This weekend I was at a lacrosse game watching a group of eleven year old boys trying to do their best. I don’t know if it was the weather or too much sugar for breakfast, but the boys were not at their best. Slashing, pushing, hitting–it was a penalty fest. The referee might as well have carried his flag in his hand instead of putting it back in his pocket between fouls.
It was a bad situation that never got better.
As the game dragged out, the referee literally stopped play to go to the bleachers and explain to the parents why he was calling so many fouls. He had already done it with the boys, addressing each team separately, now it was the parents’ turn. Gray haired with glasses, the ref was smiling when he explained what the boys were doing wrong. The parents listened intently and never uttered a word. When he was finished, he trotted back out to the field and it started all over again.
Tweeeeeeet! There goes the yellow flag…again.
So what’s the lesson learned?
1. Take a moment and explain your actions.
Nothing the referee said to the parents changed what was happening on the field. The boys continued to rack up penalties and the game limped slowly on. What changed was how the parents perceived the events and because of it, a lot of needless anger was avoided. After all, the referee wasn’t being nitpicky—as he explained—but the boys were breaking all the rules. When you become wrapped up in a bad situation and have to deal out consequences, remember that a lot of people are watching YOU. They may not be directly involved, but they’re forming opinions about how you’re handling the situation. So, take a moment and educate the fans in the bleachers. It’s a lot better when they’re on your side.
2. Don’t fall back on, “I’m just doing my job.”
I hate that saying. Everybody hates that saying. We deal with and work for people who have feelings and a right to know why things are happening—especially bad things. The referee could have shouted, “I’m just doing my job” and left it at that. The next time you have to do something that may be unpopular, sequester yourself in your office with a piece of paper. Write down exactly why you have to do it. Nothing fancy, just five or six bullets. If “I’m just doing my job” is the best reason, then don’t do it. It’s not the right thing to do.
3. Be genuine.
Facing a tough situation where your actions will be under the scrutiny of others always goes a lot better when you have the right perspective. The referee wasn’t angry, he didn’t yell about how terrible the kids were playing, he smiled the entire time he was explaining to the parents—which he didn’t have to do in the first place—and he earnestly tried to make a bad situation more understandable. It was clear that he cared about the kids and about being a good referee. He was genuine and that goes a long way in a tough situation.