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By Adam Turteltaub
I’ve always had a bit of a problem with good, nice people. Not the normal good, nice people, but the really good and nice people. I just don’t trust them fully, and I think I’m not alone.
Part of it is we’ve all seen enough scandals through the years that we get to be wary of public pillars of virtues. Too many have turned out to have feet and entire bodies made of clay, not stone.
Part of it is that some have a tendency to cross a bit into the “holier than thou” side of things, and no one likes that.
And part of my problem is that they make me feel less virtuous than I like to feel about myself. Like most everyone I like to think that I’m a good person, but then I meet someone who is so much better at being good that, well, I kind of want to crawl under a rock with all the other vermin. Actually, under the rock below that one, with the vermin that the normal vermin won’t even associate with.
Back in the 1980s when I worked in advertising in New York, I typically shared a secretary with two other people. There were no desktop or laptop computers back then. You needed someone to type up memos and letters and to take your phone messages since we didn’t have voicemail.
For awhile I had someone working for me named Ginny Bahr. Ginny ran the blood drive, would take the train into the city from her home in the suburbs, and when the train arrived in NYC, she would grab the discarded copies of the NY Times, fold them up neatly and give them to a list of people in the office who had free “subscriptions” with her.
One day I teased her about the giant stack of magazines she had collected from around the office. I think I asked her if she was planning on using them for kindling in her fireplace. There were always zillions of magazines lying around the place – hundreds of people had free subscriptions from publishers eager for us to buy advertising from them. She explained that rather letting the magazines just go to waste, she brought them back to her church to distribute to shut-ins.
She had been, at that time, with the agency forever it seemed. Remarkably, she’s still working there and approaching her 66th anniversary with the company.
Ginny is good to the bone, and while that sometimes meant typing my memo may have taken longer than I would have liked, over time I learned to accept that. There truly were more important things that Ginny was doing, including teaching me to put aside my issue with very good people.
And, for the record, Ginny would deny that she’s any better a person than anyone else.
For those of us who work in ethics and compliance, we may be seen by the people we work with as super virtuous. While people resent compliance for telling them to do, I also wonder if they also don’t like being made to feel less virtuous than they would like to feel.
That doesn’t mean that we need to lower our standards or prove that we’re just like everyone else. But it does mean we have to remember that any conversation, any interaction may be pushing the “they’re so goodie two shoes” or “they think they’re so much better than us” buttons.
So how do we solve this? First, obviously, is to communicate carefully to ensure that people take the message in the right way. Second, we need to build rapport and trust, give people a sense that we’re not saying things to condemn, make them feel small, or make life difficult but because it’s the right thing to do both morally and for the business. And, third, we need to share with each other strategies for success.
Add a suggestion in the comments section saying what you do to help people behave better without making them feel worse. I promise I won’t think you’re too good or too nice if you do.
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