Don’t flip the bozo bit

So you work with an idiot. I know you do, because everyone does. There’s always an idiot. You probably have one in mind right now.

Most people react by flipping the bozo bit on the idiot. They’ll mentally set the “this person is an idiot” switch to ON, and fall into permanent ad hominem mode.

From then on, they’ll disregard anything the idiot says or does. They’ll assume the idiot has nothing of value to contribute, and that paying attention to the idiot will be a waste of everyone’s time. So they’ll do the bare minimum of indulging the idiot required to not look like a jerk, and nothing more.

That’s one option. In the words of Seth Godin, that’s the long work option. You’re never finished. You just keep grinding away at it forever and nothing ever improves.

And remember, we become what we are told we are. Treat someone like an idiot and they’ll give an Oscar-worthy performance of that role.

The other option is to practice some extreme ownership. Say it with me: “this, like everything, is my fault.” That’s the hard work option. It’s the scary one, but it may fix the problem once and for all.

So, extreme ownership: how is this your fault? What are you doing wrong that’s making them into the idiot? What aren’t you giving them that they need to succeed? What are their strengths, and why aren’t you using them? And if you can’t find their strengths, you aren’t looking hard enough.

Is the problem that they’re dumb? Then maybe they need more support, or maybe they’re in the wrong seat. Talk to them about it.

Is the problem that they have a bad attitude? Then maybe they need some feedback, or maybe they are lashing out because of an underlying issue. Talk to them about it.

Is the problem that they keep getting distracted by low value work? Then maybe they are passive aggressively disagreeing with priorities, or they aren’t being used wisely. Talk to them about it.

As a genius once said: treat everyone like the person you want them to be, rather than the person you think they are. Everyone has something to contribute. Instead of flipping the bozo bit on the idiot, talk to them about it (and make sure they hear you).


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