How Not To Be An Asshole At Work #2: Say What You Mean (But Don’t Be a Dick* About It)

(*Feel free to choose an ungendered, or other gendered pejorative term here)

Not saying what you mean causes you to be an asshole. And it’s endemic. I get why: saying what we mean can be scary. Maybe somebody will get mad, or start crying, or quit. Maybe it means that you have to fess up to the fact that your company has been doing something stupid, and just tossed a few million bucks into a hole in the ground. Maybe you’ll look like an idiot.

Scary. Unhappy-making. We’d rather do the human thing and say something else.

Now. That something else may bear some relation to what you want to say. It may even have what you want to say kind of encoded in it, like a puzzle that you hope the other person will a) know is there and b) be able to figure out, thus saving you the trouble of being grown up and actually saying it.

Or we say nothing. Or, very worst of all, we say something we don’t mean, and indicate that we do mean it. Oh, that’s so bad, not least because we humans have a very strong intuition for other humans being inauthentic — saying things they don’t mean. (Why we have this skill, I don’t know. We can speculate that over millions of years of evolution we discovered that weeding out the assholes made the tribe stronger. Hard to say. There’s a neuroscience PhD waiting there for somebody). People will feel it, reality will catch up, and bad things will happen.

You’re being an asshole to the people around you, but you’re also being kind of an asshole to yourself, wandering the earth with that thing you want to say sitting inside you, weighing you down, making you unhappy, being unhealthy for you.

Let’s take a few examples.

Maybe You Want a Raise

You want a raise, oh you want a raise so much and you’ve wanted it for a while, but you’ve been sitting on it, stewing in the car on the way home, bitching to your life partner, generally being, well, an asshole about it.

Your boss kind of knows that you want a raise and is uncomfortable about it, and she’s not going to bring it up because, hey, it’s more money and anyway it means a negotiation, which is a pain.

You don’t want to ask because:

  • you don’t think you’re worth it
  • you’re embarrassed about asking for things
  • she might say no, and then where would you be?
  • you “can’t find the right time”
  • she might think you’re ungrateful — you’re already making a bunch of money!
  • you kind of think you’re maybe overpaid, but you can’t be bothered to do the research to really figure it out
  • oh, Jesus Christ, any number of other things

But really, you’re kind of being an asshole for not asking. You’re being an asshole to yourself, first of all, going home all those days thinking “I should, I really should have asked today, but ‘eh, I kind of got busy and…”, and then being short with your kids and not feeding the dog.

You’re being an asshole to your boss. I know, counter-intuitive, right? But it’s making her uncomfortable that you’re not asking, and she doesn’t know if she should offer and, so the two of you just, ugh, do this dance, back and forth, wasting time and energy.

So, get your guts up and ask. Respect yourself and your boss. Do it.

You Want to Tell Sue That She Did a Crappy Job

Sue did a really crappy job and you’re kind of pissed about it. But you don’t tell her. You just don’t talk to her. When she asks if everything is OK, you say *”yeah, fine”* and not much else. Or you do talk to her and say things like *”Sue, I mean really?”*, and walk away. Or *”Sue. We try and do good work around here”* and leave it at that — not telling her what she got wrong, what you want to be better, how you feel. You just leave it hanging.

You’re being kind of an asshole.

The thing you need to say is sitting inside you and making you mad. Sue is thinking something may be up, but maybe not, or maybe you just don’t like her, or maybe she’s going to be fired tomorrow — she has no idea.

Tell her what you thought about her work. Be clear about it, don’t personalize, tell her what she did do well and what she can improve. Don’t be an asshole about it. Simple.

Saying What You Mean Makes Things Better

If we know where we stand with each other, we can get on with the work. We don’t have to worry about hidden agendas, politics, BS and nonsense. Ideas flow, work flows, and we have fewer commutes home banging our head on the steering wheel.

It’s all just better.

But Don’t Be A Dick About It

Saying what you mean means saying what you mean, not stabbing people in the front. So if you mean “Sue, you did a crappy job of the presentation, you weren’t prepared and you can do better”, say that. Don’t say “Sue, you’re clearly a hopeless communicator, I’ll do the presentation next time”. If you mean “I think I’ve been doing a terrific job this year, I’m creating a ton of value and I’d like a raise”, say that. Don’t say “I deserve a raise, and you know I do, Sam, so let’s get on with it” (unless you know Sam well, and she can take a joke).

See? Pull yourself together, get in touch with your best self, and say what you mean.

Silence = assholery.