In Australian Rules Football there’s an expression: you can play the ball or play the man. This means that when you’re trying to stop your opponent from scoring you can either focus on the ball – or the man carrying the ball.

Your choice reveals a lot about your approach to winning.

Mark, who hails from down under, shares “Some defenders play the man. This means they’re more interested in taking the man out than they are in getting the ball. Which is crazy, because you can’t score without the ball. You should always play the ball.”

Here’s the elephant in the office: Countless professionals take the same approach in meetings. When discussing tough issues or contemplating ideas, they attack the person rather than addressing the issue. This leaves a bloody mess and a team designated to the injured reserve.


Do you have any preconceived notions regarding the people in the meetings you attend? If so, to what extent do those “beliefs” influence your response to their ideas and opinions?

One wants to believe they’re “open-minded” to what others say, but this is frighteningly difficult for some people to do. In business, “playing the ball” means constantly looking for the best ways to move ideas and issues forward – regardless of who’s communicating the idea. Ultimately, this is the only way your team can score.

This week take two steps each time you’re in a meeting where issues and ideas are being discussed.

  1. Pause and consider: am I addressing the issue or reacting to this person?
  2. Ask: How can I respond so that we create solutions AND I build stronger relationships?

It’s a new game. How will you play it?

Where will you lead – where will you stomp elephants – today?



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