I’m not advocating office punch-ups either real or virtual but everyone needs to know what’s worth fighting for.

Dr Richard Carlson wrote Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff, and encouraged us to ask ourselves, ‘Will this matter a year from now?’ It’s a great question – but how do you decide what matters and what doesn’t?

It’s not unusual to get into this territory with coaching clients because it has such a big impact on how successful you’ll be. So I recently developed a Pick Your Battles Matrix to help you quickly evaluate:

  • What’s worth fighting for
  • How to make the decision
  • What to avoid
  • How much time and effort to give
  • When to change tactics

Why is it important to pick your battles?

1. Save Time And Energy

Success comes from focusing your efforts and resources in the best place to achieve the results that are most important for you. You don’t want to waste your time, brain space or emotional effort on the wrong things.

2. Reduce Stress

The wrong kind of stress uses up headspace and wastes energy. It creates bad chemicals in your body, which are physically damaging in the short and long term

3. Keep Out Of Trouble

Your reputation is important. Just like a company you have to protect your brand. Getting into the wrong fight will do you more harm than good.

4. Step Up

There are battles you should fight. Some leaders seem to develop the art of deflecting everything. Whether it is for you or the good of the team and the business there are times when you need to step up.

5. Give It Time

I guess it is the difference between responding and reacting. Most of us know that it’s a good idea to let some emails we write sit in the Drafts folder for review when we’re feeling more objective. Learn to respond rather than react and you’ll avoid a lot of unnecessary skirmishes.

6. Give Me A Break

When other people make mistakes we have a knee-jerk reaction that interprets it as problem with them as an individual (personality, character or abilities). It’s known as Fundamental Attribution Error. Check first whether external factors are affecting their performance before jumping to this conclusion.

How to pick your battles

Here’s the tool I developed. I welcome your ideas and comments about this. It’s a work in progress.

Click here to get the tool – Pick Your Battles Matrix

It takes the form of a typical matrix with two axes Stakes and Success. Your criteria may differ depending on your context.

STAKES (St) = Visibility of participants, Reputational Risk, Impact on Others, Level of Responsibility and Accountability, Business Critical etc.

SUCCESS (Su) = Do you have the power and influence to win the battle or the part of the battle that you need to win?

The high and low combinations which define your possible actions are as follows:

  1. FIGHT = Stakes are High and Success is High. It’s your battle you need to fight it. High St/High Su
  2. CHOOSE = Stakes are High but Success is Low. Choose what part of the battle you think you can win. At least part of it is your battle you need to fight it. High St/Low Su
  3. SUPPORT = Stakes are Low for you but may be High for someone else. You could support. Consider the variables. How much effort is required from you to give Support? It’s not your battle but you may decide to support someone else. High Su/ Low St
  4. FORGET = Low Stakes and Low Success. It’s not your battle and it would time wasting to support. Low St/Low Su

Judgement calls

Even when you have considered these factors there will be other variables depending on your context and your values. I’ve suggested two in this tool.

Your decision isn’t final. At different cycles of a project or challenge you will find that you need to re-evaluate and may decide that a different approach is now the smart choice.

There’s a set of behaviours that sit behind Fight, Choose and Support all of which have groups of relevant skills. The most obvious example is Assertiveness rather than Aggression for the Fight choice. Whatever your choice you need to act with skill and guiding values. Keep the big picture in mind. It’s the way people work together that makes the difference between success and failure. It’s all to do with how you communicate, adapt, show empathy, collaborate and innovate.