reminded of a line from a popular song, “you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone,” because I know that this is something I am guilty of. While I respond positively to words of appreciation from others, I often fail to express my own appreciation back. I sometimes forget that everyone likes to be appreciated and yet this is an idea that we must take seriously. Or, as the song goes, you might find out too late that you should have appreciated someone more.

Second, in the words of my friend Lou, a rare bookseller, “Once I make the sale I stop talking.” We’ve all had an argument with a spouse or friend, and when they responded positively, (maybe even went so far as to agree to change their behavior), we still pushed our victory over the cliff with one final: “and while we’re at it, there’s another thing I want you to change.”

Third, sometimes we don’t take turns as we should.  I have a rule for myself that if a friend, colleague, or spouse tells me they are unhappy with me in some way then – today it is their turn.  They can criticize me for as long as they like. They can talk about my shortcomings, and ask me to change. My turn to tell them that they are even worse than I am, or to exchange my promise to change for their promise to do something for me, will come tomorrow. By analogy – if I am standing in a line and you have asked to cut in front, it is not my turn to cut in front of you a few minutes later. I have to do it another day.

If you want to win the reward of a long and fulfilling relationship, whether in the work place, at school, or in your marriage, then you have to encourage the other as much as you can, and allow your colleague, friend, or spouse to win their share of disputes.  I aim to have them win sixty percent or more.

And when victory is yours – either because they have agreed with you and have promised to change, or because you agreed with them and have promised to change or have apologized – then for the sake of your future together, just STOP.  Say “Thank you.  I appreciate that you were candid with me,” or “I appreciate you bringing this to my attention.”

For the sake of the future of your great relationship, stop when you are ahead, and suppress any impulse to “pile on.” Don’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.


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