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I work in an industry that is very heavy on engineers in both the younger and older end of the spectrum. I happen to be on the younger end, though certainly with enough experience under my belt that plenty of my older co-workers trust my opinion on technical aspects.

However, I have one older co-worker, let's call him Bob (he appears to be near retirement age, if that matters) that, no matter how technically sound my argument is, will not cede the point. This can be for trivial matters and for more important matters - he seems not to discriminate. Oftentimes, my argument is based on conversations I have had with other, more experienced co-workers who are also proficient, so this isn't just something that I, as a younger engineer, am coming up with off the top of my head.

So far, my only recourse has been to get my supervisor (of an age with Bob) to back me up. Usually, my supervisor makes almost the exact same argument I made previously (not surprising, since often I bounce ideas off of him before talking to Bob). Bob then accepts the argument, and we've all wasted time in the process. Just to note, Bob is not a direct report of my supervisor, and he does not work in the same department.

Now, I can understand having a questioning attitude, and this sort of thing is valuable in my industry. However, I think Bob takes things a little far is disregarding the technical opinions of younger engineers (this doesn't just happen to me). In case you were wondering, Bob does not accept the opinion of two younger engineers who agree on a topic, so it's not that he just wants two people to tell him the same thing.

What sort of approach should I use with Bob to help him see my side of things without always having to have my superior intervene?

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Sigh.

The reason Bob isn't going anywhere fast - and hasn't gone anywhere at all - is because he's like this.

You're always going to bump into people who care more about who owns the idea, rather than the content of the idea. As you move up, you'll see these people less often (or with the commensurate political skill to not appear so obvious - mostly they'll repurpose the idea and claim it as their own).

The best thing you can do is learn not to be like Bob.

Also, be sympathetic to him - he doesn't know what he's doing is holding and has been holding him back. Rather, he feels frustrated and scared by you younger hot-shots coming up, and he wants to hold onto his job. He thinks that blocking you is useful to this purpose, although it generally is not. This is because, as you've noticed, it wastes time.

I don't have a clue how to deal with him, but I suggest you escalate your question to your supervisor. State that your worry is the waste of time, and ask him if there is some work-around?

It's really an organisational structural problem, and your supervisor is best suited to handle this.

Alternatively, your ideas are all terrible, and your supervisor is crazy. But then everything is doomed, right? Poor Bob though!

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    "Alternatively, your ideas are all terrible, and your supervisor is crazy." Hah. Hopefully not for my sake! – grfrazee Feb 15 '18 at 22:59
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This really depends if "Bob" is the decision maker. If he is, I feel bad for him if all anyone has to do is go to the supervisor and he doesn't back Bob up (Which is good for you.).

Talk to Bob if possible. You go over his head and every time the supervisor takes your side of the argument. Is this what he really wants? Is proposing your solutions to Bob a waste of time? Can Bob explain why he always disagrees with younger engineers?

If you can't get through to Bob, talk to the supervisor. I'm sure he wants the best solutions and would prefer Bob work it out with the younger engineers without them having to go to the supervisor.

Whatever you do, keep coming up with what you think is the right solution and make your points. Don't let the "Bobs" of the world get you down.

  • Thanks. I edited my post - Bob is not my supervisor's direct report, and he's not in the same department. I'll certainly try to see if I can get to what's behind Bob's behavior, if I can. – grfrazee Feb 16 '18 at 15:39

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