How To Restrict Your Career
Whenever I hear people talk about their plans for career progression, they tend to use descriptors about the roles they’ll be taking, like they’re writing their future job title.
They ask themselves: what do I want my CV to look like in 5-10-15 years’ time?
The problem is, your career progression is probably more linked to your reputation than your resume.
A better question would be: How do I want my peers to describe me in 5-10-15 years’ time?
A person with a great resume and a bad reputation probably won’t go very far.
A person with a short resume and a good reputation? They tend to be given more and more responsibility.
It’s always worth asking:
“Am I viewed as a rude person?”
Rudeness is like a can of tuna in a small office.
You may not be breaking any rules, but everyone else wants to be in another room.
You feel justified in your actions, and we all wish you would stop.
This isn’t about office rules. You break the rules and you either get a warning or you get fired. Those are clearly defined.
It is very possible that you follow the rules to the letter, and still come across as a jerk.
It’s also not about making mistakes in your work. You’re allowed to have failed projects; in fact, they should be praised. This is about your reputation for how you work, not what you worked on.
Anger and rudeness
When I was a kid, the number one thing I got in trouble for was being rude. My excuse was always the same – someone wronged me, I responded rudely, now please punish them.
My dad made a point that has always stayed with me:
“You’re always allowed to be angry, you’re never allowed to be rude”
This is a vital distinction. Every day in a startup you’ll find something that makes you angry.
Maybe you lose a sale, or you missed your targets, or a deal fell through at the last minute.
Maybe the caterer was late, or your team didn’t do what you told them to do.
Be angry. Be upset.
Don’t then be rude.
You don’t get to abuse your team, or publicly shame them. You don’t get to snap at your suppliers, or loudly vent about the perpetrator.
Is swearing rude?
Yes and no. It depends on the context and the culture.
Ben Horowitz has a great example in his book The Hard Thing About Hard Things, about a word not being the issue.
It’s the difference between:
“Those cupcakes you baked look delicious” and
“Hey Cupcakes, you look mighty fine in them jeans!”
Banning the word Cupcake wouldn’t solve anything.
I enjoy an emphatic swear word, when used at the right time. It’s often quite funny.
It’s a completely different story if someone isn’t laughing.
If you’re swearing at people, or about their work, or in a performance review, it won’t be taken well.
You might have used it as a throwaway line, but for your recipient, it’s burned into their brain. They won’t forget it, and they’ll probably be reconsidering their employment.
Perception is Reality
One of the hardest things to grasp for rude people is the importance of tone.
If your advice sounds condescending, or your praise is patronising, it will have the opposite of the desired effect.
“But I didn’t mean it” may well be true, but it’s borderline irrelevant. In this case, perception is reality.
If someone thinks you were rude, you were rude.
Disagree all you want, but the damage is done.
Humour and rudeness
Melbournians will remember the incident in mid 2016 when a “joke” was made by Eddie McGuire and the Triple M team about drowning AFL journalist Caroline Wilson.
On paper, their words seemed inappropriate. In the audio, they sound even worse. Chrissie Swan described it as “venomous” and it’s the perfect word for it.
Here’s the bit I found fascinating: Earlier in the week, Tony Shaw made pretty much the exact same joke, but this time it was different – Caroline was in the room with him, and it fit the nature of their back-and-forth relationship.
Caroline herself said he did nothing wrong, and I think she meant it.
Tony Shaw doesn’t get in trouble, because the same joke can be cheeky or wildly offensive based on the tone and and warmth with which it’s delivered, and the history between the two parties.
That’s why humour is so tough to define – the context can make a tame joke devastating, or a horrific joke hilarious.
If your jokes make people uncomfortable, it eventually impacts your reputation – and tools like Twitter magnify both the good jokes and the bad.
“If someone is nice to you but rude to the waiter, they are not a nice person” – Dave Barry.
If you encounter people who are only nice to those above them, avoid wherever possible.
They might be friendly with you, but probably because you have something to offer. It’s only a matter of time before that runs out, and suddenly you get the cruel or dismissive side of their personality.
The danger starts the moment you look at someone and feel that they are beneath you.
The arrogant see tiers of social class, and treat people accordingly.
It’s an obnoxious habit, and one that is painfully visible to everyone else.
As soon as you start a justification with “It’s fine, they’re just a….” you’re on a bad path.
A questionable virtue
Steve Jobs changed the world, but also taught a terrible “lesson”.
In the process of creating revolutionary products, he was a notoriously rude person to deal with. Every book and movie made about Steve’s life can’t ignore the tremendous damage he did to those around him, and how it cut short many of his roles.
The terrible “lesson” is this: If you’re talented, you get to be rude to people.
Maybe, if you’re Steve Jobs.
Are you Steve Jobs?
Then don’t be a jerk.
The ones I fear for are the kids who go straight from university into pressure cooker businesses like the “Big 4” consulting companies and accounting firms, where they learn bad habits from those above them.
The traits that help you climb the ladder are wrongly glorified – working huge weeks, cut-throat tactics, being willing to say anything to get the sale, screaming at your subordinates.
These habits don’t then translate into the real world, and especially not in the world of social enterprise. Our industry is just too small to get away with being horrible to people, and you’ll soon get found out.
People talk about their jobs like they write online reviews: it’s 5 stars or 1 star. There’s no middle ground, because 3 star stories aren’t worth mentioning.
If you’re rude, there’s no immediate penalty, in fact you may never directly feel a negative consequence.
The loss comes via omission – missed opportunities, being overlooked for promotions, not being asked to social events.
When you’re rude, people talk about it – the 1 star reviews. Your colleagues won’t want to travel with you, or recommend your company to their talented friends, or go the extra mile when you need a favour. Who can blame them?
Remember Denis Kiellerup’s quote –
People do business with people. And they do business with people they like.
If you’re interested in the power of culture in the workplace, I highly recommend The Advantage by Patrick Lencioni, and Widgets by Rodd Wagner.