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I'm working with a remote colleague who is an expert in a technology we use in our current project. Often there are minor communication issues, some things get lost in translation etc. Nothing too serious or out of the ordinary, given that neither of us has English as a first language.

The problem is:

  1. The colleague is eager to jump to conclusions, sometimes ending up arguing against something that was never proposed, wasting everyone's time and energy. Since most of our communication is done on a chat client, this quickly depletes everyone's attention span and I feel like I "lost an argument" I never made.
  2. The feeling that "I lost an argument". I don't often start arguments, I make technical points, and expect technical answers. The answers I get sometimes are more appropriate for more confrontational discussions, which I'm happy to put down to a difference of character. For example I'll get an answer This is bad, now I have to work the weekend to fix it, and I have to ask again to clarify exactly why "this" is bad. I'll eventually get the technical answer, but not after a while, since everyone's attention has drifted (see above).
  3. Minor emotional manipulation. I'm sure he doesn't do it on purpose, but it happens. For example I have to work on weekend to fix this - well, I don't care. It's his decision entirely what to do with his spare time.

When I do get the answer I want I thank him profusely (but not too much) hoping to "train" him to the kind of communication style I prefer.

My questions:

  • Am I silly in doing what I'm doing?
  • Is there a way to "help" people not to jump to conclusions, and ask questions instead?
  • How many people are involved with this project? Parts of the description sound like just the 2 of you , but then you say "depletes everyone's attention span" which sounds like more people. Solutions for a group might be different from a 1:1 conversation – cdkMoose Jun 5 at 16:08
  • @cdkMoose There's multiple people in the project, about 10. The chat is a team chat where everyone discusses the module we're building. We're all new to this technology, he's the expert. The behaviour I describe is not directed just to me, but this was the most striking example as it happened to me recently. – rath Jun 6 at 0:10
  • When I do get the answer I want I thank him profusely (but not too much) hoping to "train" him to the kind of communication style I prefer. - Is this a dog we're talking about or a person? You can't change someone else's behavior and you certainly can't "train" them to behave the way you want them to behave. You can only change your behavior and change how you react and respond to his behavior. If this is impacting your workload or productivity then you should have a talk with your manager. – joeqwerty Jun 6 at 3:42
  • @rath, if this is a group chat, then it should be about your preferred style, but a style that works for the group. – cdkMoose Jun 6 at 14:52
  • @cdkMoose I'm part of the group and that style doesn't work for me. – rath Jun 6 at 14:56
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Am I silly in doing what I'm doing?

I would not thank him profusely for being an ineffective communicator. Take a look at my tips below to help your cause.

Is there a way to "help" people not to jump to conclusions, and ask questions instead?

I think one of the things you could do is say something like "I see, now can you explain how you got to that conclusion?". Force them to elaborate....eventually perhaps they will learn to do more listening versus talking.

At this point most likely there will be gaps in the analysis so you can then say "Ok, but what about this, this, and that? Perhaps we need to analyze this a bit more."

In terms of the argument part, "Can you provide a technical reason for your position?" In other words make them explain themselves thoroughly and do not allow none technical factors to enter into any decision.

As far as the emotional part, simply say "Working the weekends huh, who is forcing you to do that?" When he says "Well it needs to be done" you respond with "Well your making that decision to work, so that is on you."

1

First, give this person the benefit of the doubt. Text communication doesn't carry much emotional context, and it's unwise to infer that kind of thing from the text. And, complaining about the workload is something he should do with his supervisor. You can simply ignore that stuff.

Second, say what you might say in a face-to-face meeting: such things as "I hear you. Let's cover that issue later, now we have some stuff to do." The point is to acknowledge the person and the issue, then firmly change the subject. If you were doing this in a formal public meeting, you might say "Point of order. Let us confine our discussion to the business at hand."

Third, have a private face-to-face or telephone conversation (no text!) with this person. Talk about a specific recent incident and its effect on you. Something like this. "I have something to say. Please hear me out. I was frustrated yesterday while we were planning the farkle project. You jumped to the conclusion that the framis was a problem, and we spent too much time on it. That frustrated me, because finishing farkle is high priority for our team. In future, will you please think twice about whether your points are relevant?" This is a classic "I-statement."

Fourth, work with all your colleagues to develop a group convention for keeping things on track. It might be as simple as a message saying "Off topic?" on your chat channel. That way you don't have to carry the entire burden of reining in this one chatterbox.

Most importantly: it's not only supervisors who can help groups develop good meeting habits. You can make a significant contribution to that.

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First of all, I would ignore the "training" part. If this person indulges in passive-aggressive behaviour or has communications problems, it means he is not aware of some interpersonal dynamics and lacks the instruments to understand them completely.
This means, in turn, that he will likely not be able at all to "distill" a good example from other people's behaviour.

To take the example to an extreme, it's like being nice to an abusive person hoping they will "understand" and "change", which usually never happens. It's only an example and I'm not stating that the guy is abusive, but still you must find a way to assert your needs/problems in a clear and straightforward way.

How? This depends on the degree of the annoyance. But I think it could not hurt to have a frank but very friendly conversation, to be modulated on personal needs and feelings; for example:

I enjoy working with you and I really admire your expertise, but I notice that often X happens which sometimes makes me feel like I'm walking on eggshells to avoid an argument

-1

When I do get the answer I want I thank him profusely (but not too much) hoping to "train" him to the kind of communication style I prefer.

Is this a dog we're talking about or a person? You can't change someone else's behavior and you certainly can't "train" them to behave the way you want them to behave. You can only change your behavior and change how you react and respond to his behavior.

If this is impacting your workload or productivity then you should have a talk with your manager.

The workplace is full of difficult, and sometimes toxic, people. You can really only change how you act with and react to these people.

  • I think it's fairly obvious that "train" is meant figuratively, not literally. Changing how he responds to behavior is exactly how he should hope to affect the other person into changing his communication style. – Sander Skovgaard Hansen Jun 6 at 6:18

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