Occasionally Cave

September 6, 2012

One of my most visible faults early on in my career (and something I still struggle with to this day) was my tendency to rigidly represent my own (or my team’s) interests, regardless of how large or small. I say rigidly, because I would tend to hold the same position in spite of the political or emotional erosion to external relationships that might be caused. In short, I didn’t really give a damn about any external team’s preferences — I knew what my team wanted, and that was that. Over the years, I’ve learned that this is not the best way to do business.

One of my favorite quotes from the movie Knockaround Guys is when John Malkovich explains to Barry Pepper “Used to be, there was a way to do things and things got done [..] now everyone’s feelings are involved.” The truth is that many times in today’s business culture, it can be problematic to make the technically correct decision for the business because it might go against someone’s personal preference and therefore offend them,  making them difficult to work with later on. Negotiation might seem to be the answer when you disagree on implementation details, but even negotiation presents it’s own problems, mainly that neither party actually gets what they want, which can get very old after a while.

The best way answer I’ve come up with yet is simply concession. This goes against a lot of what I personally believe in, but really tends to be best deterrent I’ve found for hurt feelings. Certainly you shouldn’t become a door mat, conceding in every argument, or else you will have invalidated the point of conceding to begin with. But you also shouldn’t have to enter an “integration points” meeting preceded by a reputation of inflexibility and self-service. If you really want to keep your collaborators cooperative, don’t make everything a negotiation — occasionally cave.


John is a serial conversationalist who spends entirely too much time engulfed in problem domains he knows nothing about and has no earthly business trying to learn. He can occasionally be found at your local coffee shop writing algorithms and trying to think deep thoughts.