Four people in a meeting arguing and looking clueless

Five signs the problem is you

Elizabeth Bromstein|

Are your work relationships difficult? Is your job hard to do because everyone around you is incompetent? Is everyone a jerk? Is hell other people? Is the man keeping you down?

Maybe. Or maybe not.

Full disclosure: when I was younger, I thought I was smarter than everyone else. Eventually I realized that they weren’t stupid. I was. It was a hard lesson. But I’m glad I learned it. I have to say I know some people who have yet to do so.

Here are six indicators that the problem isn’t everyone else, it’s you. If you see yourself here, don’t feel bad. I understand. I’ve been there.

Everyone else is an idiot. Seriously. How can people be so stupid all the time? How did these people even get hired? They don’t even know how to do their own jobs. And the clients? They’re all boneheads who don’t know what they want or what’s good for them. You feel like the one intelligent person who was dropped into a land of imbeciles.

If everyone around you is so dumb you can barely handle it, the problem is likely you.

People are really smart. Not all people but lots of them. They invented math and science and toilets and the internet. Did you invent any of these things? No? Then maybe you’re not the smartest person in the world. You need to learn to listen and realize that maybe you’re not right about everything.

You have to do everything yourself. Because if you didn’t do it, someone else would mess it up, right? And nobody else is doing their job properly. You have to take care of everything. How does anyone manage to do anything when you’re not around?

You might have control issues.

People all over the world, and probably even in your workplace, are accomplishing things without your help and those things are turning out just fine. Great even. Step back, take a breath and give people their due. Let go. Nobody wants to work with a control freak.

You’ve had an endless run of difficult bosses. Your boss is a total jerk, your previous boss was a bonehead, and the one before that was a twit. They’re always putting you on projects that are a waste of time and you know for sure you could do their jobs better than they all can. With your eyes closed. And one hand tied behind your back.

Guess what: your next boss is going to be an incompetent nincompoop. They’ll be horrible bosses until you realize it’s you who needs to learn to deal with authority and criticism.

Someone is always standing in your way. You couldn’t finish the spreadsheet because Bob didn’t get you the numbers and that report wasn’t done on time because Mary didn’t give you the information you needed. You couldn’t make copies because Mark was hogging the machine. You shouldn’t have to work around everyone else’s incompetencies. It’s not your job.

It’s also probably the public transit’s fault that you’re always late, and your friend’s faults that you have difficult relationships.

If everything is always someone else’s fault, it’s possible that you have a slight issue with taking personal responsibility. People who blame everything on others are very unpleasant to be around and, of course, to work with.

Nobody else knows how to communicate. People are so difficult to talk to. Everyone has an attitude, they don’t listen and they never seem to understand what you’re trying to get across. You’re always at an impasse and conversations often seem to escalate into arguments.

Look around you. Is everyone arguing with everyone else or only with you? If that’s the case, it’s time for you to take some sort of course on how to communicate, or risk a very serious negative effect on your career.

Everyone is behaving badly. Jim is cheating on his wife, with Caroline from accounting of all people. Melanie doesn’t know how to raise her kids, Bethany has a gambling problem, Ian has been yoyo dieting for years but everyone knows he stuffs his face with chocolate cake at his desk when he thinks nobody is looking, and Paula’s love life is a mess. She really needs to get it together and stop sleeping around.

Why do you know all this? It’s none of your business. The office gossip is at best out of line and at worst a scourge.

Even if everyone else is talking behind everyone’s back, it’s the wrong way to behave. In this case, you’re all the problem. Learn to mind your Ps and Qs, as they say.

Every once in a while it’s true that the problem is other people. But, honestly, that’s rare.

Look around you very carefully. If everyone else is an idiot, the truth is that the problem is probably you.


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  • Scott

    Hmmm…I’m not in agreement here.

    If others on the work team cause so many issues and my own work is affected anyway (if this is an inter-dependent office we’re talking about) then yes quality of work will suffer, unless the work being done allows for variables unsatisfied to be explained in each report (i.e. 4% error rate plus or minus) , and sometimes engaging in office talk builds alliances, not to tear people down per se, but to nourish relationships. In other words, problem solving, like “i know Bob is having a rough time with his divorce and upset children, how can I best approach him about that fast approaching deadline?”

    There are so many issues I have with this article. It lacks perspective and poise. This article can only apply in a work environment that is completely void of teamwork. And if that’s the case, find a better job with better people.

  • http://about.me/davidalangay David Gay

    The article is correct — most of the time. I have done some temporary work and even had a full-time position of two-and-a-half years where the people there couldn’t pour water out of a boot with instructions on the heel. It could be a lack of leadership, it could simply be poor screening of candidates during the hiring process.

    There are exceptions where in fact it’s really them and not you. Just not all the time of course.

    http://about.me/davidalangay

    • Darcy Hudjik

      Sure, if it’s just me having problems with a manager, supervisor, or collegue, I’m the problem. However, if more than two people are having problems with this person, it’s not me, it’s them. This is especially the case when people from more than one department are having problems with said individual.

  • Maryb Harquail

    I do not really agree also..normally people think that by going to school after high school means that the person is smart..wrong it means that the person does not feel smart and that they need more guidance in life…after finishing a university degree years later found myself unemployed ..if I would of been born brilliant than I would not of spent 4 more yrs after high school studying…so I asked for help in gaining employment..mistake..see I was stupid already…