Have you ever been in a situation where you need to think long and hard before you decide to disagree with your boss? More often than not, we keep the disagreement to ourselves. Mainly because:

  • More likely than not, your boss is right;
  • You don’t want to look stupid; and
  • It’s always easier to agree than to disagree.

When I was in law school, my lecturer told me to never write “in my opinion” in my essays because “your (my) opinion doesn’t matter”.

Growing up, I was taught to respect my elderly. My siblings were in turn taught to respect me as the eldest sister. However, my parents have never once in my life asked me to respect my younger siblings. You can imagine the horrendous look in my parents’ eyes when I told them they should also respect me.

Being respectful is a virtue. However, it becomes a problem when it is a one-sided notion which means to never answer back, to never question, to never doubt, to accept, to nod, and to keep your opinion to yourself.

“Aiya, no use one la.”

When was the last time you complain about something?

When was the last time you try to solve whatever it was that you were complaining about? What was the solution? Was the solution effective?

You see, Malaysians complain a lot, about everything under the sun and all the time. So it’s easy to answer the first question. But how many of us actually take the initiative to be part of the solution? We complain so much about our authorities but when an opportunity presents itself, we shy away from speaking up. The most common excuse being – “Aiya, no use one la, already like this for so long already.”

Do you see what the underlying problem is? It is the fact that people who are capable of making a difference do not believe that they could so make a difference. They think they are powerless and are forever subject to the grace of the authorities. They are afraid of being the first to speak up and would rather wait for someone else to do it first. And when someone else does speak up, they would wait again to see what are the consequences of speaking up are. These are the people who have been complaining about the same thing over and over again yet do not have the balls to start doing something about it.

The law governs our daily activities. Laws are drafted, debated and passed in Parliament by our representatives. Our representatives are elected by us. So if you’re following the equation, we get to decide how things should run. We vote for our representatives so that they can represent us and make laws which will eventually shape how we live our lives. What is there to be afraid of?

Power Distance Index (PDI)

Malaysia topped the Power Distance Index (PDI) according to a research done by Dutch psychologist, Geert Hofstede. What is PDI? Professor Hofstede defined it as “the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organisations within a country expect and accept that power is distributed unequally”. Put simply, it means:

  • How much of a yes-man we are;
  • The extent to which we think our “boss is always right”; and
  • The extent to which we think our opinion is insignificant and that there is nothing that we can do to change an unsatisfactory situation.

Malcolm Gladwell provided a good example of this problem in his book ‘Outliers’. On 25th January 1990, Avianca Flight 52 was en route from Columbia to New York. The weather was bad that evening, resulting in poor visibility. One would have thought a bad weather should not be a problem for Captain Caviedes who had been employed with Avianca for over 27 years and had logged over 16,000 hours of flight time. Little did one know that Captain Caviedes was exhausted and the plane was running out of fuel. Co-pilot Mauricio Klotz realised the problem. However, as a subordinate who only had 1,837 hours of flight time, he dared not speak up. To him, it was up to Captain Caviedes to call the shots and his role was merely complementary. He did not have the balls to say what needed to be said, not least the right manner to say it in the face of a crisis. The plane crashed and killed 73 of the 158 aboard.

In a nutshell

Before you complain about something, ask yourself what have you done or what can you do to address the problem. The next time you think your boss’ grand idea is suicidal in nature, ask yourself if you are doing a disloyalty to him/her if you refrain from telling him/her the truth. Some questions asked may be inherently difficult and prickly in nature. However, if we do not ask our leaders those questions, what right do we have to complain?

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