Wrestling with Pigs (and Monkeys)

      13 Comments on Wrestling with Pigs (and Monkeys)

‘Never wrestle with a pig – the pig enjoys the wrestling and you get dirty.’ So the saying goes…

When people attack our good work, why do we spend time fighting back when we’ve got so many other priorities? Why do we continue to irritate (sometimes please) them by arguing?


Here’s five ways to avoid the wrestling and help them make progress:

#1 When your ideas are attacked don’t address their concerns directly unless you want to spend a lot of your scarce time proving who’s right. Why?

It’s rarely possible to prove who’s right – proof-points are easily dismissed, or ignored

They are not interested in your position – they can’t listen

The more you debate, the further away you get from solutions

#2 Stop talking about the problem as though it can be solved with rigorous argument. Think of the problem as being between you. Visualize the problem as an element in the space between each of you so that it can be clarified, but not analyzed. And, take what they say seriously, not literally!

#3 Find out what you have in common. A little or a lot, there will be something! Why not find out what they want because they might have something worth hearing? Show them you are listening, but will not to be bullied by their politics-ideology-anger, etc.

#4 Don’t expect big breakthroughs. Look for small progress and action steps. Intransigent positions take time to shift. The other party will change at a slower pace than suits you. Small progress usually speeds up change later.

#5 To change the beliefs and behaviours of others, first change ours. Rigidly clinging to our position will irritate our opponent. Do something different. Surprise them.

Here’s an approach to making progress towards solutions right away:

Ask yourself:

What do I need to do to hear about that they really want?

Beyond the disagreement, what solutions or outcomes does the other side want?

What do I want, i.e., my desired outcomes?

Look for those small agreements, small changes, small progress and change may happen sooner than you think.


13 thoughts on “Wrestling with Pigs (and Monkeys)

    1. Alan Kay

      I certainly can. I’m on a not for profit board and we recently had a board member resign in a huff. Forgoing the opportunity to look like a professional, this person listed a bunch of grievances about the poor treatment that her own NFP organization had received from our organization. Why she was on our board in the first place is another story – there was a clear conflict of interest.

      In her inflammatory resignation letter she is provoking our board to respond. This is a good case where our board should wish her well, but not answer her emotionally charged compaints. If we do, we will incur a great deal of board and staff time and nothing useful will come of it. She, in the meantime will spread the news in a way that is damaging to both of our reputations.

      We will undoubtedly look at what she’s saying and take note of any learning. If she chooses to pursue her complaint we have the opportunity to practice some of the other four points I make in the post.

      1. Joanna

        OMG I realized I have a pig on the other side of transaction that wants to wrestle with me! The example of refusing to be involved in someone’s emotional (over) reaction and dirt is perfect…

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