Hanselman: Looking for balance in The No Asshole Rule

Microsoft blogger Scott Hanselman has an interesting post today on behavior and attitude in the technology world.  This quote best summarizes his framing of the subject:

However, it depends on what you feel strongly about and if what you feel strongly about outweighs what you believe others might feel. You need to be yourself, but you there ARE social norms, and others feelings, that should be considered.

@mstum on Twitter said: I’d rather have honest f-bombs than gentlemen hypocrites… Honest and direct people are so much easier to work with.

But can’t one be an honest gentleman? Why is online (or offline) use of the F-word and general crassness somehow exemplary of “honesty?” If someone swears and slams their hand on a table in a business meeting I don’t immediately think “Whew, finally an honest person!”

Being generally pleasant and helpful isn’t sugarcoating, it’s being pleasant and helpful.

I absolutely agree.  You can be honest without being crass.  In fact, when you go a step further by being pleasant and honest, you increase your chances of being taken seriously.  As I’ve written before, people have lots of different perspectives and to assume yours is any more valid than someone else’s is counterproductive.

I see this attitude come out a lot in what I call “The Angry Genius”, the techie person with incredibly deep knowledge on a particular subject.  The Angry Genius is impatient with his technical peers and downright nasty to the marketing and management people he has to work with that have very limited technical ability.

The thing is, deep technical knowledge doesn’t guarantee:

  1. That you can implement the whole thing by yourself.  Instead, you will likely need help from others.
  2. That technical knowledge necessarily translates into expertise on how this particular technology will be used to solve problems.  Those marketing guys and management gals spend the bulk of their time understanding core business issues and come to you for technology to solve them.  To dismiss their perspective is a missed opportunity to truly comprehend how The Angry Genius’ beloved technology might be utilized.

You can choose to insist you are always right but the opportunity cost of that is significant relationship erosion.  If you embrace the idea that you might be wrong and challenge yourself to discover and understand alternative points of view, you grow relationships that can benefit you later.

As Scott put it at the end if his post:

Don’t be a dick. If you are a dick, you don’t get to complain when things go bad for you. There are consequences to all actions and they live on.

I was IM’ing with a friend about this article and we were debating why this bad attitude seems to be more prevalent in the tech industry.  His thoughts were pretty telling:

There are dicks in every field I guess. It’s just in the tech world, they have a more visible platform from which to pronounce their dick’ishness.

I love newly invented words.  Avoid pronouncing your dick’ishness.

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