Changing the Rules of Tug o’ War


If I said, “Let’s play a game of tug of war,” but gave you no other instructions, what would you do as soon as I handed your team the rope?

Of course, you would pull as hard as you could against the other team and try to drag them to your side. That’s because the object of tug of war is to get all players on the same side of the line using force. The team with more strength will pull the other side across the line for the win.

Tug O’ War Strategies

A lot of people make this mistake in business. We try to win others over by forcing them to see it our way. For example, a front desk assistant says to a customer, “I’m sorry, but that’s our policy. There isn’t anything I can do about it.” This is not a statement that will win over anybody. This scenario is like a tough game of tug of war. The customer pulls from one side of the desk, while the staff member pulls from the other. Both are determined to get their way.

Now, I would like you to think of the rules of tug of war and replace the words “with force” to a different word and see how the situation changes. Let’s try it. The object is to get all players on the same side of the line…using compromise. “Well, we may be able to divide your fee into payments, but I’ll need to ask you to put down at least a 50% deposit for us to offer that option.”

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Let’s try another one.

The object is to get all players on the same side…with bribery. “We’d be able to knock a little off the fee if you let us put a sign in your yard that says we’re the company doing your re-roofing work.” You do something for us; we do something for you. Another common example of this tactic is when we say, “Today only. Buy one, and get one free.”

How about this one? Get everyone on the same side…with peer pressure: “We’re only five new members away from meeting our goal. What would it take to get you to sign up today as a new member?”

An Advanced Lesson in Staff Development: A Winning Strategy

The list of examples could go on and on. Each one can work, but my favorite way to win someone to my side of the line is through influence. An influential statement might be, “I’m confident we can help you meet your goals by the properties of this new technology. Are you ready to learn how?”
Looking for opportunities to turn a tug of war game into an exercise of finding solutions does not come automatically to most staff. We’ve given them policies we expect them to follow and, hopefully, an empowered environment that allows them to think for themselves. We expect solutions-based thinking.

A winning strategy is found in the story of a minister on the West Coast, Will Bowen, came up with the idea of a rubber bracelet that would promote a positive attitude. He asked his staff to wear a rubber bracelet. Every time they said something negative, they were asked to take the rubber bracelet off and move it to the other wrist. When the next negative statement was said, move it back. It’s a back and forth game until you condition yourself to quit speaking in a negative way.

I first heard about this story when a manager at one of my events raised her hand and shared how she bought the bracelets to use in her business. She started to laugh when she shared about the person on her team who was a boat rocker, a trouble maker, the one she was hoping would catch the drift and change her negative language. After a week of wearing the bracelet, she reported the staff member walked into her office, threw the bracelet down on the table, and declared, “I am not wearing this anymore!” When I asked her why, she replied, “I am so tired of changing it from wrist to wrist. I’m sick of it!”

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We all got a big laugh out of the fact that she didn’t understand the whole lesson was not about continually changing the bracelet, but her way of thinking. Change the mindset, and you don’t have to move the bracelet. You truly do get to pick how you want to react to things.

Avoid making conversation into a tug of war. Look for ways to influence and find compromise. This will lead to an amazing guest encounter.

An entrepreneur, keynote speaker and author, Laurie Guest, CSP is a “go-to-resource” for customer service excellence. For more than two decades, she has shared her practical point of view on customer service and staff development with audiences and companies across the country, blending real-life examples and proven action steps for improvement. Her latest book, The 10¢ Decision: How Small Change Pays of Big, presents her most sought-after and impactful strategies to find and retain the best staff and highest-quality customers while delivering exceptional guest experiences.

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