Playing Not To Lose

by David W. Welday

March Madness is here!  Whether or not you follow college basketball, it’s hard not to be aware that the NCAA college basketball tournament (affectionately known as “March Madness”) is happening.   

In our family we all fill out a bracket…some of us take it seriously while others fill out their bracket just to be part of the fun.  I don’t know which teams will make the “sweet sixteen”, “final four” or who will eventually win the tournament, but what I can be pretty confident will happen at some point during the tournament, is there will be at least one team who gets knocked out not because the other team was superior but because they beat themselves.  We see it almost every season, one team has a comfortable lead going down the home stretch, and instead of turning on the gas, looking to put the other team away, they tighten up, begin to play more conservatively. They play not to lose.  The other team seizes the opportunity, the momentum of the game shifts and the team that was ahead ultimately loses.   

We can see this play out in other areas – public policy for example.  Decisions are made not to advance our cause, promote democracy or exert influence in the world but rather to appease, not make waves and avoid conflict.     

For sure, there are times when the wise strategy is to focus on defense more than offense – to keep your thoughts to yourself rather than push an issue.  Timing is everything.  But sometimes we need to stick to our guns, lead with conviction and press through a challenge rather than pull back.  There are times when you need to play to win, not just to avoid losing.  How do you know?   Every situation is different.  You may be dealing with a relationship issue, a business issue, a priority issue or something else.  Here are some thoughts to help guide you.   

Convenience or Consequence – If you choose to hold back and not press a point, that will likely be more convenient.  Most people don’t like conflict and pressing your point or pushing an agenda may create conflict.  But what are the consequences if you don’t contend for what you believe is best?   

Some decisions may not be that important.  Yes, you really think the walls of the new office or family room should be beige instead of grey. But if you surrender to grey, will that impact productivity all that much?  Will the peaceful resolution bring more benefit not just to you but to all involved, than holding out to get your way?     

On the other hand, what if you are convinced the person being considered for hire is not the right person for the job?  Making a bad hire could cost the company untold amounts of money in lower productivity or having to redo work that was done wrong.   

Being Right or Relationship – Maybe your point of view is correct.  You have insight, experience or expertise that causes you to be 100% confident you are right.  But the person you are dealing with is more emotionally fragile and overriding their decision could send them into a tailspin of self-doubt or deprecation.  Sometimes keeping the peace or putting the needs and feelings of others ahead of coming to the “right solution” is a greater win than actually winning your point.  Maybe standing your ground will cause others to think less of you, but the stakes are high enough that you need to play to win and just not save face.   

Yes, we need to be conscious of not pulling back and playing not to lose – SOMETIMES.  And sometimes, the greater win comes from holding back in order to let the other person shine – the other team win, the less-than-ideal solution be the one you go with.   

Pay attention to when you find yourself in those situations where you have to internally decide whether to play for the win – to press your point and when the better strategy is to pull back.  May you make the wise decision every time!   
David W.Welday III is the president of HigherLife Publishing and Marketing in Orlando, Florida.  

Article reprinted with permission

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