At a high school reunion recently, my older daughter had a conversation with one of her old soccer buddies whose young daughter just started playing the game.
After one of the first games, the mom said to her daughter, “I noticed that when the other team had the ball you didn’t try to get the ball away from them. Why not?” Her daughter was surprised by the question, and responded that when another girl had the ball – it was her turn with the ball – and “you’re just not supposed to take stuff away from other people. It’s not nice, Mommy!” The daughter also shared that she was very surprised that during the game people pushed each other. She said, “People aren’t supposed to push other people.”
The mom seized the opportunity to have a great conversation with her daughter about how to be effective in different contexts: different rules apply. In soccer you’re supposed to take the ball from a player on the other team if you possibly can. And pushing (within certain limits) is also part of the game. If your team is not using these strategies, you’re not going to be effective at playing the game.
Off the soccer field, in the world of adults, how does this play out? In so many ways. I see people understating their accomplishments, impacts, and results on their resumes because “you’re not supposed to brag,” or for fear of even being accused of overstating the case. The job market is just another playing field where the competition is fierce, people play to win, and if your resume is lukewarm, you’re not going to make the cut.
Or perhaps you’re now in a staff position in the organization where you did your fellowship. Are you making the transition fully into being part of the staff or is there still part of you that’s following the rules of the fellowship, where you were more of a student than an expert in your own right, more of an underling than a voting member of the A-Team?
Another example is the consultant who subcontracts out pieces of large projects with only a very minimal signed agreement with her subs. She chooses to apply her rules for friendship (“trust, trust, trust”) to the business arena where trust is commonly reinforced and spelled out by a strong and detailed contract that protects both parties. Without a contract, when a dispute arises with a sub, or the sub takes the client with her at the end of a project, the consultant is shocked and outraged by this “bad behavior.” The consultant is playing by the rules of personal friendship. The sub is playing by the rules of business: if there’s not a non-compete clause, she can walk away with the client. From her perspective, she’s the one who earned the client’s trust and did the work. It may not be “nice,” but in the marketplace, that’s how some people play the game.
How might this apply to you in your life? Is there some part of your life where you are playing by rules that do not apply? Are you holding others to a standard of behavior that is not universally accepted in that environment? When disputes or bad feelings arise, this is one dynamic to check for. Sometimes a short round of effectiveness coaching can help you to identify and engage with the appropriate set of rules.
Do you have a story to tell about learning how to be effective in a given context? Share it in the comments below, or email it to me at email@example.com. When you email, let me know whether it’s OK for me to tell your story in a later post or newsletter. I will change some of the specifics to preserve your anonymity. I can run it by you before publishing it, if you’d like.