I’ve always had some level of anxiety when dealing with conflict. Maybe you do too. I don’t relish being the centre of attention, especially that kind of attention. If there is some productive way to handle my adversaries, then I’m all for it, whether it is in my professional or personal life. Fortunately, a recent adventure in outdoor paintball gave me some valuable tips about how to deal with opponents.
If you haven’t played outdoor paintball before, it’s a series of game zones in a large, enclosed area. Each game zone has a different theme, such as Prison Break (where you negotiate your way around some buses and cars, D-Day landing (where you locate and defeat the enemy in their bunker), and Speedball (where you are protecting fuel reserves from terrorists). Your friends work as a team to battle against another team of people who have showed up to play at the same time. Some zones require more cooperation between team members than others. Oh, and you shoot the other guys using a gun loaded with colourful paint balls. The way I decided to defeat our opponent (the other team) was using the following tips.
Tip 1: Network and learn about your adversary
After arriving at the paintball location and signing a waiver, I had to get my gear on. I knew the event organizer, as well as some of the others in our party of about fifteen. I asked people in the group about how to put on the gear – some of the apparatus was intuitive, while other bits were not. Those who had played the game before had some useful advice for me while we got to know each other at base camp prior to the start of the game.
By talking to people, I learned more about the players themselves. The ones who were confident, with paintball canisters strapped and ready for quick access (like they intended to take a lot of shots), were likely to be the ones attacking the opponent. The people who said they’d never played before and were anxious for the game to start, were likely to be more on the defensive. I exchanged names with some team members I hadn’t met before: whether they’d played before, how they knew the organizer, and what sports they played when they weren’t shooting paint. The people we were playing against looked like seasoned players. No one seemed to be wondering which way a piece of equipment was supposed to be put on. That had me worried about my lifespan once I entered a game zone.
Tip 2: Make yourself some allies
I already knew what my strengths and weaknesses were for games like these: I can duck and cover, but I’m not good at shooting moving targets. Still, my video game fantasies kicked in, my imagined military skills fluttering through my mind as I hid behind a tree. Ideally, I would dart out at the opportune moment to shoot and take down the enemy one by one while under heavy fire. They would be too slow to catch me as I flew through the obstacle course to the target zone in enemy territory.
How it really played out though, was I used the camouflage of a tree. Chatting with people before the game gave me a chance to find the fearless snipers, the risk takers, and the reluctant players. I formed a kinship with one of the reluctant players. Her goal was simply to try out the games and see how she did. Our strategy was to shoot the enemy from a safe hideout and keep an eye out for each other’s backs. Having her as an ally doubled my chances of survival. I felt safe knowing she and I were in the same boat. Until she disappeared behind another tree when an opponent came close, and then I found myself surrounded by shrubbery and quite alone.
Tip 3: Share strengths to defeat the rival
My strength, as I’ve said before, is in hiding and observing. It’s not a strategy I’m proud of. Dealing with your adversaries through passive rebellion is not at all heroic. There is too much dependence on others – the ones recognized as the stars of the team. These allies of mine were the ones who took the big risks and charged, fully exposed on all sides, into enemy territory. They were the ones who claimed victory for the team, such as capturing the enemy flag.
I helped by advancing when they advanced and taking on defense. When the fearless team members launched themselves deep into enemy territory, I followed and hid behind a wall or tree trunk where I could fire at others with minimum risk to my own safety and provided them with cover fire. I also helped by donating paintballs from my supply to the risk takers. They ran out of paintballs at twice the speed that I did. My very conservative contribution benefited the team.
Tip 4: Let your opponent see your human side
It was in the last game zone, while my team was cornered and being slaughtered, that I realized I needed tip 4. In paintball, once you are hit, you must walk out of the active game area to show that you are no longer playing. That area is marked with a ribbon that shows the boundary of the game zone. After I was hit, I and other teammates stood along the ribbon, unable to go further because there were dense shrubs behind us. We started a lineup.
Eventually the opponent team fought their way to our side of the playing field and started to shoot at us, even though we had our hands up and we weren’t firing our guns. I lay on the ground to be as small as possible but even there I was hit about seven times. It felt more of a zombie hunting game at that point, since the enemy insisted that we could come back from the dead and were fair game.
Which brings me to the next point, that when you deal with your adversary, it helps to humanize yourself. It is harder to bring down an opponent when you can see yourself in their shoes and feel what they feel. To the other team, we were just targets in masks and soldier’s gear. They couldn’t feel the relentless pain of being zapped by paintballs, of getting the bitter, medicinal tasting paint in your mouth while soaking in the heat of padded clothing. Worst of all, I still had a working paintball gun which I wasn’t firing because I was playing by the rules. At that point, the game ceased to be fun until the referee realized what was happening and rescued us by drilling the rules into the opponents’ ears: do not shoot players when they are out of the game!
Tip 5: Separate small goals from large goals
When the game ended, I was a lot more colourful than when I’d started. I didn’t make it through all of the game zones because it was just too exhausting to run around in three thick layers of clothes in warm weather. I managed to survive at least half the zones by setting small goals for myself, such as crawling to a tree while under fire, and making it from one game zone to the next. The main goal, to make it through to last game zone, I did not achieve, but many of the team didn’t either. Most were just too drenched in their own sweat. I concluded none of us would make it as true military personnel.
The most important lesson I got from the game was working together as a team to defeat a common opponent. When you have allies protecting you and supporting you, you will be a lot harder to defeat. Definitely I wouldn’t have survived as long as a team of one. This lesson was one that I could apply to a work situation or even in my personal life.
That was probably the point of the game: for all to have fun and experience an adventure with your teammates.