I am a software developer. I am not much of a talker or a social person (even though I agree that coding is a social activity). I mean, when it comes to meetings or when my input is needed in a discussion, I am able to communicate clearly. I have been told by many other team mates that I am very good at explaining/teaching things to other people. But I'm not just a socializing person. I'm like a dull man child who enjoys his own interests. And when I know the ins and outs of something, I am able to communicate clearly and honestly. But I do get stuck if I have to take part in dishonest arguments, e.t.c.

People in my team and in office circles have been making jokes with me about not talking (which I'm okay with). But then these jokes became serious and after a while, these things started spreading to almost everyone in my office. Sometimes I even play along and make fun out of the criticisms that I face but that playing along became too much and I now actually have problems talking to people :( I've been to other places recently and people are telling me the same thing now.

And worst of all (the reason I'm asking in this site), my performance reviews contain comments about me of having bad communication skills. I did not get promoted to a senior position even though other members of the same position and some even a position junior got promoted. Sometimes people put blame on me for other things seeing this as a weakness.

What should I do to improve this weakness? I'm just not a street smart or a partying type of person. And the more people criticize me, the more get deeper into this state. I mean, how would you answer the question: "Why don't you talk?". My answer is silence, or an awkward gesture of "I don't know". It eventually becomes a habit. Then people start having dishonest and picky behavior with me, e.g. someone gives me an incorrect specification. When I tell my lead(s) about this, he/she is like "The problem with you is you don't ask/talk about things. Good. This should happen to you." And if another person comes with the same query, then the lead entertains it. Or when I train a junior employee and he makes a mistake, he says "this person (me) didn't convey the information to me properly. As you all know he has communication problems", even though he does the same task right at other places.

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    Have you asked your manager for examples of your bad communication skills (related to your work) or why you were not promoted? – sf02 Mar 29 '19 at 18:34
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    Yes, and I also gave him examples where I my input resulted in a better outcome in many situations. But he's like, "nah, you have communication problems. I'm not the only one saying it..." – Anonymous Mar 29 '19 at 18:36
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    What was his response to your request for examples? Did he provide valid examples where you demonstrated poor communication or did he just repeat that you have communication problems. If the latter, you have a worse problem that the perception of bad communication. – sf02 Mar 29 '19 at 18:44
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    @sf02 No, he didn't provide me any examples. As I said, his response was close to "nah, you have communication problems. I'm not the only one saying it..." (I don't remember the exact words, plus I'm translating his response from a different language). So yes, coming back to your question, he just repeated that I have communication problems. What worse problem could that indicate? – Anonymous Mar 29 '19 at 18:48
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    The worse problem is that your manager doesn't seem care enough to offer constructive criticism during your performance review. – sf02 Mar 29 '19 at 18:50

I see two different things happening. One is not wanting to socialize with your coworkers and the second not communicating on work matters to where you're not getting promoted because of it.

Not wanting to socialize with your coworkers is obviously a personal choice, but try to take some time to get to know your coworkers and listen to their interests. By no means do you all need to share interests, but listening and understanding one another is important. This is more of a culture fit thing. If your work performance is not impacted then from a management perspective, this wouldn't be the biggest concern for me.

To me being able explain your work to various audiences and teach others is communication.

These two quotes really concern me:

And when I know the ins and outs of something, I am able to communicate clearly and honestly. But I do get stuck if I have to take part in dishonest arguments, e.t.c.

Sometimes people put blame on me for other things seeing this as a weakness.

It sounds like your work culture is really bad. If your coworker has to resort to down-right lying to get the upper hand, that's unacceptable. I don't think the issue is communication here, but rather you not fitting in with the culture of the team and not defending yourself when being blamed. You're unfortunately an easy scapegoat.

I don't say this lightly, but you may find better luck in a different company with a culture that matches you better.

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  • Thanks @jcmack :) I think you have identified the issue here that I'm not fitting in the environment because some time ago, I was part of a different team, and some of the same people, who happened to have contacted me at that time told me that they have seen an improvement in my communication. – Anonymous Mar 29 '19 at 19:02
  • What did you base an assumption that people need to lie in his company? I know the author talks about "dishonest arguments" - but does he actually mean lying or does he mean cases where you need to just use a bit of tact? There's plenty of people that mix these two up. – Mavrik Mar 30 '19 at 10:18
  • @Mavrik To provide an example, my supervisor tells me to open a file on production server and tells me to type xyz on line 36. I ask him "can you please tell what you're trying to achieve as I might be able to---", he cuts me off and says just go this line and type xyz. I do that. He orders me to save the file. And I'm not exaggerating here, I mean everything in literal sense (except xyz is a dummy value). Then he redeploys the shipment and it crashes. Okay, stuff happens, we were experimenting anyway. But he turns to me with a dead serious face and asks me "What have you done"? – Anonymous Mar 30 '19 at 16:27
  • I thought he was joking so I made a little laugh and tell him "You told me to---", he says "What, when did I? Why would I? " I say to him "You just did a few seconds ago." But he looks at me as though I am crazy. Now this is one scenario at a very lower level. The same guy is a very senior person and he has the same behavior in major decision making processes as well. He firmly agrees and orders everyone to agree on a certain decision. And not next day, not next hour, but in next few minutes he completely disowns his input. And people back him up because he is a senior or for whatever reason. – Anonymous Mar 30 '19 at 16:30
  • and then there are other people like this as well. At one point they would assure me by saying things like "It's me. You need to trust me on this decision. You know me I am not like xyz person - I own my decisions". And when you go with their decision, next day if they face a tiny bit of pressure from any other stakeholder, they don't take a stand and just flip sides in a snap. And then they are on to me - the same person now says to me: "Who told you to make this decision?" If I try to get things approved on e-mail, they are like "Don't you trust me?" and take things personally. – Anonymous Mar 30 '19 at 16:35

First we need to focus on this:

my performance reviews contain comments about me of having bad communication skills

Social and communication skills are two different things. So you should go into detail with this point with your manager, ask for specific points to work on, or situations that led him to jump into that conclusion. Also is worth to wander if this is the only reason for you not getting a promotion. Maybe you are not as good as a comunicator as you think, is not just explain things well, also includes talk your way out of the problems you need to face everyday, which being too shy can have an impact on.

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  • My manager says "You have communication problems. I don't need to explain that, I mean, everyone says that." – Anonymous Mar 29 '19 at 18:28
  • He also said "We don't even to need to discuss it." Furthermore, the same people and others from my previous jobs have told me that I'm good at explaining things. And there have been few tight spots in which my input actually resulted in a better outcome. I mean, I have dealt with extremely difficult clients and BAs about whom everyone in my team has complained about and I successfully survived those situations. And I have acted as a responsible point of contact in previous occasions as well. – Anonymous Mar 29 '19 at 18:34
  • I have also trained fresh developers enough so that they can work as efficiently as myself. How can I do that without having acceptable communication skills? – Anonymous Mar 29 '19 at 18:38
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    @Anonymous you're referencing very specific types of communication skills in specific scenarios (you're able to train people, you're able to explain things). What you need to do is contrast those situations with other situations where people indicated your communication was subpar. "Communication" isn't a single attribute that covers all methods and situations - being good at one type doesn't mean you're good all the time. – dwizum Mar 29 '19 at 18:42

You're coming to some realizations, e.g. extroversion is a challenge and it's impacting your situation. This is good.

I'm guessing you try to be a good worker bee and not waste time frivolously. What is sometimes difficult to realize is that wasting time is actually part of not wasting time. Part of office work is the culture and relationships. Clearly it can go too far, but it's actually more than just okay to spend a few minutes from time to time discussing things that aren't the project at hand. This is grass roots team building. As you've stated, those who do it are moving up the ladder.

On Monday, ask one person about their weekend in the break room or when they're not buried in thought. And ask them questions about what they did. If it's something you're into or know, build on that. If not, ask them what they like about it or where they do it or other such questions. People love it when you show interest in them and asking them questions is a key way to do that.

In return, be yourself. You can't be the only "man child" as you say in software. Whether its MMORP gaming, chess, sci-fi movies, movies in general, building PCs, cars or whatever, someone there likely has at least a related interest to something you like. At minimum even if you have nothing in common, they are likely still a fan of something they don't feel people normally talk much about. Even, if they don't show any follow up, it's okay. You don't have to force the conversation. Just having shared SOMETHING about yourself has opened a door.

Also, consider your demeanor...frequently. You're not going to just have an epiphany then suddenly be "cured". Consider what your expression is as you walk through the office or when you are quietly not answering. You may have no illwill nor expression at all, but these things show as disinterest and unhappiness. This doesn't mean you have to smile insanely every second, but forcing yourself to not stare at the ground as you walk around or smile or give a nod as you make eye contact all go a long way to seeming more open or at least less broody.

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  • Thanks @John Spiegel that is some really practical advice :) – Anonymous Mar 29 '19 at 19:04

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