Don’t attack a tank with a pocket knife!

As we sat across from each other, Fire Chief on one side First Sergeant on the other, I listened for what seemed like hours to some of the most vile, hateful and demeaning words I have ever heard.

“Attacking another person’s opinions with yours is like attacking a tank with a pocket knife.”

I had been in an argument with another fire fighter who out ranked me. We had disagreed about something that frankly I cannot even remember now. It soon became a shouting match. Emotions got intense. Words were thrown around like hand grenades and careers were placed in the path of a moving freight train of immaturity.

Now the “arbitration”. These two mature men, the Chief and First Sergeant would hear both sides and determine the proper discipline. Thankfully the incident never became physical. In the meeting, the other guy completely lost his cool again. His knack for explosive, verbal vomit was clearly demonstrated.

As it became my turn to speak, I accepted full responsibility for what I had said to him and about him. I apologized for speaking that way to a superior and agreed to endure what ever was coming my way.

Ironically, the behavior he exhibited in the meeting was so true to form for him and the incident was so out of character for me that the results were more severe in his direction than mine.

Although I was in my early twenties when all this happened, I learned so much about people, politics and presentation in that moment that it changed the way I think and interact with those around me forever.

Here’s what I learned and still try to apply in advance when I face opposition of any sort.

People: Everyone has a view point that is uniquely theirs.
That seems to go without saying. Like the old adage “Everyone has an opinion and just like socks they all stink to someone else.” People have a lot invested in their opinions. We have paid a high price to acquire them. Ridicule, bad experiences, tough choices and even relationships that end too early have all helped us to form our opinions. People will not easily give up what they have paid dearly to gain.

Politics: Even the right words, spoken at the wrong time are wrong words.
There is a time and a place for everything. Sometimes being “right” will cost you more than being silent. When it comes to politically charged environments like the military, government workplaces, schools and even some churches, sometimes the wisest words are the ones never spoken.

Presentation: How you say it, when and to whom will often carry more power than your words.
Whenever you realize you have damaged a relationship by something you chose to say or do, own it. Apologize. Reconcile. In the end, relationships with other people are the most valuable resource you can ever invest in. If you present your case with arrogance, bitterness, anger and judgment, you may “get to be right” but you will get to be lonely too.

Attacking another person’s opinions with yours is like attacking a tank with a pocket knife. Somebody’s gonna get hurt and it’s likely going to be you!

To learn more about choices required for strong self leadership visit and register for the Excellent Life Leadership Seminar coming in May.

Have a great day!

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