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Timmy’s story: Is it better to be right or to be helpful?

Timmy's story

Would you rather be right or be helpful?

This is the story of Timmy, a highly talented university graduate. After spending 4 years completing a university degree in Computer Science at a well-recognized school and over a year working on internal projects within his firm, Timmy was sent off as a consultant to help an organization in need.

Timmy quickly realized that he was more knowledgeable, more competent, more skilled, and harder working than most software developers on his new team. Whenever an issue would come up, Timmy knew the answer much before everyone else.

After a few days, Timmy realized the sad state of affairs within his client’s software development organization and in trying to help his new colleagues, he started dispensing recommendations as if they were candies on Halloween night.

Every time Timmy noticed something that wasn’t done properly or as per the theory he had mastered, he would immediately point it out. Every time a colleague would run into an issue, Timmy would quickly point out the source of the issue and the solution to fix it. Every time Timmy noticed a team-mate slack off, he would tell others on the team. Timmy knew he was right – pretty much all the time.

Needless to say, Timmy was not well liked by his team mates. On the other hand, Timmy didn’t like his consulting mandate either and within a few days, Timmy asked his firm to pull him off the mandate.

Despite Timmy’s capabilities and the obvious need of his new team, the conflicts between him and his colleagues grew quickly every day. After a few weeks Timmy had enough. He couldn’t understand why nobody saw that he was right, that he had the answer to all their questions, and that they wouldn’t have any problem if only they would listen to him.

Feeling so frustrated by the situation, Timmy showed up at his firm’s office one morning asking for help. “Can someone tell me what is going on?” he cried out.

A senior consultant who immediately saw the distress on Timmy’s face, gladly offered to help. He explained to Timmy that although he was a competent technical resource, Timmy failed to realize a few key elements of consulting:

  • Timmy hadn’t made sure to clarify the reason he was hired. Clarifying the expectations was necessary to avoid possible confusion around the role he was to play;
  • Nobody likes to feel they are inferior to others – especially not to consultants. If Timmy wanted his suggestions to be accepted, he would need to use a softer approach, some humility, and a lot of patience;
  • People do not accept suggestions – let alone recommendations – from others unless they have established their credibility;
  • Team mates are not likely to accept input unless they actually ask for it;
  • Timmy needs to ask himself if he believes it is better for him and for his client to be right.

Do you know anyone who is like Timmy?

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4 Comments Post a comment
  1. IT BA #

    I know how this feels…..i was helping out my newbie colleagues too much as the turnover is very high at my site……until when my perf appraisal came, it became a big shock to me……nowadays, I will finish my work first before helping others…

    December 16, 2009
  2. Nice article. I’ve read some similar stories before, and personally recognize some part of the story.

    One part of the cause of these situations is, professional software development doesn’t exist very long. So for graduate students in CS, changes are high you end up working with people with little or no education in Computer Science. At very least, that’s very different to medical science and law.
    Other part, would Timmy accept remarks from colleagues? Did other colleagues gave him unasked advise? If the answer is yes, the solution could be firing all the other people and hiring more Timmys.

    September 18, 2010

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