Friday, July 22, 2011


A surreal experience, of the conference kind:

A colleague, with whom I used to work, many years ago, but with whom I stopped working because he was so uncommunicative and because he sat on data for YEARS (so that in most cases I had to redo his work to have any hope of moving forward with the research) and because he did not comment on manuscripts (much less write anything himself) and because he was therefore a major and annoying obstacle to any progress with our collaborative research, recently complained to me about another colleague who behaves the exact same way to him as my ex-colleague did to me back when we worked together. He complained bitterly to me about this other person's lack of communication (!) and refusal to share collaborative data (!) or comment on manuscripts (!), much less write anything himself (!).

Does my ex-colleague's brain consist of compartments that are totally impermeable to each other so that he can act one way and complain about the exact same behavior in someone else? I am sure that it is fairly common to be annoyed by unsavory behaviors of which we ourselves are guilty, and perhaps this was just an extreme example.

Or did my ex-colleague know that he was complaining about his own behavior (in someone else) and was in some twisted way apologizing to me? I doubt it, but I suppose it is possible.

In any case, I just said "Omigod, what a jerk" and walked away. It was too weird, even for me.


Notorious Ph.D. said...

I've found that the human behaviors that really, really get under my skin are the ones that either I share myself, or that I'm afraid I might have the potential to share. These people become my nemeses, as if by grappling with them I could tame the stuff in myself that I'm not ready to face up to yet. It's not a great coping mechanism, but there it is.

That said, there's no reason that you should have to put up with it if the job no longer requires you to.

Anonymous said...

HAHAHA. I had a coauthor like that. I try very hard to be exactly the opposite! Which means fewer publications than folks who manage to get other people to do the majority of the work, but what can a person do?

I hope as I continue to mature that I find good working relationships. I could use a few more.

GMP said...

What Notorious PhD said: I think we are particularly sensitive in others to the flaws that we have ourselves. I know that my eldest son's characteristics that annoy me the most are exactly those he inherited from me and which I am not proud of.

Katie said...

Eh, I tend to disagree that we are particularly sensitive to flaws in others the we ourselves share. For me, at least, it's the exact opposite - I hate inconsiderate behavior because I go out of my way to try to be as considerate to others as possible (so it pisses me off when others don't do the same). But who knows about your colleague, as he seems to have a few screws loose already... How did you ever resist the urge to respond with "I used to have a collaborator just like that!"?

Anonymous said...

OMG what a relief. Welcome back, FSP. I was having withdrawal.

As for your colleague, yes, compartmentalized!

While I agree with the other posters that sometimes shared traits are particularly annoying, from what you have said about yourself, he is not like you.

I think that your colleague is just annoying. Lots of people have learned how to manipulate others to do various things such as write all their papers for them. They are so used to manipulating that they just get annoyed when they can't use the same approach on someone.

My guess is that even if someone pointed out to him that he does the same thing, he would be aghast at the suggestion.

DrDoyenne said...

People who are narcissists see the world from only one viewpoint-theirs. They usually do not correlate what others do to annoy them with how they treat other people (or if they do, they don't care).

On the other hand, your colleague may have been testing you to see if you felt that way about him....

GMP said...

I was referring to FSP's collaborator -- he may be responding so vehemently to the flaws in another person that he, perhaps subconsciously, finds in himself.

Anonymous said...

People do this sort of thing all the time. It's always easier to see the flaws in others than in ourselves.

what I don't understand is, how did your colleague manage to keep his job? in today's workplace, not being able to be a team player often costs people their jobs. Maybe the tenure system is not such a good idea (allows dysfunctional workplace behaviors to continue since there are no consequences).

Anyway, I would consider this as your ex-colleague getting a taste of his own medicine. It's karma, if you will.

However. Even if he is getting his karma, whether he has learned anything from it or even knows he's getting his karma, is unclear.

Why don't you tell him that he did the same things himself years ago?

Back then he may not have been open to receiving feedback and criticism.

But now that he's experienced just how annoying and downright debilitating these kinds of behaviors are on the receiving end, he may now be more open to getting feedback and criticism and learning from it and becoming a better team player.

If no one is honest with him and calls him out on his bad behavior, then he's less likely to figure it out on his own let alone ever change.

In my organization (a research institute), everyone - staff researchers, technicians, supervisors, upper management, student interns, postdocs - periodically are strongly encouraged fill out anonymous evaluations about one another's workplace behavior. These are not formal performance evaluations that your salary is based on, these are evaluations of your ability to work together with other people or to take initiative or to do other non-technical aspects of the job.

So someone may get evaluated by their subordinate/trainee as well as by their supervisor and a peer. And simultaneously be called on to evaluate their peer/trainee/supervisor too. These are anonymous online evaluations. what it does is give you feedback from people you work with daily, in different capacities, on your workplace behaviors. they are anonymous so people can feel free to speak their minds...(although if you have only one postdoc or one trainee, then you will know who it is who's evaluating you if they choose to identify themselves as your trainee!)

People who are reactive or avoidant to where it makes life difficult for their colleages, can be informed anonymously that they are that way. what they choose to do with the information is up to them. I'm sure many people simply get defensive and ignore the results of these evaluations or shy away from them and refuse to participate in such future evaluations since they are recommended but not mandatory, but quite a few colleagues I know took them to heart (which I think requires courage) and have made efforts to improve their communication and workplace behaviors and attitudes. In the end you can't force someone to want to undergo personal growth, but you can give them honest feedback and leave it up to them whether they want to use that information to grow personally, or to just get defensive and do nothing.

However, really bad workplace behavior would be subject to formal consequences which are not optional.

Anonymous said...

wow, are you sure you didn't meet my advisor?

Anonymous said...

I had a similar experience a few weeks ago. I was chatting over the phone with a former roommate who, just four years ago, nearly drove me insane with her filthy habits and general lack of regard for my comfort in our shared living space until I finally moved out and coughed up the money to live alone. When we were catching up, she regaled the horrors of her living situation last year when she was finishing her masters. Apparently, she had absolutely awful roommates, who acted (*ahem*) exactly the way she had during our time living together. She completely failed to notice the similarities. I really wanted to call her out on it, but I instead settled for over-dramatic responses to the tune of, "Oh, I can imagine that must have been just awful!" For the sake of our friendship (which has a chance, now that we don't live near one another), I was glad that she couldn't see my face over the phone. I fear that this behavior may be a more common part of the human condition than any of us would like.

Doctor Pion said...

Did your ex-collaborator also make extremely long and detailed lists of what needed to be done? Sounds like a twin to a former collaborator of mine.

Anonymous said...

I jokingly say that every complaint that most faculty have about students is also true of themselves. For example, we complain about students texting during class and we text during meetings. This sounds like something very similar.

I missed you FSP.

Anonymous said...

sounds like he's a narcissist.

Anonymous said...

What Dr. Doyenne said. Of course I may just be reading my own situation into your post...

I was married to a narcissist for almost 21 years and this sort of behavior was par for the course. The last few years of the marriage, he'd actually "punish" me for doing things he didn't like...but when he did the same things himself (which he frequently did), it was perfectly fine because [insert excuse here].

I cannot tell you how GLAD I am to be out of that marriage.

x said...

I know one person like that (not professionally, thankfully?)

Over the past few years, I came to the realization that said person has been projecting her own insecurities and unfulfilled desires on to those whom she feels she has control over.

As previous commenters said, I guess it's a common psychological phenomenon.

Although FSP, your interpretation that your ex-collaborator might have been apologizing in a strange way is rather interesting. Assuming he is self-conscious of course, the chance of which is probably small.

preoccupiedgirl said...

I think what we have at play here is actor-observer bias. When he thinks about his own actions, he knows all the reasons and motivations for them. He likely thinks that they were all justified, in context. (e.g. I was just so busy at that time, someone else wasn't following through for me, I had to wait for xyz to happen first, and so on.) When it comes to someone else's behaviors, though, he does not see any of the reasons but just attributes them all to the other person not caring or just being a jerk. This is known as the "fundamental attribution error."