Sometimes you must pick your battles.
I am an opinionated person. In truth, we are opinionated, but some are more vocal than others. So maybe a better way to say it is that I am a vocally opinionated person.
As I have matured as a leader, though, I have learned that sometimes your opinion should be toned down to influence the outcome you want, or perhaps even be kept to yourself. I’ve also realized there is more power in listening than talking and that being right all the time doesn’t get you what you want…respect, trust, and open dialogue. That’s why it’s best to pick your battles carefully. And knowing which battles to fight and which ones are better left untouched is essential to success in business and life.
Recently, a situation arose where I might have to give one thing up to keep another. I didn’t want to give up either of them, so I had to choose to fight or walk away. The emotional part of me wanted to fight. I argued my point, carefully laying out the groundwork about why I was right. I was digging in, and I could feel the other person doing so, too. I quickly realized that I had to change my tactics…the argument was not going to go anywhere, and winning the battle would have more significant big-picture ramifications. Ramifications that might not be worth it.
So instead, I stepped back and considered my long-term goals and my desired outcome. I thought back to Adam Grant’s advice in his book, “Think Again: The Power of Knowing What You Don’t Know,” where he said, “We won’t have much luck changing other people’s minds if we refuse to change ours. We can demonstrate openness by acknowledging where we agree with our critics and even what we’ve learned from them. Then, when we ask what views they might be willing to revise, we’re not hypocrites.”
Looking through this lens, I was able to see that it wasn’t such a tough choice. I just had to detach my emotions and self-worth from the decision. I backed down and listened to the other person’s point of view. I gained valuable insight when I wasn’t battling, which would help me shape a different outcome in the future. Fight this battle a different day in a different way.
So how do you know if a battle is worth fighting or not? Here are some strategies I use when considering whether to fight a battle:
Is this battle worth fighting in the long run?
We often make short-term, emotionally driven decisions at the expense of the long-term benefits. But really, many of the battles we fight won’t matter in the long run. Ask yourself questions such as:
- How does this impact my team and organization?
- How does it impact my relationships?
- Will wining it help me or hurt me in the long run?
- How about others? How will this impact people close to me as well as the person I am batting?
Do you have the time to fight this battle?
Fighting battles take time and time is precious. Be sure to choose wisely, as time is something you’ll never get back. Weigh the outcomes and commitment required to win, and be sure that it’s for the right reasons if you chose to fight it.
What happens if you lose the battle?
There are always consequences in every battle, so make sure you know the risks. Some consequences hurt more than others, and you should understand the potential outcomes of losing the battle.
How will you feel if you don’t fight this battle?
As I said above, some battles are worth fighting for. The only way to affect change is to stand up for what’s right. You must live with your conscience and sometimes you must risk damaging relationships by saying what needs to be said, as long as it’s told with pure intentions and the betterment of others in mind.
Is there a win-win solution?
It’s easy to get stuck in the mindset that there are only winners and losers in every battle, but in most cases, this isn’t the truth. Look for ways that both sides can win. Doing so requires compromise and open dialog, which is something worthy of striving for in every situation.
Should you be fighting this battle anyway?
We can all fall into the trap of martyrdom, fighting other people’s battles. You may feel like you are doing the right thing by sticking up for a friend or colleague or being their voice because they are too timid to speak up themselves but think carefully about the battle you are fighting and why you are fighting it. Sure, being an ally is often important, necessary, and the right thing to do. But other times, it’s not appropriate for you to speak on behalf of others. Instead, encourage those afraid to speak up to find their voice and fight their own battles.
Some battles are worth fighting. Others aren’t. Make a better decision by staying cool, calm, and collected and weighing the tradeoffs you’ll have to make.
I’ll leave you with this quote from author and poet C. Joybell C. “Choose your battles wisely. After all, life isn’t measured by how many times you stood up to fight. It’s not winning battles that makes you happy, but it’s how many times you turned away and chose to look into a better direction. Life is too short to spend it on warring. Fight only the most, most, most important ones; let the rest go.”
Want to be a better leader? Check out my blog on why you should have a leadership credo.