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Due to the nature of this post, I will do my best to stick to facts only.

I have been working as a Software dev contractor for almost 20 years. I was always excellent at solving problems in that domain, and within a few years, I have made a unique name for myself as the guy to bring in and fix an IT. As a result of that, I always had a long line of people wanting to hire me for even a few hours a week to help them solve the severe problems they were facing. I never advertised, and through all those years, the line of interested clients has never gone smaller than 3-4. In short, for almost 20 years now, there is a high demand for my professional skills.

At the same time, another reputation was following me - that I am an insensitive and harsh person. The harsh I will accept as those jobs were intense, and I was often hired to apply a no-nonsense approach to teams. The reputation as insensitive is something that I struggle with, and it is the bane of my professional life.

In an attempt to cut a long story short, I do indeed make remarks or comments that are then perceived as bad taste, insensitive, or just outright rude. I don't see that when I make them, or after I say them. I sometimes understand why they are wrong when someone then will sit me down and take their time to explain it. But most of the time I make a mental note not to make remark/joke like that and not do that specific bit again. That never is enough, though, and eventually, I will, in a few weeks, make another remark that will make someone feel justifiably uncomfortable. And that is never my intention.

For the last few years, I was trying to convert from contractors' life into a permanent role, just wanting more stability in my life. But this is where the personality of mine gets in the way every single time. Eventually, I either feel too detached from the team and leave, or the company finally decides that my impact on the team is worse than the benefit they get from my work. We always parted ways on friendly terms, I know how I am, and very much always disclosed that flaw in my character in the interview - did that both as a contractor and now hopeful employee.

I tried very hard to control this, but generally without success.

So I am mostly hoping for some ideas of how this can be better managed. Four months ago, I started working with a new company as a C-level employee, and this is already beginning to be a bit of a strain on some teammates. How can I manage this better? Can you recommend some strategies on the way to stay part of the team, but also work around the issue of my personality. I spoke about it bluntly with the CEO recently, and he admitted that the work I deliver is excellent, way above what they expected for my current pay - which he proposed that, based on that, we will renegotiate in December. But he also expressed that there is growing concern about the remarks I make and that this will need to be somehow addressed. He tried to be level and friendly with me, not get me too stressed, but he seems to be struggling with that as much as I am and wants to keep me as a member of the team and stay together for years.

PS. I've been working with a therapist for the last six months, trying to fix those behaviors, but so far it doesn't seem to help much at all. So I am looking for help on the strictly professional front on how to handle this, not how to "change my personality," and so on. Apologies if that PS comes as "rude," but whenever I sought help on the matter, most of the answers were "suck it up and fix yourself." etc.

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    what sort of remarks are we talking about here? Are you insulting people? Mocking other viewpoints or being intolerant of diversity? – bharal Nov 18 at 18:25
  • @VolkerSiegel this is a workplace issue and this falls more under "Soft skills" than interpersonal skills. This is not about how to ask someone on a date, it's about how to navigate the workplace. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Nov 19 at 17:21
  • @RichardSaysReinstateMonica But the lacking soft skill is exactly the broblems with interpersonal interaction. Being insensitive could be seen about being actually personally insensitive - a matter of psychology. But the problem here is creating a negative effect based on it. He needs to communicate differently - Say he thinks a colleague will mess a task up anyway, and he knows he will better do it himself. Saying "You will mess that up, I'll do it" is correct, but insensitive. There are a ways to communicate it without hurting. And being rude is to 100% interpersonal communication. – Volker Siegel Nov 19 at 17:35
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    @VolkerSiegel context is different. We're talking about professionalism here. How you would do in a personal setting and what you would do in a professional setting are two entirely different things. – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Nov 19 at 17:37
  • @bharal quite a variety, but I would say that majority of them fall into generally touching on sensitive topics, without much care about how this may affects other. Think like having HMRC auditors over, and making a joke, in front of them, alluding to company money laundering. Or other remarks that apparently come out as chauvinistic, but that was never the intention. – user111873 Nov 19 at 22:02

11 Answers 11

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I am on the autism spectrum (aspergers syndrome) and I can relate. I was almost unemployable for a while.

Here's what I did, maybe it can help you.

The best way to help yourself is to create new scripts for yourself.

I highly recommend the following books

  • How to win friends and influence people, by Dale Carnegie
  • The Hard Truth About Soft Skills: Workplace Lessons Smart People Wish They'd Learned Sooner by Peggy Klaus
  • The seven habits of highly effective people, by Stephen R. Covey

Understand that you cannot just "fake it", which is why I recommend Dale Carnegie, first and foremost, as he gives a very clear and rational reason for every point he makes. I seriously doubt that you are as rude as you think, and a little bit of tweaking might work wonders.

Also, perhaps a psychologist may be able to help you.

In the mean time, to ameliorate anything that happens from your comments:

  1. Admit your mistakes quickly.
  2. Apologize immediately.
  3. Note what you did
  4. Go through your notes.
  5. Think of things you should have said instead.
  6. Ask for help. This works because people will take you as being sincere in your efforts to get along. It also has the effect of making someone like you more, as if they help you, they have at some level decided that you deserve help, so you create a positive connection to people (one you say you lack)

One thing Dale Carnegie mentions is that if you must criticize, begin in a positive way, don't use the word "but" in anything you say, or you will instantly nuke any good will of the initial statement. and BE SINCERE

Good Example:

user111873 I think it's great that you've come here asking for help. It's a rare thing to find someone willing to do some self examination and correct any personal flaws. What you've described sounds serious, and if you don't correct course, you could cause quite a bit of trouble for yourself in the future.

BAD example:

user111873 I think it's great that you've come here asking for help, but if you don't stop insulting people, your rudeness is going to make you unemployable.

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    That good & bad example is spot on about the usage of but ! – GoodSp33d Nov 19 at 8:43
  • I would add that almost everybody can say things they regret later. The most important point is to be aware of it and to be careful whenever you say something that's not positive to/about someone. As in this answer, note that the way you say things has a big impact, not only the content. – dyesdyes Nov 19 at 10:25
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    Strongly recommend 7 habits. – Jonast92 Nov 19 at 16:01
  • I honestly feel How to win friends and influence people, by Dale Carnegie is not a great recommendation. It is very upfront about how it's manipulating people to do your bidding more so then actually taking a good approach to solving your own personality traits that are viewed as undesirable – M. Doe Nov 20 at 13:14
  • @M.Doe How is "being genuinely interested in people" being manipulative? Have you read the book? – Richard Says Reinstate Monica Nov 20 at 13:42
11

Have you tried turning this into a game?

Changing your habits is difficult and is likely to require a significant amount of concentration. Turning the challenge into a game can be an effective way to improve concentration.

You should consult your manager or a friend before attempting the following:

In your shoes I'd be inclined to seek the help of my colleagues.

Equip them with yellow cards (or your cultural equivalent) and ask them to use them to immediately halt you if you commit a social faux pas. This will give you clear feedback and a chance to apologise as well as making your colleagues aware of your situation and desire to improve. A yellow card is sufficiently recognisable that your colleagues should be able to grasp the idea very quickly but also sufficiently unusual that it generates some interest.

The key is to find a positive way to engage with colleagues on a regular basis which will make you both feel better about your working relationship. If you can get this right then colleagues will feel invested in your improvement and this will also make them feel better about themselves (in addition to helping you out). In many ways this is actually the main goal - if you can establish a friendly working relationship most mistakes will be forgiven.

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    Like the instant feedback of the yellow cards - much more immediate than reading a book... If the colleagues will work with it the it could be good. – Solar Mike Nov 18 at 21:04
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    This is a great idea, it shows you genuinely want to change and gets your colleagues working with you to help address the issue. – Alan Dev Nov 19 at 12:13
8

The thing that strikes the most in your post is:

and eventually, I will, in a few weeks, make another remark

This suggest that you have an issue with learning acceptable professional interpersonal behavior. The fact that this has been going on for years means that this issue is engrained and need long time to fix.

On professional level, you should learn how to fix things and maybe change work process. Part of changing the work process can be (as Joe Strazzere commented) finding a job that accepts this type of behavior.

On personal level: seek better therapist, professional medical diagnosis, and professional management coaching. You are not the first person with traits that cause interpersonal issues.

  • I think this is great feedback. I think growth is the most important thing. And social engineering, if you might want to look at it that way, can be used in the future to gain the desired result or reaction of employees or coworkers – Ns1De0UT Nov 18 at 18:24
  • @JoeStrazzere I thought it would be useful for OP to reflect. Maybe they'll see some of those traits in their behavior. How can i edit the answer to make it more clear? – aaaaa says reinstate Monica Nov 18 at 18:57
  • This answer hits on what I was thinking. Personally, I swear like a sailor and am known to make offensive or crude comments in my personal life, but the key is knowing how to separate your personal life from your professional life. In an office setting, you need to be able to filter out things that are not socially acceptable, even if you may act differently in other company. – Steve-o169 Nov 18 at 21:54
6

You’re coming in from a technical background where facts rule, and the rules on how to tell a computer what to do is well defined (eg programming language), and if you didn’t handle something appropriately, the computer will tell you what you did wrong (eg error messages, exceptions, unexpected results). That’s a pretty well defined rule set and it’s pretty comfortable for tech guys (this guy included).

People however, respond differently, the same facts on a different day can and will yield different results depending on the mood, weather, commute etc.

At any rate, a baby step I’d suggest is Dale Carnegie’s How to win friends book. I’m not asking you to agree with the book, but more on digest and observe. Any way you react to it is fine.

  • +1 for Dale Carnegie – Lumberjack Nov 18 at 18:19
2

Maybe this helps: I used to work with someone who sounds, perhaps, a bit like you. Very good technically, very competent, actually very well-meaning, but often would say things that took your breath away a bit. In his case, I think it was a language barrier.

His approach, which worked, was that when he found out he said something inadvertently offensive, he just said "oh, sorry, didn't mean to. I can never tell when I said something offensive". So he was just being open about it: I don't mean to offend, I am genuinely sorry. No issue, let's move on.

And it worked well, I think. Over time it just became funny, in a kind way. In the end, we started looking forward to his next mis-speak.

Only you can tell if it works for you, but as someone who was on the receiving end, this mitigation worked for me. We had a healthy working relationship.

  • The issue with such approach is that you must first know that you've said something offensive, and most people won't tell you, I guess not wanting conflict. So I cannot fix it right there and then, or even apologise. – user111873 Nov 19 at 22:04
  • True. The person I am recalling didn't know at the time, either. If he found out later, he would then say, quite transparently, "oh sorry, I didn't realise. I couldn't tell this came out wrong" and moved on. It did take some time to percolate, but eventually people understood. – Bennet Nov 20 at 8:31
2

I'd like to come at this from a slightly different angle, which is that rudeness isn't only about the words, but also about the intent behind those words.

What's your attitude to your colleagues, deep down?  Do you find them intelligent, or do you privately think they're a bit stupid?  Do enjoy being around them, or is that something you endure for the sake of the job?

I can't tell that from the question.  (Nor am I judging you, either way!  Most of us have probably had colleagues who we found annoying and/or dumb at times.)

But if you like and/or respect them, then I think rude comments are less likely to be a problem: partly because you might be less likely to make them in the first place, but also because people are less likely to take offence if they know it doesn't really represent your attitude.

So if there's anything you can do to increase your respect for and understanding of your colleagues, in addition to the other advice here, then perhaps that could help?

1

I don't know if this is a feasible solution, but have you considered removing yourself from the situation?

I do kind of the same thing you do, though it sounds like to a lesser degree. People don't always understand my sense of humour, and some of my comments, while I think they're, at worst, sarcastic, others find them hurtful and insensitive.

What I've found is that I'm a lot less likely to make rude or insensitive remarks to people if I communicate with them via email, as opposed to in person or over the phone. It gives me a moment to read back what I've written, and formulate a different way of saying it.

I've actually had colleagues proof read emails for me before, just to make sure they're not too harsh.

It sounds like you want to change this particular aspect of yourself and are working on exactly that (I'm not going to comment on that, I changed jobs until I found one where they appreciate my bluntness and inability to pander to middle managers with meaningless niceties), so until you feel like you've got more of a handle on it, could you negotiate a working from home arrangement, at least for a few days a week? If you're not around people, it's a lot harder for them to find you rude / insensitive / etc.

  • I did that in the past where I got detatched from the team and communicated via email/someone acted as liason etc. It always ended with me being so detatched from the company that I felt, and was treated like, as a machine. Quite inevitable I guess, as this is what it broke down into. – user111873 Nov 19 at 22:09
1

There are already a couple of great answers, and I agree with the books @Richard Says Reinstate Monica recomments, especially Dale Carnegie's "How to win friends and influence people". I have found it very helpful myself.

I was struck by this

But most of the time I make a mental note not to make remark/joke like that and not do that specific bit again. That never is enough, though, and eventually, I will, in a few weeks, make another remark that will make someone feel justifiably uncomfortable. And that is never my intention.

It seems to me like you are compiling a list of specific things to never say again, and that you keep finding new things to add to that list. It might be helpful to try to categorize that list into groups.

For example, any comments that bring attention to someone's body is inappropriate, no matter how complimentary or carefully phrased. Any comments that mentions ethnic, religious, or gender stereotypes are inappropriate. Any comments that seems to imply that you look down on anything that someone else appriciates, or that you find something worthless that someone loves, is hurtful and inappropriate, as is praising something that is hurting other people. Stating your opinion in too certain terms, might be uncomfortable for people who don't share that opinion, or thinks that opinion is hurtful.

One way to get around this is to always make room for different opinions. Don't just state you opinion ("blue is ugly"), make sure to be inclusive ("I know other people like it, but I think blue is ugly"). Be open for the possiblity that you might be wrong, and listen when others express their opinion. Don't dismiss people for being ignorant, so were you once. This is in many ways just ordinary politeness. Don't hurt people's feelings, don't be mean, don't impose your opinions.

  • Why are comments on stereotypes bad? Most blondes I know laugh to jokes on blondes and make them themselves, many great collectors of jewish jokes are jews. When someone thinks that the situations in jokes are real, there is a big problem with that one. – Crowley Nov 19 at 17:32
  • @Crowley These kinds of jokes are often used to put people down and to reinforce power structures. For example blonde jokes reinforces the stereotype that blonde women are less intelligent and less worth taking serious. This isn't a problem for a blonde person who is already established in society and knows his/her own worth, but for a more junior person this can be intimidating. – Paula Nov 20 at 15:20
  • I think you read my comment as making such jokes all the time. It's like a chili pepper; when used appropriately they can spice the environment up, when used too much its pain in the ... Literally. – Crowley Nov 21 at 13:23
  • @Crowley I agree that this kind of jokes can be harmless if used between friends and if everyone is in on the joke (and if used sparingly). That isn't the OP's situation though. OP is frequently misunderstood and end up in uncomfortable situations because s/he makes remarks that makes people unconfortable. Avoiding stereotypes just cuts down on one source of miscommunication. – Paula Nov 21 at 14:14
1

There are two sides of the issue here. You have identified one - It's easy for you to insult people. There's also the second side - people can be insulted quite easily...

As there are two sides of the issue there are two sides to work on the solution as well!

For me, it's easier to control myself when I feel secure and there is acceptable level of stress. The more stressed I am the lesser I can control. My problem is that it's hard for others to estimate how stressed I am until the limit is broken and then it's too late.

You can try to:

  • openly describe that you are using stronger words than necessary. Tell the others that you do not want to insult them and that you are sorry if you happen to insult them unintentionally.
  • clearly state that your code of practice is problem -> solution. Any nonnecessary politenes prevents you from doing jour job. Tell them that you expect same from them.
  • count to ten and take couple of deep breaths before you say some comment.
  • use body language to disclose your feelings and ask your colleagues to read them. Help them to find signals when there's a high risk of insult-on-sight.
  • find what triggers your rude comments and ask your colleagues to avoid them.
  • learn how to switch off and relax even under stress.
  • if you are about to lose control try to ask them to leave you alone for a while politely. Come to them after you calm down.

If you swear and mock others' mistakes try to mock your own mistakes as well or using even stronger words about your own mistakes.

In other words, try to set rules you all can accept. You shall try not to offend them, they shall try not to get offended.

0

This answer might be a bit controversial, but as someone who used to have a similar issue (and still has to some extent), I think it's better to put people in an environment where they fit in, rather than trying to make them fit in an ill-suited environment.

I see you are trying to go from contracting work to full-time employed under a company. I think that might actually help you in this case, depending on what type of rude remarks you are making. As a disclaimer: I'm on the autism spectrum, and I also lack a bit of a filter on what I say.

Most work environments generally have a nice and easy going atmosphere, and people like to joke with each other. In some workplaces, these jokes also sometimes get a bit rude, but people may not really mind that in some cases. In my first permanent employment for an IT company, I also sometimes made inappropriate comments that didn't really work out well. I've mainly found that rude jokes and comments that directly target a coworker are VERY insensitive and most likely to offend coworkers, so I made an effort to make my jokes not target coworkers at my current job. I've found that most people can actually quite enjoy rude jokes, as long as the person targeted by them is a stranger or someone they don't like.

So if at all possible, a solution for your current job might be to try and target any rude remarks or jokes or comments you do end up making (preferably after taking into account other answers on this question) at other people than those you work with or people they know and/or like.

On the other hand, I have relatives that work at a different IT company where they all make jokes like that, so rude comments don't fall out of place there. People there can take it as well as they deal them, or they don't last in such an environment.

So in effect, I think it can be quite beneficial that, if the current job doesn't pan out, you try to find one of those rarer IT companies where such comments are commonly made by everyone. You won't be as out of place there, and while some people would consider that a toxic workplace, that's because they also don't like getting comments like that.

You wouldn't put a stereotypical rude sailor in a convent, but put him among other sailors on a long haul freight vessel, and he's going to fit right in.

  • I'm sorry but this comes from assumption that I actually know that my remarks are rude, and that's the intention. I have no bloody clue, unless someone will tell me, most of the time. And even then, I seem to have very little control over it. – user111873 Nov 19 at 22:07
  • @user111873 then you can always do the second part of my suggestion and find a job in an environment where people often make comments like you do. – Nzall Nov 20 at 7:32
-7

I know this probably isn't the answer you are looking for, but my background is in restaurant management and I am currently working on getting up to speed in the tech world/development and cybersec. People are often times too sensitive, too easily offended, and don't take jokes or comments the way they might be intended. My reason for mentioning being a chef for 17+years is that I have been on both sides of the comments or remarks. If I let my boss' harshness get me down in the past, I would not be any good at what I've learned and would have changed jobs constantly just to be belittled by another boss. Shit happens, sometimes people don't understand sense of urgency or importance in matters, and maybe you aren't great at picking up on certain social cue because you are an IT professional. And as I am saying that people are too sensitive, I still feel like I have to let you know that I am not at all downing you if you aren't quick to pick up on social cues. For whatever that's worth, good luck.

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    The OP is describing a real problem that they are having that is causing actual negative impact in their life. This answer does not offer any assistance in dealing with that problem – Ben Barden Nov 18 at 19:46
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    I would argue otherwise. I sympathize with the OP. I think that he should learn more about how to interact "properly" in the workplace. But I also think that any potential sensitive readers of this post should try to think of things outside their own perspective. Everyone is different. Meanings are oftentimes misinterpreted. Sometimes it's necessary to be harsh, but there is also a way to "finesse" a situation so that no one is offended and the job gets done. – Ns1De0UT Nov 18 at 20:21
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    I was going to suggest that the OP might be "on the spectrum". I do have a psychology background, have managed people for 17 years or so now, and grew up with a psychologist as a father. I won't get in to my beliefs on society any more than I have, but I don't think that I offered information that was not valuable. Maybe being upfront with colleagues, employees, etc. about that might not be such a bad idea so that it might prevent misunderstandings. I'm not concerned with upvotes or downvotes here. I am speaking purely from my own experience & maybe the OP benefited from something I said – Ns1De0UT Nov 18 at 20:29
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    @Ns1De0UT You do speak to some reality, but at the risk of oversimplifying, your answer reads more to point out that one can't please everyone all the time. The OP has pretty clearly indicated this goes beyond an occasional outlier among others. It is a career-long pattern where the OP has frequently/consistently been the outlier personality. – John Spiegel Nov 18 at 20:44
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    Restaurants often have a toxic work culture which mentally crushed at least three people from my social circle. Please don't glorify it by claiming that more healthy work cultures are just "too sensitive". You might have survived and even thrived in that culture for 17+ years because you are thick-skinned enough to take it, but most people are not and get driven to healthier industries. Please don't mistake survivorship bias from the gastronomy industry as normal. – Philipp Nov 19 at 10:10

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