The gist of Curry's answer was:"I was given hundreds of nonsensical suggestions. These included saying "please" and "thank you" when asking employees to do tasks they're paid to do. I was also told to listen to "all others" without interruption, even when idiots talk and I've got things I need to do.I told my boss he could choose between me being "nice" and me getting my work done. He told me to call you."
"Allow me to shorten the list of suggestions to just one: Stop being a jerk."
It's easy to dismiss this as far-fetched and conclude the letter is a hoax. But I suspect many of you know someone like this. So I'm going to continue on the assumption it's for real.
For everyday practical responses, "Stop being a jerk" probably works for all of us reading it, but what about the guy who wrote the letter? Or Mitt Romney?* (Curry does say more, but it is all in the same vein that he's already dismissed as 'nonsensical suggestions.')
Labeling someone - especially a pejorative like 'jerk' - doesn't work well if the person truly doesn't understand what the problem is. And even if they do understand, this will likely make them defensive, though in some cases it might work.
My preference is to try to understand the underlying reasons one gets put into the 'jerk' category and whether there might be other ways to phrase it. Jerk just means 'you aren't a good person.' But people don't choose to be jerks. They may choose behaviors that cause others to label them jerks, but being a jerk is a side effect of how they act, not their goal.
They need more help understanding their 'jerkhood.'
In fact, his behaviors remind me of Asperger Syndrome. (I confess that I see Asperger symptoms a lot. I don't know if this is because my understanding of mental health is so limited I apply Asperberger inappropriately or that there really are a lot of people who display a few or more Asperger symptoms.)
About.com's overview of Asperbergers offers a simplified list of symptoms from the Cambridge Lifespan Asperger Syndrome Service(CLASS) in UK. Let's look at the list with my comments applying them to Curry's letter writer.
- I find social situations confusing.
- Clearly the case here.
- I find it hard to make small talk.
- Seems to be the case here
- I did not enjoy imaginative story-writing at school.
- No evidence presented.
- I am good at picking up details and facts.
- Seems to do his job well which may involve these skills. Not sure.
- I find it hard to work out what other people are thinking and feeling.
- I can focus on certain things for very long periods.
- Again, possibly. He focuses on his work and isn't distracted by the social aspects at work and doesn't like to be distracted by others asking him questions
- People often say I was rude even when this was not intended.
- I have unusually strong, narrow interests.
- We don't have enough evidence, but he does his work - possibly one of those strong interests - and it seems like those interests do not broaden out to things his co-workers are interested in, or even to his co-workers themselves.
- I do certain things in an inflexible, repetitive way.
- May explain why he's so impatient with how others do things or even listening to them making suggestions. And he certainly doesn't want to change how he interacts with them. They are the problem, not he.
- I have always had difficulty making friends.
- Definitely true at work and I suspect elsewhere.
I looked for the source of the checklist above and found a paper at MD Junction which appears to have as the lead author the head of the Cambridge Lifespan Asperbers Syndrome Services, Simon Baron-Cohen. (For the interminably curious, Wikipedia says he is the cousin of actor Sacha Baron-Cohen.) Here are some of the most relevant symptoms to Curry's worker's case from in Appendix A of the paper.
- doesn't think it's their problem if they offend someone (EQ27
- can't always see why someone should have felt offended by a remark (EQ29)
- prefers to do things on own rather than with others (AQ1)
- finds friendships and relationships difficult so tends not to bother with them (EQ12) .
- often told has been impolite even though they think they have been polite (AQ7)
- Lack of social or emotional reciprocity (e.g. not knowing how to comfort
someone; and/or lack of empathy).
- finds it hard to see why some things upset people so much (EQ21)
- does not spot when someone in a group is feeling awkward or uncomfortable (EQ26)
- is not upset by seeing people cry (EQ32)
- makes decisions without being influenced by people's feelings (EQ39)
- does not get emotionally involved with friends' problems (EQ59)
- does not enjoy social chit-chat (AQ17)
- is not good at social chit-chat (AQ38)
- can't tell if someone else wants to enter a conversation (EQ1)
- can't work out what other person might want to talk about (EQ54)
- not a good diplomat (AQ48)
- often finds it difficult to judge if something is rude or polite (EQ14)
- is very blunt without being intentionally rude (EQ34)
*I think Mitt Romney's more awkward behaviors could be pinned to these lists. In fact his comments to wealthy donors reported yesterday sound familiar:
“There are 47% of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47% who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care of them, who believe that they are entitled to healthcare, to food, to housing, to you name it,”
"[M]y job is not to worry about those people,” Romney said, referring to Obama supporters. “I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."The message is the same as Curry's office 'jerk':
I'm not the problem, the other people are impossible and unreachable so why should I bother?
OK, I acknowledge that Romney's problem is bigger than Asperger Syndrome, but I suspect Asperger - or something similar - is part of it.