I allowed myself to get into a contest of wills the other day. Reflecting on it afterward, I recalled this tale of a radio conversation between U.S. and Canadian naval forces off the coast of Newfoundland in 1995:
Americans: “Please divert your course 15 degrees to the north to avoid a collision.”
Canadians: “Recommend you divert your course 15 degrees to the south to avoid a collision.”
Americans: “This is the captain of a U.S. Navy ship. I say again, divert your course.”
Canadians: “No. I say again, you divert your course.”
Americans: “This is the aircraft carrier USS Lincoln, the second largest ship in the United States Atlantic Fleet. We are accompanied by three destroyers, three cruisers, and numerous support vessels. I demand that you change your course 15 degrees north—that’s one-five-degrees north—or counter-measures will be undertaken to ensure the safety of this ship.”
Canadians: “This is a lighthouse. Your call.”
This story is popular and continues to circulate the Internet, though it is not a true story. Why do we continue to pass it along to others, believing it’s true and chuckling at the outcome? We do it because the story portrays a spitting contest that’s easily recognizable and familiar from our own lives. It portrays a kind of bullying, too, and we feel gleeful when the bully experiences the kind of “Gotcha!” we wish more bullies would experience.
Winning the contest of wills is a waste of energy in ongoing personal and professional relationships. It does nothing to strengthen the relationship or give it a strong foundation for weathering the next disagreement. It sidetracks us from what’s really important. It leaves debris in our wake.
Better to redirect the conversation to something fruitful. I wish I’d said, “I think we’re both capable of keeping this contest of wills going quite a while. Let’s do something different. What should we discuss that we can make some progress on?”