The Bad in the “Nice Person” Culture

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The Bad in the “Nice Person” Culture

Communication is the key to unveiling our unknown self and understanding what we can do better.

Of all superhero alter-egos, I always had a little more sympathy for Peter Parker (adapted by Sam Raimi). Not because of his unrequited love for Mary Jane Watson (for most movies) or that most people he knew turned into villains after a tragic lab experiment but because he seemed to have the worst boss of all times. His boss, Mr Jameson was outrageously loud and instantaneously making comments about his work. For someone in her early teens as I was, the idea of being stuck at work with someone like that seemed like an absolute nightmare. But right now, as crazy as it sounds, I'm starting to think that maybe Parker's boss wasn't the worst after all.

During my MBA, in our ‘Negotiation’ class we were introduced to DOPE personality test. The DOPE test analysed the predominant working style and associated it with different personalities. It categorised personalities into four distinguish styles: Dove, Owl, Peacock and Eagle. Our lecturer had run this test on various institutions of Nepal. According to his experience, Dove was more common in Nepal than it was in any other country. The people with a dominant Dove personality are usually more caring, laid back and relationship oriented. Due to their high orientation towards relationships than tasks, they usually tend to avoid confrontation and maintain a nice image with the people. This also sits well with Hofstede's Culture analysis of Nepal as a more feminine country; emphasising more on quality of life and being considerate. Sure, the idea of always being nice to one another sounds very utopian but I beg to question, is nice always good?

Politeness and the value of building relations is so celebrated in our country that sometimes we turn our backs to the hard truth. If we are quick to offer sweet compliments, we stay hushed when it comes to delivering constructive criticism. So much so that we tend to villainise people who are unapologetically blunt and upfront while dealing with people. This develops a culture that praises neutrality. A person who focuses more on the task rather than building relationships will be viewed as cold, distant and incompatible while someone who isn’t as hardworking but more approachable will be viewed as a better employee. Likewise, competitive behaviour may be frowned upon while inability of a team to accomplish a task may be attributed to a “bad day” without acknowledging deadlines and performance metrics.

It’s easy to stay wrapped in a soft fabric of compliments and avoid criticism but what comes out of the cocoon will not be a butterfly but rather a mummy that never learnt to grow. We tend to be more forgiving towards bosses who hold feedback than bosses like Jameson who maybe be harsh but quite clear in their feedback. Of course, screaming at the employees’ faces is not the best way to communicate their flaws but it’s not worse than silently watching them make the same mistakes over and over again. This not only reflects bad leadership but it also makes Sisyphus out of the employees. 

As the tragic hero, employees who aren’t told about their weaknesses and their errors in work will be stuck in the cycle of repeating the same mistakes over and over again. In the worst case scenario, the employees will not know their weaknesses, resulting in performance blindness. They will believe that they are doing an amazing job even if their actual performance is just at par or below average. In a more favourable scenario, the employees will learn from their own experience and rectify any mistakes. But in both cases, lack of any clear and honest feedback of the employees’ weakness will lead to lack of self awareness. If there are performance metrics in place, employees will also be disheartened to learn that they haven’t reached their performance goals, never really learning why.

But of course, that is not to say that Jameson’s approach of feedback is completely correct. Feedback should be more deliberate than spontaneous. Not angry yelling but genuine words crafted to support the employees’ growth. While communicating employees’ strength, focus should be more on their effort rather than their innate ability. Likewise, using STAR approach when it comes to communicating weaknesses; describing specific situations, what exactly they need to improve on and what could be the outcome of their drawbacks can be more effective.

Moreover, feedback should be communicated regularly. Leaders should not wait for the next appraisal or the weekly meeting to offer their feedback. Giving continuous constructive feedback can foster a growth mindset. When employees are told exactly what they are doing wrong in a timely manner, they are more likely to improve upon it. Having their leaders offer recommendations regularly not only keeps the employees focused but it also makes them less afraid of failure. Then, instead of worrying just about the outcome, they are able to recognise their potential throughout the process.

Learning what we lack is how we piece ourselves together to become a better version of ourselves. Communication is the key to unveiling our unknown self and understanding what we can do better. Whether the good, bad or the ugly, people should be questioned for the type of feedback they provide and for the sincerity of it. It's really not about being a nice person or a negative person but rather communicating in a genuine, clear and timely manner.

(Rana is HR Officer at Laxmi Group Pvt Ltd.)

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