The power of push back

ASD-pushback.jpg defines complaisant as: inclined or disposed to please; obliging; agreeable or gracious; compliant.

I’m witness to this behavior far more than I like to see. It may disguise itself in the form of statements such as: “Sure I’ll get right on it,” or “Of course I can do that,” with no further questions asked or questioning why something has to happen, or happen in a certain way. I attribute it to societal pressures (sometimes self-inflicted) and the speed at which we move and work happens now (there’s hardly time to think). Somehow going against the grain or having an opinion became a “bad” thing?

We’re fast to agree to take something on, or assume that because something was led or created by an “expert” with more “experience” it’s the right way or better quality. We assume the boss always knows what they’re doing. (Sorry to break it to you, but everyone is always figuring it out as they go.) We nod and smile and do what we’re told. That’s what we think we’re “supposed” to do and how we’re supposed to behave. Say, what!?!

Then we risk turning into machines doing a job in a factory void of critical thought. If we move forward without speaking up, there’s an itch, or annoyance for just doing the job. Here’s the thing that’s completely down played these days: when you do speak up or challenge something, that’s how you really move forward. You may have to risk having an uncomfortable moment, but you’ll a) get it out of your system instead of holding it in and b) setting yourself up for long term success (even if it doesn’t feel like it at the time). Yes, even small interactions can yield big results.

One of the reasons I think I resist full-time roles is the fact that I fear teams can get complaisant too easily. What starts out with a strong mission and values to guide the way, gets clouded under the pressure of deadlines and demands from senior management. Some conversations are thwarted by “we just have to get things done” or “we’ll talk about that later” (and later is never). Asking hard questions and challenging ideas is not a one time thing. It should be happening throughout everything we do at all stages. It’s how real change happens.

I regularly remind myself that I’m not challenging or pushing back on ideas to cause a ruckus. There’s a reason I’m bringing them up. It’s taken time to have the confidence to use my voice.

The result will often have the guise of having to do more work, but it’s in asking the right questions and focusing energy in the right places up front, that the long game will have more success. Too often we get blinded by the need for instant gratification. It’s crucial to trust yourself and the experience you bring to a project. And sometimes it’s what you don’t know about a project that can allow you to ask the best questions. (It’s called the “beginner’s mindset” in means you come in with fewer assumptions).

Of course it helps when someone on the other side is receptive to “dissenting” opinions. Another way to think of it is: do you really want to work for someone who thinks they’re always right and isn’t open to doing things differently? When they are open, challenging an idea is a way to gain respect. Make them think. That’s a good thing. I’m not saying that every idea you challenge has to go the direction you suggest. It just helps to stir the pot a bit. Innovation comes from shaking things up. Small tweaks can have a big impact too. We live in a complex world these days, so we’re constantly weaving in new information.

The simple act of pushing back or questioning something is a technique that can be applied to job interviews, negotiations, projects/process/outcomes/assumptions, and management. It likely won’t be the popular opinion—at first—but you also never know who else may be wishing they said the same thing.

During a recent negotiation, it’s the way I presented information that challenged the current approach that got me the job. Pushing back and challenging an idea is critical thought in action. At first it may be the unpopular thought too. Or maybe no one had thought of it yet.

The power of push back goes both ways. Recently, a friend in a book negotiation told me the story of all the back and forth exchanges during the talks with several publishers. By the end of the exhausting process she didn’t go with the one who offered the most money, but the publisher who challenged the book proposal. While six other publishers accepted it as is, it was the 7th who was willing to take a risk, and that publishing house got the book signed.

It was the conversation that stood out, made the author think, and it just felt right in her gut—this is who she wants to work with on this journey. And let me tell you, this book was already going to be awesome, but the way the concept was challenged is going to take it to the next level.

I don’t know why we’re so afraid to challenge things, at all levels. I often tell people about the work I do, and they look at me with a confused face and even sometimes verbally suggest it’s not a “real job”. In challenging the status quo of “how things are done” and the way we’re “supposed” to work, I’ve created a world for myself that is more rewarding than I ever could have imagined (and more lucrative than a traditional day job). I was forced to challenge how I approach work due to the “creative constraints” of French bureaucracy, but the end result is something that pushed me further. I had to challenge my own expectations too, which involved some re-wiring.

I don’t know about you, but I like a good challenge. I also like when my way of thinking is challenged. To be challenged. It’s how I learn and grow. In my experience doing the same thing like a minion on repeat gets old, fast, and leads to burnout, because you get bored faster. When you don’t feel like you’re really contributing to the outcome, it can feel draining. But taking the time to step back, and ask the right question, the entire experience can change.

I give you full permission to have an opinion, think critically, and use your voice. That’s what makes you stand out. Pushing back can help propel you further. And if you work with a team, I encourage you to give them permission to challenge ideas too. It’s how the magic happens. ✨

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