This happened to me today and I'm still trying to digest it. To give you some context, I'm working on IT at a company with several branches across Europe. I don't hold any position of responsibility but my team is very horizontal, meaning that we have to interact with other teams from other departments as well as from ours. Sorry if what follows sounds like a rant, which it might be. Please forgive my English, too.

This morning I experienced a harsh reaction from other team's TL to one email I just had sent with him in CC. This TL and I work in the same department. It struck me as odd and totally out of place, since I never had a problem with this person. I'd say our work relationship has been very professional and I'd even dare to say that it's been even friendly: we share acquaintances and ex-colleagues, including one of my past bosses; we worked in the same IT sector in the past, so we have had conversations sharing our experiences; and he also had lent me some printed material related to my current job.

Going back to what caused his reaction: I sent an email this morning as a reminder for some actions that should have been taken care of three weeks ago by one of the members of his team (I'll call him John). This email was a self-reply to two previous emails sent by me that had been ignored by John. Only this TL and mine were in CC in these emails. I also had discussed several times during the last three weeks this issue with John. The issue is an important technical detail related to the technology we're using that could have catastrophic consequences in terms of availability and data integrity for our IT services. This claim is supported by vendor best practice and recommendations. Our manager is not aware of this issue which could have serious consequences for our department. To give you some more context, the actions leading to this issue are related to a crisis our whole department had to manage three weeks ago. I'd like to make clear that I'd've never thought of reporting this behind their back to him. I'd like to add that John might need to answer in the near future for what happened during the crisis leading to this issue, even though he wasn't the sole culprit. I'd also like to mention that John and me are in good terms and never had a problem at work.

Before sending my email, I had consulted with another member of his team if it was OK to send another reminder keeping his TL in CC. This person is one of the most technically savvy members of this team and agreed with me that his team is sitting on a ticking bomb because of this issue having been neglected by John. He's also a certified professional in the technology we are talking about.

Now, let's get to John's TL's reaction: As I was walking to a meeting with other members of my team, including my TL, we stumbled upon John's TL. He faced me and asked me what that email I just had sent meant, it was a long email and he needed to know what it actually meant. I replied that it was a reminder about an important topic we had talked about weeks ago. He insisted that it was too long and difficult to understand and couldn't see why I had sent it to him (I think he didn't notice my message was actually a short and very clear one. The whole email appeared to be long due to two previous emails having been included in my reply.) I replied that the email was actually addressed to John and that he was in CC, so he was aware that I was suggesting John that this issue shouldn't be forgotten because it was important. Noticing a possible escalation in the conversation my TL intervened and said that his response was out of place. He made clear that his tone wasn't appropriate to address a colleague. This seemed to have caught him off guard and remained silent. We continued on our way towards our meeting room. My TL recommended me not to worry about what happened, he assured me that he would manage it afterwards, which he did. My other team mates concurred that they were stunned by his manners. I cannot thank enough my TL and colleagues for their immediate support.

I'm the type of person who tries to avoid confrontation. I still can't figure out why this person reacted that way. I know his team is under a lot of pressure, but that doesn't justify his behaviour. I'm concerned about future interactions with him, since my job duties include attending meetings with teams from different departments in my company, his included. I'd like to come clean and talk to him about it when things settle down. I somehow feel that he might have misunderstood my words. What can I do to defuse this situation? Am I overreacting?

Thanks so much for your time and understanding.

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    You haven't actually described his behavior. You state that he faced you and asked you what the email meant. So? What's the behavior that you feel is unwarranted? Was he yelling? Was he aggressive? You say this is a tense situation but what you described does not sound tense to me. Also, you say that this issue has been lingering for at least 3 weeks yet your manager knows nothing of it. Why have you not brought it to your manager's attention? Why have you not followed your chain of command? – joeqwerty Sep 19 '19 at 23:25
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    "it was a long email and he needed to know what it actually meant" Just like your question. Can you summarize it down into an actual objective that we can answer? – PeteCon Sep 20 '19 at 2:32
  • @joeqwerty, this person is somewhat taller than the average and has a deep voice. I'd say he has an imposing presence. I didn't want the issue to be reported directly to our manager. I'd've considered it to be like backstabbing them. – Brian McGregor Sep 20 '19 at 5:06
  • But again, you haven't described the behavior that made the situation tense. You stated that he approached you and asked you what the email meant. The fact that he's tall and has an imposing presence isn't cause for HR involvement. Do you want him to be fired because he's tall? Why don't you tell us how this was a tense situation. Was he yelling? Was he aggressive? Did he invade your personal space? Being tall and imposing isn't a crime. – joeqwerty Sep 20 '19 at 14:20
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    Now, let's get to John's TL's reaction: As I was walking to a meeting with other members of my team, including my TL, we stumbled upon John's TL. He faced me and asked me what that email I just had sent meant - What about that is/was tense, exactly? – joeqwerty Sep 20 '19 at 14:27

Sometimes doing something will make the situation worse.

If your TL has indicated that he has dealt with it, you should trust him, as you appear to do so. You don't know what's going on in the guys head. There could be work pressures, personal life pressures etc. In addition, nobody likes their team being "told off" despite how delicately you may have worded it.

If you don't believe your TL has handled things to your satisfaction, it would be appropriate to indicate to your TL that this is the case, or escalate to HR. Note that this is will be making it a much bigger thing.

If you want to defuse, probably the best thing is to just wait and see what happens. I note that this has happened today. Basically the next move is on the other TL. In an ideal world, they would apologise, but pride is a thing, and people don't always do what I would consider the right thing.

If future conduct of the TL indicates that this has not been a once-off thing, then you can decide what to do. But until then, you should just go about your business.

It's great that you have a supportive TL and colleagues around you. Don't let this situation get to you.

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  • Thanks @Gregory Currie! I do trust my TL. I honestly think this is a once-off thing and might be related to stress at home or at work. I totally understand that he might have wanted to protect his people. – Brian McGregor Sep 20 '19 at 5:38
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    If John's TL is aware he overstepped his bounds he might actually be embarrassed about it and wishing to let the matter die down. Any action taken would just be adding fuel to the fire. – Jan Dorniak Sep 20 '19 at 8:55
  • Thanks @Jan Dorniak. I think this is the best course of action. I think he overreacted due to stress. He might be trying to set boundaries to protect his team's members. – Brian McGregor Sep 20 '19 at 21:57
  • @BrianMcGregor Ecactly, it sounds like he confused you with someone else with being so defensive. – Jan Dorniak Sep 20 '19 at 22:19

I've worked in IT for over twenty years so I know it can be stressful. I also know that there can be some big egos involved from time to time.

I would recommend taking him aside quietly to try to clear the air.

More face to face communication rather than email. Emails can be so easily taken out of context.

Praise in public, scold in private. If this employee wasn't a direct report of yours then perhaps the TL felt embarrassed about his team member's (John's) shortcomings being exposed.

Ensure it's about the issues without being personally abrasive.

Sometimes it takes a bold step to get people to sit up and take notice of a serious issue. It sounds as if it's been neglected a bit previously so atvleast some good may come from your email.

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  • Thanks @ChrisFNZ. I hope they finally solve it. As I said, they have a ticking bomb on the infrastructure they manage. I've worked with that technology in the past, too, and I'm sure that any sysadmin worth his salt wouldn't sleep knowing this situation. To give you a figure, the vendor states a recommendation of 72 hours for this feature to go unmaintained. – Brian McGregor Sep 20 '19 at 5:50

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