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Picking Your Battles at Work

I have the Hulk living inside me. Usually he sits there dormant, but when I feel something is unjust (a policy, the way someone is being treated, or otherwise), he grows to his mammoth size and muscles start popping out left and right - I’m ready to fight. But I can’t fight for everything, otherwise I wouldn’t be able to get my job done. That’s why I only let him out in certain situations. So how do you know when to fight and when to stand down in the workplace?

I’ll use the example of an inadequate maternity leave policy (something I am very passionate about). This is not an easy policy to change, especially because, amongst other things, you are talking about reallocation of company funds and an intense approval process. Let me talk about a few factors to consider as you decide which battles are most important to fight:

Know your political capital.

The amount of political capital that you hold in an organization is not finite. Your position, tenure, and proven capabilities will determine your level of clout. If you are passionate about many workplace issues, then it might be time to prioritize them.

If you spread yourself too thin on many small topics, you might use up all of your capital on trivial issues and have nothing left for the things that truly matter to you. You’re playing the long name, not the short one, so you need to be calm enough to recognize whether or not your current frustrations are more important than your long-term relationships.

You also want people to work with you on topics that you are passionate about. If you start fighting every policy or addressing interpersonal issues then your colleagues might think you are looking for a fight. Instead of wanting to collaborate with you, they might avoid working with you altogether.

Understand both sides.

It is always a very humbling experience when we, as humans, accuse someone of doing something that they didn’t actually do, and then watch as that person puts us right back in our place. If you are going to stick up for someone or something, I would implore you to first get your facts straight. Otherwise, it is like unknowingly trying to convince a Democrat to become a Republican when you don’t even know where they stand politically in the first place. It’s exhausting and a waste of your time.

If I use my example of a maternity leave policy, it helps to understand from the company’s perspective what the tax benefits and costs are to implementing a new policy, and also why they have yet to change the antiquated policy in the first place. On the flip side, it’s also ok to educate. In this instance, you can calmly explain why a maternity leave policy is so important to employees.

As always, I encourage you to come with facts. In this specific situation, I researched the maternity leave policies for 5 of our competitors and 5 of our clients and then benchmarked our company against them. I looked at the ratio of males to females in our organization and studied our D&I initiatives. Why? Because if you are going to fight a battle, you need to know where their weak points are, and also where they are going to try and hit you hard. 

Bring a solution.

If you have a problem, think about what a potential solution might be. If you are passionate about an issue but don’t have an immediate solution, then talk to some people in your organization that you trust. Bounce ideas off of them and ask them to help come up with a solution. Why?

If you only come with problems then it comes off as if you are complaining. If you show up with solutions then it appears as if you are invested in the improvement of the organization. Show your company that you are an agent of change, not complaints.

Don’t fight alone.

Do you think that when I went to Management and told them they needed a new policy that they responded with, “Yes, Brittany. How many weeks would you like us to offer?”. Absolutely not. I had to work to stand my ground, demonstrate the importance of this initiative, and get other people on board. Each individual is working to fight their own political battles in the organization. Sometimes it takes a little convincing to show others why they should join your cause. Of course, the magnitude of the issue will dictate the level of support you require. You can’t fight a war standing alone, so make sure you have the support from your colleagues as you enter battle.

Your innate ability to discern any given situation is something that you should heavily rely on. Only you can know what is important to you and where you want to spend your political capital. Don’t complain about something you aren’t willing to do something about, and make sure you expend your energy on topics that align with your goals. You aren’t here to resolve all of the problems in Corporate America, so choose your battles, don’t fight them all.

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