It was the middle of the day, and I was on another marathon conference call. These had become routine with this client. Two, three, four times a week, sometimes several times a day I was in the middle of strategizing and crisis management sessions. We were pitted against an adversary that would clearly do or say anything to tear us down. It was incredibly stressful.
During those sessions we examined every possibility, every move and counter move. We tried to anticipate what might be said or done next knowing the only thing we could count on was continued bad faith. As the weeks dragged into months I learned a valuable lesson.
Our assumptions about what the other side might do would have been orders of magnitude more effective than what they actually did. We always gave them too much credit. We always figured them smarter than they wound up being. And we always imagined their timing would be much better than it turned out.
It is probably true that you should not **underestimate** your opponent. But that doesn't happen as often as the more problematic tendency to **overestimate** the other side. The trick is to strike the balance.
Thankfully this is rarely a necessity in the world of small business. The political game we were playing is much different from the common sense, market driven world most small business owners enjoy every day. But sometimes you find yourself at odds with a disgruntled former employee or customer beyond the reach of reason. In those times you need to remember a few things.
First, great leaders are obsessive about preparation. But if you are struggling with someone who is irational, desperate or unpredictable you are probably not dealing with a good leader. Even if you are their highest priority they are probably not spending near as much time on the issue, problem, or personal attack as you are. We tend to assume that people acting like fools will act with inexhuastible lucidity when it comes to preparing how to act the fool. They won't. But you will waste valuable time and energy preparing for eventualities that never happen.
Second, inertia is very powerful, and wasted time is a sure way to kill it. The desire to be certain or the desire to include others means a lot of wasted time. If you are leading a small business there is a good chance you are fairly decent at gathering facts and making decisions. Just because someone has taken a cheap shot or two doesn't mean you should slow down and seek levels of certaintly or take precautions your are not accustomed to. An ounce of reflection is healthy. A pound is often pointless. Act! and control the pace of whatever game the other side happens to be playing.
Last, discern the difference between a foolish attack and someone with a legitimate grievance. We ought to seek reconciliation with those we have wronged, whether or not we meant the slight. Usually the only road block to reconciliation is an ego that won't get out of the way. Wise business owners will recognize legitimate criticism, check the ego and make things right. Wise business owners will also recognize foolish attacks and not overthink the response, lest they be drawn into an argument only a fool can win.