Corporate whistleblowers and purveyors of difficult but positive changes deserve all the praise they get and more! Their willingness to rock the boat is admirable and often brave. We need to be grateful that they have both the insight and gumption to speak up while others either turn a blind eye or become paralyzed by their fears of what might happen if they speak up. Despite all this, I find myself queasy and disturbed when I read – time after time – that we all need to become more comfortable with rocking the boat. However subtly, I feel this sends an extremely unfortunate and, ultimately, destructive message.
The fact is that if we all try to get more comfortable rocking the boat, most of us will fail. Why? Because for most of us, a whole slew of both personal and business reasons will always make it far too anxiety-provoking to really be at all comfortable. (In fact, the majority of folks I know who like to rock the boat are creeps!) So if the message is that comfort ought to accompany rocking the boat, far too few folks will stick out their necks to do so despite our wishes that they would. They’ll not only feel predictably anxious but, insult to injury, that they are somehow feeling the wrong way about it. What we need to encourage, instead, is speaking up in spite of the fact that it is often so very uncomfortable.
Is this splitting hairs? Maybe, but I really don’t think so. When we tell others to get comfortable doing something that actually can’t be at all comfortable for them, all we are usually doing is setting them up to feel inept or incapable. That’s hardly conducive to positive behavior change for most people!
Want others to do a better job of rocking the boat? Then model it, encourage it, and reinforce it like crazy when it happens. Perhaps in the process you will, in fact, create an environment in which rocking the boat is a bit more comfortable. The measure of success, however, is whether or not the boat has been appropriately rocked, not whether the rockers were comfy in doing so.