Accepting Hatred – Part 1

“Be nice Mark” was a constant refrain while growing up in Wheaton, Illinois, a city with white picket fences, churches and apple pie. The message came from my mom, my dad and our church. They taught me why to be nice and how to be nice. How strange that as I learned to be nice, I learned to be hated.

When I was young, my mother taught me that if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all. Though she did not always follow her words of wisdom, I believed in and understood this philosophy. When my mom said something nice to me, I felt good. When she said something not so nice, I felt bad. Not only was I was learning what made me feel good and bad, but I also was learning how to make others feel good and bad. At an early age, I drew the conclusion that I wanted to feel good and make others feel good. I had clarity.

In my teenage years, Leo Durocher, the manager of the Chicago Cubs, was famous for his catch phrase, “Nice guys finish last.” The phrase had a profound impact on me, not as a philosophy to believe in, but as challenge to prove wrong. I was confident that my mom had taught me right, insisting that I be nice. Leo’s philosophy must be wrong since my mom did not want me to “finish last.”

In my twenties, I started an engineering services company with a few goals, one of which was to prove Leo Durocher wrong. I was going to build a large and successful company while being nice. I did not realize at the time, but slowly and painfully learned, that my definition of nice was flawed. I thought part of nice was always trying to make people feel good no matter what. In a simplistic world, that might work, but when you are running a company with hundreds of employees, that definition was causing serious problems. I excelled at providing positive feedback, but because of my upbringing, I failed in providing negative feedback. I was afraid. I knew I was failing as a leader, but I did not know what to do.

In my early forties, to my great fortune, my wife bought me a book written by Patrick Lencioni titled, “The Five Temptations of a CEO.” Reading the book was a pivotal moment for me as a CEO, husband, father and community member. The book broadened my understanding of nice. Lencioni described five temptations that hamstring CEOs, one of which I was constantly falling prey to, “Wanting to be liked more than wanting to tell the truth.” In a masterfully written chapter, Lencioni described that withholding negative feedback was a terrible disservice to employees. Employees, and in fact all people, deserved to know the good and the bad. Lencioni teaches that providing both positive and negative feedback is a true gift if given with the appropriate intent, to help a person improve.

Integrating this new understanding of nice is challenging. I still want to be nice as my mom taught me. I still want to make others feel good. Intellectually, I understand the concept and am able to teach others. To actually execute is much harder. However, after fifteen years of practice, I am improving at providing both positive and negative feedback. Most of the time, I am thanked. Most of the time, they receive the feedback with the loving intent it is delivered. However, on occasion, the feedback is not appreciated. On occasion, I sense I am hated. Granted they don’t say, “I hate you,” but the sense of hatred is there.

Now in my fifties, I am learning to be hated. Mom taught me to be nice. Patrick Lencioni taught me to be honest. The consequence is occasional hatred. My path now is to improve my ability to tell people what they seem to want to hear, but don’t like hearing. I continue to practice and will so for the rest of my life.

In all truth, I don’t like to be hated so I wrestle with these questions: Should we withhold feedback that might not be appreciated? If we withhold, are we being honest and loving? If we withhold, are we doing the best we can for our family, friends, team, company and community?

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8 Responses to Accepting Hatred – Part 1

  1. David B. says:

    These can be difficult waters to navigate. There are times to be nice. In fact, perhaps the presumption should be to be nice. But that presumption is defeasible. Sometimes, being nice papers over problems that need to be addressed. In such cases, being nice may be inconsistent with love and/or respect for the other person. Nonetheless, not every problem requires intervention (pick your battles), and typically intervention should aim to be constructive. But there are no doubt cases where the gloves should come off. Better to be respected than liked, though it should be possible to avoid being hated, at least in the long run, by the people who matter. My $.02.

    • Mark says:

      For me, part of my practice is picking the right battles. Sometimes I choose wrong. When I do take my gloves off, I try to do it with great compassion. Though the idiom “take your gloves off” implies just a bit of out of control behavior. That is never good for a conversation. Interesting that these two idioms, “pick your battle” and “take the gloves off,” used to accurately describe these types of situations are violent in nature. I appreciate your $0.02. That idiom does not have any violent nature!

      • David B. says:

        Hi Mark. Well, I suppose that it depends on the scope of the contexts/cases under discussion. It’s hard for me to think of cases involving loved ones, friends, or colleagues where I would want to dispense with a constructive attitude and take the gloves off (metaphorically). That’s not what I had in mind. But I took you (perhaps this was a mistake on my part) to be making quite general claims, and I think there are potential interactions with people who are cruel or thoughtless where the appropriate response may involve more confrontation or protest than compassion (though compassion for their victims). I do think that the guiding principle should be to merit the respect of those opinion matters. Btw, lots of close and healthy relationships involve struggle and negotiation — hence the frequent admonition to friends and spouses to choose one’s battles carefully. Cheers.

        • Mark says:

          David – You are quite right about my generalities and you are also very correct about interactions with people who are acting cruel or thoughtless. Different situations certainly require different strategies. For me, I want to try to behave appropriately in each situation. In reality, sometimes I do, sometimes I don’t. Since you and I go back so many years, you know this is true for me. BTW – I agree with your comment about close and healthy relationships. Negotiation is key and picking the right battles makes life so much more enjoyable.

  2. George says:

    I really enjoyed your post, Mark. I am glad you are writing, again. I am looking forward to reading more.
    I like the topic. I have been struggling with trying to be nice, avoiding conflict. I am not sure what is the best way. I think it depends on what is important to you.

    • Mark says:

      I am glad to be writing again. I am not sure about the right way in each situation. At this point, I want to be aware that there are many right ways and the way I choose, in real-time, might not be the best. The complexity of this is one of the reasons I wanted to write about it.

  3. Great post Mark, and after a long time too!

    “Being nice” is very subjective thing for a person. You can say or do something nice superficially (e.g. something superficial or concerning immediate future, a very short time horizon) or it can be nice for the long term / big picture (while being “not nice” in the short term).
    Usually people will take all feedback having a short time horizon in their mind. This might cause them to hate you. But with luck they will learn what you said or did had good longer term consequences and the hatred will dissolve.

    –Amit

    • Mark says:

      Thanks Amit. It was time for me to write again. Yes, nice is subjective and the time horizon is very important. I like your comment about dissolving hatred. It leaves a nice image in my mind.

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