“They thought you were mean”.
I got some feedback from a client yesterday, and it was that they thought I was mean. I brought the project in on time, on budget. I did four months worth of work in 6 weeks. Now, to give a sense of balance, the client raved about that. The client had nothing but good things to say about the project and really about me. The mean comment was an aside. No one who mattered was worried about it.
Except for me.
The mean wasn’t actually a problem. Someone else attached to the project reportedly said “Do you want to get the work done or do you want someone to be nice? She’ll get the work done”.
There’s another word.
In my last job, assertive became “aggressive”. Focused on results became “doesn’t play nicely with others”. Showing leadership in a meeting became “taking too much control”, which finally became “being bossy”. I would ask what to do differently and no one would really have an answer. So, I stopped speaking up, stopped trying to push meeting participants to a conclusion so we could get on with the project. Which was never me. I became someone I wasn’t, unable to produce results or even get anywhere on a project. They liked me better and I hated myself more.
Mean still strikes me in a very primal way. I have thought about it, and while I can truly say that I wouldn’t do anything differently, I still don’t like being thought of as mean. It’s not because I’m a woman, it’s not because I want people to like me, it’s because I value kindness.
I don’t want to be mean because I think the world needs more kindness. I want to be kind because I value kindness in others. I want the world to reflect more kindness and that starts with me.
It strikes me as a sort of kindness to make people produce work on time and on budget. It strikes me as a sort of kindness to produce a deliverable on time and on budget. It’s a tough kindness to be sure: it puts people on the spot, it makes people engage with the process.
And I suppose that’s where the word mean came in.
Which makes me think of the word nice. I hate the word nice. I hate its banality, it’s erstwhile-ness. I hate the way it says so much without saying it specifically. I hate being told that I’m nice in equal measure to being told I’m mean. Nice always has more than a whiff of vanilla pleasantness. A sort of forgettable and obsequious filler. Low calorie, low fat.
I don’t want to be mean and I don’t want to be nice.
Call me smart. Call me dedicated, passionate. Call me funny. Call me outrageous, call me curmudgeonly. Call me obstreperous. Call me a bitch.
Call me mean, if you must, for doing my job.
But please, don’t call me nice.