Dealing With a Decision You HateJeff Schmitt
It's one of those meetings. That big issue—the one you've tiptoed around—has finally hit the agenda. You know the stakes. Inertia and gimmicks will only feed the problem, but sweeping action will create new ones. It's a delicate balance. So you collect your facts and polish your arguments. You already know the politics and egos involved.
And your peers don't disappoint. They quickly put you in your place. Maybe they gave you a forum—or a curt "it's settled" and move on. "Why do they keep me around?" you ask yourself. "They never listen to me."
In business we'd like to believe decisions are grounded in due diligence, where the pros and cons are carefully weighed. Unfortunately, verdicts sometimes result from fear, skewed data, and self-interest. So how do you swallow a decision you disagree with, or even disdain? Consider the risks and rewards of these strategies:
Strategy: Some principles are worth the fight—and you're willing to stake your career on them. You continue asking the tough questions, sharing those dissenting views that others dare not express. By carrying on the debate, you believe you're protecting the interests of your customers or peers. In your view, you're not hindering progress but being truly loyal to your employer.
Risk: There is a saying that "If you're not at the table, you're on the menu." By publicly challenging a decision, you risk losing influence or even stirring reprisals. Your superiors may question your judgment and whether you're a team player. And you could reopen wounds that doom the decision to failure. In short, your superiors could brand you as Public Enemy No. 1 and leave you on the sidelines.
Reward: Chances are your outspokenness will earn you a loyal following. And you'll have the satisfaction of courageously doing what you feel is right. You'll sleep more soundly at night…even if it's in a cardboard box under an overpass.
Get Behind the Decision
Strategy: You're the company man. You did your job, laying out the costs, trade-offs, and alternatives involved. Despite losing the argument, you throw your full support behind the decision. You work harder to implement it than anyone else; no one would guess you initially supported the other side. In your world, promoting unity and stability outweighs a decision's downsides.
Risk: If the decision implodes, history won't judge you kindly. Sure, you faithfully executed your superiors' wishes. But your peers will say you played it safe. And they'll paint you as another spineless sycophant, a lapdog in leadership's pocket. Over time you'll be seen as part of the problem, if not the face of it. Inevitably, your superiors will trot you out as the sacrificial lamb to save their credibility.
Reward: If the decision succeeds, they'll say you acted honorably by keeping your reservations behind closed doors. You'll reinforce your superiors' trust by proving you can suspend your ego and work for the greater good. And you'll position yourself for greater assignments and responsibilities.
Pick Your Shots
Strategy: You're the smooth operator who knows all the players. You have your doubts, but you're shrewd enough to back down and toe the line—for now. Meanwhile, you wait and work behind the scenes, quietly building your case and seeking incremental changes. Sure, you play devil's advocate occasionally, but never on the record. You understand that your relationships and reputation are key when bigger fights emerge.
Risk: You can't always have it both ways. Your superiors could identify you as an impediment. And your peers may view you as two-faced for publicly supporting and privately undermining a decision. It isn't easy walking that fine line—and you can quickly be branded a Monday morning quarterback. Think about it: How comfortable would you be if a peer played both sides on something important to you? Your actions may set a poor example, if not a precedent.
Reward: You stay relevant, maintain your network, and lessen your exposure. You're the natural bridge-builder when tensions boil and conclusions unravel. Even more, staying in the game gives you an opportunity to learn more about your peers—and how you can produce more compelling arguments next time.
Strategy: Like a sulking child, you sit on the sidelines. You've already seen how decisions like these have played out. So you tune out and stay neutral, figuring it's best to let the big boys slug it out. You hope everything eventually blows over, like so many times before.
Risk: When the going gets tough, you retreat into your own world. The higher-ups have noticed—and are starting to question your commitment. By refusing to take a stand, you risk alienating all sides. In some quarters you're viewed as something worse than a rebel: a quitter.
Reward: By staying below the radar, you won't catch the blowback or blame. Plus, your deliberate disengagement means you don't leave any incriminating fingerprints and associations. And that may make you the most palatable choice to clean up any wreckage later.
Strategy: You live by a moral code. This latest decision represents a pattern—and you see the writing on the wall. You wrestle with your conscience and conclude this is too big. You know the honorable gesture is to step away. So you fall on your sword to dramatically illustrate your commitment to principle.
Risk: A successful outcome may reveal you as an ego-driven hothead. Rather than staying to protect your peers, you storm off, leaving everyone else to pick up the pieces. Your cause may be noble, but try explaining it to a skeptical boss at your next job interview.
Reward: If your predictions come true, they'll remember you as the courageous counsel. You'll have the satisfaction of being right. And you'll earn their respect for paying a real price for your beliefs.
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