I, and many of my peers have experienced the phenomenon, when you have a colleague that seems to “have it in for you”. Everything you do, just seems to grind their corn. This person isn’t your boss. So the person has no control over what you do and you have little or no effect on this person either. It would be one thing if you were a screw-up, but you are doing a good job. Still, that person just seems to pick-apart anything you do. The person just can’t get off your back. What is that all about?
First a little background:
As a programmer, I don’t see this nearly as often as most people do. Part of it is because programmers have very little contact with other co-workers. A programmer keeps his head down and jams away until all of the programs are done. Then, once the programs are done, there is very little left to do. When there is nothing left to do, there is, um, well, nothing to do. Your job is pretty-much over. So, you usually have to go somewhere else. Therefore, it is hard for programmers to stay-put at one place, for very long. When you don’t stay-put for very long and you don’t interact with people very much, people don’t get to know you and vice-versa.
Every now-and-then, a programmer will land at a company that wants to retain you. As the programs get completed, you get signs. Such as, “the talk” about “moving up” and “taking more responsibility”. Gradually, you are even introduced to people around the company and get invited to meetings and stuff. People talk about what else you can do, other-than programming. This usually means that you are encouraged to stick-around.
Usually, most companies prefer to promote from within. Most employees start out low on the totem pole and work their way up. If you have the right personality, and the higher-ups seem to respect and trust you, then the path is paved for you to move up. You might also get some help from your boss. That is, unless your boss is worried about losing you, or if the boss sees you as competition for some reason. Most of the time, your boss is encouraged to groom “the right people” to move up. If that is you, then the process is really cool and works great.
There are some talented people who get overlooked, or passed-over. With a little encouragement, these people could be very successful, but things just don’t work out that way. Likewise, the flip of that happens too. Some people who are terrible, but they move up anyway. That person should be punished instead of promoted. Is the world just hopeless? No. There is some inner game that you cannot see. This is why this sort of thing happens.
Getting the right label
Oddly, the way that a lot of people “get somewhere” in their careers, is by campaigning. Like a politician, you need to get your name out there. People see your face and hear you say nice things. You kiss a few babies and smile and wave at people. Folks see that you are a nice person and they like you. They hope good things happen for you.
In contrast, most geeks are not good at campaigning for themselves. They don’t say hi in a friendly manner. They don’t shake hands or hug people nicely and when they do hug someone, it feels awkward. Instead, geeks tend to hunker-down at their desks and get mountains of stuff done and make everyone else’s lives easier. Unfortunately, this often gains them zero recognition. As a geek, you seem to be doing what you do best. People know it, on some level but that is not at “eye-level”. In fact, if you do your job well, and it makes other people’s jobs easier, they will secretly hope that you never-ever get promoted. Because, if you get promoted, then you won’t be able to do that anymore. Plus, who sees you? Who knows how much work you are really doing. Maybe just you. You can’t promote yourself. Do you see the problem?
Your best foes
The people who are most likely to be your foes are the ones who have it in their heads that they must move up and be in charge of stuff, but do not want to be responsible for much. If they become responsible for stuff, then they can be held accountable, and that is a liability. Those people love TV shows like “survivor”, where the winners succeed by spotting other people who are their competition and work hard to subvert those people. If you are doing a good job and receiving recognition and one of those people identifies you as “competition”, then that person will feel compelled to campaign against you. That person will exert unusual amounts of energy to neutralize your accomplishments. If they can’t win, then they will make sure everyone else loses.
Meanwhile, you are working your butt-off trying to get stuff done and getting criticism from several directions. Where is this coming from? You try to regroup to fix these problems that pop up everywhere. You were doing a good job, but somehow people seem to think that you always make the wrong decision. Your feedback is largely negative. All of your accomplishments are disappearing underneath a growing cloud of complaints. You spend large amounts of time trying to fix the problems. Eventually, you realize that you need to head-off these problems. Otherwise, you can’t make any good progress, to redeem your reputation.
How foes learn this
This is a clever trick that some people were able to master in High School. They were usually known as “the cool kids”. They identified the dorks/nerds/geeks, and campaigned against them in High School and it worked. They got dates and went to prom and were voted “most popular”. Meanwhile, you were studying to get good grades to get into a good university.
In the end, it still comes down to this: some people still get-by on hard-work and smarts, but don’t get rewarded much for doing it. Meanwhile, others prosper by campaigning and self-advertising. They work the system by seeming likeable and trustworthy and it pays-off big-time. It also makes you seem less-likeable, and underlines how much less-warm and friendly, you seem to be.
The wrong solution
It might sound like I am suggesting that you can prosper by turning the tables on these people, but be warned: they have way more experience at this sort of thing than you do. If you aren’t used to that sort of thing, then you have a lot of catching-up to do. Before you try it, I strongly suggest that you should also do some soul-searching and decide if that is the road that you really want to go down. If it is, then start studying how to interact with others better and how to “seem likeable”. You must convince yourself that this is an honorable goal, otherwise, your fakeness will shine through. It must be authentic. You must believe it yourself. You must genuinely develop likeable traits. It sounds weird, but it is actually very normal, and perhaps, you have neglected it and that is the crux of the problem.
Finally, don’t bother picking a fight with your #1 critic. People are not as dumb as you think. They can see when somebody has a grudge on you and they will not buy into it. People hate a villain and they hate rotten people and negativity. They also don’t like to be told what to think. Just do the right thing, be positive, honest and hard-working. Your critic will eventually shine enough light on you to actually gain you some recognition, but only if you stay on the high road and don’t waiver.
The high-road is a painful path to travel, but frequently tread by the true elite.