The Absolute Best Quotes About Work From The Dowager Countess Of Grantham In Downton Abbey
If you’re a fan of the TV show Downton Abbey, then you know all about Violet, the Dowager Countess of Grantham, and her razor sharp wit. If you haven’t watched the TV show, you’re in for a treat. Played by Oscar-winning actress Maggie Smith (who also played Professor McGonagall for Harry Potter fans!), the Dowager Countess is filled with brilliant one-liners and responses. It’s only fitting, as she reigns supreme as the leader of the fictional Grantham family of (the also fictional) Downton Abbey.
But you don’t need to be a 19th century aristocrat to benefit from the Dowager Countess’ wisdom. Her wit and one-liners offer legitimate lessons for 21st century work and business. We’ve brought together some of her top quotes – and explained how the lesson is still as fresh today as when she spoke the lines back in the 1900s.
25 – You don’t have to like everyone to be successful
The quote: “I don’t dislike him. I just don’t like him, which is quite different”
When the Dowager Countess said this quote, she was being challenged on someone she said something negative about. In this case it was Sir Richard, who was set to marry the Dowager’s granddaughter, Mary Crawley. Initially, the other characters thought she simply didn’t like Sir Richard and thus was being negative about him. This retort, though, showed that the Dowager may not like Sir Richard, but she doesn’t dislike him either, so her comment should stand on its own merit.
A very similar thing can happen in a workplace. You don’t have to like all your coworkers. Depending on the size of your organization, that simply may not be possible – there are too many people to meet, let alone have the time to like. But you also don’t have to dislike everyone, either. There is a middle ground where you may not like them but don’t dislike them either.
As you continue your day at work, remember that you can still engage with people – whether you like them, or not, or something in between. You can be critical if need be but you can also acknowledge their better qualities. Chances are you’ll need to work with these people for a while, so making it pleasant is often the best strategy.
24 – There’s a time and place for everything
The quote: “Principles are like prayers; noble, of course, but awkward at a party”
When the Dowager Countess said this line in Downton Abbey, she was talking about when another character, Cousin Isobel, overshared about her principles when it came to helping people. While the Dowager is not against helping people – in fact she helps multiple characters throughout the show – she doesn’t believe it’s necessary to talk about your feelings and principles at all times.
Instead, she prefers to keep conversation pleasant and hold off on the “real” things like morality until you are alone or in the company of trusted friends and family.
In the 21st century, society is much more accepting of people sharing their morals and principles at work. It’s arguable this has made work a little more human, since you can get to know someone fully as you work with them. When coworkers are closer, work tends to be better and more efficient, so there’s definitely an argument to be made here.
What the 21st century workplace can take from this quote, though, is that there are still areas where it may not be appropriate to bring up your principles, no matter how deeply held. This doesn’t mean you can’t have them nor should you be forced to compromise on them, but simply that you choose to not bring them up so that the event or function operates a little more smoothly.
23 – Focus on your strengths
The quote: “Don’t be defeatist, dear. It’s very middle class”
When Edith, one of the Dowager Countess’ granddaughters, complained about her circumstances, the Dowager delivered this line. Now one of the most famous quotes from Downton Abbey, it’s typically seen as a very snarky comment. However, it was quite the opposite – the Dowager Countess was tired of hearing her granddaughter complain when she had, in truth, little to complain about. So she told Edith to stop complaining.
In the 21st century, this quote would likely be considered very classist. To imply that the middle class is defeatist and does nothing but complain is rude at best. However, this line, in all of its sass, has a buried lesson: thinking you will fail is more likely to make you fail.
Instead of complaining of hardship, the Dowager Countess would advise to count your blessings and focus on your strengths. That way you can accomplish much more. And, as the Dowager Countess would share later in the series, many of life’s problems solve themselves when you focus on how you’re going to get ahead instead of how you’re being held back.
22 – Let loose sometimes
The quote: “Life is a game where the player must appear ridiculous”
During the first Christmas Special episode of Downton Abbey, the Dowager Countess was talking to Mary’s stiff-collared fiance, Sir Richard. The family was playing charades for Christmas at Downton and Mary was doing a funny interpretation of a book title. Sir Richard seemed appalled that Mary would make a fool of herself in that way, to which the Dowager responded with this quote.
The parallels to the 21st century working world are fairly easy here.
For one, there are many instances at work where you have to appear ridiculous in order to get what you want. A common example is guerilla marketing, where people pull of crazy stunts, like walking around town in an animal costume, to get press for their company.
Secondly, sometimes you have to help out another coworker in a way that makes you feel ridiculous. Maybe that’s writing annoying tweets or seeming funny in a meeting to lighten the mood with a client. There are many times where people have to put pride aside and enjoy the moment, which is what the Dowager was really getting at with this comment.
21 – Count your blessings and move past problems
The quote: “No life appears rewarding if you think about it too much”
By most accounts, the Dowager Countess had a charmed life. She was born into a rich family, married even richer, and became a prominent member of the British aristocracy.
However, there are many small parts of the Dowager’s life that were not very pleasant. Some were even downright awful. Viewers of Downton Abbey find out that she’s had many deaths of friends and family, including her husband. Further, her parents were incredibly harsh with her, as was her mother-in-law. Finally, she reveals that she fell in love with another man but could never be with him, as divorce was impossible at the time.
Despite the bad things that happened, though, the Dowager maintains a positive outlook on life. She encourages others to do the same. Dwelling on the bad things, she said, would only bring misery.
In the 21st century working world, this quote still holds meaning. There are many things to gripe about when it comes to working. For example, the late nights, the annoying coworkers, or never making enough money. But focusing on those will only bring more misery. Instead, look at the legitimately great things that happen. Look at the things you love at your job or the things your job empowers you to do like travel or build a family.
20 – Never stop solving problems
The quote: “All life is a series of problems which we must try and solve”
Downton Abbey is full of drama and there’s little a character can do about it – at the start. When the Dowager Countess said this immortal line, it could have been about anything in the show. In fact, she said this quote near the end of the series when all the women of Downton were having challenges in life. Mary’s new beau was nearly killed in a racing accident. Edith has just been turned down by the love of her life. And Lady Grantham, the Dowager’s daughter-in-law, was fighting with her husband about volunteer work.
In the 21st century workplace, this quote seems even more relevant than when the Dowager spoke it in 1920.
When you’re at work and something goes amiss, you have to solve it. When you’re doing the regular parts of your job, you’re simply performing a solution to a problem that you already know. If you take on “stretch” assignments at work, you’re solving more problems.
On top of work problems, there’s always work-life balance questions and challenges that come up, giving people more problems to solve. Once you’ve solved those, more will inevitably pop up – even if it’s the simple problem of figuring out what to eat for dinner one night.
Having problems means you’re human, and this Dowager Countess quote shows that perfectly.
19 – Be clever
The quote: “Vulgarity is no substitute for wit.”
When Lady Sybil, another one of the Dowager Countess’ granddaughters, makes a comment that a young man and young lady want to be alone for very specific reasons, the Dowager replied with this razor sharp quote. This was in the “Drawing room” after dinner, when the ladies of the house would have tea and perhaps a drink while the men talked business in the dining room. It was often a time of jokes and lively conversation with family and close friends, but the Dowager would not have inappropriate talk no matter the audience.
In the 21st century working world, the lesson of this quote is still fairly obvious. When people want to make a point in a meeting or impress someone, they often resort to comments or jokes that can be quite rude. It’s all done to get a laugh – they aren’t trying to be rude or vulgar, but it happens nonetheless.
Wit, on the other hand, requires a bit more intelligence. To frame a sentence such that you’re answering someone’s question properly but also implying something else that goes completely unsaid, but totally understood, is a difficult task. The Dowager was a master of the witty reply, as you can see, but it took her decades to cultivate this skill.
If you’re not a master of Downton wit yet, this lesson can still apply to you – avoid vulgarity at all costs and don’t make jokes where a person’s failure or inappropriate actions are the reasons people laugh.
18 – Don’t complain – change your circumstances
The quote: “You’re a woman with a brain and reasonable ability. Stop whining and find something to do.”
When Edith was sad about the state of her life – Downton fans know that Edith is usually the character with the most unfortunate circumstances – she tries complaining to her grandmother, the Dowager Countess. Hoping for some sympathy, she gets this quote in response. It’s cutting, perhaps, when you consider that this quote comes at a time when Edith’s dreams of marriage were cut down a second time.
However, it comes with a real valuable message: find something to do.
For the 21st century worker, this quote applies regardless of gender. It also works whether it’s about a problem in life or a problem at work. The quote is fairly simple, which is the Dowager saying that whining gets you nowhere. Instead, look at what you can do. You have a brain and reasonable ability (or sometimes a great deal of ability), so your only task when things are horrible is to find something you can do to improve your lot.
There are many modern quotes that share this same message, making this quote timeless.
17 – Rise to any challenge
Isobel: “I suspect she’s quite a tough nut.”
Violet: “And I’m quite a tough nutcracker.”
When Violet (the Dowager) and Isobel talk to each other in Downton Abbey, you can be sure there’s a good quote to come out of it. In this case, Isobel and Violet are talking about a woman who is standing in the way of something Violet wants to accomplish – never a good thing for the other person. Since Violet is the type of person to always get what she wants, it becomes clear that she’s also willing to do whatever it takes.
Her rising to any challenge is admirable – and a lesson that works no matter which century you’re in.
In the modern workplace, there are many challenges that come to employees. Regardless of whether you’re good at your job or not, there will be things – or people – that stump you. The key is to know your value and rise to any challenge that stops you from reaching your goals. Take a note from Violet’s book with this quote. You may be facing a tough nut to crack, but that just means you must be a tough nutcracker.
There’s also another hidden meaning in this quote: when times are tough, you need the right tools. Violet didn’t say she was a tough hammer, for example. She said she was a tough nutcracker – the perfect tool to crack a tough nut. A hammer would have shattered the nut, breaking apart everything including the seed in the centre, which is what Violet was after the whole time. By choosing the right tools, you get to the right solution.
16 – Don’t show all your cards
The quote: “I never answer any question more incriminating than whether or not I need a rug”
While Downton Abbey is fictional, the characters go through real-life events. The show began with the sinking of the Titanic and the Crawley family experiences World War I and the Russian revolution, just like in real life. This quote happens in the aftermath of the Russian revolution.
Prince Kuragin escaped from Russia and came to stay with the Dowager after the revolution, with viewers learning later that Violet loved the Prince and wanted to run away with him – away from Lord Grantham, her husband, and away from England. It didn’t end that way, and viewers learned of this when Violet told Isobel the story of how the Princess stopped her from foolishly running off with the Prince.
When Isobel asked the Dowager if she’d ever been in love again after the Prince, she responded with this quote, and smiled. Isobel learned no more about Violet’s love life.
While the 21st century workplace may not be as romantic as running off with an actual Prince, this quote has a valuable message: don’t show all your cards. When you overshare everything about your life and your work, you open yourself up to unfair criticism of areas in your life you’d rather not talk about. Further, if someone wants to do you harm, they will know more about what you’re up to and thus have more opportunities to come for you.
This lesson is perhaps most true in the 21st century, with people sharing every second of their lives on social media. The more you share, the less you have to yourself – and that means more risk of over-exposure.
15 – Don’t be afraid of progress
The quote: “We country folk must beware of being provincial”
Despite living in the country, the Crawley family never wants to be called “provincial” – an olden-times slang term for calling someone narrow-minded or uncultured.
In Downton Abbey, the Crawley family (the family that the Dowager is the head of) has been on the Downton estate for hundreds of years. As members of the British aristocracy, they are the lifeblood of British “tradition” and rarely support anything that looks too much like progress.
However, at the same time, they are not afraid of progress either. Instead, their focus is on how to capitalize on progress and make sure they remain powerful no matter what. Which is exactly what the Dowager meant when she said this quote to Edith, who seemed shocked by the idea of hosting a jazz band at Downton Abbey for Lord Grantham’s birthday party.
When it comes to being future-looking, the Dowager would prefer that time stopped or, better yet, reversed. But at the same time, she recognizes that she has not maintained her power in life by refusing to shift with the times. So when Edith didn’t think it appropriate to bring a big city jazz band into the country, this quote was the Dowager’s polite way of telling Edith that she must change with the times.
The same thing goes for the workplace in any century, but especially with the rapid technological change of the 21st century. Regardless of where you work, whether big city or small town, change is coming and there’s no way to avoid it.
So instead of hating change and trying to stop it, take a hint from the Dowager: embrace everything you can and find a way to work it to your advantage so you maintain your power – or even grow it!
14 – Focus on reality, not false hope
The quote: “Hope is a tease, designed to prevent us accepting reality”
When there’s drama at Downton, you can be sure the Dowager Countess has a witty retort to make it all the more funny. But sometimes, she’s the show’s only realist when the rest of the family is caught up in something particularly dramatic. In this case, the Dowager was consoling the Prince Kuragin, a member of the Russian royal family that had to flee Russia and came to England during the revolution. This happened shortly after the Russian Czar (Emperor) was assassinated, a real historical event that Downton brought into the show.
Prince Kuragin talked about giving up hope for a better life, instead choosing to focus on survival in the present. The Dowager responded with this quote, suggesting that when you’ve fallen below your station, the noble thing to do is grin and bear it – or take it on the chin, as the English say.
At work in the 21st century, there are many ways people can “fall.” Your country may not be taken by revolution, but you may have an idea you loved that is shot down in a meeting. Or a really promising project that just didn’t move the needle. When reality hits, there’s no point in clinging to the hope that it might work out. Instead, trust the data, accept reality, and move forward.
Interestingly, in the Downton context of this quote, Prince Kuragin was also noting how he was separated from his Princess during the revolution and would likely never see her again. Violet, though, uses her connections to bring the Princess safely to England. So even though the Dowager encourages everyone to accept reality as it is, she’s also a fierce advocate of doing whatever it takes to change your reality to a better one.
13 – Do what you need to make things go smoothly
The quote: “The presence of strangers is our only guarantee of good behaviour”
No one likes a ruined evening, least of all the Dowager Countess. An old-world aristocrat, she requires everything to be done just-so, as it used to be. So when other characters in Downton Abbey are acting in a way Violet deems to be inappropriate, she’s willing to do whatever it takes to ensure the night is not ruined. And one way she knows how to ensure that any upper-crust Brit is on their best behaviour is to make sure they are not alone with the person they don’t like.
That’s where this quote comes from – Violet is asked whether she is comfortable with “strangers” (people the family knows, but are not friends with) over to dinner when one family member is angry about some drama in their lives. The Dowager responded with this quote, signalling that she’d rather have more people in the dining room because at least then everyone will be on their best behaviour, the angry person included.
Something similar happens in the working world of the 21st century. People rant and complain when they feel too comfortable with a certain group of coworkers, but they suddenly stop when a client is present, a candidate comes for an interview, or a visitor pops by for a meeting.
The 21st century office may not be an aristocratic dining room, but human nature prevails. When people think they know everyone in a room and they are angry, they are more likely to let it all out. When there are others watching – particularly people they don’t know – people tend to be on their best (or at least better) behaviour.
If you’re faced with someone potentially exploding on you – an annoying coworker that disagreed with an idea you had, for example – take a hint from the Dowager and make sure strangers are present.
12 – Be gracious and let fights end easily
Isobel: “I take that as a compliment”
Violet: “I must have said it wrong”
Violet and Isobel are frequently going back and forth in Downton Abbey. Violet, the Dowager Countess, represents the “old world”. Isobel, the wife of a middle class doctor with progressive views, represents the future. Both of them think their worldview is the right one, with the other a tiresome, exhausting world to live in. So when they argue, things can get sharp.
Take this exchange, for example. Isobel hinted that Violet only wins a local flower competition because she’s an aristocrat, so she wants to change how the competition is run. Violet remarks that Isobel always sees ‘room for improvement,’ intending to silence Isobel by mocking her eagerness to change things. Isobel, given her progressive views, said she takes it as a compliment. Violet turns to her family and laughs, noting how “she must have said it wrong.”
The lesson here is a bit more subtle than other Dowager Countess quotes. The key is that the Dowager doesn’t continue the fight. She giggles to herself, confident that she said her bit, and moves on with the day. Isobel does the same thing. She got her word in and moved on. The exchange may have been a tense moment, but that’s all it was. Later in the same episode you see the Dowager and Isobel talking again like friends.
In the working world, this lesson can help a lot.
When you have a fight with a coworker, you both should say your bit – the Dowager would never advise anything other than standing your ground. However, you always need to think about the long-term. You’re stuck with these people, for the most part, whether you like it or not. And that means keeping the peace is more important than winning one fight. If you push too hard, you risk building resentment in the other party that could harm you later on.
Now, there are certainly fights that are worth pursuing more than a simple disagreement about a flower competition. But the message still stands: be gracious and let fights end easily. You’re better off in the long run for it.
11 – Stand up for your own
The quote: “Mary has the trump card; she’s family”
In the times of Downton Abbey – early 1900’s England – women faced a lot of judgment. If they put one toe out of line, they could be socially banished for the rest of their lives. So when Mary had spent the night with a man she wasn’t married to, she was risking her entire future because of the scandal it would cause. If people found out, no one would marry her (and for women in those days, that pretty much meant you’d never have a life).
While times were definitely changing, women of the Dowager Countess’ era were some of the biggest advocates for keeping the old ways. The Dowager herself even frequently made comments about how social rules were getting far too lax.
But when Cora, Mary’s mother, and the Dowager spoke about Mary’s scandal, Cora was surprised when the Dowager not only didn’t want to banish Mary, she actually wanted to support her. While she didn’t forgive Mary’s actions and wanted Mary to learn her lesson, she did not want Mary destroyed over the incident.
When Cora looked visibly confused, the Dowager responded with this quote about Mary having the winning card – she’s family. For the Dowager, sticking with your people for the long run is more important than any scandal.
The 21st century workforce can take inspiration from this quote, albeit with a modern understanding.
While this quote was about Mary spending the night with a man, it could easily be about any words or actions that are inappropriate for the setting. In the workplace, this could mean accidentally making a rude comment or doing something that inadvertently harmed someone else. But when that happens, it’s important to focus on the long game. The person involved needs to learn their lesson and mature from the experience, but you don’t have to destroy someone’s life over it.
10 – Work with allies
Cora: “Are we to be friends then?”
Violet: “We are allies my dear which can be a good deal more effective”
In the British aristocracy, people make a habit of not getting too familiar with each other. Everyone has their own secrets and their own ways of life. A good Brit tries their best to stay out of other people’s lives (but they may gossip later on). To call someone a friend in the early 1900’s had a very significant meaning and suggested that you were very close.
It was also common for wives to not get along with their mothers-in-law, particularly when the wife was a different nationality. When Cora, an American, married Lord Grantham, the Dowager’s English son, the Dowager didn’t like Cora one bit. She didn’t know how to act in British society and was considered “new money” because she was born poor but her father was a successful businessman who made a fortune in his lifetime.
So when Cora and the Dowager talked about Mary’s scandal (she spent the night with a man she wasn’t married to), both agreed to help Mary through it. That’s when Cora asked the Dowager if they would become friends – the first time since they’d met each other. The Dowager responded that they would instead be allies, which could be more effective than friends.
When you’re at work in the 21st century, this lesson is very, very true.
You don’t need to be friends with everyone in your office. In fact, you may dislike a lot of people. However, liking or disliking someone is no reason to not work with them in a way that benefits you.
Instead, consider yourselves allies whenever you have a common goal. That way you both get what you want – often more frequently than if you worked alone – and you can move on happily. Who knows… you may even become friends when it’s all said and done, as Cora and the Dowager eventually did.
9 – Care about the people in your life
The quote: “A lack of compassion can be as vulgar as an excess of tears”
The Dowager Countess is not known for being sentimental. She’s a very serious person who cares about few things beyond keeping her position and power. However, she’s also lived through great wars, national strikes, and the deaths of many she held dear. From those experiences, the Dowager learned that you can’t go through life not caring about anyone else but yourself.
When Edith suddenly went missing in the show, leaving only a note to say she’d run away, the family was naturally worried. Even the Dowager. However, Mary didn’t seem worried at all. In fact, she was downright sarcastic about the whole thing, frequently calling Edith stupid for running off and thinking she’d be back any moment.
But when Edith’s being gone lasted a while and the family got really worried, Mary made a rude remark about how she didn’t care where Edith was or what she was doing. That’s when the Dowager said this line – that a lack of compassion can be as vulgar as an excess of tears – suggesting that Mary was not being posh and correct by not caring, she was actually being a mean person.
In the 21st century workplace, this quote rings very true.
While it’s not appropriate to burst out into tears in the vast majority of scenarios or workplaces, there is still human connection between coworkers. When something goes wrong, we want to feel bad for the people who were hurt. If there’s a major issue with the company, we want to care for anyone harmed by it.
Being completely serious and uncaring, though, is equally inappropriate. Since people spend most of their waking hours at work, to not care at all is the same as saying those people don’t matter at all. And while it’s true that most of your coworkers will never be close friends, it’s not true that they don’t matter to your life. In fact, a good coworker can make your life much better by simply being wonderful to work with – even if you never become friends outside of work.
8 – Don’t get stuck in the past
The quote: “Don’t proclaim your intransigence as a virtue”
Intransigence – meaning an unwillingness to change – is probably one of the Dowager’s favourite words. Throughout Downton Abbey’s turbulent changing times, the Dowager Countess frequently talks about how she wishes things would go back to the way they were. However, she also accepts reality and never tries to break what cannot – or should not – be broken.
As the show pushes the fictional Crawley family through real-life events like the sinking of the Titanic or the Russian Revolution, each character is affected differently. In the case of the Russian Revolution, it was the Dowager’s friend (and at one point potential lover) the Prince Kuragin who ended up fleeing to England and staying in Downton Village for a time.
When the Prince and the Dowager are talking about finding the Princess, something the Dowager thinks she is able to do, the Prince confessed that he didn’t want the Dowager to find the Princess. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with the Dowager, instead.
To him, his wife (the Princess) was dead, and he wanted her to remain that way. When the Dowager said she couldn’t run off with a married man who had a living wife, as she almost did once before, the Prince said he won’t change his mind. In fact, he was proud that he’d never changed from the day he met the Dowager. That’s when the Dowager responded with this quote that he shouldn’t proclaim his instrasigence – his unwillingness to change – as a virtue.
While this quote is about love, it translates well to the 21st century workforce.
7 – Sarcasm won’t win you any friends
The quote: The Dowager: “I want her to see Lord Grantham as the son she never had”
Lord Grantham: “Will she be the mother I never had?”
The Dowager: “Sarcasm is the lowest form of wit”
When the Dowager Countess wants to insult someone or make a point, she does it very subtly. You know that she’s saying, but she always does it with intellect, poise, and a hint of insinuation – she never says anything outright. So when anyone uses sarcasm, the Dowager is quick to point out how ineffective that is. This is precisely what happened to Robert, Lord Grantham, when he insulted his mother the Dowager.
This interaction happened in the Downton Abbey film, when the family was talking about a cousin that the Dowager thought had wronged Robert. In the conversation, the Dowager said that she hoped her cousin would see Robert as “the son she never had.” That’s when Robert responded, sarcastically joking that she might be the mother he never had.
The joke was meant to make fun of the Dowager, who was a staunch and unforgiving mother. Part of it was her personality and part of it was the time in history, but mothers were not always loving and doting on their children. Often, rich women left their children to nannies. However, the Dowager was not having it. That’s when she simply said “sarcasm is the lowest form of wit.”
This lesson extends into the 21st century perfectly.
When you’re faced with someone that you want to take down a notch or two, a witty comment can make a great point without you needing to be nasty about it. But sarcasm is a form of wit that is fairly nasty, only funny because you are tearing someone down. Other forms of wit might hint at something or imply something, but sarcasm says it very bluntly. In this example, the only reason Robert’s comment was funny is because he directly suggested that the Dowager was a bad mother.
In the workplace, being directly mean to someone with sarcasm is likely to make that person resent you over time. Being witty is one thing, but insulting someone is another. And when you’re trying to get something done with coworkers, sarcasm doesn’t help.
6 – Do what you need to in order to survive
The quote: “The aristocracy did not survive through its intransigence”
Whenever the Dowager Countess talks about intransigence – the unwillingness to change – she does it with a certain sadness. She wishes she didn’t have to change and that the world wouldn’t change. She liked how the world operated when she was growing up (she was very rich, after all), and any changes are not comfortable to her.
However, she also recognizes that change happens no matter what. And if she doesn’t want to get gobbled up, she will have to change as well. She even said as much to her son, Robert, when she was talking about making necessary changes to the Downton Abbey estate in order to save it from financial ruin. Robert mentioned that he was surprised that the Dowager, of all people, would be a supporter of change. That’s when she responded that the aristocracy didn’t survive that long through its intransigence, or unwillingness to change.
This lesson stretches to the 21st century workplace perfectly. Similar to how she told the Prince Kuragin that his unwillingness to change is not a virtue, it rings true for workers in the 21st century. Change will happen, no matter what. Whether people try to push forward and try new things or attempt to revert back to a past time, things will happen and things will change.
Since change is the only constant in our world, being willing to change along with it is necessary. Like the Dowager, though, you don’t have to change everything all at once. And there are some things you don’t have to change (or at least not change much). The Dowager will always be the first defender of principles. However, allowing some change – or shifting how you do things to fit the world you live in – is a better way to ensure your survival.
So next time you hear of changes going on your company, see how you can stretch to fit the change. The Dowager would be proud.
5 – Never complain, never explain
The quote: You know me. Never complain, never explain”
The Dowager Countess is known in Downton Abbey as much for what she doesn’t say as what she does. She’s never caught in a lie because she simply chooses when she doesn’t need to say anything. And when she does say something, it’s well thought out and cutting.
So when the Dowager did something that no one in Downton Abbey thought she’d ever do – embracing change – they were all shocked. A few people even asked her what happened and how she managed the change, but she wouldn’t say anything. Eventually, Isobel asked her what happened in private. Since the two characters grew very close in the show, Isobel frequently got more out of the Dowager than anyone else. She smiled and responded that she never complains, but also never explains. And that was the end of that conversation.
In the 21st century working world, this lesson is still very practical. Like the Dowager, every working person will have to deal with a lot of changes. They may not be the same kinds of changes or problems the Dowager faced, but changes will happen no matter what. When that happens, it’s easy to complain or feel bad about it. Instead, the Dowager did whatever she needed to in order to make things work. After that, she simply moved on – no complaining, no explaining.
As the world becomes more prone to airing all complaints on the internet through social media, remember this lesson. Do what you have to, but never complain. And, more importantly, never explain yourself.
4 – Get along with everyone
The quote: “So what? I have plenty of friends I don’t like”
When the Dowager speaks, many people assume she is unfeeling. Her words often seem cold and calculated, as if she had no emotion and simply wanted to hurt other people. However, viewers of Downton Abbey eventually realize the many sensitive parts of the Dowager Countess. She developed a thick outer skin because of the world she grew up in – 19th century Britain was not always easy – but she still has a heart.
Even though the Dowager does in fact have a heart, she can still be quite ruthless with her words. When one of the characters in Downton Abbey was complaining about having to spend time with someone they didn’t like, the Dowager responded that she didn’t care. She said that she has plenty of friends she doesn’t like but it doesn’t stop her from spending time with them. Instead, she focuses on what she needs or wants out of them. Sometimes it’s simply the obligation to be in their company and pretend to be friends. Either way, she doesn’t have to like them to make things pleasant.
This lesson extends very well to the 21st century workforce. With more personalities than ever coming into the workforce, it’s easy to meet a coworker you don’t like. They may be a terrible person, an annoying coworker, or you simply just don’t like them. It happens. However, they may also be people you must spend time with at work for a variety of reasons.
If you don’t like someone that you’re required to work with, don’t worry. Take the Dowager’s advice to heart – you can have plenty of friends you don’t like. The key is to spend time with them only as you need to. If you have to work together on a project, then do so. But you don’t have to go for drinks with them after work.
3 – Sometimes you need complete focus on the task at hand
The quote: “There’s nothing simpler than avoiding people you don’t like. Avoiding one’s friends, that’s the real test”
The Dowager Countess, as Downton Abbey fans know, doesn’t mince words. She’s fiercely loyal to family and her own interests, but little else beyond that. And that means she knows when she needs total focus – and expects the same from others.
During one of many interactions between the Dowager and Isobel, Isobel was concerned that she’d have to avoid someone she didn’t like in order to get some work done. The Dowager wasn’t having any of it, saying that avoiding people you don’t like is one of the easiest things you can do. It’s avoiding your friends that’s the hard part.
In the workplace, this quote takes on a slightly different meaning. The Dowager meant it more about avoiding friends that you can’t avoid because of social obligations, which is similar to coworkers. Even if you don’t like them, you can’t always avoid them. But what the Dowager really meant with this line to Isobel is that sometimes you have to focus. If you have to avoid someone you don’t like to get something done, that’s easy. It’s avoiding your “friends” – the people you have an obligation to be around – that is harder.
Regardless of who you have to spend time with, sometimes you have to do the hard work of ignoring people in order to get your work done.
2 – Assume the best for yourself
Isobel: “You take everything as a compliment”
Violet: “I advise you to do the same, it saves many an awkward moment”
The Dowager Countess and Isobel Crawley have many fights and arguments throughout the show. Usually, this ends with one of them landing a zinger to end the conversation. In this case, Isobel was trying to insult the Dowager by suggesting she wouldn’t change and hated the future. It was something that Isobel had said before, so the Dowager knew how to respond. She simply said she took it as a compliment. After all, no one wants the world to stop moving forward more than her.
When Isobel tried to insult the Dowager and she said she took it as a compliment, Isobel tried to one up her again, saying she takes everything as a compliment.
That’s when the Dowager responded that Isobel should do the same thing – because it saves many awkward moments. This kind of advice has guided the Dowager’s entire life. She was raised at a time when women could not have proper opinions, so they had to be more subtle in how they got their message across and showed their power. Whenever someone tried to insult the Dowager, she could easily take their power away by taking the insult as a compliment. After all, someone complimenting you is a good thing.
In the 21st century, this advice could not be more useful. The world is filled with multiple easy ways to insult people. Now, you don’t even have to do it to their face. With the rise of social media, you could have millions of people insulting you that you have never even met. Same goes for the workplace, where subtle comments and insults can still happen from anyone. It’s unfortunate, and a nasty part of workplace politics, but it happens.
If you find yourself in a situation where someone is trying to insult you, take some advice from the Dowager and take it as a compliment. That way the person trying to insult you has no power. Bonus points if you actually agree with the sentiment, as the Dowager did when Isobel thought saying she loved the past was an insult. But even if you don’t – even if the insult they say is very rude – taking it as a compliment is a great way to stand up for yourself and not let someone else get you down.
It may not work in all cases, as even the Dowager learned during a couple other fights, but taking almost everything as a compliment can really help when people try to insult you at work.
1 – Not everyone gets what they deserve
The quote: “We don’t always get our just desserts”
Because the Dowager Countess was raised in an aristocratic family and married well, she usually got anything she wanted. Whenever she put effort toward something, she was rewarded. Other characters in Downton Abbey were not so lucky. One maid even had a blunt conversation with Sybil, the Dowager’s granddaughter, about how the working class never sees their dreams come true. But at the same time, justice is usually served as well. When Bates, a servant, is wrongfully accused of murder, he is eventually found innocent. On the other hand, rapist Mr. Green is murdered by one of the women he attacked, an end few people felt sorry for.
So when the Dowager said this line – that we don’t always get our just desserts – she could have been referring to getting the rewards from your work or to getting punishment for misdeeds. In classic Dowager fashion, we may never know, as her quotes are often very direct but also could mean a number of different things.
In either case, whether talking about rewards or punishment, this quote applied to every character in Downton Abbey at some point – and it applies to the workplace as well.
It’s unfortunate but true that many people who work very hard will not always be rewarded. It’s also unfortunate but true that many people who do bad things will never suffer the consequences of their actions. It’s just a fact of life.
That doesn’t mean you’ll never be rewarded for your work, though. It may take making sure people know about your success (something the Dowager is familiar with) or pushing to ensure that people listen to you. However, it can be done.
The lesson in this quote is that you shouldn’t expect to get every reward. You can work hard, and no one will notice sometimes. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t work hard. Just as the Dowager never stops caring for her family or staying principled even when no one is watching, keep working. It’s not the recognition that matters in the long run – it’s your morality and principles.