Monday, November 27, 2006

Just say maybe

Eight years ago, my supervisor at the time said something simple yet fairly profound in his assessment of me. He said that one of my strengths and flaws was my ability to see both sides of an issue. In his view, it was a strength in that I was able to understand people’s perspective and tend to refrain from being overly judgmental. But it was a flaw in that it held me back when it was time to make a decision and stand firmly on one side or another.

A few months ago, I had yet another annual performance review in a long line of annual performance reviews. As much as they’re necessary evils, I dislike them – both when I’m the one DOING the review (of my staff) and when I’m the one RECEIVING the review. I’ve had approximately 10-15 of them. I’ve done even more of them. I’ve grown weary of them. Partly it’s because they’re a little artificial and I think that people should be guided along a pathway on a day-to-day basis rather than face an annual assessment of how close to the path they’re staying.

I get along great with my boss, and mostly he said highly positive things about me, but one of the things he said about me has stayed with me because it reflected what I’d heard eight years ago. He said that sometimes I’m a bit too much of a “maybe” person – that I occasionally have trouble making a firm decision or seeing things as black or white, especially if it might negatively impact a person or group of people.

It’s true, it’s one of my greatest flaws. It’s also one of my greatest strengths. I am a leader and communicator partly because I can understand different people’s perspectives and can usually figure out the best way to get through to them and empathize with them wherever they stand. I can also find common ground in almost every disagreement. At the same time, I am held back in my leadership abilities because I am often not as directive or bold as I should be. I anticipate people’s negative responses to a decision (on one side or another), and so I hold back to avoid hurting them or causing dissent. I can usually see why something is a bad idea just as clearly as I can see why it’s a good idea. As a result, I get stuck in the middle of too many issues.

I think this strength/flaw explains why I prefer to be a “facilitator” rather than a “leader”. In my current job, I have to be a leader. I have to make decisions for a team, and every time I do, there are some people who disagree with me. I don’t enjoy it. I don’t like to “play the heavy”. I’d rather be the consultant they hire to help them come up with good ideas, help them see their way through impasses, and help them figure out how to strengthen their communication and build their teams. That way I can leave the decision-making up to someone else as I wander off to another project or task. That way, I can use my strength/flaw to its greatest advantage and nobody gets hurt.

The truth is, I want to embrace this piece of me, this strength/flaw. I want to embrace it and make it beautiful, so that it will in turn bring beauty to what it touches. I don't want to be afraid to be bold, but I also want to be content with being a "maybe person". Because sometimes the "maybe persons" are the most comfortable ones to be with in the middle of all these shades of grey. And sometimes, the "maybe persons" are the ones that lead us in the directions that feels right for all of us.


Vicki said...

it's amazing to me how we grew up on different sides of this place we call home, land and land and more land between us, and you just typed exactly my own quality and "need to work on" trait.

I am a pleaser. Maybe it comes down to trying to please everyone. We need to just please ourselves? ?? Notice the question markes because I have not figured this one out either!

Anvilcloud said...

This reminds me that I have thoguht more than once lately, that most strengths have their concomitant weaknesses and vice versa. I can think of a good example. Maybe I should blog this too.

Pamela said...

I have that same weakness/strength as you. I so often see both sides

I have a problem reprimanding people because I see my own flaws so clearly.

Gina said...

I enjoyed working with "maybe" people more than "black and white" people. You could talk to them and reach a concensus together rather than being handed a decision from on high.

Whippersnapper said...

The ability to see the grey is a GIFT, not a weakness, and honestly, if more people recognized that, this world would be a lot better of a place.

P.S.: It's not really five in the morning as I post this

Liz said...

You sound like you would be easier to work with than someone who can't see another point of view.

Janet said...


FIRSTLY, I'm so glad you're feeling better. Sounds like you "got it BAD", as they'd say in Texas.

Secondly, I really enjoyed this post. I'm continually told what a good "facilitator" I am as well. I have some strong views and can be rather stubborn about them. But first as a trader and now as a trainer, I think I'm becoming better at seeing more sides of most things.

VERY interesting post. Lots of food for thought. Thank you!


Hope said...

When I first heard that "your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness" in a business class, I thought it was stupid, how can a strength be a weakness?
But as I thought about it, every trait we have has positive and negative qualities, it's true.
I also hate performance reviews, and work hard to provide constant feedback as well asannual sit down evaluations.
Chin up, we love you as you are.

Karla said...

Peronally, I think it's the people who listen and contemplate the gray area in between that earn the respect of others more easily than those who sit firmly in their convictions on only one side of the fence.

Thailand Gal said...

So much of "strength/weakness" is situational. It is always better (and more ethical, imo) to be able to see all sides and to honor them whenever possible. There are few absolutes in this world and assigning an absolute to something that is fluid just leads to more discrimination and conflict. Workplaces are artificial environments where only one way of viewing the world (goal-directed, competitive and too much emphasis on "self-improvement", as long as that improvement is by their measurement of standards) that those reviews are basically pretty useless.

I would say, yes, go with honoring that part of yourself. It is a gift.. not a detriment.



BarnGoddess said...

whippersnapper snapping snapped, said it right!

it is hard to see the 'grey' area.

I am a person who sees black and white, I make an effort to see the grey area...I guess it comes from my law enforcement background and being raised in a family full of law enforcement, no happy medium there....

give yourself a HUGE pat on the back for having this gift! I see it in your writing, you express yourseld beautifully as well as understand others around you :)

tlawwife said...

Speaking of evaluations we had to do one today. I have an incredibly hard time getting my husband to do one but they are essential for the way that he deals with the employees. He tells them what he wants them to do then just gets internally mad if they don't do it right. He has never been willing to be the heavy. He would rather take everything on himself than to have to do something unpleasant. What happens then is that people who work for him don't know what they are doing wrong (or at least not his way) and don't make any changes. Doing an evaluation forces him to talk with them. After saying all of this we hate them.

wordgirl said...

I don't see what's so wrong with "maybe". At least you're not an extremist without a middle ground.

Coll said...

I feel that dialogue is usually the equalling force.. be it black, white or grey.

Sunshine said...

Another thought would be the ability to be firm in your convictions, be proud and committed to your own opinion but be open-minded enough to accept that other people will and do disagree. Now, THAT'S a toughie. And I agree with some of the other commenters as well....being a peacemaker is better than being a ballbreaker. (I didn't intend for that to come out rhyming, oops)

Rhea said...

I think I was a very 'maybe' person, but then I became a newspaper editor. In this work you have to make decisions pretty fast and stick with 'em. My occupational hazard is that I am not a maybe person anymore.

Joyce said...

you nailed my strength/weakness completely. I so resonate with what you've said here.