How to Take a Stand While Maintaining Your Relationships
What’s the last time you wanted to take a stand on something?
Maybe it was with your teenagers and putting your foot down about one of the rules of living under your roof. Or perhaps it was with your boss or colleagues about some work practices you object to. Or there were the suffragettes who fought for and won the vote for women in the 1920’s. Now that was taking a stand!
However large or small the issue, it’s natural to get upset when something you believe in gets trampled. Even mad as hell.
But what if it’s a hollow victory? The kind where even if you’re in the right, you may be unable to make a difference. Like throwing a pebble into the ocean.
On the other hand, you don’t want to have something left undone and unsaid that gnaws away at you for the rest of your life when you could have stepped forward and taken a stand.
So what do you do?
Decide whether it’s worth it
The first thing to do is to decide whether or not to make that stand.
For me, the question is, “Is this something worth fighting for?” And my “worth it” equation includes how much it means to me, how much of a difference I can make, what the range of consequences might be, and whether I will experience regret later on.
For my colleague who’s a COO, her question is “Am I prepared to die on this hill?” which is a more dramatic way to ask the same thing.
However you phrase the question, the bottom line is that you have to make sure you truly and dispassionately believe this is the right position to take. That’s because you will be going against someone else’s grain and ruffling some feathers. And this will be associated with you for some time to come.
Some things are obvious, like protesting something that will harm your loved ones. Others are a judgment call, like protesting when your colleagues bring out the cigars after dinner and you’re wearing a freshly dry cleaned outfit.
In all cases, it’s important that you know what goal you are seeking to accomplish by taking a stand. If your goal is the equivalent of “mission impossible”, it’s best to know that at the outset rather than when it’s too late.
How to make your stand
Once you’ve decided it’s worth taking a stand, then I find the best way to do it is as follows.
1. Get the “lay of the land”
It’s crucial to understand where your key stakeholders stand on the issue. That tells you where you will need to do some pre-work ahead of time and damage control after the fact. In fact, you will have done some of this thinking already to factor in whether you will be able to make a difference by taking your stand. But now it’s time to be more systematic in thinking it through.
2. Link to the common goal
When you’re taking a stand, it’s most powerful when you can bring others along with you. That’s also how you create the best chance of making change and not ending up as the ineffective lone voice in the wilderness. By linking your position to a common goal for the organization, you can’t go wrong. In fact, it makes it highly likely that you are in the right.
3. Back it up with data
Beyond linking your point to a common goal that everyone can rally around, it helps to have the facts and data to back up your position. This will appeal to those detail-oriented people who are only persuaded by analysis and logic. Plus, you will want to have done some of this work as part of deciding on taking your stand.
4. Create a compelling narrative
Just because something makes sense in your own mind doesn’t mean it will instantly make sense to everyone else. You have to craft your case so it’s easy for others to “get” right away.
That’s where the concept of creating a narrative or storyline comes in. And as you put together your narrative, it helps to keep your main stakeholders in mind so you can tailor your message in the most effective way.
Putting together your case in the form of a storyline will help ensure that your rationale is clear in your own mind and that your logic is impeccable. It will also help you bring a greater level of emotional connection with your audience that trumps the data alone. Finally, it will make it easier for you to remember how to articulate your case in the best way when the time comes.
In the end, taking a stand is generally about disagreeing in a way that maximizes your chance of getting to a positive outcome while retaining your relationships, or at least allowing you to live to fight another day.
Some would call this learning to “disagree agreeably”, a phrase used by Dale Carnegie, author of How to Win Friends and Influence People among other books.
I have come to realize there are three particularly important principles to keep in mind to be successful in disagreeing yet maintaining respect.
Don’t make it personal
The first is one from my Chinese heritage. Using pinyin, the saying is “duì shì bù duì rén”. Translated to English, it means that when you are criticizing or disagreeing, “focus on the item or issue at hand, not the person”. Or said another way, “don't make it personal”.
Don't take things personally
The second is the corollary: don’t take things personally, but rather keep an open mind. When you get too attached to a particular outcome, it clouds your ability to see things from someone else's viewpoint or even to recognize that there may be other valid ways to look at a situation. That, in turn, makes it harder to retain your composure and reduces your ability to be effective in persuading others.
The third is treating the other person with respect. This includes respecting their basic human desire to be seen, heard and acknowledged. And it also means not goading or antagonizing them. When people feel respected, especially when there is a difference in point of view, they are less likely to escalate and retaliate.
What about you?
In life, there will be times when you must take a stand, and others when you will choose to do so having weighed the pros and cons. In either case, when you go about it in the right way, you can make your point while maximizing the chances of effecting change and maintaining respect.
These are four steps that I’ve seen work:
- Get the lay of the land
- Link to the common goal
- Back it up with data
- Create a compelling narrative
And above all, learn to disagree agreeably.
Armed with these strategies, perhaps you will be able to take more stands in a way that preserves or even enhances your position. And that will help create a better world for all of us.
So, what about you? How do you go about disagreeing agreeably?
Leave a comment and let me know.
Great post, May!
You have codified such a difficult (& sometimes corrosively upsetting) part of modern work life into a rigorous, eloquent, easy-to-remember guide.
Your excellent guidance made me think of a few additional points from my own experience.
1. Know Your Cognitive Blindspots. As an INFJ, my cognitive wiring is “tuned” to situations where a powerless person (or group) is being treated unfairly through no fault of theirs. As a result, I’m “wired” to see these situations as places where I am impelled to take action. My sincere intention is always to find a win-win solution that everyone loves (with deep respect for each party), but in a time-stressed environment it may not come across that way. This instinct has helped me to do a lot of good work in the world, but it has also blindsided me in some cases and relationships. The problem is that my cognitive bias can shut off the dispassionate reasoning & assessment you describe that is so critical in your Step 1. It turns out that anyone with an ‘NF’ cognitive orientation is highly likely fall into this blind spot regularly. This is because NFs under stress make decisions via their guiding values (their ‘moral compass’), which include deep idealism and compassion. Conversely, the strongest value that drives people with an ‘ST’ wiring under stress is Loyalty. Unlike NFs, STs need to be mindful of where their loyalties lie, because this cab often bias their perception of a difficult situation. Knowing your own cognitive blind-spots is critical to understanding biases that operate unconsciously stressful ethical dilemmas. Ironically, it usually your greatest strengths that will get you into trouble under stress (because we tend to over-use our strengths under stress). So great strengths can often help point to vulnerabilities and blind spots that need extra self-awareness.
2. Begin In a Friendly Way. This was one of Dale Carnegie’s many ingenious insights. Starting with something light & friendly helps people to relax and remember that we are–first and foremost–friends who don’t take ourselves too seriously.
3. Understand the Other Person’s Beliefs, Concerns, Goals & Constraints. Remember that we can only fully know what we are trying to accomplish and what we are up against. We cannot see our own behavior or how it comes across to others. Conversely, we can ONLY see another person’s behavior & how it comes across to us. We don’t necessarily know anything about what the other person is up against or trying to accomplish. Henry Ford summarized this so eloquently when he said: “The key to success in life is to see things from the other person’s point of view, as well as your own.” Or even better still: “Seek first tonundersyand, then to be understood.”
4. Reframe the Issue as a Problem that You Both Genuinely Want to Solve. An effective reframe often redefines a problem around a shared goal or conviction… or simply de-claws the problem into something seemingly minor & painless. In nonprofit institutions, I find a consistently effective re frame is to keep returning to the mission; to the organization’s raison d’être. If we can all remember why we’re all here together in the first place—and we dig deep into our belief in the mission—we connect with something bigger. Taking a stand can feel like no less than igniting the greatness in ourselves and each other.
Many thanks for sharing these excellent insights, Jonathan! I agree with your points and appreciate your sharing your deep thinking with us.
I’d love to know what your favorite books are – something tells me you’ve got a great bookshelf…!
Your question to me is awesome! I never stopped to think about that. With your encouragement, I just reviewed ~300 business books in my den to figure out which are my favorites.
My first discovery: If I threw out ~250 of them, I don’t think I miss any of them.
More important, though, SEVEN BOOKS on general management stood out. These seven have become my go-to, dog-eared ‘Bibles’ and timeless advisors for my 35 year career in business. I find their insights to be endlessly deep, insightful & relevant.
My 7 favorites are:
1. The Wisdom of Teams: Creating the High-Performance Organization; by John Katzenback & Douglas Smith. http://a.co/7fuz81S IMHO, the definitive guide to building high-performance teams.
2. The Trusted Advisor; by David Master & Charles Green. http://a.co/3oFzgxk Most brilliant book ever written about developing & managing very large, high-stakes relationships
3. The Fifth Discipline; by Peter Senge. http://a.co/1YdZSm4 Several chapters are worth the whole book: Ch. 4 “The Laws of the Fifth Discipline,” notably Law 8 on the ‘Trim Tab”; Ch. 8 “Personal Mastery”; Ch. 10 “Shared Vision”; Ch. 11 “Team Learning”; and Ch. 15 “The Leader’s New Work.” I’ve given copies of these chapters to hundreds of people.
4. How to Win Friends & Influence People; by Dale Carnegie. http://a.co/5msrKhE The best book ever written on how to work with human beings. (Caution: May not work with extraterrestrial species, but definitely the best ever for homo sapiens :->)
5. The Power of Now; by Eckhardt Tolle. http://a.co/1kiR6AM If there was such a thing as an introductory textbook on mindfulness, The Power of Now would be it. One of our greatest limitations as managers is our over-dependence on the thinking mind. The cultivation of mindfulness, equanimity, nonjudgmental awareness, compassion, and wise discernment are a lifelong journey. As is the ‘deprogramming’ of our habitually conditioned minds. But the possibilities for leaders are limitless. One of the most dedicated practitioners in business proved this throughout his life: Steve Jobs.
6. The Spirit to Serve; by J.W. Marriott Jr. http://a.co/62cc8pc The managerial wisdom of one of my all-time favorite CEOs
7. Time Management; by Richard Winwood. http://a.co/5hnxaEl IMHO, everything you need to know about Time Management (before the topic became super-convoluted….)
(I also have some specialized favorites on marketing, executive coaching and career advancement; happy to share those too :->)
This is a great list, Jonathan. I’ve read and enjoyed most of them, and now have some additions to my reading list!
I think we would all love to know your favorites on career advancement too.
Thanks for sharing your bookshelf here.
Excellent article, one of the best if not the best by May.
Never underestimate the import of the question “Am I prepared to die on this hill?”
Regarding May’s question about how to disagree agreeably, the first thought that came to mind is to ask the other party how there solution solves the business mission, and follow through with detailed yet polite questions as appropriate. There is no guarantee of success, but it is another approach that sometimes works, or brings something new to the picture. In many but not all situations, the best solution is often an innovation that comes from the efforts of many.
Many thanks, Udo. This is high praise indeed!
And I agree that the best solution is often from the innovations from the many.
Another excellent article, thank you for sharing!
You are welcome!
Great article!!! As always, I found this very helpful!
Many thanks, Ann!
Great post and congratulations on breaking it down into 4 easy to remember steps.
You are welcome! Wishing you well as you use the steps.