SOME EXCERPTS …
Like it or not, whatever we do in life, we require the cooperation of others. Whenever we seek to achieve our goals, realize our dreams, exchange ideas, change attitudes, influence decisions, reach agreement or enhance the quality of our relationships, we invariably must turn situations of potentially damaging conflict into opportunities for cooperation. Knowing how to find creative solutions when others oppose our views makes life a lot simpler, much less stressful and infinitely more rewarding.
The game of life has been going on since the beginning of time. It will continue to be played out by humankind as we endeavour to satisfy our interests and resolve our differences. The game, as I see it, consists of finite principles and infinite variables. It’s a game of power, creativity and communication. It demands a delicate mixture of psychology and philosophy, of art and science, of style and substance. It prizes intuition as highly as intellect, common sense as much as certain inviolate norms. Some play the game masterfully while others only dimly understand it.
Life is not a game. On analysis, this intriguing analogy doesn’t hold up. Games are, by definition, competitive. Life often is but need not be. Cooperation, collaboration and mutual profit improvement are preferable to making everything a contest of wills or a disagreement about beliefs. In games, we compete to win. Hence, I can only win at your expense. Yet, in life, it’s possible for both of us to win. And, once we know how, we can do so graciously, bravely and consistently.
Games have rules. Life doesn’t. We are governed by laws duly legislated by the state to ensure peace, order and good government. And there do exist generally accepted norms and codes of conduct that ensure the maintenance of what most deem decent, respectable or civilized behaviour. Yet there is no mutually endorsed or embraced set of “rules” that govern interpersonal relationships.
Apart from rules, games tend to encompass a finite number of variables. But life is infinite in its variability. Incessant change, unforseen circumstances, volatility and disruption, personal growth and “infoglut,” ensure its complexity and unpredictability. If life is not a game, why should we call it one? Because it is instructive. It provides us with much needed perspective and emotional distance from demanding people, tough choices and difficult encounters. Games aren’t real but they are fun to play.
And when we play them, we invariably focus our attention on what it takes to win. And that is also the objective in the game called life.
Winning demands self-awareness. We need to know what constitutes our hot buttons. They, in sum, comprise our Achilles’ heel – that which makes us vulnerable to the tactics of others. They arouse the emotional (not the thinking) brain. Knowing how to pause or reset them enables us to play the game with greater self-control, style and grace. Hot buttons trigger stress, anger, frustration, confusion, jealousy, guilt, anxiety, depression, fear or other unhelpful responses. They are, of course, our natural defenses against insincere criticism, annoyances and accusations designed to take advantage of us. But they are often disproportionate to the assault that causes them.
What distinguishes humans from other creatures is that we can make conscientious choices. We can decide to take the attack personally and react emotionally. When this happens we either go on offense or become defensive. In the game of life however, being defensive is tantamount to losing. Alternatively, we can consider a assault on our character more rationally and respond in a more considered, strategic way. This is the choice that enables better tactical responses.
Every game has rules. Our understanding of them and our skill at executing appropriate responses in accordance with the rules determines whether we win or lose. The more we practice them, the greater will be our chances of success. We may agree that certain norms should constitute the foundation of civilized behaviour, but there are no universally accepted rules that govern how we are supposed to conduct our interpersonal affairs. A broadly accepted code of oughts depends entirely on one’s values and beliefs. For the purpose of winning, I suggest the following eight as the essential ground rules (the book explains these in separate chapters).
It’s time to meet the players – the ones who cause most of our grief, lost harmony and productivity. The ones who are most likely to frustrate, demoralize and rob us of our capacity to deal effectively with them in pursuit of our objectives. The ones who know how to keep us off balance and who likely cause most of our stress and anxiety. They are the intentionally difficult and they know it.
In the following chapters, we’ll examine fourteen of these troublesome players and provide guidelines for developing a smart game plan for each. What makes these players noteworthy is their immunity to our normal methods of communication and persuasion. Having learned early in life they can disarm,
incapacitate or even punish others, they are able to recognize and negate the methods reasonable people typically use (but fail) to “get through” to them. Rather than help the situation at hand or advance a mutual cause, our well-intentioned efforts to influence them usually makes the situation worse.
Playing the game is a continuous process of learning the game. Done well, it demands an understanding of the why and how of intelligent and artful phrasing, of employing appropriate non-verbal gestures and
of communicating in a non-defensive manner. Without attention to these skills, our efforts usually result in resistance, resentment or revenge.
As you get to know the gambits each player, you’ll develop the necessary emotional distance to make appropriate tactical judgements while living or working effectively with them. With that mental separation will come a deeper understanding of the causes of the behaviour, why it effects you as it does, and how to turn their needs into the fuel that drives more harmonious relationships.
Some of these players will be familiar to you. Maybe it’s an uncooperative or overly agreeable subordinate, a pompous know-it-all associate, a vacillating boss or unresponsive teenager. You’ll learn why reasoning and pleading with them hasn’t worked in the past. You’ll discover how to become a more powerful and sensitive communicator under pressure. And you’ll find out how to enrich these important relationships. You may be asking are these things really possible? In a word, yes. Provided you’re willing to see these challenging players as great teachers.