Tuesday Tussle: Will You Get Ahead At Work Faster By Being Nice Or Aggressive?
1:30 pm, October 23rd | by Sarah Devlin
Laura: So that’s an interesting article.
Sarah: Did you read the Point/Counterpoint?
Sarah: Me too.
So the three positions are:
Be “a bitch”
Or “none of the above.”
We can’t win!
You’re too nice, you’re a pushover; you’re tough, you’re a bitch. Hillary Clinton knows this trope more than anyone else. Luckily, she doesn’t care.
Sarah: Right. Well, so much of her “persona” has been projected onto her by other people.
Sarah: Which I think is the crux of the problem: if someone has a problem with strong women, they’ll see strength as a negative, and if someone sees being nice as being weak, they’ll see politeness/charm as a negative. I think the problem is that for women, their behavior in the workplace gets generalized in a way that doesn’t happen for men. Nobody’s like “All powerful men are so hard to work with!”
I don’t really understand why people’s behavior is even discussed, unless the person is just a total monster.
Sarah: To be honest, I saw some parallels with the AdAge piece and Taylor Swift’s comments about feminism, in that I thought both missed the point.
It would be great if we didn’t have to have the “nice vs. mean” debate, or if we didn’t have to deal with sexism in 2012
But…we totally do!
Laura: We do. But I don’t necessarily think sexism has to define us.
But that’s another discussion entirely.
Sarah: I don’t think it’s another discussion, I do think they’re related, because the whole debate is about sexism. If sexism didn’t exist, women wouldn’t HAVE to worry about being seen as “too nice” or “a bitch.”
Laura: Yeah, right.
Sarah: But I also think that it doesn’t really have to be either/or. Knowing when to be one or the other is key (which was a good point made by the other AdAge piece).
Laura: Exactly — we have both had to be both at work.
Sarah: Haha. Women should just be emotionally all over the map. Keep everyone on their toes!
Laura: I wouldn’t say “be mean, either” but we have had to stick up for ourselves. Everybody has to, and sometimes it comes across as mean, but it’s a necessary tool for survival at work.
Sarah: I think an important question is basically just “How do you avoid getting taken advantage of at work?”
Either you’re too nice and you get totally walked all over, or you are kind of a pill and you’re avoided, or there’s a social cost
Laura: Exactly. And you have to know how to be both.
Sarah: So. Where do we learn how to do this?
Is there a class?
Laura: No! You just have to do it. I mean, where do you learn your tricks?
Sarah: Are you asking me or is that rhetorical?
Laura: I am asking.
Sarah: Hmm. I feel like the problem that people run into is that they don’t understand that work is a social environment just like any other situation, and so it operates by the same rules. So it’s important to be kind to everyone but advocate for yourself at the same time. Say you went to a bar with a bunch of friends — you’re not going to steamroll over everyone else, but you’re also not going to let everyone put you on the hook for the tab, either. And people manage to do that all of the time. Basically I think that the same principles that govern social interaction with you and your friends exist in the workplace too.
Laura: That is a good way of looking at it.
Sarah: That’s not a justification for being unprofessional or anything, but it’s also not like “ways of successfully dealing with people” change very much from place to place. If you’re socially adept in your personal life you probably will be at work too.
Laura: Oh yeah, if you’re rude in real life, that will probably carry over into work. But my belief is this debate shouldn’t be about whether you should be nice or mean. I think you just need to know how to handle different situations at work, otherwise you may have trouble getting ahead or even staying put. If you’re a yes man, you will be walked all over, but if you’re the disgruntled type you could get ousted.
Sarah: Right. I also feel like reading this type of point/counterpoint feels sort of like getting a guide for visiting a foreign country, and that’s kind of offensive. The workplace is not, like, Another Land that is Mysterious And Unknown To All Ladies.
Sarah: I sort of feel like it’s a “You do you” situation.
Laura: Yeah seriously, whatever “you” means in terms of personality. But you, for example, have worked at the same office for a long time, so you know that you had to do certain things to move up.
Sarah: Right. Like BE A RAGING BITCH.
Laura: You’re aware of what it takes to negogiate pay and manage time.
Sarah: Just kidding!
Laura: Haha no that isn’t what I mean!
Sarah: Yeah a lot of it I think is just adapting to the work envrionment you’re in.
Sarah: If everyone you work with is kind of aggressive, you’ll probably be more successful if you are too. If everyone is the human equivalent of basket of puppies, do that. And if it’s a mix of the two, which is more likely, you can pick and choose based on the situation. I think just being observant of how you are coming off to people is so important; tailoring your approach to suit other people, not making the workplace mold around your personality.
Laura: Yeah, because it’s not all about you. And personally, I wouldn’t care if people thought I was rude or a bitch, as long as they thought I could do my job. I care more about what people think of my work.
Sarah: I feel like the day that people think you’re rude or a bitch is the day that aliens land on this earth and abduct us.
Well, I can get huffy. Most people have it in them. I definitely do. But it’s rare. I have had to be hostile in work situations before.
Sarah: Well, if you’re being taken advantage of then it’s important to be able to fight back
Laura: Exactly. If you’re not careful you will get taken advantage of at work. But IMO it’s more important to be thought of in terms of your work than your personality. But of course, this isn’t always applicable to gossipy workplaces. You and I are lucky to work at a nice office
Sarah: OR SO IT SEEMS.
Laura: I’m not just saying this, but there’s literally not a single person here who I dislike.
Sarah: No, it’s true, I also have a hard time relating because I’ve never really worked in a really miserable environment (knock on wood) where I felt like I wasn’t mean enough.
Laura: Yeah you’re lucky! You really have to adapt to the environment.
Sarah: I think that’s the key…so maybe I do agree with the AdAge article after all. My biggest problem is the author seemed kind of willfully confused about why the debate existed at all.
And I think the answer to that is pretty clear.
And it’s SEXISM. Ideas about how ALL WOMEN should act.
Laura: Yeah I mean it’s still a big problem. I disagree with that too. It also doesn’t take into account that women are different. We aren’t all the same.
Sarah: Right. Has evolution taught us nothing? Adapt or perish!
Laura: Haha seriously. That goes for everyone.
[Photo via Shutterstock]