IT Employment

Excising Alone-in-the-World syndrome


There's an epidemic happening and it must be stopped. I call it the Alone-in-the-World (AITW) syndrome. The main symptom is the inability to understand that one's actions affect others. For example, have you ever been in a slow-moving lane of traffic only to discover the reason for the delay is that nine cars up, someone is cruising along at a barely detectible speed, cell phone up to his ear, blissfully unaware of the chaos in his wake? He's got AITW.

Or how about the woman at the grocery store who has her cart strategically poised at an angle where no one can get by while she makes up her mind which brand of artichoke hearts she wants? Yep, AITW.

AITW is bad enough in those settings, but it's really bad in the workplace. Things get a little trickier, and more is at stake, when you're working with those diseased with the AITW bug. Successful projects depend on successful communication. So when you have people running around making changes in a plan without telling everyone whom change affects, you have a recipe for disaster.

For example, if you make a change to the interface of a tool the end-users in your company use, it would make sense to let them know. Seems like common sense, but I've seen that communication breakdown many times.

Also, if you make a change to anything that affects the customers of your company, you should probably let your CSRs know. Nothing quite rankles when you're a customer's connection to the company than having to say to that customer, "I wasn't aware of that change."

Maybe the problem is that no one knows when to classify a change as a "project." If it's a project, the project manager, ideally, will pass the word on. But if it's too small to be considered a project what happens? My guess is that programmers do what they're asked and assume the word will trickle down to the end-users and customers the same way the request trickled in to them. But that's an assumption that probably shouldn't be made.

About

Toni Bowers is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and is the award-winning blogger of the Career Management blog. She has edited newsletters, books, and web sites pertaining to software, IT career, and IT management issues.

18 comments
Genera-nation
Genera-nation

GGGGrrrrrr

JamesRL
JamesRL

And what makes you think this is YOUR site? Some of us olde timers may have a better claim than you, but in the end, we don't own it, we are merely guests. Some of us welcome guests, others, well.... James

Chaz Chance#
Chaz Chance# like.author.displayName 1 Like

What is described fits with the symptoms of Asperger syndrome. Some believe that as many as one in ten adults have it. (If you work with nine other people, and they are okay...) "Asperger syndrome (AS, or AD) is one of several autism spectrum disorders characterized by difficulties in social interaction and by restricted and stereotyped interests and activities. [...] who appeared to have normal intelligence but lacked nonverbal communication skills, failed to demonstrate empathy with their peers..."

EXPM_CO
EXPM_CO

Many IT companies favor autistic type personalities - they purposely hire people who know a lot about a little and who fail to see what's around them or care about the effect of their behavior on others around them. Then, the management of those companies usually seems puzzled when everybody who works there is miserable. Most tech companies don't care at all about effective communication, and don't favor employees who communicate well, unless those employees are techies who happen to speak English decently and who happen to have passable manners. Until technology businesses begin to understand that technology is useless unless it gets all the way to people who need to use it, and that people don't want to work in places where they're constantly fending off disrespectful behavior, IT will be a business in which self-centered gearheads with lousy social skills will thrive, and anybody who perceives that there are other people in the world will be miserable.

Bizzo
Bizzo

Not sure about Asperger's Syndrome. Sometimes I feel that some of these syndromes are being used to label people incorrectly. Years ago, when I was at school, the naughty kid who didn't pay attention was just "the naughty kid who didn't pay attention". Now he has either Asperger's Syndrome, ADD, ADHD, or something. Which now means he doesn't have to work, he's off long term sick, due to his "disorder". Before anyone shouts and stomps and says that they know people who genuinely have these disorders, I'm not disputing that whatsoever. There are people who cannot function or interact at a social level because they can't. But there are also people, like (a lot of) the ones descibed in the article, who don't empathise with the people around them. If you label them with AS, you'll give them an excuse for their behaviour. Example: "Excuse me, can you move your shopping cart out of the aisle so people can get past?" "Hello? Can you move your cart please? "Oi! Lady! Move your bl00dy cart, it's in the way!!" "Don't shout at me young man! I have Asperger's Syndrome! Which means I don't care about people like you!" "F#@$ ***&!!" *smack* *crash* *whoop* *kaplow* . . . /wakes to the sound of sirens ... in an ambulance ... what happened? /Sees Paramaedic talking into a radio "Proctology?" "#yes#" "We have a 37 year old white male requiring the removal of a walking cane, can you assist?" . . . See anything can happen when you label people. Be warned!

Chaz Chance#
Chaz Chance#

...because of AS. Actually, when I feel ill, work takes my mind off it. That's how AS works, sometimes. :) Of course, someone who wants to be lazy/rude/selfish will use any means to achieve it, including convenient labels. But I have stopped with my trolley blocking an aisle because in my head I had suddenly worked out the solution to a programming problem that had been bugging me for days. The bigger then challenge, the tighter my focus, causing me to forget about going for lunch, and the office security guard has to tap my shoulder, because I didn't hear him telling he wants to lock up. But the downside is that I had to study very hard to gain some of the people skills that most people take for granted. It's taken me years to get the basic business social skills, and in most other areas someone a third of my age can usually do better than me.

skipedie
skipedie

It doesn't seem to be a case of malicious or selfish behavior. It's an inability to maintain focus on a single task while staying aware of the surroundings. Not everyone can multi-task or multi-focus. AITW seems to defy effective treatment, even under the strict regimen of the military. I'm not excusing the problem and have expended a lot of energy trying to coach AITW's to expand their focus. However, I think I've spent more time recovering from the impact they have.

w2ktechman
w2ktechman

part of everyones statements is correct. But, there is not only 1 cause for it. Some people are inconsiderate A-holes while others just are not paying enough attention to what they aer doing, or do not think that they are a problem. I get pissed off at these people all the time, especially in a big store with big aisles and they still seem to block off the whole aisle because something grabbed their attention. AND it is not just women in stores, us men are just as bad if not worse. Have you ever been in Home Depot or Lowes and someone blocked an 8 foot aisle with 10 foot 2x4's on a cart, turned in a way as to not let anyone pass. Traffic is a crap shoot these days, too many dumbasses in the fast lane trying to slow everyone else down, causes to many dumbasses that dont like to be slowed, to do stupid things to try and get by the original dumbasses. Now for business, I have been caught here often, mainly because when nobody listens, I just started to wait till they are interested in hearing it. Mainly when they ask. I would update my manager, and memo's would go out and still nobody paid any attention because they knew that they could just ask me afterm the fact. When I wrote procedures and passed them out, they were left untouched, or found in the garbage. Then a few days later the questions would start rolling in. This is a 2-way street as well. Most people try hard to avoid doing as much as possible, Even if they are informed about changes, many will disregard them until later and then say " I didn't know".

Tell It Like I See It
Tell It Like I See It

When I worked for our IT department, and I made a change that everyone should know about, I sent the notice out via e-mail. The e-mail went to an "all employees" distribution list that was meticulously maintained. At one point, about six months after I sent out one particular notice, I got a call about said notice from a particular person who was well known as a "Well, why didn't anyone notify me" kind of person. I seethingly agreed to send them the new procedure again (and I put an emphasis on AGAIN). So I dug up the original e-mail and forwarded the original to the offending person. I also typed in new text outlining that the original e-mail, as included below, was sent to EVERYONE in the company, including them, as shown by the "all employees" distribution list; and that it went out on a particular date. I also pointed out that it is standard procedure to make such notices via e-mail. In short, my new text was a thinly disguised "You were, in fact, notified and don't blame me or this department because you decided to delete e-mails you should have known you would eventually need." After this point, I had one other time that this person started to pull the "I didn't know..." attack -- but pulled back once I informed them that the notice went out via e-mail, as is standard practice, and I read them a specific date and subject (because I was looking at the e-mail sent out for that notice). They then turned to an approach of "Well, I'll see if I can find it in my e-mail." I went ahead and forwarded that procedure change as well, along with the new text of "In the event you can't find the original in your e-mail, here is the procedure." The real reason I sent it was because I was already looking at it and I figured that it would be faster to send it now than wait for the person to realize they deleted it and needed it sent anyway and then have to look it up YET AGAIN. I do admit, I was oh-so-close to filing a complaint about this person; one of the few times I've actually gotten to that point. Surprisingly, I actually got a personal "kudos" type award for the second incident. Even better -- I haven't heard of this person pulling the "I didn't know..." type approach since. Of course,this person may pull it with other people but maybe not try it with me any more. Alas, though, that's one person "cured" and about zillion left to go.

DadsPad
DadsPad

In the store, most of the people will move if you say 'excuse me' but some will not pay attention or look at you like you are crazy. One of the things that used to get me in grocery stores was to be in line and the person behind bumps you with the cart. Then I developed the technique of when bumped, I bump back. :D Traffic, no better not go there, it is too irritating.

Meesha
Meesha

It happens time and time again. In our company, the network people constantly make changes that affect all systems, databases and applications and at the expense of our hair. Even other IT people are not informed of the changes and start to pull out their hair when a bevy of calls comes to the Help Desk, is forwarded for troubleshooting and may take two or more days to figure out "whaaaaat happppened?" Eventually the network people say, "oh by the way, we flashed to bios on the router over the weekend." Yeeeeish. Selfish and self centered are only two descriptions. Lack of ownership is another - I mean network guys taking ownership of the change and resulting problems. Management to date has been "blind" to the problems and seems to think that the network guys are "gods" (little g because management already holds the title with a big G). We recently started an ITIL initiative and still the network guys believe they are exempt from this process. Gosh, Sisyphus did not have to push or roll a boulder as big as our network guys. What did we do in our past lives to deserve this? AITW syndrome is bigger than you think.

ultimaxii
ultimaxii

I think for both the business and daily life encounters of people afflicted with AITW, it is a case of no-respect. These people know exactly what they are doing but simply don't care. On the business side of it, I think it's more-so a case of, "Not my job to tell so-and-so about whatever, I've got more important things to get done." Meanwhile everyone else assumes anyone else will take care of the problem, and without bothering to ask anyone else about whether it was or is going to be done.

DadsPad
DadsPad

and daily life. In daily life, out there in the world, it is viewed as being caused by inconsiderate, self centered people. I doubt that is always the case. I believe most of the people, if asked, would think they are very considerate of other people. It's like people in cars with cell phones do recognize people on cell phones while driving is a problem; they just don't think it applies to them! In the workplace, it is up to management to put in documentation controls, requiring approvals, preferrably email, before any changes are made. That way there is a trail of changes and people can be notified. But if management does not enforce this policy, then it will just keep happening.

shay_in_denver
shay_in_denver

Let's not forget that 95% of the time the person asked to perform the hands-on work doesn't know (and probably can't know) how the change will ripple through the workplace. We don't sit around dreaming up tasks; someone asked us to take action and that someone is supposed to know who else is impacted. If I were smart enough to predict every last ramification of every database change I'm directed to make, I'd be sitting on my yacht somewhere in Southern California, not in my cube.

Fregeus
Fregeus like.author.displayName 1 Like

...between not knowing and not caring. I think there is a lot of "not caring" in the world today because nothing is given today and respect is a thing of the past. Companies today want people who are aggressive go getters who will go the extra mile and give back a +value. That's not a characteristic of someone who respects his fellow man. Dog eat dog, may the best man win, do or die. These are words the world lives by today. Nobody wants to be left behind. We are too busy looking out for ourselves to care about how the others feel. We live in a sad sad time in history.