Are you a skunk at a picnic?

Sometimes you might have to be.

If you work in innovation or any role that’s about encouraging or driving change, at some point you’re going to be the skunk at a picnic. And if you’re not, then somethings up.

Just in case it’s not clear, being the skunk at a picnic means you’re not wanted or you’re even actively avoided.

Making any sort of change happen can be hard. Because most people fear change. Even the people that proclaim to love it often have a little niggling thought in the back of their mind. They worry about the uncertainty of what the change might mean for them.

If your role is developing new products, processes or services, or helping people change, an integral part of that is challenging the status quo and questioning ‘how we do things here.’ You’ll be asking questions and challenging how things stand. Not everyone will like you doing that.

Many years ago, I had a role which involved retiring a suite of products that were no longer fit for purpose. I was most definitely the skunk at the boardroom picnic on a number of occasions. People loved the products, they were familiar, they designed them. It was really difficult and felt horrible even though I knew it was the right thing to do.

Being the skunk at a picnic means speaking up.

You have to have bravery and resilience to be a skunk at a picnic. However, if you have insights or ideas as to why something might not work, or is not working, or you have a different viewpoint it’s vital to speak up. Otherwise groupthink and the status quo rules and the different and potentially better approach never sees the light of day.

How to be the best skunk you can be

  • If your role involves any sort of change, come to terms that sometimes being a skunk at a picnic is inevitable. If this thought is unbearable then you might be in the wrong role.
  • Make a pact with yourself not to keep quiet if there’s something that you don’t agree with or if you have a different opinion. It can be helpful to find an accountably buddy to help hold you to account and build your confidence to speak up when you need to.
  • Voice your opinion in a kind and measured way, that encourages discussion and so that others don’t lose face or feel criticised. (people are often emotionally attached to ideas, products and the way things have always been done)
  • Use ‘yes and’ rather than ‘no but.’ In fact start every sentence at your picnic with ‘yes and’  to soften the blow. ‘Yes and, help me understand why we do it this way’ ‘Yes and, this product has been losing money for 6 months’
  • Be open to being challenged yourself. Take a breath and step away from your emotional response before answering.
  • ‘Skunk at a picnic’ might even be a useful phrase to highlight that you know this isn’t going to be a popular opinion but it’s your role to challenge the status quo.
  • If your default is consensus and pleasing people, give yourself permission or even set a target of a number of times that you aim to be politely disagreeable.
  • Reconcile that if you’re genuinely changing things, not everyone will be comfortable. If you’re not occasionally a skunk at a picnic are you doing the best job or are you taking the path of least resistance?

Being a skunk at a picnic requires bravery and confidence. If you’re looking for confidence boosting tips check out my ebook on ‘How to have confidence at work’ or if you’re looking for more direct help, join a Lucidity mastermind group or the Lucidity Network. Drop me a line at lucy@lucidity.org.uk.

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