Mr. Lott has been involved in over 70 software development projects in a career that spans 30 years. He has worked in the capacity of internet strategist, software architect, project leader, DBA, programmer. Since 1993 he has been focused on data warehousing and the associated e-business architectures that make the right data available to the right people to support their business decision-making. Steven is a DZone MVB and is not an employee of DZone and has posted 144 posts at DZone. You can read more from them at their website. View Full User Profile

The Passive-Aggressive Programmer (again)

  • submit to reddit
I'm not even interested in psychology.  But.  This kind of thing seems to come up once in a great while.

You're asked (or "forced") to work with someone who—essentially—fails to cooperate.  They don't actively disagree or actively suggest something better.  They passively fail to agree.

In fact, they probably disagree.  They may actually have an idea of their own.

But they prefer to passively "fail to agree."

I have little patience to begin with.  And I had noted my personal inability to cope in The Passive-Aggressive Programmer or Why Nothing Gets Done.

Recently, I received this.

"I thought I was going crazy and started doubting myself when dealing with a PAP co-worker. I went out on the internet searching for help and ran into your blog and its helped me realize that I'm not crazy. The example conversations you posted are almost every day occurrences here at my job when dealing with my co-worker. From outside of the department it was oh those two just butt-heads because I never knew how to communicate or point out that really I'm a targeted victim of a PAP rather than a butting heads issue. No matter what approach I took with the PAP I was doomed and still not quite sure where to go from here. Would you happen to offer any advice on how to actually deal with PAP? It's driven me to a point where I'm looking for new employment because my employer won't deal with it." 

I really have no useful advice.  There's no way to "force" them to agree with anything specific.  In some cases, there's no easy to even determine what they might agree with.

Your employer will only "deal with" problems that cause them real pain.  If you're butting heads, but still getting things done, then there's no real pain.  You're successful, even if you're unhappy.

If you want to be both happy and successful, you need to stop doing things that make you unhappy.  If you can't agree with a co-worker, you can butt heads (which makes you unhappy) or you can ignore them (which may make you happy.)

Ignoring them completely may mean that things will stop getting done.  You may appear less successful.  If you stop being successful, then your employer will start to feel some pain.

When you employer feels pain, they will take action to relieve the pain.

You might want to try to provide clear, complete documentation of your colleague's ideas, whatever they are.  If you write down the Passive-Aggressive Programmer's "suggestions", then you might be able to demonstrate what's causing the pain.  Since a properly passive programmer never actually agrees with anything, it's tricky to pin them down to anything specific.

You might be able to make it clear that they're the roadblock that needs to be removed.
Published at DZone with permission of Steven Lott, author and DZone MVB. (source)

(Note: Opinions expressed in this article and its replies are the opinions of their respective authors and not those of DZone, Inc.)


Chuck Dillon replied on Mon, 2012/06/04 - 2:24pm

Obviously I can't comment on the individuals behind your experiences.  However, it seems to me that the root of most of your problem is in your first sentence of an article about human interactions where you indicate you are not interested in psychology.  To complain about how people interact with you while ignoring the fundamental tools for describing and explaining people suggests the problem may be with you.

I'm not a PAP but I can tell from your articles that my approach and yours are likely very different and because of that you could well label me a PAP if we were to be on a team together and you didn't bother to try and understand how those on the team "tick".  Going back to your earlier article, your first case is where you have your "PAP" interacting on your terms and are expecting him/her to function as you would under your terms.  When that individual doesn't respond consistent with what you are essentially demanding you label him/her as a PAP.

An alternative interpretation to PAP would be that the individual is highly analytical, wasn't asked or given the opportunity to fully analyze the problem and possible solutions but is being asked to just provide fill-in-the-blank estimates on the spot.  Asking the individual for alternatives on-the-spot is almost surely going to cause an analytical person to shut down rather than become combative.  You enter into the dialog with the answer (we're doing X).  Clearly the "PAP" sees obvious flaws or at least reason to be skeptical and likely he/she hasn't been given an opportunity to determine the alternatives you are demanding on-the-spot.

I suggest that you (and the person that sent you the comment) spend a little time learning about different personality traits and recognize that there is no one correct/best personality for software development.  Then when you think you see a PAP consider that what you may be seeing is someone who just doesn't think or work like you do and in fact cannot function like you are expecting them to.

Edwin Keeton replied on Mon, 2012/06/04 - 5:19pm

I think Chuck nailed it.  My own personal observation is that there are fewer "analytical" programmers than before, going back to the 70s.  I hope this observation is strictly personal and anecdotal.

Paul Russel replied on Sun, 2012/06/10 - 9:13am

If you feel that agreement is necessary just keep saying "I will take your silence as tacit agreement to proceed". [silence implies consent]

Either Mr/Ms Passive-Aggressive will counter argue or give up and leave.

Still with 30 years experience under your belt I am surprised you have ended up working alongside a PAP.

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.