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I work with a group of geologists. We have one manager, but the rest of us (seven total) perform our job duties as equals. One geologist, who mentored me when I began this job, has made great contributions to the team. This geologist got the team up and running in more advanced geologic software, which has been a great boon to our group. Additionally, this geologist has lots of good knowledge and skills.

However, this same geologist has on several occasions looked over my shoulder as I worked, and offered geologic opinions that were wrong (you'll have to take my word on it, I had been working on the issues for hours, days, and in some cases months). In one instance they spent over an hour trying to inadvertently mislead me, which I did not appreciate at all as we are very busy at all times. This geologist has never admitted they were wrong, and often brings up one of the cases as if I had been mistaken. I have determined this geologists main professional flaw is they are too confident, without the geologic background to even support overconfidence.

Unfortunately, in our job there is not much time for peer review, so much of our work goes on without any. After several of these cases of being challenged by this geologist, knowing they are 100% incorrect in what they are asserting, it got to the point that I no longer wished to work with them regarding geologic work. Of course, on using software and data management issues, they are very capable and important to work with. But when it comes to geology, I had lost confidence that I could get a good opinion from them. This overconfidence shows up in other areas - it seems that when this geologist gets an idea in their head, it becomes the most important topic and must be addressed. They had expressed concern about another state likely causing sinkholes in our own when there was absolutely no evidence for such - the only connection is that sinkholes occur in the same geologic areas that extend between the two states.

This geologist I am concerned about has entered somewhat of a team-lead position in our group. There is certainly justification for this, considering their aptitude for using our main geologic software. But knowing that they are leading projects of a geologic nature, and making key decisions in some areas related to the geology, with hardly any peer review of their work, makes me uncomfortable.

I don't know what good expressing this to my manager would be. The performance of this colleague does not affect me much as I will leaving this group to start a new position soon. But recently my manager expressed that they were going to start a more official team-lead position in the group, and from the context of things, I know that it would be this particular geologist of concern whom would be promoted to it. I would honestly be irritated to know they were in a position I needed to report to, and I if I was to continue to work here, I would be more likely to express this to my manager. Should I express it anyway in concern for my other colleagues?

Would it do any good to express my concern to my manager? Or to be professional, should I simply not say anything and let it be? Should I discuss this with another colleague first? I don't want to make this particular colleague look bad, but as a professional geologist, I feel some responsibility to raise awareness about some particulars of their performance, especially when my manager is viewing them as fitting for a team lead position.

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    Let your manager worry about other's skill level. Bad mouthing co-workers can backfire in extraordinary fashion. – Mister Positive Jun 5 at 17:14
  • If he's that bad, I'm sure the boss realizes it already, and chances are your opinion on the topic won't make him suddenly take notice. – Keith Jun 5 at 17:20
  • Have you ever discussed some of the less-helpful suggestions your colleague makes directly with your colleague? What was this individual's reaction? – Jay Jun 5 at 17:24
  • @Keith part of the problem is that my manager does not realize that this individual has made repeated errors when commenting on my work. But I agree with the answer that it is not my problem as it does not really effect my work or any official obligation of mine – Geodude Jun 5 at 21:41
  • @Jay The only discussion has been letting them know that I disagree with what they are saying at the time they were providing comments, and I tried to point out why they were incorrect. They were not convinced however. I guess this is my real frustration. But I agree with the answer that it is not my problem or responsibility. – Geodude Jun 5 at 21:51
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As an individual contributor, there are really only two scenarios where it makes sense to share your thoughts about performance issues with other employees:

  • You have a regulatory or other official obligation to do so: It should go without saying, but if your coworker is doing something illegal, or something which you have a mandate to report, you should report it.
  • It is directly impacting your own work: If your coworker is doing things that directly impact your own deliverables, then you should raise the issue with your boss, under the context of improving your own performance - in other words, talk about the impact to you, don't talk about the coworker.

It sounds like neither of these are true in your case, so your best bet is to not say anything. Ultimately, it's your coworker's boss's job to worry about their performance, not yours - your focus should be on your own tasks.

To be clear, if you're wondering about things you can do (formally or informally) to help improve a coworker's skills, and the coworker is receptive to the help, that's great - you should always help team mates get better. This can take the form of gentle suggestions, pointing them towards references you use, or even a formal cross-training or peer education program as exists in some employers. However, that sort of help is a very different approach than what you seem to be asking about - telling someone's boss that you think they're bad at their job or don't have good performance, which is risky because you're essentially implying a sense of responsibility that you don't officially have. Essentially, your employer hired you to do a job, and (from the sounds of it), that doesn't include evaluating your coworker - which is a task their boss is responsible for.

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    What about a 3rd: Caring about the quality of work a colleague does and helping them to develop professionally? Good feedback and coaching can also come without a clear personal benefit for the person offering the feedback. – Jay Jun 5 at 22:05
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    @Jay - in a sense I agree with what you're saying - helping people can be a great idea. However, the potential issue is risk imposing a sense of responsibility where you don't have one - especially given the wording of the question, which was much more along the lines of "should I tattle on my bad coworker" versus "what can I do to help a bad coworker." – dwizum Jun 6 at 12:49
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    If your employer has a formal coworker review or cross training program, that's great. If you can make casual suggestions to a coworker who is receptive to learning, that's great. But if someone is asking, "should I tell my boss that I think my coworker is bad at their job" then I do think that's a slightly different question, and the answer is almost always no other than the two points I mentioned. I do think you're making a good point though so I will edit my answer. – dwizum Jun 6 at 12:50
  • @Jay You realize this is exactly what the bad coworker was doing to OP yes? Giving unprompted coaching and feedback is a minefield of problems. The idea of "caring" should be a consequence of the 2 points this answer has made, doing it spontaneously is unprofessional, disrupting and will rarely come across as "altruistic". – lucasgcb Jun 7 at 11:33
  • There's a really fine line there. Some coworkers are very receptive to helping/teaching each other. I have some developers working for me right now that spend a lot of time at each other's desks giving unsolicited advice and it works well. Others aren't receptive at all. Which, again, is why it's important to not step outside official channels unless you really understand that everyone involved is willing and happy to participate (which seems not the case here). – dwizum Jun 7 at 12:44
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You're in a scientific discipline. The foundation of the scientific method, as you know, is formulating hypotheses and figuring out how to prove or disprove them. Karl Popper, etc.

So when this guy says, "that's sandstone," you can say, "huh! it doesn't crumble easily. Could it be granite? Could I be missing something?" Or whatever is appropriate (IANAG -- I Am Not A Geologist).

Handle challenges to your work professionally rather than personally. It's easy to say and hard to do. But it's probably worth your trouble.

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I have a friend in archeology (in Germany) who told me of similar tales. He said that it is an unfortunate reality in his area of expertise that there are some prominent members that basically preach gospel and there is almost no remedy for newcomers to challenge dogma. He said he just sticks to his position anyway and tries to see it as a competition. He is not a rich or famous man but loves his craft.

Don't know if it helps you to know that you are probably not the only one in situations like this or if that just confirms your worst fears. All kudos to you to stand up to what you think is correct.

Still, I would not recommend to point the finger at colleagues, that could probably reflect badly on you. Even if your reasoning is perfect. Maybe at some point people will know that you were correct. Unfortunately, competence does not always garner sympathy. Maybe try to show your team that you are the expert on this particular topic. You could maybe approach your manager about the topic at hand were you see obvious mistakes without mentioning any specific names.

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