Choosing your battles at work

It’s nice when everyone is in agreement about something. It’s even nicer when that agreement is around your way of thinking. But let’s face it, if everyone agreed with each other all the time, the world would be a pretty boring place.

Our uniqueness, whilst making us special, can often lead to conflict at work and we regularly find ourselves in situations where we’re going head to head with people because we don’t share their views and they don’t share ours.

These head to head battles of differing opinions are exhausting and if you regularly find yourself in them, either simultaneously or consecutively, you’re not going to have much energy left for much else. I wish I could tell you to just avoid conflict at work but it’s unavoidable and I’m certainly NOT telling you to let people walk all over you — that’s not the solution either.

For the record, conflict is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it can be a catalyst for innovation and success. Heated discussions with people with differing views and opinions can lead to amazing things, after all, “the steel of greatness is forged in the pit”.

Is this the hill you want to die on?

The solution (as you might have guessed from the title of this post) is to choose your battles at work and only stand your ground when the time is right to do so. But how do you decide which battles to choose and which to avoid?

A few years ago, whilst working at MOO, my manager and CFO gave me the simplest mental framework on how to handle this question. This advice has since become the bedrock on which all my decisions to stand my ground or not have been made.

It’s simple. When you’re faced with a similar situation, ask yourself two questions:

  1. How right/sure are you?
  2. How important is it? (or some variation of this. see image below)

When you have your answers, map them onto the imaginary graph below and see which quadrant you sit in.

Low importance vs how right you are

If the problem is of low importance and you’re not sure if you’re right, let it go!

If on the other hand, you are right/sure, is this the hill you want to die on or should you prioritise your relationship? Voice your opinion of course, but if you’re met with resistance or you find yourself in a situation that empowers someone else to go out and find the answer, step aside. Remember, “conflict is inevitable, combat is optional”.

High importance vs how right you are?

If something is important but you’re not sure if you’re right or not, then do your research. If it turns out you’re wrong, let it go.

Now if you’re right about something and it’s of the utmost importance then stand your ground! These are the battles you want to fight and the hills you should be willing to die on. Everything else will drain you of your energy.

Closing remarks

Energy is a finite resource for all of us. If you disagree with everything, you’ll have no energy for the things that matter and worse, you’ll come across as someone who is confrontational and difficult to work with. If however, you’re willing to let things go and only stand you’re ground when something is important, you’ll find you have plenty of energy left for everything else and people will enjoy working with you, even if they’re challenged.

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