Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Being Right or Being Happy

In the modern workplace, you will work with people you didn't hire such as people who were there before you, and people who are likely to be there long after you are gone. Maybe you hired your team yourself, maybe you inherited it, maybe you just got added as an individual contributor.

Whatever your circumstance, there is always going to be that special time when there is conflict among the masses.

Now, when you're the manager, its not really anymore fun than when you are not. The quality that makes a good team is people feeling comfortable telling other people that they have dissenting views AND the team handling that and pulling something productive out of it.

As with any conflict between two or more parties, it is possible for all parties to be wrong, all parties to be right, and just about any other juxtaposition of right and wrong possible depending on the number of people involved.

In technology, which is where I have done most of my work, I do find that the logical minded folks--the ones who could probably have written the paragraph above this one--are the most likely to argue unto death about right and wrong in a conflict. With great education and experience comes...well, great responsibility, yes, but a great deal of stubbornness, too.

No one enjoys being wrong, unless it's about learning that they don't really have some terrible disease or something. At work, for the most part, being right is rewarded and being wrong is greeted with cautious neutrality and occasionally, outright scorn. Work is where a lot of people have developed their worth as individuals, and that worth can (and in their mind, is) questioned when you doubt them such as when they might be wrong.

Some people love their work. Some people love their friends. Some people hate being agreeable. Whatever the motivation is, you're going to find yourself in a battle of "right v. wrong" in the workplace at some point in your life. When it happens, and you're imagining screaming at the person (or persons) who are adamant that the world is flat or that the sun rises in the west, here are some things to consider.

1)People sometimes come to the conversation in a bad state of mind. For example: one of the greatest sins in America, where I live, is not hearing something. Someone says something to a co-worker who fails to acknowledge them or responds with, "I'm sorry, what?" and that person repeats himself, usually a little tensely, but with good nature. They say "what?" again, and the second time that the person has to repeat himself (the third time you're saying it), that person is suddenly, and unreasonably, angry. Now make the conversation a natural conflict--"Should we go with white or black?"--and emotions are now mixed liberally with the actual facts in the data. Hearing is only an example here (and a freaky one, if you think about it, because everyone has moments when they aren't concentrating on their hearing), but anything could have happened to the person before the potential conflict started, and they are bringing all those hidden--even to them--issues with them to you when you need to talk.

2)A lot of decisions made in the workplace are not important. Let me repeat that: a lot of decisions made in the workplace are not important. From how you'll name variables in code to how you'll decide which group is required to get their flu shots first, there are dozens of relatively meaningless decisions being made daily. Oh, you could say its VITALLY important for either of those things under specific circumstances, but in the general scheme of things, a decision gets made so the task moves forward. Not rocket science, and typically not a matter of life and death (although if you are working in a hospital, thank you for reading my blog and your mileage may vary).

3)Sometimes the consequence of doing something in a non-opportune/less efficient aka "Wrong" way is not "horrible terrible things with bad sauce on top." Sometimes people actually learn from their mistakes. Obviously the company isn't excited about your making mistakes, but sometimes its the best way to learn something: to try and fail.

4)Sometimes people care too much. It's a pet project, for example, or its in a technology they are DYING to try out. Maybe its political--if this person gets it this way, then he/she feels they are getting ahead/putting an opponent behind. Whatever it is, people get freaking attached to some decisions, whether they are rational or not.

5)Sometimes you have bigger fish to fry. In the grand scheme of a day, you're probably going to have to make dozens and dozens of decisions. Do you really want to waste thought, time and energy on one of them? The conflict in question may not matter in the grand scheme of things (like #1) or in the scheme of things ranks low (do I covet goodwill by acquiescing to this other person to build capital to get what I want later?) Sometimes you just don't have time to argue.

What this all adds up to (and I'm sure there are more than just five things affecting decision making, but that's where I'm stopping...for now) is that every argument has multiple variables, most of which you don't know until you engage.

Once you engage, you need to measure your own reaction (in case any of those things are affecting your judgment) and query the other person on the matter.

Where possible, it's important to repeat back what you've heard, and to ask the other person to do the same to verify they heard you--your brain processes language with more clarity when you're saying it than when you're hearing it, and it makes the other person feel more at ease that you really are listening.

Then, I recommend, take a break. Come back to it.

Think about the conversation while you're gone. Don't obsess on it or anything, but think about all the factors and then ask these questions:

--Could this be a learning experience for me or others?
--Is this a meaningful decision? If not, why am I bothering?
--Would I get more for letting the other person have their way and giving up my own, either by them learning or us being able to move forward?

Once you've answered those questions you know that either a) you don't need to fight/worry--you can let the other person go with their decision or b) you do need to invest in this, and come up with compatible arguments, and why you need to do so.

It sounds simple, but people frequently are driven by emotion and habit (hence this post).

One comedian said, of his relationship with women, "You can be right, or you can be happy, but you cannot be both." Often in work situations you can be both, but more often than not, a good compromise leaves everyone annoyed. In a world where happy endings aren't the norm--the work world--knowing about other people's motivations around decisions, and that sometimes its all right to give up or give in (sometimes its even more productive to do so!), can be uncommon common sense.

No comments:

Post a Comment