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I am an independent contractor working remotely for Company A. I have worked on and off with this company (or a version of it) since the mid 90's either remotely, at their HQ, and also on occasion at their customer's sites as a part of Company A's team. As a result I personally know and have worked with many of the main people in the group I contract to. In recent years I have been working on projects with Sam, who is sort of PM/Team lead, but I see him more as a colleague than anything else as we both work on separate aspects of the same projects and he doesn't direct or architect my work.

Last week I had need of some basic information about some technology that I haven't directly worked with. So I jumped on the company IM and called up some SMEs that I know in order to get some general information on said technology. (The sort of thing that if I was at HQ I would go around to their cube for a casual chat about it.) Later I had a phone conference with Sam and during it I used my new found knowledge to point out where we really need direct input from an SME - but did not mention my previous IMs.

Today Sam went and saw one of the same SME's that I'd IM'ed and discussed the project with them (and who apparently related that I had previously chatted with him). Then this afternoon Sam sent me an email about that discussion which ended with this statement:

As a reminder, if you are contacting any team member regarding the projects you are working on with me, I would like to be copied. Else, you are making me look bad!

This was a bit of a shock to me. If I had written an explicit email to an SME asking about specific requirements, then I would have cc'ed Sam. However I considered this IM to be similar to a casual chat around the water cooler.

I am considering a response along the lines of

Sam it would never be my intention to make you look bad, but IMHO in this case I think you are overreacting. All I was doing was chatting via IM with the SMEs in order to get general ideas about how this technology operates and how we need to apply it.

However I am not sure if this is getting to the crux of the matter that prompted Sam's comment, as Sam has previously exhibited desires to be in control of things he doesn't need to be in control of.

So does my proposed response seem reasonable, or is there something that I am totally missing?

Update

After sleeping on it and reading the current answers and comments I realized that I was leaving something out of the picture. First of all I see @Sanders point that my IM with the SME did cross the line of a casual conversation. Point taken.

Also the environment that I work in is very casual and fluid, and teh projects horrendously under specified that people are always jumping on IM/phone and asking casual questions. Second point @Justin - its rather hard to forward a transcript of an IM that morphed into a voice call (as regularly happens when IM'ing as voice is more dense than text).

The bit that is missing is that Sam pulls this similar stuff to this on me all of the time, so I find it a bit off-putting that he is complaining to me about doing it. As an example of what Sam has done in the past:

A few weeks ago I wrote a 60 page technical document describing proposed changes that Sam needed to read in order to understand the scope of the work we are undertaking. Sam had a meeting with another SME without telling me and spent a couple of hours reviewing that document and inserting cryptic single line comments in various places. I only found out after the fact and then had to go back to the SME and go over each comment line by line in order to understand what they were saying. It would have saved me a lot of time if I had known about that meeting ahead of time and been able to participate in it.

Thus in hindsight part of what I am reacting to feeling like I am being held up to standards that Sam himself doesn't adhere to.

Update 2

After reading Gregory's answer I am now thinking he is onto something with his comments about teamwork in general, and that Sam and I are a slightly dysfunctional team (even though we still deliver the goods) and that my reply needs to take that into account. Thus I think that my reply should now be along the lines of:

Sam, I should have told you that I spoke with the SMEs, but at the time I didn't see the need to do it. In hindsight I can see that I could have put you in a bad position, and for that I apologize. However there have also been times where I have felt left out of the loop by you under similar circumstances (EG reviewing document with SME). Thus I feel we both need to step up in this aspect in order to improve our teamwork.

  • Is Sam also a contractor or does he work directly for Company A? Are the SMEs contractors or do they work directly for Company A? – Anthony Grist Jul 2 at 13:43
  • @AnthonyGrist I'm the only contractor, all the other players are employees. However given how long I've worked at that place I'm almost a defacto employee – Peter M Jul 2 at 13:54
  • Your latest update seems to take a big step in the opposite direction than you started. I've seen nothing here that would suggest an apology, so ask yourself: 1) Should you be sorry, and if so for what? 2) Are you sorry, and if so for what? Also the personal bit about how hypocritical the other person is being might be relevant to you, but it makes the question here less relevant to others - just be careful it doesn't become too narrow or you might start to lose traction. Questions which could apply to others too often get more attention. – Aaron Jul 2 at 15:12
  • @Aaron the change i direction is solely because the answers and comments here have helped me identify the root cause of the issue. Going into this process I was pissed off and annoyed and not seeing the issue for what it is. – Peter M Jul 2 at 15:36
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I don't know enough about the inner workings of your projects to say if he is being unreasonable or not, but I do think there's something you're missing here.

The thing is that water cooler conversations are called what they are, because they aren't initiated as much as just happen, to happen. While it is true that sometimes someone wants to initiate them, they are on the surface, at least, just happening by pure chance.

But the moment you reach out to someone to start an IM about a subject specifically, the conversation was (even on the surface) initiated and as such is not just "casual workplace chat". It has a work purpose. This means that as an independent contractor, having water cooler conversations can sometimes be difficult.

So I definitely see a clear distinction here and I think it's one you need to get used to.

With that said, it could seem like he is overreacting. I however cannot conclude definitely one way or the other, because I know too little. He may very well have a good reason to react the way he does. If anything rather than calling him out for overreacting I'd say something along the lines of:

"I'm sorry for putting you in that position, it was never my intention. I considered this a casual conversation so I didn't think it was necessary to convey to you. Maybe we could have a talk about when you want me to keep you in the loop and when it's not necessary?"

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    +1 for the last paragraph; pretty much a perfect apology. – Justin Jul 2 at 7:25
  • I've added some more context that changed the focus of the question. So while I appreciate your answer it may change. – Peter M Jul 2 at 12:56
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    I definitely think your new addition sheds a new light on things, but it doesn't change much. In a workplace setting saying "Well, he did this other thing first" is never a defensible argument. These two instances should be treated separately. I appreciate your frustration and think it might be time to involve some higher ups maybe (Or HR if that is an option). – Sander Skovgaard Hansen Jul 2 at 13:22
  • Seem my latest edit. Its less of a "he did this thing first", but more of a "This is a result of being dysfunctional". But this is still at level between me and Sam only. I do have a good working relationship with him in general. – Peter M Jul 2 at 13:24
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    Just be careful about saying sorry if it's not true or is unnecessary. The other person has formed the conversation as if OP has done something wrong, but it's not in OPs best interest to support the position that they've done something wrong if they have not. – Aaron Jul 2 at 15:17
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Else, you are making me look bad!

Sorry Peter, but I think Sam's right. He probably felt really stupid when the SME said something like "I told Peter all this stuff yesterday. Didn't he tell you?"

Apologise - the last para from @Sander Skovgaard Hansen's answer is perfect (and I actually upvoted that for this reason) - and move on, either including Sam in the IM, or emailing him the whole chat afterwards (and cc the other party).

I also think your post title is misleading. I initially thought this was about someone wanting to control and monitor all conversation, but it isn't really. Sam wants to know about chats which affect him, his team or his projects.

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    The OP sdaid they work on separate aspects..,. And Sam is not the supervisor... The last but one paragraph is also interesting : "Sam has previously exhibited desires to be in control of things he doesn't need to be in control of"... – Solar Mike Jul 2 at 7:24
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    you need the rest of the sentence you quote : "he doesn't direct or architect my work"... – Solar Mike Jul 2 at 7:36
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    If I popped round to someone's desk for a quick knowledge dump, or made a phone call, I certainly wouldn't expect to include Sam. I see no difference between either of those things and IM, tbh - the only exception being if it's a group chat (probably related to the project), in which case Sam ought to be in the group anyway. – Boneist Jul 2 at 8:14
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    @Boneist I feel like there is a very clear difference, as I outlined in my answer. – Sander Skovgaard Hansen Jul 2 at 8:31
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    @SanderSkovgaardHansen personally, I think the OP should have mentioned to Sam in the phone call that they'd spoken to specific SMEs, e.g. "I've spoken to Tom, Dick and Sally about this, and from what they said, I think ...". Sam is totally overreacting, IMO, but the OP could have mitigated things without needing to copy Sam in on every work-related conversation they ever have. – Boneist Jul 2 at 8:45
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I don't think Sam is overacting at all. I have worked on some projects where I would let a teammate know I'm going to chat to someone down the hall. This is because I knew not only that they'd be interested in the answers, but be able to ask probing and important questions.

This has got nothing to do with reporting lines, but everything to do with having a functioning team.

There are many reasons why Sam may wish to be involved in conversations, some good reasons, some bad. Examples include: Sam...

  • Has had a history of being left out of the loop
  • Doesn't trust you to ask the right questions to get the right information
  • Doesn't know much themselves, and would like every chance to learn
  • Doesn't want to bother the SMEs multiple times with the same questions
  • Wants to avoid certain SMSs and technologies for political or other reasons
  • Has been told that he doesn't appear to know what "his" team is doing
  • Feels like he has no control over "his" team

Instead of communicating to Sam that they are overreacting, you should have tried to understand the underlying rationale, if it was volunteered. If you don't feel like extending them the courtesy of a heads-up as a subordinate, you should do so because they are a teammate.

In addition, you say you view Sam as a colleague more than anything else? How do they feel about this? How does the company? What is his actual relationship to you? If they were your supervisor, but for whatever reasons you decide you don't want to treat them as such, things like leaving them out of conversations can be considered inflammatory. Maybe they understand there is a difference of opinion regarding reporting lines and are a bit sensitive. In these types of relationships, those that have a slight bit of supervisory responsibility often have an inflated sense of such, and the opposite is true for the subordinate.

  • Just to clarify the hierarchy. I report to a director who employs me and assigns me to projects. In some projects I am the sole person working on them. For others Sam and I have been assigned together because he is a SME in one critical area that I am not. But in those projects he has additional functions in coordinating with other people in the same company. However I think you are getting close to the answer with your suggestion about teamwork. I think I may be a part of a dysfunctional team. – Peter M Jul 2 at 13:01
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So does my proposed response seem reasonable, or is there something that I am totally missing?

Your response is not necessary. You were not discussing the project with the SME so Sam's claim is incorrect. Even if you were discussing the project with the SME, Sam's conclusion that not being copied would make him look bad is ridiculous.

Furthermore, your conversation was through IM, which is not much different than speaking in person or a phone call. Does Sam want you to "copy" him on all those forms of communication as well? If he continues to make an issue of this then you explain the situation, but I would ignore his silly request for now.

  • In someways I now see Sam's point of view because as a team we should strive to be all on the same page at the same time. But as per my edits I think our team is dysfunctional to some extent. So while I can't "copy" Sam on a phone call I should have told him during our phone conference. – Peter M Jul 2 at 13:33

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