The wrong way to make your case

posted by Jeff | Thursday, November 8, 2012, 12:20 AM | comments: 0

I was a bit of an activist (read: antagonist) in some of my college years, at least with certain issues. One of the things that really pissed me off was the politics and egos of some of the instructors in the radio/TV departement. I was pissed off that they were treating the whole thing like their replacement for the real world, where I assumed they couldn't hack it, and those intentions were undermining the academic endeavor of our degree. They acted as station managers, and our douche bag radio guy in particular insisted he do the ID's and such, I guess because he liked how he sounded or students couldn't be trusted to do this kind of brain dead work. It didn't matter if students sucked... that's what we were there for.

Looking back at it objectively, I was absolutely right in my frustration, especially from the point of view as a customer of the university. However, I wasn't particularly good at venting that frustration in a constructive manner. I did what anyone in my position would have done, and wrote a memo. (Memos were things on paper that pre-date e-mail, in case you're wondering.)

Fortunately, I did have the sense to run it by the department chair first, and her feedback sticks with me to this day. While the core arguments that I had to make were legitimate, they were laced with hyperbole, snark and a healthy dose of sarcasm. That I was being forward wasn't the problem, it's that I was being a dick by intentionally manipulating the emotions of the audience.

I wrote the memo over again, with many edits. It still wasn't as direct and plain as it should have been, but it's funny how that advice stays with me. (Incidentally, the instructors who agreed with me stood up for me to an extent, and quoted the radio guy as saying, "Who the fuck does he think he is?" I wanted to ask him the same question.)

Engineering constructive change is, as that early episode taught me, a very delicate dance. People will take things personally and get pissed off no matter what, but you can minimize the damage when you stick to the facts and data that support your case. Calling out inefficiency and ego induced waste is the right thing to do, but the colder you can be about it, without the inflammatory remarks, the more likely that you can make your case.


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