Jerk is not a protected class II

Back in January, I posted a bit about management behavior that drives people out the door. Managers don’t have a lock on jerk behavior. Just look at this thread on Ask Joel.

There’s a lot of energy there.

I am particularly struck by a couple of people explaining when and why they “act like a jerk.” It sounds like they feel they must “act like a jerk” to protect their own time.

So let’s take a leap and play out a scenario:

Suppose Fred comes to Joe with a problem he could easily solve if he looked at the release notes, or read the last few emails Joe sent.

1st time:

Fred: “Joe, how should I write the blah, blah class?”

Joe: “It’s all in the email I sent yesterday. Basically you do….” And Joe goes on for 20 minutes explaining how to write the class.

2nd time:

Fred: “Joe, how do I recreate the error condition in the floo feature?”

Joe: “It’s all in the release notes. Basically you do…blah blah blah.” And Joe goes on for 20 minutes explaining how to recreate the error.

3rd time:

Fred: “Joe, how should I test this without going through the GUI?”

Joe: “Do I have to hold your hand on everything? I’m not wasting my time doing your job for you!”

Joe: [to himself] What a clueless idiot. He could at least read the background.

Now Joe is acting like a jerk.

In the first two interactions Joe placates Fred by giving more than he really wants to give, and downplaying his own needs. Joe starts feeling resentful. By the third round, Joe blames Fred when he asks for help (paying attention to what he needs, but dismissing Fred).

Fred may have no idea that Joe has an expectation that he should read the background before he asks questions. He may have no idea that Joe has other pressing work to do. Joe may expect him to know, but Fred isn’t a mind reader.

Its sort of like: “He/she didn’t take the hint, so I had to be mean to him/her. I’m really mad he/she made me be mean.”

I think this is a pretty common escalation.

What would happen if it went like this:

Frank comes to Jim with a problem he could easily solve if he looked at the release notes, or read the last few emails Jim sent.

1st round:

Frank: “Jim, how should I write the blah, blah class?”

Jim: “Frank, I’ve got a ton of stuff to do before 3:00. Did you read the emails I sent? The answer is in there.”

2nd round:

Frank:”Jim, how do I recreate the error condition in the floo feature?”

Joe: “Frank, did you look the release notes and my emails about this problem?”

Frank: “errr. well, no. I though it would be quicker to just ask you.”

Jim: “Look at those and then if you still have questions, ask me. I have some time at ________.”

If Frank has looked through the release notes, Jim can choose whether to help Frank now, or later, or not at all. (And consider that possibly, just possibly, the release notes and emails may not be clear to the people who need to use them.)

3rd round:

Frank: “Jim, how should I test this without going through the GUI?”

Jim: “Frank, did you look the testing documentation?”

Frank: “errr. well, no. I though it would be quicker to just ask you.”

Jim: “Frank, this is the third time you’ve come to me for help without first checking the background material. When you don’t do the backgound work before you come to me with questions, I feel like you don’t respect my time. Please check the background material before you come to me for help.”

(Maybe you say this the first time… your level of tolerance may be different than Jim’s.)

In the second scenario, Jim balances his need to protect his time, Frank’s need for info and the context of getting work done. And he doesn’t sound like a jerk.

In any interaction there’s you (the self), the other person and the context. When all three are in balance, you can protect what fits for you without blaming the other person or acting like a jerk. And if you placate, well, sooner or later, the seesaw will tip, and you’ll go to blame.