Sunday, 7 September 2014

'Most of us hate the boss'

Surveys that tell you what you already know – there are a lot of them around.
Newspapers, magazines, radio and TV all seem to like them. They're good for filling in those awkward little corners. And if nothing else they always get a knowing little shake of the head.
Like this recent (small) headline-maker: “Most of us hate our bosses.”
OK, maybe that was a nod, not a shake. Though “most” may be only just over half, and “hate” may be stretching it a bit.
But hang on. Look at it for a moment from your boss's point of view. Think how much he must hate his boss too. And so on and so on.
Maybe the findings of that other survey aren't so surprising. The one that claimed most really, really top bosses – the ones who actually own or run the big companies and scoop up the big bucks – are clinically psychopathic.
I assumed when I first read that one that a psychopathic personality was a requirement in getting to the top. (I was going to say “in a capitalist society”, but then I remembered Joe Stalin and Chairman Mao.)
But there's another way of looking at it. Maybe the sensation of all those accumulated layers of hatred rising up from below would bring out the psycho traits in anyone.
Now there are various reasons why you might not like the boss.
A lot of people probably just don't like being told what to do.
But it turns out the main reason is lack of respect and appreciation.
People like to feel the boss trusts them and values what they do. And most, it seems, don’t feel that – not often enough, anyway.
Now I'm not a manager (thank goodness), but I have been. In a fairly junior, middle-management sort of way.
When I got the job – a horribly long time ago – the best piece of advice I got came from my father.
He told me that if you're ever going to criticise someone, you have to be prepared to praise them too.
In fact, every telling-off should be balanced by at least eight compliments.
And – in some cases this can be the tricky part – the praise has to be deserved. It's not hard to say “well done”, but it must be said honestly.
Praise where it's due. And plenty of it.
It's a lesson many bosses could do with learning. It might save them from being so hated.
I was reminded of it the other day by another of those little reports on psychological research.
It said the human brain was hard-wired to remember bad things better than good ones. That eight-to-one ratio came up again.
The researchers drew two conclusions.
The first was that children remember the horrid feeling of being told off much more strongly than the nice feeling of a pat on the back. Parents beware.
And the second was about news values.
Bad news sells.
Back in Cold War days there was a journalists' joke about an East German front page headline: “Half the harvest safely gathered in”.
But why was it funny?
It was certainly a contrast with the diet of endless doom and gloom that we got – and still get – from the media in the West.
Yet we are constantly being told that we are the lucky ones. As, in so many ways, we are.
Of course, those who lived under Communism were also told – and in most cases no doubt believed – that it was they who were lucky.
So which would you rather read about? A successful harvest, or wars in parts of the world you'd probably never heard of before things got bad there?


Rotherham was grim. Ebola is very nasty. The situation in Iraq and Syria is almost too ghastly to contemplate. Ukraine’s worrying. The accidental killing of a gun instructor by a nine-year-old girl armed with a sub-machinegun was just one more example of the madness of America.
But last week’s most touching news item concerned the death of a hippo.
Investigators in Germany are said to be conducting a “murder inquiry” after the incident at Frankfurt Zoo.
Which is news nonsense really. Evidence only of our ridiculous obsession with “murder mystery” stories.
There's not really much mystery about the death of Maikel, a 39-year-old, 315-stone gentle giant.
Someone threw a tennis ball into his enclosure. He ate it. It got stuck in his gut and killed him.
Sadness, yes. Mystery, no. Not once they'd carried out a post-mortem to see why a healthy animal suddenly got ill and died.
I doubt very much whether deliberate murder, or even cruelty, was involved. Just ignorance and stupidity.
The touching thing was the behaviour of Maikel's “lifelong partner” Petra.
As he was dying she kept swimming round him, nudging him to get up. As puzzled as the zookeepers. And grieving.
Some people – including many who really should know better – still cling to the old idea that humans are the only animals that feel emotion.

Which is as ignorant and stupid as whoever chucked that tennis ball.

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