In Communication, Employee Development, Leadership, Wednesday Wisdom

By the number of people that are currently upset with you?

This fall marks several years in a row that I’ve participated in a panel discussion for a local college. The panel consists of individuals with a degree in psychology, and the moderator allows students considering this degree to ask questions such as how we decided which graduate school to attend, what job options were available upon graduation, and what we like best about our current roles.

Inevitably, someone asks, “What’s the best advice you’ve received?”

This week, I’m reminded of some great advice I received a LONG time ago. Decades ago, actually.

My coworker at the time, Jim, told me that I probably wasn’t doing something right unless there was at least one person in world upset with me.

What did that mean?! And was he serious?

I don’t know if it was really his advice, or if he was paraphrasing from John Lydon’s book, Rotten: No Irish, No Blacks, No Dogs, when he said, “If you are pissing people off, you know you are doing something right.” Regardless, it was memorable.

At the time, I thought he was just being funny. In hindsight, he was spot on. And it would have served me well to pay more credence to it sooner.

Early in my career, the decision-making process didn’t come easily for me. My process ended up defaulting to this: guess what my manager would do and then try to do that same thing. If I guessed right, I called that success. But when you couple this with a naïve idea that some magical combination of words and actions would lead to Human Resources policies that could satisfy everyone (not make them happy, I was *kinda* practical), the approach become completely unrealistic.

Now, trying to think like your manager isn’t always a bad thing. But imagine how horribly the conversation with my manager went when I tried to explain that my justification for a decision was this: well, I thought that’s what you’d do.

It makes me cringe just thinking about it.

You know that saying that you’ll continually be presented with the problem until you learn the lesson? Very true in my case. It wasn’t until I was, likely forced, to think for myself and take risks and fail and learn and then apply new wisdom to problems that I understood why I had to make decisions in a different way.

I’m not advocating that if no one is upset with you right now that you are somehow failing. Nor am I suggesting that if all is calm right now, you consider who you’d like to argue with tomorrow.

But I am asking you this: Are you operating so deep in your comfort zone and making decisions that are so safe that you aren’t taking any risks?

Aren’t selling enough? Afraid to engage in a crucial conversation? Don’t have the title you want? If you aren’t trying something new and taking measured risks in what you do, it’s likely you aren’t making waves. But it’s also likely you’re playing smaller than your ability.

Growth requires pushing up against and sometimes pushing beyond the limits of your comfort zone. And in that process, you’ll probably upset some people.


Use that as validation that you’re making progress.


When have you put aside people-pleasing to make a decision that involved some risk?






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