When You Lose

This week, I spoke to the City’s Planning and Zoning Board against a proposed development. It was a five hour hearing, with speakers on both sides of the question, and at the end of the night my side lost, 6-3.

I was disappointed, of course, and a little bit angry at one or two of the board members because I considered their stance to be motivated by less than pure disinterestedness and neutrality.

But here’s what I did not do: I did not publicly voice my feelings, and I did not dwell on my resentment for long. I certainly did NOT do what another speaker did, which was to publicly and personally attack the character and motivation of the board members from the lectern in the strongest possible language, so much so that he was finally told to leave and never return.

What lessons can we draw from this experience?

The limits of passion and authenticity

As a speaker, this man exhibited many of the qualities that are touted as essential to great speeches: he was authentic, direct and passionate. He also damaged our cause and contributed to our defeat. I would say that he embarrassed himself, but I’m not sure his type is capable of the minimum level of introspection required for that sentiment. He certainly embarrassed those of us who are on the same side he is.

Don’t take it personally

The other side has their reasons for believing and deciding as they do, and they usually feel just as strongly as you do about the rightness of their position. Most of the time, they are not “bad people” because they argue against you. And even if they are, pigeonholing them that way shuts down your own analysis.

Disagreement is data

Disagreement can be, well, disagreeable, but it also provides data that can help in two ways. By giving an understanding of how the other side views the situation, it helps you find better ways to attack their position. Less cynically, you might actually learn something that you can use to improve your own proposal, kind of like the old idea of thesis and antithesis leading to synthesis.

It’s a campaign, not a battle

Use whatever data you receive from your “loss” and start thinking about your strategy for the next step of the campaign. Most complicated decisions involving many people and many moving parts aren’t solved in one presentation or meeting. They take time and your influence campaign needs to look at the long term and the big picture. Until the final decision is made, you’re still in it and you still have a chance to win—as long as you don’t do something stupid. Insulting the other side may make you feel better in the moment, but you will regret it in the long run.

Some people say: “Show me a good loser and I’ll show you a loser.” I could not disagree more. If you make a career in sales, or in any other profession that requires you to sell your ideas, you will lose, and you will lose often— unless you’ve achieved a totally boring life free of all controversy and achievement. Losing is not enough to make you a “loser”; it’s what you do after you lose that counts.

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