Want to know how to beat a toxic person at their own game – or deal with an enemy so they don’t get to you? This is a winning strategy.
Ah, toxic people.
We’ve all had them…. lurking in our social circles, at the office, or living right next door (or sometimes even in our homes).
Maybe they’re a narcissist, a gaslighter, or someone who’s simply missing the “kindness gene” and just being a total jerk.
So, what if I told you that, instead of viewing this toxic person as the villain in your life, you could see them as…a Tennis Player?
Remember those tennis matches from school or even a recent tennis match?
If so then you know:
That’s the perspective I want you to have with your adversaries.
Yep, in many ways, for many reasons, that challenging toxic person in your life can help you to up-level your life skills.
And while this tennis analogy might seem whimsical, there’s real science to back it up. There’s a phenomenon in competitive sports that mirrors this concept – which I will be explaining coming up.
(Quick Note: This “Metaphorical Tennis Player” analogy applies mainly to the garden-variety toxic person. It might not apply to someone who has caused extreme high level trauma in your life.)
In sports, studies have shown that athletes often perform better when up against a strong opponent – compared to a weaker one. The added pressure, the adrenaline, and the strategic mind play make them perform better.
So, envision your “enemy” giving you this “Opponent Effect.” Trust me, you will feel far better about dealing with this toxic person when you make this helpful mindset shift!
Oh – and – please know this isn’t about excusing this challenging person’s behavior. It’s simply about changing your emotional response to them – so you reduce the emotional hold they have over you.
Consistently research studies report that facing adversity (including an adversary) can often lead to greater growth – a phenomenon with the fancy name of “Post-traumatic Growth.” Yep, that’s a thing.
In a way, “Post-traumatic Growth” is like muscle training. Your muscles grow stronger and more defined when they face resistance. Similarly, your brain’s resilience can be honed when it’s challenged – and you thereby grow stronger – both emotionally and mentally.
Are you familiar with the story about the big clash between Steve Jobs and John Sculley? These two brilliant men endured a less that friendly relationship.
Initially, Sculley was handpicked by Jobs for Apple. But, due to disagreements, Jobs found himself booted out of his very own company.
This could have been the end of Jobs’ story. Instead, this fallout became the catalyst for Jobs’ greatest innovations.
Exiled from his own kingdom, Jobs founded NeXT, a computer company that became the foundation for future Apple products. Plus later, he acquired what would become Pixar Animation Studios, leading to groundbreaking hits like “Toy Story.”
By the time Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997, he wasn’t just the same ol’ Steve Jobs anymore. He was a higher level version of himself – refined by adversity – with a newly attained deeper understanding of business and innovation.
And guess what? Because Job upleveled his game – so did Apple! He went on to transform it from a struggling company into the tech behemoth we know today.
In their dynamic, Sculley, unintentionally, acted as the challenging opponent, pushing Jobs to elevate his game, leading to some of his most groundbreaking innovations.
This example shows just how adversarial relationships, if perceived rightly, can propel us forward.
Now, each of us have our own type of “Metaphorical Tennis Player.”
These toxic individuals challenge us, make us uncomfortable, and often throw us curveballs – that move us in unpredictable directions.
And just like a challenging tennis opponent, these toxic people can force us to step up our game, help us to refine our life skills – and bring out our A-game!
Imagine stepping onto the court with your opponent. You know, the one who serves backhanded compliments at family gatherings… or throws disruptive volleys in team meetings.
Yep, the person you dread.
Now before you’re tempted to slam a volley in their direction, I want you to pause and try a different approach.
Follow these 4 R’s:
Next up, just like in tennis, if you want to constantly improve your skills (especially when faced with that challenging opponent) it’s essential to create a long-term strategy. Plus you must consider your positioning, and wisely wait for the right moment to make your move.
With this in mind, here are…
Understanding the metaphor is one thing… but how can you practically use this mindset shift to deal with toxic individuals? Here are some tennis-inspired skills to help you be a winner with toxic people.
Ever watched a pro tennis player? They have that laser-like focus, zoning out the cheers, the jeers, and that one guy who forgot to silence his phone. In the grand slam of life, distractions abound. Your task? Develop the mental skill to stay calm and focus amidst chaos. Wait, watch, and ONLY when the time’s right, make your move with finesse.
This is your court, and you decide who gets to play and how. Be clear about your boundaries and be consistent in enforcing them.
Sometimes, a game can get heated. Often that metaphorical ball is coming at you fast and fierce. But losing your cool isn’t the answer. Pause. Breathe. Give yourself a little internal pep-talk. Then play your return shot with style.
Sometimes, it’s about playing the long game, waiting for the right moment to make your move. In the rally of life, remember: It’s not about knee-jerk reactions but well-timed, thought-out responses. Cultivate the patience to await for the perfect countermove.
Before you serve an ace of sarcasm or a backhand of anger, try a 360 degree approach with your communication. Sure, the immediate satisfaction of a snarky retort is tempting, but will it get you the match point in the long run? Speak your mind, but do it tactfully. Always keep the bigger picture in mind, not just the satisfaction of the moment. Think endgame, not just the next point.
Sometimes, the best strategy is not to play every game. Some opponents aren’t worth the sweat. Limit your interactions. Choose your matches wisely. Engage when it matters, on your terms, and sometimes, grant yourself the luxury of being a spectator in their self-made drama.
Consistently moaning about how your “opponent” is the devil’s third cousin won’t get you anywhere. Instead, reframe. How are they, in their own twisted way, pushing you to level up? Become the tennis pro of your own story, not the ball boy in theirs.
Ever seen a match replay? It’s illuminating. When you’re knee-deep in the game, it’s easy to miss the bigger picture. Sometimes, you need that bird’s-eye view, a fresh take. Get a coach, or at the very least, a buddy who can call out your blind spots.
Just like Steve Jobs, you have the potential to turn your adversaries into the motivators for your greatest achievements. Remember: It’s not about how difficult your “life game” is – but how you serve back whatever life throws at you.
If you ever feel you’re not up to the match, remember: Even the greatest players have coaches. With this in mind… explore working with me 1-on-1 as your Master Mindset Coach – here!
Or check out my therapist recommended online program: Manage & Avoid Drama Llamas Course! Inside I share a wide range of helpful audio and video lessons that help you to manage and avoid those challenging toxic people in your life.