My parents have told me my entire life that I shouldn’t care about what people think. When, during my K-12 school years, some of my classmates laughed at my nerdiness, my style, my accent, or anything else, my parents often told me that those individuals didn’t buy my clothes or feed me, so I should just ignore them. Although it’s easier said than done, their advice has stayed with me over the years.
The older I’ve gotten, the more applicable my parents’ advice has become. A few years ago, when I had to make tough fiscal decisions about a big project that I was working on, some of the people affiliated with the project got upset with me for changing processes and for taking more control of the day-to-day activities. They were used to doing what they had always done, but as the new leader, I had to choose whether to allocate funds the way they were supposed to be allocated or whether to look the other way as a project member used funds as she wanted (and out of project scope).
I decided to retain the integrity of the project, but not without serious conflicts arising. Up to 15 people at all levels became involved in the conflict, but at the end of the day, the integrity of the project remained, and project funds were not mismanaged. Some people might ask me if addressing this issue was worth it. I say yes, because I was the leader of the project, and if anything would have gone wrong, I could have been demoted, audited by the project funders, or imprisoned for misuse of federal dollars. This was an early professional lesson in learning not to care about what others thought.
In that same project, I had to determine whether I would allow seasoned members of the dysfunctional team to continue to engage in disruptive behaviors that were disrespectful to myself and to the project team. As the new leader of the team, I spoke out for all members of my team to ensure equity. If I had allowed the negative behaviors of a few to continue, other members of the team would have had no voice, and students who needed to have been served within our program might not have been served. Once again, I did not care about what the naysayers thought.
When you stop caring about what people think but focus on doing what’s aligned with your core values, conflict will always be near. The key to being successful, however, is knowing that everyone doesn’t need to validate you. You will ascend professionally when you own your truth and know why you do what you do regardless of what others think. There is also wisdom in knowing when to address issues and when not to address issues. A sign of maturity, however, is knowing that regardless of the outcome, you are going to be okay, you will not crumble, and you will not break for sticking to your core values in your professional exchanges.
BONUS Here are some questions that might guide you as you decide what to address and what not to address in your professional relationships. Also read these 30 quotes that will give you courage to care less about the opinions of others.
Why do you care about a potential conflict? Are you concerned that you will be ostracized? Ridiculed? Fired?
Will you feel worse confronting the issue or staying silent about the issue? What are the pros and cons of doing each?
Who are the members of your team or inner circle? If and when conflicts arise, will they be available to advise you, guide you, and stand up for you?
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