"Taking the High Road"*
Your Success Thought for the Week of June 28, 2006

In battle and maneuvering, all armies prefer high ground to low ground.
~Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Written over two thousand years ago by a warrior/philosopher, The Art of War has applications for us today. Even though the passage above has literal meaning, there are many figurative parallels as well. Despite it’s title, the book is filled with lessons about conflict avoidance. According to Master Sun, the key to winning wars with our enemies is to avoid battles. How does this apply to us today?

What is your first impulse when someone invokes anger through unkind words or accusations? Unless you are extremely passive or from another solar system, your first response is to swing back verbally or worse yet through e-mail. It may make you feel good for the moment, but is that really how a true professional behaves?

Instead, should we “take the high road” to the preferred high ground? Rising above other people’s actions takes extreme discipline and sometimes having to swallow our pride. I have learned some valuable lessons in this area. Following are some important points to remember when getting ready to react to adverse situations:

  • Stay Calm - Our first reaction may result in saying unwanted or inaccurate statements. Take a deep breath, maintain your composure, and don’t stoop to the attacker’s level. When possible, wait before giving your response, and sleep on it. Ask the opinion of a trusted confidant, spouse, or co-worker to help you gain perspective.

  • Fact Find - Many times a message or issue is relayed to us second hand, altering it's truth. It's pertinent hat there are two sides to every story. Seek out the whole story in lieu of reacting to the first thing you hear.

  • Make It Brief - One of the best retorts I’ve read was brief, to the point, and not caustic. Two Southern football coaches at rival schools had a running feud. This ended one day in the regional paper when one coach unleashed a string of insults and name-calling about the other, capping it off by calling him a “habitual liar.” Tempted to defend his honor and strike back, the second coach stuck to the high ground. His only quote in the paper was “consider the source.” Through his discipline, he won the war without fighting a battle.

  • Have Patience - We all want instant gratification as well as swift justice, but we have to pick our battles wisely. Not responding at all is often called for. The people who know you well and respect you will discover the truth in a situation, particularly if you communicate it calmly and articulately, one of the most difficult things to do. People who say and do inappropriate things are eventually exposed, and engaging them in battle may only result in their dirt rubbing off on you.

  • Choose the Battleground - This is a big tenet in Master Sun’s philosophy. Set up a meeting or telephone conversation to discuss the issues at hand. Avoid email exchanges if possible, as the tone of your response may be missed. Avoid firing back email to others that is harsh or could be misinterpreted. When I write email, I consider what it would look like if it were quoted in the paper or read to a jury. This may help you tone things down some. If you set up a meeting, try to do it early in the day so you can get it over with and it doesn’t affect your performance with other daily issues.

Taking the high road requires patience, discipline, and thought. If you can maintain this position during conflict, not only do you have a better chance to win the battle, but you maintain your integrity and avoid actions that you may later regret.

Enjoy your discoveries and have an insightful week.


*This week’s Success Thought was kindly submitted by Dr. Brad A. Ward. We'll forward your comments upon request.

Ann Golden Eglé, MCC
Executive Coach & President
Golden Visions Success Coaching, LLC

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