Dear Dr. Brilliant Cliché;
I work with a guy named Tony who is manipulative in an annoying subtle way that goes up my butt sideways. For instance, if he is offered some coffee and doesn’t want it, he won’t tell you that. Instead, he’ll say “oh. not right now; maybe later.” But he has never ONCE had it later; he hates coffee.
He will do this too if you ask him whether he’s attending the company picnic- “oh, I’d really like to, can I get back to you later?” Only he never does; he hates company picnics. If he’s at a cocktail party and a waiter offers him a canapé from a tray, Tony will take one and then hide it, uneaten, behind one of the potted plants.
I don’t know why this annoys me so much, but it does. I confronted him on it once and his response was puzzled hurt: “you have to understand, I was raised a conservative New Englander…we don’t like to offend anyone.”
To me, it just seems like endless manipulations and an inability to admit how he really feels. It annoys me more than my other workers because Tony has a bit of a crush on me but naturally would never admit it- instead, he maneuvers to be near me and makes up stupid reasons to stop by and ask questions he doesn’t really want the answer to.
My friend Maura says I should be flattered he likes me and his shy school boy methods are cute. I just want to slap him. I can’t stand people who just won’t come out with it.
What do I do with Tony? I’d like to confront him, but he’s never admitted what he’s up to, so what the heck would I be talking about? My assumptions?
Dear Fed Up,
What you observed is dead on true. It is cultural: “manipulations and an inability to admit how he really feels.” However, this is not exactly the intent of your tormentor. It is a form of cultural niceness, as he said- not to offend anyone.
This behavior drives my wife nuts. She runs a nonprofit which is dependent on volunteers. People always say they would love to help out but they rarely follow through. It’s simply a matter of their being nice in the moment. They have no intent to actually do anything. This is the same as when people say, “I’ll call you.” But they never do; they had no real intention to. They were trying to be agreeable and not to offend in the moment.
This phenomenon is cultural but it is in bad form. It is always better to set boundaries up front rather than agree to something you don’t actually agree to and then have to back out later. The upset, confusion, disappointment, and miscommunications caused by trying to be “NICE” are never worth it.
There are cultures that encourage a more direct approach; they are considered rude and offensive by those which try not to offend. Sometimes it can seem like a breath of fresh air to hear direct words.. But be warned: it is difficult to change from one approach to the other, because it is deeply engrained in the psyche. A breath of fresh air can get cold as miscommunications mount. This mis- understanding of each other’s intent has killed many relationships.
Speak and listen with clarity,
Dr. Brilliant Cliché
Granny says: although I admit I prefer it to an armed invasion, trying not to offend is an approach that can set my teeth on edge too. However, the way I see it, this guy not only doesn’t want to offend anyone- he also doesn’t want anyone to know who he really is. He won’t let them know what he likes and dislikes, he won’t reveal his true reactions. That’s not being NICE. That’s being sort of a sociopath.