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The Upper Hand in Conflict

When we are competitive, like in interpersonal conflict, we tend to be positional and it is evident we are determined to be the winner. This essentially describes the need to be dominant and fits into today’s blog topic – about getting the upper hand.

There are various suggested origins of this expression. Prominent amongst those is that the phrase originated in American playgrounds, in the way that children select sides for impromptu baseball games. You likely know the method in which one team captain grabs the bat at the bottom. Then the other captain takes hold above the first’s hand and they progress hand over hand along the bat until the top is reached. The one left holding the bat at the top has the ‘upper hand’ and gets first choice of player for their team.

Another theory is that the person whose hand is uppermost when a couple hold hands literally ‘takes the upper hand’ and is the dominant partner. The earliest citations of the phrase, which predate this one and the one mentioned above, put the emphasis on ‘upper’ rather than ‘hand’, indicating that ‘upper hand’ means being higher in social status.

Modern day meaning seems to reflect the circumstance when one or both people in conflict strive to gain something over the other person. Not surprisingly, this can be detrimental to the situation and the relationship. Some would say there really is no winner when it comes from a need for power, to be right, to make the other person wrong or a loser, to put him or her down, or other reasons of this nature.

This week’s ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) blog invites those who fight to gain an ‘upper hand’ in a conflict to explore your reasons for doing so:

  • What would having the upper hand be in a specific conflict situation you have in mind? Or, considering a past one when you fought to get the upper hand, what did having the upper hand mean?
  • What outcome was intended or do you intend?
  • How does (did) having the upper hand help you to achieve that?
  • Why is (was) that important to you?
  • If you get (got) the upper hand, how do you describe what the other person gets (got)?
  • What does (did) that mean to her or him?
  • If the other person gets (got) the upper hand, how would it be (was it) for you? Why?
  • If you wanted things to be ‘even-handed’ between you two regarding the conflict, what would that look like?
  • How would an even-handed outcome change (have changed) things for you? For the other person?
  • Where are you at right now as you think about this matter of getting the upper hand?

What other ConflictMastery™ Quest(ions) may you add here?

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