HR Insights, HR Management

Shocker – Sometimes, Aggressive Employees Aren’t Very Nice

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A few days ago, my eye was caught by an article titled, Why They Rejected the Best HR Candidate They’d Ever Interviewed — The Shocking Truth Revealed!

Well, naturally I wanted to know the shocking truth about why someone wouldn’t hire a phenomenal HR pro.

It turns out (spoiler alert) that this stellar candidate (‘Taylor”) blew his last interview when he showed a disdainful attitude toward “Wade,” a slow-moving, slow talking, unfashionably dressed, gray-hair vestige of the organizational old guard bearing an indeterminate job title.

Being nice

Taylor thought Wade wasn’t worth his time and full attention, but Taylor was wrong. It turns out Wade used to be quite the company playa.

The lesson? Be nice to everyone when you interview. Just because someone is ancient and decrepit now doesn’t mean he wasn’t a hotshot once. Plus, he could still be a nice old man, regardless.

Um …

What the?

Now, most of the commenters wrote about what a great reminder the article was to “not judge a book by its cover,” yada, yada, yada, but I didn’t see things that way.

Super-aggressive with questions

Instead, I tripped over these lines from the article:

  • Wade is balding, has gray hair, is overweight and talks and moves rather slowly. Everyone else Taylor has seen so far [is] roughly in their late 30s to early 40s and are aggressive, quick-talking type “A” personalities.”
  • You were super-aggressive with everyone else with your questions.” (“Mary” the HR lady giving Taylor a compliment, even as she sets the stage for why he’s going home jobless today.)
  • “Wade at one time was our best HR executive. Bright. Sharp. Aggressive. (Mary again, explaining why Taylor was wrong to diss Wade.)

Frankly, I was appalled.

Be nice to him … he used to be somebody

What if, rather than Wade being a former “star” HR executive, he was the damn janitor? Would Taylor have been right to dismiss Wade’s value then? Because it seems like Mary believes Wade’s entitlement to a little respectful treatment is based on his former contributions to the company, not his current status as a human being.

Just saying.

Also (and here’s where I got really annoyed), did you notice how often the word “aggressive” is used? I sure did.

My comment?

Am I the only one disturbed by the repeated use of the word ‘aggressive?’ Seriously, doesn’t the workplace have enough ‘aggression?’ And no, I didn’t miss the point of the story, but maybe Quaker Oats missed the point when they deliberately sought ‘aggressive’ people and then discovered — gasp! — they aren’t always nice.”

Are aggressive employees more desirable?

Because I just don’t get it. I don’t get why “aggressive” employees are more desirable than those who believe life is worth living even if they aren’t dominating somebody and/or “winning.”

Oh, I understand the ideal of the proactive, persistent, not-to-be-defeated-by-a-“no” kind of employee who gets “results,” but if those qualities aren’t tempered by emotional maturity, humility, conscientiousness, and concern for fellow human beings, then organizations (and their unsuspecting staff, customers, and clients) will surely bear the brunt of a self-loving employee hell-bent on getting what she wants and too bad about everyone else.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think the workplace needs more of that.

Aggression by any other name

In their Harvard Business Review article The Price of Incivility, authors Christine Porath and Christine Pearson cite a study conducted by Accountemps that found when employees encountered bad behavior on the job:

  • 48 percent intentionally decreased their work effort.
  • 47 percent intentionally decreased the time spent at work.
  • 38 percent intentionally decreased the quality of their work.
  • 80 percent lost work time worrying about the incident.
  • 63 percent lost work time avoiding the offender.
  • 66 percent said their performance declined.
  • 78 percent said their commitment to the organization declined.
  • 12 percent said they left their job because of the uncivil treatment.
  • 25 percent admitted to taking their frustration out on customers.

But that’s not all. The survey also claimed that “managers and executives at Fortune 1,000 firms spend 13 percent of their work time — the equivalent of seven weeks a year — mending employee relationships and otherwise dealing with the aftermath of incivility.”

Aggression on the job

And make no mistake: Much of what we’re now calling workplace “incivility” is good old-fashioned aggression, be it covert, overt, passive, or active.

So, all this focus on how great it is to be “aggressive,” as though less forceful employees can’t be highly effective, is just dumb in my humble (but passionate — not aggressive) opinion.

What’s your take?

Crystal Spraggins, SPHR, is an HR consultant and freelance writer who lives in Philadelphia. She also writes at her blog, HR BlogVOCATE. For the past 15 years, Crystal has focused on building HR departments in small- to mid-sized companies under the philosophy that "HR is not for wimps." She is also the CEO and Founder of Work It Out! and partners with HRCVision, a full-service HR consultant practice specializing in leadership and diversity training. Contact her at crs036@aim.com.
  • Shirley Shurling

    crystal – I don’t disagree on some of your points, though frankly “civility” shouldn’t be contributed to what is being defined as passive or aggressiveness. Speaking ill of your employees, coworkers etc is usually a tone that is set by the leadership and how humans are valued within the organization. Non-agressive people are just as uncivil as agressive and can also be “not nice”

    • Crystal Spraggins

      Hey Shirley:

      Thanks for your comment.

      Can non-aggressive personalties act aggressively? Sure – whether for protection, under stress, or as an adaptive response to a “dog-eat-dog” environment, “nice” people can get downright mean. But, this is different from the aggressive personality who tends to fight inappropriately (i.e., for the wrong reasons and using dirty methods) pretty much all the time.

      And these folks don’t have to fit the stereotypical “in your face” persona. In fact, they can appear to be quite docile while they’re fighting you tooth and nail over the most ridiculous shit. Anyone who’s ever worked with a narcissistic boss knows exactly what I mean.