You’ve weighed the pros and cons and carefully assessed the impact. After in-depth consideration, you’ve decided to accept that new job, or launch your own business, or take time off to be with your children. You know it’s the right choice — but your boss, friends, and colleagues aren’t convinced. What should you do when people you respect disagree with your decisions?
Consider their motivations. This is the time to get clarity about who has your best interests at heart, and who’s a frenemy with their own agenda. One college student who wrote to me for advice was planning to drop out at the end of the semester to start his own social media business, but he was getting blowback from his peers. Most of them surely thought they were being helpful — “devil’s advocates” who were helping to steer their friend away from certain doom. But his decision likely raised uncomfortable questions for them about their future prospects and the value of their pricey education. Similarly, you should take your colleagues’ advice with a grain of salt, especially if it reflects on them and their choices in some way. Your decision to take a sabbatical in order to finish your book, for instance, could trigger your friends’ repressed literary ambitions in unexpected ways.
Understand their concerns. The truth is, your colleagues are right to be skeptical. Most new businesses do fail, and many women who take time off work to raise children have a hard time returning to the career track. You may be an exception to the rule, but your friends are right to express some concern. In order to turn them into allies, you have to assure them that you’re taking them seriously by listening carefully to their concerns rather than making glib assumptions. Think about your conversations with dubious colleagues as a savvy variant of the pre-mortem — i.e., an exercise that evaluates everything that could go wrong in the future.
Hedge against the downside.Understanding the potential risks enables you to do a much better job hedging against them. If you’re planning to launch a startup, for instance, your colleagues might have highlighted concerns about your finance skills. In that case, taking a financial management class before you leave your day job, or recruiting a top-quality CFO, would simultaneously assuage their fears and make your startup more likely to succeed.
You can also establish trip wires to ensure you don’t take too many needless risks. If you’re an “all-in” type of person, for instance, your allies might fear you’ll wreck your family’s savings by pouring it all into a floundering venture. Instead, you could set a rule in advance — written down and made known to board members, your spouse, and senior staffers — that you’ll only continue to commit your personal resources if the company achieves certain growth milestones. Otherwise, you’ll need to rely on outside investors (who may be hard to find if the numbers aren’t good) or shut down the venture. Having clear metrics to track progress enables you, and your critical colleagues, to gauge how you’re doing.
Emphasize that you have to try. When it comes to your career, the decisions — and the regrets — are ultimately yours. Others may feel concern for you, but you’re the one who has to live with the consequences. When a palliative nurse wrote a book several years ago about the top regrets of the dying, at the top of the list was the failure to live life on your own terms (as opposed to fulfilling others’ wishes for you). If you’ve carefully considered the options and are ready to try something new, it’s worth listening to others’ questions, perspectives, and doubts. But before you allow them to sway you, consider whether you’d ultimately regret not trying — even if the decision proves unsuccessful.
It’d be ideal if everyone in your life supported all your decisions, but that’s unlikely to happen. Yet you’re far more likely to face occasional resistance from those who genuinely believe they have your best interests at heart. By taking the time to understand their motivations and concerns, showing them exactly how you’re mitigating risks, and making it clear how important this decision is to you, you’re likely to gain at least their respect — if not their support, too.
A version of this was first posted on hbr.org