I work for a large-size engineering firm, in the R&D department. I am working there from 6 months by now, and it is my first work after my MSc degree. I like (unsure now) both the company and the position, because I can work in research projects with other universities. I also collaborate with the Production department, doing more practical/engineering stuff. The R&D department is comprised by four people: my colleague, Mr. X, and my boss (line manager). The irascible, unprofessional person is Mr.X.

Overall I enjoyed working there because I knew I was up for the challenges, even if they tasked me to do things that I did not cover in my studies. The first 5 months proceeded smoothly, until last month, for a simple R&D tasks, I had multiple arguments with Mr. X, to the extent that he explicitly said "What do you expect?! To be replaced with somebody else that can actually do the damn job?!".

One day, out of the blue, Mr. X shows up to me with "a problem", we (I) needed to write an internal document on a topic A (in my MSc path, I only did compulsory courses on A), to gain knowledge for a research project. The document is internal to the company, a "what if" scenario for optimal practical design of experiments. Excerpt:

  • Me: "my practical knowledge of A is zero, I will have to study first"
  • Mr. X: "Well, aren't you from a technical background? I thought you could handle it, but here we are, you are the man for this project, and you must do it because I am the manager and I say so, ok?!".

I am reporting the words I wrote down after the argument. The "what did you expect" part followed after my argument, trying to convince Mr. X that I wanted to DO the job, but I needed time to prepare and study. All of this was futile and he was adamant in believing that I "dared" to tell how to do his job. The next day, Mr. X shows up at work and as soon as he looked at me said:

  • Mr. X: "now, enough with the 'I will be committed to the project' bullsh, do this damn report, you should have prepared for it months ago!" and left.

All I did, apart biting my tongue, was just a cold "ok". I knew this report had to be done, but had NO idea that was that urgent and covering a huge macro-topic such as A. Four days later I received a poorly put report template and began to work on it for 7 days. As it is clear that he himself made me not stand him, he even does not look me in the eyes when talking to me.

How (or if) can I deal with such kind of unprofessional, irascible person?

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    Can you try to shorten your post, so it's easier to read? try to summarize main parts or remove details that are perhaps not so necessary – DarkCygnus Mar 6 at 22:23
  • Yes, I will do. Thanks for the tip – TheVal Mar 6 at 22:24
  • Is there something wrong with the question such to receive 2 downvotes? – TheVal Mar 6 at 23:48
  • Why is this protected, when it’s got no answers and one comment? – Ernest Friedman-Hill Mar 7 at 1:21
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    This is unprofessional..not sure how toxic it is – morbo Mar 7 at 9:45

There is clearly a communication problem here. Very rarely in life is someone completely unreasonable, usually you can understand their point of view if you take the time to.

In this case, obviously Mr. X, the project manager, is getting frustrated and has the impression that you are resisting doing the work and making excuses. You don’t think you are, you think you’re just “explaining.” But I bet you can come up with some examples from your own life where you perceived someone who said they were “just explaining” as making excuses.

A red flag that I see is how frequently you refer to tasks that weren’t within your course of study as if that is exceptional somehow. Here’s a little secret. In general, you learn both jack and crap in college that’s actually relevant to the work you do. I don’t use nearly anything from my college coursework in my job and that’s normal. You learn how to learn, get some basics, and then the baseline expectation is you keep learning how to do the real work in the real world.

It’s likely this isn’t the first time X has felt like you were resisting or making excuses, but he’s let it build up to a point where the first time addressing it is a bigger deal than it needs to be.

Consider that an exchange with you may look like this to Mr. X.

X: “Hey TheVal here’s a report we need done.”

TheVal: “Oh, I only took compulsory classes on this...”

X: (in his mind): “Oh, only compulsory classes? So sorry this isn’t your favorite elective. But you had classes on it, which is more than 99,9% of the population, that’s why I’m asking you. These kids nowadays, they only want to work on the things they ‘have a passion for...’ Is he trying to get me to not assign this to him?”

X: “Well, I’m assigning it to you. Get to work.”

TheVal: “But I’ll have to do research...”

X (in his mind): “Right, that’s why we hired a researcher. Nobody has such encyclopedic knowledge of things that they’d be asked to sit down and write a whole paper out of their own head without any learning going on. Why is he saying this? Just to delay getting to work?”

X: “Do you not have the skills for this? Do it!”

Mr. X probably thinks he is being more polite by not saying the “in his mind” part aloud, but the way he’s communicating makes you feel he’s just hostile and irrational. But the way you’re communicating makes him feel like you are avoiding work. The more he has to repeat himself, the more he thinks you are arguing with him. He is thinking “I need results not excuses” - and you know what? He does. That’s his job.

So whose fault is this? Both of you. “Fault” is a concept for children and courtrooms anyway. The way to improve the situation is to try to see things from others’ perspective, learn the expectations of people in a professional environment, and try to replicate that yourself.

A much better response to “Here, write a report on topic A” would be “Great! I already know the basics of A. How much do you want? I can do a cursory job in 5 days, but if you want it to be really thorough I could use 10 days.”

This focuses on what you know instead of what you don’t, it shows that you plan to deliver and not waffle, and expresses your need for research time in a constructive way that provides Mr. X options. His impression is “Great, TheVal is going to deliver this thing we need. Good employee there.” Then you get to work learning and writing before “a format” is sent to you.

Learning to “manage up” (manage your seniors and their expectations) is one of the core skills you need in the professional world. Congrats, this is lesson 1.

You could take an opportunity to mention what’s going on casually to your boss so he understands the context of the very likely complaining Mr. X is doing to him about you. “Hey, I’m working on report A. I’m afraid Mr. X got a bit upset, I started to explain to him what I was going to do in order to write it and I think he took those details as me pushing back or something. He got a little heated for a professional environment, in my opinion.” Your boss will probably see the communication conflict and may tell Mr. X “hey, try to keep it more professional.” But you have a lot of control over it not getting to that point in the first place - this conflict will reflect poorly on both of you to your boss - X is more senior than you and Boss may share his concerns about your work.

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    Thanks for the thorough analysis and answer! I think you nailed it with the internal thoughts of Mr.X. as they best describe his behaviour in these months. I have and will continue to try and understand his point of view, even if he evidently refuses or deems not worthy understanding mine. – TheVal Mar 7 at 16:31

One choice is to ignore Mr. X's misbehavior. You are in a research and development department, which means you'll sometimes need to do some research (studying, experimenting, prototype building) to solve problems. There's nothing wrong with needing to study up on a topic. If Mr. X asks you to do a research task, you can simply say OK, I'll do it. If you have too many tasks, ask your boss to help you set your priorities.

A harder choice: ask Mr. X why he is annoyed with you. Do this in private when the two of you have a bit of time to talk.

I've never met either of you, so I could be wrong about this: maybe Mr. X fears being outshined by a young energetic fresh-out-school person hoping to make their mark. If so, that's his problem, not yours.

A third choice: ask your management for advice on how to work with Mr. X effectively. Your management has probably had similar problems.

Always keep in mind that the most important thing you learned in university was how to learn, not a vast body of knowledge about your field that you can call on to solve every problem instantly.

Good luck and strength.

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    Thanks for the input! I do not understand why your answer was downvoted, though. I have already tried the first advice, and all I got was a super angry response, saying that I had to move my backside and study rather than asking clarifications with him, and he "doesn't want clarifications but results". I will definitely talk to my supervisor on how to handle this. – TheVal Mar 7 at 14:37
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    There are, unfortunately, Workplace participants who routinely downvote questions and answers on the subject of interpersonal workplace issues. Comes with the territory. – O. Jones Mar 7 at 16:27

I see two aspects to the question.

Firstly, you're being asked to research and report on something that you know nothing about. Welcome to professional life!

Take what you learned at university; define the parameters of the report (are you just writing a brief on it, or are you expected to come up with a corporate approach including recommendations). Find out the timescales you're working with, then write the report at the same time as you're learning the subject. Oftentimes, the best reports for normal people to read are those which are written by people still learning the subject themselves - they tend not to go too far into the weeds.

Secondly, you have interpersonnel issues with Mr. X. Is it his job to give you this type of work (i.e, is he your supervisor or project manager)? Talk to your line manager - your work schedule should be coming through him. If your work is defined by Mr. X, your manager should still be aware of your workload. Also talk to your line manager about your treatment by Mr X, as he's creating a hostile work environment. I can feel a little inferiority complex coming from your description of him - he may be overawed or threatened by you because you have an MSc. You can have a quiet chat with him, but I don't think it will make anything better between the two of you. Your real line manager may need to become involved - that's his job.

Document any conversations in a location outside your company network; if you end up complaining to HR and/or leaving, you may need this in future.

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  • Thanks for the answer! Yes, I am expected to come up with a corporate approach including recommendations, and Mr. X is my project manager and not my line manager. I will definetly document (and have done so) conversation and will report this to my line manager. – TheVal Mar 7 at 16:25

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