in praise of assholes

Recently I’ve found myself having very unpleasant conversations with people about work. Often, both of us are in a bad situation, and there is no easy way to make the project better, only ‘least bad’ answers. It’s a negative situation. Dealing with the disappointment and upset in this situation often leads people to act badly, myself included. I push too hard, questioning people’s conclusions too much, and generally am a nuisance. One might even say an “asshole.” I am not mean, but probably irritating.

When I went to school and worked my first few jobs, demanding bosses were the norm. Animated discussions, arguments, and emotion were part of caring about the work. I had a boss who extracted good things out of bad situations on a regular basis. I hated him at first, but eventually grew to admire him and respect him. Bewilderingly, I no longer have passionate arguments with people about work. Instead, discussions and meetings are meant to reinforce decisions already made. Negativity is to be avoided, and any criticism is almost offensive (even if just in tone).

I certainly can understand the desire to make work fun, lighthearted and focus on the positive at work, but I think something was lost. Progress and good work doesn’t come easily. In fact, it’s really easy to do mediocre work when everyone is afraid of failing (and getting laid off). There are great people who can avoid that and still be full of sweetness and light, but those people are few and far between, and the emotions involved are not going to last as long as good work. Abusive, mean behavior is wrong no matter what. But I find myself wishing for a couple of assholes at work, people who would shake things up, force the issues, and push past the usual solutions. But for now, I’ll just try to stay positive 🙂

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