You devised the most brilliant energy management initiative in history. But your utillity accounting clerk was not buying it. When you pointed out the logical fallacies in his argument, he misread the tone of your email.

Before you knew it, the facilities director was copied on the correspondence, and the plans for a vital software implementation for your initiative were scrapped.

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You might have felt like President Lincoln did, in this story from Dale Carnegie’s book, How to Win Friends and Influence People:

July 4, 1863

It was a stormy evening and General Robert E. Lee was leading his battle-weary soldiers south from the bloody Gettysburg battlefield under cover of rain and darkness. When he reached the Potomac, his defeated army beheld a swollen, impassable river. With the victorious Union Army not far behind him, Lee was in a trap.

President Abraham Lincoln knew of the situation, and he ordered General George Meade to attack Lee—immediately. But Meade didn’t buy in. He did the very opposite of what he was told. He called a council of war in direct violation of Lincoln’s explicit orders. He hesitated. He procrastinated. He telegraphed all manner of excuses. He refused point-blank to attack Lee.

Finally, the waters of the Potomac subsided and Lee escaped with his remaining forces.

Lincoln was furious. In anger and disappointment, he penned the following letter to Meade. As you read it, remember that the President was by nature extremely conservative and restrained in his phraseology. So this letter could only have been received as the severest rebuke.

Lincoln's Letter

Here is what Lincoln wrote:

My dear General,
I do not believe you appreciate the magnitude of the misfortune involved in Lee’s escape. He was within our easy grasp, and to have closed upon him would, in connection with our other late successes, have ended the war. As it is, the war will be prolonged indefinitely. If you could not safely attack Lee last Monday, how can you possibly do so south of the river, when you can take with you very few—no more than two-thirds of the force you then had in hand? It would be unreasonable to expect and I do not expect that you can now effect much. Your golden opportunity is gone, and I am distressed immeasurably because of it.

Put yourself in Meade’s (or your accounting clerk's) place. How would you have felt—your professional judgment questioned, your recent accomplishments tarnished, your entire career in jeopardy. Anger, frustration, and bitterness might have been the most natural feelings. And what would you have done? Walked away from the job?  Spent the rest of your life trying to one-up the commander-in-chief?

We will never know what Meade would have done, because Meade never saw Lincoln’s letter. The letter was discovered among Lincoln’s papers after his death. Dale Carnegie guesses that Lincoln never sent it because he thought the better of setting off an argument that in the end nobody would win. In other words, Lincoln didn't want to kick over the beehive.

Tip #1: Don’t kick over the beehive.

When you're trying to get something done, do what Lincoln and so many other successful people have done (or not done!)… Don’t kick over the beehive.

Avoid needless and unproductive arguments and finger-pointing. Don’t stir up trouble when you can avoid it. Don’t pick a fight if it has a chance of losing the battle. And choose only the battles that will win the war.

“Don’t kick over the beehive” is a great word picture to help us remember the value in ducking an argument—even when we KNOW we’re right. Not all arguments can be avoided. But avoid the ones you can, and you will win friends and influence people, just as Carnegie did throughout his life.

That’s a big part of what buy-in is all about.

 

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About The Author
Barry is Senior Marketing Manager for EnergyCAP, Inc., where he manages company advertising, campaign and content development, PPC , SEO, social media, and client case studies.
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