I joined a new consulting project last month at a great company. I am leading a small IT project team implementing a vendor software package. It is pretty standard stuff and the only thing that makes it challenging is the vendor; they seem destined to irritate and disappoint the customer.
Anyway, I have a member of my team who reminded me of many of the serious IT professionals I have worked with in the past. She is smart, experienced, technically adept, and hard working. But she is also abrasive, short, sarcastic, difficult to manage, evasive, and adversarial.
Her behavior generally isn’t an issue and I found myself willing to overlook and work-around this individual’s idiosyncrasies in order to get the job done. I tried to be charming, flexible, and even funny and I tried to forget that it sucked to be ignored and avoided, this persons M.O.
I didn’t take it personally though. This person seems to pretty much treat everyone the same. And they are not alone. It made me think about all the IT professionals that I’ve worked with who operated the same way. It also reminded me of Nick Burns.
We all know at least one Nick Burns. If you work as an IT project manager, you probably know more than one and chances are that you have one or more on your project team. On the one hand, it keeps our job exciting. On the other, sometimes it is just a pain in the butt.
I was thinking a lot about Nick and about the individual on my project team. If I apply what I know about Social Awareness and Empathy, then I should try to put myself in their shoes. So I did and this is what I came up with.
"Hi, I am Nick. I have my MCSE, Oracle, SAP and UNIX certification. I have been working on computers since I was 11. I read six different technical magazines each week and I am a moderator for the extreme programming local interest group. I built my own home computer using a quad-core motherboard and two 4.1 Ghz processors. Work is a joke. Most of the people I work with are total morons except for 1 guy in my department. We laugh at the stupid things those jokers come up with."
My judgment is that most of the Nick’s out there are primarily scared and angry. They are scared that others will think they are losers or not smart which is their deepest darkest secret. They are also scared that they won’t be loved or appreciated. Their biggest hunger is to matter; to be important. While they are generally anti-social, they really do not want to be ignored. That is why they put themselves into positions of helping so that they can prove over and over again that they know what they are doing. They often create their own problems or crisis so that they can ride in and save the day.
They are angry about not being seen as valuable, that others are promoted above them and are paid more (even when they don’t work hard or are total morons), they are victims of the (fill in the blank) vendor/company/business users/project managers/spouse/pointy haired boss. They are angry about having to constantly stay on top of technology, stay ahead of trends, and make up for the ignorance of everyone around them.
If you have a Nick on your team, I would love to hear your assessment of him/her and what you think are their primary emotions.