Almost everyone knows what it is like to face some adversity. It can be difficult to deal with many of life’s challenges, but perhaps the hardest are those where people feel they have no control. Sometimes outside events impact your life or company. Other times a decision is imposed by another person higher on the totem pole. Larger organizations and more powerful individuals have greater resources, which makes it easier to level the playing field. For the rest of us, it can feel like it doesn’t matter whether your position is correct and your points are valid; the other side doesn’t want to hear it.
What can a “little guy” do in a situation where you face seemingly impossible odds? Brian Koffler, CTO and General Counsel at K3 Learning, knows something about dealing with things beyond your control. A man who wears many hats, Koffler spends his days as Executive Director of a state-funded school for children with special learning needs. Koffler, a member of YPO, is also busily working on planning for the Shrub Oak International School, a day school and boarding program for children with Autism-related issues. From building schools ground up, to managing operations, to bringing in outside investors, and to ultimately selling off operational units, Koffler has typically been on the ‘powerless’ side of the table opposite the guys in control.
Whether it’s a feud with a co-worker, problems with the media, or personal conflicts in your private life, the most important thing is perspective. There are almost always larger things to allocate your time to which are cause less stress, are more important, and most importantly, are more fulfilling. Koffler has five pieces of advice with things that are out of your control.
1. When dealing with the media:
It is always important to think about who their intended audience is and who YOUR actual audience is. Koffler says, “Small organizations should only be concerned with two constituencies – their staff and their customers. If they have earned your trust, you don’t have to be concerned with outside media forces impacting how your business is run.”
2. When bringing in outside investment:
One of the hardest decisions a small business owner has to make is whether to allow outsiders to invest money into their organization. “If a decision is made to take in professional money, you need to know going in that you can no longer augment figures with facts. The figures will now have to speak for themselves,” Koffler warns. “If you miss your numbers…expect consequences which could be detrimental to your business.”Professional investors don’t answer to you, but to their LPs. The only way to show their return is with the numbers – a story won’t cut it. As most small businesses don’t consistently hit projects year after year, expect issues to come your way at some point in the relationship.
3. When dealing with an adversary at work:
In a perfect world everyone would have compatible personality types. In this one, most will face multiple adversaries. It could be superiors who don’t want to see you rise, or direct reports who want to circumvent your authority. Koffler advises, “Keep in mind throughout all of this that you are still at work in a professional environment and do your best not to take it personally. When you feel as though a personal attack is being launched against you, always remember that the attack is in the context of your work environment and is directed towards your work persona and not you as a person. Personal grudges last a lot longer than problems with a colleague at the office and you never know when you may run into that individual again and who may have the upper hand then.”
4. When things get personal:
Some professional conflicts will cross a line and raise questions concerning your character. In those situations, being ‘right’ is not always the most important thing. “Digging your heels into a position is not advisable unless you truly know all the facts which may come up relating to the matter. It’s important to try to see an issue from multiple perspectives to understand why the other side thinks the way they do.” It can make things worse to know you are not going to be getting an apology, but find a way to move on. If you need to, work to shift your position without losing face.
5. When dealing with legal attacks:
Some lawyers love the law because it is black and white. Others love the law for its many shades of gray. Yet another set relishes litigation as an opportunity to use powerful organizations’ resources to attack others with weak defenses. Koffler’s advice? “No matter where the attack is coming from be it a business adversary or government agency, the best advice your lawyer can give you at the start of any dispute is the actual cost in dollars to make or defend your point, and the consequences of having an arbitrary jury of your ‘peers’ possibly decide your fate.” He suggests making full use of alternative dispute resolution forums. “Enforce such provisions if they are contained in your contract. Arbitration and Mediation have saved billions of dollars from flowing out small business owners’ pockets and into the legal system.”
In any case, the most important thing to remember: “When you are at the top you may feel as though you have the right to treat people with less than the respect they deserve. Those of us who work hard alongside their staff know that our most important asset is courtesy. I always prefer to be the little guy who is well respected and courteous to everyone rather than have a little more power at the negotiating table and lose the respect of the people who truly matter.”