Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Speaking truth to power

When I was little I have a distinct memory of arguing about something with my dad. I think I was about 7. He was being an insufferable know-it-all about something and I wasn't having it. He said something like
"I'm right because I know."
"You don't know!" I said furiously. "You're not right! You're not God, you know."
He roared with laughter. This phrase entered the family lexicon.

I don't know where this attitude came from, it clearly started early but it hasn't done me any favours over the years. Basically I can't bear arse-lickers, and I don't think being in a position of power automatically earns you my respect or complicity.

Today I had an argument with someone at work who was clearly acting from orders from the top, she asked me to do something which I thought was nonsense and disagreed with, I refused. She was pissed off and left.

When she'd gone my colleague next to me whispered that she'd been asked the same thing recently, the difference was that she'd said she would do it but then secretly she didn't. I was struck. "So you said you'd agree, but you did your own thing? So you avoided conflict and got your own way? Why don't I do that? Why don't I keep my mouth shut?"

She said she'd learned this from her family too. Her sister was like me, always arguing back with their dad, and getting into argie bargies. Whereas she just smiled and agreed for a quiet life, and then just did what she wanted.

Tactics. Which is better?


  1. I always go down the argument route and get all het up. It's never done me any good.

  2. I don't know. I always do as I'm told and then sulk because I'm cowed and had an extremely scary father. Either of the other methods suggested sound a lot better.

  3. Reminds me of an anthropology textbook called "Weapons of the Weak" and one of my prof's tales of Polish villagers who would silently avenge themselves on the local communist party official by pouring sugar into his car engine.

  4. I always think "speaking truth to power" just means "saying huge hairy bumholes to Princess Anne".

  5. I'm with you on this one. The more honest thing to do seems to be to speak up and say you disagree and why. Nothing will change if stupid ideas are not challenged. That said, it does make for confrontation and, being a coward, I'd probably do what GSE said - obey and then moan about it.

  6. I play dumb and ask lots of questions about what they are trying to get me to do for them, thus using the Socratic method to gradually lead them to the inevitable conclusion that they are an idiot.

    That, and I also make it clear that if they insist on trying to make me do something I disagree with, I'm going to make sure it involves a lot more work for them than they were expecting.

    "I think we should arrange a team meeting about this so we can clearly define your objectives and expectations. This is clearly very important to you, so I just want to make sure we get it right."

  7. Geoff, yes it's not really working for me either. I think we need to be a bit more Machievellian.

    GSE, it's hard to be assertive though, even without example of scary father to keep you in line.

    B - teehee! excellent. *makes note to self*

    Tim, that's the definition I think you'll find in the Quakers' handbook.

    TB, most of the people at work obey & then moan. People power!

    LC - sneaky. And clever. You ARE Machievelli.