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Nastiness has its place

The power is greatest when people hardly ever see it in you

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in Hiring,Human Resources

I am not a nasty person. But have I been nasty at specific times? Yes.

And will I choose to be hostile sometime in the future? Of course.

Knowing when and how to take the gloves off is every bit as important a skill as negotiating deals or hiring great people. I remember several times when my offensive behavior helped me move mountains.

The first time I got nasty was early in my career. We were three months into a software installation for a top client when the contract developer told me he would not make his due date.

After listening thoroughly—and without saying a word—I blew up.

I let him know, in a way that showed I was controlling a tremendous amount of rage, that I would punish his group in every way possible if they didn’t live up to their contract. They installed on time. I later learned it was rare for them to make good on a target date.

Nastiness can help groom a greenhorn. One of my bright young reports had really messed up a deal. She let herself be talked into spending far too much. I did not attack her personally, but I did rip apart the agreement she had made. She went back to the table, cut a better deal and moved up the learning curve.

When to get nasty

I have acted nastily one-tenth of 1 percent of the time, at most.

The power of nastiness is greatest when people hardly ever see it in you—because a hostile scene has to come from left field to be truly effective. If you get nasty too frequently, people come to see you as unstable or evil.

How to get nasty

Here are some other rules I’ve developed over the years:

• Always state exactly what you want done. Have a clear goal. Why else use one of your aces?

• Control your emotions. Nastiness doesn’t mean flying off the handle. It means showing unemotional and calculated anger. If you lose control, you will damage your reputation. When I got angry with the software developer, I never swore, yelled or struck anything.

• Understand the difference between being nasty and being sadistic. For example, never get nasty with someone you’re going to fire. What’s the point? If he can’t cut it and can’t learn, just fire him quickly and calmly.

• Attack the problem, not the person. If a member of my team cuts a bad deal, I’d never say, “You’re stupid.” But I would say, “This deal is stupid.”

Get nasty in a business situation and you’re playing with the boundaries of power and attraction. The person thought you liked him and you are making that intentionally unclear. It’s a powerful motivator.

Each month, “Z” offers insights into what it really takes to get ahead. This 25-year veteran of the corporate battlefield has climbed the ranks to head a $100 million information services company. We have agreed to protect Z’s identity in return for his promise to hold nothing back.

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