So… this one time at work, I pushed to make a change on a project I was supervising.
And I encountered challenges to make this change happen… mainly resistance to any change at all.
But it was the right thing to do. And I was going to get it done.
I simply would not take no for an answer.
As I stated my case – for the third or fourth time – my supervisor asked, “Wow, you just don’t give up, do you?”
“I don’t,” I replied, my resolve ever more resolved.
You can count on me not to give up but to Get. Shit. Done.
And then I saw the look on my supervisor’s face. And my total misread of the situation.
I was not being complimented for my fortitude and resolve. That “Wow” wasn’t a “Wow, you are awesome!” It was a “Wow, I can’t believe you are still pushing for this when it is so clear you should just stop.” Now. Or three weeks ago, the first time I was told no.
I backtracked at that point, trying to get a better read on the situation.
It wasn’t the first time I hadn’t properly anticipated an audience’s reaction.
Wasn’t I doing the right thing by doing what was right and not being deterred by hearing “no”?
I had always thought so…
But in this case, though I felt strongly I was right – and I’d later be proven right (yes, I feel I must point that out) – what I was doing was apparently wrong.
I had not only lost the support I needed, but I also had inadvertently pissed people off.
Here’s what I now know: You can’t get the go-ahead to get ahead if you can’t get out of your own way.
I had to put on the brakes when I didn’t get the green light and look for a different path.
When do you push through and when do you back off?
When do you give up on Something that is Just Not Going to Happen?
When does Dogged Determination become Simple (or Stupid) Stubbornness?
For the answer, I’d doggedly seek a definition of stubbornness. And who is known to be more stubborn, or bullheaded, than a bulldog?
Not an actual bulldog. My friend “Patricia,” who was once informed her nickname at work was just that – “Bulldog.”
“When I think of a bulldog, I think of determination, someone who is smart and not willing to give in,” Patricia says, recalling how her boss thought he was helping her by letting her know what her team called her when she was out of earshot.
She already knew.
Was the nickname offensive? Or a sign of respect?
“I am stubborn. I am a bulldog,” she admits. “If you tell me no, I need to understand why. I’m going to ask questions to fully understand the reason. At some point, if I realize this is not going to have a solution, then I let it go but I’ll move on to the next thing to find a solution for that next thing.”
Patricia is someone I’d want on my team, someone who Gets It Done and Gets It Done Well.
She had always had that determination. Her father had taught her that with resolve and resilience she could do anything. While she might encounter people who are more skilled, she could outwork anyone if she put her mind to it.
It was a philosophy she carried into the corporate world. But in areas where the culture was to go along with the pack, she encountered resistance every time she tugged on the leash.
“Maybe they felt threatened because I continued to push the envelope,” she suggests. “But if I’m being reprimanded for that, then this isn’t the right role for me.”
She ultimately moved on to a role that was.
Now that she runs her own team, Patricia’s bulldog mentality comes in handy. She doesn’t bow down and they know it. “I think, what do I need to do to support this team the right way? I will not give in if I believe in somebody.”
Is it bad to be a bulldog? And that’s not the only “B” word we’re worried about (and, no, the other one isn’t “bossy”).
So, what’s the difference between Dogged Determination and Stupid Stubbornness?
One is digging in your heels to find a solution. The other is when you’d rather be right than collaborative for the good of the group and the goal. When you never give in or meet halfway you can rub people the wrong way.
But how do you know when you’ve crossed that line?
- Are you someone who is known for standing up for your convictions or just arguing for the sake of argument? (There’s a reason they call it “Devil’s advocate”…)
- Are you able to drum up support for your ideas? Or are you typically on your own?
- Are you always barking orders? Do others seem fearful of your approach? Is your need to win Best in Show and be the Alpha getting in the way of your relationships?
Maybe you just need to find your pack – those working dogs who are there to work with you rather than rolling over and playing dead.
It turns out the bulldog, presumed to be strong and stubborn and difficult to train is also incredibly friendly, courageous, devoted, and intelligent, just like my friend Patricia. Her loyalty to the cause and to the company and her stubborn search for continued improvement is finally being rewarded, not just with a pat on the head but with a well-deserved promotion.
The lead dog, if you will.
And when it comes down to it, I think we can all agree… it’s better to be a bulldog than a ‘fraidy cat.
Valerie Gordon is a long-time television producer, author, and the founder of The Storytelling Strategist. She’s stubbornly committed to doing great work, providing high achievers with the career and communication strategies needed to create successul and satisfying careers. She’s pictured here with Maddy, a slightly stubborn black lab mix / rescue but very good doggo.