There are few things more personally gratifying than winning. This is true for pickup basketball games and U.S. presidential elections alike.
But if the contest you’ve just won was an emotionally draining experience in which the opposition repeatedly insulted you, accused you of cheating and even ginned up dubious accusations about your family, winning graciously can be a challenge.
The idea of savouring a victory without gloating or being disrespectful can be applied to any aspect of competition, but there are plenty of instructional cues to be found in the world of politics.
Thank your opponent for competing against you
If you win, it’s important to thank your opponent for challenging you and dedicating their time and energy to defeating you. You won, so it’s important to take the high ground. In 2016, when the race for the White House ended in with a Trump win, we saw several instructive examples on how not to behave.
On the plus side @HillaryClinton won't ask for a recount for fear of being caught cheating while she lost
— Curt Schilling (@gehrig38) November 9, 2016
Keep in mind, you don’t have to go overboard with any thank you if your opponent repeatedly went out of their way to sully your reputation in bad faith. There’s no profusion of grace necessary. Thank them for their time, offer them a verbal participation trophy, and move on.
Thank your friends and supporters
If you’ve been working especially hard to achieve something, it’s more than likely that you haven’t done it entirely on your own. Even if you’ve lost, it’s nice to thank those who’ve shown you support.
John Kerry’s 2004 concession speech provides a glimpse into how to show others that their support matters:
My friends, it was here that we began our campaign for the presidency. And all we had was hope and a vision for a better America. It is a privilege and a gift to spend two years travelling this country, coming to know so many of you. I wish that I could just wrap you up in my arms and embrace each and every one of you individually all across this nation.
I thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Give the losing party positive reinforcement and feedback
Maybe it was hard to beat your opponent, and you only triumphed by the slimmest of margins. If this is the case, it’s likely that you came close to not winning, and you may have only won by an outdated technicality in the first place. Even if it wasn’t close, don’t rub the loser’s face in defeat.
Instead, point out your opponent’s strengths and how you admire them. This kind of poise might be hard to conjure if your opponent has been less than disrespectful, but try to rise above their behaviour.
If your opponent throws a tantrum, ignore them
When competition is tight, emotions run high. If the losing party lashes out, let them blow off steam; it’s possible they’ll eventually calm down and approach the situation like a rational adult. If that doesn’t occur for whatever insane reason, don’t indulge any childish behaviour.
At this point, the best recourse might just be to ignore your opponent. It’s always better to let your foe wallow and dig their own grave, as opposed to stooping to their level and saying something that you might later regret.
Remember the stakes of the competition
If you’re playing video games, or a round of golf, it’s possible that the competition you’ve just won has tiny implications for anyone other than yourself. There are other competitions where the stakes are far higher, however. When you’ve won something important, remember to keep your head down and keep doing the work, no matter how hard your opponents are trying to cut you down.
After all, if your victory only means there’s a big job ahead of you, it’s likely that your opponent might soon be out of work entirely.