A paperweight sits on my desk, etched in silver the message: Life isn\’t
always black and white. It serves as a reminder there are few absolutes
at work (or in life). Yet, it would be easier if there were; if good
ideas from bad, trustworthy people from non-trustworthy, and right
paths from the wrong ones could easily be discerned. I\’ve learned in
twenty years in management that increasing one\’s perspective increases
the grey, as words like always and never become obsolete for describing
most situations and most people.

But early in my career, I was convinced there were right ways and wrong
ways to do things at work. Of course, my way being right and someone
else\’s wrong. Dug-in positions that at the time seemed immensely
important strike me now as limited in knowledge, understanding or

Now, I\’m as convinced there are often many ways to accomplish the same
goal and many right answers to the same problem. Certainly some
approaches may be better than others, but whose interpretation defines
better? It is a subjective workplace and a matter of judgment if an
idea is a good one, a performance rating accurate, or a decision
correct. Sometimes that interpretation is based on quarterly profits,
employee morale, company goals, personal filters, necessity, or a
passionate champion embracing a challenge.

But here\’s the thing. That subjective element often frustrates us. We
think there should be a play book we understand or a standard method to
judge an outcome so we can agree whether it\’s good or bad. Yet we have
differing vantage points, information and criteria depending on our
roles. There may be big picture, long-term, short-term, temporary,
personal, best, best of the worst, and a long list of considerations.

I learned this concept as I debated my boss over a decision he was
about to implement. As a Human Resources Director, I was concerned the
decision would impact morale. HR was the filter by which I judged the
world at the time. He gently closed the discussion agreeing with my
view point, “Yes, it\’s true employees will be unhappy. But they\’ll be
unhappier if there are layoffs next year. My job is to make sure
everyone has a job.”

Absolute thinking limits perspective, causes mistakes in judgment,
misunderstandings, disappoints, conflicts, and frustration in the
workplace. Most work issues are not black or white, right or wrong, win
or lose. They are varying shades of grey. If you want to be winning at
working, you need to adjust your eyes to see more grey and adjust your
beliefs to understand, for the most part, people are doing what they
believe to be right, for reasons they believe are right. If we could
stand behind them and see what they see, we might even come to the same

Nan Russell Columnist, Writer, Instructor

Nan Russell has spent over twenty years in management, most recently with QVC as a Vice President. She has held leadership positions in Human Resource Development, Communication, Marketing and line Management. Nan has a B.A. from Stanford University and M.A. from the University of Michigan. Currently working on her first book, Winning at Working: 10 Lessons Shared, Nan is a writer, columnist, and speaker. Her career insights column, Winning at Working (www.winningatworking.com ) regularly appears on over eighty websites; and her life-reflections column, In the Scheme of Things (www.intheschemeofthings.com) is published in six states and Canada. Her work has been selected to appear in several anthologies. To sign up for Nan's free eColumn(s), or read more about Nan or her work, visit: www.nanrussell.com.