Roman Marble Statue of a Cute Pig

Why Tough Love Bosses Win?

There is this Cantonese saying which says, “反轉豬肚就是💩“, (the underbelly of a pig is poop …) I find this to be a very common reaction from people towards managers giving candid feedback, with one interesting exception.

Have you ever had a “tough love” kind of boss? Do you remember how they made you feel? One thing I noticed about them was almost the reverse of the above Cantonese saying. “They are actually kind at heart.”

What I think these tough love bosses do well is revealing their kindness instead of sabotaging their kindness. In other words, they are tough first, love second, instead of love first, nasty second. When I first came across this observation, I wrote it off. Then I read in the book “Thinking Fast and Slow,” and things started to make sense …

Daniel Kahneman, the author of the book, “delved into the remembering vs. experiencing self. He described an experiment where people were asked to experience pain by placing their hand in a bath of ice cold water for a duration of time. There were two scenarios – holding the hand in for 60 seconds, and holding the hand in for 60 seconds, and then an additional 30 seconds where the bath was warmed slightly. People consistently said the second scenario was preferable and they chose to repeat that rather than the first scenario, even though they were experiencing more pain and discomfort in the second scenario.” But Kahneman said it was the end pain that mattered the most. In other words, how we remember an event trumps our actual experiences of it, and we seem to form our memory of an event from how the event ends.

Applying this to our tough love bosses, they are very good at making us remember their love and kindness by ending our interactions with them with care and support. Almost counterintuitively, it might make sense for us to start with the tough feedback, and invest our effort and time to close out all interactions with love and care.

(This was also posted on my LinkedIn page)






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