Needless Disagreeableness

Why is it that human nature has to be disagreeable?  I’m hardly the first to ask this.  I read recently in the Harvard Business Review that cooperative, collaborative men typically earn 20% less than aggressive, combative men. (This was not so for women.)

In San Francisco we rarely see political advertising.  What’s the point?  Neither party needs to advertise because the outcome is a foregone conclusion.  On the other hand, here in Northern Wisconsin where I’m spending the weekend, every ad is a political ad, primarily Republican, all viscously attacking the opponents with no foundation in fact or party position.

Too many marriages devolve into the heartlands of disagreeableness.

I’m thinking however about the disagreeableness that plays out within companies, even within small working teams.  I experience this daily.  One would think that cooperation, patience, common goals, tolerance, realities and shared competency would advance the team effort, making achievement the objective.  Instead, it’s all adversity, territorialism, unreality, aversion to criticism, rudeness and lack of collaboration.  It’s one step ahead, two steps back.  We succeed in spite of ourselves.

Is it unrealistic to expect otherwise?  Given the evidence, it’s a lot to expect, probably futile.  Would outcomes be better?  At minimum, tension would be lowered, relationships improved.

The challenge within advertising agencies is even greater, given the diverse roles and often different, sometimes opposing objectives of all the parties.  Creative people want standout advertising based on personal talents and beliefs; planners want work that supports consumer attitudes and behavior; account people want to keep the process on track and the clients happy.  When these coalesce, the best results for everyone can be expected.  The road’s much bumpier when disagreeableness prevails.

Nothing spikes the drama like a television production.  There are high expectations, multiple parties, a lot of money, tight schedules and subjectivity.  Inevitably someone is disappointed.

The drama begins when a chaotic agency meets a chaotic client.  Every day is painful.  Internally and externally, tensions run high, everyone’s unhappy, frustrated and stressed.  Because there is no collaboration, expectations run higher than warranted. Spitefulness overtakes reality.  Unnecessary arguments replace shared solutions.  Compromise is impossible.  Everyone feels wounded, worn out.

The sorry outcome is that the work suffers.  People leave the team.  Agencies lose clients.

When disagreeableness and chaos exist on the client’s side, the only way an agency can effectively manage the situation is with superb organization, consistent behavior, united positions, logic and superior talent.

Often personalities are so set that there can be no other path than discord.  Personal territory is so precarious that its defense is inevitable. Skills and competency may vary to a degree that makes collaboration a daily headache.  When this is the case, one can fight; one can disengage; or one can leave.

Am I a Pollyanna to think there’s a remedy?  It has to begin with keeping one’s own side of the street clean.  Every time there’s an opportunity for a zinger (thanks Mr. Romney for making zingers a national sport) repeat the mantra: Does it have to be said?  Does it have to be said now?  Does it have to be said by me?  The answer is nearly always No.

I’ll try harder.

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