Monday, March 7, 2011

Why Can't You Just Get Along?

Most of us work in an office somewhere. In the majority of offices around the world, people appreciate it when our coworkers are agreeable and easy to get along with. I think most of us would rather alongside someone we like, someone who is agreeable. Many of us were raised and taught to get along with others.

For the most part I believe in the value of being agreeable. Being agreeable and getting along with others are good skills to have.

However, I am here to tell you that there are many hidden costs to being agreeable, and being agreeable can cost you dearly. If you do get along with everyone, then there might be something wrong with your situation. – you might be a little bit too comfortable.

1. If you agree to everything that people ask of you, you will get bogged down in garbage and meaningless work. Think about it – if there is really awesome fun work to do, someone will want to do it for themself. They aren’t going to come knocking on your door to ask you to go to Hawaii to film that next beer commercial. Instead, they will come knocking on your door to ask you to fix that spreadsheet formula or unjam the copier, or provide boxes of paperwork to the auditor. People generally are more likely to ask you to do crap work. I hope you don’t say yes to the crap work.

2. If you agree to everything that people ask of you, you will give up your ability to think critically and make smart choices. Being agreeable means doing even the stupid work that is tedious and meaningless - the stuff that no one wants to do. As for me, I say that if no one wants to do some specific work, then go find someone who does want to do it. Or better yet, just STOP doing it. If it’s stupid work, don’t waste anyone’s time doing it.

3. If you say to everything people want, you are really just saying no to everything too. There is just no way that you can satisfy everyone – that is totally and completely unrealistic. And you won’t be able to get everything done and you will NEVER keep everyone happy. So just don’t even try it. You will fail and you will disappoint the people around you.

4. If you agree to everything, you won’t be able to take a stand for anything. Seriously, I KNOW that many people reading this blog are smart and informed and want to make a difference in the world. In order to make a difference, you have to take a stand for something. So take a stand and make a difference, but do not agree to everything you are asked to do. You have to say no to something in order to say yes to something else. So get good at saying no, be proud of saying no, and remember that you need to say no in order to say yes.

Since I’m clearly not in favor of being agreeable all the time, what’s the alternative to being agreeable? I think the opposite of being agreeable is being logical.

If you are logical, then you can explain WHY you are not going to do the dumb things at work. If you are logical, you can explain your rationale for what you ARE going to do, and you can explain what you ARE taking a stand for. If you are logical, then you can appeal to the logic in other people, you can communicate your true priorities, and you can explain the risks associated with being agreeable. Most importantly, if you are logical, you can explain why no one should be doing the stupid work at work - because it wastes time and money.

Scott Adams, the creator of Dilbert writes a really really awesome blog. Check it out. He has a blog post where he described focus groups, and an experience he had doing a pilot television show. In some of the focus groups they did to test out the television show, the production folks were excited because no one hated the show. For the most part, all the focus group people sort of liked it. Yeah! – no one hated the new show. Scott however, thought this was a terrible outcome and terrible feedback, because he wanted some people to hate the show. As he explains it, if no one really hates your product, then no one will really love it either. Ultimately, you want people to feel strongly about your product - you want them to feel passionately about it and talk about it to others. But if no one hates, no one will love it, and so no one will ever talk about it. In other words, having a product that everyone agrees with more or less, is like a death sentence. If no one hates your product, no one loves it either, and no one will feel strongly enough to go out and buy it.

I know that you as a person are not a product. And yes, focus groups are usually collecting feedback about products. But the principles of product development are the same with people. You want people to feel something about you. Positive or negative, you want to provoke a feeling. If you don’t provoke anything, you will blend in with everyone else and you’ll never stand out. If complacency and comfort are important to you, then go on being agreeable.

But if you want to be remarkable and extraordinary and you want to stand out, then give up being agreeable. Just stop it – because it won’t serve you well.

Instead, be logical. And be passionate and enthusiastic and honest and authenthic. Authenticity and passion will help you be successful in life - they will help you much much more than being agreeable.

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