Archive: Everybody Does It – November 4, 2005

“Everybody Does It” is never a good excuse”

(This podcast is pulled “from the archives” and presented here as a service to more recent listeners — Douglas)

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Often, when in the heat of an argument, one person will bring out the ultimate reason for their transgression, “Well, everyone else does it!” or its companion, “That’s just the way it is!” Few things will spark my anger more quickly than these phrases. In a few words, they seem to sum up so much that can go wrong in the world. These phrases carry a sense of finality and abandonment. A feeling that seems to say, “give up!”

To a high-tech careerist, these phrases can mean even more. This can be a sign that your management is no longer listening to you or your ideas. This can be a sign that your company has decided to ignore the future and keep doing the same old thing. Even worse, if you find yourself using these phrases, you might be in an advanced state of career atrophy. Often this means that you have simply stopped trying to effect change. For whatever reason, a bad work environment, bad management, bad times, you find you have stopped trying.

That does NOT make it right

Despite what some people might say, everyone does not do it that way. This response is usually trotted out when someone is trying to justify some unethical act. “Well, everyone overcharges for shipping and handling.” “Everyone takes office supplies home.” “Everyone cheats on their taxes.” The truth is, just because something may have become standard operating procedure in many companies, this does not make it right. In fact, it is often a sign that some fundamental changes need to be made. Instead of taking this as a sign to give up, you need to press the issue further.

I was recently embroiled in an argument over signing a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) and the responses I received to my first questions about the NDA made me even more reluctant to sign. Almost all of the responses to my questions were in the vein of “everyone does it”, “Just sign it,” “That’s just he way business works today. Hmmm….I become very suspicious when people don’t want to talk about an issue, but, instead, present unequivocal demands. Unable to solicit any more information than that, I decided not to sign the NDA or join the project. Just because others “do business” in this fashion does not mean that you should.

The all purpose excuse

Of course, what we are really talking about here is the all purpose excuse. It is impossible to refute that “everyone does it that way”, so it is meant to bring the conversation to an end. In many ways, it is akin to saying, “Do it my way or leave.” It is, perhaps, couched in a less threatening manner, but the results are the same.

The antidote to such declarations is always more discussion. Communication solves problems. Lack of communication causes them. Whenever you feel like closing down a discussion, you need to look deep into your own heart and mind and discover the reason. Are you really telling people to “do it my way?” If so, you are harming the effectiveness of yourself and those around you.

This is not about delaying decisions until you reach full consensus on an issue. Rather it is all about allowing those around you to feel that you have heard, if not agreed, with their position. If people feel that you have truly listened to their concerns and wishes, they will often be willing to follow your decision, even if they might not agree with it 100 percent.

Too often, especially in technology-related work, you will be faced with these all purpose excuses. I highly urge you not to accept them as the end of a conversation. If you truly feel that there is a problem, you owe it to yourself and your employer to address the problem. Too many times, I have seen high-tech staffers pushed down a path that they knew was wrong because someone else decided that “everyone does it.” You need to make these decisions for yourself, through open and extensive communication. Otherwise you can find yourself embroiled in out-of-control situations that can damage, if not destroy, your high-tech career.

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