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A while ago, I was asked to coordinate measures needed to complete a task. The task was set up to support an important customer C. One sub-task would have fallen to coworker X, who was the only one familiar with the technology involved.

To my surprise, when I asked him to solve the problems associated with his sub-task he responded with a reply like "Oh well, I don't like C, they're all stupid, I'm not going to do anything for them". In other words, he refused outright to do his job. I tried to persuade him to still look into his sub-task (I'm not familiar with the details at all), but always earned excuses and distractions from X. Needless to say, we didn't support C very well.

Being X's peer and not their superior, there wasn't much I could have done towards him. Maybe I should have reported his behaviour to my superior immediately.

Because of this and other similar issues, I'm trying to move inside the company. This issue is likely to come up in a meeting with my new boss, and I'd like to shed some light on what happened at the time.

On a scale from "Don't even mention it" to "Quote X word by word", what is the right level to talk about this dark spot?

  • How did you communicate this sub-task to X? – sf02 Aug 23 at 20:49
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    Being X's peer and not their superior, there wasn't much I could have done towards him You could have said something like. These customers pay your rent – Bernhard Döbler Aug 24 at 14:24
  • @sf02 "C has problem and requirements, we need to change system to solve the problem/accomodate for his requirements. You should do subtask to that end." – doppelfish Aug 25 at 9:17
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The best way to talk about "dark spots" is to be able to describe and show evidence of what you've learned.

You've identified that you had a failure - you were supposed to coordinate a task, and an employee who had an important step proved difficult to manage. What have you learned from that failure? Have you been able to put those lessons learned into practice?

Deciding you do (or do not) want to honestly talk about this to your new boss is perhaps the least important question. He may find out on his own and force the issue by asking you, even if you decide you don't want to bring it up. So - even if you decide not to mention it, you might be best off by reflecting on what you've learned from this (and the other similar issues you alluded to).

To answer your specific question,

On a scale from "Don't even mention it" to "Quote X word by word", what is the right level to talk about this dark spot?

The level of detail is probably going to be something that you decide on the fly when (or if) it comes up - in other words, the best answer to your literal question probably depends on your new boss's reaction. Maybe he will want details, maybe he'll just ask one or two high level questions and then forget about it. Be ready to answer honestly but also be ready to be respectful and discrete. You can describe the situation but there generally isn't a need to quote word for word, or to deliberately place blame. Focus on what steps you took, what the results were, and how you reacted.

And then, be ready to talk about what you learned and what you would do differently next time as an opportunity to show that you won't be making that same mistake again. Bosses know that we're all human and we're all likely to make mistakes, but showing that you can improve over time, instead of tripping over yourself again and again, is the difference between a highly valuable employee and an average employee.

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Being X's peer and not their superior, there wasn't much I could have done towards him. Maybe I should have reported his behaviour to my superior immediately.

Definitely you should have reported this to your superior. It was your responsibility to coordinate the project, this should have done as soon as it happened (but, the past is past...).

In some places, this would fall under insubordination and would mean immediate termination for coworker X.

This issue is likely to come up in a meeting with my new boss, and I'd like to shed some light on what happened at the time.

On a scale from "Don't even mention it" to "Quote X word by word", what is the right level to talk about this dark spot?

Stick to the facts. If prompted, mention that you asked coworker X to do such task, and that they refused. No need to quote the exact words, the point here is that your coworker refused despite you telling them.

However, I must say that it is also likely that your boss asks "And why didn't you tell me this the moment it happened?". Be sure to have a proper reply ready. Your coworker was the one that refused to do the work, but you were the one that failed to report or amend this situation when it happened.

  • This is good advice that would have been good to deal with the former boss when the issue arose but the question is how to 'describe' to the new and different boss that previous issue badly handled while reporting to the old manager – Paolo Aug 25 at 9:06
  • @Paolo the new boss detal was added a time after I posted this. Will try to edit the answer when I get some time – DarkCygnus Aug 25 at 20:56
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    @DarkCygnus dunking on your past/present coworkers can be a dangerous game to play. Before you engage in any kind of discrediting words, make sure you recognize that you're attracting attention to yourself as much, if not more than you're getting it put on your coworker. Also, the "the point here is that your coworker refused despite you telling them." is going to work against OP. The day OP tells the boss about it might be the day OP realizes that they are their coworker's coworker and not their coworker's boss. You don't tell your coworkers to do anything and expect it to happen. – Malisbad Aug 25 at 23:12
  • @Malisbad OP mentioned in comments that coworker has been refusing to use it for more than 4 months, and that the project was anticipated a year after. – DarkCygnus Aug 26 at 16:35
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The failure that matters here is not your coworkers failure to do his assigned task. It is your failure to coordinate the project. As others have said, you need to be ready to talk about what you did wrong, what you learned from it, and what you would do differently in the future.

It's unlikely that the solution is just "I should have reported my coworker to our supervisor". Coordinating a project involves various lines of communication: providing updates to the stakeholders, sharing information around the team, etc. You should be ready to talk about your ideas to make this work better, and how you would seek help if necessary.

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