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Picking The “Hills To Die On” In Office Politics

Jacob Brain


As the saying goes, “picking your hills to die on” is a hard lesson for many who campaign for change inside of an organization. Yet focusing on winning the war while losing the battle might be your best path to real success. Here’s how that works organizationally.

First Thing: See the Big Picture

Sometimes, when we are so wrapped in the conflict in front of us, it becomes hard to remind ourselves of the end goal. And when confrontation and opinions start to stand in your way, it becomes very tempting to buckle down and press, argue, and raise tensions to resolve the issue in your favor. In a corporate setting this could easily cause tension and possibly issues within your team.

The first thing to do is remind yourself of the big picture, frequently. Does this decision change the outcome of the end goal? If not, you can still pursue your view on the issue, but maybe concede the conflicts in parts to build unity, rather than just to see it end your way. Make this a chance for you to demonstrate your humility and ability to disagree, but to unify as a team to get the job done.

If it does matter, then you might need to try the next tactic.

Second, Build The Case

If the decision ahead of you will change the outcome of the entire project, then now is the time to hold ground. This is the hill you’re willing to die on. There are two ways you can go about this. One, meet personally, with your biggest opponent to really understand their view before the next meeting. First listen, and collect thoughts about the issue. Replay your case for them and how that either aligns with their needs or the organization’s goals. Make sure you understand all the objections they have to your plan and see if you can address them with data, research, or examples. Building your case will help your approach stand up against alternative approaches.

Second, when it comes time for the meeting, even if you still disagree with the team or they do with you, you are much more prepared to address the alternative views because you’ve build up a stronger case. Remember that you can’t change the facts, you can only change how much they matter. In many heated debates, the logical arguments have to stack up, and one must become the predominate truth that others will be reconciled to. Make sure your leading case in point becomes the leading fact that others must work around. Once the main case is established, the rest will simply be for or against the case. Make your case be the leading one, not the contrary one.

When to Look For Allies

During this process, a team must work together, and each team will have people who see things the same way. These are your allies in the hills to die on. Build them early in your campaign, and bring them in to help build consensus or share your view with others to help the campaign proceed. Make sure you share the same views, but also see where you might be different, and celebrate that. Yet, as a leader, paint the picture of what the end of game looks like together, and how you can get there. Every person on your team will need to eventually come on board with this plan, so start with your allies to make sure you plan addresses everyone and use them to help craft an even better approach. Don’t view them as simply political capitol, yet as contributors to the vision that you both want to experience together.

Lastly, Accept the Results and Rebuild

No matter what happens, in the end, unless the decision violates your beliefs or ethics, the next important step is to lay the disagreement aside and rebuild unity. There will be another battle, another war, and these might be the same people who are in it together with you. Rebuild those relationships, and be an example of how to lose graciously. Don’t worry about the pride of the winner; focus on yourself and your actions after the event. Continue to pursue the necessary aspects of your ideas into the chosen plan, as there might still be room.

Yet don’t dramatize the event. Don’t gossip. Don’t create issues politically within departments and others. How you carry yourself after the event will carry weight as the next battle comes into view. I know it will be hard, believe me. But the hard things are the best things.

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