How video games taught me to be better at conflict

An exploration of pattern-based video games and and the correlation to conflict at work.

The Legend of Zelda
The Legend of Zelda

I played a lot of video games growing up. It all started with The Legend of Zelda. I had such bad allergies that most of my adventuring had to be more pixel-based than anything. I didn’t expect to learn all that time spent playing video games would amount to anything, especially when it came to conflict resolution. Turns out there’s a lot more in common with old school video games and modern day human behavior than you’d think.

Games of that era had such limited computing power that everything had to happen in a pattern. Enemies would move in a certain way — once you learned how they acted, you had a much easier time understanding how to defeat them. I’m fascinated by how that can apply to human behavior.

Let’s explore how spotting patterns in behavior makes for better outcomes when it comes to conflict.

The big question you ask yourself #

It all starts by asking myself “has anything like this happened before?

If so, I’ll try to find three examples to share. Let’s say you’re going to talk to person who shows up late to client meetings consistently. Think up two other examples before you talk to them. I like to stay as objective as possible and avoid saying things like “you’re always late,” and focus on saying something like “the last three client meetings we’ve had, you were more than 15 minutes late.”

One event is almost too easy to explain away and isn’t usually enough to draw a useful conclusion from. Finding two examples helps you two piece things together — there could still be a lot you’re missing though. It’s only when you reach three that you come up with almost undeniable evidence for your conclusions about your issue.

A quick note about assumptions #

I’m not a big fan of assumptions generally. However, I am a fan of assuming positive intent. Sure, it’s possible that someone’s trying to cover their ass or being malicious — we’ll get into that another time — but isn’t it more likely that there’s just something they aren’t seeing? This is where patterns are really helpful: they help both of you connect the dots.

I’m also assuming you have positive intent. If you’re cherry-picking things to just shut someone down, if you’re out for revenge, or you just want to be right, you should back off, full stop.

Overall #

It’s worth revisiting what patterns do well:

  • Make it easier to help people see what’s really happening
  • Help you make the strongest case when having a conversation
  • Assist the other person in seeing their behavior’s impact

Try this before your next conversation #

  • Ask yourself if they’ve done anything else that’s similar
  • If so, can you find two other examples?
  • Check your motives: be fair and don’t cherry-pick to make someone feel bad

So the next time you think about conflict, think about all the patterns present in those old video games — it could give you the clarity you need before talking to someone.

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