Unfortunately, he is extremely reluctant to give up the object he’s fetched. Instead, Mack opts for playing tug-of-war. If I grab the rope, ball, or anything else in his mouth, he instantly pulls away thinking he’s strong enough to win the battle and keep his prize. Since Mack’s now topping 80 lbs, he usually DOES win. However, in the middle of the tug-of-war clash, what often happens is the particular item in his mouth starts to fray and, with enough scuffles, falls apart. Were Mack simply to let go and stop tugging, he would have what he wanted longer and in better condition. The “I must win” mentality ultimately destroys the object of his affection.
I think that fits the definition of irony, right? Mack fights for the win, and when he wins, he loses.
In a similar way, I’ve noticed that when I defend myself (my beliefs, opinions, or performance), I’m engaging in a comparable self-defeating habit. In what universe do I expect that my perspective will be perfectly understood and embraced? I often can’t explain my own behavior, so why do I expect anyone else to understand me fully? And even when people DO track with me, that doesn’t mean they’ll agree with me.
So why do I continue to fight for my perspective? Obviously, I think that defending my stance is going to help. But, in moments of clarity, I realize that’s not the case. Instead, I end up with frays that threaten to undo the relationship of the person I’m trying to win over.
So what am I to do?
Ever since my last tug-of-war with the pup, I’ve considered why defending myself doesn’t work. The “must win” approach, even if the “prize” is just to be understood, falls apart whenever I have to battle for the agreement. There are at least three solid reasons why defense doesn’t work:
- Defense looks in the wrong direction. Looking backwards is usually a waste of time. Asking, “what’s next?” is much more productive.
- Defense plays the blame game. I’ve written about this before; blaming others is like fighting for the “booby prize.” Blame divides people and fails to solve problems.
- Defense ultimately communicates weakness and insecurity. When I don’t have skin in an argument, I can clearly see how the defensive person in the conversation is the one who’s insecure. When I communicate insecurity, the environment for persuading others is not established.
Strangely, though I can see how defending myself doesn’t work, the habit persists. To break the habit, I have to grapple with a more fundamental question:
“What am I afraid of?”
You see, the biggest thing I communicate when I defend myself is fear. When you defend yourself, you’re communicating the same thing.
And so, I must ask myself some difficult questions. I need to ask why losing is threatening. Why do I have to be perfectly understood? What is it about this person or circumstance that makes me feel as if I’m backed into a corner? What makes me nervous? Why am I so uncomfortable?
Some people like asking themselves those squishy questions, but I’m not one of them. My default mode is to immediately go for the win, so I don’t throw this advice out casually. In order to break the habit of defending myself, I have to identify and stare down my fears. Only at that point can I move beyond the losing game of tug-of-war.
Hopefully I can train myself more effectively than Mack!
How about you? Do you fight to be understood? How often are you in defense mode?