Pedantic co-worker

by Imaginary-Mechanic61. Posted on Sep 12, 2020    9    30

Employ "X" has a niche skill set in my small business but is hardwired to find issues & risks with everything. He's an honest guy and means well but absolutely sucks the life out of team members. There is a problem or risk with every tiny matter we discuss and suggest and it wears me down.

I guess my question is, would you ask him to work on himself. Or would you see this style of personality as a bad fit for a very small team and look for somebody less skilled but more positive.




Seeing risks is a skill set. If he is a coworker, go to your manager and complain BUT also suggest that they manage this guy by having a part of meetings devoted to risk assessment, but also keep his problem-seeking to a minimum at other times by focusing him on using his skill in a more productive way. If you're managing him, it's your job to find ways to use this skill or to find a better fit for the team.

There's a difference between risk-spotting and complaining, though. If it's just complaining, then it's an issue.

But just a general note, if you're expecting others to change to suit you, you're gonna be really frustrated a lot of the time.


Just so we're clear - If the safety compliance officer says - Holy fucking shit! If OSHA comes in we are absolutely completely and totally fucked, to the point of potential individual criminal charges!

Your response would be to report/fire that person?

You just fired someone who didn't blow the whistle, who now has irrefutable whistle-blower protections under the law...

Nahthatsnotright 1

No. That's not what I'm saying at all.

If someone is good at spotting risks, that's a skill that, as a manager, you need to be able to harness and use to the company's advantage. In your example, don't pair that guy with a language-sensitive, uptight employee if possible, or make sure that they're talking to the people who can get something done instead of just swearing about it in the lunchroom. But if they're an average employee who whines a lot and doesn't fit into the team, it might be worth considering replacing them.


I would take the opposite approach. If this person (reminds me a lot of me) is the ONLY person offering a more pragmatic/pedantic perspective - Maybe if someone, anyone actually acknowledged the reality of the situation - They wouldn't feel so compelled to "double down", as the only voice of reason.


I think it depends how self motivated he is. If this person is looking for advancement (even in a small business) it sounds like learning "soft skills" would do them a lot of good. You could somewhat pitch it that way as his boss maybe not have it come off as "no one likes you".

If he doesn't want to advance at all then it's probably more about can you stand the fit since you have no real carrot.


Explain to him the situation. Tell him you appreciate his hard work. If he's honest then be honest with him. Then if it doesnt work out then find somebody else.


Have you thought that maybe you and the team are over assigning value to what would be fair and important discovery or assessment?

Why not just write down the observations and say: point noted? Or is the issue that they touch a nerve as there is accuracy to the identification of some of the risks or problems?

  Imaginary-Mechanic61 2

Are you suggesting we give too much value to his input? I guess if the company was bigger, his influence would be diluted. He gets a lot of air time just because there is only a handful of us in the business.
What hits a nerve for me, is he needs to be right always. I'm experienced with criticism. When somebody trashes my idea, I listen carefully for information that I missed out on. Sometimes there is a chance to do something even better. But f*** I can't stand when all somebody has to offer is negativity by default.


Yeah negativity also hurts me. I’m very negative about negativity. So I get what you mean. But I’ve been like that dude before myself, when everything around me seems just so wrong there’s little to find right. Shit, I’m still there. We can’t recycle a plastic bottle where I am, let alone turn a tv or computer back into constituent elements without fucking the air or the soil or poisoning people or the land. But anyway, maybe this could help.

Get him to go vegan. That gives him something non-business to focus on. Sent him to meditation. Vipassana worked for me. A 10 day residential or so should do it. Finally:

Tell him to go to toastmasters. They sometimes teach a way of sandwiching criticism between two complements. So if he’s gunna complain or share hurdles and a dry rocky road with no shade or water, at least he learns to make it sound like you’re not going to die along the way.

Edit: that’s not entirely true about the plastic bottles. We can recycle milk bottles. For me to recycle a milk bottle into eg. Another plastic product I would use, I have to road freight the bottle and reproduced raw material about 4000 kilometres.

Hudsons_hankerings 2

You said he needs to be right always.

But is he right always? Or most of the time?

xeneks 1

Some business owners appreciate people who are frank or blunt, but if it’s ‘always on’ it wears you down like sandpaper on wood. If he IS always right he deserves better than the op’s company, but seeing as that’s hard to quantify absolutely - it’s really important to try and find a meeting point in the middle where they lift each other up rather than put each other down. I mean, nearly everything we do makes our situation on earth worse, if you pan out far enough. Alfred E Bartlett, population and energy lecture. To buffer that hard but accurate view, watch some of the amazing perspectives by Hand Rosling. Between two views like that, while staring at a typical landfill dump, one can get inspired to lift your game. I think it’s better to be positive by raising the negatives early before they actually cause negatives that can’t be resolved.

shoelaceninja 1

I feel like I'm 'that guy.'

My business partners constantly tell me to stop being negative, stop complaining, stop shooting down their ideas.

The thing is, I don't see myself as being negative. I call out the negatives of things because I can see or know how to overcome/surpass that negative, or I view that negative as a deal breaker and push for another option.

I will not stop 'complaining,' because I'm not complaining, I'm standing up for my views and not giving up trying to push for a better course of action.

I'm going to argue my opinion on our use of our time as business owners whether or not my partners get sensitive and accuse me of shooting down their ideas.

If you have the knowledge and understanding to do better or do things in a better way, the missing piece is the willpower to make it so.

And at the same level, my other business partners do this to me in other areas of the business.

I've talked with friends and family about the 'abrasiveness' we experience as business owners and the one thing that stuck with me was "One sword sharpens another." We are critical and hard on each other and it betters all of us.

Try taking a step back and listening to what this employee is saying. If it's valid then try it. They may very well not be entirely right, but they might not be entirely wrong either..

If they're otherwise just being manic about things, try talking with them to get them to chill out a little. Calm and reassure them.

not-on-a-boat 1

I've got one of these on the team. Absolutely incapable of winging it, or launching without a careful consideration of every contingency. Documents to death. Strong believer that, if we spend enough time preparing, things can't go wrong.

That's a great asset on certain types of project and a terrible attribute in others. I assign selectively because of this.


At least they document it. Mine just says "I told you so". Yeah? Where?

YoramBaltinester 1

Sound like a typical life coaching scenario. Trust me - it must be happening elsewhere in his life, and he may welcome professional help. My first approach would be personality style testing and some basic communications course. In my experience it is highly "fixable".

DrunkenGolfer 1

There is risk in doing. There is risk in not doing. Seek to identify the risks and quantify them in terms of frequency and severity. Formalize the risk gathering and embrace his abilities to see the risk. Then quantify it, agree it doesn't need to be managed or is an acceptable risk, and move on.

I currently work in banking, and the entire culture in this bank and most others is to be incredibly risk averse. Everyone comes up with a million reasons not to do something but can't find three reasons to do something. Large change is never done, because large change implies large risk. Nobody ever sees the large reward that also comes with large change. My previous job was in insurance, where risk was embraced and analyzed. Risks and rewards were quantified and put on a scale and if something was a risk not worrying about, it was quickly discarded, ignored or accepted. Big bets were made on risks where the probability of reward outweighed the probability of failure.

Be more insurance and less banking.

Cautious-Rub 1

There’s a matrix for that!

organicfreerangetim 2

Back when I was a people manager - I would work with the rule that you had to find 2 reasons something WOULD work before you voiced a reason it wouldn't. There are obvious limitations to this, but it's about the mindset of overcoming adversity rather than being halted by it. Maybe recommend that as a policy.


That doesn't work if there is an outstanding liability to either of the possibilities, and no liability to the refusal.


I'm not sure I follow? It's a management style and not a gun to someones head. You achieve it through leadership and not creating consequences.


I think this is great

SafetyMan35 2

You or your boss need to establish expectations. Find a position that suits his way of thinking. Poking holes in idea is a great way to make a better product, but it works best if he pokes a hole and comes up with some ideas on how to fix it that can be shared and discussed with the group.

You will encounter people who think and process information differently which is good, but the team needs to adapt. Having 20 like minded people on a team doesn’t create great products.

The_S_Is_For_Sucks 2

I'd honestly pick his brains and ask him about the risks of doing nothing or going with another plan. Then I'd ask him what the rewards/benefits are.

I'd also set aside time for first starting with ideas (the cliched "blue sky" shit), and then analysis. Maybe he could document his concerns. If all he comes up with is criticism, I'd push him to analyze the benefits as well.

But I don't see risks as inherently negative, especially when the risk is completely out of scope for the project or could be covered in a risk management plan. If the only risk is "what if we outgrow this solution", then my answer is "we'll migrate--help us find a solution that has the minimum amount of headache for migration".

mustang__1 2

I've had to tell people I'll hear your concerns all day. But a) you need to start suggesting reasons to do my idea, and b) you need to start suggesting things on your own (because shit in your department is one near literal step from being on fucking fire and maintaining the status quo is eventually going to get you fired.... But I can't say that part out loud)

cybersaint2k 2

I run into a lot of that in the church with volunteers and staff. This is not the only variety of "distracted worker." But I think fundamentally this is someone who is distracted from the vision, the goal, the main thing.

I find that when the overall vision and mission is not clear, the purpose is not being emphasized, some folks get re-focused on other things. This is one of them.

And I can work on my leadership in making clear what and why we are doing certain projects.

And when I do, folks like this tend to get back to work because they would not be here if they didn't believe the goal was worthy of risk, work, and that ultra-risk-management delays in an unacceptable way, us accomplishing our goals.

miamiscubi 3

There was a great radiolab episode about team performance, and the most predictable way to know how a team would perform is by its most negative element.

Now, if he brings up valid points on the fly, and those are points your other team members don’t have an answer to, that’s a problem, because I would expect objections to have counters to them. If, on the other hand, he just likes playing devil’s advocate, but he doesn’t really believe in the risk he’s asserting, that’s just negative and you should ask him to stop.

Or, you can scope meetings to only people who need to be there.

DoctorOfMeat 8

" I guess my question is, would you ask him to work on himself. "

I'd say no. It's not your job to tell someone to 'work on themselves', it's your job to tell someone what you want and don't want out of them. It's hard to make suggestions without any examples, but you may just need to pull him aside and find a nice way to tell him to knock it off.

As someone at my place just said the other day, when someone is doing something that you don't want them to do, tell them to stop doing it.

I'm one of those 'what if' guys. When presented with some new thing we're going to try, I'm the one that'll poke holes in it. Sometimes someone just has to say 'okay, but we're going to see what happens, we won't know until we actually try'. Granted, if something goes wrong, there's typically not any huge risks associated with it. But it still gets me to stop doing it, even if I find myself in a 'well then I'm not going to help at all' mood for a little while. Even I know someone needs to tell me to knock it off from time to time.

However, it should be noted, that I'm really at no risk of getting fired. You're employee, OTOH, may need to understand that all the negativity from him surrounding every discussion needs to stop because it's just not working well for you.


TLDR: tell him what you want out of him. He's not going to like it because, from his POV, poking holes in things is very helpful since he's presenting you with a way to deal with problems, and create contingency plans, before they even start. But, if you don't want him to do that, tell him to stop doing it.

  Imaginary-Mechanic61 4

K, what I'm taking from this is that it's not so much personality traits, but more
a lack of a clearly defined role which I can totally accept. Clear expectations could be set, discussed & re-enforced. If he doesn't adapt maybe the role just isn't a great match for him or the business.


Some people have anxiety disorders and can’t help their obsessive behavior. Luckily I’m become more self aware that I can create my own problems, it does mean the world when people reassure me “it’ll be alright, we got this”

That’s all it takes.

You can either work with this employee to retain them, but it’s up to you to give this person a shot to reassure yourself they’re investing that time and energy. Who knows - it usually pays off (in either both of you growing over time or the employee self destructs and leaves quicker for you).

You got this.

Soilstone 7

Sounds to me like he has a pretty high attachment to well built systems & processes and a pretty strong need to stabilize his environment and minimize risk. I think this is super useful, especially as the one in the room who falls on the opposite of that spectrum. I think everyone here can agree that building solid systems and stabilizing/minimizing risk is a good thing for scalability, the challenge here is how do you put him in a position to do that without stifling the creative thinking that keeps the company or organization moving forward.

As you say he is honest and means well... I will assume he's not overly negative, just a bit hyper-critical and blunt when it comes to collaborative work or brainstorming. I don't know if that's necessarily something that he should "work on" fixing though.

I have been a huge fan of the Kolbe Test since my team took it about 6 years ago. It isn't a personality or an aptitude test but rather an assessment of how an individual gets stuff done in relation to 4 primary facets of how we work: Relationship to information, Relationship to structure, relationship to risk/uncertainly, relationship to space & tangibles

He likely feels he is greatly contributing to conversations by helping the idea people feel more grounded or offering realistic boundaries. He could also sometimes feel a little overwhelmed that no one else seems to "see the realities" of the situation. I assume he means well, since you already get that sense and doesn't sound like he intentionally tears people down.

I'd talk to him about it first, and not like he has a problem.

Without knowing much more about your group or organization, former-consultant-me can't offer too many solutions, but I imagine that sitting him down for a conversation would be a good start. I would browse that Kolbe site and maybe even pay the little bit for the test (at least for yourself, if not for him) to get a since of how to think through working with folks in a different way. It significantly improved my ability to manage a group of psychologists 1 day and a small team of warehouse operations folks the next.