November 4, 2005
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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.