Praise & Obnoxious Aggression

Praise can be Obnoxiously Aggressive when it is given without any care for the recipient. Belittling compliments are one of the best examples of this.

Below is a perfect example: an email that a boss at a legendary Silicon Valley company sent out to his team of about 600 people, 76 of whom had just gotten bonuses. It sort of screams, “I’ll praise you if it gets more work out of you but I really couldn’t care less how you feel.” The names & email addresses have been changed, but the text, grammar errors and all, is word for word what was actually sent out.

From: John Doe
Date: Tue, Oct 27 at 9:53 AM
Subject: Spot Bonus Winners!

Dear Giant Team,

In Q3 there was a number of you that really excelled and went above and beyond the rest of us to deliver significant impact to Corpx. These team members and their accomplishments have been recognized with the Q3 spot bonus attributed by the Management Team. I want to take this opportunity to share who these extraordinary people are and provide you an overview of their accomplishments in the list below.

John Doe
Vice President, Giant Team

  • 33rd Name: Level 5 seller, he drove the highest QTD revenue of any seller: $7.5M in Q3. His comp at $70k base and OTE of $116k is 50% below market; retention risk.
  • 39th Name: she has done all of the dirty work in getting XYZ off the ground with endless spreadsheets, updates, legal calls, security calls, financial modeling, fallback matrices and has done a great job (well above her level 3 status)
  • 72nd Name: Exceptional effort in the past 4+ months. Additional responsibility covering John Doe.

Imagine how Person 33 felt when he saw his salary had been sent out to 600 people, along with the fact he was being paid half of what he should have been and was probably looking for other jobs! Just think how motivating it must have been for Person 39 to learn that she did all the “dirty work.” It probably wasn’t any consolation to learn she did such a great job that she was considered to be “well above her level 3 status.” At least there was some comedy in the fact that Person 72 had to be given a bonus for “covering John.” In other words, John Doe was such a jerk the company had to pay people a bonus if they worked closely with him.

This was Obnoxiously Aggressive. John Doe was plenty specific about what had gone well, but he had clearly gathered this information by asking all the managers who worked for him to send him a justification for the bonus. He cared so little about the people he was praising that he didn’t even bother to edit (or ask an assistant or an HR partner to edit) the justifications. He just copy-pasted them and fired off this email.

More about this story and others is included in “Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity,” published by St. Martin’s Press. Learn more