Being nice

I had my annual review the other day. I got a good report in general and had some very nice things said about me, as well as some very predictable complaints.

The complaints relate to my style and interaction with some people. It was noted that I’ve made good connections throughout the business and that I was popular and had good relationships with most of the consultants who inhabit the floor. My problem was with the team leaders, who I have little to do with mostly, and a frosty relationship in general.

I smiled as she told me. All this is true. The reason I have such a frosty relationship is that I despise them one and all. They have minimal formal authority but try to wield it like a hammer. I’ve observed this before: give someone a little power and often it is abused. Sometimes it is simple immaturity. Authority is best exerted softly, almost invisibility, but they don’t have the nous or experience to understand that. Sometimes it just goes to their head and the thrill of putting their foot down outweighs the crudity of it. I have little time for such people. There’s something ridiculous, almost pitiful about them. They possess little self-awareness and instead of appearing strong and impressive they generally appear preposterous – at best – and as mini-tyrants at worse.

My mode when I dislike someone is avoidance. It’s rare that I’m rude, though I’m often blunt. Obviously, there are times when we must encounter each other, at which time I try to keep it polite and professional. Otherwise, I’m not tempted to engage.

That’s not necessarily the most productive mode in a workplace and I appreciate that, but it presents a quandary. I’m strong on being authentic and true. I don’t like to pretend things that aren’t real, nor act in ways false to my nature. My compromise is to be professional and civil, but to be engaging? That’s asking too much. It feels hypocritical, and I can’t abide the phoney.

I said none of this to my manager. I knew she was right, but given her pragmatic nature, it was something she struggled to comprehend. Like many people presenting a persona, the persona has become second nature, to the point you could argue that the persona has become more real than the person inside. Her pragmatism sacrifices authenticity for reward. It’s a small price to pay for some – assuming they ever feel the cost of it – if it means progressing the career.

That’s one thing about me. You may dislike me, but you could never accuse me of being dishonest.

The funny thing is that this feedback lit something in me. I contemplated it from a philosophical perspective, as I am wont to do. I accepted that sometimes I judge too harshly. Regardless of the qualities I despise, these people may possess other attributes more admirable. It’s just that I don’t ever bother to look for them once I’ve made that judgement. One strike and they’re out.

More than anything I was roused by the challenge of being nice to people I dislike. Strange it is that such tricky demands excite me. I thrive on challenges, that’s ever been the case, but this feels a test of patience and tolerance. It might even be good for my soul.

That night I posted something to Facebook along the lines of this being my next challenge – being nice to those I don’t like. A tough gig, I conceded, given I struggle sometimes to be nice to people I do like.

That attracted a number of comments, most of which either asked why would I bother or came out in support along the lines that I was fine and had no need to change. Among the feedback was an angry face from my manager, which made me laugh.

So here I am, trying to soften myself and give them a second chance.

There was another interesting comment in my review, none of which I could argue with, but which – clearly – I have a different view of from my manager. As I am wont to tell people, I’m critical but not negative. I’m a can-do guy. Things can be better, and should be – and I say it.

She scolds me lightly for these things, not wanting to know – that pragmatism again. I tell her these are things that need to be said and more people should be saying them. It offends my standards when people who are paid to know better so often display incompetence and unprofessionalism. IThe resulting stuff-ups are almost comically predictable. No-one wants to rock the boat and point out the obvious, but it has to be done.

She made mention that I had told her that “I’m always right”. That made me laugh, too. Did I really say that? I knew I’d thought it. I figured I must have said it, but just to stir her up.

I give her credit – I think she knows that I’m just being provocative. I actually think she sort of enjoys it and between us have defaulted to opposing personas. I’m the dissenting voice, deliberately outrageous at times, though with tongue in cheek. Come in spinner I think, while she patiently forbears mostly, and occasionally not so patiently, muddling along in her pragmatic way. As I’ve told her before, she can be the good cop, and though she mightn’t recognise it, she needs me to be the bad cop.

In any case, I smiled and leant forward confidentially. “Just between you and me,” I said, “I’m not always right.”

“I know,” she said.

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