If someone as experienced as Roger Federer can lose his temper on court, as happened last week, it is no surprise that the rest of us sometime find nerves fray, mid-match. After 14 years of running leagues we have had to arbitrate in the odd row or two but things do not have to turn into a fight. If things go wrong, here are a few thing to reflect on
“Point penalty, Mr Federer”, is a phrase you almost never hear in tennis. It is so rare that when an umpire said it in a match in Shanghai last week, it made headlines around the world. Federer, normally the very model of how to handle yourself on a tennis court, lost his cool in a match against Zverev and was deducted a point.
Federer was not the only player to crack in Shanghai. Andy Murray, who has always worn his heart on his sleeve, was so irritated with Fabio Fognini he told him to "Shut up!" in a match which turned very sour.
What was interesting about both Federer and Murray is that they made exactly the same mistakes that we all do when things go wrong. They got into an argument, they felt hard done by and they blamed the other guy.
Here at tennis HQ, we occasionally open our inbox to find reports of exactly the same thing: one player is fuming about another’s lack of respect, poor line calls or outright bad behaviour. Andy Murray spoke for many when he said of Fognini: “I’m not having him talk to me like that!”
What to do?
We have added a new link to our Rules & Regs page about resolving conflicts, with guidance drawn from the international best seller Difficult Conversations: How to discuss what matters most. The book is really all about how people argue, why it’s a bad idea and what is really at stake. Here are some of its top tips
- Handling disagreement well is a skill and it’s one that not many people have. Acquire it and you will be happier, calmer and wiser
- All difficult conversations involve 3 conversations: What happened (a lot of time is spent here!); Feelings (yours and theirs including anger, frustration, guilt, shame, embarrassment etc); Identity (what is at stake for you?).
- We argue because we think the other person is the problem. We don’t see ourselves as the problem because what we are saying does make sense to us. What is much harder to see is that what the other person is saying also makes sense. The more entrenched the argument, the harder it is to see how the other person sees the world. We have to stop arguing about who is right and listen.
- Don't blame. Blame causes defensiveness. The more you apportion blame, the more the other person will defend themselves and the worse the argument will get
- The urge to blame is about trying to avoid being blamed. It also prevents you finding out what is really going on. Instead, distinguish blame from contribution. What was your role in the problem? Ask yourself: how did we both get into this mess?
- Don’t assume you know someone’s intentions and don’t tell them what their intentions are! It is very irritating and it’s usually wrong. We assume someone’s intention from the impact their actions have on us. This is a big mistake!
- We all apply different implicit rules: one person thinks it is inconsiderate to be late. The other thinks it is unprofessional to obsess about small things instead of focussing on the bigger picture
- Don't present your conclusions as the truth!
- Attributions – ie thinking someone is rude, arrogant, disrespectful or inconsiderate – are really all about how you feel. Or to put it another way, judgements about people are really feelings in disguise – and unrecognised feelings play a big part in arguments.
- Email is a terrible way to resolve conflict. It is serial monologue. If you can tell the other person you want to understand their point of view and to explain your own, pick up the phone. If not, can you let it go?
- Three things to accept about yourself: “you will make mistakes; your intentions are complex; you have contributed to the problem”
- Don't forget the 3 conversations and walk yourself through them: What happened (remember joint contribution and separating intention & impact); Feelings (acknowledge how the other person is feeling; it doesn't mean you agree with them, but they can't move on until you do); Identity (why does this matter so much?).
Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Douglas Stone, Bruce Patton and Sheila Heen £9.78 Amazon
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