Am I being obnoxious?

The Philosopher Developer

January 31, 2012

I've noticed I tend to have two conflicting inclinations in a lot of day-to-day situations at work:

  1. I have a lot of opinions about how things could be done better
  2. I strongly believe that in order to effect change, it's important not to turn people against you

The latter seems like a no-brainer, and yet it frequently gets in the way of the former.

For example, I often participate in meetings during which the discussion becomes derailed on a side tangent, or the group loses focus making jokes or telling stories. Sometimes one-on-one dialogues emerge while the rest of the room sits quietly, waiting politely for the two individuals who are monopolizing the meeting to check themselves. Invariably, after meetings such as this there are grumblings amongst a few of the participants about how unnecessarily long and pointless the meeting was. (Though I'm not proud of it, I am generally a part of this group.)

Why should this happen? I ask myself this on a regular basis. It seems that if not one but multiple people are aware that the meeting is veering off track, or that it is somehow not running effectively, surely someone ought to speak up. But no one does, and it's because of the second point above. Speaking for myself, at least, I don't want to disrupt the flow of things just to voice my discontent at how the conversation is progressing. I could do more damage than good. People might get defensive. I could inadvertently harm team morale. Besides, just because I am not engaged in the conversation, that doesn't mean it's a waste of everyone's time.

Of course, these fears reflect a risk-averse attitude that is perhaps not particularly beneficial to whatever project I'm on. In general, I do think it's valuable to ask the question Am I being obnoxious?, but even with that in mind it's probably better to speak up rather than remain silent when you have an idea about how to improve a team process. Assuming you work with reasonable people (which I do), the worst-case outcome should be a discussion that, while it may not lead to any actual changes (i.e., if your teammates disagree with you), will at least get everyone thinking about ways to improve as a team.