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Winning at Working: Shades of Grey

Nan Russell -- There are few absolutes in life or work, and often many right answers to the same problem. Training your eye to see multiple possibilities can help you accomplish your goals more easily.

A paperweight sits on my desk, etched in silver the message: Life isn't always black and white. It serves as a reminder there are few absolutes at work (or in life).

Yet, it would be easier if there were; if good ideas from bad, trustworthy people from non-trustworthy, and right paths from the wrong ones could easily be discerned. I've learned in twenty years in management that increasing one's perspective increases the grey, as words like "always" and "never" become obsolete for describing most situations and most people.

But early in my career, I was convinced there were right ways and wrong ways to do things at work. Of course, my way being right and someone else's wrong. Dug-in positions that at the time seemed immensely important strike me now as limited in knowledge, understanding, or perspective.

Now, I'm as convinced there are often many ways to accomplish the same goal and many right answers to the same problem. Certainly some approaches may be better than others, but whose interpretation defines better? It is a subjective workplace and a matter of judgment if an idea is a good one, a performance rating accurate, or a decision correct. Sometimes that interpretation is based on quarterly profits, employee morale, company goals, personal filters, necessity, or a passionate champion embracing a challenge.

But here's the thing. That subjective element often frustrates us. We think there should be a play book we understand or a standard method to judge an outcome so we can agree whether it's good or bad. Yet we have differing vantage points, information, and criteria depending on our roles. There may be big picture, long-term, short-term, temporary, personal, best, best of the worst, and a long list of considerations.

I learned this concept as I debated my boss over a decision he was about to implement. As a Human Resources Director, I was concerned the decision would affect morale. HR was the filter by which I judged the world at the time. He gently closed the discussion agreeing with my view point, "Yes, it's true employees will be unhappy. But they'll be unhappier if there are layoffs next year. My job is to make sure everyone has a job."

Absolute thinking limits perspective, causes mistakes in judgment, misunderstandings, disappoints, conflicts, and frustration in the workplace. Most work issues are not black or white, right or wrong, win or lose. They are varying shades of grey. If you want to be winning at working, you need to adjust your eyes to see more grey and adjust your beliefs to understand, for the most part, people are doing what they believe to be right, for reasons they believe are right. If we could stand behind them and see what they see, we might even come to the same conclusion.

Sign up to receive Nan's free biweekly eColumn at www.winningatworking.com. Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. She has held leadership positions in Human Resource Development, Communication, Marketing, and line Management. Nan has a B.A. from Stanford University and an M.A. from the University of Michigan. Currently working on her first book Winning at Working: 10 Lessons Shared, Nan is a writer, columnist, small business owner, and on-line instructor. Visit www.nanrussell.com or contact Nan at info@nanrussell.com.

© 2004 Nan Russell

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