Monday Mornings with Madison

10 Ways to Be a Constructive Contrarian

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Being a contrarian might seem like a flaw — a behavior that causes nothing but trouble, conflict and strife within a group or community.  However, there are times when it is not just okay to be a contrarian, but it is actually a desirable quality.  In business, there are situations that call for going against the grain and speaking out against a prevailing point of view.  At companies, group think can not only stifle creativity and innovation, it can stop people from voicing concerns when there are issues and stop anyone from going above and beyond if no one else is.  In a business environment, it is good for employees to have different points of view when there is a reason and purpose… not just for the sake of arguing or being difficult.  Let’s call this behavior a “constructive contrarian”.

There are occasions that call for a person to be a constructive contrarian… times and occasions when conformity is not the right answer. Here are ten situations where it is perfectly right to kick conformity to the curb.

1. People disappoint you and let you down. Be a contrarian.  Handle the situation with grace.

It’s been said that expectation is the root of all heartache.  When we experience disappointment, our hopes and expectations are out of line with reality.  This happens to everyone from time to time.  Some disappointments don’t make much difference, but some can be very impactful.  The normal response for most – employers and employees alike — is to turn their backs on those who did not live up to the mark.  Employees might quit if they don’t get a raise, promotion or choice assignment.  Employers might lash out at vendors or employees who disappoint.  Don’t.  Be a contrarian.

While receiving disappointing news is never fun, and it’s all too easy to let emotions to get the upper hand, respond with grace.  No matter how sad, frustrated, or upset, demonstrating grace under pressure is one of the most admirable qualities anyone can possess.  But, this doesn’t come naturally.  Even though most would react negatively when faced with disappointment, strive to handle the situation with poise, understanding, and respect.  Handling the situation with honor, esteem, and transparency ensures the future remains bright with future opportunities.  For the employee, today’s pay cut or demotion might open the door to a different and better opportunity tomorrow.  After all, professional or business progress is a game of inches. Most successful businesses are defined by the sum of all of the little decisions and interactions that happen each and every day… not by big strategic moves.  The responsibility is on both leaders and teams to make every single moment count. When faced with disappointment, rather than crumple up in defeat like everyone else, choose to move forward.  Successful people demonstrate true grit and keep moving inch by inch, moment by moment, even in the face of disappointment and setbacks.

2. People will question if “doing good” makes good business sense.  Be a contrarian.  Do good anyway.

For years, business execs have debated whether doing good things – such as corporate social responsibility (CSR) – makes good business sense.  If doing good hurts the bottom line, then why do it?  Be a contrarian.  Do good anyway.

But, to quiet the bean counters and naysayers, there is now evidence that there are actual financial benefits that result from doing good (what is dubbed corporate socially responsible actions).   Project ROI was a study conducted by IO Sustainability and Babson College which looked at Verizon and Campbell Soup to determine if their efforts to support environmental, social and governance practices (ESG) actually benefitted their company bottom lines.  The results showed that for a business, doing good is an investment, not a distraction.  With proper design and sufficient investment, a company’s corporate responsibility efforts generate returns related to: share price and market value; reputation and brand; sales and revenue; human resources; and risk and license to operate.

Strong CSR practices can augment business performance to deliver additional ROI and make up for certain deficiencies in business performance to preserve, protect, and even grow financial ROI.  The key is that the benefits only returned to companies managing those efforts well. It’s not enough to dabble.  Companies that go all-in for ‘doing good’ reap the rewards.

The study found that corporate social responsibility actions resulted in changes to market value, share price, and risk reduction.

  • Increased market value by up to: 4-6%
  • Over a 15 year period, increased shareholder value by: USD $1.28 billion
  • Increased valuation for companies with strong stakeholder relationships: 40-80%
  • Reduced the cost of equity by: 1%
  • Reduced share price volatility: 2-10%
  • Avoided market losses from crises: USD $378 million
  • Reduced systematic risk by: 4%
  • Reduced the cost of debt by: 40% or more

Corporate social responsibility actions affected marketing, sales, and brand/reputation value.

  • Increased revenue by up to: 20%
  • Increased price premium by up to: 20%
  • Increased customer commitment in a core segment by 1-20% and in the total segment by 60%
  • Identified corporate responsibility brand / reputation value as 11% of the total company value
  • Avoided revenue losses up to 7% of the firm’s market value

Corporate social responsibility actions also affected Human Resources.

  • Reduced the company’s staff turnover rate by up to 50%
  • Saved 90-200% of the employee’s annual salary per additional retained employee
  • Improved CSR performance had an effect on retention equal to an increase in annual salary of: $3,700/year
  • Workers were willing to accept variability in pay: 5% pay cut
  • Increased productivity by up to 13%
  • Increased employee engagement up to 7.5%

Doing good is an essential tool for recruiting, retaining and engaging top talent, including Millennial talent. It also increases the commitment, affinity, and engagement of employees which, in turn, enhances job performance, increases productivity, reduces turnover, lowers absenteeism, and even reduces the incidence of employee corruption.  These things, in turn, enhance financial performance, sales revenue, brand and reputation value, and innovative capability.

3. People will shy away from what they fear. Be a Contrarian.  Be vulnerable anyway.

There is a lot of pressure in the business world to be tough and strong.  As the old commercial says “Never let ‘em see you sweat.”  Being vulnerable and exposed is seen as a position of weakness.  And the prevailing wisdom is to never willingly do that.  But, be a Contrarian.  Be vulnerable anyway.  Why?  There are several reasons.

First, being vulnerable signals to others you value their trust and feedback. Trying to always appear as the dominant person in the room doesn’t always get results. In short, being vulnerable means understanding the other person’s point of view before being understood. Taking the time to listen — really listen — to the other person before responding with your own thoughts, opinions or agenda is a start.

Vulnerability also increases confidence.  No one has all the answers, and at some point anyone who seems to have all the answers will eventually reveal that they really don’t.  Being straightforward about your vulnerabilities demonstrates more confidence, not less.  It allows a person to stop pretending to know and highlights what they actually know.  And, acknowledging weaknesses can lead to better results.  By accepting who we are – including our weaknesses – we can partner with people who hold the qualities we lack.   So while there is great pressure to hide weaknesses, be a contrarian and dive head first into those areas of fear and weakness.  It’s good for you.

4. People will argue and try to get a rise out of you. Be a Contrarian.  Remain calm anyway.

If the last year has shown us anything, it’s that there are plenty of opportunities to clash, quarrel and fight with coworkers, colleagues, and acquaintances.  Political views.  Religious beliefs.  Medical opinions.  There is a lot of animosity and conflict in the world.  And the typical response by most is to argue and fight to the point where relationships are damaged and respect is lost.  Don’t do it.  Be a Contrarian.  In the face of truly offending and provocative behavior, be calm anyway.

Why?  Because individuals who are able to stay calm under pressure increase their chances of being successful and accomplishing goals.  Those who maintain that calm mental outlook while in the middle of a chaotic situation can see beyond the chaos to find a solution more quickly.  And we know that agility and speed are business and professional superpowers.  It also helps you develop patience, optimism, and a positive mindset.

5. People will push you away and make you feel unwanted. Help them anyway.

The competitive “me-against-the-world” mentality is so common and pervasive in workplaces that the phrase “dog-eat-dog world” was adopted to describe how colleagues and coworkers will push some people out, making them feel unwanted and seem unneeded.  It is absolutely natural to respond to that kind of aggression and hostility with similar attacks.  When a coworker or boss pushes you out and makes you feel unwanted, be a Contrarian.  Let that slide off your back and help them anyway.

Why?  Choosing to be the bigger person by helping others who pushed you away helps you build stronger relationships and a more positive workplace.  Helping colleagues – especially ones who rejected you — strengthens your reputation and makes you a sought-after addition to new teams. It can lead to new opportunities.  The law of reciprocity also comes into play here. When you help others, they want to help you in return. Being kind is like sowing seeds in a garden; what you reap is always greater than what you sow.  And even if they don’t, it will be paid back one way or another.  Trust in that.  And even if that never pans out, be a Contrarian and do it anyway.

In the end, being a constructive contrarian is about digging past conformity and impulse, and doing what is good and right.  Next week, we will look at five additional situations where it pays to be a Constructive Contrarian.  Stay tuned.

Quote of the Week

“I think what’s always important is not to be contrarian for its own sake but to really get at the truth.” Peter Thiel

© 2021, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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