The phase “stay in your lane” is used quite frequently and often alludes to the concept of minding your business, or sticking to your own area of expertise. At times, when you venture to do something different that your norm, or offer an opinion in an area that is not your specialty, there can be negative ramifications related to how that is received. I believe that happens not always because others are averse to change or have issues with your suggestions on doing things differently. Our actions or words are sometimes received in a less than genial manner simply because we did not think to “signal first”. No one likes to be blindsided or taken unaware. That is amplified substantially when another person or colleague does so in an area, department, niche, etc.. that is not their own. I don’t buy into the concept that individuals need to always “stay in their lane” from a career perspective. Continuous learning and exploration is absolutely necessary for continued success. That said, I’m a firm believer in professional respect and common courtesy. So while you don’t always need to stay in your lane, you absolutely should “signal first”.
Staying in our lane is one of the first things we are taught when learning to drive. This is probably one of the most fundamental and important instructions to avoiding accidents. Everyone who is on the road understands this basic and general rule. We learn to respect the lanes not only as guideposts but also as a means for forward progress in a uniform and safe manner. When someone veers unexpectedly into your lane with no signal, it can cause chaos and disaster. Other drivers have to adjust their trajectory and this can often create a ripple effect.
But there is a huge difference when a driver first "signals" before they venture into your lane. You are aware of the intention in advance and can adjust accordingly. You are able to speed up, slow down, or "block" while all drivers continue moving forward. Linking to your career, if you are one to offer solutions, opinions or examples outside of your area of expertise, it's nice to "signal first". This common courtesy allows for forward movement in a more collegiate and professional manner.
So how do you “signal first”? The answer is likely different for every situation. It could be as simple as sharing a concern or question you have with a colleague about a specific process change they may be implementing in advance of a meeting rather than in a group session when they are explaining it to others. Or it could be a request to join an existing project team to gain insight and share your ideas and experience. Or it could be as simple as ensuring that your approach (verbal, written, or other) in challenging the status quo is professional and polite. Be sure that any suggestions are submitted in a way that you are truly seeking to “improve” and not to “impress”.
Change is constant and oftentimes a different perspective can infuse a project, process, department, etc. with creativity and successful solutions that had not previously been considered. So again, while you don’t always have to stay in your lane, my advice is to “signal first”.
About Courtney D. Temple
Courtney is a successful blogger and executive leader. She is a multi-industry Human Capital executive with extensive global and regional experience having served in various roles within large and small organizations. She has successfully driven enterprise-wide initiatives and is continuing to learn and grow with each new opportunity. Her blog: Goals, Gaps, and Growth shares some tips and tricks she's learned along the way.