Confronting someone at the office can be one of the toughest things to learn how to do. But it can be just as difficult to know when not to confront them. No matter what stage you’re at in your career, you’ll be faced with situations where it’s best to take the high road—to just let an idea drop or let an opinion go in order to maintain your credibility, your professional reputation, and, frankly, your sanity.
So, how do you know when it’s time to take a step back, instead of fighting for your side? We’ve picked three situations where you should recognize when it’s time to back down.
When You're Wrong
Sometimes, we get so entrenched in an idea that we keep fighting for it, even if it’s not necessarily the right approach. But keep in mind that it's not weak, misguided, or wishy-washy to retreat from a position when you realize that someone else's idea might be better. It actually shows that you’re a logical person with the ability to react appropriately to new information.
Natalie Pokvitis, an account manager for a software company, recalls a time when standing her ground backfired. “I was working with a colleague on an elaborate marketing event to promote our products, and I kept arguing with her every step of the way,” she says. “The event turned out to be a huge success due to her planning, and by picking apart her ideas, I ended up looking immensely petulant.”
If you realize that your idea might not be the right one—or that an idea you were initially skeptical of is a good one—you can professionally show that you’ve changed your mind by saying something like, “After seeing the data for the project, I realized that your suggestion to make an update would be beneficial. What can I do to help?”
When you back down, you prove that you’re placing the success of the project above your own personal agenda—which means that next time you do choose to hold your ground, your colleagues will know that you’re doing it for the right reasons.
When You Don't Have Clout
You know that new hire who seems to undermine her boss at every turn—always thinking that she has the real answers? Don’t be that person. Of course, you should never be afraid to express your opinions and ideas, but if your boss has taken them into account and made a different decision, continuing to fight for “your side” can make you seem defensive, or worse, like a know-it-all.
I’ve seen the negative consequences firsthand with one of my co-workers, who has repeatedly voiced her dislike for the company website updates—even though upper management likes them and analytics show that they’ve been successful. She has very little influence on the decision-making process, so her constant complaints make her seem like she just wants to pick a fight. And as a result, no one in the organization now wants to ask for her opinion on other projects, because they expect she’ll be difficult to deal with.
Remember that you don’t always have a clear picture of all of the variables that influence a situation. If your boss has made a decision, especially one backed with strong evidence and support from the rest of the team, it’s usually best to back down.
When the Situation Becomes Explosive
Sometimes, you are right. Sometimes, you do have clout. But sometimes, your co-worker or boss escalates a situation beyond what is reasonable. And when this happens, it's best to walk away from the situation. When conflicts move from constructive discussions to yelling and name-calling, being right is much less important than being professional.
If you realize that a discussion is getting unnecessarily heated, first try to refocus the conversation. You might say, “I know we both have the same goals here—let’s try to get back to that.” If the person you’re speaking with continues to get angry, calmly tell him or her your plan to leave the discussion. Try saying, “I think it’s best that we take a step back and think about this tomorrow. And if we need another opinion, I’ll ask our boss to join us in the meeting.”
Make sure you keep your emotions under control (and also keep your boss apprised of what’s going on). Don’t allow yourself get caught in a situation that could ruin your professional reputation just to make sure your ideas are heard.
In business and in life, you won’t always get the last word in. But, sometimes it’s best to take the high road and be professional, show that you’re a team player, or avoid a tense situation. In the end, knowing when to let go is just as important as knowing when to stand your ground.