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      I think you’re doing the (extremely common) conflation of politeness, niceness, and kindness:

      • Politeness is how you communicate.
      • Niceness is not making people feel bad.
      • Kindness is making other people’s lives better.

      All three are good ideals to strive for, but all three are also contextual. They also conflict with each other. The best constructive criticism is polite and kind but not nice. Social white lies are polite and nice but not kind. Certain speech patterns are kind and nice but not very polite.

      Assholery is like a scalpel. It has its uses, but you should be as precise as possible and then put it away.

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      Unfortunately, being nice won’t get you a lot of money in the modern corporate workplace.

      Being nice means some people will think you are a weakling.

      It’s really important to know how and when to be nice and how and when to be assertive (or whatever opposite is of nice is in this context…).

      For every “guide to being nice” there’s a career article in the vein of “how to get what you want: step 1. stop saying yes all the time”

      Just as different programming languages can be suited for different jobs. Different personality is suited for dealing with different incarnation of the corporation/society. A friendly personality is great for making friends. But that should not be your primary goal in a workplace.

      Developers who don’t have social skills and usually seem upset or angry.

      This has nothing to do with being nice. Telling people who don’t have social skills to ‘just be nice’ is like telling starving people to ‘just be rich’

      Developers who undermine each other at every turn.

      Necessary in many modern workplaces in order to compete for limited upward potential.

      Generally defensive developers.

      This has more to do with culture around mistakes. Not the fault of the individual.

      Developers who think that other departments of the company are stupid, that they don’t know what they want.

      They are stupid. At least for this limited domain. If you are a knowledge worker you rely on other people being stupid in your domain. So to assume that they are not would just not make any sense.

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        I think a point of this blog post was to be polite when talking to and about your colleagues. Doing that does not imply in any way that you are a weakling. It makes the conversation better and you are more likely to come up with good solutions, in my experience.

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          My experience in the corporate workplace matches @LibertarianLlama’s’s post very much, albeit in a somewhat nuanced way (which I suspect is just a matter of how you present your ideas at the end of the day?).

          For example, being polite when talking to and about your colleagues is important, primarily for reasons of basic human decency. (Also because “being professional” is very much a high-strung nerve game, where everyone tries to get the other to blink first and lose it but that, and how “professional” now means pretty much anything you want it to mean, is a whole other story.)

          However, there are plenty of people who, for various reasons, will be able to be jerks without any kind of consequences (usually anyone who’s a manager and on good terms with either their manager, or someone who wants to undercut their manager). These people will take any good-faith attempt to keep things nice even in the face of unwarranted assholeness as a license to bring on the abuse. Being polite only makes things worse, and at that point you either step up your own asshole game, or – if that’s an option – you scramble for another job (which may or may not be worse, you never know…).

          Also, all sorts of things, including this, can be taken as a sign of weakness under some circumstances. Promotions aren’t particularly affected by that. While plenty of incompetent people benefit from favoritism, everyone who’s in an authority position (and therefore also depends on other people’s work to move further up) needs at least some competent underlings in order to keep their job. So they will promote people they perceive as “smart” whether they are also perceived as “weak” or not. But it does affect how your ideas are treated and how much influence you can have. I’ve seen plenty of projects where “product owners” (their actual title varied but you get the point) trusted the advice of certain developers – some of them in different teams, or different departments altogether – to the point where they took various decisions against the advice of the lead developers in said projects,sometimes with disastrous consequences. It’s remarkably easy to have the boat drift against your commands, and then get stuck with the bill when it starts taking water.

          Basically, I think all this stuff the blog post mentions works only in organisations where politeness, common sense etc. are the modus operandi throughout the hierarchy, or at least through enough layers of the hierarchy to matter. In most modern corporate workplaces, applying this advice will just make you look like that one weirdo who talks like a nerd.

          (inb4: yes yes, I know your experience at {Microsoft|Google|Apple|Facebook|Amazon|Netflix|whatever} wasn’t like that at all. My experience at exactly one corporate workplace wasn’t like that either, but I knew plenty of people in other departments who were racking up therapy bills working for the same company. Also, my experience at pretty much all other corporate workplaces was exactly like that, and the only reason I didn’t rack up on therapy bills is that, while I hate playing office politics because it gets in the way of my programming time, if someone messes with me just to play office politics or to take it out on someone, I will absolutely leave that job and fuck them up and torch their corporate carcass in the process just for the fun of it).

          Edit: I guess what I’m saying is, we all have a limited ability to be nice while working under pressure and all, and you shouldn’t waste it on people who will make a point of weaponizing it against you, even if it looks like the decent thing to do. Be nice but don’t be the office punching bag, that doesn’t do you any good.

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            I mean, in the case you’re describing, I think it’s still valuable to act nice, like this post describes. You definitely gain more support and generate valuable rapport by being nice, rather than being an asshole. Oftentimes, being able to do something large that cuts across many orgs requires that you have contacts in those other orgs, and people are much more willing to work with you if you’re nice.

            Nice should be the default. However, when you have to work with an asshole, I think it’s important to understand that the dynamic has changed and that you may need to interact with them differently from other coworkers. Maybe this means starting nice, seeing that they will exploit that, and then engaging far more firmly in the future. Maybe you start with trying to empathize with their position (I don’t mean saying something like “I see where you’re coming from and I feel blah blah,” but by speaking their language, “Yeah dude, this shit sucks, but we have to play ball” or whatever).

            In general, the default should always be nice, but nice does not mean necessarily not being firm when it’s required (someone wants to explore a new technology, but your team is not staffed for it and you have other priorities that the team needs to meet), and nice does not mean you should put on social blinders and interact with everyone the same way. Part of social interaction is meeting people where they are.

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              Nice should be the default.

              Oh, yeah, no disagreement here. We have a word to describe people who aren’t nice by default and that word is “asshole”. You shouldn’t be an asshole. Some people are, and deserve to be treated as such. Whether they’re assholes because they just have a shit soul or they’re pre-emptively being nasty to everyone defensively, or for, um, libertarian reasons, makes very little difference IMHO.

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          The benefits of being nice find no purchase in the libertarian’s mentality. Keep this in mind when you encounter them. Adjust your approach and expectations accordingly. More generally, try to practice what I call “impedance matching” with them (and with all people). What I mean by that is (1) understand their personality’s API and (2) customize your interface accordingly. Meet them where they are. Then there will be fewer internal reflections in your signaling. Of course, if they proudly undermine you, don’t think you can change them. You’ll have to just keep your chin up and route around that damage somehow.

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            This corresponds to a very personal and painful lesson that I have recently learned. I would caution against stereotypes, but I’m a bit beaten down by the experience.

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        Hard no. I’ve tried to be nice in my 35-year career (at least, never tried to undermine or hurt others) and have nevertheless accumulated what many would see a “a lot of money”. (And I’d have a lot more if I hadn’t kept selling Apple stock options as soon as they vested, in the ‘00s…) Plenty of “nice” co-workers have made out well too.

        Telling people who don’t have social skills to ‘just be nice’ is like telling starving people to ‘just be rich’

        The advice in that article is directly teaching social skills.

        Necessary in many modern workplaces in order to compete for limited upward potential.

        Funny, I’ve always used productivity, intelligence and social skills to compete. If one has to use nastiness, then either one is lacking in more positive attributes, or at least is in a seriously f’ed up workplace that should be escaped from ASAP.

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        Unfortunately, being nice won’t get you a lot of money in the modern corporate workplace.

        I’ve been at a workplace like yours but at my current one most of the most-senior and presumably best-paid folk are incredibly nice and I aspire and struggle to be like them. I’ve learned a lot trying to do so and frankly not being nicer is one of the things holding me back. Consider changing yourself or workplaces, I think you’ll be surprised. I’m disappointed by the “but I have to be an asshole” discourse here, part of growing up professionally for me was leaving that behind.

        Unfortunately that version of me also wouldn’t have listened to this advice and would fall into this what’s with all the unnecessary verbosity? trap so I don’t know that this will actually land for anybody.

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        I did not expect you to be a fan of the modern corporate workplace.

        I recall one time at a former employer where I pissed off my managers by pointing out to an upper executive that it was illegal, under USA labor laws, to instruct employees to not discuss salaries. I was polite and nice, but I’m sure you can imagine that my managers did not consider my politeness to be beneficial given that I had caught them giving unlawful advice.

        If you want to be assertive, learn when employers cannot retaliate against employees. I have written confident letters to CEOs, asking them to dissolve their PACs and stop interfering in democracy. This is safe because it is illegal for employers to directly retaliate; federal election laws protect such opinions.

        It is true that such employers can find pretexts for dismissal later, but the truth is that I don’t want to be employed by folks who routinely break labor or election laws.

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          It is true that such employers can find pretexts for dismissal later, but the truth is that I don’t want to be employed by folks who routinely break labor or election laws.

          This is one of the best pieces of advice that a young tech worker can receive, and I want to second this a million times, and not just with regard to PACs and federal election laws. Just a few other examples:

          • Don’t cope with a toxic workplace, leave and find a place where you won’t have to sacrifice 16 hours a day to make it through the other 8.
          • Don’t “cope with difficult managers”, to quote one of the worst LinkedIn posts I’ve seen. Help them get their shit together (that’s basic human decency, yes, if they’re going through a tough patch and unwittingly taking it out on others, by all means lend a hand if you can) but if they don’t, leave the team, or leave the company and don’t sugar coat it in the exit interview (edit: but obviously be nice about it!). Let the higher-ups figure out how they’ll meet their quarterly objectives with nobody other than the “difficult managers” that nobody wants to work with and the developers who can’t find another job.
          • Don’t tolerate shabby workplace health and safety conditions any more than companies tolerate shabby employee work.
          • Don’t tolerate illegal workplace regulations and actions (including things like not discussing your salary) any more than companies tolerate employees’ illegal behaviour.

          Everyone who drank the recruiting/HR Kool-Aid blabbers about missing opportunities when they hear this but it’s all bullshit, there are no opportunities worth taking in companies like these. Do you really think you’ll have a successful career building amazing things and get rich working in a company that can’t even get its people to not throw tantrums like a ten year-old – or, worse, rewards people who do? In a company that’s so screwed up that even people who don’t work there anymore have difficulty concentrating at work? In a company that will go to any lengths – including breaking the law! – to prevent you from negotiating a fair deal?

          I mean yes, some people do get rich working for companies like these, but if you’re a smart, passionate programmer, why not get rich doing that instead of playing office politics? The sheer fact that there are more people getting treatment for anxiety and PTSD than people with senior management titles at these companies should be enough to realize that success in these places is a statistical anomaly, not something baked in their DNA.

          Obviously, there are exceptions. By all means put up with all that if it pays your spouse’s cancer treatment or your mortgage or whatever. But don’t believe the people who tell you there’s no other way to success. It’s no coincidence that most of the people who tell you that are recruiters – people whose jobs literally depend on convincing other people to join their company, but have no means to enact substantial change so as to make that company more attractive.

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      Great advice, and I really like your examples, I’ve seen many of exactly these conversations in the “wild”.

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      I don’t like the examples simply because you’re using a lot of filler text in a work environment where everyone’s just trying to get things done.

      You: What titles? Yeah, I can definitely do that. What products are you wanting on there?

      To me makes much more sense as something like “We might be able to, which titles?”. It doesn’t suggest you have time for it, it doesn’t suggest you’re promising to do it (never promise, surely), and it saves you reiterating their question.

      You: We haven’t touched prices today. Hmm, I haven’t had anyone mess with prices today. What products are involved? I’ll check it out

      Again, why not just “The prices have changed?” and maybe “Which products, buddy?” if they reply with a dry “yeah”. What’s with all the unnecessary verbosity? The corporate nicety is something we can all see through, and we have to spend time extracting the core message from “friendly” messages just as if they were sarcastic or unkind messages. Let’s just skip that part entirely.

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        A “nicety” is a small or precise detail, not the state of being nice; that’s “niceness.”

        What’s with all the unnecessary verbosity?

        Human communication is filled with redundancy; English especially. We do not communicate using minimal ASTs because the signal-to-noise ratio in all of our communication channels is very poor. Adding some additional information requires adding many additional words. When the post suggests “Hmm, I haven’t had anyone mess with prices today. What products are involved? I’ll check it out”, that’s communicating more than “The prices have changed?”. It communicates, “I am surprised to hear this and doubt it’s related to anything I have control over. Give me some more information so I can work on it - but it’s not a bother and I’m not trying to get rid of you, which would be a reasonable reading of that question.”

        You may not want to provide that reassurance and context-setting, but it’s not reasonable to say that it’s “unnecessary verbosity.”

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          Perfectly said!

          And if you understand what @mtset said but still can’t imagine why you would want to convey all that, just remember that you might not benefit from all that information but the recipient might, and perhaps far more often than you realize. Some examples:

          • I worked with a software quality tester who always felt like bringing problems to programmers made him a burden. The total lack of explicit, POSITIVE receptivity to their bug reports over a long period of time created that feeling, and that’s reasonable.
          • I worked with a developer who was absolutely terrified of messaging senior developers on the team because he was afraid of how his questions would be perceived. Being explicit that those questions are welcome was almost as important for this person’s career as answering the questions.
          • Program Managers often have no idea how a request will be received because they often don’t know the magnitude of what they are asking, in terms of investment required. Every interaction you have with a person where you have a lopsided amount of information means they will be happy to get all that extra context.


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          The key thing that is communicated with all the extra words is “Even if I’m not sure I agree, your input is valid and I am taking it seriously.”

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        Again, why not just “The prices have changed?” and maybe “Which products, buddy?” if they reply with a dry “yeah”. What’s with all the unnecessary verbosity?

        The author’s suggestion means something completely different than yours and the distinction is important. His response (nicely) indicates “That assumption sounds wrong but I’ll engage in figuring out the problem regardless” because ultimately the assumption being right or wrong is totally irrelevant.

        And fwiw, “buddy” is never taken as friendly in most parts of the US (particularly the east coast) as it will be perceived as sarcastic friendliness.

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          Okay, s/buddy/<your regional slang here>/, no big deal?

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        we have to spend time extracting the core message from “friendly” messages just as if they were sarcastic or unkind messages.

        The core message alone can easily be misinterpreted as negative/sarcastic/unkind — our brains are predisposed to discover threats. Look up “negativity bias.” In spoken communication there is usually enough metadata in the form of facial expressions or at least tone of voice, but textual communication is very easy to misconstrue.

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        “Manners – simple things like saying ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and knowing a person’s name or asking after her family – enable two people to work together whether they like each other or not. Bright people, especially bright young people, often do not understand this. If analysis shows that someone’s brilliant work fails again and again as soon as cooperation from others is required, it probably indicates a lack of courtesy – that is, a lack of manners.”

        From “Managing Oneself” (1999) by Peter Drucker

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          The examples lacked please/thank you also. I’m not arguing for the removal of politeness, but stripping unnecessary content.

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      and how much I despised most of my previous co-workers

      Lol damn Kenny that hurts.

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      Love this, I think being nice (or polite, or decent or however we want to define it) is such an important skill to develop, particularly in largely remote communication. So much of the job is working with others, and I think in a lot of workplaces, being someone that people want to work with will put you in good stead.