Marshall or Profiles in Douchebaggery

Once in a while you meet someone so thoroughly steeped in douchebaggery that it takes your breath away. I don’t mean someone who is truly evil or malicious; those draw no admiration from me. But you very rarely meet someone who is so obnoxious even skunks won’t cross his path out of professional courtesy.

❝He’s so obnoxious even skunks won’t cross his path out of professional courtesy.❞

Exhibit A: Marshall.

Marshall looks mild-mannered behind his Clark Kent glasses, but when you look past the glasses and peer into his soul, you find such a vast and cavernous void that it could double as a yodeling venue. We started off on a slightly off note. He’s a tech guy, a specialist who installs and maintains networks in your home and business. I’ve known enough of these guys to mostly like them. They are used to being patient with their clients; pretending not to discover that the equipment was unplugged or a connection was loose.

(They do this for two reasons. They don’t want to rub your nose in your own stupidity and they know you’re likely to do it again, which means another service call for them. Ka-Ching! They fumble around and say “hmm” a few times, explain it with some equivoce, and hand you a bill saying the problem was “BSAK.”

When you ask them what that means, they explain that “BSAK issues” are pretty common. It‘s too technical to explain, but I fixed it. What they don't tell you is “BSAK” means “Between Seat And Keyboard,” meaning, you dunce, why didn’t you check all the connections first?)

I was discussing an issue with some web code with someone who did a little web design. Marshall heard two sentences, and right away he had to tell me why I was having that problem. Never mind that he was never a professional web designer. He knew better.

One afternoon, not long after I received my new business cards, I was passing them out. I had included a calendar on the back, and most people immediately commented how handy that was and how they would hold onto the card, which was why I chose that feature.

I handed one to Marshall, and he didn’t even bother to say “Thank you.” Instead he launched into his usual pattern. “Did you mean to put your address on there? Don’t you know that's a security risk for you?" I told him I live in locked security building, and what’s more, some people don’t trust you if you hand them a card without a physical address.

Then he attacked the layout. Didn’t I know that I should put all the text on one side, flush left, and the other side, flush right? I told him I put my email address just above the center, the sweet spot of the card and it was the only line on the left side, which draws your attention to my name and phone number on the right. What Marshall didn’t know was that I’d won an award for best regional newsletter for the state of California. I know how to do layout.

❝No matter what you were talking about, Marshall had to interrupt to say you were wrong and I know more than you do.❞

Then he had to tell me that I had chosen the wrong type face. Didn’t I know that sans serif faces are harder to read? “I would have used a serif font.”

I have read enough usability studies to know that experts disagree. I go with sans serif because my eyes blur “o,” “e,” and “s” in serif type.

But here's the kicker: he mispronounced “serif.” He said “sa-REEF,” rhyming with Omar Sharif, instead of the correct “ser-if,” rhyming with “sheriff.” (A funny mistake for someone named “Marshall.”) He didn’t say it wrong once, he said it four times! He said it with such a patronizing tone of authority that I thought I had gotten it wrong all these years!

This happened a couple more times and I began to recognize the pattern. No matter what you were talking about, Marshall had to interrupt to say you were wrong and that I, Marshall, know more than you do.

I started to discuss this with some others in our organization. After a meeting, I spoke with a young woman who told me she liked most of us, but she agreed about Marshall. I told her, if you said “the Sun rises in the East,” he would argue, “Oh, no, it’s the West, and here’s why you‘re wrong (and only a fool would disagree with me).”

We changed the subject and within two minutes who comes into the break room? Marshall! He paused long enough to overhear two sentences, and then he butted into our conversation. I looked at the woman and she looked at me and we could barely hold back our laughter.

On another occasion, I was talking about him, and I made a bet. I said, “90 seconds.” Sure enough, Marshall came into the room, and within 90 seconds he had inserted himself into our conversation, telling both of us that he knew of a better solution than we'd thought of.

After having seen or experienced this five or six times (and having three others agree with me), I decided I would lay a trap for him. I took a piece of paper and wrote, “Marshall will interrupt us in less than one minute and he will try to persuade us that he’s the authority on whatever we are talking about.” The next time he was in the building, I waited for the right opportunity. I would brandish the note and read it aloud for everyone to hear. Sure enough, he bit.

I reached into my shirt pocket and grabbed the note. Then something odd happened. I decided not to embarrass him in front of the rest of the group. I don’t know why, but I felt sorry for him. He’s such a pathetic soul he has to build up his ego with bombast.

I didn’t listen closely enough when I should have, but one of the things my Grandpa George taught me was to not humiliate people. When someone makes a big mistake in front of you, if you must, correct it out of sight of everyone else. Let someone else make a fool of him.

I put the paper back into my pocket and said, “Well, Marshall, that’s very interesting.” Then I got up and left.


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