The guy wouldn’t stop kissing my ass, this friend from grad school. Well, “friend” I should say. Must’ve thanked me seven times for some feedback I’d given him about his dissertation. Finally, we went out to dinner with a group of friends. He drank a few too many margaritas and started thanking me. Again. Even tried to pay my tab.
So I did what any high functioning spectrum girl would do. Asked for an explanation. You know us, we like to cut through the shit.
Hey, I was polite. Just wanted to know exactly what I’d done to merit six whole thank you’s in a single evening. And a hug.
Turns out, he hated my guts.
That’s why he was thanking me so profusely for a little feedback on his dissertation. Specifically, he wanted to keep picking my brain. He was planning to ask for advice on an article. But then I’d accidentally called him on his bullshit. Operation Ass Kiss. Abort. Abort.
So, why did he hate me? Because I’d gently critiqued his sampling methods in a seminar paper. Well, gently for someone on the spectrum. It embarrassed him. Not gonna lie…It’s a little bit of a curse sometimes, making enemies without even knowing it. The bullshit doesn’t help.
You need a bullshit meter.
These days, it’s non-optional. Too many people do exactly like my so-called friend. They don’t just filter themselves. They put extreme effort into deceiving you, for petty reasons.
Bullshit is a kind of emotional pollution. It hurts people and destroys relationships. Makes it harder to trust anyone. So if you can spot bullshit up front, it keeps your trust intact.
People like us don’t always know how to act in social situations. And yet, we can detect the smallest particles of bullshit. While others hone their bullshit meters over the years, we come equipped with more of a microscope. We see all bullshit, and have to learn just how much to accept.
It’s like when the FDA decides how many bug parts can wind up in your Oreo’s. A student offering lame excuses about their absences? Acceptable. Someone buying you drinks because they hate you? Pass.
For most of my life, I had no idea what bullshit artists were trying to pull on me. They came off as silly. I knew they were lying, just not why. Turns out, personal gain. The last few years, I’ve come to interact with more and more of these types. Seen the kind of damage they do.
Bullshit greases most workplaces.
Your boss loves the word positive. Talks about positive leadership. Positive team building. Positive budget cuts. He describes them as hidden opportunities to develop efficient solutions. It’s like he’s got a gun to positivity’s head, and it’s saying whatever he wants.
At first, you admired your boss’s uplifting attitude. He gave great speeches. He was always smiling.
But now, you’re starting to wonder…
His actions never match his words. What he says seems to live on a different planet from what he does. He’s always so happy to see you, but never answers any of your questions. You’re doing such a great job. Thanks so much. But he can’t fund your project after all.
You need a bullshit meter. But how do you know if your boss — or anyone else — is full of shit? More important, what can you do if he is?
Bullshitters always spin bad news.
Your president announces “exciting new challenges” for employees. He really means more work for the same pay. Maybe you’ll develop some new skills, but mainly on your own time.
And they won’t be skills you decided on for yourself. You’ll simply be learning how to do something that was Jenny’s job. But Jenny quit because she couldn’t stand this place anymore. Of course, Jenny had nothing but wonderful things to say when she left.
(We’ll get to Jenny in a minute…)
A bullshitter never wants to hear anything negative. They’ll do anything to quell and correct the slightest inkling of dissent. They aren’t just trying to promote a positive workplace. Struggle and conflict genuinely make them uncomfortable, and they can’t handle it. Look, you can’t live in a world of negativity. But you also can’t ignore reality. Sometimes stuff just sucks, and you have to deal with it. Forcing everyone to whistle and smile through a hurricane isn’t leadership. Just bullshit.
There’s a difference between finding the silver lining yourself, and simply letting someone silverline a storm for you. The latter devours your agency. So be careful when someone always tries to find the hidden challenge on your behalf. They might not care as much as they say. Also, you might have no choice but to take on the “exciting new challenge,” but that doesn’t mean you have to lie to yourself about what’s really going on.
They can’t answer your questions.
A bullshitter never says, “I’m not sure.” They also don’t say, “Let me find out and get back to you.” Instead, they pretend to know the answer, and rely on words like “complex” and “process.”
That means they should know. But they don’t.
They say things that — when broken down — sound like, “My plan is to make someone come up with a plan for me.”
One of my bosses always tells me there’s a process for requesting funds for different projects. I ask what form to use. What’s the criteria for awarding money? Is there a deadline?
No answer. Which means, there’s no process. It doesn’t mean I give up. Just that I come up with my own process, then go over his head. It still might fail. But it beats doing nothing.
They only pretend to listen.
Think about that friend who always wants to cheer you up. Are they doing that for you, or because they can’t be around sadness? A good boss is like a good friend. Sometimes you just have to listen.
Listening has become all the rage in our culture. I’m all for it, as long as we actually listen. Actively.
So many people still think listening just means you don’t talk while someone else’s mouth is moving. Meanwhile, you either formulate your response or just tune out completely.
Pay attention to your boss at meetings, both public and private. See how long they let other people talk. Note how they respond. With questions, or flippant dismissals and bold reassertion of their own ideas? See if your boss can actually summarize someone else’s thoughts a day or two later. If they can’t, then they’ve just been pretending to listen.
Real listening means you actually try to see the truth in what someone’s saying. It means you put aside your own biases, and actually imagine their reality. Doing that takes a lot of energy. Plus, you might actually have to admit you didn’t understand something.
They always deflect from real problems.
New snacks in the break room, guys! Never mind the broken air conditioner, which nobody’s called a repair team to fix yet. Also, the fridge is busted. Hope you enjoy sludgy ice cream at room temperature. And don’t worry about the multi-million dollar budget free fall. Check out his wife’s new bistro downtown. She’s a sommelier, didn’t you know?
You’ll be attending a company banquet to discuss growth strategies, followed by a wine tasting where she tells you all about those French vineyards she visited last summer on a company-reimbursed vacation.
I’ve noticed that normal people don’t enjoy wine tastings in the middle of a budget apocalypse. At least, not wine tasting’s led by their boss’s wife. Call me a wrinkled old cat lady.
Real bosses solve problems. They fix the fridge, even if it comes out of their fat paycheck. They come up with a plan for the budget that doesn’t destroy the company. Then they throw a party.
A bullshitter throws a party when the tornado sirens wail. They see morale as as a tool. An afterthought. An obstacle in the way of worker productivity. And you can tell by how they try to improve said morale — with little parties and banquets. They don’t get that morale only shifts in response to substantive changes. Normal people don’t like standing around with sludgy ice cream to please a boss who’s letting their company fall apart. Everyone smiles more when they feel secure, and air-conditioned.
They always give motivational speeches.
The first one made you feel warm and fuzzy. But now, your boss responds to every problem with a speech. It’s the only thing they’re good at — giving pep talks. They all start to sound the same. After a while you find yourself thinking, “Would this guy just stop talking?”
When you can always predict an incoming motivational speech, you’re probably working with a bullshitter.
What exactly are they trying to motivate you to do? Your job? You’re already doing that, and then some.
Then you realize. Oh, this is about the morale thing. They don’t just want you to do your job and then some. They want you to be ready for even a little more work, and to smile. At a certain point, the motivational speech becomes less about you. More about them.
They’re not giving the motivational speech to you anymore. They’re giving it to themselves. Meanwhile imagining how inspired you must feel right now. After all, they just said a bunch of stuff you already know. But they did so in an elevated tone, with fancy words. That’s why they make the big bucks, and you’re just the book keeper.
They want praise for solving problems they made.
Ah, the manufactured crisis. We all have a tendency to freak out a little. But usually we admit that later. Maybe we screw something up and then fix it. Then we tell the people whom our screwup effected. Not because we want bonus points. But because we want redemption. It’s like saying, “Hey, I didn’t blow up your life after all. Have I restored equilibrium?”
This requires a touch of humility. You have to admit you did something wrong first. Otherwise, you’re just bullshitting.
A good boss solves problems for their employees. By doing this, they earn gratitude and maybe even loyalty.
A bullshitter creates a problem, then solves it. Then they announce their solution, and stand around waiting for cheers. Maybe a hug? They talk about how much work they did to solve their own problem.
I’ve noticed that anyone who actually works hard usually doesn’t talk about how hard they work. They’re used to doing parts of their jobs on nights and weekends. They see that as necessary. Usually, just achieving something makes them feel good. And praise makes them slightly uncomfortable. The bullshitters are always praising their own hard work, and nominating themselves for awards.
They give you way too much praise.
Remember Jenny from earlier. She’s just quitting for personal reasons. She loves her job. And her boss. Sooo much.
Maybe Jenny’s telling the truth. But you wonder why she makes such a public ordeal of it. Yeah, you don’t want to quit on bad terms. But you can do that quietly. If you think your company sucks, all you have to do is not say that out loud. That’s enough.
Same goes for your boss. We all like to be told we’re doing a good job. Hey, maybe even an excellent job. But when they go on at length about how awesome you are, something else is probably going on.
What to do with bullshit.
You don’t have to call out every single person who tries to bullshit you. That could get exhausting. It’s not worth your time. Bullshit isn’t always actionable. Just know when you’re being greased up or misdirected, and file that intel away for later.
You can’t always redeem a bullshitter. Or even punish them. All you can do is make sure their shit doesn’t get in your eyes.
Consider my fake friend. The one who tried to pay for my margaritas. After six thank you’s… I didn’t chew him out. Didn’t get upset. Just nodded and listened to him explain what he really thought about me. Enjoyed my margarita. When he sent me a draft of his article later, I deleted it. Not out of spite. More out of meh, I’m busy right now.
Maybe he thought we’d had some kind of heart to heart. But you really shouldn’t humor a bullshitter after they’ve taken a dump on your floor. Just clean it up, and call them an Uber.