To be or not to be a goody two shoes?
Don’t be: That’s the first series of responses I receive.
The term itself induces a range of rather strong emotions. People from the workforce have different explanations, why it calls for eye rolling as a reflex. “I think it’s because some people curry favour with their managers, and somehow, this works for them. Others get left behind, and that’s unfair,” says Ruth Gayle, a Canadian expat, and media professional from Abu Dhabi. It’s the grown-up version of teacher’s pet; a person who is always trying to please the higher-ups.
“I think managers have more sense than to fall for people trying to please them. It’s just that being around such virtuous people is just generally annoying, and that’s a personal emotion,” says Sadhika Anand, a Dubai-based public relations professional. “Unless a person’s appraisal or job opportunities are affected, I really don’t think that people should take it so personally,” she adds. “You will always encounter such people everywhere; there are worse things in life to worry about.”
Who, really, is the office goody-two shoes?
There’s a range of answers to this question. Some like Tamanna Gupta, an Abu Dhabi-based media professional believes that it means someone who goes overboard in trying to please their manager. “The person who is desperate to prove that they’ve done their work well, or someone who keeps agreeing to the seniors about everything,” she says. Others like Maria Taffe, a British-Canadian expat, thinks it just means someone who does their work well and earns praise from the boss. “It’s a rather insulting term,” she says.
Generally, terms like ‘teacher’s pet’ and ‘goody two shoes’ suggest negative connotations at the workplace, as it infers employees who are keen to get praise from the manager at the expense of colleagues, explains Fiona Robson, head of Edinburgh Business School and School of Social Sciences, at Heriot-Watt University Dubai.
So, while such people might seem responsible and well-organised, their focus on personal performance and pleasing their superiors may hinder effective communication and teamwork, explains Athiya Kabir, a Dubai-based mental health practitioner at Chearful, a wellness platform. “It can stem from underlying anxieties, insecurities, or a need for validation, rather than malice, jealousy, or insecurity. Their frustration from unfulfilled desires for approval can also manifest in passive-aggressive behaviour. And so, their actions can create a vicious cycle of hostility, jealousy, and misunderstandings,” she says.
It can stem from underlying anxieties, insecurities, or a need for validation, rather than malice, jealousy, or insecurity. Their frustration from unfulfilled desires for approval can also manifest in passive-aggressive behaviour. And so, their actions can create a vicious cycle of hostility, jealousy, and misunderstandings...
As a result, this can trigger unhealthy competition among colleagues. “This can perpetuate the winner-loser dynamic that isolates everyone from their objectives, teams and even themselves,” she adds.
Yet, this is just one aspect of the goody two shoe syndrome.
A matter of fabricated favouritism?
However, it’s clearly not so straightforward.
“It’s a rather nuanced subject, as certain employees, owing to their level of expertise and work ethic, do warrant a different treatment from their managers. However, this could also breed insecurity among the colleagues, who start wondering why they don’t get treated the same way,” adds Lily Monique, a British Dubai-based mindset and leadership coach and mentor. Others' perceptions can become coloured, even if the “goody two shoes” is not trying to get past them. However, animosity is further fuelled if they do try to hold this perceived privilege over the others.
It comes down to perception, she adds. In many cases, people could also start fabricating this favouritism in their bitterness, which is far more disruptive for the workplace ecosystem. It can get blown out of proportion, as people tend to spin rumours and tales in boredom and angst, she adds. Many people have a flair for drama; so, gossip mills can get inflamed, she says.
“A casual conversation with the boss that’s not related to work is effectively harmless, but people with deep-seated insecurities might feel even more inadequate. They wonder why they cannot be on the same level as them,” says Monique. “So, they start creating rumours, or generate their own narratives. There’s a lot of grey surrounding the idea of the office goody two shoes. Sometimes, the teacher’s pet could be going into overdrive to gain favour owing to their own problems. Sometimes, the others could be viewing them in a different light, due to their own insecurities,” she says.
Mimansa Saatvik, a Dubai-based marketing professional, has mixed opinions about the term itself. “I was called a goody two shoes at my previous job by my colleagues, and I still don’t know what I did wrong. I just did my work, kept to deadlines, and did networking, which is required for a job like mine. My manager appreciated my work, but my colleagues hated me. They said that I was the teacher’s pet, and I was desperate to gain approval. They started manufacturing instances about me, saying that I was taking away their opportunities. So that’s why I think you need to take the term ‘goody two shoes’ with not just a pinch of salt, a whole bag,” she says. “In their anger and insecurity, people take things out of context and fabricate their own stories.”
Nevertheless, real or imagined, perceived favouritism at the workplace can cause much stress for both parties.
How to deal with the goody two shoes?
Before you start sending angry emails, pause a little.
Rather than dubbing a person as a teacher's immediately, we need to understand the sense of belonging. "It's a deep need within all of us to be part of a group, to be on the inside. A survival need in all humans. This need tends to be triggered at work as well, so the inclination is to comply or to get in good graces with our managers, leaders and colleagues," explains Ana Caragea, a Dubai-based leadership advisor and coach. "When we are in the insider group with our manager, this, in return, will trigger the need for belonging in our colleagues who are now outside of the "favourite's circle", and might foster resentment and disengage from work, which is a far more serious consequence," she says.
Sometimes, people act this way because they are shy or so ambitious that they have tunnel vision, explains Robson. “Trying to get to know them and build a relationship can be helpful, and you could discuss ways of collaborating together for the benefit of the organisation,” she says. Hold on to your identity; no one’s asking you to mirror their behaviour.
Trying to get to know them and build a relationship can be helpful, and you could discuss ways of collaborating together for the benefit of the organisation. Retain your identity and don't mirror their behaviour...
“Just focus on completing your own tasks well. While their behaviour can be irritating, try to remain polite. Avoid the temptation to exclude the person from key conversations or events,” she says. It might get overwhelming sometimes. So, in that case, try walking away and get some space. Don’t react and say things you might regret.
A little empathy can help. “Instead of viewing them as a rival, or someone who wants to get one up on us, try to understand their motivations. Is it recognition, fear of failing, or something else?” asks Dubai-based Noona Nafousi, a wellness expert and life coach. “Maybe they are perfectionists, and this is something that is important for them to feel valued. Could you offer some empathy to what it must be like to constantly need to be perfect?” she says.
Instead of viewing them as a rival, or someone who wants to get one up on us, try to understand their motivations. Is it recognition, fear of failing, or something else?
Moreover, you need to see what exactly about them is triggering you about their behaviour. “The way you choose to react to them can be a mirror to expose areas of personal and professional growth for yourself,” she says. For example, their constant approval from the management could make you feel undervalued or jealous. “If that’s the case, then you know that you need to work on validating yourself through self-worth and self-recognition.”
Look and see if you can learn something from them, adds Nafousi. “Is there something that you can learn from them? Their need to do things the right way, being organised and following rules, could this be a skill that you could benefit from for your own career growth?”
On the other hand, leaders need to step in as well and address the problem when they see it. “It is important to foster a workplace culture that promotes motivation, recognition, and open communication. Leaders need to suggest constructive dialogues within the team, promote emotional intelligence and encourage healthy workplace relationships,” explains Kabir.
If you are the one perceived as a "teacher's pet" by your colleagues, look to understand their perspective and find common ground to move forward together. Your initial reaction might be to deny or defend yourself and reject the given nickname. This will only reinforce their beliefs...
A lot depends on leaders, on how they handle the people-pleasers, explains Monique. If they prioritise them over other hard-working employees, this will generate resentment. “If they see trouble brewing or someone being isolated, they need to address the team first, before it gets too far,” she says. “Look at how you’re treating your colleagues and whether there’s a sense of stable equality in your team. Of course, that doesn’t mean you act completely stand-offish; you need to find the middle way and be professional. If your team tells you about this favouritism, don’t get defensive. Hear them out and introspect too; see what can be done better,” she says.
And lastly, if you are the one perceived as a "teacher's pet" by your colleagues and you sense tension in their tone or passive aggressiveness in their actions and words, look to understand their perspective and find common ground to move forward together, adds Caragea. "Your initial reaction might be to deny or defend yourself and reject the given nickname. This will only reinforce their beliefs. Allow yourself time apart to process the triggered emotion. From a calm and grounded stance, initiate conversations with your colleagues to discover more about their concerns and work together on a solution," she says.