46

I wanted to get your opinion on something that happened today at work.

I'm a manager in a tech company. Since friday, we have this "defcon 3" situation at work, meaning that we have some production problems that need to be solved. But it's not so critical / urgent and basically 95% of tech workers in the company continue to work as usual. People can be asked to join the work to troubleshoot the issue but usually it's not really mandatory unless you are the only person knowing technology X related to the issue.

Today I'm doing a 1-1 meeting with one of my reports in the corner of the open-space, and some manager comes in. Without asking about interrupting, saying hello etc, he just says quite aggressively "you find me some people to work for the DEFCON 3". I'm like, what, and I tell him that they'll join the work on it if they want to work on it. He replies that since it's DEFCON3 it's mandatory that some people work on it. I tell him OK, I'm in the middle of my 1-1 meeting, we'll discuss this later. Then he refuses to leave telling me that DEFCON3 "trumps" 1-1 meeting and it's more important, visibly quite annoyed/agitated. After telling him several times that I'll finish my 1-1 and that I'll see afterwards, he leaves but quite angrily.

Afterwards, I was at lunch with other coworkers, around 10 or so. The same manager comes in front of the tables, and starts shouting angrily "When I ask for people for DEFCON3, I ask for people for DEFCON3! It's not optional to come and help". People were quite surprised / annoyed at this behavior especially during lunch pause.

This manager isn't even in my reporting line, nor is he "officially" the person that even manages this DEFCON3 thing, so I don't even think he has any authority to request people to work with him for no real reason.

What do you think I should do in this situation? I find it very "humiliating" to be disrespected like this, especially in front of my report. I think I was able to keep cool but otherwise given how angry/agitated he was, this would have turned into a full-on shouting match in the office.

Should I try to talk to him privately? To my manager? To his manager?

17
  • 7
    @JoeStrazzere my boss is on holiday so I couldn't ask him. From my experience in the company (6 years), this "defcon 3" thing is pretty "standard" ie there is usually almost always something somewhere with this level of problem in the whole tech group of the company. Most people are not involved in it unless it's related to their component or their team for instance . it's usually not a showstopper for 95% of the people in the tech group Apr 25 at 22:13
  • 14
    DEFCON 3 is the most serious of DEFCONS. It means this is too serious to debate whether 5 or 1 is worse, it is simply a serious DEFCON. Apr 25 at 23:45
  • 47
    "they'll join the work on it if they want to work on it". What are you talking about? People can just decide to work on critical issues, if/when they feel like it? What sort of organisation is this? Apr 26 at 1:43
  • 17
    @ComicSansSeraphim A term used in US military doesn't apply in civil life. They have these things called "DEFCON 3" in their company every week. In US military, the last one was the Cuba crisis, 60 years ago, and even that had only a very small number of people actively working on it.
    – gnasher729
    Apr 26 at 8:46
  • 8
    @gnasher729, that's not quite right. The Cuban Missile Crisis brought us to DEFCON 2 - very close to an all-out war with Russia (which would have been DEFCON 1). The US is currently at DEFCON 3 right now (as far as public sources are able to discern anyway) with the conflict in Ukraine. In any case, the other manager was out of line if the company is labelling their status is accordance with the US military. DEFCON3 basically means things are getting tense, but we don't have a drop-everything-and-respond emergency yet.
    – Seth R
    Apr 26 at 19:32

8 Answers 8

74

What you should have done is ask your direct report to leave the room, straight away. It's possible your understanding on the criticality of the issue was not correct, which is why you suspend your 1-on-1 meeting with your subordinate, until you can determine what the situation is. Obviously the other manager was flustered, so it's not a good idea to simply dismiss them.

When alone with the other manager, you should have told the manager in no uncertain terms that it's inappropriate to speak with you like that.

You then should have determined the source of your disagreement.

It's sounds absolutely bizarre to me that people can just decide if they want to work on critical issues or not. So I wouldn't be surprised if there was a misunderstanding.


As the comments have pointed out, you shouldn't have to suspend your 1-on-1, but I don't see how it can be a sane assumption if someone has rudely interrupted you meeting in some sort of agitated state, stating "do you mind if we chat about this later?", is going to lead to them leaving the room.

9
  • 53
    I'm not sure how much of the original question was updated since this answer was posted, but you don't drop everything when someone that isn't your manager interrupts you rudely for something that isn't his responsability and isn't critical.
    – Echox
    Apr 26 at 12:35
  • 5
    OP writes But it's not so critical / urgent. It is not a critical issue unless there are quite different definitions of "critical" at work.
    – AnoE
    Apr 26 at 14:38
  • 9
    @Echox It's not about ideally what should happen in an ideal world. The manager has already rudely interrupted the meeting. So, you can spend 2 minutes talking with them and setting the record straight, or you can prolong the whole situation. The OP and the other manager clearly disagreed with how critical an issue is. Maybe they don't have the same information. The responsible thing is to make sure the understanding is in alignment, and the OP should take this chance to also indicate they don't appreciate the behaviour. Apr 26 at 15:20
  • 9
    @Chris You don't drop everything to chastise a peer. That is not productive at all. You drop everything to resolve the situation. While doing so, you can chastise the peer. But the primary goal is to get alignment with regards to the severity of the issue, and to prevent a heated argument in front of others. Apr 27 at 1:44
  • 6
    You should also apologize to your subordinate. It's not at all your fault that someone interrupts the meeting looking for you, but it is polite to apologize, I think. Don't take the blame, just communicate that you would prefer to continue with the 1-1. I say this because it's important that the subordinate doesn't feel like you, the manager, used this as an excuse to dodge a bullet.
    – Blueriver
    Apr 27 at 20:08
28

I tell him that they'll join the work on it if they want to work on it.

This was at best unprofessional on your part. If there's a serious issue, you don't blow off the people trying to get it fixed. You are their manager, take responsibility.

Now then, that doesn't mean that the other manager was right in their actions, but you have to realise that this probably seriously escalated the situation.

You and the other manager clearly have a different view of your company's policies as to how this issue should have been resourced. You need to sort that out, and that discussion probably starts with your manager so you can understand if you were correct or not - but note that even if you were correct, you should still not have responded in the way you did, which was highly disrespectful to the other manager.

11
  • 12
    And yet you continued to put him down in front of your report. You were as disrespectful as he was in this situation even if you were correct. Apr 25 at 21:50
  • 20
    It's clear the other manager did not think this was a low urgency situation. It's up to both of you between you to sort out that discrepancy, not for both of you to stick your fingers in your ears and say "la, la, la, I'm right and he's wrong". Apr 25 at 22:24
  • 9
    Related: I never said you should drop your 1:1 and immediately have your report work on it; that is a straw man argument on your part and something you should try to avoid. Apr 25 at 22:30
  • 57
    The timeline is shoddy here though. He interrupts your 1-on-1, you agree to get back to him after it, but then, at lunchbreak, he comes back at you again. Why? Did you actually get back to him after the 1-on-1, or did you forget/ignore about it, continue with your normal work and proceed to go to lunch with your team?
    – mrodo
    Apr 26 at 9:29
  • 12
    Can you clarify why you think OP's response was disrespectful or, as you put it, akin to "sticking your fingers in your ears and saying "la, la, la, I'm right and he's wrong"."? OP's description doesn't read like that at all. Rather they describe (1) other manager rudely barging in on meeting and setting out opinion that the policy for the work is X, (2) OP sets out that he thinks instead the policy is Y (3) other manager still disagrees, (4) OP suggests they discuss further after the meeting. That seems the opposite of sticking fingers in ears etc. Apr 26 at 14:09
18

When someone in an authority position comes in says something like "DEFCON*" it is clearly an indication that there is a problem that they view as highly critical. The attitude that you "don't have to respond" because of chain-of-command issues is the wrong attitude. This was your opportunity to gather your team, brainstorm the issue, and begin to create plans for a solution. While that is going on you can let your management chain know what's going on and that you've started looking into the problem.

An analogy to your situation is that there is a house on fire and several different fire stations are bickering about who should go put it out. A fire department staff meeting is not more important than the alarm that is ringing.

In a crisis, everyone should work on the problem in the beginning until it is clear who can help and who can't. Those that can't help directly should work to support those who can.

6
  • 7
    The problem had been tracked/escalated since Friday, and to be honest I was monitoring it and coudln't see it was highly critical. Here the other manager was looking for some people to do long-running analytical work. The part about "gather your team, brainstorm the issue, and begin to create plans for a solution" had been going on since Friday Apr 25 at 22:06
  • 3
    @djhalx of course, he was in all these discussions since friday because he unofficially decided he should be "in charge" of this issue. There were already several engineers working on mitigations with no need to involve more people (for the mitigation) Apr 25 at 22:10
  • 7
    @djhallx The fire department actually discussed this long ago, and there are people out there putting out the fire. It's all under control. OP trying to "help" will just interfere with those who are fixing the problem.
    – gnasher729
    Apr 26 at 8:43
  • 1
    "someone in an authority position" - I didn't see any indication that this person wielded authority. OP is a manager. This person is a manager. This person has no authority within the "chain of command" of OP's area, and, by all indications, has no direct say or authority over the area that was having the issue. Apr 27 at 17:15
  • 4
    It's clearly not equivalent to a house on fire. There are very few issues in business which require whole teams from different departments to immediately drop everything and commit all resources. Even in the fire brigade you don't commit every engine to some trivial run-of-the-mill fire. People need to appreciate that other people in the company have different things that also need done. And even if the office is on fire, you should behave in a calm and professional way.
    – Stuart F
    Apr 27 at 18:31
13

This is a company problem.

Clearly you and the other manager have different definitions of what "Defcon 3" means. While we're at it, in the US, this level of readiness just means that jets are ready to go, no one is actually doing anything.

This is also an interpersonal problem.

Your comment that your 1-to-1 was more important than a production issue is probably wrong. But their assertion that you should drop everything to help is definitely wrong. Certainly showing up and yelling isn't appropriate. Your response could be "how about we talk about this when you're calm?" And also "it's not okay for you to yell at me about something you think is more important than it is." If a peer yelled at me in public I would tell them to F right off, but more appropriate is to tell them you'll talk to them when they can discuss it calmly.

4
  • 12
    Unless something is actually on fire, then anyone presuming they can storm into a meeting and interrupt it is in the wrong. Apr 26 at 15:03
  • 27
    In general, telling someone to "be calm" is usually counterproductive.
    – DaveG
    Apr 26 at 18:50
  • 3
    @DaveG I submit nothing is productive when people are yelling and telling them to be calm is better than yelling back, it puts them on the wrong foot.
    – Tiger Guy
    Apr 27 at 12:35
  • Telling someone to "calm down" is especially satisfying when it is counterproductive. And his 1-to-1 was more important than a production issue that is being handled, when the people handling it could and would call him if his help was actually useful.
    – gnasher729
    May 31 at 13:05
10

It sounds as if the problem is already being dealt with, but not at a speed to this guy's liking. I could see how this guy really pushed your buttons. Very disrespectful!

If I were you, I would document the incident immediately and send it to your boss (or your boss's boss) for resolution. If he comes back before they can take action, refer him up the chain and stay out of it. He is out of control. Let him hang himself.

9

Talk to your boss

Have you discussed this situation with your manager? If you do so you'll either learn that the other manager was out of line (they certainly were in the way they spoke to you, but I mean policy-wise), or that you were out of line in not taking the situation seriously enough, and can advise you on how to handle this situation in the future. And if they decide the other manager was out of line, they may be able to resolve the situation directly.

I disagree with the other answers that say OP was out of line in how they responded to the aggressive manager (I'll call them AG). There really wasn't a good solution there. If OP stopped the meeting and talked privately to AG, it gives the impression to the direct report that AG is OP's boss (since they responded meekly to a direct order from someone who isn't their supervisor), which isn't good. If OP politely tells AG to pound sand as OP did, AG gets mad but the direct report at least has a correct view of the relative roles between OP and AG. Either way unfortunately the direct report is exposed to some corporate dysfunction, but that's not OP's fault. Either something in the system is broken, or AG is being deeply unprofessional, or both. That's not OP's problem to fix. But by escalating to their boss, OP can raise the issue and either get guidance or get it fixed by someone with the authority and power to make changes happen.

7

There's a serious organizational issue here. This manager believes that he is entitled to walk up to anybody at a lower level and start giving them orders. Even in the military (20 year veteran here), where we really did have DEFCON 3 situations, this is considered inappropriate outside of any life-or-death situation. I've seen guys with a few stripes politely tell guys with a lot of stripes, "Sir, do not task my people without going through me."

And for the DEFCON situations, there are procedures for handling things, and procedures for getting needed assistance from other sections.

Go to your own supervisor and tell him or her that you cannot properly do your job if every Tom, Dick, and Harriet in the company can commandeer your time without going through the proper channels.

There should also be established policies covering situations where different sections have to drop what they're doing and work together.

Letting a manager flout the org chart because the situation is DEFCON 3 is only going to lead that manager to see everything as a DEFCON 3.

10
  • 8
    The manager did not tell the OP's subordinates what to do. They went to the OP and said: "I needed people to work on this". That's fundamentally different than going behind the OPs back and telling the OP's subordinates what to work on. Apr 27 at 3:01
  • 2
    @GregoryCurrie The manager is telling the OP's supervisor's subordinate what to do without going through the OP's supervisor. The OP has his own stuff to do, that his manager expects him to do, and here he is being forcefully tasked by a peer without going through his manager. Apr 27 at 22:36
  • @DavidSchwartz Bit of a stretch. Taken to its logical extreme, that means all communication must go via the CEO. I think we can assume that a manager has enough agency to be able to deploy their people as they see fit. Apr 28 at 1:27
  • 2
    @GregoryCurrie That doesn't justify interrupting them in the middle of their assigned duties and demanding they follow your instructions immediately. The only person who can say if this fellow manager was justified is OPs manager, and if they weren't this should probably go to HR. Shouting in an office not acceptable. Shouting in most workplaces, is not acceptable. Apr 28 at 16:19
  • 2
    @RolandHeath I never said it was justified at all. All I'm saying is this answer is irrelevant because it's about a situation that didn't happen. Apr 29 at 5:22
-1

It seems your company ran into a production problem - that happens, competent people have been working on it over the weekend, your expertise was not required, and some completely unrelated manager turned into headless chicken mode.

If your help were actually required and useful, someone working on the problem would have called you and asked you for help, telling you exactly what you are needed for. Trying to just gather up people to "help" is completely unhelpful. Most likely you, and the other ten that he tried to round up for help, would have just been in the way.

What you need to do obviously is talk to your manager, who can find out why on earth a completely unrelated manager thought he should be trying to round up people from other teams to "help" with a problem that is under control. The purpose of this is to make sure that an incompetent manager doesn't get you into trouble.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .