Going Against the Current: Doing the “Right” Thing

I’m a little late getting on the “Homeland” bandwagon, but the show’s creating quiet a buzz in the workplace. The protagonist, Carrie Mathison, and her willingness to break rules and burn any bridges to do what she thinks sees as the “right” thing to do has even been featured in BusinessWeek. She’s the “anti-bureaucratic hero” that throws the rulebook out the window to get the job done, but in the end, those who like to stay in the “superstar” role aren’t the ones who make it to the top, according to the article.

Although not all of us fight for such high stakes as national security, we all will face situations where we question whether what we’re told is the “right” thing to do. You don’t want to be the lackey that is always told what to do and encouraged to shut your brain off. But if you constantly break the rules, loudly disagree with your supervisors or work around the system, you might build a bad reputation for yourself. So, the question is, how do you disagree with the general consensus without being labeled as “difficult” by your coworkers?

It’s a tough balancing act, but here is a list of things you can think about to pick the correct course of action.

1. Is it worth it?

Remember the wise words: “pick your battles”. Before you voice your disapproval on the suggested course of action, think about what the possible repercussions of the proposed decision would be. Would the suggested method lead to the same result as your method, even if it’s a little more inefficient? Would the consequences of the decision affect you? If you’re trying to help others, would they appreciate the fact that you’re looking out for them?

You’re putting a lot of risk on your reputation by trying to change the course of the decision, so make sure that your efforts will be worth it.

2. Act swiftly and wittingly

If you’ve decided to take action, do it quickly and efficiently. If a decision has already been made, then it’s only a matter of time before the subsequent actions are taken. And once actions are taken, it takes much more effort to change the path. Therefore, it’s important to voice your suggestion sooner than later.

It’s also important to be efficient. Organize your thoughts clearly – why the current plan is not the correct course of action, your proposal, and the benefits of your proposal. The longer you’re exposed as the person who’s “rocking the boat”, the higher the risk of a bad reputation.

3. Informally gather support

When you’re at the water cooler or out at lunch, subtly bring change the topic and pitch your proposal to your coworkers before blindly proposing it to management. This is a great chance to see if others feel the same way as you. Additionally, you can also use this opportunity to plant the idea in their heads and gather feedback. The more people you have on board with you, you become more of a “representative” of the people unable to voice their opinions rather than the singular “rebel”.

4. Learn to accept defeat 

Know when to cut your losses. If you gave your pitch with your best efforts but were still shot down, back off. Going any further will just aggravate your coworkers and bosses and they’ll start tuning out all of your future ideas, even the really good ones. And if you’re accepting defeat, do it gracefully. This means that you shouldn’t make snide remarks, grumble under your breath or drag your feet in getting work done. Doing so will only hurt you and throwing temper tantrums is only acceptable in kindergarden.

4. Stay cool

This process will probably be an emotional roller coaster of fiery passion, disappointments and frustrations. It’s fine to feel these emotions since they represent that you’re invested in the success of the organization. But try to keep as much of a poker face in the workplace as possible. Being emotional can come off as being irrational, which raises the defenses of others when listening to you. You’ll be considerably less effective if you start yelling or making frustrated huffing noises. Also, it’s pretty unprofessional.

——

It’s impossible to agree with all the decisions that are made in your workplace, and you should never lose your desire to try and do the right thing. But there are other factors to consider before blindly stirring things up and getting in your own way. It’s all about finding the right balance.

-J

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