Working with idiots

Posted on January 8, 2012


Do you work with a Homer Simpson?

mike: ok so, here’s a shape. its called a square. i want the user to see a square when they load up the program
idiot: ok, got it! a circle.
mike: no its a square, as i’ve written down in the doc as well.
idiot: of course! haha. got it
10mins later via phone
idiot: hi mike, sorry to interrupt. can i clarify, its a rhombus you want to appear right?
mike: (arrggghhh) no, as in my email, document and what we discussed 10mins ago, i want a square to appear
idiot: oh…yes that’s right a square. sorry!
3 weeks later. implementation complete. 3D trapezoid appears on load up of screen

The above is an abstraction of a recent conversation and event that i’ve had with an idiot I work with. I’ve had a few of these incidences in the past. Idiots are everywhere in the BA world. Our roles dictate that we must communicate with a vast number and variety of stakeholders because the problems we define and the solutions we specify affect a great number of individuals throughout the organisation. From traders who think they know everything to coding staff who can’t program better than a circus monkey with stumpy hands, we gotta work with them and much of the time we end up tearing our hair out at their incompetence and inability to comprehend simple instructions. But do we have to react like this? What’s the price of getting frustrated? Is there a way of preventing similar mini work relation catastrophes occurring in future?

There is a solution to this but it may not be an easy pill to swallow. Its a condition that we come across in our whole lives and across our lives. The remedy behind this is the acknowlegement that because we know better (and generally more intelligent than these people) we should lead the way and compensate for the shortcomings of others. “What?” “But i shouldn’t be doing other people’s work? “They need to pick up their game or get out.” “Why can’t they just do their job?” I’m imagining these are just some of the responses to my outrageous antidote and the responses are fair enough. However there’s a few things that such responses and reactions engender. They piss you off or to more articulately put it, they’re likely to put you in a cycle of being annoyed about that particular issue and other things you encounter that day. These responses will also damage your relationship with that person and therefore they will be even less likely to produce the desired results in future. They will cause premature greying of hair and a decreased libido. (I’m no doctor but i’ve got anecdotal evidence of this).

The challenge in this is the shifting of perception from one that is more concerned about doing one’s job to the required extent and no more, to one that is appreciating that your work requires input from multiple sources so you need to enable these other sources and anticipate where they might fall (because you can, you’re more intelligent remember!). There’s obviously a line with this whereby there’s only so much you can do at which point you need to drag their manager’s arse in and state that they are producing below par results. Its in these moments of despair and rage channelled at an individual that usually something could have been done to preempt it and if not your process in working with that person in the future can be changed to accommodate. Its really really hard to admit that in a lot of cases that “I” could have done something to stop that fool named Joe Developer from misinterpreting my functional spec and delivering me a kitchen work surface instead of some working software. That ‘something’ could have been a pre-emptive meeting to go through the document, that ‘something’ could have been leveraging his manager to provide him additional support, that ‘something’ could have been ensuring a review of his work before it was UAT’ed. Shifting a defensive perception to one that is more responsible and ultimately more productive is a VERY difficult thing. I assure you once you fully take on this principal and take the preemptive steps required to prevent oncoming dramas then you’ll be in a better mindset to handle difficult people.

Recognising the situations whereby conflict and ‘i-want-to-stab-myself-with-a-rusty-spoon-frustration’ is half the battle so here are some pointers:

– outline the people that frustrate you most and the pieces of work that you have or anticipate having that requires you to deal with these people

– think about the times in the past where you’ve dealt with these people and something has gone wrong. use these as sign posts for future issues and mitigate their occurrance by implementing pre-emptive solutions

– if dramas suddenly and unexpectedly arrive on your doorstep as a result of Joe-Fool Developer, have some visual reminder on your desk that provokes you to think of being solution oriented rather than annoyed and frustrated.

Like any attitude that has become one as a result of habitual practice, so can this too. However it is hard and requires a military like radar to detect the head on collision that is Joe Developer and a WMD like power to stomp out the typical frustrated and annoyed response. Have faith, the zen like calm will come with embracing and practicing this new principle. Good luck!