Be Picky About Picking Fights

Disagreements happen. You can’t always get your way. Everyone has an opinion. There are two sides to every argument.

When you’re dealing with family or friends, you expect to have differences of opinion. Perhaps you are willing to fight for your views and what’s important to you. And often, because of the personal relationships you have, you find a way to work things out.

At work, the dynamic is very different. The professional relationships you develop are based more on achieving success and moving up. Of course, you’ve become friends too, but competition is still part of the system. You want to be seen as a team player, but you want your ideas respected. You don’t want to get a reputation for making trouble. You need to be picky about picking fights.

Disputes that are not worth pursuing fall into several categories:

  • The other person will not change. Perhaps they are just as grounded in their principles as you are, and not willing to listen or consider another point of view. Compromise may not be an option in any case.
  • The results won’t change the outcome substantially. Think hard about whether it is more important to get your way or to just let it go.
  • All the facts aren’t available. Decisions need to be based on the best possible information. Guessing to fill in the blanks will not benefit anyone.
  • Other issues are more important. Keep your priorities straight and concentrate on the most pressing issues. Not all issues carry the same weight.
  • You’re just trying to prove yourself, not improve the situation. What you will prove is that your ego is more important than the problem you are trying to solve.
  • You really have no chance of winning. You may be a voice in the wilderness, and 100 percent correct in your assessment, but save your breath until you can realistically bring others around.

But there are valid reasons for holding your ground, which need no explanation. Pursue a fight when: Your own ideas are being stolen. Your reputation is at stake. Your company’s reputation is being threatened. The action being taken is unethical or illegal. And cost is a major factor.

When an argument ensues, focus on the issue, not the person raising the objection. Make sure your facts are correct and complete. Have documentation available to back up your points. Stay calm — yelling and ranting make you look out of control rather than on top of the issue. Respect the other people and let them have their say. Compromise wherever possible. Bear in mind that you will be working with these co-workers and the success of future dealings hinges on how you treat them.

Letting a disagreement fester is counterproductive in many ways: It creates a hostile workplace, discourages teamwork, wastes time and resources, and in the end, accomplishes nothing. Everyone loses.

Fortunately, with some preparation, you can improve your chances of persuading others to consider your ideas. If I know I’m going into difficult negotiations, I don’t want the result to be an argument. I want everyone to feel like they contributed to the solution. It has to be a win-win situation. Here’s how I proceed:

  • Anticipate the sticking points. I never walk into a presentation or meeting without considering what issues and objections might arise. I develop a game plan to deal with concerns and to convince them that the solution I am proposing will address their objection.
  • Stay on topic. Stick to the issues, and redirect the conversation back to the original issue if conversation wanders.
  • Don’t take objections personally. Pay close attention to the reasons others are challenging your ideas, and try to see the issues from their perspective. If my solution creates a new problem for them, I am willing to reconsider. The point is to solve problems.
  • Ask for help. I look to advisers and employees for great ideas. This accomplishes two things: It helps me see the problems from several points of view, and it demonstrates that I am willing to be a team player. I want the best ideas out there, and I don’t always care where they come from.

Differences of opinion don’t have to be dead ends. Learn how to pick your battles, and put your energy into finding the best possible solutions.

Mackay’s Moral: You have a right to fight for what’s right.

[Ed Note: To learn more about handling disagreements in the workplace effectively, without wasting time or money, check out ETR’s Epiphany Alliance personal success program. From your personal mentor Bob Cox, you’ll learn dozens of techniques for organizing your life at home and at work so you can achieve all your most important goals. Find out more here.

Harvey Mackay has written five New York Times bestselling books, two of which were named among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time — Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive and Beware the Naked Man Who Offers You His Shirt. His latest book, Use Your Head to Get Your Foot in the Door: Job Search Secrets No One Else Will Tell You, was released on Feb. 18. Harvey is a nationally syndicated columnist and has been named one of the top five speakers in the world by Toastmasters International. He is chairman of the $100 million MackayMitchell Envelope Company, a company he started in 1960.]