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Friday, January 14, 2005

Tennis Elbow Foot

“You can’t drop a ball that isn’t in your court.”

This mixed metaphor implies an agenda that extends from tennis to business - put the ball into the other guy's court.

The Nerdherding weblog describes some of the uses of this practice - both good and evil.

  • avoid misunderstanding
  • defensive move by contractors faced with client demands that are ill-considered, half-hearted or impractical
  • as a delaying tactic
  • as a way to create a bureaucratic block that can be easily removed in an act of “artificial good faith"
Nerdherding then recommends a reflective strategy.

If someone uses this technique (for evil) on you - simply ask for some examples of the format they want information in. The chances are they don’t have such a format and will be shamed into being genuinely helpful. If they do have examples then you will be able to formulate your request in a more convenient manner. Win either way!

This sounds suspiciously like tit-for-tat. If you suspect someone is trying to pass the buck, simply pass it back.

There may be some contexts in which a tit-for-tat strategy is a reasonable way of building or rebuilding trust. But it doesn't seem right for collaborative business relationships.

The trouble with tit-for-tat is that it may look strong and consistent from one perspective, but it can look weak, reactive and inconsistent from another perspective. And the metacommunication of tit-for-tat is that you are playing games - this can sometimes be interpreted unfavourably.

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