Sunday, December 11, 2022

As deadlines loom and opinions fly, stay focused

     What is the appropriate response when all around you have an opinion on how something with which you are engaged should be done?

Must every piece of advice be acknowledged? Is it wrong to not show appreciation for the advice even if you believe it to be a piece of debilitating hogwash? Is it OK to ignore myriad pearls from those who believe to know best even if it’s clear to you they haven’t taken the time to understand neither the context of your endeavor nor the urgency you might have in tackling it head on?

A reader posed such questions to me recently after sitting through a series of planning meetings for a project whose deadline was rapidly approaching. What was clear from the planning meeting to the reader is that there was no shortage of opinions, but little understanding of what it would take to get things done and done on time.

Oftentimes, the reader noted, the desire to discuss a challenge in an effort to make sure it’s tackled in the best possible way seems to get in the way of actually taking action. In such cases, the well-trod dictum (attributed to Voltaire, Confucius and Shakespeare, among others) that we shouldn’t let perfect be the enemy of good seems apt advice.

But how to handle those who seem determined to offer advice that seems likely to slow down a project without improving its chances of getting done?

Seeking advice and wisdom is a good thing. If you are ready to move on, however, move on. There’s no need to be dismissive of others’ opinions at that point. A simple, “Thank you for the input” can be far more constructive.

If after the project is completed it turns out that some of that untaken advice might have actually improved the outcome, that’s always a risk. Perhaps that’s the time to embrace Samuel Beckett’s line from his novella “Worstward Ho”: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”

Maybe it’s best to recognize that there may be no one perfect way to tackle a problem. As one of Tom Stoppard’s characters in his play “The Real Thing” says, “Happiness is equilibrium. Shift your weight.”

Or perhaps it’s as I regularly tell my students agonizing over how to write that perfect piece for class before turning it in that their pieces can only be as good as they can be by the time they hit their deadline.

We might grow frustrated in meetings where everyone seems to have an opinion about how we should do something without having any real sense of what it takes to get that thing done. The temptation might be to try to assess if the motives of others are well-intentioned or if they are determined to derail a project by slowing it down.

Rather than allowing ourselves to get distracted by being agitated in response, however, we’d do well to recognize that ultimately the best thing is to do what needs to be done, as well as it can be done, with the knowledge and time we have to do it. As deadlines loom, that seems the right thing to do.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of "The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice," is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need to have answered? Send them to

Follow him on Twitter @jseglin


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