“I’m pushing back!” What this really means and what it says about your company (Blog #32)

colleague pushing back

Whether you’re new to the corporate world or have a few years experience under your belt, a quick way to determine what type of culture you’re working under is by the terms used. And based on my experience when the culture is at its worst, one term that you’ll hear a lot of is “I’m pushing back”. And if you’re wondering what this really means, here it is in plain English for you –

“Basically, if what you’re talking about doesn’t fall 100% directly in my job specification, then I don’t give a shit about it and will not help you even if I could do it within about 10 seconds with my eyes closed!”

Get the point?

The words “push back” from what I’ve experienced are simply another way to say “I won’t help because I don’t care!”

Now to be fair, there are reasons why this type of culture develops. One usually starts off more than willing to help, gets burnt along the way and then it becomes all about protecting themselves. And here’s what it can look like.

One particular colleague that I worked with in job #9 started to use this term on everyone, even the ones she was close to. There was no mercy. Once she started saying it, it was like she couldn’t stop saying it.

“I’m starting to push back.”
“I’m really pushing back now.”
“I’m just going to push back.”

And all you’d hear around you is everyone’s comment about how this person is really pushing back.

But what you need to know is that this person wasn’t like this at the start. When she first started working for the company I remember vividly how sweet she was. Happy to help no matter what. She was a real team player. But she continued this approach and under very bad leadership saw that no matter what she did it got overlooked, to say the least, to the point where she stopped caring about doing right by the team. Her total focus became all about taking care of herself.

Even though I knew her story and couldn’t blame her to a certain point, through this process it was almost like she was starting to lose her humanity. She became so focused on protecting herself, she even lost sight of the people that she didn’t need to do that with. That had proven to her they’d help her in times of need.

And you know what the sad thing about all this is?

She adopted this “push back” approach as direct advice from the HR manager. Yep, directly from the people that are there to maintain a healthy work culture. Sure, there were major issues and this was the HR manager’s attempt to help her. But instead of dealing with the culture issues that we were all suffering from, all the HR manager did is give her the OK to turn her back on the team.

As a result, everyone started to resent her, including myself. Her whole attitude put me off. If she didn’t care about what I had to say then why would I care about what she had to say? Especially, when I had gone out of my way more than once to help her.

Out of all the things that could’ve been said and approaches used, the one recommendation that the HR manager made only added to the work culture issues that were already being faced. The “push back” approach resulted in the loss of friendships, respect and trust – all the things vital for an effective team.

And just for the record, in my job #8 (yep, the one that I say was so freaking good that Simon Sinek could easily use it as an example for one of his books) I never once heard the term “push back”. If anything it was the complete opposite – “What else can I help you with?”

Blog Tip #32 – Never underestimate how the use of certain terms can identify the condition of the culture you’re working in. No matter how subtle. You’d be surprised at how many people with 20-30 years experience, even those working in HR, have come to accept certain terms, that openly display how toxic the culture is, as being perfectly normal.

What did you think about blog post #32?

Have you come across this term “push back” before? Or, have you used it yourself? If, so, why?

Tell me about it by leaving a comment below.

If you have any friends or colleagues that would benefit from this blog post – please share it!

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Talk to you soon.


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