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Teammate Tug of War

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rope pull.jpg


Manager: John, why did you not check that air filter on that vehicle? 

Employee: It was a difficult filter and the customer was already waiting too long to begin with. 

Manager: How are we supposed to sell the air filter to the customer if you do not pull it out. 

Employee: My job is to work on cars, not to sell. Besides, they probably didn’t want it anyway. 

Manager: (in his head, hopefully) I can’t wait for the labor pool boost so I can get good people in here.  


Sound familiar?  It seems we come across this communication all the time. The employee is supposed to do a part of a job. The manager is supposed to oversee that the job tasks and company metrics get met. The employee doesn’t care about your metrics and is only concerned about his/her personal needs. The manager gives up and replaces that employee with a new employee hoping they will be different.

In the book “Unreceptive” by Tom Stanfill, he uses a metaphor early on that paints a picture of the game tug of war. The two people mentioned above are on opposite sides of a rope, the only way to end the struggle of the game is to either pull hard enough to force the other person to your side, or to lose by going to the other person's side. In sales its “I have a service and you have money: Let the fight begin. I am going to pull you over to my side so I can get the money. If you win, I don’t get the money and have to try harder in the next game.

This practice is very common in sales and in leadership... but does it have to be?  Instead of digging in those metaphorical heels, Tom Stanfill suggests you drop the rope before the game begins. Trying to win by forcing others to do what you want naturally makes the other side pull you back over to their side. You can see this as you walk to someone with directives and you can physically see their shoulders clinch in, ready for the tug of war.  Leaders influence others to achieve their goals and ensure their goals align. A leader's job is to change people, not oil!

You can start with identifying their goals and aligning your objectives to their end goals. In 2016, McDonalds recognized their struggle to get employees by understanding this wasn’t going to the employees' career, even though they touted a strong career path. They shifted their message to come work for me and get a career in fast food, to come work for me and gain the skills you need to advance in your future career (whatever that may be). Their attraction displayed was to help others gain skills in business even though that would benefit them as well.

Aligning negative feedback in a growth campaign may sound like this:


Leader: John, why did you not check that air filter on that vehicle?

Follower: It was a difficult filter and the customer was already waiting too long to begin with.

Leader: I can appreciate your desire to get the customer back out on the road quickly, that is part of our model. It is also part of the model to check things on the vehicle for the customer so they can know what needs to be done, and what doesn’t need to be done.

Follower: Yeah, but that filter is a pain, and judging at the look of this vehicle, they wouldn’t want it anyway.

Leader: Let’s look at this as educating the customer, not selling them anything. I realize that you probably don’t want to change oil your whole life. What I want to do is not to force you to boost my ticket average, but to give you tools that will help you succeed in your chosen career. In most careers you are given a list of tasks by your customer that you must do. Completing these tasks and informing them of your success keeps you moving in your career path (unless you are in politics). This has less to do with the air filter than it does with ensuring your customer gets what they need in your future path. Let me do my part in helping you build on these key character skills for your success.


What we did was “dropped the rope”, the leader displayed that they are not interested in selling items, but interested in developing strong characteristics for the other person to succeed down their path. While ultimately it does get the other person to your side, they walked over peacefully knowing you were there to help, instead of being dragged over there because they lost the tug of war.

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