Fight When it’s Time to Fight. Be Gracious When It’s Time to Give In.

Posted on Aug 26, 2010 | 62 comments

Fight When it’s Time to Fight. Be Gracious When It’s Time to Give In.

There are times to fight.  I must admit it’s part of my DNA to enjoy a good fight (not as much as Jason Calacanis does, mind you 😉 ahem: Facebook. Er: Comscore, Cough: Angel funding payola).

But there are times to give in and compromise.  Don’t confuse the two.  When you give in,
do so graciously.  Take the high road.  Act and feel zen.

Back when I ran my first company I fought a lot.  It seemed the world was always on fire and there was some skirmish to be had.  I fought with landlords (when the real estate market crashed), venture debt providers (who wouldn’t take a hair cut when everybody else had to), the board (over compensation), our competitors (over everything) and any service provider who didn’t live up to our perceived contract (recruiters, accountants, sales lead companies, web hosting companies).  I guess the older & wiser that I get the more I realize that finding common ground is often better than fighting.

The guys who usually were there to talk sense into me were my close colleagues Stuart Lander (COO) and David Lapter (CFO) – both more level-headed than I.  Stuart has some fighter instincts like I do but the ex lawyer in him taught him that a negotiated settlement is always better than a drawn-out fight.

I remember one of the conversation points we always had when we agreed to compromise and one I’m proud to say that I took the lead on – how to give-in graciously.  I had this philosophy that if I’m going to fight I’m going to fight hard and win.  If I’m going to compromise then I wanted to at least come off graciously.  Many people make the mistake of giving in and being nasty.

What I always told Stuart (who handled most of the final negotiations) was, “Ok, we decided to give in.  Let’s agree what our compromise is and let’s be gracious.  Let’s tell them we were wrong to have fought so hard.  Let’s tell them that we’re sorry about how things turned out.  Let’s tell them there’s not hard feelings and we’d like to find a way to rebuild our relationship going forward.”  And we did practice what we preached – it wasn’t just rhetoric.

See my view is that if you give in or compromise and you display “sour grapes” then in the end you don’t get what your really wanted AND you end up feeling miserable about the whole thing.  So you lose twice.  Not to mention that you gave in and the other party still thinks you’re an arsehole and probably talks badly about you in public.  I’d rather choose to be zen and maintain my public reputation.

This also applies to internal company decisions.  Let’s say a senior member of your team demanded a pay raise (cash or equity) and you didn’t like the way they approached you. Sometimes the right thing is to firmly but politely resist the increase.  Sometimes the right thing to do is to give in completely.  And sometimes the right thing to do is to compromise.  That’s not the point of this post. But if you DO decide to either compromise or meet their objectives then DON’T be snide or mean-spirited about it.  If you’re going to give in then lavish praise on them as you meet their request.  There’s nothing worse than consenting to the increase and still having them be pissed off about it.

Developers don’t want to work yet another weekend? Need to decide whether to fight or concede.  Again, don’t concede and be a baby about it making people feel badly for not coming in during a crucial hour.  If you feel you need them there regardless then dig in your heels, but others say “we’re in a crunch time but you guys sure do need a weekend off.  Enjoy.”

And on and on.

I got to thinking about the “lose twice” scenario this afternoon.  I was at a swimming pool (on vacation) at a nice hotel near Laguna Beach, CA.  They have two pools – one adult and one for children.  Unfortunately (for reasons that are unclear to me – even as a parent) they allow kids in both pools.  So we were sitting there in our lounge chairs when they announced they were closing the adult pool for the day because a little kid (I hope) had just pooped in the pool.  Aaargh.  But it was done – so what are you going to do about it? Zen.

The lady next to me would not let up.  She was ranting about why it should still be OK to go in the pool (“in my day kids always pooped in the pool,” “a little poop never hurt anybody,” “how can you complain about poop when everybody wears suntan lotion & chemicals into the pool!”)  I’m not exaggerating when I tell you she was still ranting 30 minutes later.  All I kept thinking was, “you’re losing twice, lady.”  Once because you can’t swim in the adult pool and twice because you’re so worked up about it you’re miserable x10.  I had to leave so I guess I lost twice, too.  Beatch.

It reminds me of when somebody cuts you off in their car on a highway.  Sure, he (and let’s face it – it’s always a “he”) is a jerk.  But you can’t change it.  Aside from being dangerous to chase him and wag your finger at him, you’ve suddenly gotten your heart rate up 20 points.  You lose twice.

There are many times in life where taking the wrong path causes you to lose twice.  Know the difference between fighting (and enjoying it) or giving in, letting go of the angst and choosing to be zen. So in business when it’s time to fight – fight.  When it’s time to concede or compromise – do so graciously.  Don’t lose twice.

  • Agilandam

    I have the real life experience of this blog and the previous one combined.

    I questioned every aspect of the robotic machine we were making because it was used to poke into human belly for cancer detection. I was always right (well, almost always :-) ). My friend in the organization told “People are using you as the frog in the cooker?” … I was being slowly cooked and i did not realize … finally one day on one fight i failed and that made me leave the company.

    Moral of he story is…

    fighting for oneself is good.
    fighting for your followers is good.
    fighting for people around u is good.
    fighting for your organization is good.

    Fighting for an unknown Patient who will take the drill is bad :-).

  • bcolwin

    I've frequently tried to explain what you referred to as the “losing twice” principle. Can never understand why people don't get it, but all it does is have you basically continue the fight on the other persons behalf – against yourself!

  • Scott Barnett

    Fabulous post Mark. I'm going through a few things now and this was a very good reminder to stay Zen. I always try hard (sometimes unsuccessfully) to take the other persons point of view on an issue. If you start negotiating from the point of view that everybody is always right, I find it helps me focus on what is really important to me vs. what I can realistically live without. And that includes giving that guy the finger for cutting me off on the highway this morning :-)

  • Bala

    I am curious to learn about your views on Win-Win, the strategy that Steven Covey talks about. I know that you have quoted his work before.


  • Yuliya Filippovska

    I'd suggest to apply the approaches that Deep Democracy Institute is practicing and bringing into the world. It's really amazing, it's not about fight or compromise, but about finding the consensus, and the deepest connection and interconnection. It helps find the innate solutions, those that need and want to happen.

    Have a look at the website:
    Have a look at the “Lights On” article by Max Schupbach, the President of the Deep Democracy Institute:

    I hope you'll find it really helpful. I did.

  • Denny

    Great article. It really is true that you end up losing twice. The older I get, the more I realize where I have to pick my battles and when it's worth the fight.

  • MADinMelbourne

    Really great article… reminds me of some of the best coaching I got “let people be a**holes, it's none of your business if that's the way they want to be. Stay true to the outcome you want without getting embroiled in a**hole behaviour”. When I forget those magical words, I walk away from situations and guess what I feel like.

  • Alex

    “The line was somewhere way behind me” … that's hilarious.

    I am going to laugh about that for a week.

  • philsugar

    My only better “line” than that was when a Philly Cop pulled me over for banging a U-Turn on the Ben Franklin at 2:30 in the morning because I missed the turn-off for the Wyndam coming back from Pat's Cheesesteaks after a bachelor party.

    Philly Cop in full leathers: “WHAT WERE YOU THINKING????”

    Me: “I was thinking I really didn't want to go to NJ.” He literally cracked a smile, no ticket.

  • Todd

    Well said- would like to see a post dedicated to 'losing twice' – think this is a very powerful thing to remember.

  • Lorel

    I'm a web designer. I had a client hire someone else to set the site up as a CMS site so she could update it herself. I refuse to work on those kinds of sites as SEO (search engine optimization) is my speciality and CMS sites are full of code bloat and can harm ranking unless they are set up right. The new designer forgot to take off the noindex/nofollow tag on all pages (this is often put on so you can check the pages on the designer's domain but should be taken off when the site goes live). The new designer also set up canonical fix for the non-www version of the domain when it had been set up with www previously — so the site lost all their links because they are no longer pointing to the home pages, and the changes weren't indexed for months until they found the noindex tag and fixed it. I would have told her why her new site was crippled but she didn't ask.

  • calitalieh

    So, you were in my neck of the woods. St. Regis. I was there when it happened. Twice in two days!