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Adam and his boss, Oscar, can't talk face-to-face right now, they are at different locations and will stay like this for some time. Oscar is quite conflict-avoidant, more of a talker than a doer.

Adam is new in the company and currently working on an important project with multiple issues, which nobody managed to solve for many months before he even started at the company. The main stakeholder and roadblocker is Tom. Tom is an ego-driven extremely ambitious person. His seniority is the same as Oscar's. Both have had some problems with each other in the past, but aren't enemies.

Tom finds Adam ok, their relationship is normal.

Tom talks to Adam (verbally) at length about a major issue. Tom tells Adam among others that he won't move a finger to correct the issue. Adam then writes his boss, Oscar, a short, very factual summary of the conversation ("Tom said he didn't see The Very Important Issue as a priority and stated he wouldn't help").

Oscar forwards the email to Tom asking him whether he really meant that.

Hell breaks loose.

Tom calls Oscar telling him that Adam is stupid and unfriendly and ugly (yes, I'm being slightly sarcastic here) and he doesn't want to work with him again.

Oscar blames Adam's lack of communication skills and gives him a long lecture about people's skills and how important it is to talk to people and to be friendly and similar.

Adam feels the only stupid thing he did was writing an email instead of calling (although he could have been quoted by Oscar even if he had indeed called). He feels scapegoated. Still, he wants to solve the situation. What is the best way to solve that? Should Adam bring up with his boss why the problem appeared in the first place?

P.S. As you can imagine it's not a theoretical situation. I'm Adam.

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  • @JoeStrazzere, yes, I've corrected the question.
    – user35467
    Mar 21, 2019 at 17:19
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    Who initiated the conversation between Tom and Adam? What was the initial objective of this conversation? Mar 21, 2019 at 17:25
  • @P.Hopkinson, Tom is a necessary person on this project. It was a project conversation. Oscar recommended Adam to talk to Tom.
    – user35467
    Mar 21, 2019 at 17:27
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    Please rewrite this in the first person. It will be much easier to understand. Mar 21, 2019 at 18:44
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    What part of this story counts as "boss's (tiny) mistake with big consequences which they blame on you?"
    – dwizum
    Mar 21, 2019 at 18:54

2 Answers 2

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I have been a manager for the past 5 years and on rare occasions have had teammates in your shoes.

To be absolutely forthright with you, in my opinion, you were right to let your manager know that another stakeholder is not making progress and an obstacle to project success.

Sometimes, stating facts is what is needed and the correct course of action, rather than being mealy mouthed.

The only two things I would add is:

If this is your first time sharing this roadblock with the other stakeholder, to give some time before escalating to your boss, and

To confirm your colleague's recalcitrance is indeed their actual position to avoid stuffing words in his mouth.

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Still, he wants to solve the situation. What is the best way to solve that? Should Adam bring up with his boss why the problem appeared in the first place?

Adam should apologize to Tom for sending that email about him that was essentially putting words in his mouth ( even if it was 100% accurate ).

Adam should then focus on the parts of the project that he has direct control over and only inform Oscar if something out of his control is preventing him from completing his tasks and ask him how he would like Adam to proceed.

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  • This migth be an opportunity. After the apology (which adam needs to do only because of proffessionalism and not because Tom is right) it might be possible that Tom still dont want to work with Adam. In that case Adam could ask his Boss to do all the communication with Tom. If Adam needs something let the Boss ask for it / get it. As a puffer between Tom and Adam. In that case Adam can give all the roadblocks to his Boss to handle. (something like outsourcing the problem handling to his boss who wants to avoid conflicts)
    – some_coder
    Nov 28, 2023 at 12:00

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