Opposing views

Wrong is wrong and right is right
Nothing changes overnight
I’ll believe it when I see it in black and white
Todd Rundgren  1976

When I was young, I really believed everything was black and white.  For example, my father was either happy or very angry, there was no in between; vegetables were peas and carrots and those were good or they were lima beans or cauliflower and they were hated.  I was the same way when I started my career things were right or they were wrong- the concept of gray did not exist.  I quickly found that didn’t go over well in the business world.

I am made of strong opinions.  People who don’t really know me see someone who is analytical and breaks everything down into an analysis that generates answers.  Like yes and no.  While I do have those skills and do that from time to time, I’m really much more intuitive, balancing facts, figures and formulas with perception, behaviors and politics.  I didn’t do that so much early in my career and found myself being a polarizing figure.  If you agreed with me or were persuaded by my arguments, you generally like me.  Otherwise, it has always been quite easy to dislike me.  I see that.  I still have strong opinions.  Sometimes I present them less forcefully.

This leads me to where I find myself today – not ready to throw away my principles, but always willing to listen and try to compromise.  The best solutions are not the ones you think of in isolation and force on others.  When you look around you and see who our workplace leaders are, who really holds power in your office or influences others, it is generally not the rocket scientists.  It is not the people who insist on being right 100% of the time.  It is the people who listen, cooperate and communicate.  It’s the people who traditionally did not have all the answers and learned to work well with others.  They probably shared their toys too.

Being able to solve most problems quickly and have the “right” answer has hurt me in retrospect.  It retarded my growth as a person and kept me from building some bridges and relationships that might have helped me in a previously unforeseen manner.   I am not perfect now, but age and my inability to stay in one job help change perspectives.  I no longer am the senior manager/executive who people look to for the answers and leadership.  I’m a consultant.  That’s a fancy name for a contractor with gray hair.

I often find myself disagreeing with the decisions and tactics my coworkers take.  I try to persuade them to consider other angles.  This generally works.  In many discussions with my “boss” I will disagree with him, give him my opinions and why I believe in them.  And then I reiterate that I will do what he wants – it is his shop after all.  I know I am a guest here and I really don’t want to be asked to move out.  Not everyone thinks like that.  I work with a few people who not only have to be right all the time, they need to be continually validated as the  smartest person in the room.  I stopped believing that is possible when I was 35.  Besides, I can usually tell who the smartest person is and it is rarely me.

The other day I overheard another person loudly tell another, “that isn’t best practice and I will fight you on everything that isn’t a best practice!”  Really?  I was appalled.  Beyond the fact that this was confrontational and counterproductive, it was unrealistic.  The concept of best practices is great, but what company is ready to institute best practices across the board?  Most aren’t.  Best practices are like recipes.  It’s great to have recipe, but you don’t always have all the ingredients. I think of recipes as frameworks to help me build the best thing I can. Life, work, cooking are all about improvisation in my opinion.  Except baking.  Baking must be exact and now you know why I rarely bake.

I actually fled from the confrontation I described .  Neither party was willing to listen to the other nor was I in the frame of mind to be the adult helping these two to grow up.  Sadly, I often take that role in the workplace. I had too many other things going wrong to also shoulder their immaturity.  Another thing I’ve learned along the way is that in order to really communicate with someone, they have to be in a place (emotionally, intellectually etc.) where they are open to listening.  They have to want to listen; they need to be receptive. In my mind this wasn’t in the realm of possibility,

One reason this confrontation bothered me was that hit too close to home.  In my world, I try to make politics off limits with my father.  He is very strong in his convictions and cannot discuss politics without yelling and demeaning.  Yes, he does watch much too much Fox News.  He doesn’t need a reason to get upset.  A picture of Obama will do it.  For the record I forced Clinton to have sex with Monica Lewinski and helped railroad Nixon. Its easy to pick on the right wing because they are so preposterous with both their attacks and their stance of being attacked.  But, I don’t care if you are watching the “liberal media” or the “right wing propaganda” both sides are screaming that the other is wrong and they are being attacked unfairly. Really?  In reality it seems to me that they have some similar thoughts, but insist that “theirs” is the right one.  The other is wrong.  and they will do anything to discredit the other.

Neither party gets along with the other.  Both use sound bites to make the other look bad with creative editing.  There are people on both sides of the aisle that are a bit nuts, that’s a given.  And both parties seem to have developed the strategy over the last 20 years that if you won’t do it my way, I’ll stop you from doing anything.  It drives me crazy in life and I saw that in the confrontation at work. When did we substitute compromise with stubborn opposition and blocking tactics?

You know what happened when Ned Stark refused to compromise. Did it matter that he was right? I think we all need a touch of gray.  Right?

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1 Comment

  1. Excellent blog! Loved it since I have always lived my life in the grey zone. I believe that almost every situation in life can be handled through compromise and an understanding if you are willing to look at it from another’s perspective. You don’t have to agree, but it certainly clears the view point up if you can do that.

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