I live in the St. Louis, Missouri, area. In the last week, we have been inundated with rain and flooding has devastated many communities. However, there is a funny phenomenon that occurs when one individual talks to another in this metropolitan area. “Well, how much rain did you have? We had ten inches.” The next person invariably will say, “Yes, it has been bad. My rain gauge said we had almost eleven inches.” If there was a third person in the conversation, surely, they would have had twelve inches. When the conversation reaches the limit, the final person will say something like, “We didn’t have that much, but I think my rain gauge is broken.”
We have it built into our nature to “one up” the next person. We want to win. I remember a conversation among three old timers about their dogs. The first said, “My dog is the best tracking dog in the county. There has never been a trail he couldn’t find or hold.” The second said, “My dog is so good that he can follow a trail down the middle of the concrete county highway.” But, the third guy took the cake with his comment, “My dog once followed a trail for three miles that was over three years old.” In essence, in these conversations, the first liar doesn’t have a chance.
Which brings me to what we can learn from this. First, we need to recognize that it is the rare person that will not seek a way to “one up” the story. Sometimes, this occurs in the work setting with something like, “Yes, your team did a nice job getting that project started. But, we should be thankful that my team was able to take that start and drive it across the finish line.” Just be aware that this will occur.
Second, recognizing this tendency, we need to be careful that we don’t perpetuate this. Knowing that this occurs, do what you can to fend it off. Catch yourself when you start your “one up” strategy. Bring the conversation back to the facts, at least those you can verify, and guard what you say. Give credit when it is due and challenge only when it is necessary. I once worked with a person that would ALWAYS try to outdo everyone in every conversation. If you had a product, he had a better one or more than one. If you knew Elvis Presley, he lived next door to him and stood up with him at his wedding. We liked to catch him in these stories by challenging him when it became too outrageous. But, mostly, the best strategy is to simply let it go, if possible.
Finally, knowing that “one upmanship” occurs nearly every single day, the most important learning is to… not be the first liar. In other words, open these conversations in a way that doesn’t promote escalation. For example, instead of saying, “Wow, we received over ten inches of rain in the last two weeks.” Start by saying, “Wow, it has been extremely wet. I don’t think I’ve ever seen it rain so much in two weeks in my life.” This keeps it from becoming a competitive conversation. In the work setting, you can be creating by opening with something like, “When our two teams can tackle a problem together, we can get an amazing result, can’t we?” Do what you can to keep the conversation focused on the facts, but direct the discussion to the positive results, rather than pit one group competitively with another.
So, just be aware… you can eliminate the temptation to “one up” each other totally by making collaborative, general statements rather than setting up the conversation for competitive escalation.
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