Have you ever “sold out”? No, I’m not talking about selling out of tickets to your big event or running out of your homegrown produce at the farmer’s market. I mean, have you ever given into the temptation to act contrary to your values?
Ever claimed to believe in one thing, but then do the opposite in a moment of weakness?
Of course you have. We all have.
At some point, we’ve all chosen to do what we feel like doing rather than doing what’s right. It’s human nature. The path of least resistance, right? Sometimes, circumstance and emotion play a bigger role than they should and we just “sell out”.
But that’s not how we want to act — and that’s definitely not how we want our employees or coworkers to act either.
The Moral Dilemma of Pushing the “Close Doors” Button
To really get the idea of sellouts, put yourself in this situation. Let’s say you’ve been asked by your company to do a major presentation at a national convention. You’ve made all your preparations. You flew in a day early. You have everything ready. You get up that morning and fine-tune your speech one last time. Then, you look at the clock and realise this is Daylight Savings weekend — and you forgot to change the clock. You’re already late!
You quickly gather your things, head out the door, cross the street to the convention centre, and see the elevator across the hallway. You make a beeline for an open door, hit the 11th-floor button, but as the doors close you see a man struggling across the lobby. He’s carrying some boxes and coming towards your lift. You have a decision to make.
You reach down and hit the “close doors” button. The door closes just as he gets there, leaving him outside.
Now, as the lift ascends, what goes through your mind? What story are you telling yourself to justify what just took place?
“There are five other lifts. He’ll get the next one!”
“My presentation is really important! He’d understand.”
“I bet his heart was racing and he needed a break. I did him a favour by making him wait.”
These stories make us feel better, but what did you actually do? You sold out.
You knew it was right to help this person, but you didn’t.
How We Deal With Selling Out
We all sell out at some point, but we don’t need to make a habit of it. Fortunately, there’s a way to learn from these mistakes.
Whenever you sell out, you only have two options:
- Admit to selling out (I really should have held the door for that guy. I’m going to do that next time.); OR
- Justify selling out by using Victim, Villain, or Helpless stories.
If you don’t admit your mistake, you’ll automatically tell yourself one of these stories. That’s what we naturally did in our hypothetical elevator scenario.
By default, we justify our actions. We tell a story in an attempt to reconcile what happened or excuse our lack of results.
For example, have you ever made a New Year’s Resolution, like “I’m going to lose a few pounds…”
When someone asks a month later, “How’s the weight loss going?” we fumble our way through an excuse, like “I’ve been busy…” to justify why we don’t have those results and make ourselves a victim of circumstance.
It’s easier to tell ourselves a story about how we were a victim, how someone else was a villain, or how we couldn’t help it. Then, we don’t have to admit that we messed up — but we also don’t do better next time. We continue to make the mistakes that create problems for others and become barriers to our own productivity.
But It Was Just a Little Sell Out
The bigger the sellout, the bigger the story and the more tightly we cling to that story. But sellouts aren’t always major events. We sell out on small things too.
Think about your life over the past month. Can you identify with any of these sellouts?
- You believe you should help someone… but you don’t.
- You think you should apologise for something you said or did… but you put it off.
- You see a big problem with a plan someone presents and believe you should speak up… but you don’t.
- You fail to complete an assignment on time and know you should let others on your team know… but you don’t.
- You know you have information a coworker could use… but you keep it to yourself.
See, sellouts can be about small things. We all mess up. We’ve all sold out — whether big or small — but that doesn’t mean we can’t move forward in a healthy way.
We all sell out, but we all have to move on. If we just tell ourselves these stories, we’ll keep making the same mistakes.
If we want our stories to change, we have to tell the whole story. And there’s often more to the story than we’re willing to admit.
So, what do you need to admit?
That door didn’t close on its own. You had a role — you pushed the button.
We often want better relationships, more efficiency, and more effective communication in the workplace, but how does that happen?
It starts by being honest with ourselves so that we can make different choices — better choices — in the future.