19

First off: I tagged this as Asperger since having Asperger's makes me have trouble understanding others' motivations, thoughts, and interests, as long as they differ from mine. That means, to understand the actions of someone I need to understand that person's motivations and the best way to achieve this is asking what thoughts have led someone to a specific result.

It's nearly impossible to achieve "empathy" by any other means.

This is what I made clear on the very first day at work with my coworker, we had an open talk where he told me that I came across like trying to criticize him on my first day by doing that and that he feels easily offended by critique. I offered him to keep my thoughts of improvement to myself and he said that he wants to hear it (I keep them anyway, as he even reacts passively aggressive to me sometimes on the mandatory questions to understand his work).

But today I came across something that bothered me so much, I had trouble keeping it to myself (https://stackoverflow.com/q/46319579/2003898)

I didn't confront him with it directly, but at the end of the day, I told him, that I found a different solution from his and would like to hear his thoughts about it when it's done.

In that moment he just immediately came over to my desk and repeatedly asked me like "So show me, c'mon show me what you have done" in a very pushy way.

I started feeling VERY insecure and I wasn't able to explain anything.

After I regained myself I tried to at least explain my idea to him, when he interrupted me with a phrase that was along the lines of:

You should focus more on doing your job instead of trying to show others how bad their work is. You know, I think you actually just criticize everyone to conceal your own lack of skills, I mean it's surely a lot of pressure to be underperforming as you do, isn't it?

After that, he headed to our office's door frame and I just yelled "You really offend me like this and then just call it a day?", to which he simply responded with "Yes, I do."

This just caught me off guard and I feel so hurt, and as mentioned, right now I'm scared to go to work tomorrow, and even more scared to talk with him.

Anyway, I can't leave this like that.

I want to have a conversation with him tomorrow. I want to ask him if he thinks there is any way to get over the feeling of being criticized by me all the time, as today was the first time after 5 months I mentioned (in)direct critic to his work, at all.

I in fact like him personally, and I like the job, but this working environment is a no-no if we can't find a solution.

And as for now, the question is:

How can I approach him without coming over as being critical again in regards to today's situation, and especially, how can I prevent him from ever doing to me again what he did today, as I just feel really, really awkward...

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    You're welcome. But you should really thank my grammarly plugin ;-) As for your question... weird co-worker you've got. I don't know why somebody would take an explanation about how you and your Asperger work as a critique, especially not on a first day, unless you made the explanation after something already happened? What I'm trying to ask is: Did you give the explanation as a general introduction, or when trying to correct his behavior after he already did something you found you couldn't handle? – Tinkeringbell Sep 20 '17 at 18:52
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    A minor comment on: As today was the first time after 5 months I mentioned (in)direct critic to his work, at all [sic] . The extreme nature of his reaction could be a sign that he'd probably been bottling up his frustrations before and chose to unleash them today. – Lost Soul Sep 20 '17 at 18:52
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    You mentioned that you had Asperger's syndrome to this particular coworker, didn't you? If he treats you like this, it is just his poor understanding of what that entails. Have you thought about reminding him about your problem and then explaining why you acted the way you did? Maybe make him realize you didn't mean to insult/criticize his work but just that you have a hard time understanding his style of work? – Crazy Cucumber Sep 20 '17 at 19:12
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    Is it just your opinion that your work (your version of their work) is better than theirs? – n00dles Sep 21 '17 at 20:23
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    ...coz I could see how somebody would be pissed off in this situation. You can't keep repeating the same traits when you have been told it's annoying others. You can't use your condition as an excuse for that. People can't edit their feelings for you, it's impossible. They may be able to do it for a while, but not for long. – n00dles Sep 21 '17 at 20:31
15

My advice to you would be to have that talk. But if at all possible, involve a manager or scrum-master in this. Or any other independent third party you can find. I've had troublesome co-workers, and this was my solution to remedy part of my fear.

  • I talked to my scrum master privately. I just told him after stand-up that something was wrong, and that although I would like to address the problem with a certain co-worker myself, I would really prefer it if there was an independent third party present, that could moderate the conversation a little. Since I was especially afraid the other co-worker would not allow me to fully finish my talking, before interrupting or even ending the conversation, I asked the scrum-master to pay particular attention to this. That might be a good approach to have your co-worker hear you out as well.
  • If your co-worker feels easily criticized, keep this in mind when starting the conversation. Don't start with "You did this and ...", a better start would probably be to say:

    Lately, things haven't really been going well between us (at least, that's how I feel). I like you, and I like my job. So I would like to explain to you a little about my Asperger's, and how I think it is influencing our work-relationship. Please, hear me out. I'm not trying to offend or criticize you and after I have explained fully, I'm more than willing to hear your side of the story.

  • Explain why the third party is there. I pulled it off as saying that although I wanted to tell co-worker my side of the story and I wanted to hear his, I took a third party to the meeting to give me some independent feedback on my thoughts regarding our issue.

How can I approach him, without coming over as being critical again in regards to today's situation

I think it would be best to approach him on more general terms. Don't invite him to a conversation about today's situation, instead, focus on broader things like your work-relationship with him in general. Yes, you can use what happened as a specific example, but try and do so only when asked for it. If he asks you to make things specific, you can always say "Well, what happened then makes a good example of one of those moments where I think we were miscommunicating"

Start with a "This is why I want to talk to you". The why should be explaining/ resolving your differences
State your intent of explaining/resolving differences explicitly.
State that you are not criticizing him explicitly
Don't blame your co-worker. Keep your tone of voice and choice of words as neutral as possible.
Don't state "You did this...", instead of that state: "What happened in that moment..."
Avoid saying "You" whenever possible. This should help your co-worker realize you're focusing more on the situation than on him.

How can I prevent him from ever doing to me again what he did today?

I think you can already guess what I am going to say here. You can't teach an old dog new tricks. If you've explained your side of the story, with the third party present, your co-worker doesn't change and you can't change to handle his behavior differently, then you have 2 options:

  • If you had a third party present at the conversation, and this was a manager/scrum master, you could either escalate to them and try to have them undertake action against your co-worker. This might backfire on you though, resulting in the co-worker being even more difficult/hateful towards you, because now you've gotten him into trouble.
  • Find a new team/company to work for. If your co-worker doesn't change (maybe he can't as well?) then you two are just not a compatible team. Maybe you can change team within the company, otherwise, print your CV and start looking. If you think you can handle the situation without serious damage, take your time to find a job that's just as good as yours.

If you choose to go and find a new job, a little tip for handling the new team though, based on the comments we exchanged: Don't wait with explaining your Asperger's and your preferred way of working until somebody makes 'the first mistake'. I would recommend stating your preferred way of working before that, to avoid people seeing it as you criticizing them.

14

You know, I think you actually just criticize everyone, to conceal your own lack of skills, I mean it's surely a lot of pressure to be underperforming as you do, isn't it?

This is not professional, as you know, and this person, as such, is hampering your ability to work there.

If you work in a professional environment, you have a manager. It's time to let him do his job. Go talk to the manager first and explain the situation (if he's not a programmer as well, describe the interpersonal problem first, then do your best to describe the fubar one. When that has happened, bring up the talk you want to have, and make it clear you want a third party there for observation and intervention if necessary.

Passive agressive people suck the life out of others, and really, if there's something you can do about it, it's time to do it.

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    That's not passive aggression, that's active aggression. – n00dles Sep 21 '17 at 20:00
  • @n00dles - Yes, that is, but his other behaviors (saying he wants to hear criticism but being offended, they'll have the beer Monday, etc.) are very passive aggressive. – anongoodnurse Sep 21 '17 at 21:24
  • @anongoodnurse: Why the thing with Monday was aggressive? In my opinion the part that he is done with me and doesn't have anything to talk with me, was very aggressive, if not just hostile, but what ever changed(?) his mind, why moving the talk to Monday was passive aggression? Is this something my receptors might not be open for again? – dhein Sep 22 '17 at 8:16
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    @dhein - No, you're reading this man correctly. He's not a "safe" person to be around (he has serious issues.) My response was to n00dles (a different matter.) I think his comment about beer on Monday was for the benefit of your coworkers (so he would look better to them), not you (with whom he was very offensive.) – anongoodnurse Sep 22 '17 at 13:18
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+200

An engineer's job is to either find solutions to problems, or remove the problem.

You're in a situation where your engineer colleague is the problem.

For readers who aren't into software engineering: it's pretty bad.

Shoving all the C++ files into one huge blob has its uses. I've used it for small microcontroller code when I needed the optimizations. It can also be used for large applications, but that would only be for very performance-critical stuff like games. If you use llvm and clang, you can apply whole-program optimization if you set the options right. This involves compiling each source file into llvm bytecode (not machine code) then deferring the "llvm to machine code" translation after linkage, which allows an optimization pass on the whole program. But llvm/clang is not always as good as the other compilers, although sometimes it is better, so there is a trade-off. It could work, or not.

This is what your colleague should have told you: an explanation of why he chose this particular solution, which comes with its own set of compromises. Something like "Yeah, it sucks on (whatever), but it's really good on (whatever) so I think it's a good compromise."

Maybe you'd have agreed, if he had explained... But he did not!

In your case, I'd view this guy's approach as very suspicious.

In that moment he just immediately came over to my desk and repeatedly asked me like "So show me, c'mon show me what you have done" in a very pushy way.

By making a criticism, you questioned his position as leader (ie, alpha male). So he went into monkey mode and asserted dominance by humiliating you. Next time he does that, please visualize this picture:

A big, angry monkey hitting his chest

Because this is exactly what happened.

having Asperger's makes me having trouble understanding others motivations, thoughts, and interests, as far they differ from mine. That means, to understand actions of someone I need to understand that person's motivations

OK, so I hope this helps understanding why he did that. It's a power/domination game, basically animal instincts. As I said in another post, we're all evolved monkeys, and sometimes it shows.

So, you should not interpret all the insults he threw at you, criticizing your performance etc, as literal. In fact, when he does that, visualize the thumping monkey, and replace every word that comes out of his mouth by "My authority is questioned! Must... assert... dominant... position... Onk! Onk!"

I started feeling VERY insecure and wasn't able to explain anything.

Insulting someone with Aspergers is extra cruel since they have trouble processing it.

I would take pleasure in firing this guy ;) In fact, I've fired people like that.

When you tell an engineer "are you sure this is the best way to do it" they should react on the lines of "hey, maybe there's a better way and we can improve the thingie." That's if they're good. In this guy's case, pride and short temper get in the way. He may favor bad solutions because they're his solutions and he's too proud to consider others.

Now, how to give him constructive criticism:

Feed him the feedback sandwich. Another example. Use Gordon's method and rephrase as "I..." instead of "You..."

Like: "I'm interested to know why you chose this solution, I'm sure I missed some of the advantages of this." instead of "Why did you do it like that?"

This does not work on everyone. Some people can handle criticism just fine and will tell you to cut the crap halfway through the first layer of sugar-coating, and that's excellent. Your colleague does not seem to be like that however.

He also probably needs a reminder about your condition, perhaps you can find an online guide about "how to handle people with Asperger's" and suggest he read it.

EDIT -- now taking into account the new info, and the old info I hadn't noticed.

He's the only developer in a largish company (~300 people). "That guy is crucial, he is the only one knowing how to code C except for me, and he is one of the most senior employees (...) they simply couldn't fire the only one being able to maintain productive code."

Translation: the manager allowed this guy to dig himself in like a barnacle and become irremovable. If this guy gets run over by a bus or is unable to work for an extended time, the whole company will be in deep shit. If they can hire 300 people, they could have hired a backup plan. Your manager is, thus, an idiot.

You're probably that backup plan, but you should have been hired much earlier, before that guy became "crucial". In this case you wouldn't have been a threat to his dominant position, because he wouldn't have been in a dominant position yet. But right now, I'd bet he knows that if he lets you master the code base, then you can eventually replace him... So it's in his own interest to get you out of the way.

It doesn't matter that you're a nice guy and not interested in stealing his job: when management gets tired of his antics, if you can replace him they will make you an offer.

If you agree this is true (I could've missed the point) then you need another job, because even if he's not an asshole, he has a strong incentive to get rid of you.

Now, let's try to enter this guy's state of mind, ie his "frame". A bit like writing a character description, but in first person:

"I'm so awesome! The whole company's future rests only on me! They respect me, beg me for help, and when my shitty code crashes and I fix it, they look up to me like a God!"

Positive I.D. confirmed... beep... zoom in... snapshot:

Picture of a man dressed as a knight

...complete with a skull on a stick. It would be better with flames coming out of the eyes, but this one will do for now.

The fact he's into power/domination games and humiliated you gives me a hunch that he knows very well that you're a threat to his dominant position. At first I attributed this to his short temper and your attempt at criticism, but I had missed the fact that he's in the perfect position to develop a Lone Superhero Syndrome.

I mean, if he was a mildly awkward geek like James Damore, it would be believable that he's in it for the thrill of coding and really wouldn't mind the help... but somehow that doesn't feel right.

And I just yelled "You really offend me like this and then just call it a day?" what he simply responded to with "Yes, I do."

Now, this is a very valuable nugget of information that I had missed. I wonder if he sounded like he was gloating?

If he was in monkey mode as I first thought, controlled by anger and primal urges, then he'd probably have replied something more emotional like "Go f- yourself" and slammed the door. But this "Yes, I do" is quite a witty line to pull in such circumstances. This hints of him being either such a professional asshole that he can stay witty even when angry (ie, bad) or it would hint that he wasn't really angry and still in control (ie, worse for you).

I know this line, because I like to use it when I really want to be a total asshole. It works very well, but it's like a weapon of mass destruction. Basically it means "I don't give a shit what you feel because you don't exist." Which, I'm sure you reckon, isn't something you say unless you're absolutely sure the person in front of you really deserves it, and you got no plans to be buddies in any kind of future or alternate dimensions...

Anyway, back to your case.

I'm gonna go out on a limb here, wild hypothesis, might be wrong, but I'll attempt it anyway. I'll characterize this guy as a high-level narcissist. I don't know if you know how a narcissist works, so I'm gonna illustrate, just in case. Also I'm having way too much fun writing this.

We all live inside our own movie which can be called a frame, this is the way we perceive reality. Call it a set of axioms that we take for granted and which govern the way we think. Look at a conservative: Trump is a jolly good fellow! Look at a liberal: Trump is a nazi! Same reality, different perceptions. Reality would be like: Trump is Trump, like an elementary particle, if you can figure out where he stands by reading his tweets, you violated the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and get Nobel prize, good for you!

So, frame influences what details are ignored or processed by our minds, it also influences how we react to real events. Since you're an aspie, I go by the assumption that your frame is very different from mine. So we probably interpret reality in different ways. Everyone does, it's fine.

Back to the issue: what is the frame of a narcissist? Well, it's basically this:

A drawing of a "skull-man", sitting in a throne and looking scary

Damn! Still no flames coming out of the eyes.

So, a Narcissist sits on his throne, and his legions of worthless minions grovel at his feet. This is his reality: in his own movie, he's the hero, and everyone else is that secondary character who dies throwing themselves in front of a bullet aimed at the hero in chapter two.

For once, I'm not exaggerating. Some people are really like that. I'm not sure your colleague is, but think about what being the only developer in a 300+ people company will do to someone with an overinflated ego to begin with, over the years... scary!

When you criticize a Narcissist, perhaps you think you are making a simple constructive criticism, but what you are really doing is challenging their world view. In their movie, they're the hero. They're fucking Superman. So you step in and hint that Superman might, kinda, sometimes, be wrong.

This makes a Narcissistic brain short-circuit. That guy has two options: either acknowledge he's wrong, or get rid of you. His brain will choose the easier way out, and that is always the second option, because in his own frame, a Narcissist is never wrong. If he could be wrong, he wouldn't be a narcissist...

At this point I'll just quote wikipedia:

Narcissistic individuals use various strategies to protect the self at the expense of others. They tend to devalue, derogate, insult and blame others, and they often respond to threatening feedback with anger and hostility.

Sounds like "boom headshot" doesn't it.

Now... another feature of the Narcissist is that you're his buddy. He'll be super friendly (at first, before he destroys you). In fact, you'll think he's awesome... because he wants you to think he's awesome!

So here's my assessment:

Get another job.

In the interview for your next job, when they ask about your past experiences, mention that you were in a large company with only one person in charge of IT, and how crazy and illogical this sounds. Tell them the truth, you can use every word I wrote above also, it's meant to help you.

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    "He also probably needs a reminder about your condition" Giving an asshole ammunition is almost never a good idea. At best he'll use it as a reason to be dismissive, at worst he'll use it to further question the OP's competency and ability. – apaul Sep 21 '17 at 15:13
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    @Thomas - edited – peufeu Sep 21 '17 at 15:19
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    @apaul34208 hmmm that depends if this guy is really an ass or just has a short temper. In the first case, involving the boss or finding another job would be preferable. In the second case, involving the boss could be counter-productive... In both cases I would still fire that guy though. He's the definition of unprofessional. You just don't talk to new hires like that. – peufeu Sep 21 '17 at 15:21
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    I've edited my answer and added tons of stuff, please read. I kinda shot in every direction, so you get to pick and choose ;) – peufeu Sep 21 '17 at 20:31
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    @AytAyt I understand how that word can be unpleasant to you since people have used it derisively towards you. You might find it interesting that in online autistic communities I've seen many people were fine with and even preferred/self-labeled "aspie". (There's also a lot of push against "person-first" language like "someone with autism/aspergers" by many autistics). I also feel like I've seen "autie", which is I guess meant to have the same cutesy abbreviation feel but more generalized to the whole spectrum. Of course, any wording hurts if it's used hurtfully, so it's hard to really pick. – mtraceur Dec 21 '17 at 11:27
2

I have autism, which is very similar to Asperger's so I can easily sympathize with you. (BTW, Asperger's is now called autism spectrum disorder - ASD, just wanted to let you know) He does seem to be a passive-aggressive person. From what I see, he really is an emotional person at heart and looks like he really isn't a dominating sort of person. But who knows? I don't...

Talk with him. If nothing works, be independent. There are people who will do nothing but bring you down. This co-worker seems to be doing just that.

The tenth part of the Scout Law is bravery. You need to be brave, even when you are scared. You need to keep your emotions in check, but do not suppress them. And confront him right there, on the spot, about his problems. Do not indirectly bring them up. Do not wait. Do not submit to his behavior. Do it there. Work something out. If nothing can be done, then stop working with them. They can be toxic to your life and health.

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    Please don't add the signature back. I'm undoing your edit. Please don't repeat it. We focus on having questions and answers, so signatures only add clutter to it. – NVZ Sep 20 '17 at 21:48
  • He managed for just bringing me down for another day and on top of that left me in confusion. Our company has a somewhat dirnking culture, so I brought 2 beer into the office this morning and asked him "Well, can we have a afterwork beer on my cost today, and talk a bit?" Where he responded "Well I'm not really motivated to talk with you anymore, as personally I'm done with you" And when he just left he said in the room to everyone (there is currently a trainee) "Ok, I'm having a long weekend so have nice days, and dhein; Lets have the afterwork beer on monday, yeh?" I just feel lost... – dhein Sep 21 '17 at 13:20
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    @dhein, you should feel lost, because this co-worker is being totally inappropriate and sending all sorts of contradictory messages. I am confused too, and I don't have the same difficulties understanding motivation that are a challenge to people with Asperger's. No real advice for you here--just wanted to let you know that you should not assume your lack of understanding has anything to do with your specific challenges--he sounds like a trainwreck of co-worker. Sorry you have to deal with this... – magerber Sep 21 '17 at 16:16
  • @magerber: Thanks, thats allready a help, as I wasn't sure if its just me having trouble with that or being him totally off-track with that reaction. – dhein Sep 21 '17 at 16:27

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