If diplomacy was an art, then the world would be in short supply. If tact was a craft, then there wouldn’t be many crafty people out there. In fact, diplomacy and tact seem to be rather rare qualities in today’s business world; there is more and more confrontation for the young professional to contend with. Sometimes confrontation can be healthy, and sometimes it can be unhealthy. Sometimes it is warranted, other times it is completely uncalled for. Let’s examine some of the variables that determine how confrontations are resolved.
The first thing you should know is that it is normal and healthy to argue and debate with others. Even the most grandiose statesmen and eloquent diplomats have been known to ruffle some feathers. Sometimes, that’s their job.
Occasionally, it can also be your job to stir the pot and shake things up. Even if right now you are generally content with the way things are, someone may shortly pull the rug from underneath you and steal your thunder. In such instances, confrontation is justified.
What is unhealthy, however, is constantly being on the prowl for a fight. The reason why is not very complicated: You might lose out in a battle even if you find that you are right.
In business — as in sports and in life in general — there may be no justice whatsoever. Confrontations are frequently resolved through processes that may be unfair, and resolutions may be unjust. Too bad. Get used to it. You can determine when to pick your battles, however, by finding out the mechanisms behind the process and the variables that often determine the outcome.
Be a man
If women are stereotyped as the nurturing gender, then it can be argued that men are cast as warriors. We fight for every inch, whether it is to earn a paycheck or win over a woman. It’s part of our MO. Some of us fight with words, others with fists. Some don’t even fight their own battles, but get others to do so for them. The key point to remember is that, in life, no battle is really ever fought on a level playing ground.
Level playing field?
If you get into a fight with your older brother, there’s a chance that he’s bigger than you. If you get into a fight with your girlfriend, she’s a girl and you have to take that into consideration. If you get into a fight with your supervisor, he’s your supervisor. You can scream and shout all you want, but it is in his job description (and, seemingly, his DNA) to counter what you say, how you say it and why you said it to begin with. Frankly, he could avoid replying and still get his way.
Stand your ground…
When it comes to work, you have to bear in mind that, in any organization, numerous people are vying for a limited set of resources — be it time, money or remuneration in the form of responsibilities.
In this context, you do have to take everything that is said to you, or about you, with a grain of salt. Jealousy and envy will invariably come into play. Employees are human beings first and foremost and are therefore subject to natural emotions.
The balance of power
A considerable element in any confrontation is power. When you fight with your brother, a kid at school or some tool at a bar who steps on your turf, power boils down to both strategy and physical might.
When the confrontation takes place in a professional environment, it involves a more complex set of variables: ownership, rank, title, clout, experience, and, to some extent, courage.
Start-ups and private companies tend to be small- or medium-sized organizations in which founders are very much a part of the mix. Their stance will trump anyone else’s. When outside investors enter the picture, the balance of power may be shifted a bit, or a lot. This is why, as a young entrepreneur, you might want to keep a majority of ownership in order to ensure that, at the end of the day, you can technically get things to fall your way. As companies grow, a founder’s ownership will diminish to much less than 50%. Your goal should be to own a minority chunk of a large, successful enterprise, and not a majority of an insignificant firm.
As companies grow, so do the stakes, stakeholders and, consequently, confrontations. As an organization expands, a founder will make room for seasoned managers. As these external parties come in to the fray, debates will be increasingly resolved on the merit of ideas and the basis of arguments. Nonetheless, make no mistake about it — rank, title, clout, and experience will still always affect the outcome.
As a young professional, remember that in your development, you must stay true to your own ideals while understanding that debates will be resolved on factors other than ideas alone. As such, you do need to develop a thick skin and learn to keep work at an arm’s distance. Otherwise, you will lose your mind, fast. Unlike in Hollywood, your proverbial “gun” carries a finite number of bullets, so use them carefully.
E-mail of the week:
I have what I think is a great idea for a product, and am looking for financing. Can I secure financing on the basis of an idea alone or should I develop it?
Great question. Like most great questions, there are a number of answers. A mockup, prototype or beta version of your product would be wonderful, as it would better convey your vision. Frankly, responding to this question depends largely on your background, in terms of education, experience and contacts.
Investors invest in people, and they want to ensure that the entrepreneur has the wherewithal to get somewhere, anywhere, where there will be a considerable return on investment at a later date. If your education, experience and network are compelling enough, they alone could be more valuable than any product. If those three variables are not your top assets, a prototype or beta might not hurt.
The other greater variable is the environment. Today is a better time to secure financing than say, the period between Spring 2000 to Summer 2003. That could, however, change with little warning. Good luck.
Ash Karbasfrooshan is also the author of Course To Success, available at www.CourseToSuccess.com. His new book, The Confessions of Alexander The Great: 33 Lessons in Greatness, is available at www.AlexanderTheBook.com.