The guy comes by yesterday to check out our kitchen and what he can do with it.

Right away he says: “you weren’t here the last time.” He’s right; my girlfriend was here. Now I am.

But the guy has a point. He’s confused now because he doesn’t know who the decision maker is. He thought he knew who he was supposed to sell to, but now he doesn’t. He doesn’t know who to take orders from. It feels like two different deals.

I have a couple of other situations like this in my life now. I haven’t learned to give clear instructions, with deadlines and everything else. I am wishy-washy and I say: “Be creative.” They hate this, but I do it anyway because I don’t know what else I’m supposed to do.

This drove one guy completely crazy and he said so. “Your command of the English language is superb,” he says sarcastically. What he means is “give me some clear fucking instructions.”

So it was while I was reading the Steve Jobs book on a plane that I realized I was doing it all wrong. I was too much of an asshole in my personal life, and not enough of one in my professional life. I needed to do the opposite.

I wasn’t telling people what I wanted, not because I didn’t want something specific (I did, actually; I’m very particular), but because I am not willing to express it and say “this is what I want, this is why it’s exciting, and this is what you’ll do the best of your ability.”

Instead it’s like “oh I trust you.”

Except I don’t. Not really.

Right now, at this phase in my life, I have to learn a new set of skills. I have to be straightforward and honest, perhaps even abrupt, with what I want, while becoming calmer, kinder, and more honest with people close to me.

I don’t know how I ended up the other way. It doesn’t make sense.

When I think about it, it’s kind of shocking I’ve even made it this far.





40 responses to “Counter”

  1. Chris Oliver Avatar

    I’m the exact same way and I was just about to write about this topic as well. You hit the nail on the head.

    1. Valerie Avatar

      It’s easy to be tougher on the people close to us- we know we have a lot of room with them to piss them off, screw up and still be forgiven. This is a great reminder that it’s important not to take advantage of that and to channel that directness into our business needs instead. Awesome post, Julien.

  2. Charlie Avatar

    The most insightful post of yours I’ve ever read, like looking in a mirror.

  3. enoch benjamin Avatar

    wow! this almost perfectly explains how i got myself into a few predicaments i am presently trying to dig out of. it always amazes me that people are having similar experiences but in different environments. thanks for sharing you cathartic experience!

  4. tom Avatar


    Simple but poignant post. As I read it, it hit me on the head… I do the same thing. And I wonder why I’m disappointed…. good stuff.


  5. Debbie Weil Avatar

    eegads Julien, I am so with you on this one. I do the same thing. Thanks for articulating. 🙂

  6. Imahni Dawson Avatar

    Wow. This is exactly what I needed to hear. Thank you.

  7. Jessica Fenlon Avatar

    Great post. This skill can save a lot of time. In that regard, it treats all parties involved with respect.

    It takes practice to develop a style that asks well, keeping the other person on board as a peer. Having the right partners – people who will let you know if your asking style is socially toxic – also very useful.


  8. Susan Cooper Avatar

    I so get that. I am ex-executive and would have to say what you said rings for me as well. I also find it rather amazing that I was able to succeed as well as I did. Why do we do that… Sigh!!! I have heard the Steve Jobs book is very good and relevant for the times. I thinks I will getting the ebook as a result of your article. 🙂

  9. Raunaq Avatar

    Exactly what I needed to hear. Have been pondering this for some time now. Thanks!

  10. Mila Araujo Avatar

    That’s a pretty profound post Julien. I think it’s pretty cool you shared this, I wonder how many other people are in the same kind of position. I’m the opposite – which is actually – according to you the “right way”. (lol)

    The way I see it is “business is business” – you want something you ask for it, and you must be as clear as possible – you’re paying for it. Some people perceive this as difficult – if that’s the case, it’s because they aren’t up for the challenge – so frankly if you take the nice approach, in itself you are going to be working with someone who may not even be able to do what you envision. It’s better to put it out there, make it clear and see what they are able to throw back.

    In my personal life I am a lot more “flowy” – and sometimes I realize you know what, I need to bring some of that business force into the personal because people are people no matter what you’re dealing in, and there’s no point in wasting your time or theirs if its too vague. I respect hearing exactly what I need to hear – as I am sure you do. Anything else is a waste of time – personal or professional. So if it helps you, think of it that way. Get to the point, be as demanding as you need to be to draw the results you need, because it’s not demanding, it’s knowing what you want – doesn’t have to be rude – it can be polite, to the point and direct. Let’s stop wasting time 🙂

  11. Justin Avatar

    I pull the “be creative” line, too… way too often.

    I think it comes from valuing our own independence & creative license, and believing that other people value theirs, too…

    … which is fine, but then we apply that idea as “I don’t like when others tell ME how to do MY job, because I’m the one with the skills and creativity to do the job well… now here’s another creative, skilled person who probably doesn’t like that either.”

    We’ve all had that micromanager who made us hate a project, and we don’t want to be that person. So, shit-scared of making someone feel their input is not valued & appreciated, we overcompensate and avoid putting guidelines or constraints on projects, even when they’re justified (and wanted).

  12. Nadia Avatar

    Love this! Exactly where I am right now. Owner of my company actually told me to stop being so nice and fight for what I know is right. I was grateful for the criticism but thought “Wow, how obvious must this problem be if this man who I see maybe twice a week for ten minutes is feeling the need to tell me about it.” Being aware of this issue and giving myself permission to be a hard ass is changing my life everywhere.

  13. Laur Avatar

    This phrasing may sound a little wrong, but it came to mind so I’m just gunna go with it rather than trying to come up with something more insightful and full of deep wisdom…

    *In matters of opinion, input & direction no one likes a bush beater. :oP

  14. Ray Avatar

    Julien, I’m always shocked I made it this far!

    We do tend to be nicer to strangers than to people close to us. Perhaps it’s because we don’t have to impress friends.
    As the song goes: It’s Easy to be Hard.

  15. Diane Avatar

    Yes, This is also what I needed to read/hear. I am a softy and I let me clients and friends run over me and i give them deals. Now I am in a place of lack, and don’t get much respect in the business field and do not like it. Learning to be calm and assertive and direct to get what I need from the situation without looking and sounding like a hard— or bitch.

  16. Jonas Ellison Avatar

    I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. Looks like a lot of us have been. But yeah, why is that? Why are we dicks to the people close to us but super passive and wishy-washy with strangers and to the people we do business with. Not that we should be dicks to them either (unless they deserve it), but sometimes it is necessary to be more direct. I’m with ya man. Great post.

  17. Josh Avatar

    I’m a combination of the two when I hire for the departments I manage at a gym. I have very specific results I’m looking for and specific expectations as to how people are treated and I want things done correctly the first time.

    But I don’t care how people get there.

    We give one of those assessment tests before you get called for an interview. If your assessment test doesn’t say, “This person is way too smart for the job you want them to do,” I won’t even interview you. [It’s good to be in a buyer’s market in that respect.]

    I want X, Y and Z done. I want people to think A, B, and C about us. I don’t want to have to spend my time fixing mistakes. But I trust you to do that stuff your way, or I wouldn’t have hired you.

    I feel that way about projects in the house, too. If I’m not sure what I want, it’s not worth paying someone to do it yet. I might rely on someone to help me flesh some stuff out (if I could do it myself I wouldn’t need to hire someone), but I want X, Y and Z, and you get there how you need to get there. If you’re not good enough to get there on your own, you’re not good enough to take my money.

  18. Tripp Avatar

    I am working at this everyday in my business. I am usually a pretty nice guy, but have gotten stomped on for it. No more mr. nice guy.

  19. Tammy Soong Avatar

    I JUST went through this and came to the same conclusion. I’ve been redoing my blog and working with a designer. I’m too “nice” and want to give people autonomy, but I’m also a controlling perfectionist. Not a good combination.

  20. Denise Avatar

    Yep. Just had an epiphany. Thanks for sharing this about yourself and giving me an insight.

  21. Eric Walkerw Avatar

    I’m responding to:

    “I realized I was doing it all wrong. I was too much of an asshole in my personal life, and not enough of one in my professional life. I needed to do the opposite.”

    Fuck! me too. Thanks for shedding light on this for me. ::duh::

    BTW: brilliant headline.

    So… what are you doing, or what have you done, to “do the opposite?”

    Any specific example?

    Thanks Julien

  22. Deb Avatar

    nice … good insight. So I’ve been making this list of what I want in a relationship because the last one (22 years long) didn’t work because I didn’t say what I wanted. Then this post comes along ………….

  23. Shreeraj Avatar

    I feel, at least with me, I tend to take for granted, the people too familiar and too close to me. This causes me to treat them disrespectfully sometimes. To understand the importance, maybe I should take five minutes everyday and imagine what it would be like to not have them in my life.

  24. Maureen E. Mc Bride Avatar

    Oh boy. This one resonated with me. I have a client who is intent of pushing for scope creek. When we talk we are both SO INVESTED in being “nice” and avoiding conflict that the project ends up dead in the water.

  25. Will Avatar


    I think you can dig a little deeper and see that this relates, almost directly, to your book “The Flinch.” We treat strangers nicer because our Flinch tells us we need to be accepted, or that we’ll lose that big sale at the office. In regards to those we love, sometimes we need an outside party’s input. I struggled for a long time with being a dick to people close to me. I finally had a friend verbally beat me up. I never realized I was being that way.

    Good insight, thank you.

  26. Vickie Bates Avatar

    Hi Julien – I appreciate your frankness here and in your other posts. I’ve been following for a while; this is my first comment, though I fear I’m going against the grain with your other commenters in saying that providing the goals, deadline, budget, and expectations about how work will be done is the most basic skill of managing projects, whether in business or life. It’s great to recognize the need to learn this skill, but it absolutely does not require behaving like a tyrant to get across this information. (I dread references to the Steve Jobs bio as a blueprint for leaders for this reason.) The smartest thing we can do in our professional and personal worlds is realize that other people aren’t mindreaders. When they fail to “be creative” in the manner we expected, when we haven’t communicated clearly what our expectations are, the fault is always ours, not theirs. Thanks for letting me share this point of view.

    1. Julien Avatar

      Hey Vicky, I actually totally agree with this. My argument is just that when people are being “nice,” they are actually just causing themselves problems, and the result is not nice at all. Thus clarity, which doesn’t necessarily mean being an asshole, wins out.

  27. donna Avatar

    Part of this stems from the lying we do to ourselves. We need to be truthful all the way around.

  28. Matthew Palka Avatar
    Matthew Palka

    Great, concise post. I’m reading a few books on communicating effectively and normally problems arise when we are not direct enough with each other. Less communication equals less understanding. Not that we need to talk too much. Showing incentive when being direct shows that you care, and most often just stating “be creative” is too loose and not honest enough. You’re right, saying what I want isn’t bean an asshole. It’s building trust, understanding, and the right balance in my relationships. I’m so glad I found this blog.

  29. Nanc' Hooyman Avatar

    It comes through your writing that you have been a jerk. You seem to have a chip on your shoulder. While your writing are thought provoking, they generate “I am right, you should follow my advice”. You lack wisdom, simply because of your youth and small heart. Compassion and love, openess and observation, generosity and empathy are ways to generate wisdom. You need to experience more and pontificate less. At least your are realizing your “assholeness” now. Some people never do. Blessings on opening your heart.

  30. Joann K Avatar
    Joann K

    It’s great to read all these posts because I always felt I was the only one with this problem. It’s hard to be more demanding when you don’t expect others to completely understand or care as much as you do on what you want. Now I see it may be my lack of effort in expressing myself clearly and to let go of the perception that “I” am so different from others. I’ve nursed the arrogant and self-limiting belief that I can understand what you want but you can’t understand what I want so why bother and this is just what I needed to wake up.

  31. Gloria Lucia Closset Avatar
    Gloria Lucia Closset

    If there is something I believe in, Is LOVE.
    Just Live with love, for and to love and that will be your light.
    No one Knows the truth !!!!…………many hate.

  32. Tracy X Avatar
    Tracy X

    It is a paradox. I think the reason why we treat our loved ones with less respect than they deserve, especially after a long hard day, is because we don’t have to put on a facade with them knowing that we are loved/accepted by them even if we show our ‘dark’ sides. And the fact they already know who we are and how we behave at times. With strangers not so much. We would have to impression manage with them. In a way, it’s us trying to appear a certain way to them even though we know we are not. Much like the ideal vs. real self paradigm.

    There are really two issues here. The other on is how we delegate tasks as leaders and get what we want. I tend to have the same problem. In a way though, it’s a strength because it shows that we care about the other person and is placing ourselves in their shoes to be empathetic when giving orders. Many are right though in saying that clarity and directness is most important.

    Great post. Thanks.

  33. Floyd Avatar

    I believe, and do humbly assert, that the issue also contains a matter of trust. If you do not trust them that you will be understood, then you will not tell them exactly what they need to know. If you do not trust yourself to speak and be understood, then what they hear, they will definitely not comprehend. What do you think?

  34. Ryan G Avatar

    You know I hear people say it a lot, how far they have come in life and all. If you really think about it, we don’t come along very far. May seem like it relative to what we know, or relative to other people, but in effect we don’t come that far in life. We are born naked, hungry, and cold. We die very much the same way.

  35. Jeff Euteneier Avatar
    Jeff Euteneier

    You’re talking alpha dog stuff here. I’m a chef, have been for years. It’s a very alpha position, you have to do more than just cook well, you have to be the LEADER, the best cook, know the most, be the fastest, etc.

    What your cooks expect is for you to define their work lives for them. Most of them don’t do well if you leave things undefined. Being alpha, stepping up and taking command, it’s expected, and it’s an important part of being successful as a leader and as a chef.

    To gain their trust, their respect, you have to be the one making the decisions and giving the orders when the shit is hitting the fan and things are screwed up. Deferring those decisions or delegating the important stuff is not an option if you expect to really run the railroad. This article is right on point with that.

  36. Maša Avatar

    darn, I’m the same. whenever I go to the hair dresser. or anywhere else. although I’m quite aware how much other people love it when I’m the decision maker (and how much I love myself afterwards). 🙂

  37. Priya Avatar

    That is exactly how I am at work vs. home! I give my staff the freedom to explore options, and some cannot handle it. They’ve come back to me and specifically asked for clear instructions. That helps me recognize who I can trust to work independently and who needs strong frameworks and a box to work within.

    At home? I am a little bit dictatorial…learning to loosen up 😉

  38. Wo Avatar

    A nicely different approach to a common frustration. I did think I was being the asshole for bringing my requirements and expectations into projects at work. I am always the bad guy in pushing for real results instead of going along with the crowd for the quick wins. No one but the guys getting credit were ever satisfied with the results, giving everyone a false sense of accomplishment. A kind of a duh moment for me realizing I am working with the wrong folks. I feel if I provide a structure of the results I am expecting, that frees people up to be even more creative but still delivering a result that we can be satisfied with.

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