I am not nice. And I don't mean "I am not nice for a woman". I mean, when people describe me in real life, "nice" is usually not one of the three to five words that first come to mind. Maybe it does until they get to know me, but probably not afterwards.
I am not evil or anything like that, but I am high-strung, impulsive, (sometimes? often?) lack tact, speak my mind when many (most?) people would keep their mouth shut, and I am very VERY impatient. The lack of patience is perhaps my worst quality -- my husband often compares me to the Mantis in Kung Fu Panda "Secrets of the Furious Five." Everything and everyone moves so darn slow!!!
Why am I writing about this? Because some recent interactions have reminded me that my personality and its deficiencies are influencing my professional interactions in an adverse way. For instance, at work, if I perceive a slight, I react to it most of the time. That makes me appear volatile and scary, because, while some people do want to offend you, many don't, at least not consciously. When you call them immediately on their perhaps subconscious desire to slight you, they get very defensive, and the relationship is soured. Nice people, I find, take many slights in stride, without reacting to them. I am quite unable to take things in stride and let them go; the only way it works is if I am so unbelievably swamped with other work that I have to move on. Any idleness spells trouble. I am in danger of firing off steaming emails, which weeks later I wish I hadn't sent, then I have to apologize and I look stupid and childish. . It takes me lots of self-control to not react to slights. I am better at controlling myself than I used to be, but I am nowhere nearly as good as the truly nice, tactful people around me are. I greatly prefer interactions via email over phone or in-person, because that at least gives me some time to compose and tone down my responses; I have a lot of trouble with people who want to do everything in person because they like to read body language; trust me, it's better for all of us if you don't read my body language, because you may think that I will have a stroke at your stupid remark or I may look like I am about to kill you if you tick me off.
I have several shining examples of people whom I and most others would consider nice. One is my husband. He's very calm, very tactful, never over-reacts; he actually drives me crazy by not reacting to so many of the things that would make me completely insane (see the
Mantis reference). For instance, my husband has a coworker who has had a problem with hub since day 1 and has been harassing hub subtly and not so subtly for years. My husband never reported or confronted said coworker. I would not have been able to endure it, but I guess hub is either not as bothered by it as I would be or is better at shutting it out. In the long run, I think my husband is better liked and has better professional relationships with most people than I do.
Another example is one of my postdocs. He's a smart, personable guy, who likes to talk and gets along well with everyone. He has a positive outlook on life and a calm, happy disposition.
Come to think of it, the nice people I know seem to come in two varieties. They are either positive in their attitude towards life and see the best in people, so they are always in a good mood and approachable, and people like that. Alternatively, they are the people who have learned to bottle up whatever they really feel and project a well-rehearsed calm, cerebral persona to the outside world. While my short-term interactions with the latter kind of people are quite pleasant, in the long run I feel they are being fake and our superficial interactions bore and annoy me, while they probably think I am loud and boorish and intrusive. In only one case of a very long-term collaboration has the collaborator (also a very nice guy) thawed enough around me after 5+ years of working together that he now talks honestly with me (most of the time; other times he's his usual clammed up self).
I, alas, don't have an effortlessly positive outlook on life and I always envision the worst-case scenario, so I always have to consciously remind myself that all is peachy and that I am happy and that life is good. I also make jokes and speak my mind more than a respectable academic should. But, if I am to undergo a niceness makeover I can only become the second kind of nice, because at least that's a learned behavior. So that's what I am working on -- becoming much more controlled, projecting a calm, cerebral persona (think Obama ;). It's a giant undertaking.
While my personality is definitely not a desirable one to have in the academic setting, obviously there must be some benefits to it, otherwise the likes of me would be extinct. Hub says it's because I am great in a crisis and that's true -- if there is a $hitstrom, the bigger the better, I'm your person. If I were to ever become a doc, I suppose I would specialize in trauma. But I am not a doctor, just a very annoying scientist who makes incisive comments at inopportune times and generally talks too much. However, I am smart, good at what I do, efficient, and I kick ass when facing a tremendous workload and multiple deadlines, so that helps.
Dear readers, how's your personality? What do you think helps or hurts your professional interactions most?
What are the features that you are grateful for and think help you immensely?
What are the features you don't have but you wish you did as they would help you become more successful?
How have you made your "flaws" less of an issue or learned to live with them and love them?