As in life, the workplace is littered with potential fights and arguments. It's tempting to push your strategy or viewpoint, particularly when the evidence is in your favor, but doing so constantly can wreak havoc on your professional relationships. By learning to pick your battles wisely, you can exert authority when it's needed most and maintain a positive work environment.
Determine Your Influence
One criteria that makes it easier to pick your battles is influence. Before you argue a point, take a moment to analyze the audience and possible outcome. If the issue in question falls under your authority or responsibility, go ahead. The same goes for situations in which you have greater expertise than others on the team. In situations where you're a peripheral player, however, think twice. If your opinion is unlikely to matter to the other person, there's little point in wasting time and social capital on an argument.
Not all office issues are created equal. To maintain your professional relationships and keep the peace, consider their relative importance. It's probably not worth your time to start workplace conflict over the color of the company letterhead, for example, but it is important to campaign against an unethical accounting practice. Constant arguing turns you into the boy who cried wolf; over time, your words carry less meaning. When you pick your battles carefully and exert your opinion only when necessary, your input is more likely to have the desired impact.
Examine the Power Differential
When you're deciding whether to dig in your heels, think about the power differential. If you're superior or close in seniority to the other person, your input is likely to have weight. When the power hierarchy goes the other way, however, it's important to pick your battles with great caution. If you're an entry-level worker, getting into an argument with the CEO is unlikely to end well. Instead, wait for the right moment to offer a respectful opinion that's supported by solid proof. Then, let it go.
Know Your End Goal
A workplace battle is pointless if it doesn't result in change. Before you get into it with a colleague, have a defined end goal. If you are arguing against an office policy, make sure you have a list of specific changes. When you pick your battles and come to the fight with a solution in mind, it lets colleagues know you've given serious thought to the issue. This dedication adds gravitas, which might predispose your audience to listen more carefully to your input.
Learning to pick your battles is an essential skill for professionals in all fields. By knowing when to speak up and when to let it go, you can build powerful relationships and ensure your words carry maximum weight.
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