I have worked in a special needs and mental health setting for some time now, and one of our key tools for avoiding conflict with traumatised young people is to “drop the rope”. I have found it to be extremely effective, and now practice the art daily in my personal life.
Tug of war can be used as an analogy for an argument or conflict in which one or both parties have ceased listening to the other and are unwilling (or unable) to resolve the disagreement by using reasonable discussion or accepting the other person’s point of view. The outcome of this verbal tug of war is that neither person can win, the volume of the argument increases and it becomes increasingly unpleasant for those involved and those bearing witness.
Imagine, if you will, two teams of equally strong people pulling on each end of a rope. The rope goes nowhere. Both teams become hot and red-faced and pull until they are eventually exhausted. The competition becomes not one of strength, but of stamina, and they will pull all night long if it means avoiding defeat. The game becomes boring, anger builds. Each team curses the other and both teams appear equally foolish to onlookers.
You cannot control your opponent; you can only control yourself.
You can drop the rope.
Your opponents stumble backwards into the mud, surprise etched on their face as they fall in a heap on the floor. The victory is hollow and humiliation swiftly follows. They shout and swear at you as you stand there calmly, unperturbed. You apologise to your opponent for causing them harm and quietly walk away.
To drop the rope is not to admit defeat, it is to admit your strength. You were unable to pull your opponent to your side, but you also were not pulled along to their side. You were unmoved from your initial stance but could see clearly that your opponent, too, would not budge. And why should they?
Sometimes, these metaphorical tugs of war are difficult to avoid getting into. We rarely intend to argue with our partners, children, colleagues or the local shop assistant, but it happens. When it happens, we must drop the rope. The less tension there is on the rope as you drop it the better. But what is better than dropping the rope? Not picking it up in the first place.
Say your point clearly. Make your request. Do it but once. If the person who speak to you refuses to listen or to help you, you must find another way. Make a list of all the ways you can achieve your goal and come back later. Share the list with them. Make sure you have listened to their response and understand their point of view. How can you work together?
To win a game of tug of war by stubbornly dragging your opponent to your own side is ugly. When you create tension and stress, you are creating a potentially injurious scenario.
To drop the rope and watch your opponent fall backwards is a victory.
To achieve your goals without ever holding the rope is an art form.
Read my story, here.