The Psychology Of Why It Happens
Social challenges are a natural part of life, baked into our biology. If you look at animals in general, but specifically chimps, dominance challenges behave in a manner remarkably similar to in humans. Testosterone, a hormone had in greater amounts by men triggers competitiveness. Dominance challenges are essentially competitions for a position in the hierarchy. This means that in a sense, if someone is challenging you they think you have some value. Why would they bother with you if you didn’t?
When people challenge you you can look at it as them questioning you skills or position, or you can look at it as the person making sure you have the skills they perceive you to have. This is often the case in new groups of men. Men will test each other in various symbolic challenges to see who is the best. Those who are the best in the group might challenge you just to see if you have skills worth utilizing.
It is important to remember that not all challenges have value. If the person is significantly lower than you in status, you might consider just ignoring it. Competition has costs, namely your time, and you don’t want to pay to achieve nothing. Ask yourself if there is any purpose or reward for winning this challenge.
Challenges happen more often in groups that are more socialized, and socialized groups function best when power is distributed among those who can successfully navigate the social landscape. Challenges become like stress tests for the group and the individual.
Additionally challenges are just part of the way systems make themselves more efficient. They become efficient by clarifying who are the leaders with the most relevant skills, and reducing the power of those with fewer skills.
You can often see challenges coming long before they happen. Entering into new social groups will often involve a period of dominance challenges by competent members. If you understand this, you can strategize and prepare before hand.
What Should You Do If Someone Challenges You?
The first step to dealing with challenges happens long before the actual challenge itself. Understand where you are likely to receive relevant and irrelevant challenges in your day.
You might be challenged on the drive to work, probably a challenge you should ignore. You might be challenged at the grocery store by someone who thinks you took the last toilet paper roll, maybe a challenge you should accept depending on the situation. You might be challenged at work by a coworker who thinks your solution to the problem isn’t going to work, definitely a challenge you should respond to. The latter example is one you should respond to because there are real stakes where losing will increase the chance of you losing leverage, credibility, and eventually money at work.
Once you have an idea of what types of situations you need to respond to a challenge in, you can start thinking about specific strategic questions. Who challenges you regularly? Is this the first time this person has challenged you? Are you new to this situation? Do you need to maintain or instantiate an image of dominance so everyone doesn’t attack you? What is the best way to respond in a common challenge situation? Do you get something valuable from accepting the challenge? Is this person trying to manipulate me to prove myself?
Next you need to decide how to respond. The best way to respond to almost all challenges is to act in a calm and rational manner. Part of the analysis people make of who wins is who is most emotionally and physically bothered by the challenge. Getting emotional generally shows that you are sensitive to whatever happened. Stay calm. Don’t move much and speak in a calm manner.
Since most challenges are verbal, use your debate skills. Take control of the conversation by asking questions. Reframe the discussion so you are the one in charge. See our article here on common workplace attacks and specific responses that work well.
Occasionally you need to provoke a challenge in a situation where you can win. If someone continually attacks you, eventually you need to respond. Set a trap. Think of a situation where people are generally supportive of you. Think of a topic you know better than the person. Bring up the topic in that situation so you will win.
For advanced techniques, see this article or this article. Both show you techniques used by powerful people to recognize and respond to attacks.
In some situations you need to turn an enemy into an ally. We have an analysis of a prominent movie character who applies one of the effective techniques for accomplishing this here.
What Can You Do If You Are Afraid Of Challenges?
Overall, it is important to know that challenges are inevitable and generally helpful part of social life. Accepting this will allow you to confront the question, why are you afraid of challenges? What are you trying to hide that you feel might come out in a challenge? Answering these questions is the first step on the road to conquering your fear of competition or challenges. If you struggle with this, check out our article on how to confront the sides of yourself that you have repressed.
Once you know why you are afraid, the simple but difficult answer to this question is to confront that fear on a regular basis. This can mean joining martial arts, sports, debate groups, or anything that pushes you into win lose environments.