3 Tips On How To Go Against The Grain Without Rubbing People The Wrong Way

The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one  persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress  depends on the unreasonable man. – George Bernard Shaw

I have always loved Shaw’s quote for its paradoxical undertone.

Based on a general consensus, a willingness to adapt to the world suggests that a reasonable person goes with the flow, and is someone who is usually seen as being a “team” player. A reliable individual is someone who doesn’t rock the boat, but effectively assesses the world in which they work, and comfortably falls into place as a symmetrical piece of an accepted picture.

Okay, and by a quick show of hands, how many of you reading this think that it is important to fit in? In my experience the majority of you would fall into this cooperative category. And why not . . . adaptability and reasonableness are considered to be virtues.

Conversely, those of you who buck the trend, or go against the flow, are probably viewed as being unreasonable.  Adjectives such as uncooperative or hard to work with can quickly come to mind.

In the above context, I am not just talking about being different from everyone else. What I am referring to is a notable call out in either voice or deed, that challenges people to go in a different direction than the accepted norm.

The implications of the above perspective clearly suggests that adaptability means a forfeiture of an innovative and bold spirit. If in fact this is the case, then being reasonable would be a negative, as opposed to a positive trait.

Herein lies the Shaw paradox to which I had earlier referred.

So tell me . . . do you want to be seen as reasonable or unreasonable?

In today’s post, I will provide you with three simple tips on how you can go against the grain of popular thinking, without rubbing people the wrong way.

However, before I provide you with these three essential pointers, I want to point out that adaptability is in reality a door that swings both ways. Specifically, you can be adaptable whether you are being reasonable or unreasonable. The key is therefore in your approach.

Tip 1 – Overcoming The “But We Have Always Done It This Way” Syndrome

With the exception of those rare instances in which a crisis creates an acute and general willingness to consider a different way of doing things, when proposing something new you are likely to encounter the “we’ve always done it this way, why change now” hurdle.


In his book Buy-In, John Kotter cites this as the number one reason why ideas – good ideas – are usually shot down. Specifically, the assertion that “we’ve never done this in the past and things have always worked out OK.”

So how should you respond?

To start, remind everyone of what they already know . . . that change is inevitable. What works today, may not necessarily work tomorrow.

You should then make references to familiar situations from the past, where the failure to both recognize and adapt to change had serious consequences.

You can even ask if those opposed to considering change have ever experienced a situation where, in looking back, a situation might have turned out better had they tried to do something differently.

This is an important first step in that it creates a willingness to at least consider an alternative way of seeing and doing things. Especially when you use examples to which people can personally relate.

Tip 2 – “What’s Popular Isn’t Always Right . . . “

Early in my book The Future of You, I had made reference to the following quote; “Our belief does not change reality or truth.  You may sincerely believe something to be true, but you may be sincerely wrong.”

good intentions2

Often times, people stay the course because they truly believe they are on the right path. This is an important point of recognition because their inertia is not the result of being lazy or simply finding security and comfort in the familiar.

In these instances, you need to appeal to their integrity of purpose or intent.

Acknowledge that like you, they too are more committed to getting it right, than being right. As a result, and in much the same way you are open to being shown a better way, you know that they are also open to new ideas.

In taking this approach, you are not directly challenging what they are currently doing as being wrong or ineffective. Instead you are focusing on their strong desire to do what is right and in the best interest of everyone.

For example, you can say “I know that you are focused on achieving the best result – even if that means doing something new or different. Based on this, are you open to hearing my idea?”

Once again, you are placing the emphasis on people’s desire to achieve the best outcome, and not on the fact that it may go against the norm.

Tip 3 – “What’s Right Isn’t Always Popular.”

This last tip is focused entirely on you, and your faith or confidence in what you are doing.


If you truly believe that your way is the best way, even though it flies in the face of conventional wisdom, then you have to be prepared to take the heat and accept that you will likely ruffle some feathers.

Recognition of the above is very important, because it means that you will be going into a situation with eyes wide open from the start.

Far too often what would have been a great idea and important breakthrough, has been abandoned because a champion did not fully consider the potential response or opposition they would face.  When confronted with significant push-back, you have to be firmly grounded and ready to withstand criticism, alienation and even the potential loss of your job.

If you are not prepared to endure the consequences, whatever they may be, then you are not truly ready to go against the grain.




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