Ice Hockey & Soft Skills - Better Together

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When you think of hockey, what’s the first thought that comes to mind? Is it soft skills? Nope, it's fighting!

A hockey fan will either go to a game or watch it on TV with some hope that they’ll catch a good brawl. And while fighting can be an important element of the game, as a non-professional ice hockey player participating in a weekly adult league, I sure can do without it.

You can only imagine my level of anxiety when faced with a scenario where someone wanted to drop the gloves and fight me. Now what!?

I did what anyone in my position would do - take him down using Soft Skills!

Here’s what happened…

During a recent game, I was skating with every ounce of speed I had to catch a loose puck that was near the boards. A player on the opposing team had the same idea. We were on pace to meet each other at the boards to get the puck, it was just a matter of who was getting there first.

I really thought I had a stride on him; but I was wrong and I braced myself for ultimate impact on the glass because I had no other way to avoid him. We were going to make contact.

WHAM!!!

We collided, hard, but we both managed to stay on our feet. No penalty was called and I was prepared to play on, except that moments after we collided, I heard fans who came to support the opposing team yelling and cussing at me. They thought I had intentionally collided with their guy and wanted to hurt him. It wasn’t true but evidently the other player thought it was. He came after me and was about to let me have it…

I didn't want to fight and had no intention on doing so, and so without even thinking twice, I put my hand out towards him and said something along the lines of, “Woah man! I was going for the puck. No intent to hurt you. It’s all good. It’s all good. Let’s play on.”

His reaction morphed from anger to confusion to acceptance, with a response of “Oh, alright man, alright man, all good.”

And, we skated on.

So, what does this have to do with soft skills?

The short answer is, EVERYTHING!!!

Let me give you three insights on how soft skills came into play in this situation: 1. Awareness - Too often people operate without observation and have no clue what’s going on around them. In this situation I was fully aware of what was happening and what was about to happen with the other player coming after me. I knew I had to act quickly.

2. De-escalation - During a conflict, many people don’t realize the things they do that actually escalate a situation. Here’s a classic example: “They yelled at me, so I’m going to yell back at them even LOUDER because I’m right and they need to hear ME!”

Now, this guy was yelling at me and ready to throw down the gloves, but I never raised my voice. I didn’t need to. I was very calm and in control of the situation, which could have gone very badly. Imagine if I had raised my voice and started throwing F-bombs back in his direction? That’s typically what happens in this situation and that’s how the fights happen.

3. Communication - As soon as I put my hands out to stop him from making contact and spoke in my regular tone of voice, he completely changed his approach. It was almost as if I cast a soft skills spell on him and he went from anger to complete understanding in the blink of an eye. It was so weird to see it happen in real time. I honestly couldn’t believe his sudden change in attitude.

Maybe the fans wanted to see us throw down the gloves, but that’s not me and that’s not how I play the game. When it was over, he approached me to apologize. He thought I was trying to take him out, which was nothing more than a communication error, but we bro’d it out.

When it comes to soft skills, there really isn’t anything SOFT about them. Real life is hard. It’s gritty and sometimes there’s a big guy with a hockey stick coming for you. I’d like to believe that soft skills saved me from what would have been a very ugly situation.

Jason Torres is a Trainer and Conversation Catalyst with Practical Dramatics, based in Charleston, SC. The company uses theatre strategies to help humans grow more profitable conversations with other humans.