I can’t even tell you how badly I want to be making this up.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) published an article called, “The Benefits of Saying Nice Things About Your Colleagues“. As I read, I didn’t know my jaw was hanging slack. But my panic at noticing the front of my pants was soaked was mitigated somewhat when I realized I was drooling in my lap.

Between the middle of the first paragraph and beginning of the second, I’d already found this:

How we “narrate others” can make a big difference in how they feel about themselves and their work. Research shows that the stories we hear from others that highlight our unique contributions can help us find purpose in our relationships with our colleagues and our work. When someone mentions your work in an email and calls you “supertalented,” or talks about your unique strength of connecting with customers, you’re more likely to feel that your work has meaning.

I initially imagined it was written by some elementary-school kids, perhaps as a summer project. I thought maybe HBR had picked it up as a goodwill gesture that served the secondary purpose of filling pages during Harvard’s summer break.

The magnanimity of such a gesture made me feel a bit guilty, given the number of times I’ve taken HBR to task in these pages. That guilt vanished, however, morphing into a kind of queasy horror at the bleak prospects for civilization when I got to the end and discovered it was written by two professors at the University of Michigan, both of whom, presumably, are adults. Good grief.

Let’s examine four excerpts from this drivel, shall we?

  • How they feel about themselves. I know we’re supposed to be our brothers’ (and sisters’) keepers. But when did their feelings become so important, to us or to them? When did we start caring more about their feelings than the quality of the jobs they do? (“Sherlock Holmes couldn’t find a shred of substance in that report you did, Ignatz. But you have really nice eyes.”)
  • Research shows. Doesn’t it always? Today’s Pop Quiz: Whose research do we think is linked to this infantile schlock? (The winner gets to ride around Ann Arbor in a Prius with the two professors while they talk about their feelings.)
  • The stories we hear from others … help us find purpose. What? You mean I wasn’t supposed to find my own purpose? Dang! Did I pick the right one? How can I tell? Is there an age beyond which I shouldn’t have an existential crisis if no one is telling stories about me?
  • When someone calls you “supertalented” … your work has meaning. No. Your work has meaning when your work has meaning. If someone calls you supertalented because you did a nice job picking your nose and that makes you become a professional nose-picker when you’d have preferred to be a neurosurgeon, you’re an idiot. No compliments, regardless of their number or their nature, will change that.

We’ve lost our way, kids. Either that or Peter Pan was right, and we never have to grow up.

If the folks at Harvard Business Review have their way, we’ll remain children forever.

Image courtesy of freecliparts.net.