Pick Your Battles: 3 Questions to Ask Before Disagreeing at Work
When you disagree with a corporate policy, think your co-worker’s idea is terrible, or are convinced your boss isn’t going to get the best results with the program she wants to implement, the solution seems easy: Voice your opposition—right?
While speaking your mind is admirable (and, as many managers will tell you, a valuable asset in an employee), it’s not always worth your (or your team’s) time to pursue every issue you disagree with.
While this may seem counterintuitive, take me for example: You see, I’m far from confrontational and don’t pick fights often, but over my first few jobs, I pursued some conflicts that just weren’t worth it. Whether I was rallying against a corporate policy that was set in stone or nixing every idea from a co-worker I personally disliked, in the end, some battles actually worked against me.
So, to make sure you’re pursuing the battles that really matter (and that you’re doing it with the right intentions), learn from my mistakes—and ask yourself the following questions before picking a fight.
1. Are Personal Feelings Getting in the Way?
You’re not going to be best friends with everyone you work with. In fact, there may be a few co-workers you flat out dislike. But when you start to mix your professional responsibilities with your personal feelings, it suddenly become a lot easier to pick arguments.
At my last job, I picked the worst person to develop negative feelings toward: my boss. We’d known each other for several years, so the feelings went deeper than a typical employee-manager relationship. And once that dislike had developed, I felt the sudden need to find the negative in every idea she presented—which you can bet caused some tension in the office.
I had to train myself to take a step back and evaluate my intentions: Was the idea one I truly opposed? Or was I arguing for the sake of proving her wrong? Once I started looking at the driving force behind my battles, I found that most of the time, I was pushing against her as a person—not necessarily her ideas.
2. Will it Put Me in a Bad Light—and If So, Is it Worth It?
Typically, my employees are allowed to surf the web on their work computers during their lunch breaks—as long as they publicly indicate (usually with a sign hanging on their desk) that they’re at lunch. So, I was surprised when my boss recently called me into her office to let me know that the higher-ups thought this lunch-hour habit looked unproductive and, therefore, would no longer allow it.
Immediately, I grew defensive. After all, my hourly employees don’t get paid during their lunch hour, so in my mind, they should be able to use that time however they want.
Wanting to rally for my team’s lunch hour rights, I started making a big push against this new rule to my manager (I vaguely remember using the phrase “silly corporate policy”). My boss was quick to refute that no matter how “silly” it was, it was my job to back up the wishes of the C-suite.
I quickly saw that my stance against the corporate policy wasn’t going to do much good—and in fact, didn’t put me in a good light with my boss or the execs. Now, if the issue had been a harder-hitting one, it may have been worth it to continue to push back for what I believed in. But in my case, knowing that the majority of my employees had access to a smartphone and a break room upstairs, I knew it wasn’t a battle I truly needed to pursue.
3. Am I Willing to Do More Than Complain?
Take a close enough look, and there are certainly things you don’t like about your organization. Maybe you think a process needs to be more efficient, your CRM software needs to have different functionality, or management needs to employ a different leadership style.
In my office, there’s one particular employee who particularly enjoys pointing these things out—multiple times per day. “The customer support team never gives me the information I need,” he’ll tell me, or, “This process is a waste of time.”
Does he have valid concerns? Absolutely. The thing is, when I’d ask him to send me detailed examples of his challenge or suggest an alternate solution, he’d suddenly clam up. Without that willingness to help, picking those battles became an unproductive venting session.
The same goes for shooting down one of your co-worker’s ideas. Do you have a suggestion ready for how to tweak the suggestion on the table? Without a well thought out counter proposal, your “I don’t think that’s going to work” doesn’t help anyone.
There are certainly some battles that you should pursue—but by figuring out how to effectively wade through the not-so-worthwhile ones, you’ll have more energy to focus on the fights that really matter.
About The Author
As a full-time manager at a tech company, Avery is constantly finding (and writing about!) new ways to better encourage, lead, and motivate her team. In her spare time, she enjoys listening to live music, attempting to sew, and discovering dive bars and hole-in-the-wall restaurants. One day, she hopes to publish a memoir, adopt a Great Dane puppy, and find the perfect shade of red lipstick.