How to Pick Battles (and Not Lose)

Posted on Aug 10, 2013 in Blog, Experiences, Student Org

Note: This is a piece I wrote for MPowered Entrepreneurship‘s blog, as advice to any person involved in a (student) organization, and finds him or herself struggling to work with their team and still achieve his or her goals.


You’re probably in an organization, and just found yourself having to deal with being a leader –  no, being on a leadership team. That means there are multiple people with authority and surprise, they all have their opinions, and often those opinions are different than yours.  Which leads to arguments.

And don’t tell me that you never have arguments or debates with your team, because that means you’re not taking risks. Yes, the consequences of going against people are scary, but that’s the price of truly attempting to accomplish your vision for the organization, and actually making an impact.


Focus on your ideal outcome(s) and prioritize the issues of contention.

Yes, every.single.thing might seem crucial to your grand vision, and to prioritize. But there are consequences to turning every decision into a debate: you run the risk of stretching yourself too thin, and/or being the person constantly crying wolf, neither of which are healthy for yourself or for your relationships with your fellow team members.

Decide what issues you need to pursue to achieve your ideal outcome and ask yourself: “If this goes another way, does this mean I won’t get my ideal outcome?” and then ask yourself that again. Pick a handful of issues that you’ll fight for, and make sure whatever you argue for falls into line with your focus. Realize that it’s not absolute either, as these situations aregive-and-take; you have to concede on some things in order for others to concede.  You’ll have no leverage if you’re consistently the opposing voice. Nobody likes a Debbie Downer. Well, at least in real life.


Slow down, and take a moment, or several.

You’ve thrown yourself into this organization and you care. A hell of a lot. Like, with every detail youhavesomanyfeelingsandyoujustwanttotalkabout – yeah, you should stop right about there. When you care about something, you’re probably too emotional to effectively discuss anything, without taking a step back. It’s hard to sound confident and sure of yourself when every sentence turns into a compound word, or “um’s” truncate your every point.

This means you have to watch your language. You don’t want the conversation to focus on how emotional you’re getting, you don’t want to victimize yourself, and you don’t want to antagonize. This is your team, they should be your allies – you don’t want to alienate them, and you don’t want their pity.

It helps to talk it out with a very patient friend first, to let your initial firestorm of emotion burn out into something more manageable. Consider the other perspectives, strengthen your argument. It may turn out that this doesn’t achieve your ideal outcome, and it’s not something you should fight for.


Be efficient, but don’t abandon consensus.

Talking about the same thing for too long of time can blow it up into a much bigger issue than it actually is (e.g. crying wolf). It also takes up a lot of time, and may make people feel that time is being wasted. For action to actually be taken on a decision (and you want it to, or else you may not achieve your grand vision), keep debate/discussion/etc. as productive and concise as possible. At the same time, don’t forget to have the other decision-makers with you every step of the way. It’s tempting to run with it as soon as some people agree with you, but when you forget to authentically include people they may be unhappy, or worse, check out entirely.


These are hard to execute, especially all at once. It’s not going to go perfectly smooth, maybe ever, but with trial-and-error, you’ll figure out what works for you and the rest of your team.



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