I was recently pulled into a meeting with the HR and my engineering manager where I was told that I am not communicating well enough with him. I even received a memo for the same.

To give some context, I work for a small team comprising of a product manager, an engineering manager, and I. For the past few months, the engineering manager has had a pattern of communication where he'd disappear for the duration of the sprint, reappear towards the end to get an update, and then present it in the management huddle before the start of the next sprint.1

Occasionally, he'd catch up mid-sprint for an update or two.

Suddenly, I got an invite for a meeting with the HR along with the engineering manager where the topic of discussion was how I was the one not communicating proactively. Although I did the the best I could to disagree with everything that was coming my way, the HR and the manager were having none of it.

At the end, I received a memo where "it was agreed upon" that I am not communicating well enough and that it "affected the productivity of the team".

What is a polite way to refute this memo given that I have never failed to deliver on my sprint tasks and that my manager has an abnormal pattern of communication?

Paraphrased memo2:


Thank you for being there for the meeting with your engineering manager. We discussed and agreed that you are not communicating well enough. This has caused gaps in communication and further affected the productivity of the team.

As mentioned, we are a team that works together to solve the problems to achieve the desired results. Make sure you and your team are on the same page. As committed, the hope is you will work to improve your communication and increase our productivity.

We will reconvene next week. We are here for you if you need help.


Footnote 1:

The management huddle used to be my engineering manager presenting the updates. After that, at his whim, the format of the huddle changed to me delivering the updates. Since this change in pattern, he's been communicating less.

Footnote 2:

I sense a lot of us-versus-them language in the memo where you do not communicate well and we / our team gets affected by it. Given that I am a permanent employee and not a consultant, such language sounds very uncharacteristic to me. Should I call out the HR for usage of such language?

  • 3
    Did you ask them what they wanted from you in terms of communicating better? If not, did they provide that information?
    – BSMP
    Commented Nov 21, 2020 at 4:10
  • What does the memo actually do? Is it like a write-up that counts against you in a file or is it just documentation that this conversation happened?
    – BSMP
    Commented Nov 21, 2020 at 4:10
  • @BSMP I was told that the communication should be so clear that if the management were to have an impromptu call with just one of us (I or engineering manager), he has all the updates ready for him.
    – An SO User
    Commented Nov 21, 2020 at 4:13
  • @BSMP It may reflect negatively in appraisals, reference checks if I move on to the next company, etc. India does not have a file (AFAIK) but reference checks are strict.
    – An SO User
    Commented Nov 21, 2020 at 4:14
  • You're basically describing "a crappy situation at work". Unfortunately, as with many questions on here, the one and only solution is "new job". I'm not putting in an answer since my total answer would be "your managers are idiots". Their actions are so stupid it's not worth addressing them in detail. All you can really do is be polite and make a show of thoughtfully considering their idiocy.
    – Fattie
    Commented Nov 21, 2020 at 15:13

3 Answers 3


Don't accept the blame, but also don't defend yourself. Look for the kernel of truth that both you and the manager could potentially agree to. Verbalize that kernel of truth. Restate what happened at that HR meeting using own words, but keep any blaming language out of it. And no, don't call out HR on their own use of blaming language.

Then, suggest an actual solution. For instance, negotiate a regular Monday/Wednesday/Friday 10 minutes standup meeting between you and your engineering manager. It doesn't have to be that specifically. That is just an example. Only you know a good solution to your potential problem.

And if your manager is late for your meetings by even 10 minutes, make sure to email him when that happens. In that email, be sure to imply that you're also going to call him on the phone as well. But doing it first by email will help maintain a good digital record, that's why you also want to email him. Or if the manager says that those meetings are no longer necessary, email him and communicate the fact that you would prefer those meetings to continue. Again, doing this by email will give you cover if that manager goes to HR again. My point being. Even if you have a one-on-one conversation with him changing the terms of your arrangement, be sure to memorialize your understanding of that conversation via an email to him.

Also, print out any such emails, and keep them at home. In addition, keep a detailed log of everything. Be sure to record when he's not at your scheduled meetings. Or every time you've tried to initiate contact through email/phone/in person to give him updates. This detailed log will be your ace-in-the-hole. You'll want to keep a copy of it at work, in case you need it. And a copy of it at home, just in case. But if everything goes well, hopefully, you won't need it.

  • 1
    Very unfortunately, I fear none of this will help. The managers are in CYA mode and scapegoating the OP. Whatever the OP does, notes, sends will only result in more irrational blethering from them next time they scapegoat the OP.
    – Fattie
    Commented Nov 21, 2020 at 15:15

If you disagree with the memo, it's likely the result of a misunderstanding between you and management, because as I see it such warnings should normally issued about facts you are already aware of, unless the whole point of the memo is to set up a meeting where these clarifications would happen.

In any case, I think you are in the right to ask for clarifications, and at minima, examples of when this happened. You could ask them when did you lack proactive communication, and how does this affected the productivity of the team.

They may or may not have a clear example in mind. If they do, you could discuss the event, provide explanations, and/or at least have basis to say this wouldn't happen again.

If they don't, you could mention them "In absence of these elements I am afraid I cannot guarantee you this would not happen again." and just proceed on "ignoring" the warning, only as a reminder to be quite cautious with this particular management, and possibly trying to prepare a second plan in the unfortunate event they would scheme to lay you off.


Reacting to the Memo

Presumably your manager would not have raised the meeting if there hadn't already been a number of specific incidents of missed communication which s/he had been concerned about - the manager most likely feels they can't trust you to handle communication as well as they need. They've turned to you to devise a way of making sure it doesn't happen again and most likely want to hear how you will improve.

By making you responsible for communication the manager is putting you in a leadership role, and now they're looking for you to show that you're able to change the way you communicate (which is two-way, communication is about reading/listening as much as talking/writing).

Have an honest discussion with the manager and let them know that you were surprised by the content of the memo; explain that you were unaware of any communications issues up until now but that you need more information from them in order to be able to improve. There is no "skill cap" when it comes to communication; even the most effective leaders and communicators always have room to learn and improve.

Ask for a list of the specific recent events where missed communication have caused a problem; including what information had been missed, who it should have been delivered to, what the impact was.

For each of these events, try to think back in your own mind how you handled that information, the reasons why you ended up missing it, and what could change to minimise the risk of similar issues in future. For example, whether you misheard/misunderstood something, didn't understand its relevance, were given an incomplete picture from its source, were given it too late, or maybe you just had a plain old bad day, etc.

If you really can't think of how you could have changed the way you handled something then ask; most likely the manager is only interested in changing the way you work rather than a sinister plot to remove you (Although if you didn't improve then it could certainly turn into removal)

Be honest with yourself about these events and respond to them honestly -- putting your hands up and saying "I could have done this differently" shows integrity and personal responsibility (which are important attributes for someone in a communication-centric role). Letting your manager know you understand the problem and are able to change is a way of helping to restore trust.

Improving Communication

A key part of communication is understanding who needs what information, so understanding the needs of your team and other stakeholders is important for two reasons:

  1. When you receive some information from someone, you know who you need to communicate it to
  2. You also only include the relevant people and avoid swinging the opposite direction - don't react to this by communicating everything to everybody (You don't want to drown people with emails/meetings/etc and waste their time if the information isn't relevant to them)

Also be aware that you'll be relying heavily on others' communication skills to make this work; being responsible for communication is to make sure you're able to tease information out of those who may not be great communicators themselves (or even ask/encourage those people to talk to others more). When someone delivers new information to you it's generally not enough just to be a passive listener who just verbatim relays onto others.

Whenever you receive some new information, make sure you seek clarity and completeness from its source, including its relevance and importance/impact. If someone delivers some information to you which you feel is unclear, incomplete or confusing, then ask for more detail and clarity straight away. If you're still not entirely sure what to do with it, then seek help and support from those who would know.

Similarly, whenever you deliver important information to someone, you need to make sure they've actively received it; again, others' own lack of communication skill can lead them to simply nod and say "OK" without understanding what you've told them; as someone in a communication-centric position, part of your job is to try to break through to those people who may not be so good at receiving information.

Consider these points too when responding to the memo, having a set of ideas on how to improve your communication skills and being able to relay this to the manager is likely to build their confidence in you; although the real test of course will be how you operate on a day-to-day basis, and how much communication within the team improves.

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