Firstly, let me say that this particular blog posting is an especially difficult one to write. Not because it’s particularly complicated but because it nibbles at the edges of my own self-perception and contradicts strongly what I hope and intend to be as a person. However, because it is difficult to write, I think it all the more important that I *DO* write it. So here goes.
Earlier this week I got back my yearly peer review feedback from work. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the process, I’ll summarize. Each year a subset of one’s co-workers are polled and asked probing questions about you. These questions range from technical prowess to how well you play with others. In the past, these have been fairly useless but this year was psyche-shaking, since the preponderance of the responders seemed to be of the opinion that I’m an utter and complete asshole.
On the brief positive side, a minority of people at work think that I do more than my fair share of work, am forward-thinking and even go so far to describe me as “brilliant” but I find that feedback especially to be highly embarrassing and uncalled-for. I will say simply that I do try to come in to work each day and do my best. Any aptitude I may display for my profession derives more directly from determination than it does from anything else. Enough said about that.
Let’s move on to the real fun, the negative comments. I had lots of stuff along these lines:
“I would encourage Rob to watch his tone and approach in communication with customers (internal and external) when he feels the project or customer is being unreasonable.”
“Rob needs to be less sarcastic/snarky/negative. He is in a leadership position and this is not motivating for the people around him.”
OK, so the part that really bothers me here is the implication that I’m snarky to -customers-, meaning external customers. For my entire working life I’ve been at least somewhat customer facing so the idea of being disrespectful to a customer shakes me to my very core. I would hope that if I was *EVER* snarky to a customer that somebody would have called me out on it immediately and directly. That said, I do tend to be honest with customers. Not in the “you’re the biggest schmuck I’ve ever worked with” sort of way, but I do recall that in the past I’ve just had to just give up and say, “I’m sorry, but I’m out of different ways to explain this to you.” Verbal communication is a fairly sore weakness for me. I’m a developer by nature so everything I say, everything I do, everything I think is planned out well in advance. If you put me on the spot in front of a customer and I have to deviate from well-worn script, you’re going to get my only available fallback position: complete and utter honesty. A big part of my brain will be devoted to being polite about that honesty, but that leaves absolutely no room for sugar-coating, politics or saving face for the company. I say this on my own behalf but I’m also willing to bet that it applies to a lot of the developer-types in the room. There’s a reason I’m not in sales. So if I was ever impolite to a customer then I’m absolutely mortified and apologize, but the best way to help me improve is to tell me personally and directly what I said or did so I can stop doing it. It is absolutely NEVER my intention to be rude to a customer. I’ve been in the working world long enough to know that the cliché really is true. They really are the reason that we’re here.
The other part of this is the implication that I’m rude to my co-workers. In all honesty, you’re probably right. Unfortunately, when time and resources are scarce, everyone gets a priority. The developers know that they can ask me for anything. My direct management knows they can ask for anything but that they may get an argument if I think their request contradicts the best interests of the developers. After that, it’s a crap shoot. Honestly, I’d absolutely LOVE to be able to do everything for everyone and make them utterly and completely happy with me and everything that my department produces. My psyche is a pretty simple one. I love to please people. I want everyone to have happy and glowing opinions of everything I say and do. Sadly, there’s just not enough time for that. If I can make the developers happy and keep management at least somewhat appeased then I can’t help but think I’ve got it made. So if I seem snarky or dismissive or rude, it’s not personal. I’d love nothing better than to do what you’re asking for, but chances are that I can’t without harming something or someone else.
Lastly, my feedback encouraged me to try to foster more personal connections with people at work. As the saying goes, that, is preaching to the choir. I’d love nothing more than to create more non-work relationships with my co-workers. I’ve spent a lot of hours trying to figure out how on EARTH other people do that. Unfortunately, that’s just a knack I’ve never quite acquired. Watching “Mary and Max” last night made me realize that I do appear to have a touch of Asperger Syndrome, though the extent of that is unclear. Point is, in many ways, I just don’t ‘get’ people. Trust me when I say that I’d love to, but I just don’t.
I’ve always felt that in the workplace I’m just a ‘tool’ to be used for some specific purpose; I’m the guy who does all the other stuff that other people don’t want to but doesn’t have any real personal connection to anyone. I’m OK with that, I suppose, because it’s all I’ve got. I recognize that the defect is in me, not in any of you. It’s just hard to hear that the ‘tool’ is viewed as defective, as wanting in some way. I’ll try to be more chipper, more accommodating, if that’s what’s really needed.