I have a senior colleague who is very intelligent and appears to recall absolutely everything he has ever witnessed, with clarity and immediate comprehension and insight.

I am not so gifted and have occasionally asked questions which are, it would appear from the responses, to be a repetition or that I should have found the answer elsewhere before coming to them.

I appear to be at the bottom of their priority list (emails will often take some time to be answered) and they are not afraid of pointing out mistakes they think I’ve made in front of any number of colleagues?

I am mid-senior and certainly not bad at my role. I don’t believe people should be reprimanded for forgetting minor details or needing things explaining more than once.

I am always happy to pass on my knowledge and only gripe when it appears that a colleague is simply being lazy. I do not consider it laziness if someone has not sought out every potential avenue of information before coming to me.

How can I deal with/respond to someone who does behave that way when I am invariably going to need their input?

[Edit] The responses I have received in the past have lead me to avoid contacting this person as much as possible. Communication with them often feels like I must “ask exactly the right question in exactly the right way” or I will only receive a useful response if it comes along with some kind of criticism.

Of course, if one were to break down their criticism in the context of the communication (typically, if not exclusively, email) it would be impossible for me to show that their criticism is - factually - wrong. However, they are the only person who behaves this way and there are many others of similar intellect who are much more helpful and a joy to converse with.

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    Being critical and giving feedback is part of the job of a senior. Do you mean to ask "How to handle unfair criticism?". In that case it would help to give examples of what you think is not fair. – Helena Mar 8 '20 at 14:57
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    I am not sure what exactly do you need help with handling here. That it takes some time to respond to your emails? Or that the senior developer is correct and maybe not the softest of people in delivering feedback? Maybe you are more after on how to coexist with this person, rather than how to "handle" them? – Tymoteusz Paul Mar 8 '20 at 15:17
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    @helena Well, it’s not unfair criticism, because as I explained, it is factually accurate. However, it can be difficult to construct a question to this person which takes into account absolutely every facet of known information to avoid them picking at details they know inside and out which I’m new to, rather than getting a straightforward answer. – Arnie Mar 8 '20 at 17:16
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    @Tym Yes, co-exist is probably more accurate. However, your response is a great example of the kind of response I never get from them. You volunteered information/suggestion without a 100% question. This person will only do that when they can follow it up with a criticism which makes me look bad. – Arnie Mar 8 '20 at 17:18
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    Do you have any idea how your co-workers feel about dealing with this senior colleague? Do they also try to avoid asking this person questions? – DaveG Mar 8 '20 at 18:39

I guess you're both working in some sort of engineering discipline. The behavior you don't like comes with the territory. Some engineers don't like talking to people. Some surgeons prefer their patients anaesthetized.

My advice: don't take it personally. Your colleague's poor mentoring, teaching, and communication skills are all about him, not you. Seriously. I don't mean to excuse his skills: they're poor. But they're not about you.

Don't be too much in awe of him. When you need information from him to do your job, simply ask your question. If he tries to belittle your skills instead of answer, just say "Excuse me, I need this information to do my work. If you don't know it, can you please tell me who I can ask?"

You've already figured out that asking this person for technical or professional advice is counterproductive. So avoid it.

You might, privately, ask your supervisor or another manager for advice on how best to work with this person. Don't complain, just ask for suggestions. It's almost certain you're not the first person having difficulties, and others may have worked out useful communication techniques.

Of course, learn what not to do when people ask you for help.

  • +1 for "Some surgeons prefer their patients anaesthetised." - Great sentence. Of course, the rest of the advice is very good, too. – Captain Emacs Mar 23 '20 at 15:24

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