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Some time ago a manager from another department organized a meeting to discuss about tech stack to use for rewriting a small internal application. He gathered more tech oriented persons from various departments for this.

However, members of his department used all the allocated time, so that the invited persons had very little input and there were no conclusions for this meeting.

He asked several people to provide feedback for the meeting, but most of us declined this feedback. Personally, I had some urgent things to tackle, so I had to decline it. This decline was replied with a message like the following: "I am very unhappy for you unwillingness to provide feedback".

After this, I decided to stop any collaboration with this manager unless it is really required (e.g. unless my manager tells me to) and this decision is based on the following facts (gathered in about 2 years of meetings from various persons who complained about these issues):

  • very dogmatic (when in his best interest)- when the discussion is related for his team to change anything to improve a process, he becomes very dogmatic, so that nothing is going further
  • malicious - when a team member from another department makes a mistake that affects his team, instead of focusing on solving the issue, he will often complain in e-mails with lots of CCs. Also, he often interprets what you say using the worst meaning ("anything you say can be used against you")
  • disruptive - he often starts off-topic discussions during meetings and time is consumed. This leads to meetings with no conclusions, topics on the agenda not being discussed at all etc.
  • declines responsibility - in the vast majority of cases, he declines any responsibly and even tries to put blame on others for mistakes made by his team

Personally, any discussion with him disturbed me by leaving a very unpleasant mix of feelings: "wasted time", "machiavellianism", "chameleonism", "dangerous creature" and "lowered morale". Several of my collaborators reported similar issues when they had to discuss with him.

I am tech-oriented person (my position is "technical expert") and I am not very good with office politics. Despite the politicized environment, technical experts enjoy some freedom and can focus on actual technical challenges and less on office politics. Also, none of my projects involve him as a stakeholder.

A close collaborator warned me that my decision might not be the best one, so now I have a dilemma for the "Workplace".

Shortly put, I feel that any relation with this person is clearly harmful for me, but from an office politics perspective, I should keep a minimal relation.

Question: How to deal with a manager that is (unintentionally) wasting my time, and also makes me feel very uncomfortable?

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    You either deal with it, find another position in the same company, or move on to another company. What other viable options are there? – Mister Positive Dec 8 '17 at 15:50
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    I am very unhappy for you unwillingness to provide feedback - Please direct all comments regarding my performance to my manager, and then give your manager a heads-up. – rath Dec 8 '17 at 15:54
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    Have you asked your manager how much involvement you should have in this external project? – cdkMoose Dec 8 '17 at 17:24
  • @cdkMoose - there is currently a major change within the company and my manager will change very soon. This change is stressful for them and I would avoid opening this subject for now. I am not involved in any other way in this external project. I went to that meeting, because I felt I could contribute. In similar past contexts, manager's answer was: "go ahead and help, if you have the time". – Alexei Dec 8 '17 at 18:37
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Ok you're dealing with an incompetent and insecure manager who's crap at managing time, setting agendas and communication (missing information: how did he get to his current position? was he promoted, is he a friend or crony of the CXO/VP, or else how? As an aside, he must have some good qualities...?). As to whether he's actively malicious and whether he's redeemable and how long he lasts, that's not your concern. The cc: abuse can be symptomatic of him not having clarity on his and other people's roles and abilities. (Maybe the people above him are even worse. I've seen it happen.)

I decided to stop any collaboration with this manager unless it is really required (e.g. unless my manager tells me to)

Sure, but it's not a binary decision, you can have minimal interaction by email only and no meetings ("As you are aware, we are very busy with XYZ project and unfortunately are unable to participate in meetings on other projects.... If you formulate proposals by email we may be able to offer brief written comment"). Your decision is fine, just don't tell him bluntly why, not in writing, certainly not in scathing negatives, and definitely not with a cc:.

He asked several people to provide feedback for the meeting, but most of us declined this feedback.

So seems like he knows he screwed up, or got criticized, and seems to want to know how to fix it. I'd give him the benefit of the doubt on that part, no? I would have sent a short private email (polite, clear, upbeat, absolutely no cc's) along the lines of:

  • please establish a clear agenda in advance of a meeting, with timeline, and keep the meeting on-time and on-topic. It's best to prevent discussion of unrelated matters, and take such things offline. The meeting on [date] went very off-track and we were unable to have any discussion.
  • if a large group can't stay focused on the topic of the meeting, suggest inviting a smaller group
  • if a discussion itself isn't the most productive format, solicit comments by email and/or send a short draft document for comment

But yeah in the long run set hard limits to how much of your time he can consume, and hide behind your manager as necessary. Keep any communications with him brief and polite. EDIT: I know he's testing the limits, but try to Assume Good Faith, some assholes are redeemable, some people genuinely want to become better but don't know how. But obviously be assertive and set very hard limits on his behavior and use your manager as a shield.

EDIT2: People's styles are very different. Some people are defensive in written communications, but very receptive in person. Some are the exact opposite. Some are just always a pain in the ass. Some people will take very frank feedback, if delivered in a very private setting, e.g. conversation, offsite. Some will freak out and go for your jugular. It's up to you to triage which animal you're dealing with here. If you choose to keep interacting with him. It's your call. He definitely sounds like a hard case.

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    I know that whether he's actively malicious or not should not be my concern, but for the last two years some of colleagues that had to work with him systematically reported similar problems. They cannot all be wrong and I want to use their experience to do the right thing and not be caught in the same "malicious vortex". After such a long time of unpleasant interactions, it is really hard to assume good faith. Of course, "be nice" policy should apply regardless and I would never bluntly express what I feel in any way. Thanks for the thorough answer. – Alexei Dec 8 '17 at 18:49
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    @Alexei: let's assume the crowd is correct. Most of us have worked for/with assholes, some far worse. At best <5% of those have the self-awareness and honesty and humility to publicly say "I realize I screwed up, please tell me how, what am I doing wrong?". Even if he's defensive and vicious when given said feedback. It's still quite rare. Maybe he is redeemable; maybe not; maybe he's alienated too many people already; maybe he will be better at the next place. – smci Dec 8 '17 at 19:50
  • @Alexei: also, there's something seriously broken with the company's leadership and HR if that volume of negative feedback has been floating around for years now and no positive action has been taken, or nobody thinks it's their responsibility to do anything about it. I still find it hard to believe there isn't some secret reason he got and has held on to his position. – smci Dec 8 '17 at 20:18
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    yes, I agree with leadership/HR issue, but this more of an opinion rather than a fact, so I did not mention it in the question. I can only speculate about this: most of the people he manages deal with a ugly legacy part of the core business almost nobody else understands (most of the code there was untouched for more than 10 years). I think they are afraid to do something about this out of fear critical business might be seriously affected. – Alexei Dec 8 '17 at 20:38
  • An inside joke about the code base in that department: large parts of it are written in two of the most disliked programming languages. – Alexei Dec 8 '17 at 20:40
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Do roughly what you've been doing already. Deal with him a little as you can get away with while being productive in your own role.

When you do deal with him, try to be as patient and as professional as you can be. It sounds as though you're pre-arming yourself with negative feelings whenever you have to interact with this person, so try and shake it off.

As the film says

Let it go

Compartmentalise the issue and switch yourself into another mood when you deal with him, reason that it won't last long, and do your work as politely and professionally enough for him to be happy with what you produce.

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    Thanks for quick feedback. I really appreciate a neutral opinion for this. – Alexei Dec 8 '17 at 16:03
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IMHO, your current tactic is correct to avoid him as much as possible. People like this rarely stay on the same level of the responsibility more than 3-4 years, they ever coax a promotion or leave (by themselves or get fired)

I can suggest few options to survive in the interim going forward:

  1. if you can, make yourself busy with other stuff not involving this manager, even volunteer on projects to fill up your time.

  2. When you don`t have a choice and have to work with him, document everything. Ask for assignments to be emailed and detailed, if you think deadlines are incorrect (they may be), do not wait for it, challenge it as politely as possible and ask for help / extension in advance.

  3. Keep your eyes open for another position within a company that can fit your career goals to switch to position where you will not interact with that manager

Good luck and stay strong

  • Yes, for point 1 there is nothing I should do more: I am already busy with other projects involving great people (including next manager). 2) great advice about documenting everything. 3) related to first point - I do not have to. – Alexei Dec 8 '17 at 20:43
  • Awesome. Sounds like you know what you doing. Good luck – Strader Dec 8 '17 at 21:46

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