Here are Bob's top 10 pet peeves: What are yours?

From lapses in e-mail etiquette to late-starting meetings, Bob Artner explains why these pet peeves drive him up the wall. Read them and then tell us what makes you crazy.

No two IT managers are alike, so no two have the same management style, the same skills, and the same weaknesses. We managers work in different-size organizations, in different industries, and have differing levels of experience.

We do have one thing in common, however. Each of us has a list in our head of the things that drive us up the wall in the workplace. Our list of pet peeves is unique, but each of us has one. In this column, I’m going to share my list of workplace aggravations, along with explanations of why they bug me. After you read my list, go to the Discussion Center and post your own list of pet peeves.

The top 10
As you can see, my list isn’t in any particular order. When putting it together, I tried to include a mix of serious issues and relatively minor (though still deeply irritating) concerns. Here they are:

1. Bringing a 30-page PowerPoint presentation to a lunch meeting
Sitting in a conference room with the lights off while someone takes you through an endless PowerPoint is painful enough. You know what’s infinitely worse? Sitting in a restaurant and seeing someone pass out that same presentation, and having everyone try to follow the points while attempting to ignore the background chatter of the restaurant. Context is important. When making any kind of presentation, understand both your audience and the environment in which you’ll be speaking.

2. Sending no-value Reply All e-mail responses
All of us get enough e-mail as it is. Why compound the problem by insisting on hitting the Reply All button on a response when you don’t really have anything to add? There is no legislation that I’m aware of that requires all participants in an e-mail thread to respond to each message in that thread. Unfortunately, some people seem to believe there is such a law, and therefore all of our inboxes get busier by the hour.

3. Whining about a problem without proposing a solution
It’s important to be able to identify a problem. However, you really add value by proposing a solution, and not simply hectoring about a difficulty.

4. Inviting more people than necessary to a meeting
It’s frustrating enough to sit in a meeting and realize that people who are key to the item under discussion haven’t been invited, but it’s worse to be sitting in a meeting that you don’t need to be at. Fortunately, there are a number of ways to handle such situations. The first is to simply decline the meeting invitation. The second is to leave the meeting once it’s clear you’re not needed. The third is to invite other people in the meeting to leave if they aren’t needed. Most folks are busy and will welcome the chance to miss an unneeded meeting.

5. Not providing handouts to people in remote locations on a conference call
It’s hard enough to work in a remote office without having to participate in conference calls when you don’t have the same information that everyone else on the phone is looking at. If you set up the call, e-mail participants in remote locations any presentations that you’ll be discussing.

Here at TechRepublic, we’re on both sides of this problem. Our parent company is located halfway across the country from us, so we’re often the ones dialing in to a conference room in another city. On the other hand, we have a number of employees who live and work in other cities, and dial in for calls here. I wish I could say that I always remember to take my own advice here, but there have been occasions when I have forgotten to e-mail a file ahead of a meeting. Even worse, once or twice I’ve forgotten to set up a conference call dial-in until a meeting had started.

6. Not writing things down and then not remembering to do them
It always bugs me when I’m taking a group out to lunch and the waiter or waitress attempts to impress us by remembering everyone’s order without writing anything down. After all, that’s why paper was such a huge technological advance. If we’d been eating at the Babylonian or Assyrian Olive Garden, the waiter would have had to write down our order using a stylus and a wet clay tablet. So why not take advantage of the technology and write it down as you hear the order? In the same way, too often in meetings and conference calls, people forget to write down what they committed to do, and consequently they don’t do it. (Of course, some people do what I do, which is put things down in a notebook and then forget where I wrote it—instead of immediately creating a Task in Outlook when I’m back in my office.)

7. Getting angry before it’s necessary
We all get angry from time to time. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be human. As technical managers, however, we need to control our anger, and use it like any other management tool. There are times when anger, or rather the hint of anger, can be useful—for two reasons. One, it may tell the other party that he is about to cross a line he shouldn’t cross. Two, it can show the other party that you feel passionately about the topic under discussion.

For anger to work, though, you need to control it, display it on your terms: no screaming and yelling, no histrionics, no theatrics. It is occasionally justified to let someone see that you’re unhappy with him or her—but only occasionally and only hint at your feelings. Raw emotion in a meeting or a discussion is almost always unwise.

8. Delaying bad news
Bad news isn’t like wine; it doesn’t get better with age. Get out in front of the bad news as quickly as possible, while there’s still time to deal with it. Delay can only make it worse.

9. Letting pride prevent you from asking questions
Sure I’ve discussed this before, but it’s still a real problem. Too many managers are reluctant to acknowledge that they don’t have all the answers. Unwilling to display their ignorance in front of their staff, they pass up the opportunity to ask questions, and therefore make uninformed decisions. Of course, their employees aren’t stupid and have a good understanding of their supervisor’s limited knowledge. While no one wants to work for an ignoramus, most IT pros realize their boss can’t be expected to stay on the technical details of every project that comes down the pike. Most IT pros will respect a manager who is willing to say flatly, “I don’t know how this works. Can I ask you some questions?”

10. Not starting on time
I’ve talked about this before as well. When you start a meeting late, particularly one that you organized, and keep a roomful of people waiting, you’re sending a message that whatever you were doing that made you late was more important than the time of that group of people.

Of course, there are times when you can’t help being late, but to do so consistently is simply rude. Since this is a pet peeve of mine, I try very hard to be on time for meetings, especially those I organize. But sometimes I’m late. Just last week, I was 10 minutes late for a meeting I had called. When I got there, the meeting was in full swing. “We didn’t wait, “ they said unapologetically. They were also saying two other things to me: Our time is important, too—and we’re not going to waste it waiting for you. One more message: You may be the boss, but you’re not indispensable. It was a small thing, but I liked the fact that they went ahead and started without me.

What about you?
Well, that’s my list of pet peeves. What about yours? Add a list of things that drive you crazy to the discussion of this article. We’ll compile the best responses in a future article.

From the IT Leadership Web log
I often grouse about my likes and dislikes on TechRepublic’s blog for technical managers and their bosses. It’s called IT Leadership. Check it out today—it’s free.


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