Monday, December 04, 2006

A Matter of Principle

I’ve started to ask myself just how far I should pursue something that is more a matter of principle than anything else. When my husband suggested last night that my objective had become one of "winning the fight," I recoiled from the thought, having viewed myself as one who is not competitive or vindictive, but rather the champion of right.

As a math major, I have always approached problems using logical building blocks. To this end I had prepared a 5-page briefing document for a meeting I attended with some people at fairly high levels on Friday. The principal person arguing against me had obviously done an excellent job briefing her boss because every time she opened her mouth to speak, he was already nodding in agreement. She used terms like "survey best practices" which would make it hard to refute what she was saying if indeed they constituted best practices. They barely looked at my document of all the factual information and pretty much ignored my point of view. I walked out of the meeting somewhat stunned but wondering if there could have been a pre-meeting where the issues were already decided.

I decided to work at home Friday afternoon, where I continued to contemplate this turn of events and ask myself why in the world my logical approach was simply not working at all.

The idea of "survey best practices" also lingered in my mind. I’m not a demographer or a survey statistician, but I have been around survey data for 35 years and I think I know quite a bit about the right thing to do.

Then I had this idea of calling a good friend, who actually used to be at my agency but left to do bigger and better things some years ago. He has a PhD in demography and is a user of our survey data in his current job. I gave him my logical explanation, stating the possible alternatives and he completely agreed with me. Maybe his school taught a different set of survey best practices!

There have been some other indications today that not everyone here in my agency holds the view that prevailed in last Friday’s meeting.

So what do I do now? Get off my soapbox and just let nature take its course?

What’s surprising to me is just how passionate I feel about these data that our respondents give us. As a guardian of their responses, I want to do the absolute right thing. Who would have thought a data processor would have even had an opinion, let alone would have been willing to fall on her sword to defend it?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What feels right? Do that.

3:29 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i wouldn't say that "winning" ths pissing contest is the sole motivation at this point (and it did not start out that way). i just think it's part of the overall picture now since it's gotten to be more than just a noble "let's decide this on technical merits" type of confrontation. heck you wouldn't be normal otherwise.

5:23 PM  
Blogger Jamy said...

Feel free to consult me too--I do survey stuff for a living (and have the appropriate PhD)--if it would help. I'm already inclined to agree with you, though. :)

6:22 PM  
Blogger Mother of Invention said...

I know nothing about your kind of work and don't really have a clear idea of your position withing this group but it is always gratifying to do the right thing. You're coming from a good place..hope it works out in a way you can all be happy with.

11:03 PM  
Anonymous Dan said...

Hi Mom,

I am glad that you trust your intuition. Its good that youa re taking a stand, and you shouldn't back down from what you believe in. Obviously, intuition and emotions plays a part in data processing, just like anything else. (For example, physicists and mathemticians now have heated debates about string theory, see But you also have to accept that your superiors are people that have their own views, and this does not make them evil necessarily. Try to think of this as an opportunity, and not an obstacle--just something that has to be played out and is part of the process.

I would also try to emphasize teamwork with your superiors, instead of trying to prove them wrong with logic. They actually may see that as threatening, and it will cause them to become defensive. See if there is any common ground that you can work off of. Try to think about how to frame the issue to them to emphasize a positive, optimistic vision. Emphasize that you view yourself as part of the team while still sticking to your views.


1:51 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Dan -- You are wise beyond your years, but then you are my kid! I will take your words to heart today because they make so much sense. It was such a surprise to hear from you, but one I treasure!

Good luck on finding a place in SF!


6:26 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dan's advice has helped solve a problem in my own work - looking at ways to reframe the issue in a positive way is such an excellent suggestion! Funny, most of us know that's what we should do, but we don't see the solution when we're mired in feelings. Do you do consult work Dan?

7:27 AM  
Blogger Reya Mellicker said...

Wow - your husband and your son are SO SMART!!

My question is, how important is this to you? How much energy do you want to invest in it? What's the pay off if you "win"? Is it about pride or your passionate feelings for the data or are you hooked into something that's not worth your time?

At least these are the questions I would be asking myself. Good luck!

8:53 AM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Pauline, Reya -- I continue to be amazed by this guy I married and this kid I birthed and raised. This isn't the first time they have quietly showed me the right path. It's been very interesting today letting go of the problem and letting others fight the fight. I have a whole different perspective thanks to these men in my family. I dearly love them both!

12:27 PM  
Blogger Kristin said...

You've gotten a lot of good advice. :) As for me, I push to a point and then defer. Sometimes, it's just not worth the battle, even when I know I'm right. Or think I'm right. I guess I'm learning to pick my fights.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Mother Hen said...

I had a boss make me do something against policy, procedure & best practices. It came back & bit her in the butt. Once the decision is made and you have had your say, document it(to cover your butt) then move on. It will more than likely be resolved through practical application.

1:09 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

You know my position on fighting for the principle of the matter - when I hear someone say that my opinion is that they are wrong and intend to win on some absurd technicality, "the principle of the matter”, because they have lost the "heart of the matter".

Now, from previous posts, you have intimated that there is some degree of politics going on. I dislike politics because it means that agendas and power instead of facts and benefits are being played. One of the keys to fighting this is to be well networked and exert influence through the network (I am a lousy networker - despite having friends who are absolutely amazing networkers).

Since politics relies on subverting rational thought process in favour of emotions, it is necessary to slow the whole process down by demanding the political player demonstrates the facts and figures. You are right in saying that it is hard to refute "survey best practices" because it is not a factual statement, it is an emotional statement. Demand facts. Whose best practices? Where is it documented? Who is using it? Are there any case studies? Or is it just pie in the sky "best practices" that appeals to "common sense" - which we know to be not very common and not always sensible (at this point it might be useful to point out some historical best case practices that were not - for example, margarine and trans fats, oops this was worse than saturated fats. Maybe margarine has benefits, but not all margarines are created equal. Are these best practices all created equal?
I strongly recommend: "Get Anyone to do Anything" and "Never be Lied to Again" by David J. Lieberman (they are also on CD and audio tape). I believe "Never be Lied to Again" is available on video as well.

They are excellent books that may help you with your current situation (if you are in a hurry, get the audio versions).

Nipping Machiavellian subterfuge in the bud, in my opinion, is not the same as fighting on principle. It is more like weeding and ensuring your garden is healthy

2:22 PM  
Blogger Barbara said...

Thanks to all of you for your continued support. It's nice to see some new faces (so to speak) also.

I'm happy to say that as of today I think things are slowly starting to turn around. I went to work with a positive mindset thanks to Dan and was very encouraged by some things that happened. I'm happy I continued to make my opinions known in a positive but not accusatory way. I'm starting to believe everything is really going to be alright.

10:12 PM  

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