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Sunday, 31 January 2016

Do you play games?

Buyers, suppliers, senior management all get accused often of playing games (Certainly as buyers if we fall back into playing Mr Wolf).

In this post I explore the underlying metaphor of 'game playing' and how that might point to a solution to stop all that wasted energy.

First the basics ..

When playing any game there are a number of common rules that apply:
  • There are rules that apply to what you can and can't do 
  • There are repercussions of not complying with the rules
  • Playing the game means you've accepted the rules - all of them
  • You generally play against other players, or teams
  • There's often spectators who follow one of the players
  • One player generally makes a move, and it's responded to within the rules by the other player
  • The aim is to win
  • Drama and winning makes for happier spectators 
  • In order to win players devise ever more elaborate moves/tactics to confuse the opponent
  • Players can cheat
  • Some games have umpires or referees who manage cheating and impose the repercussions
  • Unless there's a draw, there will be a loser
  • Loser's are very likely to retaliate, especially if they lost due to a cheating opponent
  • Grievances and hostility can grow over time due to consistent loses/underhand play, or heavy handed tactics
  • Once the game has finished civility returns 
It's interesting therefore if we then apply these rules to the metaphorical, and yet very real, games played within a business - you know, the game playing and politics we moan about, that get in the way of effective decision making, and day to day operations.

Metaphorically applying the above rules to business games raises the following questions:
  • Who determines the rules are we using?
  • Are we all playing by the same set of rules?
  • Did we all agree on the repercussions? 
  • Why is there a need to win?  
  • Who are the referee and spectators 
  • What's the impact to the business of having losers and winners?
  • What happens if one side stops playing the game!
It's this last point I want to consider.

That is, when faced with game playing in a corporate environment, what happens if you stop playing the game? 

If the other party then needs to engage with you wouldn't they then need to do so civilly, adult/adult, outside the rules of the game? And more importantly wouldn't that be more helpful in business than just keep playing the game?

The reason I suggest this is, that when I suggest we shouldn't lie, abuse our power, bully or undertake any of the other unacceptable behaviours I mentioned in my blog "Don't turn a blind eye", I keep getting told: 

"That's just the way it is Alison."

Yes of course that is the way it is - if I'm accepting that we're playing the same game, and am accepting those are the rule of the game we're all playing - even if I disagree with some of the rules - even if I'm opposed to some of the rules?  

I do, however, have a choice to not play the game.

I'll repeat that - I, we, do have a choice not to play the game.

So long as the other party requires my/our involvement, I'm then moving the exchange from the rules of the game to the rules of normal human interactions!

That's certainly been my experience anyway - so long as you don't just want to change the game you're playing that is. In other words, so long as we stick to not playing any game, sooner or later that's the behaviour we'll get back in return adult/adult civility.

The biggest challenge is many in business prefer to play the game because they understand the rules, even if they don't agree with them. They're fearful of stepping into the unknown.

As I said in a blog earlier in the month over on Landscaping Your life , where we use nature to inspire change, it's time to step beyond your drama 

I'm sure like a lot of metaphors there's holes in my argument. Not least because my interpretation of the metaphor won't be yours - I might see it like rugby and you chess.

However like much of the coaching work I do I'm working on the premise that the language we're using is big clue to how we're relating to a situation. Which means the language, and metaphor contained within it, has the potential to provide the solution. Which means if you describe any activities in a corporate environment as 'game playing' then at some level you're conveying the whole metaphor. 

Please note I'm seeing 'game playing' as being very different to just operating within the organisational culture, that uses known routines and rituals to do everything it does  (Although there will be a problem if the operating metaphor underlying the culture is a game!). (Follow the hypertext links to explain more on that!)

Have you ever tried just saying "I'm not playing any more", and what happened?

How have you moved relationship onto a more adult/adult level rather than player/player?  

Alison Smith
The Purchasing Coach
Inspiring change inside and out - and here's why I think inspiring change is important

Recent blogs touch on how to address game playing on other ways - when faced with toxic leadership, and another invites us to take our head out of the sand about our own contribution to the behaviours we judge in others.

Other blogs written around language used include: winning hearts and minds, deadlines, chocolate, can't see the wood for the trees, making mountains out of molehills, life or death, and even hello!

I also use language and metaphor over on Landscaping Your life - where I use nature to inspire change. Because nature is such a wonderfully insightful metaphor that we can all relate to.

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