Challenging Authority At Work

The longer you report to a person, the greater the likelihood that eventually you will question a decision or opinion that person has, no matter how much you respect them personally. It’s inevitable and undeniably going to happen. So when it comes about, it’s not really so much your difference in opinion that could spell trouble; it’s possibly the way you handle yourself in the process.

Like so many things in life, there is a wrong way and a right way, and an awful lot of ways in between that you could choose to air your feelings. I have found from listening to many of my clients over the years, that going about things the wrong way can lead to immediate dismissal, a stalled career or a whole lot of energy spent trying to repair damage done in what otherwise was a good working relationship.

One of the first things you would be wise to acknowledge is where you find yourself on the organizations hierarchical chart. Are you the supervisor or boss? If so, realize the title on your business card doesn’t necessarily mean every decision you’re going to make will be the right one. Nor does it mean that all the people who report to you have less intelligence or somehow don’t see the big picture the way you do. You are entitled to be treated with respect based on your position in the organization, but you also gain respect from your employees based on the respect you show them.

If you answer to an authority figure at work such as a supervisor or boss, you would be wise to respect the person you report to, and ultimately defer to their authority as the final decision-maker on the big items. You can get yourself into trouble if you overstep the boundaries of your position and start making decisions you have no right to.

I’ve listened to both men and women who got fired or let go from places of work who despite overstepping their job descriptions, failed to learn the lessons. “The guy’s a jerk. I could do his job with my eyes closed. He’s an idiot. I told him what to do and that if he didn’t he was stupid. I wouldn’t go back if they begged me, and I’d do the same thing again if I had the chance. Good riddance!”

The comments made above tell me more about the person making them than they do about the person being talked about. The person talks in issues of right and wrong, my way or the highway, black and white. Further, the message communicated is that if things aren’t done the way the speaker sees things, then the other person is an idiot. Ouch! There isn’t any respect being shown for holding a different opinion, and there’s no credit being given to the supervisor for seeing a bigger picture, knowing more background in a situation or their own work experience.

If you are going to question someone with authority, let me give you some helpful advice. First of all, always respect the other person and their right to hold an opinion different from your own. Ultimately you both want the same thing; to maximize your resources, improve conditions, solve a problem, generate numbers, maximize profits, etc. So keep your thoughts and your comments confined to the issue, not the person.

When you challenge something, don’t challenge authority, challenge yourself first. That’s right; challenge yourself. Your challenge is to respectfully bring up a topic, suggest or recommend an alternative to a process. Understand right from the start that you may be successful and you may not. You may be the one who has to relent and you might not be given a full explanation as to why your idea – so blatantly better – is not the right one at this time. Your title and the title of your supervisor or boss alone might mean you walk away having been heard but your ideas not acted on. That’s the order of things.

Picking your battles, understanding you won’t always win and seeing things differently than ‘You won I must have lost’ or ‘I won you must have lost’ are smart attitudes and behaviours. The boss is no more an idiot in every given situation than you are right in every situation. Far from being about who is right, wrong, smart or an idiot, words you choose should always be about the issue, not the people.

Conceding on issues may just be a sign of your strength by the way. By presenting your ideas for improvement but openly deferring in the end to whomever is in a position of authority, you demonstrate good interpersonal skills and your Supervisor will appreciate that. You can still be passionate about your ideas on a subject, and you might even find the person in authority gives your future ideas more thought because of the respect they feel you’ve earned by respecting them.

Personality clashes sometimes get in the way of respectfully exchanging ideas and respecting those in the workplace. It’s a wise person who pauses to see things from another person’s perspective when they can, and asks for clarification when they can’t. People want to feel listened to, their ideas heard and considered. In the end, the higher a person is in the organization the greater is the ultimate responsibility for major decisions.


Dear Employer: About That Job Applicant On Welfare

Dear Employer:

I recognize you are extremely busy running your company, so I want to thank you in advance for reading this blog in its entirety. I promise it’s to your own advantage to do so.

You and I both know that the most important component to your business are the people who produce, market and sell your goods and services. You want people who are enthusiastic about the work they do, who are skilled, teachable, dependable, honest, competent, and will bring value to your business. As an Employment Counsellor and a consumer I understand those needs.

Just as you want honesty in your applicants, I ask you how you honestly feel about applicants who happen to be on social assistance or welfare? Are you open to hiring them on a level playing field with other applicants or do you have a prejudice against them based in part on media stories or even having had poor past experiences yourself?

Just as there are both poor and good employers, I acknowledge that there are both poor and good applicants on social assistance. While it’s true there are some on social assistance who fit with the bad stereotypes, there are a lot more who are extremely qualified and skilled, and would make a fine addition to your workforce.

With the tight economy we have today, it’s more important than ever that you hire the right people the first time. With the tight economy we have today, it’s also true that more and more highly skilled people have had to turn to social assistance to support themselves because gainful employment is so hard to find. I myself have this year helped a Cardiologist, two doctors, a Dental Hygeinist, and a Civil Engineer who are on welfare trying their best to get a job. Does that fit with a media stereotype?

The reality for people on social assistance is that they often have to deal with poor landlords who take advantage of their financial situation. They have children to care for as single parents after being abandoned by a spouse who was the bread-winner. They usually applied for welfare as a last resort, so their self-esteem is at an all-time low and now their references and skills are in danger of waning and becoming out of date. That gap on their resume is often getting bigger because other employers wouldn’t give them the time of day. And some employers exploited them and withheld payments due knowing they couldn’t afford to take them to court. It happens.

And more and more employers such as yourself are demanding people have a clean criminal record. First of all most of the people on social assistance do have a clean criminal record. Having said that, there are some people on social assistance who committed crimes 20 years ago, and haven’t been in trouble with the law except that one time. The fees to start the pardon process are extremely high now; too high to pay when your on welfare, and it takes over 5 years to go through the process after you pay and initiate it. I know it’s an insurance and bonding issue, but think how grateful that applicant would be; how that would translate into a fabulous employee if you gave them a break. Don’t abandon all your safeguards of course, just be open to the possibilities….please?

It’s frustrating when they get no email acknowledgement of a job application. They ask for feedback when they don’t get an interview or don’t get hired but get ignored so they have no idea how to improve on future applications. A little empathy would be welcome and encouraging. Time is money of course, but you and I would seek feedback wouldn’t we?

Okay so you want some incentive. That social assistance or welfare job applicant comes with some attractive advantages to your bottom line that non-social assistance recipients don’t. That person probably has an Employment Coach or Employment Counsellor that they can talk to and get help from if they run into problems in your workplace to coach them through. They may also come with financial incentives that would subsidize wages, meaning you don’t pay the full salary as they get up to speed.

Some on social assistance these days are dealing with stresses and pressures that are a product of being vulnerable. They’ve been abused emotionally, physically or sexually. They deal with landlords who know the social assistance rates and charge the highest amounts they can. They can’t afford to eat three nutritious meals a day, sometimes having to choose between food on the table, bus fare to get around or a pharmacy prescription. Throw into the mix the stress of a prolonged job search and you’ve got someone whose a survivor living on a $4.63 per hour comparable.

The social assistance job applicant is resilient. They budget with very little, so they’ll be good at watching your pennies too. I understand you’re not running a charity and that’s good because I’m appealing to you to just give them a fair shake.

Call up a welfare or social assistance office and tell them your needs. We screen, coach and you save on advertising. Could be you’ll find an excellent applicant who comes with financial incentives and job coaching support who would be grateful for the opportunity to compete for the job you need filled today.

Thanks on their behalf.