Fight, Flight, or Above the Fray

What do you do when your audience or co-workers come after you? How do you maintain your equilibrium and credibility without seeming weak?

Most of the Democratic Presidential debates have been mild. You could say that initially the candidates were politely boring. One reason for this was that Barack Obama had set a new standard by rejecting mudslinging tactics. His demeanor elevated the level of political debate to a higher consciousness that had not been experienced. He stayed above the fray.

When Bill Clinton began to make exaggerated claims about Obama, his response was to defend himself without attacking. He spoke directly to the audience and challenged Bill's disparaging remarks. He referred to Clinton as factually incorrect. He never used the emotionally charged words of liar, lies, or lying. In this instance, he stayed above the fray. When someone attacks or misrepresents you, it’s imperative to protect your reputation. State the facts and quickly correct the misperceptions.

More recently, when Hillary attacked Barack's record and he retaliated, it started to get a bit ugly. By attacking her, he gave her the ammunition and an opening to defend herself by denigrating his reputation. The lesson here is: don’t play someone else’s game.

Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Back in the 1970s, tennis champ Bobby Riggs challenged the female champion Margaret Court. He was out to prove that a woman couldn’t beat a man at tennis. He psyched her out. Margaret lost.

The next challenger was Billie Jean King. She was ready for him and insisted on playing her way. He played a tough game but Billie Jean won. She didn’t play his game. She played her own game.

In sports, politics, and the world of work, there will always be sparring matches. Correct inaccuracies, stick to your message points, but avoid attacking hecklers. Don’t get sucked into their strategy.

Choose to defend yourself or choose to leave - but stay above the fray.

Whether you win or lose depends on how you play the game.