my employee’s colleagues don’t like him

A reader writes:

I was manage a small IT department. My reports have been with the company for several years and are extremely knowledgeable. Unfortunately, one of them has much less respect from many other employees. We’ll call him Josh and the other tech Steven.

I was looking into an issue with a user who mentioned that the problem had been ongoing for a while, saying “Steven looked at it and Josh looked at it. Josh doesn’t really count though.” Yesterday I was speaking to another user about a problem Josh might be familiar with and told them he was out for a few days, to which they responded, “Oh good.” They apologized a few seconds later, but it’s pretty clear that while I know Josh is technically competent, other employees of the company don’t like or respect him.

From what I can tell, it seems to be a personality conflict. Josh isn’t the best with people and can come across as condescending and as if he’s being inconvenienced by having to help them. At least one person was embarrassed that Josh implied (in front of everyone present) that the problem they needed him to fix was “stupid.” I can tell that Josh gets frustrated by people not being as knowledgeable as he expects them to be. I think it’s a problem all IT workers have to some degree, but the problem here is that his inside thoughts come out a little too much.

What do I do, as a manager who wants to defend and take care of my employees?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 131 comments… read them below }

  1. Putting the Dys in Dysfunction*

    Curious that the question is about people not respecting Josh when the real problem is that Josh doesn’t respect other people.

    1. Starlike*

      And that it doesn’t sound like he actually is as capable as the LW seems to think. Saying that Josh looked at it but that “doesn’t really count” means he’s acting in a way that makes his colleagues think (or know) that he doesn’t have the necessary competence to help them with their problems.

      1. Fishsticks*

        Yeah, this sounds like he ‘looks’ at the problem but maybe doesn’t actually provide the fix.

        1. sarah*

          Yeah, if he’s telling people the problem they need fixed is stupid, it’s very possible he’s blowing off other problems or blaming the user without actually looking into it.

          1. linger*

            I suspect the actual phrase Josh used might have been “You can’t fix stupid”, with the intended referent being the person rather than the task (but misunderstood as being the task); this would be more consistent with Josh’s overall demeanour as described.

        2. Gatomon*

          It could be that he is competent and just refuses to provide the fix because he doesn’t want to do certain tasks. By not being responsive or acting incompetent, people just learn to reach out to the other person first. That is definitely a thing in IT as well.

          People often reach out to me first even though I don’t work on project x simply because my coworker who’s in charge of project x has the customer service mentality of the DMV. If you need him, you take your number and have a seat. But if he needs you to do something he expects it to be your top priority.

        3. Mongrel*

          We used to have an IT bloke like that, he was hired because he had good CS skills, for an internal role, and always seemed to spend more time explaining why he couldn’t fix the problem than fixing the problem would have taken.

      2. Meep*

        As a female engineer, I encounter this a lot from male engineers. Women are more likely to say they don’t know something even if they do. Men are more likely to act like they know something even if they don’t. Men in STEM often say it with their whole chest.

        1. 1-800-BrownCow*

          Fellow female engineer here and I agree with everything you said. I also encounter this a lot.

          The other thing I notice is that the ones who don’t know as much as they claim they do, often deflect their lack of knowledge onto others by calling other peoples’ questions or problems “stupid”. I’ve worked with a few that pretend they know things and don’t. And when you would go to them with a question or request for help with something they supposedly knew, they’re reply with things like “This is a stupid problem, why don’t you know how to fix it, why are you coming to me?” Or “Did you go to ‘so-and-so’ first? (Yes, they sent me to you). “Yeah, they don’t know what they’re doing half the really. This really is something they need to learn how to do, I suggest you go back to them and have them fix it so they learn.” One person in particular I worked with early in my career would say stuff like that all the time. Then one time there was an issue that he supposedly was THE SME on and he was cornered into fixing it as there was no one else and it had to be addressed immediately. He couldn’t use his typical deflections and we quickly realized he had no clue where to even start. Once I realized what he was doing all the time, I became more aware and have come across others who do the same as that guy. I immediately thought this as I was reading LW’s letter and wondered if the employee’s attitude was more about his lack of knowledge.

        2. Cleeo*

          So much yes to this comment. My male coworkers get asked questions about projects that I (female) did solo, and they’ll give answers without reviewing what I’ve done. It makes me want to tear my hair out!

      3. DameB*

        Yeah. Josh is clearly what I like to call “that guy.” However, the manager himself says “I think it’s a problem all IT workers have to some degree,” and thinks that other people need to respect Josh, which means the manager is probably ALSO that guy.

    2. YoungOne*

      Both things are happening. Some people feel that Josh isn’t respectful in his dealings with them. And some people feel comfortable talking shit about Josh openly. Both of these things are bad. An environment where employees feel comfortable shit talking other employees in front of a manager is a toxic environment.

      1. MurpMaureep*

        Thanks for calling out that employees openly insulting/dismissing another employee in front of their manager is a big problem. They may have every reason to be upset given the way Josh is, however unprofessional trash talking means the employees think the manager is “on their side” or is so ineffectual/passive they can be that way. Neither is great.

        In my former job I had an employee who wasn’t great and wasn’t particularly well liked by several other staff members. All of them would get snippy and sarcastic with and about each other. I had to constantly shut that down and remind everyone that it wasn’t appropriate. I was certainly open to hear their concerns, but didn’t tolerate open derision from either side.

        1. FrenchCusser*

          OR – they know the manager tends to brush off valid criticism as ‘defending their employees’ so can only express their frustration in ‘jokes’.

          If you’re making a habit of shutting down criticism as ‘trash talk’, then I think you can expect your employees will try to communicate through another channel since the best one is all clogged up.

        2. Been There*

          I’ve talked like this about an employee to management, because I felt like they weren’t listening to my valid criticisms and concerns.

      2. Smithy*

        I’m just never surprised with these situation where people’s jobs become so hyper focused on quantitative skills/results and soft skills rank ultra low on the “nice to haves”. In particular hard to fill tech (and finance) roles in industries that don’t pay a ton on average and where people with those skills could make more elsewhere.

        It can just become this miserably viscous cycle where the staff member never *has* to improve their soft skills but also other staff members never *have* to be nice to them. Everyone knows there’s bad behavior but there’s essentially zero will to address it.

      3. ursula*

        For what it’s worth, I’ve been in environments like this a few times, and in every case it was because everyone understood that management was well aware of the problem and was never going to do anything to fix it. In hindsight, it was at least as much of a sign that our manager had lost the team’s trust as it was evidence of interpersonal issues between staff. Not trying to roast the LW, but it’s something to think about.

    3. Elbe*

      Exactly. Having technical expertise doesn’t entitle you to be condescending to everyone you’re supposed to be helping. I would bet that Josh wouldn’t like it if someone, let’s say a car mechanic or a doctor, used his lack of knowledge in their area as an excuse to treat him poorly.

      From personal experience, I would also like to add that people with this better-than-everyone attitude are also usually not even that great at the technical aspects of their job. The two main reasons for this are A) a lot of people use rudeness or bullying to make them appear smarter than they are and B) people with this attitude tend to think they know everything, which prevents them from asking questions and actually learning new things.

    4. WillowSunstar*

      Yep, I have worked with people like that. They always seem to make it the other person’s fault, but won’t recognize their lack of social skills plays a role in it.

  2. KHB*

    This isn’t a “soft skills” issue that’s peripheral to Josh’s main job – it’s a major part of his main job. Josh’s job isn’t just to know a lot about IT – it’s to help people throughout the company fix their IT issues. And it sounds like he’s falling down on that in a major way, if he thinks their problems are stupid or that it’s beneath him to fix them.

    1. Dust Bunny*


      Our IT department knows what they’re doing but they’re also very approachable and pleasant when you ask for help. Stuff gets fixed faster and better when people aren’t reluctant to talk to your IT team.

    2. Johanna Cabal*

      I’ve dealt with so many IT support personnel that seem to enjoy treating people like idiots because they don’t know some arcane bit of computer knowledge. I once joked with an editor that I wished I could assign one of these “support personnel” to write a magazine-style article with interview quotes, given them no guidance, and then lambast them for not knowing about journalistic writing and the inverted period after reading their final piece.

      (No, I did not do that but I sure did dream about it! My philosophy is that no one one person knows everything about everything and I hate the phrase “how could you not know that?”.)

      1. Julia*

        In my various IT jobs providing good customer service was rarely considered important. I had an IT senior manager suggest I spend more time modeling myself off a coworker who while technically competent had done things like toss a chair because he was frustrated and talked at length about how the soles of his boots were great because they impervious to various liquids and which included blood.

        1. Dr Sarah*

          I’m now picturing that guy saying ‘Yes, these boots are great for keeping out the blood’ in a flat emotionless voice with a dead-eyed stare. Gloriously creepy. (I’m also finding it somewhat satisfying picturing you doing the same thing to your jerk senior manager, all in the name of trying to be more like your co-worker, natch.)

            1. ADHSquirrelWhat*

              flat emotionless, because that means it’s such a normal thing it’s /not even worth getting excited about/.

              Excited – heck, if I had shoes that were super-waterproof, in the right(wrong?) headspace I can see me going “they’d even keep out BLOOD!” without thinking “hey, this is creepytown”.

              but deadpan? that means either I’m flat-affect in general, which is creepy, or “of course I make sure my shoes can keep blood out, it’s one of the reasons to have shoes in the first place”

    3. Jennifer Strange*

      Yup. Part of my position is training and helping folks with using and understanding our database. Do I sometimes get a wee bit frustrated if I have to show someone how to do something for the umpteenth time? Sure, but ultimately that’s what I’m getting paid to do.

    4. Pescadero*

      This is really dependent on the IT department.

      I’ve worked places where the management answer WAS:

      “People are asking questions which are too stupid and could be solved on their own, so make sure to let them know they should solve it on their own and refuse to help”. Rinse. Repeat. Until end users start accessing training appropriately.

      I’ve also worked places where the problem could be solved with a tiny bit of user training – but users or management refuse to engage and expect IT to just do everything for them.

      That being said – if your management wants you to waste time answering stupid questions repeatedly, you do it with a smile or find another job.

      1. KHB*

        I’d still say that in none of those situations is it appropriate to tell people “Your question is stupid and you’re stupid for asking it.”

        Even if the question really is objectively stupid, you’d presumably want to phrase it something like “Unfortunately, our IT team has limited time and resources right now, so for questions like this, please try to do some basic troubleshooting on your own before putting in a request with us.”

        1. Johanna Cabal*

          What might help in the future is to create a guide on how to troubleshoot. Basic tips, where to start, etc. I find that sometimes I get bogged down into the issue I can’t figure where to start. Or I don’t have the right terminology.

          1. Pescadero*

            Oh… all that existed in that job.

            The problem end users even knew where to find it. They just refused to use it.

            1. Curmudgeon in California*

              I had a job where a finance executive would have me come into their office and remount the network drive to their laptop. I tried everything, including writing out a step by step guide.

              When I asked why they called me instead of using the guide, they responded “That’s your job, you’re IT support.”

              I was ticked. My job in IT was to fix broken things, not perform routine tasks for senior staff who refused to use the information they had. It wasn’t even difficult, just an interruption that wasn’t a good use of either of our time. Worse, I was not even the main Windows admin, I was the Linux person.

              This person also was only marginally competent with Excel, in spite of being the company CFO. I actually knew more Excel than they did, having worked with it for years before, but they made multiple times my salary.

              I now am no longer willing to do any Windows support, because I don’t like being treated like a semi-intelligent flunky by people who don’t even try to know their own jobs. (Yes, folks, knowing how to reconnect your laptop to the network drives after you’ve been WFH is part of your job. I can’t run around every Monday pressing buttons for you. If you do financial stuff, you should know Excel and your bookkeeping software, not expect me to do it for you.)

              This was over a decade ago and I still carry the resentment. I sometimes get a bit… snarky… about repeated Windows issues in my current gig. It seems you can never truly solve certain things in Windows, only do minor “fixes” until the same thing happens again. The saving grace is that I know the users get as annoyed about repeated issues as I do, so we can commiserate.

              1. allathian*

                Urgh, when was that? I got my first work laptop in 2014 and have been able to WFH at least occasionally since then. Our network drives have always mounted automatically, whether we’re using the VPN or are directly connected to the company network…

                1. Curmudgeon in California*

                  That was 2008. Sometimes it would just automount when they came in, but if they were WFH for more than three days apparently the network or their computer forgot. Or they got annoyed by the message that their network drives weren’t there and turned it off.

              2. Jaydee*

                I have trouble connecting to my network drives on a semi-regular basis, I think because I stupidly set up some files to be available offline at the beginning of WFH and they get cranky about syncing. I have never even thought to put in an IT ticket for that. Usually just disconnecting from the VPN and reconnecting works. Sometimes I have to do a full reboot of my computer. But it’s always fixable with some version of “turn it off and back on again.”

                Then again my husband does tech-related things at work, and he has so many stories about people who can’t do incredibly simple things (plug in a cord to connect a laptop to an external display) or mildly complex things (use Google Drive to save, access, and share files) that are an integral part of their job. So I try extra hard to be a tech-literate user whenever I interact with IT.

      2. Spencer Hastings*

        Yeah, I’m always really careful to make sure that my tone is not “do this for me!” but rather “how can I do this?” when asking questions of IT (or, for that matter, other “support”-type people) — I know how unreasonable some of the requests are that they get, and I really don’t want to be one of those people. And sometimes the answer I get is “here’s what to do,” and sometimes “I’ll fix this for you.”

    5. abca*

      We don’t know if Josh is a support engineer though. It doesn’t say so in the question. Josh might be just an engineer whose main job is engineering things, but given the specialized field they work in, is expected to also answer questions about topics that fall within his expertise. That does not make unacceptable behaviour acceptable, but I have also seen the other side as a female software engineer where you’re constantly so helpful, so available, that your always asked to fix this issue and help out there and everybody likes you, and then it is promotion time and the Josh’s get promoted because they have more measurable results to show because they got things done in the time you were being “so friendly”.

    6. Miss Muffet*

      Exactly. He seems to not understand that his role is essentially a customer service role. His customer is the other employee.

    7. Mailer Daemon Targaryen*

      I switched careers to IT in 2018 and landed my first job with zero experience because my previous background was customer service.

      Anyone can Google how to fix something, take networking courses online, and/or learn on the job. Being able to build trust between IT and the rest of the company by being personable, warm, and respectful (so, you know…like a person) is almost entirely reliant on soft skills and that’s much harder to teach someone than how to configure a VLAN port.

      1. Certaintroublemaker*

        Yup, that’s how we hire. First qualification for the support desk is customer service—we can train the rest.

        Our employees are paid good money to be experts in the things they’re expert in, not thing+IT, and they need to be able to do their work on functioning tech.

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        This. While the BOFH* was a funny series of stories, it’s not how to do IT and/or IT support.

        The head Linux “architect” where I work now has a bit of a BOFH attitude, and while some of it is trying to limit the stuff on his plate, he doesn’t pass along knowledge very well and is flakey on deadlines, which just makes my job as doing production support harder. I can understand some of where he is coming from, because some stuff is just ridiculous due to security theater, but he only has maybe four years of seniority on me, which when I have 24 years in the field is not much of a difference. It does make people avoid asking him for stuff because of the lack of timeliness and the excess snarkyness.

        But dealing with regular users politely and courteously, even if you privately think they might be idiots, is the baseline of soft skills in IT. Why I stay in the industry is that if my work or assistance makes some else’s job or day better, then I have made a positive impact on the world. If I can show them something helpful, or unstop a bottleneck for them, it makes me feel good. While I loathe tier one support, I do like being tier two or higher and solving real problems. It sounds to me like Josh never had that attitude.

        * BOFH == Bastard Operator From Hell, a “The Register” column that is hilarious ( Anyone who is in IT should be able to get a chuckle out of it.

        1. I take tea*

          I remember BOFH. I dated someone like that once upon a time. As a teenager the arrogance of a really quite intelligent guy attracted me, but later I heard he never grew out of it. No thanks.

  3. Neon*

    Josh is bad at his job and if I were his manager I’d be looking for his replacement.

    It doesn’t matter if he is technically competent if he’s antagonizing and talking down to his colleagues.

    From the “Josh doesn’t count” comment he probably isn’t even technically competent. Well, that or he can’t apply his technical competence in a way that resolves peoples problems – which is really the same thing.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      Josh is bad at part of his job. If that part can be fixed, why fire the guy?

      There was a happy update where things got better and Josh was, fortunately, not fired, but confessed to “feeling like he didn’t have any support from above and generally didn’t feel valued” and “He also said that he felt like things were turning around and getting better”.

      Just think if his manager had been as judgmental as you have been here. It’s a manager’s job to dig into problem to see if they can be solved. Firing someone should be your last resort, not your first, in instances like these.

      1. Observer*

        There was a happy update where things got better and Josh was, fortunately, not fired, but confessed to “feeling like he didn’t have any support from above and generally didn’t feel valued” and “He also said that he felt like things were turning around and getting better”.

        Yes, it was a pretty good update. But I wonder what happened since then. Because being a jerk to people because you have a bad manager is not a good or appropriate way to deal. So, I wonder if he got himself to the point he needed to be at, and if he was able to maintain that.

      2. KRM*

        And yet, if I see that you as my employee are talking down to people, getting frustrated with them, and failing to help them at all, it’s probably not worth it for me to keep you around and try to train you. I mean, I would be very upset if my report told me that they didn’t feel valued and didn’t have support and then used that to be rude and not do their job. That’s a huge failing. And then I have to wonder what happens if that person decides that not getting promoted in two years means they get to yell at people seeking support from them because they don’t feel valued again. If you can’t come to me and say you don’t feel supported AND you express that by taking it out on colleagues, I’d rather fire you.

    2. Ellie*

      Yes I’d go back to whoever said that and find out exactly what they meant. Did it not count because Josh wouldn’t condescend to tell them what the problem was, or because he doesn’t know what he’s doing?

      I’ve seen both situations – IT workers who are absolute gods in their specific field, but so rude and unhelpful that they have to work completely on their own, and others who knew nothing about nothing, and hid it behind a gruff exterior and a refusal to answer questions. Either way though, planes have fallen out of the sky because the lead engineer was so unpleasant to deal with, that people avoided bringing any problems to them. This is a serious problem in any field, and particularly in IT. You don’t want people winging it because they’re too afraid to ask a question.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      Josh is acting like a jerk is the problem.

      I mean, you can be the biggest jerk in the world, but as long as you are polite with your colleagues, you’ll be okay.

      1. I should really pick a name*

        That’s an odd distinction.
        Being a jerk isn’t an inherent characteristic, it’s about how you act toward people.

        There is no being a jerk without acting like a jerk.

        1. CharlieBrown*

          It is not an odd distinction. Even if Josh is thinking “well, that’s a stupid problem, they should be able to fix that themselves,” he can’t say it out loud, and he actually has to help them fix it. It’s that simple. He needs better filters.

            1. CharlieBrown*

              I guess now we know how to identify all the people on here who have never been managers, at least.

              1. Happy meal with extra happy*

                Please provide more insight because I have no clue what you’re getting at.

              2. I am Emily's failing memory*

                Which part did you disagree with – that everyone has uncharitable thoughts sometimes, or that not everyone is a jerk?

        2. Former Young Lady*

          Thank you, this! Character is how we choose to behave, not the raw sum of our every waking thought.

        3. Anna*

          I think it is a valuable distinction, though, because “Josh is a jerk” sounds unchangeable and like a part of his character, while “Josh is acting like a jerk” sounds like something that Josh could fix by acting differently.

          1. Boof*

            Tbh most things are probably best framed as a behavior rather than an intrinsic characteristic – often makes it much easier to address problems

        4. Ace in the Hole*

          I think there’s an important distinction.

          “Josh is a jerk” implies this is an intrinsic part of Josh, and that he’s always a jerk in every part of his life. It implies he’s not just a jerk to his coworkers, he’s also a jerk to his family, friends, volunteer group, people he meets at the bus stop, etc.

          “Josh is acting like a jerk” focuses on the specific, relevant things we know without passing judgement on him as a person or making assumptions about the rest of his life. Maybe Josh is super kind to people outside of work and goes way out of his way to be helpful/compassionate. We don’t know… but it doesn’t matter, because Josh is still acting like a jerk to his coworkers, and he needs to change that.

      2. CommanderBanana*

        Is that like when someone gets caught saying something racist, but insists that they are not in fact racist and the words they said / what they did somehow doesn’t reflect who they are?

  4. I went to school with only 1 Jennifer*

    In a larger company, with a larger IT department, you could put Josh in the back somewhere where he can just work on the tech and let other reports do the people-interaction roles. But this isn’t that company.

    This is an older letter. I wonder if there was an update? I wonder if Josh ever figured out how to be a good colleague.

    1. KHB*

      There is an update! (It’s under “coworker gives us the silent treatment, a high coworker driving, and more.”) It sounds like Josh was just going through a rough patch of some sort. It’s not clear to me what changed, but he ended up getting past it and doing better, which is good.

      1. KHB*

        Actually, it looks like what changed was the manager herself: In the original letter, OP specifies that she was new to managing the department. It sounds like Josh’s jerkiness was entirely a result of the perceived mistreatment he suffered under the previous manager, who was also a jerk.

        1. Clobberin' Time*

          Yes. OP’s initial approach seems to have been to protect and coddle Josh. Once she decided to manage him, his behavior improved.

      2. Heidi*

        It sounds like at least part of the problem was that there were issues with the manager that the OP replaced and Josh was frustrated and taking it out on other people.

        1. KHB*

          It seems like there’s a broader lesson here on how (not to) cope with working under a toxic boss. Before I read this story, I wouldn’t have anticipated that a possible danger is that coworkers would be left thinking that the problem was with me – or that that perception could persist even after Bad Boss’s departure.

      3. Michelle Smith*

        Thank you! That was super easy to Google with that information about the title. I’m always super curious how these things work out.

      4. Mr. Cajun2core*

        Thanks for providing the information to find the update. Glad it was good news. It sounds like the previous manager was the issue.

  5. L Dub*

    Can someone please send this to my manager?

    We have a situation that started in a similar fashion. Joffrey was incredibly rude to the other 5 people on our team, he wouldn’t participate in collaborative projects in any fashion, yadda yadda yadda. It’s just continued to devolve from there, despite everyone on our small team bringing very specific examples and issues to our manager. It’s at a point where folks are looking to leave the team because of Joffrey, and our manager’s unwillingness to actually manage him.

    1. CharlieBrown*

      Not sure how this is useful to the LW.

      He can be an ass all he wants. He just can’t act that way toward his coworkers. The manager’s responsibility is to manage his behavior, not his personality.

      1. Happy meal with extra happy*

        It seems like you think certain behaviors are intrinsic personality traits so it might be helpful for you to read the comment section and add in the phrase “acting like” where appropriate.

        1. CharlieBrown*

          That is exactly not what I am saying.

          Sometimes people are not that likeable. And that’s fine. But they have to be polite and civil toward their coworkers. That’s the part that the manager can actually manage and should focus on.

          Saying “Josh, you need to act nicer” will probably be more successful than saying “Josh, you need to be nicer.”

          1. Garnet*

            But if their behavior is nice and polite, then why would they be considered unlikable? What reason would people have to dislike them if the person is only thinking jerk-y thoughts but never conveys them or allows it to impact their behavior? Being a jerk is based on a person’s actions/treatment of others.

      2. Observer*

        It’s useful because it speaks to what the OP needs to do. Which is to NOT “defend” the guy, but insist that Josh NOT behave like a jerk.

      3. Cayman Islands*

        It’s helpful to the manager to identify the problem correctly. The problem of a direct report who is an ass (behavior problem) requires a different approach than the problem of a direct report who is not respected (perception problem).

      4. fhqwhgads*

        It’s useful for the LW to know because the LW seems to be approaching this as “they think he can’t do the work and are glad when their tickets are assigned to someone else” – which implies he thinks convincing them he can do the work solves the problem.
        But the problem isn’t that they think he can’t do the work. It’s that they think he’s an ass and don’t want to be around him because of his behavior. Which means the way to solve the problem is for Josh’s behavior to change. Which we seem to agree about? But the primary point is the manager is approaching this from the wrong end.

      5. Curmudgeon*

        He can be an ass all he wants. He just can’t act that way toward his coworkers.
        Except he can’t be an ass all he wants. He needs to act respectful towards his co-workers.

        Those are two contradictory statements.

        1. Spencer Hastings*

          I think CB means that it’s possible to *act* nice while secretly *being* an ass. I guess I don’t totally disagree.

      6. L Dub*

        I completely disagree, on all points. I think a number of other comments have already addressed it better than I could, but I completely disagree.

  6. Snell*

    I’ve been in a situation where two bodies would make the shift a breeze, but my only option was a coworker who was absolutely mentally /draining/. I would have rather worked an overbooked Labor Day weekend alone than work alongside that coworker, and once I got the confidence, told our manager explicitly how I felt. Obviously, I don’t know the whole situation, but I do know that—from the words of the person who wants to /defend/ him—Josh sounds like that mentally burdensome coworker.

  7. Marketing Unicorn Ninja*

    I wish we’d get an update on this one, because what the OP wrote in about as her perception of the problem and what all the commenters saw at the problem were so vastly different.

    The problem isn’t a personality conflict; the problem is that Josh is a condescending jerk who’s rude to his colleagues and people legitimately do not want to work with him. That’s not a personality conflict, that’s a ‘you need to fix this ASAP or you’ll be fired’ problem.

    1. Jam on Toast*

      I manage an IT adjacent team…the IT team in our company handles the infrastructure and actual devices while our team handles software support and training. The training and service expectations are *very* different between the teams and the result is when people have tech issues, more often than not, we’re their first stop because we prioritize the customer service experience while IT seems to go out of their way to hire ‘Joshes’. I’d put our team’s tech skills up against IT’s any day but treating people well is something that people notice and respond to.

  8. Mr. Cajun2core*

    While it doesn’t seem to apply in this situation, I have often said, “You can train good support people on technical issues but you can’t always train good technical people to do support.” I have worked with some highly intelligent and highly technical people in the past when I was doing tech support. Some of them were good with tech support, however, there were a couple that should have *never* spoken to a customer.

  9. Aimless and Abstract*

    As a manager, you can’t just “defend and take care of” your employees. You also have to make sure they do their jobs well. In fact, making sure they do their jobs well is probably MORE important to the company.
    And that’s the part you’re not doing well. If Josh isn’t doing his job well (technically AND with a kind, collaborative approach) then you need to fix that, ASAP.

  10. QAPeon*

    I’ve been IT for decades and worked on several help desks, and I’ve known a few Joshes (Joshs?). OP needs to take a closer look at Josh’s customer service skills because the ones I’ve known don’t just have trouble on the back side of fixing the issue when identified, but they also have issues teasing the information they need out of the users. They’re bad at understanding what users are trying to communicate, often because they discount the users as being stupid or because the users don’t speak the IT lingo well enough.

    1. Siege*

      Yep. Our contract IT guy thinks I’m an idiot who couldn’t possibly be right about anything, but I’ve turned out to be right a lot more often than he is. (Currently I am spending hours pulling backed up and deleted files out of the trash because he didn’t believe me that my files on one path were different from the files on the other path to the same folder and killed the connection. Lo and behold … the files are different. It couldn’t possibly be related to the fact my folder was set up wrong and can’t be fixed by making a new folder correctly because he doesn’t want to.)

    2. Fluffy Fish*


      I had a peach of a help-desk person (we’ll call him Josh since he was just as lovely as our friend in the letter) helping install a printer on a laptop that I’m not a admin on. I’m perfectly competent at installing printers, but simply didn’t have the permissions on this device.

      After 20 (wrong) questions, instead of just listening to what I was telling him, he finally landed on the fact that he needed to do the install because I wasn’t an admin, like I had first explained.

      As I had attempted to install it myself I had a screen up that was part of the process which happened to have the printer name. Josh remoted into my computer (fine), closed what I had open without asking (very not fine), and then asked for the printer name. I told him as he just closed the window without asking me, I no longer had the printer name in front of me and would have to look it up. He snottily said well that’s not how we install printers. My response was well that’s how I install printers – it’s fine you have a different protocol but do not treat me like I’m an idiot because I do something a different what that accomplishes the exact same end goal.

      He was silent the rest of the interaction. He also didn’t last long in that job likely because part of being on the help desk is being helpful and not a jerk.

    3. Curmudgeon in California*

      Yeah, even translating “Software Developer” to “IT Hardware Wrangler” is a skill.

      Learning to explain and teach non-IT people about the parts of IT that they work with is fun, as long as the person is willing to learn. If they just want you to “do the thing, now” it is a bit demoralizing. But some people don’t want the tools to fix the little things, or even to tell you better what’s wrong. The trick is finding out how they learn best, what they need done and what they need to know.

      I had a manager once who was a PhD in Chemistry. Smart guy. Dean definitely did not care to know how and why his computer worked. He pointed out to me once that for him a computer was just a tool, while for me it was a big part of my passion and expertise. I worked for him for seven years, the longest I’ve worked for anyone. He died in 2015. I still hoist a drink to Dean’s memory.

  11. Former Young Lady*

    This makes me think of the whole “brilliant jerk/insufferable genius” genre that was so popular on TV in the late 2000s/2010s. A lot of mediocre dudes identified with the protagonist, who was always SHOWN to be an inconsiderate lout, but the writers would TELL the audience he was also the Only Smart Person in the World.

    Certain fields have a longer-standing mythology that having strong “hard skills” exempts the worker from developing even basic “soft skills,” but if Josh’s colleagues are saying his review doesn’t count, it’s possible he’s not all that skilled on either side.

    1. Fluffy Fish*

      “but if Josh’s colleagues are saying his review doesn’t count, it’s possible he’s not all that skilled on either side”

      Quite possibly.

      My take is that because Josh is soooooo much better than everyone else, his looking into a problem doesn’t county because he’s technically deficient, but rather he thinks he’s above that kind of basic work so he just doesn’t do it or half assess it.

    2. Box of Kittens*

      House immediately comes to mind. I cannot believe they gave that man a character arc to make him a human and not a living a-hole, and then undid every bit of that writing because they wanted to extend the show a few more miserable seasons. This is my soapbox for a 4-5 season limit for every show until the end of time, thank you and goodbye.

  12. Emily*

    Please, please, please stop describing things as a “personality conflict” when the issue really is that someone is being a jerk. I’m so glad that Alison addressed this.

    1. Properlike*

      I was legitimately surprised that the OP wasn’t talking about two *women*. That seems to be the go-to phrase to describe conflict between women in the workplace, even when it’s a legitimate problem caused by one person.

  13. Don*

    I have been in tech for thirty years now and holy crow does it frost my shorts when folks just shrug off tech folks being jerks. “I think it’s a problem all IT workers have to some degree” isn’t just screwing over the non-tech people who have to deal with these jerks, it’s flat-out insulting to those of us who weren’t raised by wolves. Learning to write software didn’t burn out the portion of my brain that lets me say “please” and “thank you.”

    Normalize expecting everyone in the workplace treating each other with respect.

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      So much this. IT people are just as ignorant as everyone else, just as smart as everyone else. We all have areas where we know more than someone else, and other areas where we know less. Recognizing that the user knows things that we’ll never understand, and we’re here to help and work together is an important part of being on a professional team.

      Not recognizing your own holes in knowledge is foolishness.

    2. Bex (with computers)*

      Thank you! I’ve been doing IT work for two decades and honestly I’m horrified by what’s accepted in the field in terms of personal behavior, because we’ve mythologized the idea of the technically smart but socially non-savvy expert.

      I can be pleasant, helpful, and get the job done. There’s no need to be rude or dismissive. In fact, when users express embarrassment that they needed my help with what turn out to be simple solutions, I remind them I’ve dedicated my professional life to this – I have these skills but I’m not worth a hill of beans at changing tires or compiling reports or coordinating office moves or a dozen other things. These are all skills

      I’m so done with seeing people accept rudeness in IT.

    3. Curmudgeon in California*


      I actually had a young assistant that was surprised that I said thank you when he did something I asked of him. But to me that was part of making it a pleasant workplace – thanking people for doing what is requested is basic, basic stuff.

      It costs me nothing to say “Thank you” when Tim hands me the TPS report I requested. But it acknowledges his work in a basic way. As we saw with a letter the other day, workers do not thrive on criticism and thankless demands.

  14. Riot Grrrl*

    No advice beyond what others have offered, but I hope people take the “Josh” example to heart for what not to do in any work situation.

    You see this sort of dismissiveness not only in IT, but in auto mechanics, medical personnel, accountants, everywhere really. Different people have different areas of knowledge. Just because theirs may not overlap with yours does not make them deficient. I once employed a copy editor who got irrationally furious because an accomplished zoologist hadn’t brushed up on the fine points of using a semicolon. That attitude is useless.

  15. Coco*

    People like Josh are usually very technically proficient/knowledgeable. People may view that as a reason to give them a “pass” on poor interpersonal communication. Josh is a jerk, but he’s the best at XYZ. They don’t push back on social skills because they are afraid to offend Josh and potentially lose him. But if Josh treats people with disrespect, you risk losing those people! You also risk your current/former employees saying things to their network contacts that may potentially damage your team/company reputation.

  16. Fluffy Fish*

    “So, to be blunt, I think you’re looking at this from a slightly skewed perspective. This isn’t really a personality conflict (where two people are behaving reasonably but just not getting along).”

    This ALL day long. People have a problem working with Josh because he’s a glass bowl. Those people are perfectly reasonable and valid – no one wants to be treated like crap. No one wants to run the gauntlet of being the punching bag for a condescending jerk employee to get their work done. Every time I have witnessed “personality conflicts” its actually one person is an absolute nightmare to work with. Rarely its two nightmare employees. And management just shrugs and goes eh what do you do.

    Josh certainly seems to have a personality problem but this isn’t about clashing personalities.

    Josh either learns to treat others with respect or Josh needs to be let go. Getting along with others is a job requirement.

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      If you read the follow up, linked by CharlieBrown, things are better now. Part of Josh’s problem was poor management from the LW’s predecessor.

      1. Fluffy Fish*

        I read it. I’m glad things improved. Would they have improved without OP talking to Josh about it – who knows. It was still OPs job to address it and they did.

        Im sympathetic to Josh in that bad management can make work awful. I’ve had a boss push me to the edge of quitting and serious mental health issues.

        But having a bad manager isn’t an excuse to to treat people poorly. And it doesn’t change the bottom line for the OP or others reading this with similar circumstances.

        1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

          In the update, it said that OP had already gotten reports from others that he seemed happier and easier to work with. OP was able to share those reports with Josh during the conversation where OP was addressing the subject with Josh, so the signs are good that he was improving even before OP discussed it with him. Plus they still discussed strategies for better interpersonal interactions going forward.

          Having a bad manager is not an excuse to treat others poorly, but working for a bad manager can be really soul draining. But it means a lot that he openly acknowledged the issues, was already showing improvement, and was open to feedback.

          And yes, it doesn’t change the fact that Alison’s advice was spot on and that OP needed to address it, but it does show that one of the reasons managers need to give clear feedback and expectations in a direct manner is because sometimes that employee is open and willing to make the changes necessary, especially if they respect their manager.

  17. rosie in london*

    My office has a Josh. Multiple people have cited him as the reason they are quitting in exit interviews. Management doesn’t seem to think this is an issue. *stares in HR*

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      LOL, to be fair, in the update, this Josh was not as bad as that. It was actually a surprisingly positive update.

  18. Not That Kind of Lawyer*

    I have never understood the “You do not know as much as I know; therefore, you are inferior” mentality. No one knows everything about everything. That is why education and specialization exist. I am well aware that my clients do not know everything about the law, but I do not for a moment think that I am superior to them because they have talents, skills, and knowledge in other areas that I lack. Even in my profession, an expert in one area of practice may be clueless in a wholly different area.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      I am a lawyer too! You can bet I am not looking down my nose at a doctor, a nurse, maintenance worker, administrative support, IT, etc. I could not possibly do what they do as well as they can (not my skillset or training) and I really need all these people, either in my personal or professional capacity (or both).

      That said, this is an old letter that Alison is revisiting and the original letter got an update that was surprisingly positive. Josh was not as bad as we thought. He acknowledged the issues and was open to feedback, but he had been really unhappy under the previous manager. His coworkers also started reporting that Josh was happier and easier to work with since his transition to working under OP’s management. Of course, they agreed to train and work on the issues going forward, but it was looking positive.

  19. Eleanna*

    I manage someone who used to be a “Josh.”

    He had a reputation as an IT person for never being able to solve the problem and also for being abrasive to the point that noone wanted them in their office. He never called anyone stupid, but there was some throwing up of hands, not explaining things, condescension, and emails that were brusque to the point of being rude. Certainly people *felt* stupid after working with him.

    When I took over as his manager, he had burned a lot of bridges.

    But I work in higher education, where it’s not easy to fire someone and the previous 2 managers not only hadn’t managed or coached him (there had been some yelling and accusations but nothing that was actually helpful), they also hadn’t done any documenting of the behavior.

    So I started a dual path system when I took over. First, I started actively documenting every single complaint that came across my desk. Second, I put him on an informal PIP (since I didn’t have the documentation for a formal one).

    The PIP laid out clear expectations for his behavior, had him attend a large amount of soft skills training, had him run e-mails by me for a while, and also had him meet with me weekly to discuss any bad interactions that had happened and what he should have done differently. I also had him read Phil Agre’s How To Help Someone Use a Computer (

    In my Josh’s case, it became clear in about 2 weeks that it wasn’t an issue of him wanting to to be a jerk, having a disregard for the users, or not being technologically competent. Instead, he was the more technologically competent of the two IT people (by…a LOT) but just had no discernable soft skills. There was also clearly some neurodiversity going on – not diagnosing, this was clear after a long discussion with Josh.

    So what would happen would be that something would go wrong with someone’s computer that he didn’t have the power to fix (computer was too old for what the person was doing but the budget wasn’t there to fix it; problem with the user’s account that had to go to Central IT, etc.) and he was so bad at explaining that in a good way to the user that they thought he didn’t know how to fix it. The other IT person had very little actually technological skills but he was really good at reassuring users that we’d help get the problem fixed.

    The intensive coaching worked, I worked to fix the institutional issues that meant that people were on way too old computers (the primary complaint was “my computer runs too slowly”), and now? Josh is actually actively sought after by users. He’s figured out how to validate people’s feelings about the technology and in turn, the end users have figured out that he does know what he’s talking about. I was able to back off of the intensive coaching after about a month and the complaints were completely gone at that point as well.

    Had it gone the other way, I’d already given HR the heads up and started the documentation process.

    I think that there can be a culture in IT that validates behavior like this, but hopefully more of us will work to change it and to help the Joshes either be better at their jobs or go into a different profession.

    1. ShinyPenny*

      A lovely case study in how to execute “management,” and wow re the linked essay! Thanks for that.

  20. Gnome*

    When people make these comments out loud, to the person’s boss, repeatedly… It’s a Bad Sign.

  21. Anita Brayke*

    Does this story bring back memories for anyone else about SNL in the 90’s? The sketch about the IT guy coming to fix something…MOOOOOOve!

  22. C-Dub*

    Josh sounds a lot like a coworker I used to work with. Had such a bad attitude, talked down to people she worked closely with (including myself), and would get frustrated easily. She was not easy to talk to, and I was afraid to even look her in the eye.

    It is people like Josh that can turn an otherwise good place to work into a toxic one. I know from experience.

  23. it's-a-me*

    I can’t read Alison’s response (sorry) but I just want to ask the OP to consider if Josh really is as technically competent as they think.
    “Steven looked at it and Josh looked at it. Josh doesn’t really count though.” – this is exactly what someone would say about someone when they specifically think their work isn’t any good.

    “Yesterday I was speaking to another user about a problem Josh might be familiar with and told them he was out for a few days, to which they responded, “Oh good.” ”
    Again, this is specifically saying that him not being available to work on a problem means that the problem will be resolved better/more quickly.

    I am sensitive to this because I have someone in my office who everyone thinks of in exactly this way. This could BE about this guy, except he’s not IT. He is, frankly, terrible at his job, but the boss got him the job and thinks he can do no wrong. This guy thinks he’s better than everyone, but his methods are outdated and his mistakes are many. He will not listen to feedback/criticism because he does not understand how things work and relies on his outdated and incorrect view of things. He deliberately does things wrong because he thinks it’s better despite being told the many ways in which it is wrong.

    Please, OP, consider that Josh is the problem.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      This is an old letter that Alison revisited, and there was a surprisingly pleasant and positive update to it!

  24. JustMe*

    I worked with a Josh at OldJob. He was rude, refused to do work, harassed other employees and clients, committed microaggressions against other people, started fights, refused to learn new tasks…you name it, he did it. He stayed around for YEARS because our CEO was convinced he was just a misunderstood salesperson, although his direct manager had him PIPed and eventually he was fired. The CEO, convinced that our Josh was still just misunderstood, rehired him. Everyone at the company left within the next year…actually, including Josh, who felt HE was the one being disrespected.

    Make no mistake–working well with your colleagues IS a job requirement. Failure to nip it in the bud hurts morale at best and appears to be favoritism at worst, and eventually it could cost you all of your high performing employees.

    1. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

      There was an update to this one, and this Josh was not like your Josh in the end. He took the feedback well and openly acknowledged the issues. He had been really unhappy under previous management, and OP even had feedback from others that Josh had become happier and easier to work with as he transitioned to working under OP. They still worked on his skills, but this Josh seemed to get his act together.

  25. CLC*

    If Josh were a woman he’d be long gone. Women can’t get away with having a personality people don’t like—women get fired for much, much less than being an actual jerk.

  26. commonsensesometimesmakessense*

    I remember the update to this one was very satisfying. It looked like Josh had become unhappy due to lack of support and issues under the old manager and he acknowledged the issues he had been having but was much happier under OP’s management (as was his colleague). OP also got reports of people saying Josh had become happier and easier to work with. It looked like things were going to work out and like Josh was receptive to feedback.

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