The Benefits of Pissing People Off

240 Comments


“To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, and be nothing.” – Elbert Hubbard (source: uberzombie)

Right alongside the cash and credit cards, I keep a number of strange things in my wallet.

The largest is a folded-up page from the July 6, 2009 issue of Fortune magazine. In a profile, Scott Boras, widely regarded as the most powerful agent in professional baseball, describes a dinner with one of his mentors after a record-breaking contract:

“He said that if you are really effective at what you do, 95% of the things said about you will be negative. Keep your head on straight, don’t get emotional, take the heat, and just make sure your clients are smiling.”

Doing anything remotely interesting will bring criticism. Attempting to do anything large-scale and interesting will bring armies of detractors and saboteurs. This is fine – if you are willing to take the heat.

There are good reasons to be willing, even eager.

Colin Powell makes the case: pissing people off is both inevitable and necessary. This doesn’t mean that the goal is pissing people off. Pissing people off doesn’t mean you’re doing the right things, but doing the right things will almost inevitably piss people off.

Understand the difference.

Being responsible sometimes means pissing people off.

Good leadership involves responsibility to the welfare of the group, which means that some people will get angry at your actions and decisions. It’s inevitable, if you’re honorable. Trying to get everyone to like you is a sign of mediocrity: you’ll avoid the tough decisions, you’ll avoid confronting the people who need to be confronted, and you’ll avoid offering differential rewards based on differential performance because some people might get upset.

Ironically, by procrastinating on the difficult choices, by trying not to get anyone mad, and by treating everyone equally “nicely” regardless of their contributions, you’ll simply ensure that the only people you’ll wind up angering are the most creative and productive people in the organization. (full presentation here)

Don’t go through life with kid gloves on. The stakes are too high, and it is oftentimes more important to give people what they need, rather than what they want.

This includes ourselves. By facing the fire early and often, we ensure the confidence and breathing room later to do bigger and better things.

Or to just sit back in a hammock with the peace of mind that only comes with belief that you did your best.

Be criticized for doing small “safe” things, or be criticized for doing big things that you’re passionate about. That is the choice. The criticism will come either way, whether in the form of self-talk (the former) or ankle biters (the latter).

Let the critics criticize. It’s the builders who count.

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240 comments on “The Benefits of Pissing People Off

  1. Great post! I agree. No one is going to like what you say and do 24/7 and you have to learn from mistakes as well. So if you can’t take the heat then get out of the kitchen. It is the only way people learn. It is how you adapt to pissing these people off which makes you a better person.

  2. I relate to this post very much since I have this personality defined as such by my Mother……”When you’re a hammer eveything is a nail.”
    Thanks Ma.
    Some of the most powerful information for me was at an Amway function in my past life. I am 53 now and saw Dr.Robert Rohm when I was early 40′s and really wished I had seen it when I was younger.
    The course is called Personality Profiles and it changed my life for the better.
    I actually have a personality that runs folks over and I did not think about it.The fact that I am 6 ft 6 inches 260 lbs and muscular actually hurt me in my at that time Amway business since I scared folks into signing up.

    I didn’t take long though to “fix” myself because the outcome is the same if you are afraid that you’ll piss folks off or a hammer like I was.
    No one gets in with you either way.
    So I still don’t understand how folks can be worried about that and want to be friends with everyone but hey at least Dr. Rohm made me realize that those folks don’t understand how I could offend folks and not even think about it.
    That is the genius of the info and what makes the world go round.
    We should learn at all ages.

  3. Tim,

    Is there a threshold where sticking to what you perceive is a leadership position becomes counterproductive? When most (x%) people don’t like what you are doing, it becomes very hard to sell.

  4. ah the dreaded “what will people think” question!
    That was the biggest hurdle for me and one i am constantly reassessing as i go. The key i feel is to choose yourself.
    When trying to please others we believe,( like tim said), that what they WANT is more important than what we NEED.
    Bite the bullet i say, go out and do it, i guarantee the criticism that you are imagining from others wont be as bad as you think!!
    the more you do it the more comfortable you get, when you know yourself, and accept yourself, criticism wont phase you
    thanks tim for another fabulous post!!
    Mel Houghton

  5. Great slide show, I watched it and felt good and then you know what? I felt really pissed off. Because t I think ‘pissing people off’ is a preoccupation of the privileged. I couldn’t quite grasp what exactly pissed me off at first but it was an annoying feeling of recognising the bits where you ignore criticism but really not identifying with the ‘small safe things’ or even having time to think about what people thought. Then I realised that the benefit of pissing people off was purely about massage the ego of those who were privileged in such a way that it could just mean the focus shifts from reaching a goal to acceptance of all kinds of exploitation.

    I think going through life with ‘kid gloves on’ or being afraid of pissing people off is a sign of privilege. I don’t mean one kind of privilege in particular but it is a position in your society, community, work place etc. that makes you feel you have something to lose. It is like a default position of being ‘good’ until you do or say something to cause you to fall from grace, or be blamed. However if you are at the bottom of the pile then you already know your default position is ‘bad’. You already know you are the scapegoat. Worrying about who you piss off is then not a big concern because it is a normal regular occurrence. Even if you are not at fault negative stereotypes and low expectations mean that it is customary that others get pissed off.

    Having said all that, there is the good side of not being privileged. It is the fact there is nothing to lose. It is a position where you can take more risks simply because you have to or want to. It is true that you would need to have to be stronger but in general the focus just would not be about pissing people off or worrying what people think of you. Each action would be a step towards a goal or an act of desperation.

    In the end I think it is not about good leadership, it is more like cats playing with their prey, not because they have hunted to eat but because it is a game of power. The goal, place or success becomes second place to the central focus of pissing others off. I don’t really think the side show gives that impression as it does mention recognising all levels.

    I think you may have missed a lot.

  6. Yes, I pissed off my wife and the benifit I got was getting a divorce !

    In the end I found a woman who was hand made for me by God.

    Tim, I have been doing what you teach for abouyt 32 years and back in the day before Internet was more challanging. I bet we’d have a productive blast brainstorming.

  7. “Don’t go through life with kid gloves on. The stakes are too high, and it is oftentimes more important to give people what they need, rather than what they want.”
    That is the truth about LOVE. Giving people what they need rather than making them feel appreciated or significant all the time is a higher form of love than just meeting their emotional need. Props for getting it

  8. I’ve always been a people pleaser and ended up hating the person I am as I don’t feel true to my inner being or values.

    How can I start this? Spend periods being totally honest with people in the office? Stop sugar coating emails or not getting angry on the phone etc.

    Any help with this is gratefully appreciated

  9. Hey Ian,

    You were asking for help and how to get started. I feel for you as I too lived a large part of my life being bound up in niceties and wanted to make peace with every evil bastard out there. But now at age 56, I say

    to hell with all that.

    And with good reason. Honesty, integrity and authenticity has its own rewards.

    Getting real and keeping it real means you cut to the chase faster and get the heart of the matter in time to make a difference.

    Here’s a true story from yesterday:

    So we get a call from a family member that a certain person had died from advance liver disease. Now this guy was a genuine bastard. Seven years of my life were “wasted” (nothing is really ever wasted but its a matter of perspective.) being intimidated by this blow hard bully. Carlo Rossi, gallon jugs btw, were his undoing. It was rather unexpected since he had been released from the hospital with some meds the week before and they thought they had caught it in time and he had dodged a bullet.

    So with news fresh in my mind and since he was my contemporary, my own mortality was kind of spooking me. Yet, I take my vitamins, supplements, nutrition, exercise and mind state very seriously and basically I really, truly enjoy my life and live in gratitude for all that I have, all that I do and all that I breathe.

    So I am in line at walmart, purchasing some protein bars and the woman in front of me, about my age, mid-fifties, raspy voice, asks the cashier for some cigarettes. The girl reaches for a pack and the lady says, “No, no, no, I need the whole carton.”

    The small coughs and hacks inbetween heard words told me she is days, weeks, or months away from Emphysema and/or congestive heart failure. Afterall, its how my dad died.

    “Uh, excuse me, don’t mind me saying so… but has anyone ever told you that smoking is not good for you.”

    Of course someone has told her. I am not her doctor, but Geez Louise, sometimes you just got tell the truth and be a witness to what’s right and what’s wrong.

    So my advice is keep it real with family, friends and those you come in contact with. In the end it is appreciated. The enormity of living on purpose has its own reward, innately you know what’s true, so does everyone else, we just have to be reminded once in awhile.

    Garey

  10. @Ian – I’d start first with not making yourself wrong for having these needs: harmony, cooperation and consideration; while being aware that your need for self expression and honesty are not being met. Identifying all of your needs & accepting them is the first step before you can go about getting them met. NonViolent Communication taught/teaches me this.

    I’d say you begin with a “for your eyes only” journal. Allow yourself the spaciousness of a no-judgment zone where all your feelings are allowed to be felt & expressed privately. Where what you really feel about people or events can be expressed. Start here so you begin to let out some of the steam of what’s been stifled for so long. And then in small ways begin to say no when you need to e.g. saying no to a friend’s invite when you’re tired.

    I do rec getting connected to your personal needs and if you (or anyone else) wants the list of universal needs just drop me an line.

  11. @Ian – I agree with Kim Ann, but would like to expand on what she said.

    You might want to look for something you would love to do, e.g. a hobby that for some reason, such as negative feedback, you didn’t dare to pick up yet. Then go ahead and visualize yourself spending time on this hobby.

    Do some research on what it’s all about, who else has this hobby, and what they say about it. When you feel ready, go tell those people you are closest to and fear the worst criticism of (that’s relatives or close friends, keep your coworkers out of this for the time being).

    I’m aware this is the hardest part, but I did it, and it worked wonders for me. If you’re very afraid, I recommend learning a bit about rhetorics and body language, that tends to be rather reassuring.

    Because once the news are out, people can twitch and kick as much as they like, they will have to accept the change eventually, and you might even find unlikely allies.

    On a sidenote, it helps to be really annoyed, as in, beyond good and evil, with your current situation. That’s a great motivation to go up against both inertia and heavy criticism.

    In any case, keep in mind that at the end, you’ll have a ton of fun!

  12. Great post, Tim. Keep doing what you’re doing.

    Your article goes along with my favorite quote on critics:

    “To criticize is to persuade the author that he didn’t do it the way I would, if I knew how to”. – Karel Capek

  13. Dear Tim,

    I had always tried to avoid criticism because I feel that whether the criticism is called for or not,it hurts inside. But I have learned too that it does not matter as long as you know you’re doing the right thing.

    Thanks for the entry. This helps me have a stronger will.

  14. Very interesting post Tim.

    It makes me think back to my slightly younger days when I had some good ideas but many people gave me the negative feedback that put some of those ideas on hold.

    It’s when I got away from all that, and got on with stuff, ignoring all the negatives that success came. Some people just hate success, and some people just like to hate. I like the idea of just accepting it within reason and getting on with it.

  15. Tall poppy syndrome is often a name we call it over here. Those people that always bag and criticize those doing well. I guess it makes them feel better to try and bring others down to their level.

    It can be a problem trying to keep everyone happy. PC seems to be getting worse all the time, so at some stage you need to take the stand and go hard on what is important to you, rather than trying to keep everyone happy as you mention.

  16. This is a fantastic post. You can’t expect to get ahead in life if you’re not willing to accept that people are just not going to like a lot of the things you say.

    In fact, I myself try to attract more criticism and negativity. It means that I am growing. Which is a damn important thing to do in life.

    The more you succeed in life, the more negativity you will attract.
    But the great thing is that the positive results you will achieve from being a responsible and down to earth man far outweighs any negativity you might encounter along the way.

  17. This is really all so true. In fact, it kind of reminds me of the old saying “Nice guys finish last”. If you want to get anywhere in life, you have to take control and don’t worry about who gets in your way.

  18. Thank you for writing this. My daughter is in grade 7. One of the girls in her class was in contact with a male that was sending her photos of him in his underwear. My daughter reported it to the principal, the police were called. The texts began when it came out that it was her. The girls mother even sent my daughter a text. The girls parents actually knew what was going on. The girl was involving the classmates, photos of them were sent and she had them chatting with this guy too. My daughter has been barraged all weekend by texts from the girls that this girl called. I was really beginning to wonder if doing the right this was best and found your website. Thank you for this post. We really needed it; I really needed it. Doing the right thing has been really hard but what parent would find it ok for their 12 year old to receive these types of texts and photos? Did we learn nothing from Amanda’s death?

  19. of course, we can’t help being pissed off or for that matter pissed on! it is a society of piss pots who piss on each other and piss each other off not to mention take the piss out of each other (metaphorically speaking). each city-zen ought to take criti-schism with a grain of salt…rather let it pour off your back like water on an umbrella. the people who mind don’t matter and the people who matter don’t mind. get laid back cool and stop the carping and heating up furiosity. be curious not furious.