5

I work in a team (~10) who follows Scrum, so we have daily stand ups and other scrum meetings.

I have this coworker who is a senior. This coworker is from a different department but we all work very close. Each time we meet, whether it was a daily stand up, a planning session or even a casual conversation, I notice that this coworker always replies to me whenever I speak, even when/if I am not speaking to them.

To be honest, most of the times they reply with the right info. But still, they are not giving me space or to the one I am taking to.

With time, I realized that they do that with everyone. They interfere and become part of each and every conversation even when it is not "their" conversation or job (Ex: Arranging a meeting, estimating a job, new desk location.. etc).

This behavior has been going for a while now. Recently, they received specific privilege from boss related to a task, and I noticed different now is that they now "disagree" more than "agree" in most of their interferences.

I am now bothered by this fact to the point that recently I stopped engaging in topics and started speaking less and less in meetings or whenever they are around. I don't know if it is just me, or everyone else as well but hiding it.

How to deal with this (future-bossy?) coworker who are forcing themselves into all conversations?

  • We had the same problem on our team and I talked to my manager about. Turns out multiple reported this person's behavior and management was already working with him on it. – jcmack Jul 31 at 20:29
  • Sounds like a job for your scrum master, one of their roles is to manage problems for the team – cdkMoose Jul 31 at 21:07
5

It's very unlikely that you'll be able to prevent them from chiming in with their answer or opinion. But there are some simple tactics that will help.

Direct your question or comment to a specific individual or group of individuals by name (for example "John or Sue, what is ..."). This lets everyone know who you are asking for input. This can be very helpful in meetings or groups.

If your coworker interjects thank them for their input then redirect your question. For example "John, you're the subject matter expert on this. How would you answer this question?"

If your question was directed broadly, that is to the whole group, then you can certainly restate your question and invite further input and comment.

Unfortunately, you may have to deal with your coworker interjecting again. But it is perfectly acceptable to interrupt them politely and remind them that you (or the group) have already heard their opinion and you would like everyone else's input.

2

There are a few courses of action that you might consider independently or together and depending on your relationship with your colleague:

  1. Reply politely but directly to interruptions to your personal conversations. When you're addressing a different colleague, and your talkative colleague jumps into the conversation, say something like "Thanks Jim, but I'm really interested in what Sally has to say first."

  2. Intervene when your colleague interrupts other conversations. Same idea, but go to bat for your colleagues since you've noticed the troubling behavior. Say something like, "Thanks Jim, but hang on one second, I think Sally was talking to Rob."

  3. Confront your colleague privately. Give your colleague the benefit of the doubt - he/she probably doesn't realize the impact of the interruptions. Ask your colleague for a brief private conversation (e.g., "Let's grab coffee") and share what you've noticed and the impact it has had on you. Maybe something like "I've observed in our morning meetings that you often answer questions that weren't directed at you, including questions I ask of other members of the team. I'm really interested in what the rest of the team has to say. I'm also interested in your ideas, but would appreciate if you wait until I finish a conversation with another team member before offering them."

  4. Ask your manager or another trusted leader for help. If the behavior is annoying to you or (even worse) prevents you from getting answers to questions, and you don't feel comfortable confronting your colleague, ask your manager for help. Your manager is responsible for both your experience and your productivity and should come to your aid appropriately.

  5. Let it go. If it's just an observation you've made, but don't personally find it troublesome, it's entirely okay to let it go.

-2

The Ratchet Rule

To deal with overly negative feedback on my team, I promoted the "ratchet rule" exactly because I was sick and tired of people being "Negative Nancy" all the time. In particular, I once had a very toxic coworker that would start virtually every interaction with: "No, that's wrong!" even though he was wrong well more than half the time.

The Ratchet Rule is simple: don't accept "no" as an answer. Just tell Interrupting Isaac: "Ok, you think that doesn't work. Do you have a better solution, then?" That is, always challenge the challenger to make it better, instead of knocking it down. But apply this rule evenly to every single person you interact with. Knocking down an idea is easy, it's trivial, and the cost is low even if you are wrong. So there is a perverse incentive to puff oneself up by going around knocking everyone's ideas. Combine that with a personality pathology, and you can easily get very toxic workers this way.

You can also say: "I'm looking for solutions, not criticism." That's a more aggressive way of saying: "'No' isn't good enough." Now, Interrupting Isaac will probably be flummoxed the first time you do this, and there are two obvious reactions: 1) he will get angry that you have challenged his authority, but won't actually have a better, affirmative solution; if he's smart, he will realize that you can play this game all day long, and back off.

2) He will pause, realize you are right, and attempt to offer a better solution. This is good. If he actually does offer a better solution, then take it. Suck it up. His problem is delivery and interpersonal skills, not that he's being a jerk and wasting everyone's time. But if he just offers a different solution, that isn't obviously better, he has stepped on a land mine, because you can then challenge that by turning to your original coworker from whom you were soliciting advice and ask: "Oh, that's interesting. What do you think about that idea, Original Oscar?" This undermines the authority of Interrupting Isaac and puts him in the position of being scrutinized and evaluated, which should hopefully help him see how he comes across to others (although, he may still need guidance on processing this).

Mentorship

Now, if it turns out that Interrupting Isaac actually does offer useful feedback, but with poor delivery, you should ask to have a one-on-one with his boss. Just say, as politely as you can, that Interrupting Isaac offers what are often helpful suggestions, but they are unsolicited and disruptive and hurting your morale (it's also helpful if you know whether others have similar experiences with him--you say that you see him doing the same to others, but don't say how they perceive it).

Make it clear that you value his useful advice, but that you would prefer it to be offered on an opt-in rather than opt-out basis. That is, you think he would benefit from some coaching in the direction of being a passive resource that people go to for help, rather than an active resource that robs coworkers of learning opportunities and even low-risk opportunities to fail. If you frame the feedback as: "This guy needs to give us space to learn" rather than: "Get this jerk out of my face", the PHB should hopefully get the message that her rockstar is more useful as a mentor than a solve-everyone's-problems guy, and that the PHB herself can also exercise managerial skills by coaching Interrupting Isaac on how to be a good mentor.

Teaching

If PHB still isn't getting it, then you need to go into more detail like thus: your team can only skill up if they act with agency and are allowed to make mistakes. Senior members can help the team by teaching instead of telling. And teaching means that Interrupting Isaac asks probing questions that stimulate further thought among the team rather than jumping them straight to the answer. That is, Isaac needs to show how he knows, rather than what he knows. With a few well-posed questions, he should be able to get the rest of the team to arrive at the same conclusions without directly revealing the answers. This requires more time and effort on Interrupting Isaac's part, but is a valuable investment in the whole team. If he pulls it off, he can go from being a resented resource to someone who is actively sought out for his insight. Be clear that you would be happy to seek out his advice if he could frame it as a teaching moment where everyone learns to fish, rather than having a fish shoved down your throat with a gruff: "You're welcome."

  • This is an example of fundamental erroneous logic; something can be objectively wrong entirely independent of if there is a currently visible viable solution, thus the proposed argument tactic is an ultimately a dishonest attempt to distract from the actual issue being raised. In an honest process you must address criticism on its factual merits or actual lack thereof, not by immediately deflecting to alternatives or lack thereof. Don't waste time on paths that have been shown by valid criticism to be unworkable, holdout until there is something evidence indicates is actually plausible. – Chris Stratton Aug 1 at 4:26
  • It's pretty rare for someone to just be blatantly, unconditionally wrong about something. If you work with such people, I feel sorry for you. Usually, "No, that's wrong" boils down to a judgment call or an evaluation of relative risk among alternatives. Often, we are forced to choose the least-bad among alternatives, and someone disagrees what that is. Making them justify their choice is much better than letting them pretend like they have the obviously best answer without an explanation. – Lawnmower Man Aug 1 at 4:33
  • On the contrary, broken ideas are the universal norm for everyone; sometimes the proposer catches the mistake before or mid-statement as the act of explaining is often enlightening, more typically an external perspective sees the fatal issue first. Which happens correlates strongly with experience. – Chris Stratton Aug 1 at 4:34
  • The kind of disagreement that I think you are describing is the thoughtful kind that few people object to or complain about. My guess is that you have not had the luxury of working with the intellectually lazy type that throw out negatives with barely a moment's consideration, but do it with such frequency and authority that timid people are cowed by the mere audacity of it. Unfortunately, I have had the pleasure of working with a few such characters. – Lawnmower Man Aug 1 at 4:37
  • Address their criticism specifically on the merits or lack thereof, anything less is fundamentally dishonest. – Chris Stratton Aug 1 at 4:38

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