An Ode to Saying Please and Thank You at Work

Say Thank You at Work
Photo by Polina Zimmerman

How often have we dealt with authoritative emails at work?

The ones that sound unnecessarily aggressive and bossy, instead of courteous yet firm.

After my previous rant on surviving performance reviews, I looked into a couple of emails of supervisors generally well-liked at the office, and those who weren’t.

The ones who were liked (Batch A), were polite and empathetic in their emails:

  • Could you please finish this task by Saturday?
  • Thank you for completing this!

In contrast, the ones who weren’t liked (Batch B), wrote their emails like this:

  • Do this by Saturday!
  • Dead silence after completing any task

See the difference? Would you like to get emails from Batch B? No one is fond of unnecessary aggression.

It is such a refresher nowadays to hear supervisors being polite. A “Thank you” or a “Please,” even if formal makes you look humane and not cold and distant. It motivates employees to do better. Politeness does not mean being weak. You can be firm and polite!

Something Batch A does often (to show the emergency of the situation):

  • Please send this across by Saturday! This is very important.

No unwanted aggression here. A simple message that conveys the seriousness of the task. Most people are smart enough to get the gist of such a message.

Employees perform their best when their supervisors are empathetic and kind. The attrition rate (the rate at which people leave) is always high in companies with bad managers. A 2016 survey in India showed that employees are willing to stay longer and work harder if they were well appreciated in their companies. About 59% felt they were unappreciated by their bosses. That’s more than half of the survey sample! No small number there. Sometimes, all it takes is a “thank you” or a “please,” to make things better.

So why are we so stingy with appreciating others or using cordial language at work?

Each supervisor is shaped by their own experiences in the corporate world. Some might have faced similar situations, a boss being too self-centered or supercilious or manipulative, and they end up thinking this is the only way to climb up the career ladder.

Sadly, this is partially true.

A recent study disturbingly stated that narcissistic, manipulative people tend to become CEOs faster (29% more) than their less self-entitled peers. We look at people at the top for inspiration, and we see a lot of them acting entitled and impolite, and we think “That’s how we become successful.

But is it really? Is this the downside of being successful? Should we dump our emotions, empathy, kindness in the garbage in the quest for power?

I have been in the corporate world for so long, and I have seen and experienced so much, that the first thought when I see a CEO or a leader on LinkedIn is not Wow! I want to be this person,” but “How many people did you demotivate and destroy to reach where you are? How many fake stories have you cooked up to save yourself, by shifting the blame onto your juniors? How good are you at playing politics in office?” This seems very dark and harsh I know. But it is mostly the truth. There are exceptions but the many leaders I have seen have sold their souls to the corporate devil. They will do anything to get on the super boss’ good books and won’t hesitate to drag anyone else down in the process.

Sometimes, from what I have seen, I feel it’s best to stay away from the rat race.

So you don’t end up becoming a rat.

An Ode to Surviving Performance Reviews by Demotivating Managers

Demotivating Manager

It is that demotivating season again.

I say demotivating because my last two performance reviews were negative. I might keep repeating “demotivating” throughout the article because that is how I feel right now.

So demotivated, dazed, confused, furious.

All because of one manager.

Somehow he has made up his mind to never encourage anyone. The only positive word I have ever seen come out of his mouth is “Good.” But he is ever ready to nullify that with 100 negatives.

The worrying part is many in my company feel that way.

2020 was the year I was most proud of myself. I learned things on my own. I built things from scratch. Got everything up and going with minimal errors after several hours of overtime. The least I expected was an “I appreciate your hard work.” An acknowledgement of what I have done.

But nothing came.

Don’t be that manager.

I am at my productive best when I am reporting to a good manager. I am at my worst when the manager is negative. This is true for many. We want to do our best, help the company reach the top when our work is valued.

Don’t get me wrong. I love constructive feedback. But not feedback that is laced only with negatives.

If you are a performance reviewer, here are some “How not to be a demotivating boss” tips:

  • Start the conversation in a light tone. A “Hi, how are you?” at the start never killed anyone. It gives the employee some time to breathe and relax. Remember, most employees get into a performance review with extreme anxiety. Help them out by being courteous and kind.
  • Start with the positives. And by positives, I do not mean just saying a single “Good.” Be descriptive. Tell them what you liked about their work. Use the same number of sentences that you would use while giving constructive criticism. 3 full sentences describing the negatives? Follow it up with 3 honest sentences about their positives. Balance it out.
  • Do not make the employee feel like they have done nothing for the company.
  • Ease into the negatives. Give some time for the employee to respond or tell you what’s on their mind. Don’t ramble non-stop. The moment you start the negatives is when you need to be the kindest. Frame negatives in a nice way, then stop and take a step back, wait for them to respond, ask if they have to anything to say. Be open-minded to listening to them.

You look around and you see many employees dissatisfied with their managers. Why is that? Because there is a huge communication gap. Any thoughts and reviews are left for the last moment i.e. during the performance review. Some companies like Microsoft, Accenture, Adobe and Deloitte have done away with annual performance reviews because of this reason alone.

The best way to give feedback is right after a task is completed. This helps them change their course if need be. Don’t wait till annual performance reviews – to throw unpleasant surprises.

I got a raise and a bonus. So it was not all bad. But all it takes is one person’s words to ruin the high you feel, right? Is that the price you pay for a salary?

By the end of it all, I told him “That was very demotivating.” Probably it was the first time he heard it from someone. Most employees prefer to ignore such bosses. My retort was followed by a one-minute silence. Of all the things I said this year, I am most proud of this one dialogue.

My manager then went on to give several excuses on how the intention was not to demotivate but to give feedback.

But feedback should be a mix of good and bad. Backed up with encouraging words on how you believe the employee can do what’s been suggested. If it is not, it is not feedback, it is being demotivational. As simple as that.

So I would like to say kudos to me for surviving yet another performance review with a demotivating manager. I expect more to come. And I plan to survive them all. By ranting here, and to my friends, and family, and anyone who would listen.

The day my boss says something nice, I will let you know. Stay tuned?

Leaving the company doesn’t make sense because as far as I know most of the people around have terrible bosses. I rather stick to one familiar demotivating one that becomes overbearing during performance review time rather than explore new ones.

If you are feeling demotivated too, rant! To someone.

That is what my colleagues and I do anyway.

One day, hopefully, all managers will learn how to give feedback constructively. Till then, the corporate servants will have to time and again, feel the extreme disappointment of not feeling valued by that one manager, who simply doesn’t know how to give a good performance review.

And I also hope one day we start earning enough passive income from our websites, investments and, other sources. So that we can run far away from everything that is, you guessed it, demotivational! Every corporate slave’s secret dream.

An Ode to Working for the Right Company (MNC or Startup)

Take a look at Twitter, and you will see never-ending debates on whether startups or MNCs are the best.

Having worked in both, here are my 2 cents.

MNCs or established, large companies might be the better option for you if you want:

  • Higher pay: Big companies are willing to pay the best of the best for talent
  • Better job security: They have been in the business for a longer time and are more stable
  • Well equipped work space: They have the money to invest in the best tools and resources needed for upgrading your work
  • Better perks: Health benefits, freebies

Cons:

  • Office politics: This was the worst part for me.
  • Feeling undervalued: There are a lot of employees, and it is practically impossible for the higher order to listen to everyone. Your opinions or inputs tend to be given less importance.
  • Not flexible: Most of the companies want you to stick to their rules. Employees are rarely consulted on what *they* want.

Startups or smaller companies might be the better option if you want:

  • More job satisfaction: The pride you feel when your company is growing is unmatched. You played a role in it, and that is a huge achievement.
  • Less office politics
  • A tightly-knit workspace where everyone is easily reachable including the CEO
  • A job where you are valued

Cons:

  • Lesser pay: Small companies can hardly compete with MNCs when it comes to offering the best pay package
  • High pressure: Lots of work, less work-life balance
  • Cash-strapped: Hardly any freebies; access only to those tools that are absolutely essential for your work

Of course, this does not apply to all the MNCs and Startups out there. Each one is different. But from my experience, this is what I have encountered.

Honestly, I feel everyone should try both at least once to see what it is like.

Then go the Marie Kondo way perhaps – choose the one that sparks joy.

To finish this off, posting a snippet I saw on Quora. It made me smile.

Job Satisfaction

An Ode to Naval Ravikant’s Quotable Quotes

Naval Ravikant. Image Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

It is only recently that I came to know about Naval Ravikant.

A popular Indian YouTuber was raving about him in a recent video of his. It led me to this highly popular twitter thread titled “How To Get Rich Without Getting Lucky” and the thought-provoking Joe Rogan episode. I was hooked.

Naval Ravikant is an entrepreneur and angel investor. He had invested in a number of popular startups in Silicon Valley early-on like Twitter and Uber. What makes him different from other businessmen is his thirst for knowledge beyond investing. He is a deep thinker who is intrigued about human psychology and can passionately discuss topics such as meditation, emotional health, happiness and peace. For him, it is not all about money, but he does not dismiss wealth. He believes in a good mix of both, which is refreshing, because we usually see influencers either scorning wealth or being too into it.

Naval Ravikant does not want to monetize his knowledge, because a) he’s already rich b) he says it defeats his purpose of altruism. This makes you want to trust him.

After going through many tweets of his (he is quite popular on Twitter), and the Joe Rogan video, I ended up downloading the free book called “The Almanack of Naval Ravikant” which is a compilation of his best advice and anecdotes.

Here are a few Naval Ravikant quotes that left a mark on me from the book:

Making money is not a thing you do – it’s a skill you learn.

Specific knowledge is found much more by pursuing your innate talents, your genuine curiosity, and your passion. It is not by going to school for whatever is the hottest job; it is not by going into whatever field investors say is the hottest.

The internet enables any niche interest, as long as you’re the best person at it to scale out. And the great news is because every human is different, everyone is the best at something – being themselves.

Escape people through authenticity. Basically, when you are competing with people, it is because you’re copying them. It is because you are trying to do the same thing. But every human being is different. Don’t copy.

The most important skill for getting rich is becoming a perpetual learner. You have to know how to learn anything you want to learn.

Compound interest also happens in your reputation. If you have a sterling reputation and you keep building it for decades upon decades, people will notice. Your reputation will literally end up being thousands or tens of thousands of times more valuable than somebody else who was very talented but is not keeping the compound interest in reputation going.

Knowledge only you know or only a small set of people knows is going to come out of your passions and your hobbies, oddly enough. If you have hobbies around your intellectual curiosity, you’re more likely to develop these passions.

We waste our time with short-term thinking and busywork. Warren Buffett spends a year deciding and a day acting. That act lasts decades.

Value your time at an hourly rate, and ruthlessly spend to save time at that rate. You will never be worth more than you think you’re worth.

Literally, being anti-wealth will prevent you from becoming wealthy, because you will not have the right mindset for it, you won’t have the right spirit, and you won’t be dealing with people on the right level.

The problem is, to win at a status game, you have to put somebody else down. That’s why you should avoid status games in your life—they make you into an angry, combative person. You’re always fighting to put other people down, to put yourself and the people you like up.

Retirement is when you stop sacrificing today for an imaginary tomorrow. When today is complete, in and of itself, you’re retired.

Money is not the root of all evil; there’s nothing evil about it. But the lust for money is bad. The lust for money is not bad in a social sense. It’s not bad in the sense of “you’re a bad person for lusting for money.” It’s bad for you. Lusting for money is bad for us because it is a bottomless pit. It will always occupy your mind. If you love money, and you make it, there’s never enough.

To the extent money buys freedom, it’s great. But to the extent it makes me less free, which it definitely does at some level as well, I don’t like it.

The most common bad advice I hear is: “You’re too young.” Most of history was built by young people. They just got credit when they were older. The only way to truly learn something is by doing it. Yes, listen to guidance. But don’t wait.

Let’s get you rich first. I’m very practical about it because, you know, Buddha was a prince. He started off really rich, then he got to go off in the woods.

It’s only after you’re bored you have the great ideas. It’s never going to be when you’re stressed, or busy, running around or rushed. Make the time.

The smaller the company, the more everyone feels like a principal. The less you feel like an agent, the better the job you’re going to do. The more closely you can tie someone’s compensation to the exact value they’re creating, the more you turn them into a principal, and the less you turn them into an agent.