Difficult conversations and opposing viewpoints are a part of life, and things can get messy really quickly, especially when ego is thrown into the mix.
Rather than rushing into battle, it’s good to step back to gain some space, reflect on our ultimate aim and imagine what our best-case scenario would look like. After that, it’s a matter of framing the messaging from there.
If you want a handbook of what not to do, look no further than the Spanish Soccer Federation (Real Federación Española de Fútbol or RFEF).
Consistently ignore players’ concerns
The Federation’s ongoing dispute with the women’s national team reached a fever pitch on September 9 when 15 players declared themselves unavailable for call-up due to “recent events within the Spanish team that have significantly affected [our] emotional state and health.”
Their decision to send an identical, carefully articulated text was surely a last-resort measure after months – if not years – of unheeded complaints about head coach Jorge Vilda.
The timing and wording of the communication were important: the players took steps to avoid any erroneous interpretation that they were quitting the team outright, as well as potential sanctions for refusal to play. The team’s next match is slated for October 7 against Sweden.
Add more fuel to the fire
Beyond finger-pointing and “who’s right and who’s wrong,” any organization faced with a massive walk-out has a massive problem. Sorting through thorny, often emotional issues takes time, which is why conveying a simple message of “We see you, we hear you, and we want to work together to resolve the issue” is so vital. It provides some breathing room to reflect and regroup, and prevent the dispute from further escalating.
So what did la Federación do? The exact opposite. Not only did it continue to disregard the players’ complaints, but it also twisted their words and selectively leaked them to the media.
First came the scathing reprimand – “players have no right to question the continuity of the coach, as taking those decisions are not part of their role” – translation: Ladies, know your place – followed by threats of dismissal if they failed to immediately “admit their error and apologize.”
The RFEF further fanned the flames with a shame-based and nationalistic bent – “We only want players who are proud to defend our colors and wear Spain’s t-shirt” – and chides them for their unethical behavior, which “goes beyond sport to be a question of dignity.” Really? Is the RFEF now distilling lessons from the moral high ground? Hmmm…
Act in bad faith
If you read the players’ email, you will see it makes no mention of seeking the coach’s dismissal – albeit their ultimate aim – nor their intention to quit the national team. It simply states they are not in conditions to play until the current situation improves.
Rather than diffusing the situation, the RFEF reverted to the age-old power-over approach: force, coercion, domination and control, and a side dish of fear for further motivation.
The RFEF’s message: We see you but we refuse to hear you. Your concerns do not concern us. We kindly request that you bend to our will so we can put this matter to rest. Go team! ¡Qué viva La Roja!
The Spanish women’s national team is a global contender for the 2023 World Cup and their top performers are frustrated and furious following months of ingored and unaddressed complaints.
RFEF, is this the best-case scenario you imagined?