I am a remote worker on a mostly office-bound team. I am not particularly experienced (about 3 years out of college, all with this same company), but our team is mostly people around my age, with one more senior dev (we will call him Dave) and a manager.

Dave is an alright developer, and in person he is generally agreeable, but over email, on code reviews, over chat, etc. (basically any form of communication that requires reading and writing) his tone is frequently disrespectful. When someone disagrees with him, he will often accuse them of not understanding the situation, when he gets frustrated he will simply state his opinion on what should be done and say the entire conversation was a waste of time, and generally his tone is either commanding ("do X" rather than "I think we should do X") or dismissive and bordering on disrespectful ("do X so we can move on from this ridiculousness"). I also frequently find that I will put together a long, well thought-out and respectful disagreement with one of his ideas, his response often makes it seem as if he didn't even read what I wrote. I wonder if maybe he is just exceptionally bad at written communication and doesn't realize the tone he is conveying to everyone else.

I'm not a particularly thin-skinned person so on a personal level I don't care too much about this, but it is incredible to me that nobody else seems bothered by the way he treats his coworkers. With our team looking to be more remote-focused to deal with Covid-19 I am concerned that this is going to be the way all of our interactions will go, which will be not just unpleasant but will also shut down important conversations before they get to a good endpoint.

What is the best way to deal with this? I worry that I may not have the office-political capital to bring this up to him directly in a way that will have any impact, but I also don't want to be seen as a snitch or overly sensitive by bringing it up to my manager. It is also hard because most of his behavior is just borderline enough to not be outright disrespectful, though I really think he makes it clear from his tone what his level of respect for his colleagues is.


6 Answers 6


Try to switch to verbal communication.

If this particular coworker can't manage constructive feedback via writing, ask to schedule a call with him where you can discuss the feedback verbally, and then document the outcome later.

It could just be this particular coworker doesn't have a way with written word and gets frustrated when he cannot properly convey what he's thinking, and lashes out. Being able to ask clarifying questions during a discussion could help.

If that doesn't work...

Bring it up to your supervisor.

Your coworker may not understand how he's being perceived, or he may very well intend to be dismissive and rude. Either way, your best bet if he isn't willing to talk is to let your supervisor know that his conduct is impeding effective communication, and then supply a few examples of it so your supervisor can address it.

  • I think it goes without saying, but if you bring this up to your supervisor/HR, you should make sure that you have documentation of when he said what things that are disrespectful and/or cultivating a hostile work environment. Unfortunately, there's also a very real chance that the company will do nothing. Many places have "good old boys" clubs where senior individuals can get away with unacceptable behavior. And unfortunate part is-- there's going to be a Dave no matter where you work, unless you're very, very lucky. Commented Mar 13, 2020 at 15:43

I'm not a particularly thin-skinned person so on a personal level I don't care too much about this

So don't care about it. It's just his way of communicating in writing. Save your battles for something you do care about.


Focus on yourself for now. If anyone else feels like something is wrong then they will approach HR or you manager and deal with it themselves, if you are bothered by it then you should take action by taking to your manager.


Sadly, I had the same problem with a teamleader once. Usually, these people are very bad at communication, and often emotionally unequipped to understand all the implications of their communication style.

Before making it personal, though, there are plenty of best practices around, including, for example, "how to make proper code reviews" (including which communication is the most appropriate).

Step 1: I don't know if you're used to have working agreements or similar things in your workplace, but you could suggest, as part of a "normal" process quality refinement, to introduce the topic of communication in CR in a general way, without any personal implication.
Should it go well, you could even have the leverage on an agreed behavioural rule.

Step 2: If this doesn't work, you could prompt him directly. I think a non confrontational and proactive way is the best solution; avoid "you"s, use "I"s. Avoid labeling, concentrate on how the behaviour makes you feel.

No "you always do this!", no "you communicate bad", concentrate in explaining your perspective, underlining how sometimes you feel pressured, or you have trouble interpreting a "too dry" tone (remember: some people are mean, but others simply must be instructed and need to "see" with another set of eyes).

Step 3: Should this not work, maybe it's the case to escalate. Also in that setting, try to cap any irritation and be proactive. Underline how communicating properly would make wonders for the mood and the process.


What is the best way to deal with this?

There is no best way to deal with this. It seems from you question that Dave is senior and quite well respected by the leadership of the company. In that case they are almost certainly going to go with Dave's decisions rather than yours. This isn't uncommon, you'll find that in any business there is someone that holds a lot of respect especially from the management / senior management team. Their decisions will override yours regardless of the merit.

As Robert Picard said to his brother Jean Luc:

This is going to be with you a long time, Jean-Luc. A long time. You have to learn to live with it

Leaving the company will make no difference as there will always be someone else at another company who holds more sway than you. Constantly arguing won't get you anywhere either. It could be his brash tone is just because he's actually fed up with you arguing and just want's to get stuff done and if that's the case then I would suggest just stopping all the arguments and following Dave's order. If there are problems with these decisions then Dave will have to be held accountable. Make sure you get them in writing (email is fine) rather than just on a Slack / Skype ...etc message.

If you feel that the decisions are affecting your work personally then bring it up with a manager / team leader. If Dave is your team leader then you could go above his head to his manager. I would leave this as a very last resort though you would have to have real solid evidence that Dave's decision had negatively affected your work.

In terms of the tone of the emails / comms I don't see a lot you can really do here. If it's really bad like swearing and such you could contact HR but again this is extreme mostly just grow a thicker skin.

I know this is easy to say and hard to do but it's a skill you should learn and it can add greatly to your employ-ability as you can give examples of how you dealt with this type of colleague.


I'm not a particularly thin-skinned person so on a personal level I don't care too much about this

It seems you do care, quite a lot in fact, since you are here asking a question about it.

It also seems you are vulnerable to the idea of being "thin-skinned", and might even be a little concerned with what your coworkers think of you. Let me tell you there is nothing thin-skinned or weak about wanting to work in a respectful, decent environment.

Here's a multi-step recipe you can follow:

  • Invite this person for a coffee or find an opportunity to speak with them in private and in person. Tell them exactly what makes you uncomfortable, no matter how "thin-skinned" it may seem. Do not get emotional during this talk. Insist that it is very important for you that such behavior needs to stop.
  • In most cases, and depending on the person's maturity, the behavior will stop. If it does not, or if it increases (which is also possible), talk to your manager.
  • If talking to the manager does not work or they simply ask you to shake it off, talk to someone from your HR department. They are trained to address and solve these kinds of problems.
  • If your HR department is unable to solve the problem, start looking for a new job NOW. This can either be within the same company (i.e. move to a new group) or a new company.

I have had many issues like this in the past and have learned (the hard way) that is is important to set boundaries as soon as possible. Rank is irrelevant here, seniors who act like children need to be disciplined like children. Negative behavior, when unchecked, is bound to increase in frequency and provocative nature. You need to act as soon as possible before this starts impacting your productivity.

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