Someone I work with is a huge smart aleck. It's really annoying and we just got a new employee and he's harassing him too.

For example: other: "Where do the build files go to?" him: "They don't go anywhere until you build them"

other: "What's the difference between making a snapshot and making a copy?" him: "snapshot's a delta"

him: "What time is the call?" other: "Some time today" him: "That's not a time"

other: "can you show me how to do this?" him: "do you have two VMs?" other: "no" him: "then that would be the first step"

After writing down some examples I realize it's not so much the words but the way he says them: and lot's of sarcasm in the tone of voice and he acts like it should be perfectly obvious. Worse yet he buts into other conversations that he's in ear shot of. How would you advise addressing this issue? Any words in particular I should use or should I just ignore him?

EDIT: while this may be a duplicate question, the answers provided to the linked one are rubbish.

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    How is this an issue again? #2 is a fine answer to the question. #3 is a smart ass reply to a smart ass answer from a coworker. #4 is curt, but provides the info you need. – Telastyn Aug 26 '14 at 18:57
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    SE is not an advice column... And it's less of a workplace question than a "dealing with people who aren't always nice and cheerful" one. – Maciej Stachowski Aug 26 '14 at 19:09
  • @Telastyn when asking the difference between copying something and taking a snap shot I don't think "it's a delta" is a very good answer, and why do you think #3 was a smart ass answer, the exact time of the phone call really was unknown? Anyways, these are just examples and if you don't understand the gist of the question say so and I'll explain further. – Mac Easly Aug 26 '14 at 19:32
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    @MacEasly - I understand the gist of the question; I just find that far too often people worry about the tone of the communication rather than the content. They complain that people are negative rather than evaluating if they're effective. And I'm certainly not one of those negative people who is sore about it either :P – Telastyn Aug 26 '14 at 19:37
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    @telastyn Tone and context are half the conversation, along with body language and so on. Humans don't work on words alone and pretending otherwise will simply lead you to clash with others. – Dan Aug 27 '14 at 7:38

OK, a very non-standard answer, and it's not without it's risks. Reply with a similar, but positive/joking sarcasm. This will use humor to deflate the situation.

For instance:

other: "Where do the build files go to?" him: "They don't go anywhere until you build them" New response: Thank you sooo much! I'm really looking forward to your answer once I've completed building them, and have come back to bug you again.

other: "What's the difference between making a snapshot and making a copy?" him: "snapshot's a delta" New response: And a copy is a canal? or is it a tributary? or an isthmus? I get so confused with these river terms... (yes I know what a delta is, but it's self-deprecating humor).

him: "What time is the call?" other: "Some time today" him: "That's not a time" New response: (instead of "that's not a time"), at least it's not someday, with somebody, about something. Thank you Mr. specific.

other: "can you show me how to do this?" him: "do you have two VMs?" other: "no" him: "then that would be the first step" New response: "and would you like to give me steps 2 and beyond now, or should I harass you later?"

Anyway, like others have said, there is nothing particularly wrong with what he's saying, but rather how he's saying it and the attitude that is bothering you. By injecting a little humor and return-fire snarkyness, you can possibly defuse a situation before it boils over. He'll likely realize "OK, that wasn't the response I was looking for", and modify his behavior. This can be much more pleasant than the negativity generated from going to a boss, and can actually help you develop report with this person.

On the other hand, it could all backfire and make the situation even more tense. You really have to judge the situation and relationship to know for sure.


To respond to those who think this is passive aggressive, I'd just say it needs to be clear that this should all be said very tongue in cheek. As should be clear, the attitude is in how things are said, which doesn't convey well in written form.

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    Your responses just sound so cringeworthy; it really does make you sound like a drama queen – yuritsuki Aug 27 '14 at 1:15
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    -1. What you're describing isn't "joking", it's passive aggressiveness. – NotVonKaiser Aug 27 '14 at 2:35
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    @forlornpaperwork To me the OP sounds like he's being a bit of a drama queen, but I think that's just the way it reads after the fact. For my response to work, you need to emphasis the "Ham it up" factor. – Jared Aug 27 '14 at 13:18
  • This seems like a great way to burn bridges and get yourself fired - there is a nice Mark Twain quote that applies "Never argue with stupid people, they will drag you down to their level and then beat you with experience." replace stupid with smart-alack or whatever you want, it still applies - you aren't going to win, and instead just make it worse. – user2813274 Aug 28 '14 at 13:58
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    @user2813274 - I was going to respond to your comment, but then I read it and realized I should apply it... – Jared Sep 2 '14 at 13:34

Aside from ignoring him (which is what you should be doing when he interrupts your conversations with others), stop asking him these questions -

  • "where do the build files go?" how about instead "where should they go" or "where do they belong"?
  • Google is perfectly capable of explaining the difference between a snapshot and a copy.
  • If you have a call that you need to be present in, it is your job to keep track of what time it is at, not theirs, even if they will be present in that exact same call.
  • "Can you show me how to.." - rephrase these as "I have tried X Y and Z, but I am still not successful - what am I doing wrong?"

edit: This assumes that you are on roughly equal standing - if you are an intern or similar, a little more slack would normally be given, but this might just be a way to get you "up to speed" fast.

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    The way the OP has phrased his questions, from my interpretation, makes me think he's extremely lazy or doesn't do his job correctly. I agree with what you said; reword your questions to be more precise – yuritsuki Aug 27 '14 at 1:17
  • @forlornpaperwork I'm curious what makes you think that I'm lazy or don't do my job correctly? I ask because if there's specific wording I use that implies this I'd like to know. – Mac Easly Aug 27 '14 at 21:09

It's my experience that sarcasm is a normal side effect of working in the field of technology. It usually boils down to being impatient with the rampant incompetence that pervades this industry. It's also been my experience that the incompetent usually doesn't appreciate the sarcasm and somehow thinks the problem really isn't them.

Taking these individually:

For example: other: "Where do the build files go to?" him: "They don't go anywhere until you build them"

If someone calling themselves a programmer asked me that question I'd like respond with something sarcastic as well. Simply because that information should be trivial for the person to locate themselves. If they can't then the answer is unlikely to be of any real value. Further, answering it would also give the very invalid impression that I am there to help them continue fooling management into thinking they now what they are doing. They should go hide until they learn how to wield their tools.

This is on par with claiming to have gone through driving school then asking someone what a turn signal does.

other: "What's the difference between making a snapshot and making a copy?" him: "snapshot's a delta"

Similar to the first one, this is such a basic question that hearing someone ask it would make me question why they were hired in the first place. Now IF this person was hired straight out of college then I'd give a bit of latitude. However if they had advertised themselves as being proficient in the relevant tech then I wouldn't cut them one bit of slack. Heck, I'd probably bring it up with the boss during an elevator ride: "Can you believe X doesn't know the difference between a snapshot and a copy? Where are you finding these people? Hope you got a good deal. lol"

him: "What time is the call?" other: "Some time today" him: "That's not a time"

Again I agree with "him": "some time today" is not an answer. If the "other" person here is responsible for knowing the call details then maybe they should figure it out. I don't place this question in the same category as the first one UNLESS the meeting was on his calendar as well. In which case "go fish" or "is your phone dead?" would have been an equally valid response.

other: "can you show me how to do this?" him: "do you have two VMs?" other: "no" him: "then that would be the first step"

Sounds like he is teaching the grasshopper here. Perhaps grasshopper should go install two VMs instead of trying to waste his time. This part should be trivial for anyone claiming to be a programmer. If for some reason "other" doesn't know how to install a VM then I'd suggest google may be a more appropriate venue for further questions. Assuming grasshopper does install the requirements then grasshopper should feel free to approach him for further enlightenment.

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    Step by step I saw your answers, and I can't say you're wrong. Sometimes a person has no realization how out of their depth they really are. Sometimes the only right step is to point out in a semi-snarky way how silly the questions are. If someone was hired in as a no-knowledge entry level person, maybe they need a little slack. But other times if a person is hired in and supposed to know things, they may need to be disabused of their illusions of competence. – killermist Jan 19 '15 at 0:38

Everything he says makes sense. You are most likely taking issue with how he says it i.e. wisdom spiced with a liberal dose of humiliation and maybe aggravation.

I'd say, make use of his wisdom and let the humiliation and aggravation slide off you the way water slides off a duck. His interpersonal skills are not the greatest and he is unlikely to rise much farther than team lead with his attitude - That's okay, a first-rate, prized master sergeant can make a lousy officer. The way he is going, he will end up reporting to some of the very people he annoyed. And one of the people he may be reporting to may be you :)

If you do find his use of language unbearable, have your manager talk to him and tell him to drop the sarcasm and stop talking to the team members as if each were the village idiot. Especially since the management went out of its way to make sure that there'd be no village idiot among the members of the team during the interview/selection process.

Some will recommend that you pull him aside and talk to him instead. My attitude is that I don't use a rifle to punch a hole on a target when I can blast it and the wall behind it to hell and back with a cannon - you're the rifle, and your manager is the cannon :)

  • +1 I wholeheartedly agree. Sarcasm isn't a sign of aggravation, it could be other factors (cynical, introverted, etc). – yuritsuki Aug 27 '14 at 1:16

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