When the Winning Strategy Is Not to Play
Life throws many episodes at us that appear to require a response or defense. We always have a choice as to whether we engage or not. On occasion, the only winning strategy is not to play. This is especially true when responding will require us to stake out a clear position when we don’t have one, or when engaging will embroil us in an ongoing conflict we would prefer to avoid.
It's not always immediately obvious when we should avoid playing, so a good idea is to consider a list of those situations in which we might consider a strategy of disengagement.
If you can’t think of any topics, situations or episodes where not playing is the best response, perhaps you should reconsider. Any episode that is likely to unnecessarily suck you into controversy is a hazard worth avoiding.
Here’s a short list to consider:
Confronting strangers over inappropriate behavior
Being pressured to make a decision when there is little reason to
Answering a question that is designed to embarrass or catch you off-guard
Taking sides in a conflict between friends or colleagues
Staking out positions on controversial issues or topics steeped in political ideology
Responding to a request for an opinion when a decision has already been decided
Being asked for an answer or a favor from someone we don’t know
Engaging when tempers flare and emotions run high over an issue
Considering when not to play is a personal preference, but evidence suggests that no-win situations are more prevalent than we often realize. These episodes are especially fraught with danger for leaders, as people often bait them, hoping to draw them into a conversation or argument that won’t serve them well. Unscrupulously, people can use the response leaders offer against them in the future to prove a point or to embarrass them.
Knowing when not to play is a critically important choice for anyone. Not all situations require a response. Sometimes, the best strategy is to choose not to play. When it’s, “Heads I lose, and tails I lose,” the smart choice is to avoid the coin toss.