Friday, April 1, 2011

Don't Sweat the Small Stuff - When Winning Is Worse Than Losing

One night I was helping Kathleen prepare dinner. I love doing this because my wife is a good cook, and before long I'll be enjoying something wonderful.

"Get a couple of salad plates, put the asparagus on them, and slice some tomatoes," she said.

No problem. I went to the dish drawer and brought a couple small plates to the island.

But before I put food on them, she said, "Not those plates. Use the green ones."

Here's what popped into my mind: What's wrong with these plates? They match the dinner plates and they're exactly the same size! You want me to take these plates back to the drawer and replace them with two more plates? What's the point? What's the difference?

I didn't say any of that. I'm getting wiser in my old age. Instead, I smiled and said, "Sure," and I carried out her instruction, even though it meant a little more effort.

Fresh in my mind was a cool new video my company introduced in ProStar Coach called "How to Resolve Conflict." It mentions five ways to deal with conflict: Compromise, Competition, Accommodation, Avoidance and Collaboration. While each has its place, the only method that has no downsides is the preferred method: Collaboration.

Accommodation can be the best approach when the issue is relatively inconsequential - not worth the effort of resolution. You just let other people have their way. You win peace, and you haven't given up much of anything. In other words, "Don't sweat the small stuff."

I wasn't always this wise.

Many years ago a friend of mine - a really smart guy - once told me, "You know, Denny, you don't always have to be right." I was so dense back then that I didn't know what he was talking about.

I recall an incident from my previous marriage, in which I made a mistake trying to be right. To this day, it pains me to think about it. We were driving on a back road towards the Interstate when the road ended at a frontage road. We could go left or we could go right. Both choices led to the Interstate. "Turn right," she said.

"It's closer if we go left," I said. I felt sure about this, so I was surprised when she insisted we take the other route. Stopped at the intersection, we had a little argument. I was sure she'd listen to reason.

But she continued to disagree. Tired of the debate, I just turned the car to the left, and off we went. I felt it was important to be practical. One shouldn't waste time and gas for no reason.

Back then, I didn't know about not sweating the small stuff. I didn't consider that for some reason it would please my wife to take the other route, and this was my big chance to make her feel happy for a few moments. It would have cost me next to nothing. Instead, she felt hurt. I don't remember what she said as she choked back tears, but I'm sure it was 100% justified. I had screwed up. It was a hard lesson for me.

So I happily returned the two plates and replaced them with the green ones. I'm not sure why she preferred them, but if it makes my sweetheart happy, then I'm easy.

Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2011. Building Personal Strength. (Premission to use photo purchased from


Sarcastic Bastard said...

First marriages are for mistakes and learning, Denny. Mine certainly was.

I'm glad you made my friend, Kathleen, happy. You are a good man, and I am very glad she has you in her life.


Michelle Sedas said...

Wonderful words of wisdom. Reminds me of Thomas Jefferson's quote: "In matters of style, swim with the current. In matters of principle, stand like a rock." So many things in life are matters of style.

Anonymous said...

not only first marriage, I made the same mistake with my ex-gf, for I was young and inexperienced at handling women.

Until I have learned there's no need to argue with women about being right or wrong, since they won't listen and that would irritate them great deal.

Peter said...

I am 73 and have been married over 40 years. That averages 10 years per wife, but actually the earlier marriages were the shorter ones. Now, I will do almost anything to keep the happy times going. But I get to decide where the "almost" begins and ends.