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.

  • @JoeStrazzere, yes, I've corrected the question.
    – user35467
    Mar 21 '19 at 17:19
  • 1
    Who initiated the conversation between Tom and Adam? What was the initial objective of this conversation? Mar 21 '19 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 '19 at 17:27
  • 5
    Please rewrite this in the first person. It will be much easier to understand. Mar 21 '19 at 18:44
  • 2
    What part of this story counts as "boss's (tiny) mistake with big consequences which they blame on you?"
    – dwizum
    Mar 21 '19 at 18:54

Adam's biggest faux pax was writing something negative about someone when it's not explicitly called for, such as an official evaluation.

So, Adam needs to learn how to present a full situation while not blaming anyone for anything. That Tom refused to help is not Adam's problem, it's Oscars problem to deal with.

So, a better email to Oscar would have been:

Hi Oscar, I talked to Tom about Very Important Issue and explained the situation and consequences. As soon as you and him agree on a priority I can begin to address it.

Please let me know. Thanks, Adam

At this point, all Adam can do is ask Oscar for instructions on handling the Very Important Issue.


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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