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  • Be careful when people agree with you

Be careful when people agree with you

24 October 2021

How do you feel as you first open your eyes in the morning and realise that you have a job interview that day? Do you get that same uneasy feeling that you get when you try to figure out whether that dream, you just awoke from, was real? I do. Thankfully my last job interview was in the 1990s but the question, which snuck past my defenses, still haunts me. I felt awfully small in the lift to the sixth floor at 8 Baker Street and then the eternal walk to the interview room. In preparing for an interview, you have some rehearsed answers to hand. But I was not prepared for “What do you want?” I am so grateful that 8 Baker Street has since been demolished, along with the chair that I wish had swallowed me up.  

“I want to be me, the best me that I can be” I replied. And therein lies the problem. To authentically be yourself, you need to stop being someone else. That does start with you, but I accept that the environment certainly makes it easier. Let us first consider the principle of staying true to yourself and leveraging your strengths. Perhaps sharing how I feel about it may help.

When I’m at my best, it is when I’m in my most creative space. And being given that space to be creative. I feel the most confident when I share an idea and the people with differing perspectives debate it with me. This means that I don’t need to be other people, I don’t need to be someone else. Through discussion and debate with fast and slow thinkers, big picture, and absolute detail perspectives, what I suggest is going through a robust process to ensure success. A simple way of expressing this, is that it places value on the difference between each of us.

When I’m at my worst is when people instantly agree with me. I deeply worry when people agree with me. At some level, I will doubt myself and then be forced to look at an idea myself from what I perceive to be different perspectives. I’m aware I have blind spots, but I’ll never be able to compensate for those blind spots effectively alone. So much so, that even if someone says they agree with me, I might ask them to explain why.

I guess the point is I feel most confident in my own space, and thus at my best, when thoughts and ideas are robustly debated. That is not to say I wish for people to disagree for the sake of disagreeing. Nor does it mean that after discussion, that everyone should agree. We may have different viewpoints. If some differing viewpoints are not incorporated, they are sincerely understood and respected. As a diverse group, we may have differing viewpoints, but we all stand behind the decision we make.

It goes without saying that a conducive environment is the second ingredient for this to work. In any group of people, having an aligned purpose and set of values is the foundation block for creating a conducive environment. Respectfully inviting and understanding an opinion is always a first step. The intention is to be constructive. I talk about this as if it is easy. It is not. I struggle at times. The best way I can describe how difficult it can be is by sharing a poignant moment. A deeply respected colleague was introducing an idea to Board members. She said “I hold in the palm of my hand, an idea. Please treat it gently.”

If a conducive environment is not there, then courageously I’d encourage you to help create it by setting the right tone. One does not need to be the leader to do this, it is merely influencing others by your own behaviour. If it cannot be achieved, then carefully consider whether that is the right environment for you to be in because at the end of the day, what do you want?

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