(names have been replaced)

I work as a software developer at company X. In my team, we have testers and other engineers. Recently a request has come in from the business, to implement some changes to our system. The requirements have been provided by business rep Stacey. This request has been floating about for about a year, so requirements have changed in this time. Our tester, Ellie, has got in contact with Barry, a business representative, to clarify some requirements. Ellie found that there was a difference between the requirements Barry sent and the most up-to-date requirements Stacey sent, so she emailed Stacey for some clarification. Ellie included the requirements Barry sent her in this email to Stacey. The issue was, in Ellie's email, it wasn't very clear where the requirements came from and what exactly she was asking from Stacey.

Stacey was a little confused by this email, as it contained out-dated requirements. Stacey contacted me directly, to make sure the changes we are planning on implementing into our system are correct. Stacey also forwarded me the email chain between Barry, Ellie and Stacey. I had a chat with Ellie to understand where the requirements she forwarded to Stacey came from, she said it came from Barry. Ellie also said during the chat, that it's not up to us to resolve this matter and that Stacey and Barry must come to an agreement between themselves.

To make sure everyone was on the same page, I wrote an email to Barry and Stacey and CC'd Ellie. The email was sent to ask for clarification from Barry about the out-of-date requirements, basically asking him if we can disregard the requirements he (Barry) sent, in favor of the new requirements Stacey has proposed. There was some back and forward between Stacey and Barry and finally an agreement was made and we could use the requirements Stacey proposed.

All fine and dandy? Or, so I thought. The next day I receive an angry message from Ellie. Ellie asked that I contact her first, to consult her before emailing her resources. Ellie stated she did not understand the benefit of my email. I messaged back, asking to voice-chat (we work remotely). She kept stating the same kind of thing, upset that I didn't consult her first. I kept replying with "Let's have chat, let me know when you're available". She finally said that she didn't want to voice-chat with me and that we could just chat in text. I didn't want to do this, because I find text chat hard when dealing with any disagreements - for me it's much better to chat in person for 10 minutes and clear the air.

Just a little bit of context, these aren't Ellie's resources - they are available for anyone working at company X. I have been in communication with these business reps before and during this time.

I wrote to Ellie asking if she was denying me a voice-chat, she said yes. I said I would escalate this matter if she cannot voice-chat. Ellie said she would also escalate this, if I insist on talking, because she is not in the right place for a voice-chat. Fair enough, mental health is important and if Ellie is stressed, I am happy to wait. I proposed a meeting to discuss the following day.

During the meeting with Ellie, I am going to try to understand Ellie's concerns, what exactly she thinks the problem is. I am then going to explain why my email has helped us clarify these requirements, allowing us to disregard the old requirements Barry sent through.

My questions to you..

  1. How to handle these situations if Ellie is unhappy about me contacting her resources
  2. When should I get any other people involved? (escalation)
  3. Should I have consulted Ellie before emailing Stacey and Barry to firm up requirements?
  4. Should I have handled the situation any differently?


After chatting with Ellie, there seems to have been some miscommunication, because she was under the impression that she has asked me not to contact Stacey or Barry - let them sort it out on their own. I reminded her what she told me and she said she would be more clear next time.

The other issue, is she feels like she had taken a lot of time to develop these relationships in the business and doesn't want them to be jeopardized. Apparently the business reps are under a lot of pressure at the moment.

We agreed that if I am pulled into some chat (email or otherwise), where she has been facilitating the communication, I am to discuss with her about any further communication before I get involved.

  • 3
    Sounds like you did "PM stuff", and took initiative to prevent a problem, and for some reason Ellie didn't like you doing it. Without saying so directly in your discussions, see if you can figure out why. Sounds like she is your peer, organizationally?? Infringe on her turf? Doing her job for her? Misaligned communication style? Misaligned expectations of protocol? Disagreement over substance? etc
    – Pete W
    Sep 1, 2021 at 13:10
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    QA people are often jealous about the higher status dev jobs and can therefore be extra touchy when they feel like their turf is being violated and that’s a dynamic to keep in mind. Unfortunately the way that is often expressed, as in this case, is obstructionism not problem solving (which reinforces the divide) - you did the right thing to quickly align people, you just didn’t handle the interpersonal part as well as you could have.
    – mxyzplk
    Sep 1, 2021 at 13:57
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    If it's at a point where both sides are threatening to "escalate" this, then I'd think you'd want the communication in written/documented form, not voice-chat with plausible deniability in any direction afterward. Sep 1, 2021 at 14:28

3 Answers 3


Should I have consulted Ellie before emailing Stacey and Barry to firm up requirements?

This reads like a classic situation: There is no established known process, so everybody does what they think is right and expects the other party to obviously see it the same way. You wanted to proceed as fast as possible. Ellie wanted something too, what we don't know since you didn't ask her.

How to handle these situations if Ellie is unhappy about me contacting her resources Should I have handled the situation any differently?

Yes, you should have handled this differently. Instead of forcing the voice call by threatening repercussions (Do as I tell you, or I escalate!) you should have told written her something like this:

I am sorry there has been a misunderstanding between us. Since this topic is important for me, I wanted to move it as fast as possible. If you are unhappy with this, let's talk about it, as a positive work relationship with you is also important to me. I vastly prefer videocall over text, because it's easier for me to express myself that way. It's also easier for me to understand you, because I tend to miss things when it's just written.

Note: You simply said things that are true, because you talked about your feelings and perceptions. These opens up the possibilty for her to explain how she sees it, and then you two can try to come to an understanding.

When should I get any other people involved? (escalation)

You should only escalate when there is no other way. Also note, involving other people and escalating are different things and perceived differently.

Let's say you and Ellie have talk, and you have different points of view and don't agree how to proceed. You could then involve a manger to clarify. Using the words "I escalate this." can be read as "I want to have it my way". You could say something like: I'd prefer my way, but I can accept your way too. I want to run this by a manager, so somebody with proper authority can establish a process for the future, which I will then follow.

  • Thank you for your answer. In retrospect it was silly of me to press her. I'll take on this way of thinking for future conflicts. Thanks! Sep 1, 2021 at 9:31

Should I have handled the situation any differently?

Yes, once she made it clear that she didn't want to speak to you, you should have not forced the voice issue. Some people like to have a written record of their conversation and forcing this particular issue, when clearly she doesn't want to speak to you, could be misconstrued quite negatively by others.

I know you don't like to use chat/email, but in this case, I think, you should respect her wish. Just be careful on what you write to her. If you're afraid of making a mistake. Have someone read over what you send her.

Should I have consulted Ellie before emailing Stacey and Barry to firm up requirements?

No, you did the right thing (as far I can tell, but maybe I'm missing some context).

When should I get any other people involved? (escalation)

No, there is no need on your part.

If she really wants to stop you from contacting "her" resources, then obviously, she will be the one who needs to escalate this issue and bother the higher ups.

By the way, are those resources her underlings? Is there a reporting structure/process that you might not be aware of?

Ellie asked that I contact her first, to consult her before emailing her resources.

Look for the kernel of truth of what she's saying, try to see the issue from her perspective, and expect her to forward what you write to her to others, but be non-committal in your response.

Perhaps, write something like this:

"Anyway, I'll do what I can to contact you, but as to contacting others when there is a quick issue that needs to be cleared up, I make no promises. As far I'm aware, these people are not exclusively your resources."

But be careful with that last sentence. If she's the manager of those two other people and if she can order them not to respond to you, you probably shouldn't say that to her or freezing you out is the next thing she'll try. So it's possible that my advice doesn't exactly fit your situation.

  • 2
    Thank you for the feedback. I should not have pressed her for voice chat, or mentioned escalation. I have sent her a message explaining everything. We'll still have a chat tomorrow because she wants to. Thanks again! Sep 1, 2021 at 7:35

So let me get this straight, you took over discussions between testing and BA as a dev and impacted the testing strategy and requirements clarifications because? Why did you decide to remove agency from the tester? Why are you surprised they are angry at you and want to keep a written record of your actions? If I were the tester in cause I would not discuss anything verbally with you outside the presence of an HR rep, you just made me look like an incompetent idiot in front of at least two colleagues just to satisfy your own ego.

  • 3
    I think this comes down to company culture and process. Ellie said Barry and Stacey must come to an agreement. At least by what we read here, she didn't say she would take care to see that Barry and Stacey are on the same page. So whose responsibility is this to clear this up? -> it comes down to established process.
    – Benjamin
    Sep 1, 2021 at 7:11
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    @BobDarph: Downvoted because you got this completely wrong. Discussing how to test a new feature is totally pointless when there is no agreement what the feature is, and the software developers who build the feature and totally waste their time if the feature specs are not accurate are the first ones who need to be involved. And "incompetent idiot" are your words.
    – gnasher729
    Sep 1, 2021 at 7:17
  • I don't think I made anyone look incompetent. The email chain was a bit lost, so I offered some direction and purpose to clarify the requirements. This will allow my squad (dev and testers) to do our jobs properly. Nothing to do with ego. I want the best for my squad and I thought I was doing the right thing by clarifying requirements. Sep 1, 2021 at 7:37
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    I am not sure there was any desired direction. The tester and I are on the same page regarding the requirements. I have already implemented the feature and the tester has tested it, she is happy with the work. I don't understand what she wanted, but I guess I'll find out tomorrow during my meeting with her. Stacey was confused and asking for clarification, so I clarified everything with the tester. I wanted to repeat this clarification in the email thread so everyone was on the same page. Sep 1, 2021 at 9:34
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    @BoboDarph how very bold of you to assume that. But, you're completely wrong. The requirements had already been set by the stakeholders and agreed upon by everyone in the squad. I implemented the feature as per the requirements and Ellie tested based on the same requirements. The reason I emailed Barry and Stacey was to make sure we have implemented the right thing. For some context, the feature I implemented creates legal documents. We must get them right first time around. So I was triple checking that we had in-fact created the documents, as per the legal requirements. Sep 2, 2021 at 9:03

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