Competitors. Bosses. Peers. High performers on your team. Customers. They all know you have a glass jaw and all they have to do is throw a sucker punch to lay you out on the canvas.
More often than not, you likely dust yourself off, say “good punch!” and move on with life having suffered a small defeat. After a while, that approach is taxing and you build a personal brand of being a pushover. Once that happens, you become the favorite target of everyone who wants to gain an advantage.
If you want to change that dynamic, you have to change your approach. Every once in a while you need to throw a hay-maker of a punch right in the face of your opponent. I’m not talking about a defensive counter-punch here. I’m talking about a rear-back, throw everything you’ve got and try to drive their nose out the back of their head kind of punch. The kind of punch they never, ever forget. The kind of punch people talk about as the stuff of legend.
To clarify – I’m speaking metaphorically. No workplace violence, please.
I’m talking about going ballistic in a meeting. Or instead of simply threatening to talk to an attorney, serve a legal demand notice or file suit. You might choose to fire someone or tell a customer you’re no longer serving them. Perhaps it’s tendering your resignation. *That’s* the kind of punch I’m talking about here.
Look, disputes are going to happen. More often than not they can be resolved amicably. The ones I’m offering this approach for are the ones that are a little more rancorous. Ones where there’s a lot at stake because if you surrender this time, your opponent will remember it forever and continue to exploit your weakness. Those are the disputes where throwing that knockout punch can make all the difference both in that moment and for the ongoing relationship.
It’s a tough world out there. If people believe you’re a pushover, they’re going to continue attacking you. When they sense weakness, they sense opportunity. Only you can prevent that dynamic from spiraling out of control. Here’s how:
Pick Your Target
Identify the target who is either routinely trying to take advantage of you or the person/organization that will be one you can make an example of. Bullies make great targets (and you can even stage a workplace bully beat-down). Remember – this one punch you’re going to throw needs to be a deterrent to future bad behavior. You’re about to follow Roosevelt’s guidance of “speak softly and carry a big stick.” His guidance only works, though, if you demonstrate you’re willing to dish out a beating with that stick. The recipient of this beating needs to serve as an example to others who might think about taking advantage of you in the future.
Pick Your Battle
Select a disagreement that has deep meaning for both combatants. Don’t get in a fight over something either they don’t care about or that doesn’t matter to you. For the former, your opponent won’t put up a fight thus reducing the deterrent effect you’re going for. For the latter, you’ll be perceived as someone who can’t differentiate between important and unimportant. Make sure the prize in the battle means a lot to both parties.
Sell Out the Arena
If you’re going to throw a punch, make sure there’s a crowd there to watch the carnage. You need witnesses because without them, your opponent will spin a very different story than what actually happened in an effort to save face or discredit you. Have your melee in a meeting or in a setting where others will quickly learn of your exploits because a couple of witnesses with big mouths saw things go down first-hand.
Throw Your Punch
After you try to resolve things amicably and it’s clear that approach won’t work, it’s time to drop the gloves and cold cock someone. It’s best if they don’t even see it coming. We’re talking about escalating from “we simply don’t see eye to eye on this contract” to “you’ve been served” or “I’m not very satisfied with my job” to “Sayonara!” Stay fact-based when you throw that punch but don’t hold back the emotions. You’re doing this both to win this particular battle but also get people to think twice before pushing you to the brink. Make sure you follow through on the punch too. If you tell someone you’re quitting, you best walk out that door. If you don’t, you’ve done even more damage than before you threw the punch because you’ll get branded as a spineless bluffer.
Duck the Counter-Punch
If your opponent has a spine, they’ll swing back. Know what that punch might be before they throw it. Think about their possible counter-punches before the meeting. Determine how you’ll dodge those punches in advance so when they throw them, they don’t devastate you. If they do land a counter-punch, you must be prepared to continue your offensive and attack again until either you win that fight or get knocked out yourself.
Speak Softly Again
Assuming you made your point in a spectacular way, let your opponent know the fight is now over and you’d like to resume civil discourse. Get things back to “normal” as quickly as you can. All you’re trying to do is make a point with this punch – not become a bully yourself. Trust me – they’ll remember your punch and will think twice (or thrice) about coming after you again. Remember – your goal is not only to win the battle but also to deter future bad behavior.
Business isn’t always pretty or civil. Either you can stand up and fight for yourself when the situation warrants it or you can be a pushover who everyone picks on and always takes your lunch money. Occasionally you need to crack someone on the beak if you want to eat your lunch undisturbed every day.