Playing ‘not to lose’

Playing ‘not to lose’

Hanging onto your job in the present pandemic crisis is a wholly understandable and sensible thing to do. There are myriads of unemployed, and even more potentially unemployed, out there. You do not wish to join their ranks. It is difficult to remember that we are still in the middle of a terrible crisis. It’s been going on for too long. There are many people – and not just in the USA – who feel they deserve some relief from the pressure of lockdown and the deprivation of physical contact. A hug and a kiss are the real stuff of life for all that Zoom is serving us well.

Recently I took a client to lunch. She has been a client for a long time and is extremely successful. We hadn’t, of course, lunched for more than six months. We were discussing a particularly difficult problem she was having. It was clearly causing her a lot of distress. She wasn’t in tears – she doesn’t cry. But her anguish made me put out my hand and pat her on the arm. A small and simple gesture but I saw the relief it brought to her. It made me realise how very significant such tiny gestures are. We are social creatures and therefore need to socialise.

Webinar contact has proved to be remarkably successful – about the functional things of life. Just as the office memo and now the email or WhatsApp note can make things happen, we began by assuming that Zoom would bring us as close as across the table or desk. It doesn’t. Its communication is about doing, not about being, and our most important communications are about being, about how we trust one another, about how we sense a need for giving rather than taking at one moment and taking rather than giving at another.

Most conversations are a tug of war. When you play ‘not to lose’ you don’t tug at your boss vigorously, indeed hardly at all. The consequence is that s/he gets two feelings – a sense of power, which they like, and a sense that they are not playing with someone in their league. The first of these sensations is harmful only to the extent that they then become more pompous and inclined to bully. That’s bad enough but the second sensation they get is much worse. It is that you are in an inferior position to them and therefore not worth dealing with, not even, perhaps, worth bullying. Once relegated to this level of inferiority it is extremely difficult to get out of it.

Does that mean that you should fight back, try to create your own superior position with your boss? Not at all. As I said at the outset, don’t risk your job for ‘face’ when so many are out of work. But do watch that you don’t slip into the second class group by being over-agreeable. Aficionados of The Daily Paradox will know that I count reading people as one of today’s most important skills. Wasn’t it always so? Well, no. In more leisurely settings, while you puffed away on your pipe or cigarette, you had time to sense how the mood was changing. The other person or people in a conversation were going at an equally unhurried speed. Instinctively you were reading them continuously.

There was much less data to handle then. Opinions were the didactic of the day. How you shaped your words mattered more. How you supported others decided if you would win. The multiprocessor computer changed all that. Today you must grasp copious quantities of facts, disentangle hundreds of mnemonics and move along at a rip-roaring pace. On top of that you must read the other person or people in the conversation.

Reading people fast is today’s secret skill.

It involves vigilant observation, acute mood listening and creative story construction. A shrewd negotiator today still wins but does so leaving the other side thinking they have won. Boris Johnson is not a good negotiator but he is a good game player. Trouble is, he always wants to be seen to win. Ms von der Leyen is certainly not falling for that. But she might well win by letting Boris think that he has. Watch the value of the British Pound. It’s the best guide to the mood swings.

How to speak to those in authority over you is key to retaining your job and your dignity.

Both are vitally important.