Off Message: Survival of the loudest

I have just finished reading an interview with fun-loving US right-wing commentator, Ann Coulter. For the uninitiated, Coulter is a mine of ill-intentioned opinions. These crackers include her famous missive on terrorists: “We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.”

Enduring novelty value

Let’s be clear from the off, this is not an attack on the right wing – I’m as good a card-carrying public school boy as ever you’ll find – but she serves as a good example of the problem at hand. You see, dearest Ann continues to sell books by the million, and despite the fact that she came to prominence at the turn of the millennium and you’d think her novelty might have worn off, her views are as eagerly devoured now as they were then. It is symptomatic of the fact that in this life it is still those with the biggest egos and the largest larynxes who call the shots and go the distance.

We might calls ourselves a meritocracy, but it is still survival of the loudest. They say nice guys finish last, but that’s just nonsense. It’s the cowardly guys who finish last the fact they also happen to be nice is just incidental.

We talk grandly about the ‘war for talent’ and all sorts of performance management schemes, but in the trenches life goes on as it always has. How many of us have a boss who seems to be incumbent because he or she is the loudest, most opinionated person in the room? I’ll bet Coulter’s bottom dollar – and there’s an awful lot of moolah to get through before you reach that point – that there’s not a single one of you who doesn’t know what I’m talking about.

Drowning out the opposition

“An empty vessel echoes the loudest,” as someone wiser than I once said. You might consider your own vessel to be positively overflowing, but remember an empty vessel is also more likely to stay afloat. In fact, the first thing you do if you think you’re in some kind of maritime woe – or airborne trouble, for that matter – is dump your cargo and make a dash for the nearest safe haven, secure in the knowledge you’re unlikely to go down.

Which begs the question, if this has been going on since Uggg grunted the loudest and the other cavefolk followed him off to do a spot of mammoth hunting, perhaps this is the way it’s meant to be, and things will never change. To follow this anthropological line for a second, it does make sense that the loudest folk tend to do well. It seems that the courage (or arrogance if you like, but it’s all semantics, really) to stand out from the crowd is just what the average worker is after. It gives them someone to follow someone who makes them feel safe even someone to look up to.

You might think this is absurd, but when you consider that in the span of human evolution the amount of time we’ve spent in offices is very short indeed, you realise we’re not going to overcome our primaeval urges just because we’ve spent a few decades carrying a briefcase. In a way, it’s a form of natural selection.

Tough choices

There’s a case to say this is just right. I would argue that those who complain from behind the pot plants that so-and-so is a loud-mouthed incompetent who doesn’t justify being their boss are just as bad. Looking at it objectively, who would you like to be in charge of seeing you through the tough times: the confident person, or the lesser-spotted pot dwellers?

Having such a brash boss actually gives you every opportunity to improve your own prospects. Stand up to them, but make sure you do it in a reasoned, well-argued manner. It’s not like they can fire you for this as, fortunately, we live in a country with enough employment law to fill the biggest empty vessel you can think of.

Instead, you suddenly become the ideal candidate in a succession plan – someone strong, but also inclusive and rational someone who will give everyone a chance to have their say and make the most of the talent available – in short, the ideal manager.

Just for fun, I leave you with Coulter’s solution to one of the great workplace debates of our time – sexual equality: “Guns are our friends. God made man and woman Colonel Colt made them equal.”

I think I’ll let the new Equality and Human Rights Commission thrash out the exact details of how that might work in practice.

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