You Say Goodbye & I Say Hello!

Relationship Games We Play at Work & in Life

By Steve McClatchy, President, Alleer Training & Consulting

You arrive at work and see your colleague in the hall and you say hello. In a meeting with that same colleague later in the day you disagree about something and it gets pretty heated. The next morning you pass your colleague in the hall, would you say hello? Have you ever decided not to say hello or not said hello back when they greeted you first? Have you ever been mad at someone who texted you and decided to ghost them without telling them why? Have you ever had a problem with a colleague at work so you took longer than you should have to respond to their email? Have you ever decided to not cross the room and greet someone new? Have you ever decided not to greet a new manager because you were resentful that they got promoted instead of the company promoting you? Have you ever given someone close to you the the silent treatment because you were upset and you wanted them to know it? Let the games begin.

We are very familiar with how to play games. There is a winner and a loser. In any win/lose situation your ego knows exactly what to do: go for the win. Thanks to our strong built-in survival instinct, the ego associates winning with survival and losing with death. Whenever you are competing your ego is your ally because it drives you to be your best, produce superior work, and be successful so you come out on top, and ensure survival. That is helpful in games like chess or soccer, or even in business when we are competing for contracts or clients. Here’s the problem, “winning” is not an appropriate goal in all situations. What if the goal is to partner rather than compete, to collaborate rather than manipulate, to empathize rather than judge, to brainstorm rather than criticize, or to meet a need rather than to win or be right? What if the goal is to just respectfully acknowledge each other? The protective and competitive tendencies of the ego are not needed in these everyday situations.

Trying to win should be reserved for competition in sports, board games, business deals, or where ever a score is being kept. Relationships operate on a completely different premise than win/lose. Your goal in your relationships with colleagues, customers, vendors, friends, and family is not to win. Relationships work when both parties get their needs met. When it comes to relationships, the first and most basic need we all have is to be acknowledged by others and recognized when we are in the presence of someone we know. If you and I work together it is expected that when we first see each other we give a nod, wink, handshake, fist bump, hug, smile, wave, or simply say hello or how are you? All around the world in every country, culture, and business customs are created to address the basic need we all have to be acknowledged by the people we know and interact with on a daily basis.

When we turn things like exchanging basic courtesy and respect into a game of winning and losing, we are letting the ego and emotions take over and applying that competitive spirit at an inappropriate time in order to either seek revenge for a perceived hurt, seek protection from a perceived threat, or establish dominance over a perceived competitor. We are turning our basic interactions with other human beings into a game of win/lose.

If the competitive spirit of the ego gets involved in the way we greet each other we start to size up and keep score with things like who says hello first, who extends their hand first, how firm is the handshake, whose hand is on top, who breaks eye contact first, how long is the handshake, who lets go first, etc. There are body language experts who teach people how to establish a position of power in all these ways and what each technique says about your self-worth and self-esteem. It’s exhausting. When someone plays these games it interferes with their ability to be sincere and to genuinely connect with others. They are choosing competition and dominance over relationships and connection. All of those techniques usually communicate to the other person that this is someone they should try to avoid.

How you handle an impulse to compete in a situation where competition is not appropriate is determined by your level of maturity and self-control. How you handle the situation will determine your level of success with that relationship. It is often hard to recover with someone if our first impression presents as bad sportsmanship, pettiness, immaturity, arrogance, snobbiness, or competitiveness. A mature person understands that disagreements or other problems can be addressed without disrespecting the human being. An immature person cannot separate the problem from the person and cannot act with professionalism and respect in the wake of a problem or disagreement.

What has been your experience when joining a new organization or a new team? Were you greeted with kindness and openness or given the cold shoulder? Did your new colleagues go out of their way to meet your need to be acknowledged and welcomed, or were you sent a clear message that your presence was a threat to their status in the hierarchy? Think of the last time someone joined your team. How did you do? Did you go out of your way to meet their needs or did you start playing games by intentionally not acknowledging them to send a message?

When we play games with acknowledgement and recognition we are letting our ego turn a basic need we all have into a competition and that competition is weakening or even destroying our relationships, and our potential for new relationships, which weakens our ability to be effective in our careers.

In my 30 years of working with some of the largest organizations in the world I have seen egos destroy a lot of relationships and businesses. From the dorm room to the board room to the court room, the ego and its desire to win and be right is almost always at the heart of why a relationship fails. When we hear the word ego we tend to think of other people we have undoubtedly encountered instead of ourselves. Regardless of your age, education, title, income or experience I urge you to reflect on how this applies to you. We all have an ego and the more aware and mindful we can be of when we feel threatened or tempted to act out of competition or vengefulness, the more we will be able to control and redirect those feelings toward building high trust, high confidence relationships instead of destroying them.

The content for this article is taken from my new book titled Leading Relationships which will be released in 2021. To receive future articles to help you on your journey to building high performance relationships connect with me on LinkedIn.

Steve McClatchy

Steve McClatchy is the author of the award winning New York Times Bestseller Decide: Work Smarter, Reduce Your Stress & Lead by Example. If you would like to learn more about having Steve deliver a virtual or in-person keynote speech or workshop for your organization or association, email

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