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Wanting to be unprofessional

Ever had an encounter where you know the "professional" response is just to let something go, but you really would rather not?

I'm sitting here steaming at the ears now, having just been knocked out of the zone by a quasi-co-worker who came to my office to whine that I hadn't answered two emails of his to his satisfaction.

One was the tail end of a series of emails.  Okay, so he sent the last email.  But I hate getting into a game of pingpong.

Person A: Blah Blah?
Person B: Blah Blah..
Person A: Ok.
Person B: Thanks.
Person A: Thanks to you to.

So if I'm person A, I often don't send the acknowledgement of the answer, unless it's important to know I got it.  And anyway, if he really wanted acknowledgement, why didn't he just send another email requesting it?

The other I answered in our helpdesk system rather than by email (in a ticket assigned to him, no less, and that I know he read after I answered.)

After a few similar incidents (very minor, but getting so the sight of him is raising my blood pressure, yes, I'm type A), I thinking that this is payback for a conversation we had the other day:

We're moving offices, and we need to redo the network wiring.  Hiring someone else to do it is very expensive, and we're able to do it.  I'm in this weird situation where I work for a software company, he works for an IT support company, but we work in the same offices, and the two companies are quite intertwined.

Anyway, he was assigned to do the wiring, and made a crock of it.  So I was conned into finishing it. 
Him:  "We did such a good job doing our part of the wiring, I don't understand why you haven't finished yet"
Me: (incautiously) "We had to spend a lot of time redoing areas that didn't work"
Him: "That's impossible"
Me: "The problem was that labels at one end of the wire didn't always match labels at the other end of the wire, and some weren't labelled, so we had to trace the wires to find out which were which"
Him: "That's impossible.  You just didn't know how it was labelled [ed note - five different systems, but we did figure it out].  You should've asked.  I can't believe you're blaming me for your incompetence."
Me: "I'm not blaming anyone, I was just explaining that we had to spend quite a bit of our time tracing wires.  [ed. he also wasted hundreds of dollars in wire because he left metres of cable at the end of each run] It also took a while to terminate cables in the server room, because the labels that were there were at the end of the very long cables, and so we had to find each wire at the point we actually wanted it, and cut it, and terminate one at a time (or relabel)"
Him: "It's not my fault.  Otherwise the cables might have been too short.  I didn't get enough instructions.  I wasn't trained. <big long rant about how they didn't have enough time, >"
Me: "I was just commenting so that if you ever have to do this again, you will have an easier time"
Him: "I did an excellent job.  And if there were errors, talk to [other guy sort of vaguely supervising]."
So at this point I shut up.  Later someone told me that not only had everyone else in the office had serious "issues" with him at some time or another, but this was because he takes any criticism at all extremely personally, so it is best never to say anything that can be taken as criticism.

But anyway, now the question is:
a) how to act completely professionally when I deal with him, no matter how oddly and annoying he gets.
b) how to avoid getting riled up in the first place when dealing with a rather aggressive and defensive individual.

Better be anon
Thursday, July 10, 2003

First you ask yourself what would Shaft do.

Then, if that doesn't enlighten you, ask yourself what the BOFH ( ) would do.

Flamebait Sr.
Thursday, July 10, 2003

I simply can't believe all the sh** that people post on this board and ask advice about.  As if you don't know how to communicate yourself.  Wake up people.  I have no problem telling people to shut the f*** up and leave me the f*** alone in a firm loud voice.  I have no problem dealing with people.  Stand up for yourselves.  Also examine yourself and see what problems you have.  Don't even tell me you're a perfect person.  Why are computer people so damn whimpy.  Grow a pair.  It'll help you survive.

Wake me up inside
Thursday, July 10, 2003

It sonds like "wake me up" could use some anger management counseling himself.

Anyway, a good email technique is to never hit the send button when you're mad. Count to 10, or save a draft then come back later and send.

I'd probably try to avoid in-person confrontation as much as possible, and if the emails get too steamy, just forward a copy (not a blind copy) of my reply to my boss.

Big B
Thursday, July 10, 2003

>I have no problem telling people to shut the f*** up and leave me the f*** alone in a firm loud voice.  I have no problem dealing with people.

Did anyone else think those two statements conflict?

One-Armed Bandit
Thursday, July 10, 2003

"-What, what would ya say, ya do here?

- Well look, I already told you, I deal with the goddamn customers so the engineers don't have to. I have people skills! I am good at dealing with people!  Can't you undersand that? What the hell is wrong with you people?"

"Office space" - movie


Mr Curiousity
Thursday, July 10, 2003

There were two questions there:

a) how to act completely professionally when I deal with him, no matter how ... annoying he gets.

Can you clarify the question?  How is it different from the following question?

b) how to avoid getting riled up in the first place when dealing with a rather aggressive and defensive individual.

Can you tell us more about what it is that "pushes your buttons" about Bob Histrionic?  Without knowing more about what specifically riles you up, it's hard to give concrete advice.

I can proffer up some general advice though:

1) I'm reminded of Miss Manner's reply to a woman who was considering throwing a hissy fit upon meeting her ex-husband's new wife.  A public hissy fit will delight the new wife; a classy, confident, self-controlled, polite demeanor will disappoint the new wife.  Which would you rather do?

Bob Histrionic sounds like the kind of guy who would love people to sink to his level.  Enjoy disappointing him.

2) Don't get into quagmires.  Your networking conversation is a perfect example.  Bob Histrionic loves quagmires.

When Bob Histrionic comes into your office to whine and complain, _listen_ to him.  I mean really listen to him, as though you actually cared. 

When he flags, say "Thank you for your input Bob."  Then stand up.  If Bob doesn't leave, ask "Is there anything else you wanted to tell me about?"  If Bob starts whining again, sit down. 

Repeat.  Eventually he will clue in that he's not getting any satisfaction from you.  Eventually he will catch on that standing up means "you can leave now."

But above all _avoid the quagmire_. 

* Do not make any statements other than "I see". 
* Do not answer questions if at all possible. 
* Ask vague, open questions yourself.  "I see.  Why do you suppose that is?" 

Wear him down.  Keep the conversational ball in his court.  Don't get sucked in.

3) More generally -- who's in charge of your behaviour:  you, or Bob Histrionic?  You can't choose his behaviour.  You can't choose to not be annoyed.  But you can _choose_ to _act_ as though you're not riled up.  Make a conscious choice to take full responsibility for your actions.


Eric Lippert
Thursday, July 10, 2003

> Did anyone else think those two statements conflict?

Yes, he doesn't have a problem dealing with people, people have a problem dealing with him.

BA DUM TA! Thank you, I'll be here all night. Remember to tip your waitress.
Thursday, July 10, 2003

The two statements do not conflict.  If you let someone know in no uncertain terms that they are being an a**hole most people will recogonize it and quit doing it.  I do not have any problem getting along with anyone.  I get along with everyone I have ever met actually.  I don't have an anger management problem.  I stand up for myself.  Of course, I act and talk professionally and when that doesn't work you need to go above and beyond.  Let people know what you think in no uncertain terms.  Which is what i'm telling people to do instead of coming on this board and asking how to interact with those folks that drive them crazy even after they have discussed it.  Get up.  Get out.  and pro-actively solve your problems.  Most things can cleared up by taking action.  Take this Real PC character for example.  I don't mean to rip into him, but he took this crap to an extreme.  Why not go to your boss right away.  There simply are no excuses.  This type of behavior is childish.

Wake me inside
Thursday, July 10, 2003

Dear WMI:

Let me make it absolutely clear and in no uncertain terms: You are being an a**hole.

"Recogonize" it and quit doing it, please!

Yours Truly,
Bob Histrionic

(You know WMI, when you make it so easy, it's almost not fun.)

Bob Histrionic
Thursday, July 10, 2003

I think WMI does have a point. Sometimes an intense confrontation can clear the air extremely fast. Although confrontations do seem to have a larger cost in terms of dealing with the same person in the future. Keeping it mild should decrease the risks of future complications.
Alternatively, one can continue being Mr. Nice guy and get shafted on a regular basis. Not my cup of tea, but to each his own ...
Does getting shafted on a regular basis mean good people skills?
Paradoxically, being able to utilize confrontations is a quite handy people tool. There are some @ssholes out there that pretty much understand only this type of behaviour. You gotta do what you gotta do ...
Me, I am a very nice guy myself :-)

Mr Curiousity
Thursday, July 10, 2003

Some of you fail to see my point.  You can reverse anything that anyone says to point back to that person.  It's like the childish phrase 'I'm rubber you're glue etc etc' and is in fact childish in and of itself. 

It is only when you acknowledge that you understand what the other person means do you prove yourself at or above their level.  I believe you are the one making a fool of yourself.

I'm not saying that you need to handle all situations in a rough manner.  First examine yourself to see if you are being professional.  Then go to your superiors and see if they can help.  If that doesn't work then you need to be a little 'rough around the edges' with people.  These are extreme cases.

Why don't you go to your boss 'Better be anon'.  Tell them the problem.  If they say get lost.  Then you need to deal with the problem firmly.

Wake me up inside
Thursday, July 10, 2003

Kick his ass, Seabass

Thursday, July 10, 2003

I find it interesting that only one person (thanks Eric) even tried to answer my two questions.

Eric - your general advice #2 sounds like a good approach for handling my first question.

The second question is more about how to control my annoyance.  I'll have to think about what specific buttons he is pressing.  Maybe simply being aware of what it is that is so annoying (being knocked out of the zone was one thing, for sure) will make it less annoying.

WMI- The reason I'm asking at all is not because I think there is a problem with my quasi-co-worker (although I do), but because it is my reaction to him that bothers me as a manager (so going to my boss wouldn't help.  I don't have one...). I cannot change him.  I can change myself, but I'm not being very successful so far.

WMI says I should examine whether I'm being professional and then talk to my superiors.  The point is that I really don't feel like being professional.  I'd rather get "rough".  I'd love to point out to him that I think he did an incompetent job on the networking, that the last few exchanges we've had have given me a poor opinion of his abilities in general.  However, intellectually, I know that that will just escalate the situation.

Better be anon
Thursday, July 10, 2003

Human behaviour happens whether its within a work place or not.  You don't check your humanity in at the door with your coat.

There are times when it is reasonable to rip into someone but they are rare and usually there is a better strategy.  That doesn't mean I'd flinch from having a knock down row with someone once I'd decided that was the only way repeating behaviour and situations could be stopped.

Simon Lucy
Friday, July 11, 2003

I think I agree with WMI...

I don't believe it is unprofessional to confront someone with their behaviors and discuss them honestly.  Sometimes that does mean ripping them a new one.

If you (generic) believe it is the ultimate in nicey, nicey... professional... and indicates good people skills to play dead instead of confront when the need requires it... don't whine about being stepped on.

Joe AA
Friday, July 11, 2003

Nearly agreed with Joe AA, except I would emphasize that you can be confrontational without going to the extreme of ripping someone a new one.

You can just say "I do not appreciate..." etc, and then directly, bluntly, tell him what you think of his behaviour. No need to yell or become abusive, just state your case and stand firm.

Fernanda Stickpot
Friday, July 11, 2003


Thats good stuff.

Still miss Bella, though.

Ged Byrnbe
Friday, July 11, 2003

Some people just can't take feedback.  Odds are, everybody else in the office knows it too.

I would suggest humor.  Find something funny to change the subject that's tangental.  If you want to throw in a zinger now and then, you can.

Don't ask me for humor advice, but I can tell you that "Quality Software Management" by Weinberg (I'm pretty sure it's volume III, congruent action) talks about these very behaviors and recommends humor.


Matt H.
Tuesday, May 18, 2004

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