Exceeding expectations, the wrong way

In any job that you might have, it is a good idea to exceed expectations. School, job, marriage, lawn care, manners, (you get the picture) are all great places to exceed expectations. Probably the only place that you should not exceed expectations is when it comes to unethical stuff, but I’d say “don’t do unethical stuff”. So, you would be better-off by exceeding expectations by really clearly avoiding unethical stuff. That is still cool.

The story doesn’t end there. When I was younger, I would have simply said “always strive to exceed expectations. The end”, but I’ve found that some people are SUPER irritated by over-achievers and the act of exceeding expectations. In fact, I’ve found that nearly anybody can become irritated by this behavior, if it is done improperly. The magical stink seems to be produced when a person over-does it with the overachieving.

Yes, it sounds odd, but “overachieving with your overachieving” seems like the worst thing that you could do around some people. You would be safer to insult their mother or something. The first time that you experience this phenomenon, it is a little baffling. Why would anyone have a problem with you giving 100%? Maybe your 100% is like somebody else’s 300%, but what is wrong with that? Why get mad about it? The world could use another Chuck Norris. Maybe you can fill the gap. Why not go for it?

The problem seems to stem from a couple of things:

  1. Playing at the wrong level Think of Shaq playing against a grade-school basketball team. It really isn’t fair. He could smoke them so bad. They would probably even feel embarrassed. So if Shaq played against kids and went gonzo, running up a score on them, people might think that Shaq is kind-of an arse. Probably anyone would be able to see their point-of-view. He has nothing to prove. If he is going to play at 100%, maybe Shaq should be playing against people at his own level. When he is playing against the kids, he could maybe beat them a little more gracefully. You only need to win by 1 or 2 points, not 50 or 100.
  2. Showboating Nobody likes a sore loser or a bad winner. As a kid, I didn’t like the boxer Mohammed Ali because I thought he was an obnoxious pompous tool. I wished that someone would teach him a little humility. (I don’t feel that way now, of course, because he has plenty of humility now). So, if you are doing great, don’t let it go to your head. People will admire you more for your humility instead of arrogance. Sometimes, this is harder than you might think.
  3. People are crabs If you’ve ever seen a fish-tank with a few crabs in it. You will “get” this metaphor. Crabs will not be able to escape from a fish tank, because as soon as one crab makes some progress and has nearly escaped, the other crabs will drag it back down to their level. They won’t work to help each other out. They will only work to prevent the advancement of others. Some people are the same way. They believe that they cannot win. So they only want to see everyone else lose too. If you are a winner, they will be against you and work hard to prevent you from succeeding.

Regardless of whether it is your problem or somebody else’s, don’t over-do-it with the overachieving. If you ever find your colleagues getting irritated by your accomplishments, then you should put more effort into the following:

  • Give credit to your peers as often as possible, so they are treated as equals.
  • Collaborate with others (don’t be a ball-hog). The bigger goal is what is important. It is more achievable through teamwork anyway.
  • Be humble. (If you can’t be humble, then at-least act humble, by keeping your yap shut when you start feeling full of pride).
  • Pick a longer-term goal and focus on that instead of each daily individual win.
  • Of course you deserve some recognition for your hard work. You will get it. Be patient.
  • Try stealthy excellence. Face it: isn’t “being surrounded by correctness” its own reward?! So just do things well, and keep it to yourself.
  • Some people prefer to learn from their mistakes. This might be any/all of your co-workers. Offer to assist them in any way you can, but allow them to do things their way (and don’t deliver any “I told you so”s, when/if you knew the answer before they did).
  • Some people derive a lot of joy from solving a puzzle by themselves. Don’t steal their joy. If they don’t seem interested in your help, then you should respect their pursuit of joy. You may not understand it, but that is what is going-on here.

After reading all of this, I know what you must be thinking: “Golly, I don’t think I have ever met a nerd, geek or otherwise highly-intelligent person with a lack of manners, or who seemed irritating in any way! All engineers are fun and loveable like puppies or bunnies.” (with a shocked and stunned look on your face). Look, I am as mystified by this phenomenon as anybody. Certainly, all brilliant people are constantly brimming with great manners and are always sensitive to the feelings of others. Plus, who ever heard of a nerd or geek with a need for frequent validation. Gosh, I’m sure they get validated all-day, every day. So, why would they ever feel a need to solicit validation? This must be some work of fiction that we are talking about. (okay, enough sarcasm. You get the picture).

This might not be about you, but you might know somebody like this (or maybe you are like this, but you are not very self-aware). Either way, if you see people getting irritated in the presence of extreme awesomeness, just take a deep soothing breath, think about what I’ve just said and chart your path towards the high-road. Maybe you might want to share this advice with somebody you know.

Being smart is lots of fun, but always demonstrate good manners and do not exceed expectations the wrong way.

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About Tim Golisch

I'm a geek. I do geeky things.
This entry was posted in IT Psychology, Professionalism. Bookmark the permalink.

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