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Keeping an eye on the ball

Virender Sehwag once said in a TV interview that he always plays the ball, never the bowler. This is in keeping with what author Tim Galloway says in his book, “The Inner Game of Tennis”. He comments on champion players who always describe their best rallies in terms of where they saw the ball land, and how they planned and placed their returns at a chosen spot in the opponent’s court. They never ever talk about the movements of the opponents. Can we ever imagine Federer getting distracted by Nadal, or, in another era, have we seen Bjorn Borg allowing his legendary concentration to be affected by the antics of McEnroe? Winners are known to always focus on keeping their eye on the ball, not on the player at the other end.

At home, with friends, and especially at our workplaces, we do encounter “opponents” – folks who do not quite agree with what we have to say, or all that we do. How do we typically deal with such “disagreements”? Do we play the “ball” or the “opponent”? Watch many such encounters, and you will find that the eyes are, more often than not, on the opponent, and not on the ball. In cricket or tennis, this is a known recipe for loss. In real life encounters, we do not seem to have learnt the lessons as well as the sportsmen have learnt theirs.

At home, when a dissenting note is struck, or the son/daughter steps out of line, the parent will don the mantle of “historian” and list all the past misdemeanours in excruciating detail. The child’s behaviour in one incident will be blown up to draw a complete character sketch, and the consistency shown across many instances in the past will be thrown in as irrefutable proof. The idea is that we should be left with no doubt about the fault line in our character, as confirmed by this mountain of evidence thrown at you, detailed and chronologically arranged. All of this as an extrapolation of a single incident!

It is not very different at the workplace. When a colleague disagrees with us, our answer is laced with a patronizing tone, repeated explanations and even sarcasm towards the person who had the temerity to strike the discordant note. Loud voice and long explanations betray our anger and/or insecurity at being questioned. A single instance or reaction is found enough to voice an opinion on the person’s overall attitude, or to pass a judgment on the person. It takes a lot of restraint and maturity on the part of the (reacting) listener to confine his/her comments to the event on hand, and to divorce ourselves from the person embroiled in the situation.

Whether at home or at work, imagine a situation where as soon as a disagreement arises, we disregard the person who voiced it, and focus on the subject at hand.

We must do the following three actions methodically and faithfully:

1. Listen, with our “inner ear”

2. Paraphrase the disagreement, irrespective of how unpalatable it may be to us, or how foolish we think the question is

3. Address the answer on the basis of the subject matter details, facts, data, information; no judgments, no opinions; no customization of the answer to be directed to the questioner

When we have done this, in the true style of a professional sportsperson, we would have played the “ball’, and not the “player”. That is a sure way to win the game!

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