Help me help my brother learn to play well in the sandbox at work.
November 17, 2012 11:02 AM   Subscribe

Help me help my brother learn to play well in the sandbox at work.

Background: My brother is 31 years old and has had a very spotty work history. He's smart, but for most of his life has lived at home with our mother. Related to this, for a long, long time he hasn't worked because the jobs available to him he felt were beneath him. Since he lived at home, my mother has enabled this stagnation and he's had the luxury of not having to work in retail, fast food or ANY kind of job just to make ends meet. He does have a college degree that he earned a few years ago, but he lost momentum with transitioning to the workforce since the recession was kicking in at top speed.

This year, he started to genuinely take responsibility for himself, moved out and started grad school. He was able to find a job related to his study. We're all very proud that he's taking steps to achieve his goals, has had some success and are 100% supportive. This new job he very much wants to keep, but he's already in danger of losing it. He was just put on notice for being a 'smart ass' and is really frustrated and upset. He's struggling because all of the social aspects you learn in your first jobs about group dynamics and navigating an office culture, he's having to learn now.

His interpretation of the situation is that he thought he was holding back, but that he's supposed to play dumb when he knows the answer to a question and he doesn't know how to do that. I don't know what exactly happened at work, but I do know that he's often difficult to have a conversation with. He knows the answer to everything, even if he doesn't know the answer, he can be rather condescending and loves to tell people what they should do.

The great part is, he's asked for help. I would love to share my knowledge as I have personal experience learning the hard way and in later years have coached employees on this topic, but he's all but told me that I'm his big sister and I'm the last person he wants advice from. In place of my personal experience, I'd like give him a few good books that address business communication, general communication, or anything along these lines that might give him some perspective and some tips/tricks to be successful dealing with people in the workplace.

I've looked at several of the well-known books, like Dale Carnegie, and Stephen Covey, but I'm wondering if there are other gems out there. Can you give me recommendations that helped you or someone you know?

TLDR; My brother is struggling at his new job and I'd like to give him some books to read to help him communicate more effectively and navigate office culture.
posted by getmetoSF to Human Relations (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Would he be willing to talk to your colleagues who do the same things?

I went to a social coach program led by Bart Ellis. Much of what is in his date doctor book was used in the sessions.
posted by brujita at 11:29 AM on November 17, 2012

Does he have Asperger's? If so, Asperger's on the Job by Rudy Simone would be a great, great help to both of you.
posted by rglass at 12:05 PM on November 17, 2012

He need to read 7 Habits of Highly Effective People and especially How To Win Friends And Influence People. I thought they were happy crappy drivel for management types and I was wrong. Wish I'd read them years ago or some of my employment history wouldn't have been quite so rocky. For dealing with management, the 48 Laws of Power by Robert Greene will make you feel like a bad person, but it's also a great handbook for managing those egos and knowing when to act and when to not act.

Here is some advice you can give him that I learned the hard way. Nobody cares if you are right. They only care if they like you. If they do not like you, it doesn't matter how right you are. People will not listen because they do not like you. In fact, if they do not like you and you ARE right, they hate you doubly because they already don't like you and they suspect you tanked the project or whatever to prove yourself right.

If you are the abrasive guy screaming "Hey guys, let's not drive the bus over the cliff," against the consensus, they may become even more resolute about driving said bus over said cliff just because they don't like you. In the inevitable crash that follows, however, people will dislike you even more for being the one who fought against consensus even if you were correct about the bus wreck.

One of the biggest lies that gets perpetrated in society is that capitalism/corporations are this ruthless machine that weeds out incompetence and meritocracy ensures people who are good at their jobs rise to the top. Nope. 90% of the time, it's all about who likes who and competence is only a bonus. He needs to act accordingly.
posted by Ghostride The Whip at 12:15 PM on November 17, 2012 [19 favorites]

He was "put on notice for being a 'smart ass'" - is that how his supervisor phrased it? Because that's not very helpful to the person getting feedback. Was your brother informed of what was said to whom and when, and why it resulted in him being put on notice? Had he been warned before? Had anyone ever talked to him before about being a "smart ass?" Was he allowed to believe everything was just fine and then wham! Put on notice!?

Did his supervisor give him any feedback or coaching? Or was your brother left to sink or swim and then BOOM, put on notice without any warning? Because if this is the workplace culture then it might be a poor fit for someone who might need extra help fitting in.

Your brother is 31 - is he in a very, very junior position where most of his peers are younger? Is he being treated with respect? It can be hard for an older worker who has to work his or her way up from the complete bottom if they are in a situation where juniors are expected to know their place. Thirty-year-olds don't want to be put in their place as if they are clueless kids. This kind of situation is very hard to put up with (and is IMO one of the big issues with starting from the bottom once you are past a certain age).

All the above answers are excellent; but I don't want to jump to assuming your brother is the only one at fault. It might be that your brother has communication issues that he can address, and that his boss and/or workplace don't want to meet him halfway and have their own dysfunctional issues. It's great that your brother wants to ask for help and says good things about him. I think it would also help him to know that some workplaces are, if not toxic, at least not suited to particular people, and that not all his work problems are necessarily his fault, especially if he's not given the proper feedback in order to succeed.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 1:29 PM on November 17, 2012

How about The Power of Nice: How to Conquer the Business World with Kindness by Linda Kaplan Thaler? I haven't read it. Has good reviews.
posted by Fairchild at 1:51 PM on November 17, 2012

This may seem like a strange suggestion, but if he's smart, he may want to take a look at Erving Goffman's The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. It may help him to understand that a certain amount of modulating one's behavior to fit different situations isn't fake or dishonest, but instead is just part of being a person in society.
posted by Ragged Richard at 8:48 PM on November 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

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