Former Raiders owner Al Davis of the National Football League had a motto: “Just win, baby.” As a former coach, it pains me to say this: “Winning is not everything.” It certainly isn’t the only thing. Sports build character, discipline, and how to work in a group. Success is built on a multitude of mistakes.
Professor Tom Woodhouse also points out that sports “is also a powerful tool for uniting people, crossing boundaries, and developing tolerance, respect, and social inclusion.” Take a look at politics or life itself — conflict is inevitable. People who are in the win-at-all-costs mode usually do not care who they hurt in the process.
The “win-at-all-cost people” usually do not have strong relationships with other people, because they are more focused on getting their way in everything they do. Some even take that to a narcissistic level, displaying a general lack of empathy for others, a desperate need for admiration, and a dangerous propensity for self-importance. They do not only need to be triumphant; they also have to degrade others. It is often our anger that provokes us into a fight, but it is our ego that keeps us there.
We know that conflict is a normal part of life. So, learning how to deal with conflict can make a big difference. When conflicts happen, it is very easy to lose sight of the objective. In the public sector, like public education, you are often confronted with compromised choices. Almost every choice you make is one that is built from consensus. Standing on principles is crucial and necessary, but so is consensus building and compromise.
The key to success is in navigating conflict to keep the central part of our tenants intact and not sacrifice our ethics. We understand those who are always rigid and inflexible usually accomplish very little. In politics, that mind-set may be helpful in campaigning, but it is not nearly as effective in governing.
Too often government officials at every level of government get sucked into tunnel vision and keep their focus on individual differences. That is a self-defeating tactic. Chances are, you will only invite more resistance by focusing on differences in people’s positions or opinions. Seek common ground when possible, but by all means, do not engage in rigid group think; be an independent voice and a careful listener.
Educators teach children every day. They encourage them to wrestle with ideas and to ask questions to probe for deeper understanding. Children, just like adults, frequently change their minds. Schools must foster creativity and teachers must keep student needs as the focus of their work. Dealing with student conflict is part of their job.
Tom Golway, a world-renowned digital transformation strategist, is exactly right: “It is becoming more difficult to find differentiated information on the Internet. Likewise, it is becoming more difficult to contribute meaningful input because of the tendency of people only hearing recognizable voices. As this plays out, we will see more fracturing of society with people only hearing siloed information without an intelligent contrary view to provide balance.” We can hear a diversity of thought, without surrendering our values and convictions, all the while remaining civil in dialogue.
Many people express their opinion in a mature and balanced manner. They also listen to others respectfully. Competing over insignificant or unimportant issues is not of great consequence. However, there are times when you need to compete and, more importantly, need to win. Too often though, we see those who tend to go on attacking others and extending conflict regarding issues, even when they are no longer pertinent or when their initial position is no longer relevant. Some people are trying to prove a point that people on the other side of the issue are failures, or validate to themselves that they have the victorious position. They win the battle but lose the war.
In the end, those who take responsibility for their actions are the real winners in life. Winners meet life challenges head-on. They know that there are no guarantees in life. They give life all they have, understanding it is never too late or too early to change the road you are on. We can avoid conflict if we are determined to listen first and speak second. Winners stand firm on values but compromise on petty things. Losers stand firm on petty things but compromise on values. Just Win, Baby!
J.C. Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville.