Paul Butler: Don’t be annoying

DIt’s a global phenomenon that no one likes a know-it-all.

I learned this in the spring of 1976 when in the fifth grade at school, our class was reading Roald Dahl’s classic “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.” I was very excited about this, as I’d read the book the previous summer myself. And therein lay the lesson.

As I recall, our schoolteacher used to ask us to read a page or so aloud individually and then, after a few of us had read, Mrs. Green would ask us questions about what we’d just heard and understood. I had my arm raised for every question, because I just knew all the answers.

I was prideful. I was arrogant. I was annoying. The problem was, I didn’t know it.

Mrs. Green on several occasions asked me to give other children a chance to answer, but she couldn’t quite quell my enthusiasm. My little sweetheart at the time, Mandy, couldn’t whisper any sense into me, either. Surely my depth of knowledge about Charlie Bucket, Veruca Salt, Mike Teavee, Violet Beauregarde and Augustus Gloop impressed her? It took a fellow student speaking up to eventually get me to shut up.

Alan was a quiet boy — who rarely said anything at all about anything. He just walked up to me after class and talked straight. I still remember his words of wisdom: “Paul, you are annoying. You annoy me, and you annoy everyone else. Don’t be annoying as it can be so annoying.”

Three thoughts immediately hit me — firstly, I didn’t know Alan knew my name. Secondly, I’d never heard one adjective used so many times in one sentence. Thirdly, maybe he was right.

Years later, as I started to work in the world of commerce, I came across many people who I wished would have met Alan. I worked for supervisors who thought they knew everything. Some of the worst leaders I ever worked for were so full of their own importance — they just loved to hear themselves speak.

The other lesson I learned from Alan was that it is always best to talk straight. I didn’t like what Alan said at the time and, in fact, it bruised my little ego for a while. But Alan had enough courage to tell me straight and, for that, I am extremely grateful. He didn’t gossip about me. He didn’t dance around the issue. He just looked me in the eyes and told me straight.

We often see micromanagement, which is a style whereby a manager closely observes and/or controls the work of his/her subordinates or employees. Micromanagement is generally considered to have a negative connotation, mainly because it shows a lack of freedom in the workplace.

In junior high language, such people must have raised their hands way too many times and, because they were perhaps rewarded or applauded for doing so, this became a pattern of thinking and now a paradigm — a window through which micromanagers see their workday world.

They’re annoying.

I’ve observed how micromanagers have sometimes adapted their style slightly to be benevolent, but then revert quickly back to what they’re most comfortable with — autocracy. Psychologists call this “passive aggressive behavior.”

I witnessed this recently when preconsulting with a client of ours. The chief financial officer is a very controlling and dominant individual. At various times during the meeting, I observed how he’d somewhat benevolently invite comments from his colleagues, but on every single issue in the meeting, he would subtly pull the decision back to what he originally wanted. I could almost sense the energy being sucked out of the room — he wasn’t letting anyone else answer the teacher’s questions.

At one point during the meeting, I must admit, my eyes glazed over, and I am sure I could see a 10-year-old Alan sitting in the corner smiling at me. It didn’t seem appropriate for me to address the issue with the suffocating CFO in front of his colleagues, but in honor of Alan, I will be sure to tell him how annoying he is next time we meet.

If the client fires us, I’ll be so annoyed with Alan. I might unfriend him on Facebook.

Paul Butler is a Santa Clarita resident and a client partner with Newleaf Training and Development of Valencia (newleaf-ca.com). The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Signal newspaper. For questions or comments, email Butler at [email protected]

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