When to Make Waves vs. When to Go with the Flow


Life presents us with a myriad of choices every day. This ranges from the minor and mundane (what will you eat for breakfast?) to ones that stand to significantly and permanently impact important aspects of life (how will you manage conflict in a relationship?). To carefully weigh every decision is not only exhausting but impossible. There is much we need to simply go with the flow on. But, there are also times where it’s warranted and necessary to make waves!

I often see this play out with my clients when they seek my counsel on important matters that could impact their brand and reputation, and ultimately their business. Should they stay the course, minimize the impact, and hope it all blows over? Or should they dig in their heels, stand strong, and prepare to go against the current? I wrestle with the right answer and take the advice I give as seriously as if it were life-saving medicine. Sometimes it’s fairly equivalent, at least for a business.

Whether it’s been personal or professional – we’ve all been faced with life scenarios where we’ve had to make the decision to either go with the flow or make waves. Each has vastly different outcomes and the “right” decision is not always clear. I have no perfect guide, but I can offer some insight as to how this has played out in my own life.

When to Make Waves

It goes against your morals and values. This is a clear indication that it’s time to make waves firmly and unapologetically. When an action or idea goes against your morals or values, this is not a time to go with the flow. In doing so, you risk being consumed by a dark sea where you might never find your way back to the light and hope you hold inside.

It stands to impact people or things you care about. Another time when you need to swim against the current is when actions or ideas threaten the freedom, happiness, or safety of people or things you care about. This is when not making waves to disrupt the status quo can be just as bad as being the person who shifted the current in this negative direction to begin with.

It can be easily course-corrected in the future. We’ve become a society that’s highly offendable. While there are some positive movements to have come from this, there are more than a fair share of outrageous and uncalled-for reactions that have resulted as well. If you don’t agree with an idea or action, first consider whether or not the outcome can be easily course-corrected in the future. If the answer is “yes” within any reasonable degree, consider if you need to rock the boat now or if you can carefully right the ship moving forward. A more delicate approach may be the more effective approach.

You have the opportunity to make a change. Waves are also an effective way to stir things up. They can be proactive rather than reactive. If life presents you with an opportunity to affect positive change through bold action, take it! You could be the wake-up call and the catalyst to spur a major movement, all from your willingness to make a splash.

When to Go with the Flow

It won’t matter one year from now. I’m a firm believer in the rule that if something won’t matter one year from now, you should spend no more than one hour worrying about it. Better yet, one minute! Whatever has you tempted to speak out or fight back, just be sure it’s over something that will have a lasting impact beyond today. In some instances, it will – so go on and fight! At other times, it won’t. So use sound judgement and redirect that energy to somewhere where it will matter come the next trip around the sun.

It’s not the hill you’re willing to die on. When you choose to make waves, you need to be prepared for the aftermath that can occur. Just as real waves can overturn ships, the waves you make in the world around you can sink relationships. Be sure you understand the consequences. If the issue is not, as they say, “the hill you’re willing to die on,” consider if choosing to go with the flow may be a better option, without risking any major damage to your morals or values.

There’s an opportunity for compromise. What if there’s a way where everyone can win, even just a little? Often there is and this is accomplished through compromise. What you want and someone else wants may not be all that different if you take the time to understand the intent behind your desires and actions. Start with having an open conversation and laying it all out on the table. Take the same energy you would put into making ways and put it toward a mutually beneficial outcome.

It’s not “wrong” just different than what you’d prefer. And finally, oftentimes what ruffles our feathers is not something that threatens our basic human rights, but rather something we simply don’t like. It’s not our style or personal preference. Maybe someone’s actions or behaviors contradict our own communication style or aren’t in alignment with the approach we feel will be the best fit. If this is the case, rather than making waves, go with the flow and redirect that energy toward making an effort to understand the unique aspects of that person that made them choose to act in that way. The more you understand the desires and behaviors of others, especially those not like you, the more effective you’ll be at influencing others and impacting the world!

When faced with the decision to make waves or go with the flow, how do you decide the course of action you will take? Let’s start a conversation about what guides this process for each of us – share in the comments below!