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.

Disagreeing Agreeably

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.

Show respect

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.