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Passion, People and Principles

The Brutal Truth About Other People

post # 21 — February 23, 2006 — a Careers post

There are some wonderful people, clients and firms out there. If you’re lucky, you’ll spend your whole working life with them. However, unless you are very, very lucky, you’re going to encounter some (or all) of the following –

People drunk on power

  • An incompetent superior
  • Ungrateful bosses
  • and clients
  • People who don’t share your values
  • Colleagues who act like competitive jerks
  • Organizations where no-one will look out for your career
  • People out to make a buck, and who will do anything to get it
  • Cynics and skeptics who are hard to energize (about anything)
  • People who won’t trust you, and are themselves untrustworthy.
  • Incompetent colleagues with whom you’ll have to work anyway
  • A boss who cares only about what you produce, and not about you
  • People and organizations characterized by inertia and the fear of action.
  • Superiors and clients who place unreasonable demands on you (e.g. last-minute requests or demands to work over the weekend)
  • People who look after themselves alone, inconsiderate of the needs and interests of others
  • Hypocrites who say they are dedicated to certain things, then act exactly opposite to them.
  • Clients or customers who seem to care only about price, and treat you like a vendor
  • Organizations that tolerate egregiously bad behavior from those around you, in the name of making money.
  • People who will say bad things about you behind your back, much of it unfair and false

The question, then, is – How do navigate your way through this minefield? I’m assuming, of course, that you’re not one of the types described in the list above!

Broadly, you have two choices. You can become a defensive, suspicious, cynical person, or you can learn to get people to treat you right and give you chances, even where that is not their first instinct.

Without idealism or morality, I have been led to the conclusion that the first approach, matching the negativity of your environment, is self-defeating and self-destructive. By being negative, you only serve to reinforce the suspicions of those who show the behaviors above.

The minute you are non-cooperative, or withdrawn, or do only what you have to, people get a clear message about you that only serves to make them feel they were right in their behavior.

The second path, being optimistic, energetic, reaching out to people to form relationships, may not always work, but it’s the best shot you’ve got at eliciting the response you want and need to live an enjoyable and fulfilling work life.

Of course you don’t let yourself be exploited. If people don’t reciprocate, you walk. Life’s too short to work with or for idiots.

There is a textbook theory wich backs up this principle of behavior. It’s called “Tit for Tat” and i goes as follows – always start by being nice, and then treat the other person the way they treated you last time. If they were nice, be nice back. If they were uncooperative, give them a taste of their own medicine.


Jan Pabellon said:

Ive found that everyone more or less has an innate understanding of the “Golden Rule” or the concept of reciprocity. Treat others as you would want to be treated, and more often than not, they will respond in kind.

posted on February 23, 2006

Dennis said:

I’ve read that “tit for tat with forgiveness” where you start positive and then follow the other persons positive/negative approach, but occasionally “go positive” is slightly better, but the major challenge in applying any game theory to real human interaction is to be in a “game” where both parties understand the cooperation provides greater overall gain and that the game isn’t a one time event. If you are playing the someone with a win-lose objective that either can’t or won’t look ahead to the next time you work together, you’re in the wrong game.

posted on February 24, 2006

David (Maister) said:

Dennis, you have hit the nail on the head – no strategy 9theoretical or real-world) will work with uglu people who won’t reciprocate. So, net, net, net the conclusion is – start by being nice, try to make it work, but recognize that there are some people with whom you are never going to be able to make it work. You HAVE to be prepared to confront and tackle (or walk away from) the siruations where you’ve given it a fair and reasonable shot, but it just ain’t working. (True with clients as well, by the way!)

posted on February 24, 2006

Peter Darling said:

The remedy at the end of this post was beautifull summarized by Patrick Swayze, in the movie “Roadhouse”, perhaps one of the worst films ever made. In the film, Swayze plays a legendary bouncer/cooler (for Brits and others unfamiliar with American English) this is the guy who throws people out of bars when they fight, and whose job is to prevent violence. These people are usuallly employed by some pretty unsavory establishments. Anyway, when instructing his team on the fine arts of bouncing, Swayze gives this Zen-like lesson: “Be nice. Be nice. Always be nice. Until it’s time … to not be nice.”

posted on March 3, 2006

David (Maister) said:

I love it.

posted on March 3, 2006