Act or don’t act. Push back or bite your tongue. Nudge from the inside or blast from the outside. Wait your turn or do an end run . . . How do you choose the best response in a given situation? How do you know if a bold action is worth the risk, or if it is better to take a quieter or more clearly marked path? There is no right or wrong answer, but there are some considerations that may help you determine how to respond in the moment.
1. Is this an on-going issue or is it more singularly focused?
A one time situation may not warrant taking a significant risk. You might not agree with the approach or specific decision, but if it is an isolated incident you may choose to save your “confrontational chips” for another situation. If, on the other hand, it is an on-going issue that will affect you on a day-in-day-out basis, the potential “reward” may outweigh the risk. In such cases, acting more quickly can save you considerable pain and suffering. If it’s going to happen sooner or later, you might as well pick sooner.
2. Is it going to damage a relationship that is important to you?
Sometimes, focusing first on the relationship rather than the issue prompts you to offer a measure of grace or consider a different perspective than you otherwise might. Perhaps a private conversation is called for rather than a public statement. Are you willing to invest the time and effort into seeking common ground? Is taking this immediate risk worth the set-back to a long-term valued relationship? This isn’t about “selling your soul” or making ethical compromises, but rather pausing long enough to honor a shared history and consider the ramifications of damaging that.
3. Is this your fight, or one someone else wants you to take on?
In our increasingly polarized world, there are plenty of people trying to convince you that you “need” to take a stand on a particular issue. Do you? You can have an opinion and take actions that support that opinion without becoming a poster child for a particular issue. I am not saying you should not take a public and vocal stand on something, but if you take a stand on everything, how might you reduce your influence for those things you care most about?
The final litmus test is listening to your gut. When your head has rationalized a more (or less) subtle or confrontational approach but your gut keeps nudging you to take a different stand, I would take a good hard look at what your gut is trying to tell you. It is often the voice of your wisest self.
Increasingly, leaders are being pressured to take positions that may or may not serve their, and their organization’s, long-term best interests. Chances are, you will get pushback regardless of your decision. The choice is yours . . . is it worth the risk?