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Mad Ned: the two and done rule

The whole memo is well worth reading, but this bit stood out:

I’ve saved my favorite piece of advice to the end. The “Two-And-Done” Rule as I call it was something that did not occur to me until I was almost in my 50’s, and I really wish I had come up with it earlier because it probably would have helped me in a lot of past situations.

It has to do with how to handle disagreements that come up at work. In my younger days, I would have a pretty strong desire to always have the right answer to things, and also to be seen as someone who has the right answer to things. When I got into situations where I thought I was right about something that others disagreed with, I would tenaciously argue my point, without letting go.

It did not matter if the person was my peer, subordinate, or superior, I would let them know just why they were wrong, and why we needed to do it my way. Sometimes the decision on what to do was out of my control, and management would pick the thing I was against. And even after the decision was made, I would continue to try to find ways to criticize it, reverse it, undermine it, or revisit it, because something that I knew was better was being ignored (and by extension, I think I felt I was being ignored as well).

But this take-no-prisoners approach to debate did not do me any good. Rarely would my continued efforts to upturn settled law ever yield any good results, and in fact much the opposite — it would negatively impact my ability to affect change. If I did this too often, people would begin to see me as argumentative, difficult to work with, not a team player, and so on. I started getting left out of meetings where decisions were being made because no one wanted to get into yet another argument over things.

So the Two-And-Done rule was born, wherein I will state my case the first time, and if whoever is arguing to the contrary does not agree after hearing my position, I’ll let it go. But the next time the opportunity comes up, I will argue my point again. Maybe allowing for a gap of time for people to consider my original point, or maybe allowing me time to refine and rephrase my ideas to be more convincing.

If I fail to get my way after the second time though, I am done. I will even say as much to whomever I am debating if they are the final decision-maker. I will say something like, “OK, let’s go your way then. I still don’t completely agree with everything proposed here, but I think I’ve made my case, and we need to move on.”

Yielding in an argument like this has some weird, powerful effects. One is, it kind of releases you from responsibility if things should go wrong. And if a truly bad decision has been made, it is actually pretty likely that things will start going wrong. (Important Note: If you fail to convince people after two tries, you really do have to get behind the decision, and not try to sabotage or undermine it)

Ned UtzigThe Mad Ned MemoAn Old Hacker’s Guide to Staying Employed

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