From the playgrounds I grew up on, to the location productions I’ve been part of, to the networks I’ve both created and worked at and the corporate meetings I’ve been privy to, far too often everything can be boiled down to those two words. 

Wanna fight?

It is, without question, the trickle down of social media into our personal and professional lives. Where once there was, at the very least, the slightest pause when a challenge was made to a discourse or debate, there is now a straight and distressingly quick line to battle. 

Here, try this. Go to your social media page. Start clicking thru the various posts. Pick on that you would consider controversial and start looking at the responses. Challenges. The words “you’re wrong”. Insults, Slander. Mockery. Rarely will you find a textual discussion that includes a voice of reason or seeking conversation for the point of exploring an opinion. 

Social media didn’t start it, but it sure loaded the conversation tank with jet fuel and put the hammer down. As to where this all began, I go back to the days where we were  bombarded with the “tough guy” slogans meant to show power over another. The one that, to me at least, did the most damage to our easily swayed psyche was “LEAD,FOLLOW, OR GET OUT OF THE WAY!” Remember that one? Plastered all over tee shirts, emblazoned on hats and printed on bumper stickers. 

You’ll still find plenty of people who swear it was first intoned by American revolution figure Thomas Paine. Without seeking to start a fight here, (see how that works?), I’ll just drop facts that the assertion is nonsense. There is no evidence Paine ever said it. There is also no evidence that American military general George S. Patton ever quipped it, either. There are to this day considerations that Patton used a form of the saying, but even that is suspect

I always head right to the absolute brilliance of comedian George Carlin when someone uses that slogan. Now, here’s your warning. THIS CLIP CONTAINS OFFENSIVE WORDS. Not even close to “possibly” being offensive. It will, without question, anger a lot of people who will want to fight (there it is again) over the use of what they will consider a unnecessary verbal assault. However, in its essence, Carlin had the best response for those who may still believe this is the proper quote for “leadership”.

It’s not.

For those who do not wish to experience the entire monologue, I’ve taken the liberty of starting the clip at the  2:42 mark to avoid potential insult and, of course, not seek to start a fight.

Then again, if you have ever heard anything by George Carlin, nothing here will surprise or shock you.  

That phrase was, and remains, a challenge, an invitation to fight. It’s about seeking dominance, a desire of the person saying it, be they male or female, to jack it in your face and prove they weren’t afraid of you, them, meteors crashing into the planet, anyone. It remains a classic bully tactic, an insult, insinuating the person it was aimed at was weak, or as the guys in my clique and I’m certain many others termed it, “just a bunch of (small and very young members of the feline persuasion)”.

Perhaps I should have warned you such language was going to be inferred in this commentary. However, whether I forewarned or just went ahead and used it as I did, it will still be seen as a challenge and insult by many, instead of being used to make a point in a conversation that hopefully will move us all just a little forward. 

In order to then move forward, learn how to not be dragged into the swamp, personally and professionally, we must begin conversations and interactions with a simple and easy to follow set of rules.

  1. Don’t immediately react. Take in the conversation. Let it meander it’s way thru your mind and take it apart. Knee jerks have a terrible way of hitting the author smack in the puss, and certainly the reputation.
  2. Gauge the temperature of the conversation. If you feel that hard challenge being authored, back off. I’m not saying surrender, not at all. What I am suggesting is becoming part of a rational conversation instead of breaking out the bully stick and verbally, or textually, whacking away in response. 
  3. If it’s a group conversation, let someone else throw the first hat into the ring. In baseball parlance, take a few pitches. Size up the pitcher and the reaction of those on the playing field. No one ever said you have to be the first top inject an opinion or response. I’ve found that by the time the conversation reaches a point of actually sharing ideas, those first few salvos are mostly forgotten. However, opinions are quickly formed from the group about the person who spoke first, no matter their words being useful or throwaways. 
  4. If we’re in a 1 on 1, again, don’t fire back immediately. Be thoughtful of your response. Learn how to write or enunciate a response without a challenge. Again, it’s about the temperature of the conversation. 
  5. Never demean or seek to belittle someone for their opinion. Do so at your own peril. Whether spoken or written, others will never forget how you sought to take control of the conversation. 
  6. The old adage of having two ears and one mouth is never more necessary to remember. Having take it all in, measure your response and deliver it in a manner that is professional, friendly, non-combative, and giving you the appearance of one who seeks to expand the conversation instead of being the blunt object to end it. 
  7. Don’t allow yourself to be dragged into the conversational mud. Be succinct and thoughtful. If fireworks start, either seek to again lower the temperature and defuse it, or back out. Let someone else become the aggressor and take chances with their reputation. 
  8. If possible during the conversation, do the research. I’ve taught numerous people how to be involved in live video chats, social media written conversations and even in-person events how to use smartphones and computers to dig out small nuggets of helpful information in seconds without being detected. It’s an art form, and a useful one at that. 

Now, if you want to be the aggressor, put up the figurative dukes and pound away, go ahead. No, really. Go right ahead. However, go into that ring understanding the possible outcome, and how it could affect you personally and professionally. How it could cost you everything, and leave you with no cards left in the deck to deal with. 

Make your own choice, then live with it. I merely suggest there are better ways to handle such situations. 

Our survival mode DNA often makes us want to fight back. evolution teaches us there are smarter ways to fight back, without even being seen as a combatant. 

It’s a major part of my teaching and speaking series, “Always Be Closing”. Every time you engage, you need to be in the closing mode. Every phrase, every action, should be one that if it is the final view others have of you, it is a positive and memorable one. 

This is about closing the deal on your personal brand, that of your company, and being the victor without raising your voice or making a single threatening gesture. Figuratively and in reality. 

Sun Tzu said it best in “The Art of War”. 

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting. Supreme excellence consists of breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting”. 

You can win the battle. The key is to do it intelligently, and without raising your vocal or textual voice.

When you learn that, you will never have to be concerned again with “getting out of the way”.