How Small Issues Can Turn Into Huge Losses

“The only way to get the best of an argument is to avoid it.”. – Dale Carnegie

Have you ever let a small remark really get to you? Don T. learned how big a mistake that can be … the hard way.

A successful sales manager, Don was proud of the fact that he was already earning a six-figure income at the tender age of 35. In fact, his life was looking pretty rosy on that fateful night when he went out to a nightclub with some friends.

While at the bar, Don made an attempt to strike up a conversation with an attractive young lady standing nearby. Unfortunately, she wasn’t very friendly. She gave Don the once-over and growled that with his five-dollar watch and secondhand pants, she had no interest in him.

Although her comments were an exaggeration, it is true that Don was dressed casually and probably didn’t look like a guy who earned the kind of money he did.

Don tried to forget about this rude woman, but he wasn’t able to. Finally, he marched back up to her, intending to give her a stern lesson in not “judging a book by its cover.” But what happened next had serious consequences.

When he approached the offending woman and began shouting at her, a hulking, burly man decided she was being attacked, and savagely hit Don in the head with a bottle. The end result was that Don was not only nearly arrested, he required stitches, had a concussion … and was lucky he didn’t suffer any permanent brain injuries.

Don’s mistake was to allow a petty remark to get under his skin and goad him into starting an argument. In the nightclub, his misguided response triggered a physical assault. But had he made the same kind of mistake in the business world, it could have wrecked his career, costing him the respect of a superior … a client … or even his job.

Consider John S., for instance. John was an up-and-coming young executive with a national electronics firm. One day, his supervisor barked at him about his sloppy, disorganized filing “system.” Well, John simply wasn’t going to take that! He was one of the company’s young stars, and he was going to make that very clear. Pointing his finger at the supervisor’s cluttered desk, John snarled back that people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.

The supervisor held his tongue … but took an immediate and permanent dislike to John. At every opportunity – including formal evaluations – he gave John unfavorable marks. And despite John’s allegations that he was being treated unfairly, upper management trusted the supervisor’s judgment and stopped believing in John’s abilities.

Because of John’s decision to “get into it” with his supervisor, three years of hard work at his company went down the drain. He eventually left the company and had to take an entry-level job at a lower wage. He had to establish himself all over again as a potential management candidate … just because he couldn’t allow that one remark to slide off his back.

Keeping your emotions in check can not only help you avoid negative repercussions, it can also lead to great rewards.

Andy W., for example, was a member of a men’s bowling league. One of his teammates was a wealthy businessman who had been talking to Andy about the possibility of investing in a new business with him.

Andy was sure the guy liked him, so imagine his surprise when, fueled by one too many beers, the man took a cheap shot one night, remarking that Andy threw the bowling ball “like a girl.” While the other team members burst out in laughter, Andy fumed. He came close to releasing a torrent of invective … the kind of vicious, verbal low blows that can be apologized for but never taken back. Fortunately, he controlled himself and forgot the incident.

The fascinating thing is that the businessman didn’t forget it. He realized that he’d been out of line and was impressed by Andy’s restraint. Andy’s reaction was the final nudge the businessman needed to decide that Andy was someone he wanted to work with. And a few months later, Andy found himself heading up a great, new company.

Am I suggesting that it’s possible to steer clear of ALL arguments? Of course not. But you can make sure that you’re not letting yourself get knocked off course by a matter too trivial to be worth a fight.

One criterion you can use to measure the relative importance of an issue is “The Long Term Result Calculator.”

I’ve found this to be one of the most effective ways to determine which issues are worth spending my precious time fighting.

First, consider how the situation could possibly affect you in 10 years. If the issue could have a real impact on your life, it’s clearly one that you should think seriously about fighting for.

If, on the other hand, the issue is one you won’t even remember in 10 years (and I think you’ll find this to be the case more than 90 percent of the time), it’s probably not worth making it into a big deal now.

Quite frankly, in terms of your future success, you’ve got bigger fish to fry.

[Ed. Note: Paul Lawrence, a regular contributor to ETR, is a produced screenwriter, direct-mail copywriter, and business author. He is also the creator of the Quick and Easy Microbusiness System, ETR’s program for starting a business for under $100.]