Power Plays and Walk Aways

Let’s talk about power plays and walk aways, shall we?  

We’ve all been there.  At work and at home. The maddening moment when the person you are desperately trying to communicate with is making you see red and GO TILT.  Even those in highest office are not immune. In fact, some folks tilt easily and can throw a temper tantrum to rival any child. In case you missed it,  President Trump abruptly ended a meeting focused on ending the longest running shutdown in our history. Why? He wasn’t getting what he wanted. The opposition wasn’t budging and rather than displaying leadership, he literally said, “Bye bye” and stormed out. Say what you like about either side, it seems everyone involved would benefit from Conflict Resolution 101 starting with the cardinal rule of mediation: No power plays or walk aways.  

Power plays are all about living in the delusion that who you are, what you do, what you think, how you see the world and the situation in front of you is more important, valuable, and credible than another person’s experience.  We see it all the time. The bullies at school. The bullies at home. The sexual predators finally being nailed thanks to the courage of the victims. The boss who instills fear through their “my way or the highway” mentality. Unfortunately, there is no shortage of people who use their position to manipulate, control, and even abuse those who have less power, authority, opportunity, or privilege. Power plays, by their very nature, create a win-lose scenario and send the message that the other person is of no significance whatsoever and the only thing that matters is “bending” to the will of the seemingly stronger opponent.  I’m a winner. You’re a loser. End of story.

Walk aways are very similar but more passive-aggressive. In a walk away, you take your marbles and go home when you don’t like how the game is being played, or the argument is going.  Walk aways steal the voice, and thereby the value, of the other person. They send a message to the other person that whatever they are, think, say, or do is of no import compared to what you are, think, say or do.  

Let me be clear: there are absolutely times when you need to excuse yourself and step back and out of a situation to not make things worse by saying or acting in a way that you might regret later.  After all, most people are well aware that the adage fed to them as a kid, “sticks and stones may break my bones, [TRUE] but words will never hurt me,[FALSE! FALSE! FALSE!] ” is a crock of bull. Nothing could be further from the truth. And some people get a mental and emotional high from goading people into losing it. Narcissists, for example, will needle and even verbally and emotionally abuse a person until they cannot take it any more and then sit back and watch their victim spin and careen out of control in an attempt to find their bearings. Therefore, knowing when and how to excuse yourself is critical to resolving a problem when things heat up.

So what are the options when you want to scream or give someone a high five...in the face...with a chair?  Glad you asked.

Here are 4 steps that will help you peel yourself off the wall when you’re mad as Hellboy and need a break:

  1. Notice your body.  Do a scan. Are your fists clenched? Is your brow furrowed? Eyes wide or “popping”? Jaw clenched? Neck tight with head jutting forward? Shoulders tense? Torso tight? Knees locked? If you say yes to any of the above, let it go! Relax each area and breathe deeply.  

NOTE: If you find the above physical descriptions hard to let go of, invest your time (and money, if necessary...although, hellooo, Google is free) is learning to meditate and practicing mindfulness.  These two technique WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE.  The more you practice them, the better you will be able to relax and respond, rather than react poorly.

  1. Once you have let go of the tension, determine if you are ready to continue. If so, seek to understand before being understood.  Each of us longs for connection, which includes feeling heard and validated. Using active listening techniques, such as engaged posture, nonverbal cues like nodding, paraphrasing to show you understand, asking for more information, all demonstrate concern for the speaker and their issues.  However, if you are not ready for this step, do the next one instead.

  2. When you just can’t stay productive, let the person/people around you know that you need and will be taking a break.  It might sound something like this: “Hey Elvis, I’m really feeling ( fill in the emotion ) and need a break to collect myself/regroup/get a grip. Continuing at this point won’t be productive, but I am willing to revisit this ( state the when ). I hope you understand.”  And when the time comes, keep your word.

  3. This is again the time to seek to understand before being understood.  Remember that in a conflict, both people feel like the other person “started it,” so ask yourself how it would feel to be the other person in the situation.

Now, even respectful techniques can be challenged and, though great in theory, not apply to every situation.  For example, if you’ve ever been bullied or harassed, you know the diabolical nature of people who have no concern for others.  They are blinded by their own reflection and inflated self-importance, leaving a sea of broken people in their wake. They thrive on it.  And these are the people and situations that require self-respect, boundaries, and an exit strategy because the truth is, no matter how powerful or loud or demanding the person, no one has a right to use and abuse their fellow human. Ever.

So let’s recap: When you want to actually get somewhere, when you are willing to put a premium on peace instead of pride, when being happy is more important than being right, and when you want to really make some headway while being respectful of self and others, remember the cardinal rules: No power plays or walk aways. Use the steps above to rewrite the the drama and recast the roles.  And if you must take a break, excuse yourself and make a promise to revisit when calmer heads prevail.

You got this. But if you need a reminder, put on the old song,“Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me.” And if you need someone to sing it with or figure out what that means in your world, let me know.  I’d love to help you find some peace and quiet in that busy head of yours.