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Problem with colleague

I've been working with one of my colleagues for nearly four years. We've always had a good working relationship and had a good laugh. Recently things seem to have soured.

We work on an outsourced project and we are the only two based in our office. I run the project and he is the test manager, so we have to work closely together.

I had noticed a few months ago that he had started to get a little off with me. We had a disagreement about specifications and I overruled him. He's had a lot of input and I've often listened to his point of view and changed my mind, but on this occasion I didn't feel that he was right.

I think he was also a little upset that I seem to cruise through my job with little effort. I meet deadlines and sometimes end up waiting on others, so I might surf the net for half an hour every few days - usually doing research as it happens. He seems 'overworked' so I offer a hand and he declines.

We talked this out recently and seemed to patch things up. However, it is obvious that he has a problem with me. This is the sort of thing that is happening...

If I need to discuss something I get "not right now". He'll be running test plans that take no more than 5 minutes, but he can't talk for the next two hours. It's never a friendly "give me a couple of minutes and I'll be with you" it's always abrupt. If someone else, strikes up a conversation in that time, he will talk to them for fifteen minutes, without once mentioning the fact that they have disturbed him.

We used to have discussions where we could make suggestions, come up with ideas and sort the good from the bad. Now, if we don't agree on the original suggestion (whoever made it) he gets in a huff and the rest of the conversation is wasted.

I'll ask how his weekend was. He used to ask me as well, now he doesn't bother.

I'll offer him a drink, when I make one. He'll refuse then get up five minutes later to make himself one.

Yesterday he left early. He said goodbye to everyone else in the office then turned away from me and walked away without saying anything.

We used to have conversations. I would start some, he would start others. Now I start a few, he gives one word answers and looks like he's not interested and I give up.

We are in testing now and I have some spare time in my schedule, before I start doing some other tasks. We have a months testing scheduled and two weeks remediation after that. I would rather be doing testing and delay other less important tasks (like doing screenshots for the manual or producing CD labels), but he won't let me have access to the test systems to run the test plans he wrote, so I can only do ad-hoc testing.

We're a small company who have recently been through a management buyout. We have no hierachy in our company, no-one (except the CEO) is more senior than anyone else. This is supposed to make it fairer and make people take greater responsibility/pride in the company. Effectively, although I have the overall responsibility, I have no authority over him.

I like the project and I like the company, even if it is a little misguided ins ome of it's ideals - at least it has ideals. However, I can't see how we can keep going like this. It can only get worse. We've talked about it before and I thought it was resolved, things improved for a few weeks.

I've been friendly, I'm not really a very confrontational person. I've been fair, If I don't agree with something, I make him explain it to me further and sometimes change my mind as a result. When talking to others I give credit where it is due. A couple of times I've said I have to take an executive decision and I know he doesn't like it, but I believe I'm acting in the best interests of the project. As it happens, I've mostly been proven right.

I really can't see what else I can do. The nature of the reaction doesn't seem in proportion to anything I may have done to upset him. The only thing that I can think, is that we were good friends when someone else was in charge of the project and we were united in hating the guy. Now it's my project, I seem to be the object of contempt.

Any ideas?

Mike G
Friday, June 27, 2003

I think you know the anwser. You're going to have to confront him and resolve whatever issue he has with you. It's just going to get worse. If that doesn't work you're going to need to escalate it.

Friday, June 27, 2003

How do you handle the loss of private communication?

Friday, June 27, 2003

Yanwoo, you are probably right. I guess it's just that I've talked it over once, it was all fine and then got worse again. If I do it this time, I think we're just going to end up at the same point two months later.

It doesn't seem particularly fair that I ge ttreated like **** and I'm the one who has to be big and sort it out. I know if I have to acknowledge criticism I either have to keep my mouth shut about his behaviour (which makes me look the villain of the piece and hands him all the power) or tell him exactly what I think about his behaviour and risk making the situation even worse.

And yes, I'm just making excuses, but there has to be another way.

Mike G
Friday, June 27, 2003

Give him space. Don't "confront" him. What a foolish idea.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Maybe there's someone that both of you get on with who can try to elicit information out of him and yourself and explain what's going on, and what could make it right?

Friday, June 27, 2003

"Give him space. Don't 'confront' him. What a foolish idea."

I think you're both wrong and both right.

I'd propose this:

Tell him you've noticed he's upset with you lately. And then ask if he'd like to let you know what's on his mind or if he's just like some space.

Joe Grossberg
Friday, June 27, 2003

All the advice above is correct.  If I was in your shoes, I would add two more things:

1) Watch your six.

Go to the CEO and tell him something like this:

"Lately I've been having trouble working with (person X).  I'm afraid the working relationship has deteriorated to the point that it's beginning to effect productivity.  I want to handle this without involving you, but it's gotten to the point that I think you at least need to know about it.  If things continue to spiral, I would just like to ask for my day in court."

Let him ask questions if he wants.  Odds are, he won't - he'll just dismiss.  But, should the other guy start complaining about you later, he now knows to 'take it with a grain of salt' and to ask for your side of the story.  This is CRITICAL.

2) Think long and hard about what you could have done to peeve him off.  It sounds like it was something far more than you realize.  Perhaps you made a joke that was insulting that he took seriously?  Perhaps you realized that his time was valuable, and excluded him from some meetings to save him time?  (Perhaps he didn't know you were trying to save his time, and just felt excluded?) Perhaps you made some comment to someone else that he overhead, or heard through the grape vine, that wasn't flattering?

I've run into cases before where developers complained they were overworked, so, when a Problem arose, they were specifically excluded from it so they could work on something else.  Guess what? At least one of them felt excluded and was offended.

I'm telling ya.  You probably did a series of things to annoy this guy that you aren't even aware of.  Try to figure out why.  If you have to, say something like this (nicely) in private:

"Ok bob, I stink.  Could you please help me stink less?"

Or something to that effect.

I hope that helps,

Matt H.
Friday, June 27, 2003

You have an interesting work culture, but I suspect you don't have any practices in place for conflict resolution.  I could try to put you in touch with someone I trust who gives businesses presentations about different systems (like when it's appropriate to do consensus-based decisionmaking, or when assigning authority is needed).  I don't think it's expensive; he once mentioned he'd do it for free+travel expenses, except businesses tend not to respect things they don't pay for.

You can email if interested...  I just mention this because it seems broken if you feel you must turn to strangers to resolve this.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Maybe he feels inadequate everyone's supposed to be an equal in your company, but he thinks his role is subordinate to you and you're technically better.  That can lead to him protecting his turf. 

Just a guess...

Friday, June 27, 2003

Oy, beware the "responsibility without authority" thing.

It's too late for your situation but bear this in mind in the future. If you ever find yourself in a situation where you are going to give responsibility to someone, then make it clear to everyone else that this is being done.

How much of the attitude would you attribute to a "you're not the boss of me" thing?

Friday, June 27, 2003

You said... "and I overruled him"

This is not a colleague or you could not "overrule" him.  It is a supervisor/subordinate role.  If you are not his supervisor, or senior then how did you "overrule" him? 

You are either in charge or not.  If you are and you took a stand, welcome to leadership.  It ain't always popular or friendly.  If you are not in charge, you have stepped into the street.  It can lead you somewhere or get you run down. 

And remember a person will tell 10 people when you did them wrong and one when you did them right.  Your colleague is not your only issue.

Friday, June 27, 2003

-- If I don't agree with something, I make him explain it to me further and sometimes change my mind as a result.  A couple of times I've said I have to take an executive decision and I know he doesn't like it, but I believe I'm acting in the best interests of the project. As it happens, I've mostly been proven right.

How often do you explain your side and get him to change his mind? How many times do you compromise between your idea and his? Do you think you are right until proven otherwise? He might just be upset because whenever there is a disagreement he has to explain himself until you agree, but if you still don't agree then you make the call without getting his buy-in.

I don't know what your working relationship is like, but if you are the "boss" and can always override his opinions I think that would get kind of grating. Especially if the two of you are supposed to be equals in the company. He might be protecting his test system because he's afraid you'll take that over too once you start to work on it.

Again, I don't know the reality of your situation. I'm just offering a viewpoint that the other guy might have.

Friday, June 27, 2003

WHich of his decisions you have admired?. Start with that..

Friday, June 27, 2003

I think the problem is with you, actually. You have power over the other person and have exercised it in an insensitive way.

You should learn to listen to people and how to manage professional people.

Friday, June 27, 2003

Thanks for all the feedback. Gives me some food for thought.

One of the issues is clearly the lack of structure. With regard to the design of the product, it is my responsibility. I involve this guy, firstly because he is responsible for testing, therefore has a different perspective and secondly so that I can validate my ideas.

I make him explain ideas I don't agree with, because I don't want to assume that he is wrong just because I think he is wrong. I'm giving him a chance to get his opinion across, rather than dismissing it, which is something we hated about the previous Product Manager.

Testing is his responsibility. When I offer help, I ask him what test plans I should run. I don't want to take over the system.

Looking back I think the problem is:

I offered help, but I implied that we were likely to overrun the test phase. I also suggested that we should get a run through all the test plans at the earliest possible opportunity (by doubling the number of people testing), so that the developers could start fixing bugs as soon as possible. 5 developers, 1 tester - the maths doesn't work, he needs help, he just doesn't want to admit it.

I have overall responsibility for the project, therefore I have responsibility for the testing on the project. He only tests on this project, therefore, whether I am his line manager or not (and I'm not), I am responsible for ALL his work. That means, everytime I make a decision on the project I am stepping on a colleagues toes.

I've also realised that he is unwilling to do anything beyond testing - leaving me to be the jack of all trades, dealing with sales, marketing, tech writing, even graphic design. Any non-testing task I ask him to do is seen as me being lazy rather than him being the best person to do the job and is seen as me being bossy.

The roles and responsibilities thing will get sorted, because we have a bew Chief Operations Officer and it's something we have already discussed. I'm thinking now, that part of the solution is to make sure that my colleague is involved in modelling the new environment. I try to represent his views as well as mine, but maybe he still feels left out.

Hopefully that will help the friendship and ease the tension.

BTW, I ask strangers because they are unbiased and talking to someone at work could undermine myself or my colleague, neither of which I want to do.


Mike G
Friday, June 27, 2003

Increase your self esteem.

Tell the truth to the CEO, the wanker you are working with is being 'difficult'.

Don't be so piss weak.

Not an idiot
Saturday, June 28, 2003

I could be the person you describe.

In my last project, I worked very closely with someone and we really had a good time. We went out for lunch, we went out in the evening a lot, we discussed our work together. It has been long ago that I developed such an intense
relationship with some co worker.

However, I realized that I wanted to go for lunch also with other people working in this project and that I didn't agree with everything he said. He got sort of jealous, if I dare say that. He started to use phrases like "you don't want to go fur lunch with poor me". I started to feel like a mother that had to take care of his son/daughter. And that's why I began to give short answers. And didn't have coffee with him anymore.

rm -R /
Saturday, June 28, 2003

Ugh.  The herding cats problem of having to get work out of co-workers who can tell you to just piss off.

My solution has been to always make things transparent and memoed.  After a meeting where people have agreed to stuff, I jot it all down in an email and send it around, cc-ing the boss.

I also make a scheduling spreadsheet, and keep the weekly update printed and up on my wall.  Thus, when every task I am being asked about has "waiting for tests from Jack Hass" as the next step, people know it.

Of course, I am also nice about things, and willing to quietly help folk out of deadline crunches, but make sure this is documented as well.

The downside of all this is having no room to screw up yourself.

Contrary Mary
Saturday, June 28, 2003

Not an idiot - it's not really that simple. We are a small company, we have to get on. If the CEO sees that we can't sort the problem out ourselves, then when I go cap in hand for more money or time then I have less bargaining power.

We are supposed to be a team, therefore failing to present a united front undermines both of us. While our project has the potential to make a huge profit, it isn't yet. I really don't want to give any excuse for anyone to pull the rug out from under us - I like being employed.

Mike G
Monday, June 30, 2003

Oh yes, and the guy does get the job done. He is actually very good. So complaining about him is going to look childish.

Mike G
Monday, June 30, 2003

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