Increase Effectiveness: Stop Verbal Ping-Pong

The biggest time-waster at work is arguing with colleagues or employees. I call these conversations verbal ping pong. There is a back and forth between two people who want to win and who keep coming back for a rematch. It goes something like this:

  • “Yes I did.”
  • “No you didn’t. “
  • “You are completely wrong.”
  • “You are so closed minded.”
  • “I’ll prove it.”
  • “You don’t have the facts to prove it. It’s just your opinion.”
  • “You never listen to me.”
  • “Now that’s the pot calling the kettle black.”

Effective leaders do not waste time playing ping pong. If you want to save time, and increase your effectiveness here are three steps to breaking the ping pong habit.

  1. Listen first
  2. Give up the need to prove a point
  3. Stop trying to fix others.

Listen first

Listening is the last thing you want to do when you are certain you are right. It’s more tempting to argue when you disagree. The illusion is that after the other person hears your logic, he or she will somehow come around.

If you want to persuade the other person, you have to be disciplined enough to listen before stating your case. Until people feel heard, they won’t be persuaded by your logic. Instead, they will feel compelled to show you that you are wrong.

Listening does not equal agreement, but effective listening assures you truly understand the other person’s mindset so that you can collaborate, persuade, or discipline, whatever the situation calls for. It takes two to play games. Don’t hit the ball back. Leaders who argue create more resistance. Leaders who listen control the conversation.

Give up the need to prove a point

Even if you are right, you have to give up the need to be right. When you notice yourself playing ping pong, take a breath. Chances are you are arguing about something that really doesn’t matter. If so, just agree to disagree and move on. If the conversation does matter, create some space to gain some control. Count silently to three or to 10. Shift your focus from winning an argument to understanding. While it may be excruciating at first, you will get the hang of it and actually enjoy the power you have over yourself. Notice the other person’s demeanor change after he or she feels understood.

Stop trying to fix others

One reason many of us play verbal ping pong is that we want to fix the other person. In other words, we want someone to change, but we encounter resistance. We see this resistance to doing what is in the person’s best interests, then we “take on” the issues, trying to convince the person to take our advice. If this is your colleague, remember that the other person has choices. You cannot change someone’s mindset, ideas or actions. If you are the leader, by all means make the other person understand the potential consequences of ignoring good council. You can coach others, you can discipline them, but you cannot fix them.


If you want to save time and increase leadership effectiveness, make a decision to stop playing verbal ping pong. Examine how often you try to be right or fix others. How much time do you spend listening versus proving a point? What is your mental and emotional state after a vigorous argument where nothing got resolved? Does your language support a responsible culture? How does your behavior affect productivity and efficiency?

Article originally published via SmartBrief.

Marlene Chism is a consultant, international speaker and the author of “Stop Workplace Drama” (Wiley 2011) and “No-Drama Leadership” (Bibliomotion 2015). Visit her website, and connect via Linked In, Facebook and Twitter.