Assholes assholes everywhere…. ok, not really. I spoke about engineers who behave with utter disregard for anything or anyone but themselves in this post, and now the time has come to elaborate on how a leader can manager these types of individuals. These can be very easy to deal with (for the idle asshole), or incredibly difficult (with the conniving ones), but regardless of how asshole-like they are, here are some tips to deal with them when they are under your employ.
- Their condescending tone is something that cannot be easily remedied. I’m not going to sugar-coat that because it is something that can be disheartening to the team. What you CAN do about it is observe the effects of their behavior on others. If it’s merely a tone, and no one really sees that it does much harm, ok fine, but when it breaches the line of unacceptable treatment of coworkers it has gone too far. In the event that their condescension goes too far, a private meeting with them is in order, so that you can explain why their behavior is affecting the team as far as productivity, openness, and goodwill.
- In meetings, assholes will push to have their voice heard. Their ideas may be entirely valid, but once they begin dominating the discussion with their views, it’s up to you to turn them off. Ask other members of the team for different ideas to accomplish the same goal. Their ideas may be the best, but without asking for different ones (by this I mean, not simply agreeing with the first), you may never get to a solution that is optimal for the situation.
- When it comes to project completion, it’s too late to find out who’s been putting in the most work on the project. Throughout the process, you should be asking yourself, “Is this one person’s accounting of the situation correct?” By holding meetings semi-regularly for status updates, don’t allow this one person to dominate all of the project discussion. Find out what parts different people are doing and watch the interaction in the meeting. In fact, watching this interaction can shed light on who is the dominant voice, whether team members’ concerns are being addressed or stifled, and whether the rest of the team is merely deferring to the asshole in “charge”.
- With respect to pointing out all problems and flaws of any ideas not their own, this one is actually fairly easy to overcome. Shut everyone up! Yes, that’s right. In Good Boss, Bad Boss, by Bob Sutton, he makes a fantastic point that the purpose of creative meetings (this includes engineering design) is to elicit responses from everyone. Assholes tend to be the first to poke holes in coworkers’ ideas to move them off the table, while theirs stays on top. The remedy, no top billing. Start with ideas. Pull them out if you have to from everyone who can come up with one (and don’t give one person the ability to sneak out 5 at once), but under no circumstance should anyone begin assessing ideas. Additionally, don’t put the employees’ names next to their idea. Once they throw it out, it’s on the board and you (together) can evaluate the legitimacy of them afterwards. Once all ideas are voiced, then comes the time for everyone to contribute to the solidification of the ideas together. If the asshole is responding to everyone’s ideas but their own, try to get some realistic points on theirs from others. If any animosity results, the person needs to be removed from the meeting. Teamwork is just that; time for the team to make decisions collectively.
- Everyone loves praise. I am no stranger to doing things just to make someone else like me more, but there is a line where the praise is insincere and merely a means to their ends. Take it in, but when it continues to come, and especially if you can tell it’s inauthentic, merely say “Thank you, what can I help you with?” The goal of work is to actually achieve successful completion of projects. Kind words do little to achieve that end, and if your employee is coming to you specifically to tell you how great you are, there is usually something attached to that beyond praise.
This is a bit long-winded, but it needed to be hashed out. Are there other suggestions to dealing with assholes? I’m sure there are, so leave them in the comments!