Like many words in the English language, “squash” can have several meanings. For example, it can refer to a game played with racquets by players who whack a hollow ball around a court. For our purposes though, let’s think of squash as the ancient sport of destroying someone else’s ideas before they have a chance to break into full flower. It’s generally played by one or more persons who use words as weapons and say things like: 

  • “That’s dumb.”  
  • “We tried that before and it was a bust.”  
  • “No way that will ever work.” 
  • “Where were you when they passed out common sense?”

Squashing is counterproductive and it’s usually played masterfully by those who want to respond rather than seek to understand. So how do you deal with people who attend to their own needs at the expense of focusing on what are supposed to be mutual goals and objectives?

There are some relatively simple ways to overcome attempts by others to squash you.  Research has shown that much of the time, most people want to do things that benefit others as well as themselves. To move people in the direction you would like them to go, you need to establish rapport with them. Here are some techniques that can help.

1. Focus on purpose and principle. Most conflict begins and ends with mismatched expectations, and most expectations are mismatched because people are operating with different ends in mind. Lock in on the principles behind your goals and objectives rather than the positions you may have taken on how they should be achieved.

2. Establish a common identity as members of the same “team” and show that your individual interests can be mutually beneficial rather than adversarial. This will begin to limit the “greed factor” that occasionally poisons collaborative efforts.

3. Act in alignment with personal and organizational values and beliefs. If they are not the same, choose the higher values and beliefs and act on those. There is no right way to do the wrong thing, so don’t even try.

4. Make sure that you’ve got people on your team who have the skills and competencies you need to accomplish the objective. When building the Geodesic Dome at Epcot Center, Walt Disney stopped in to observe his team talking about how to build it. When it became clear that no one had a clue, Walt said, “I have two questions:  Does anyone know anything about these domes?  Don’t you think you need someone on the team who does?” Immediately after the meeting, the Project Manager was on the phone with Buckminster Fuller; and the team had a partner who knew something about geodesic domes.  

5. Check your (negative) attitudes at the door. Sometimes negative behavior can be cute, even funny; but it always leaves a hostage. As competitive as the world is today, we don’t need to be leaving hostages anywhere (especially on our team).  

If you must play “Squash”, play it in a four walled court and use a hollow rubber ball rather than one of your family members or employees.