Recently I’ve worked a lot at controlling the engagement. It’s funny because I distinctively remember the first time I heard that phrase, “control the engagement.” I was 14 and I had just gotten a PlayStation 3 for Christmas. In the days that followed, I did everything possible to improve at Call of Duty — the game that all of my friends were obsessed with at the time; one way that I tried to improve was through YouTube. I discovered this commentator that went by the name of ‘WoodysGamertag’ and he made videos about a lot of things — family advice, how to deal with bullies, and of course, how to improve at Call of Duty. His main tip for new players was to engage enemies on your own terms. “Never force a gunfight, most of the time you aren’t going to win”, he would say.
While the 14-year-old me was solely interested in this advice because he wanted to become better than all of his friends, the 20-year-old me takes a deeper meaning out of what Woody said.
First, let’s point out the obvious. You can’t go through life with an attitude of “my way or the highway.” Sure, it’s good to stand firm behind what you believe in, but when you let stubbornness dominate every other emotion you become someone who people dread dealing with; and in many cases, these are the people that are important in your personal and professional life. Having the tough conversations by preemptively clearing your mind and doing your best to connect instead of correct will develop your communication skills in such a way that these same conversations will become easier and people will seek you out, rather than avoid you.
Controlling the engagement requires being proactive in analyzing potential and current conflict. In my situation, this normally presents itself when I’m dealing with family at the end of a long day. Sometimes I forget that they’ve spent their day working, and instead of asking about how their day went I’ll blabber on about all of my problems.
“Seek first to understand, then to be understood”
I like this line by Stephen Covey because I think it ties in closely with controlling the engagement and with what I said earlier about connecting instead of correcting. No successful general would ever send their troops into battle without having first understood what kind of opponent they were up against. Controlling the engagement is as much about understanding the person you’re dealing with, and their circumstances, as it is anything to do with yourself.
This is all hard for me because I’m a talkative person. I love to tell stories about yesterday, today, and what’s yet to happen tomorrow. So it’s something that I have to continually focus on in order to improve. But if I can avoid unnecessary conflict — if I can be that person that people want to deal with — isn’t the effort worth it? Controlling the engagement, being someone who actively manages conflict in a positive way, doesn’t require any superpowers. It doesn’t require that you have a high IQ, hold a degree, or run fast. Anyone can do it. You can do it.
As always, thanks for reading!