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Being Uptight is Bad for Pretty Much Everything in the Workplace

December 31st, 2006 · 8 Comments

Tis the Season… to Throw a Fit about Nothing
As the Christmas holiday season draws to a close and 2006 wraps itself up and goes away, I would like to share an observation I have made over this, and previous winter seasons.

People are uptight. Lots of them. And it’s bad. Bad for them, bad for their co-workers, families, and organizations. Uptight people create uptight policies. Uptight policies stifle creativity, happiness, and good, healthy relationships. I have observed so much uptight behavior in the past year that I have been trying to think of ways to measure uptight-ness in job interviews, performance evaluations, etc. How do you detect it? How do you fight it? In yourself, and in others?

I think people are uptight all year round, not just at Christmas. This season, one particular issue sparked my interest in “uptightness” in particular: the so-called war on Christmas, and its counterforce, the war on the war on Christmas. I have to admit, I don’t really appreciate the viewpoint of either side on this issue. To me, it appears as if large groups of reactionary, really uptight people have picked opposite sides on an unimportant issue and are fighting as if winning the fight (for either side) would make the world a substantially better place. Baloney.

I feel the same way about all political correctness in general. It is a symptom of uptightness – it’s about being so afraid to make a social mistake that we have to couch ideas in the most blandly incomprehensible way possible. Let me illustrate with an example, clearly at an extreme. The following excerpt is and amusing Christmas greeting I received from a friend:

To the uptight:


“Please accept with no obligation, implied or implicit, our best wishes for an environmentally conscious, socially responsible, low-stress, non-addictive, gender-neutral celebration of the winter solstice holiday, practiced within the most enjoyable traditions of the religious persuasion of your choice, or secular practices of your choice, with respect for the religious/secular persuasion and/or traditions of others, or their choice not to practice religious or secular traditions at all. We also wish you a fiscally successful, personally fulfilling and medically uncomplicated recognition of the generally accepted calendar year 2007, but not without due respect for the calendars of choice of other cultures whose contributions to society have helped make America great. Not to imply that America is necessarily greater than any other country nor the only America in the Western Hemisphere And without regard to the race, creed, color, age, physical ability, religious faith or sexual preference of the wishes. By accepting these greetings you are accepting these terms. This greeting is subject to clarification or withdrawal. It is freely transferable with no alteration to the original greeting. It implies no promise by the wisher to actually implement any of the wishes for herself or himself or others, and is void where prohibited by law and is revocable at the sole discretion of the wisher. This wish is warranted to perform as expected within the usual application of good tidings for a period of one year or until the issuance of a subsequent holiday greeting, whichever comes first, and warranty is limited to replacement of this wish or issuance of a new wish at the sole discretion of the wisher.”

To everyone else:
“Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year”

What is Uptight, Anyway
Aside from not being a noun, which is how I used it in the title, “uptightness” is not hard to define. Uptight behavior is expending more energy on a cause than can be justified by the best possible outcome of the effort, usually motivated by insecurity of some sort. In other words, it is treating a trivial issue as if it were paramount, not because you have a substantial, measurable interest in the outcome, but because the issue plays on your particular weaknesses as a person.

Here are some examples of uptight behavior:

  • Fighting over semantics even after acknowledging agreement
  • Shushing people in the movie theater during the previews
  • Angry reactions to traffic mistakes of others
  • Angry reactions to mistakes in general (throwing a fit never solved a problem)
  • Complaining about the workplace “golden child of the month” because you know for a fact he or she doesn’t follow the prescribe processes for doing their job
  • Celebrating the failure of other people who are supposed to be on your team (co-workers, spouses, etc)
  • Complaining about concepts, practices, etc that seem to be influenced by religious beliefs, even if there is no overt religiosity to them
  • Expecting a minimum wage earner at a fast food restaurant to speak perfect English (“These people should learn English before they come over here!” is an EXTREMELY uptight stance to take, particularly since anyone who has learned a foreign language knows this is virtually impossible to do

  • Don’t be Uptight
    Relax. You don’t need to be uptight about life. It’s bad for you and for those around you. If you see yourself anywhere in this list, get over yourself. You’re not that important. The world doesn’t revolve around you, and it wouldn’t be a good place if it did. Not for you or anyone else.

    Here are some rules to follow that can help you be less uptight:

  • Be patient with others. You don’t know the whole story of a person, so give them the benefit of the doubt whenever you can.
  • Be sad when people/organizations fail, even if you don’t like them or are jealous of the attention they received before the failure.
  • Be happy when people/organizations succeed, even if you don’t like them or are jealous of the attention they receive.
  • Don’t throw a fit. It doesn’t help.
  • Apologize when you screw up and offend people. Don’t just say you’re sorry. Be sorry.
  • Laugh more.
  • Focus on understanding meaning and intent in difficult conversations instead of fixating on word choice/semantics
  • Have a happy New Year!

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    8 responses so far ↓

    • 1 Allen // Jan 25, 2007 at 4:42 pm

      So Dave and anyone else that wants to toss in,

      How do you handle people (being rude imo) and talking during the beginning of a movie? Do you figure they will eventually get interested in the movie like the rest of us and finally shut up? Or are you willing to “be the bad guy” for the benefit of the 30 other people around them that wanted to say the same thing but didn’t have the guts?

      I’m curious because there is a huge category of (what I consider rude) behavior like this that it seems like somebody needs to address. Though escalating it and potentially ending up in a fight and jail with a record doesn’t really seem worth it.

      So what do we do? Do we just accept the increasing “noise” in the world, or are there diplomatic ways to get people to start displaying proper respect and manners for their fellow citizens?

      Clever forms of embarrasment seem to be the most effective to my observation. Too bad I am not that clever until about 20 mins after it happens ;-)

      I figure part of the answer may be in the differentiation you made “during the previews”. If I can learn to be less attached to the previews and whatever my neighbor is taking away from my enjoyment then I won’t be upset. Figuring out “does it really matter” seems to be part of maturing.

      But somewhere in life folks seem to take that too far and cease caring about anything. I think we’d all agree that there are things worth standing up for and things not worth standing up for. The question is where does each person draw that line. And activities in public places seem to be the test of those values.

      Our coworker Paul A. wisely advised me during a philosophy session over lunch that we tend to get what we “expect” better than if we “assume” something will happen.

    • 2 My IT News Blog » Blog Archive » Posted on TechDarkSide.com - Being Uptight is Bad for Pretty Much Everything in the Workplace // Feb 9, 2007 at 3:49 pm

      [...] Tis the Season… to Throw a Fit about Nothing As the Christmas holiday season draws to a close and 2006 wraps itself up and goes away, I would like to share an observation I have made over this, and previous winter seasons. People are uptight. Lots of them. And it’s bad. Bad for them, bad for their […] Read more… [...]

    • 3 Wayne // Mar 24, 2009 at 3:41 pm

      Always try to learn something from someone else. Be open minded about things. Avoid self righteousness particularly in religious matters. In the workplace,if a fellow worker is "a little slow,but does good work"! Bear with them! Remember,pride in work is still highly essential!!!

    • 4 Anonymous // May 12, 2009 at 9:06 am

      fuck im uptight man…but i can't help it. I don't have any friends so it's not like I CAN actually 'laugh more.' I do get what's coming to me when pride gets the best of me…don't worry, life still reflects back whatever the individual puts out to 'it.' I get punished therefore, almost as quickly as I FUCK WITH life…(people) ;)

    • 5 mad // Oct 27, 2009 at 8:08 pm

      i work with a female who is extremely uptight and i cannot figure out the reason behind it. She must be insecure about something, or the way she sees something. im not sure what haunts her to make her feel this way. but she talks at me so fast that instead of going near her cubicle i just avoid it all together. i'd just rather not!!! haha. im layed back and feel like life shouldnt be taken so seriously, and people are way too hard on eachother.

    • 6 Office Worker Man // Nov 2, 2009 at 3:00 pm

      Great article. Now, if only I could print it out and drop it off on all of my coworkers' desks. I swear, if they hypertension won't do these folks in I'm pretty sure that their severe uptightness will.

    • 7 BettyJames // Dec 20, 2009 at 10:08 pm

      Being uptight is not always a bad thing; sometimes, it can be used as a means of protecting one's self against potential harm. However, moderation is a key and being up tight all of the time is absolutely no good. Be respectful, be open minded, speak proudly- its the meaning of life I swear to whatever deity (or not hah) there is.

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