Office Politics

how to defend yourself without being defensive.

Succeeding in adulthood relies on two things: the ability to manage fear and learning how to make healthy trade-offs. When you’re young, being wrong is disruptive because you get much-needed validation from people agreeing with you. But when you become an adult, you begin to attract relationships that are not one-sided. When you become an enlightened adult, you realize that being right is actually meaningless and that it is an acceptable trade-off for being happy.

Succeeding in the 21st century workplace also relies on two things: your ability to find jobs that cater to your strengths and learning how to build a network. When you first start working, you assume that ‘playing politics’ is about being liked. As you grow in experience, you realize that being supported has way more value than being liked. When you become an enlightened employee, you realize that ‘support’ requires a vast network, and the most authentic way to build your network is through conversation.

Now, don’t be so naive to think that every workplace conversation is going to be predictable and positive. In fact, I think one of the most underutilized retention strategies is highlighting how often employees abandon scripts and take real conversational risks.

Managing the ebbs and flows of uncomfortable conversations is an important skill. Here are 3 tips to help you defend your point of view without being defensive.

1. Practice articulating you need to practice articulating (not explaining) positions you disagree with. But before you start practicing, you first need to figure out what you call things you disagree with. Seth says once we name something, we know what it is and then we make decisions on how to deal with it. Want to see how the power of naming things plays out in real life? ask people which plan they support: ‘Obamacare’ or the ‘Affordable Care Act’.

The bottom line is, if you call everything you disagree with “wrong” or “stupid”, the decision you’re making is to disregard. Within that context, you’re never going to be able to articulate your position in way that encourages dialogue. You’re cheating yourself of understanding. And smart people understand why other smart people may disagree.

2. Create a positive presence – There is an old CEO adage that says you can’t talk your way out of something you behaved your way into. And because people are always taking notes on your behavior, there is no real way to isolate whether someone’s opinion of you is a result of something you said, or something you did. But understanding the influence of language on the brain allows you to use it deliberately. Even though body language is nonverbal, you can still adjust for impact. For instance, did you know that behavior is perceived differently in different locations? In a formal setting like an office, you have to be even more obvious, always sending cues.

But, really, walking around with a grin on your face is exhausting, and most co-workers are not swayed by such ridiculous theatrics. So here are two easier tips you can implement: change your walk and change your wardrobe.

3. Find the humor and reveal the lesson – Believe it or not, confrontational situations are actually ripe for humor. Steve Martin talks about the importance of tension in comedy. He says you can build the kind of joke where the tension is released in the form of a punchline, or you can just leave it lingering and let the audience choose their own release point. Regardless of the technique, laughter is a reward for tension being treated a certain way.

This is important to know as you frame your story, because ill-timed humor can be career limiting behavior. One way to mitigate the risk of not being taken seriously is to demonstrate that you have learned something. Whether you frame the “release” around the lesson or you let the lesson reveal itself, making someone laugh means you are adding value in ways they weren’t expecting.

And being able to surprise and delight is way more impressive than being right.

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