I’m looking for advice on what to do about a coworker who has been treating me unprofessionally and is not responding to feedback that the way he communicates is not workplace-appropriate.

This is someone I’ve worked with in the past but not closely. At our last job he had a reputation for being very technically skilled, but arrogant and difficult to work with.

After we both quit our jobs several months ago (for independent reasons), he reached out to me to offer a contract job at a startup he was working with. Eager for work, I accepted.

We’ve been working together for about a month and are running into some communication issues. When I try to engage with him on projects, he often responds in a way that comes across as dismissive or condescending. (Note that we’re peers on the team and expected to be working together.)

For example, we were recently designing a table in a database to store a type of transaction. When I asked for clarification on a detail he said, “have you ever seen a transaction table”? Not only was his response not helpful, but I felt belittled by the question. It’s not uncommon for him to take that kind of tone with me.

I asked him to please treat me with a little more respect in conversation and suggested being a bit gentler when offering feedback. He apologized, but went on to tell me in great detail what my deficiencies are as a colleague. For instance, that I “have a lot to learn about schema design, databases, and working on an engineering team”. He said he’s also frustrated by my inability to articulate my thoughts, and recommended “using the Internet” to educate myself. Coming from someone who has less work experience than I do and is not my superior, I found those statements to be a little out of bounds.

At this point I’ve tried to resolve the issue with him personally and I’m considering taking it to our supervisor. The dilemma is — is it worth potentially burning the bridge and “throwing him under the bus”? I’d prefer not to, especially since he connected me with the company in the first place, but our dynamic is making it hard for me to get my work done.

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    You are getting blunt feedback, which might be slightly inappropriate but could still be very useful. I think an answer should take into account if that feedback might be accurate.I can't judge that from what you write, but personally I would first consider what he is trying to tell you and how you could improve before complaining about his tone as long as it is not a public conversation. He seems to be as frustrated about you as you about him. His frustration is probably more about hard skills whereas yours seems to be about soft skills. You both could probably learn so much from each other. – Roland Nov 5 '18 at 14:35
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    @Roland I think you’re right about the difference in our concerns (hard vs. soft skills), and although it’s hard for me to reflect on feedback that’s delivered so bluntly I’ll try to sit with it and see what I can gain from it. Probably a good skill to work on :) – Rob Nov 5 '18 at 15:08
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    @Roland I'd agree that the feedback is blunt, but it seems like the proper response would be equally blunt feedback, e.g. "Hey, your comment are inappropriate and unhelpful. You need to be more professional." – DaveG Nov 5 '18 at 15:15
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    @DaveG I basically agree. Only they could actually be helpful. – Roland Nov 5 '18 at 15:17
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    Above comments are fine, I just want to add something. Bringing the complaint to your superior will escalate the problem since the boss will surely discuss with you both and your colleage will not find it constructive. This escalation however eventually force the boss to choose between you and your colleage which I believe could not be ended well for you. Skilled persons usually deal with overloads and asking questions even a very good one could be a risk! :) I would like to propose to ask your questions somewhere else(like SO) and to minimize your professional interaction with your colleage. – Iman Nov 5 '18 at 16:12

The dilemma is — is it worth potentially burning the bridge and “throwing him under the bus”? I’d prefer not to, especially since he connected me with the company in the first place

Your co-worker is rude, but it's questionable if getting your boss involved will do anything to alleviate the matter. Your boss hasn't seen the behavior and letting him know there is friction between both of you could cast a negative light on you.

You've already talked to him one-on-one, and nothing changed. Here are a few other things you can do.

1) Make sure there is a 3rd person witnessing the rudeness. All the better if it's your boss. You can get a 3rd person involved by simply saying "I think we should pull Jr. dev Jane into the meeting to help build her skills."

2) Walk away when he is being rude. Next time he is rude to you, tell him - "You obviously don't value my input, so its a better use of my time to do another task." and walk off. Right now he gets to build his ego talking to you. By walking away, you've set a firm boundary that his actions have repercussions.

Now he's in a situation where he will either have to do the whole thing himself or go to the boss. If he goes to the boss, then he may be seen as causing friction instead of you. When the boss asks you about what happened, you can explain the rudeness, and say "It seemed like he really wanted to work on this by himself so I let him"

3) Go to your boss - sort of the same as above, but you're the one pulling the boss into an inter-employee issue instead of the other guy.

  • Thank you @sevensevens, this is a very helpful, thoughtfully constructed answer. I’m leaning towards option 1 — I think having more parties involved is the right way to bring attention to this without looking like a jerk myself. We work remote, so I can’t walk away per se when this is going on, but I’ll find some way to ignore him - lol. Thanks again! – Rob Nov 5 '18 at 21:26


I hate to tell you this, but you are the problem, here.

An inept colleague is like having a rock in your shoe. Every time you try to do something, there's pain. To those who have technical skill, being asked to "carry" someone who doesn't is extremely insulting and irritating. You may feel THEY are the problem. They (likely) feel equally as strongly that YOU are the problem.

Now, the question about having seen a transaction table is very legitimate. It is difficult to answer a person's question if you don't know where to start. Start to "low" on the skill, and you come across as patronizing. Start to "high," and you come across as condescending.

Add to that they feel (rightly or wrongly) that it IS NOT THEIR JOB to teach you. They are there to accomplish the work. They (likely) get no extra pay or bonus for teaching you.

You may feel he is being difficult. He likely feels the same of you.

You're going to have to figure out how to sort this out.

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    -1: Perhaps the OP is the problem; perhaps it's the co-worker; most likely, it's somewhat both of them. The OP may not have the knowledge expected by their co-worker, but we don't know if that's a reasonable expectation. Instead of trying to address any of this, this answer just points the finger back at the OP without any truly constructive feedback. – GreenMatt Nov 5 '18 at 20:25
  • @GreenMatt - You know, I used to get bothered by downvotes. Now I realize that they are an indication that I've said what needs to be heard by a person not ready to hear it. The response given by the other party clearly indicates the other party feels the poster needs skills development, and the poster feels experience somehow is more important than skill and ability. While experience is generally good, it is not the most important attribute of a developer. So I'm going to +1 your comment, because it shows me I'm touching the right nerves. Thank you. – Wesley Long Nov 5 '18 at 20:37
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    Thanks @WesleyLong, but to be honest this wasn’t particularly helpful for me. You’ve made a lot of assumptions here that I don’t think are fair based on the information I provided. I wouldn’t consider myself “inept”, my coworker is not “carrying” me, and yes, I have seen a transaction table. I had simply asked him about an implementation detail he was recommending, but I’m perfectly comfortable with RDBMS concepts, schema design, and persisting transactions. But thank you for taking the time to offer your perspective – Rob Nov 5 '18 at 21:21
  • @Rob - He is clearly frustrated by your participation. Whether or not that's fair, I can't say from here. All I can say is that I have been in his shoes, and I'd look in the mirror long and hard. Maybe you don't convey your competence well? Hard to say from here, but there's clearly an expectation on his side that you're not meeting. Whether that's a realistic expectation or not, again, I can't say from here. – Wesley Long Nov 5 '18 at 21:54
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    "You know, I used to get bothered by downvotes. Now I realize that they are an indication that I've said what needs to be heard by a person not ready to hear it." or, you know, it could mean you need to reconsider your position. You say you "can't say from here" whether the coworker is justified in their frustration yet assert that OP is the problem. – jcm Nov 6 '18 at 10:31

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