A resentful worker

There’s a guy I’ve worked with for the last 4 years or so. And while we were never close, it always felt like we had a good working relationship.

We’d meet up for coffee every few months, have lunch together at conferences and even travelled together a couple of times on work trips.

And this week I just found out that he absolutely hated me.

Don’t get me wrong, this news won’t send me into despair, but it surprised me a little.

And it does remind me that not everyone is going to like us.

And here’s why.

We seem to love to hate people who stand out

We have a real problem with “tall poppy syndrome.”

We seem to love seeing people who stand out being cut down to size and “knowing their place.”

Perhaps it’s our convict past or just human nature that does this.

I’ve been told that it’s jealousy. But I think it runs deeper than this.

I succeeded in an area that this man didn’t. I became well-known in that area because I did a high volume of very good work. And I have hundreds of pieces of feedback from those people stating that I did either Very Good or Excellent work with them – and that they would happily refer others to myself and the program I was working on.

But he wouldn’t know that.

He’s from a generation of business leaders who believe in a “zero-sum game.” If you’re not familiar with the term, it’s basically expressed that in business or investment, if one person gains, the other person loses. Or more simply, “If you win, I lose.”

In his world, everyone who isn’t under his control is a competitor. And all competitors are the enemy because if they are doing well, it must mean that he isn’t.

My experience has been that you can’t change or reason with someone who plays the zero-sum game.

It’s a game that high-level politicians play. It’s rife among CEOs and Boards of Directors. And it has one fatal flaw.

Even if you usually win, eventually, you lose.

And it’s this fear of losing that keeps Zero Sum Managers and Business Owners from being able to collaborate with others.

The guy who hated me can’t collaborate. A number of us have tried. We continually refer people to his organisation. We invite him to events. We try to include him in to the broader ecosystem, and he just wouldn’t budge.

The result was that his organisation is an outlier that performs far under its potential. Former employees speak poorly of him and the organisation. And those of us who see value in what that organisation is able to do have stopped trying to collaborate or refer because we’re all starting to find out what he says about us behind our backs.

“But they’re jealous” isn’t necessarily true

As a kid, I recall trying to negotiate my way through the brutal process of making friends when you’re a little bit different.

I was a confident, talented and expressive kid.

I did a lot of extra-curricular stuff. I played the piano. I swam competitively. I did well at school. And I was bullied mercilessly for 11 of the 13 years I was in formal schooling.

I can’t even recall how many times I’d come home in tears, or be bruised from being beaten up or have a dirty uniform for having food or mud thrown at me.

Those who recall their youth as being the “best days of their lives” didn’t live the life I did. I rode of a wave of suicidal thoughts for nearly ten years that still has its scars in me today.

My poor parents would give me platitudes like, “Just ignore them; they’re just jealous.”

But these kids and the guy I’ve been referring to in this email aren’t just jealous. They are playing a very different game in life than I am.

All my life, I was brought up to share with others, use my words to work out problems and include other people, especially those who are alone or often left out. It was a rosy view of the world that believed “a stranger is a friend who you just haven’t met yet.”

Clearly, not everyone is raised like this.

When you’re building a business, a personal brand, a reputation or doing things that set you apart from others and bring you attention, you won’t always get the kind of attention you want.

This is especially true in the world of social media.

The kind of people who weren’t taught to share, collaborate or include others will look at you with distaste. They’ll think you’re a fool. And even worse, they’ll often see you as the enemy. 

They’re not jealous of your success. They hate it. Because the way you achieve that success runs against everything they have been taught about life and business.

Unlike you, they’ve been taught that:

  1. Everyone is their competitor
  2. If someone else is winning, you’re losing
  3. Life is a war and every day is a battle for dominance
  4. You should never share anything because you will be taken advantage of

Their world is one of scarcity, enemies everywhere and existential threats in the form of others who come with motives they don’t understand.

How can we keep doing our thing when they won’t work with us?

When it comes down to it, you can probably do what you want without those people being part of it.

You can invite, collaborate, include and have coffees with them until you’re both so caffeinated that you feel like you’re about to have a heart attack.

But they’re never going to meet you halfway, and they’re never going to live up to their end of the bargain even if they reluctantly agree to work with you on something of mutual benefit.

I should have known that something was off with this guy.

At one meeting where we were working out how to correctly refer people to each other, he was only interested in telling me how I would refer people to him. When it came to my turn to run through how referrals to me worked, he got up, ended the meeting and left the cafe.

At the time, I didn’t think much of it, but in hindsight, this was his way of ensuring that he “won” this “battle.” In his mind, he was the Alpha in this situation.

Moving on from situations like these involves either:

  1. Working without them
  2. Working around them
  3. Working with them, regardless

I chose the third option because I see value in what his organisation does for people that I advise. Even if he has openly told his own colleagues that I am a “bad advisor.”

In the online world that I work in, you also need to have a “thick skin.”

You’ll put a lot of stuff out there with your name attached to it. You’ll work hard to put that stuff out there. You’ll be proud of it.

But not everyone will like it.

Some will respond in a passive-aggressive attack on your credibility. Others will actively campaign against you to others. Never to your face, of course. They’ll sow seeds of doubt and disinformation to those in your wider circle. 

To succeed, despite these people, I’ve learned that you need to take a little inspiration from their thinking.

They will continue doing what they do because they honestly believe they are right. They believe that they are doing good, honest work. They are doing exactly what they were taught by their upbringing and experiences.

So you need to do the same thing.

Continue to post what you know is right to post. Write what you know is correct and factual. Working the way you know is the right way to work. And build your thing, whatever that is, in the way you know will work within your own moral or ethical context.

It’s not a zero-sum game and there is no single path to winning.

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