You could be nicer and help-out a little more around the house, but your wife has been such a pain lately. She just doesn’t seem very happy– about anything.
She complains about where you park at the grocery store, ALWAYS has a better idea, and your sex life seems like a distant memory. She also doesn’t seem to appreciate the pressures you are under at work and you are starting to wonder,
“Who are you and what have you done with my wife?”
This is not an uncommon situation.
Picture each of your daily interactions with your spouse as a game of table tennis—you know, ping-pong, like the table you had set-up in the garage as a kid. Here’s how ping pong can save your relationships.
Visualize each thing you say to your spouse as a serve. You comment; your wife volleys back a response; you respond, and so on. Easy, right?
Now ask yourself. What kind of things are you saying in your serves and volleys? Are they positive, complimentary, helpful, and loving or are they rocket-like slams designed to burn the corners of the table, defeating your competition?
It’s a vicious cycle you know… trying to win every point, even when you are “right” and justified in your beliefs (“I park this far out to try and prevent door dings to your new car, lady!”).
Quality of Moments
Indulge my ping-pong analogy one more step, please. Visualize the quality of the comments made during the serve and volley, over time, as either positive and uplifting, raising the level of the game; or as negative, harming the relationship, lowering the level of the table.
The danger of lowering the game, of course, is that the table can become so low that one or both you simply decide it is no longer worth their time and energy to play. Remember that the opposite of love is not always hate. It can be fatigue induced indifference.
So you serve up something sincere (that’s important) and positive like, “Hey, you really look nice today,” and she returns that serve with something less than positive,
“Oh really? My hair is a mess, I haven’t had my nails done in three months, and I am wearing a shirt that’s older than our first child!”
Don’t take the bait. Regardless of how she might respond, volley with a positive, something like, “Well I don’t exactly know how you are pulling it off. I just want you to know that you look great to me!” Then walk away quickly and live to serve and volley another day.
Make this a habitual practice. Stop reacting negatively when she slams a spinning forehand to the far corner and, instead, craft a positive volley.
Try your best to make everything you say helpful, complimentary, and sincere. She will notice and when she finally asks you about your change in behavior, you can share a printed copy of this post with her, inviting her to join you in raising the game.
Same Is True at Work
The same can be said for your interactions at work, especially if you have management responsibility.
Your serve at work holds even more power over the employees. Just by default, the power that comes with your position puts a little extra sting on your first serves, whether intended or not.
You have to be careful about being too casual with your comments.
I’ve known some very smart executives who have fun with spirited jabs as responses to worker’s questions. While they truly don’t mean anything negative by it, it can become very off-putting.
In one case, members of the team needed to work there quite a while to understand the boss’s brand of humor. Eventually, you get past it, but I’ve known a few new members of the team who struggled to find the meaning.
My coaching to that leader was to tone it down a bit, especially with his newest staffers. Get to know them first and them know you before you introduce your version of levity and ‘smartness’. Then be intentional about using that approach.
Eventually he agreed he should stop altogether. The dry wit was better saved for closest friends and people outside of work.
He changed his ‘serve.’
Never forget, that raising the game is your responsibility. It is not only a matter of basic leadership but also the most pragmatic approach.
After all, at the end of the day, the only thing you can truly control is YOUR serves and volleys. Viewing this from the ping-pong
perspective may be a better alternative than trying to change your spouse.
Change yourself instead.
Note: The inspiration for this word picture came from friend and colleague, Roger Ferguson. Thanks, Roger for a juicy idea to hit home.