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Four months ago, I started a new job and joined a project with a co-worker who has been employed here for many years. We were both brought on as experts, but he has subdomain expertise that I do not and I have subdomain expertise that he does not.

This co-worker has to sign off on all my work and I have to sign off on all his work.

When it's time to sign off on his work, I give him suggestions but sign off anyway. I would only reject it if I saw a major problem, which has yet to occur. He has not once taken any single one of my suggestions.

When it's time to sign off on my work, he rejects it 100% of the time.

When it is part of a subdomain where he has greater expertise, I assume that he knows best. However, his feedback is sometimes very vague, simply stating that my work is wrong, and I should throw the entire thing out and start over. When I ask what changes would improve the work, he often does not respond, or he says "I don't feel like explaining" and he appears to me to be angry with me. This has resulted in me re-doing my work, guessing at what he wants and re-submitting, sometimes several times, until he finally tells me that it's still wrong but he will sign off because he is tired of it.

When it is part of a subdomain where I have greater expertise, he requires changes that would cause problems. My employer pays me a high salary for my expertise specifically because my expertise enables me to see these kinds of problems, so I believe I would be betraying my employer if I complied with his requirements. I try to discuss it with him so we can get on the same page. I sit and listen to him talk for a long time. Then when I state my case he interrupts me and tells me that I am wrong before he has let me say anything. He seems to assume what I was going to say, which is often something ridiculous, and then argues against what he thought I would say - sometimes with anger and sometimes laughing at the ridiculousness. My work gets stuck in arguments for days or weeks. Eventually he either finally signs off in anger, or I reach out to an expert assigned to a different project to review my work, something I am not supposed to do.

The tension started on Day 1, when I asked him a question about something I needed to get started, but he did not answer and it seemed to anger him that I asked. I hoped that with time, patience and discussion we could resolve this. But it has now reached a point where I am exhausted and anxious, and I am walking on eggshells around him out of fear of angering him.

I told my boss that I am unable to complete my work in a reasonable time-frame, that I have not been able to solve this problem myself, so I need her help with finding a solution. Her response was that if I'm so stuck that I can't deliver work, then I can ask my co-worker for help. I told her that the problem is more complicated than that, so we have scheduled a meeting to talk about it.

This question is specifically about how to explain the reason for my low productivity to my boss, but without pointing fingers or placing blame.

I need to communicate to my boss that

  • My productivity is obstructed because my work is not getting signed off.
  • My productivity is slowed because a great deal of my time is spent in discussions that do not end up achieving anything.
  • My productivity is slowed because this takes so much of my energy and focus that I lack the energy and focus for my actual work.
  • That any suggestions she makes to talk it out with him will be difficult for me to implement effectively at this point, because I have been trying to do that for 4 months and I am now exhausted and I feel anxious around him.
  • But I take responsibility for the feelings I have.

But without

  • Whining.
  • Placing blame.

Side note: I am an established expert in a highly in-demand field, so I am not worried about losing my job. I am motivated by a sense of responsibility and a desire to be professional.

Additional note: I confess I have also signed off on his work when I did not feel comfortable doing so. I needed more information first, but when I asked him questions, he appeared to me to become angry and he told me to just sign off. I did not have the courage or energy to fight it, which I understand is my own mistake.

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  • 37
    To me this feels like there's some background that OP doesn't know. For example, the coworker could have wanted OPs position, but was denied and OP was placed there instead. So now he's bitter. Or maybe he had wanted the project all to himself. Etc.
    – Vilx-
    Jun 27 at 8:05
  • 3
    @Vilx- I also suspected some hidden background. Considering the length of coworker's tenure and recent timing of OP's hire, maybe coworker knows OP's salary (and the premium the current labor market is offering) and resents it.
    – Theodore
    Jun 27 at 21:22
  • 36
    You're missing your own point. "When it's time to sign off on my work, he rejects it 100% of the time" is a clear indication of one of two things. Either you are incompetent, which we have no reason to believe, or he is malicious, causing harm to both you and the company. What other possibility could there be? Jun 27 at 21:23
  • 9
    Is there some particular reason that you are reluctant to implicate your co-worker?
    – TenMinJoe
    Jun 28 at 11:55
  • 3
    Is your boss/manager technical? If not, do you have a technical lead that you can talk to about this stuff? Jun 28 at 17:37

11 Answers 11

25

because I have been trying to do that for 4 months and I am now exhausted and I feel anxious around him.

Honestly, it's been too long already, and the fact that it's been too long is what is leading to your exhaustion and anxiousness: you've let the situation fester. It'd have been better to inform your boss sooner, and the next best thing is to inform them now: congratulations on having taken this step.

What you have is an interpersonal conflict with your coworker. It doesn't matter who is to blame -- and your "acceptance" of the situation partly is -- what matters is that there is a conflict which impacts your well-being and your work, and thus this conflict needs to be solved.

So, how do you resolve an interpersonal conflict?

Step 0: Inform your boss

Any situation that leads to an impact on your productivity should be brought to your boss.

You should have brought this up in a very neutral fashion to start:

We're still working on how best to review each others' work, and in the meantime it's slowing us down.

Then later:

We're still having difficulties with reconciling our visions, I'm on it.

This let your boss know early on that there is an issue:

  • It lets them know you feel like productivity is hampered, and thus to expect better in the future -- and not to judge you by your current output.
  • It lets them know you feel up to tackling that issue and they need not get involved yet.
  • Whilst still leaving the door open to involving them later on.

That's the kind of pro-active handling of issues that a boss appreciates.

Then, as the situation unfolds, inform your boss about the steps you've taken to solve it. For example, in the list of steps below, you'd inform them that you're involving a 3rd party -- and at the same time get their advice on who to involve as a 3rd party.

Step 1: Talk to coworker

The first step is to talk to the person you have a conflict with.

Explain what is, and is not, working for you. Be calm. Do not assign blame.

A tool I recommend for this is SBI:

  • Situation: describe the situation in which the issue occurred, to give context.
  • Behavior: describe the behavior of the coworker that caused concern.
  • Impact: describe the impact on you.

You have to be careful not to appear judgemental "you were wrong to", "I felt like you were [xxx]": do not judge, do not ascribe intentions. Instead, keep to facts and impacts on you (such as your feelings, your work being hampered).

Also, you should definitely ask your coworker if they think anything you're doing isn't working for them. It may be that their behavior is a reaction to yours, after all.

For example, you should definitely address interruptions in meetings.

  • Situation: "When we are in meetings, and I am talking".
  • Behavior: "and you interrupt me, conjecture about what I was going to say, and start replying to it,".
  • Impact: "then we lose time, as this is generally not what I was going to say."

Do note that SBI does not mean immediately suggesting a "resolution", SBI is about exposing the problem. You first need to ensure the problem has been clearly communicated, and that the other party recognizes that it is a problem, and then the two of you can move on to together talking about a potential solution.

Even if in the example above, it appears obvious (to you) that the solution is that your coworker should not interrupt. Your coworker may instead bring up the fact that you talk too much, take too many detours, and they cut you off to try and gain time, and thus propose that you improve your delivery skills so they don't feel they have to interrupt you to make progress. You won't know until you hear their side, and you won't hear their side if you try to impose your solution immediately.

You've tried that, and it's been ineffective.

Step 2: Seek advice from "neutral" third party.

Directly bringing the matter to your boss is a form of escalation which will, likely, trigger a defensive response from your coworker. As such, before escalating, it can be best to bring in a more "neutral" third party.

In the case of a company, like yours, seeking a long-tenure colleague, preferably one which has a history of working well with the "other" party (your coworker) can be helpful. You get to pick, so pick one you feel comfortable talking to.

Bring your woes, SBI style. Do not blame your coworker, do not ascribe them intentions. Stick to facts and impacts.

And ask for advice. How did this colleague handled such situations? How did they manage to work with your coworker? What worked? What didn't?

You could have tried that after a few weeks or a month top, you may want to ask your boss if they can think of such a colleague you could talk to.

Step 3: Ask "neutral" third party to help.

Ideally, the same third party that advised you in Step 2, if they showed concern for your case.

You took their advice, it didn't work, if they have a good relationship with your coworker then you can attempt to have them talk to your coworker and relay your concerns, and your coworker concerns.

You need someone your coworker has a good relationship with for this to work best.

You could have tried that after a week or two of trying their advice.

Step 4: Soft-escalate.

Firstly, I must repeat that involving your boss will quite likely be perceived as an escalation in the conflict by your coworker. This will have long-term effect on your relationship. Sometimes, though, it just is necessary and you have to bite the bullet.

If you kept your boss up-to-date on the situation, then the time has come to tell them you're running out of ideas, and are seeking their help.

In any case, it's time to explain the situation in more details: now that you are seeking advice from your boss, they need to know more than just "there's some issues with reviews".

Also explain what you've tried, and which didn't work.

Go at it like you would in Step 2. That is, do not ask your boss to intervene themselves yet, but instead seek advice from your boss on how to make the relationship.

This is your next step now, take it at the next meeting.

Step 5: Hard-escalate.

The nuclear option, but once again, sometimes it just is necessary.

Ask your boss to talk to your coworker to help resolve the issue -- or talk to their boss if they have a different one.

This is the last possible step, try to make step 4 work first!

Step 6: Break it.

Some conflicts cannot be resolved, for whatever reasons. I'd love to say that we're all professional and can work together regardless of personal opinions, but sometimes it just doesn't pan out.

At this point, the only solution is to break the relationship. In this case, that means stop working with your coworker, which likely requires either of you to be assigned to a different project.

It won't strictly be your choice (unless you apply for another position/job), but following step 4 and 5 your boss should have now realized that this is just not going to work and take steps to resolve the situation.

It may also not go your way, maybe your prickly coworker gets to keep working on the shiny new project whilst you're assigned to work you don't like as much, maybe you're let go (because you're the new one), nobody knows what happens... but if the current situation affects your well-being, it hopefully is a relief anyway.

Good luck.

147

Is it possible that you've been too concerned about not blaming your coworker?

Your coworker has been doing things that cause you to feel exhausted and to feel unproductive. That's a big problem. Your boss needs to know what the cause of that problem is, but up to this point, you've refused to tell her.

The thing is, there's nothing wrong with simply stating how your coworker has behaved and what the results of this behavior have been. There would be nothing unprofessional about telling your boss something like:

Sometimes, when I submit a piece of work to him, he gives very vague feedback, simply stating that my work is wrong and I should throw the entire thing out and start over. When I ask what changes would improve the work, he usually doesn't give me a usable explanation. When that happens, I often end up re-doing and re-submitting the work several times before it gets approved, and so the work ends up taking a long time.

The phrase "don't blame your coworkers" doesn't mean "when your coworkers cause problems, keep their behavior a secret." It means that you should assume your coworkers have good reasons (or at least reasonable explanations) for doing the things they do, and describe what happened in neutral terms (like "he didn't give me an answer I was able to use") rather than critical terms (like "he refused to answer my question").

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  • 35
    One of the key responsibilities of a manager is to help remove roadblocks that prevent you from doing your work. The OP's co-worker is definitely acting like a roadblock. The OP absolutely needs to get the manager involved. And the only way to do that is to provide the details. Jun 27 at 13:55
  • 12
    I would definitely tell the boss that you did your best to address the issue directly with you coworker first before coming to them.
    – Kevin
    Jun 27 at 15:29
  • 8
    Since the OP is referring to sign-off and approval, it seems like everything will be well documented. Should be able to just show the boss history of rejected commits and feedback (or lack thereof) to make the case for coworker's obstruction. Jun 27 at 18:54
  • 1
    1000x times this. It is a critical skill to be able to describe the behaviors of others teams/individuals in neutral terms that are accurate but do not imply malice. This isn't just out of courtesy but to save yourself embarrassment in the event you have misunderstood things. Also, see Hanlon's razor.
    – John Wu
    Jun 28 at 17:33
  • 1
    One way to accomplish this sharing of information tactfully is rather than approach the conversation as "My co-worker is causing me problems' this is my excuse", approach it as "Can you help me build a better relationship with my co-worker? This would help me raise our productivity." It comes across with more humility and every boss appreciates having their opinion and advice respected. And she will have to ask you about the problem to address your request.
    – mightypile
    Jun 28 at 21:24
69

The purpose of this double check should be to have a clear and actionable path after one of two rejects the other's work. So, if you don't feel to have any, you need immediately to make your boss aware of this. This is not a "blaming" activity, but it serves you also to have a paper trail of what is happening. Start writing something like this after a rejection:

Hello Coworker

I've seen that my work has not been signed off. Do you mind to give me the points and issues I have to solve in order to go over the next chapter?

Cheers, Your Coworker

and assure to cc your boss. In this way, you force them to reply. If they don't (or do, but too vaguely), it will appear clear to your boss the reason why you can not advance.

Since you already tried, I suggest you to not engage further in any vis-a-vis (or oral) discussion with your coworker. Write everything. If you feel to reject your coworker's work, do it as much honestly as you can. You are an expert in your field and it's important for both you and the company to use that expertise. Try also to keep any emotion aside in your technical judgement.

Use retrospectives to highlight what is not working in your team. Again, you don't need to blame anyone, but expressing thoughts like: "I feel I need more detailed feedbacks" or "Maybe we should cut some discussions we have, since they tend to be not efficient" is safe and it's the real purpose of a retrospective. Of course, be sure to involve your boss in them.

EDIT after @bob's comment

What happens after Bad Coworker (BC) reply? It depends on what they write.

  1. They state that your work is not on par of your expertise, without offering any detail. This is not bad for you: it shows BC's feedback as useless and non-constructive (plus BC will be perceived as attacking the company hiring process) and you have to chance to steer the discussion on a technical level: you will show why your work is not bad, that the code is working, how you followed the requirements and so on. It's a big chance to show your value and constructiveness.
  2. Same as 1, but with providing details and rationale of BC judgement. You reply the same as 1, but you can learn something (if BC shows valid arguments) and brings again the discussion on paper and on a technical level.
  3. BC asks for a meeting. You can decline it if you don't feel comfortable, bringing some justification. If you accept, set the meeting again inviting your boss as optional. It's enough of a threat for BC to be at least prepared to not just say: Start over. After the meeting, write everything down, cc'ing your boss. If boss does not show up and BC doesn't offer anything constructive, you will write exactly that.
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    Definitely pursue paper trail – emails are great (you keep a copy) vs. something deletable like Slack messages.
    – Kaan
    Jun 26 at 16:16
  • 2
    And if the coworker comes to you in person to discuss what is to be done (perhaps even sending a short reply "Hey Wild parsley, let's talk about it at 10 o'clock"), be sure to keep the paper trail by sending a small summary email ("Hey coworker, here's a short summary of todays chat: the action points are X, Y, Z, did I forget anything? Cheers").
    – Neo
    Jun 26 at 23:51
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    A side note: when people send summary emails after an in-person meeting, it's something I absolutely love and commend. It's a good habit to have even when there's no friction between parties involved. Human memory is fallible, things can be misunderstood or misheard, etc.
    – Neo
    Jun 26 at 23:54
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    It would work if BC was just incompetent but this sounds much more like manipulation, bullying, and climbing over the back of a colleague than just incompetence. If so then BC is really good at this game and won’t be stopped by an action as mild as this. OP needs to escalate this to the boss in a way that doesn’t give BC any leverage because BC will use it.
    – bob
    Jun 27 at 2:30
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    @bob There won't be any plan B if BC has a bad opinion on OP and is believed by boss. I don't agree at all that just expressing: "The solution is easy for your expertise" will put OP on a bad light: on the contrary, it will spread a lot of bad light on BC. I would never write a review like that: it's completely useless and non constructive; plus it strongly attacks the hiring process (and likely the boss). In just one sentence, it shows BC cannot work with others.
    – nicola
    Jun 27 at 5:56
38

Best to nip this nonsense in the bud, you should have done so long ago.

I confess I have also signed off on his work when I did not feel comfortable doing so.

There's nothing professional about this. You're not only acting unprofessionally but setting yourself up to be a victim because you're intimidated.

I would explain to the manager just as you have done here, that there are communication issues with your colleague. If asked about the details then give them dispassionately. The manager is in charge of the sign off protocols etc,. so it's up to them to find a solution (I would have done this about 3 months ago).

You can then move forwards from that but don't get upset about anything, it's not your responsibility. And don't allow yourself to be intimidated.

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    This. Tell the boss what you told us. If you leave out details, the boss will tell you to work it out with bad coworker (BC), leaving BC to continue taking advantage of you at the expense of your career.
    – bob
    Jun 27 at 2:33
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    Hi, thanks! Not being intimidated in situations like this is a skill on its own, which I do not appear to have. In 15 years of experience, it has never before been one I needed to have. It may be worthwhile to work on this skill, but that will probably take time to develop and this situation needs to be resolved sooner than that. Do you have any suggestions on how to tell the boss that my work is suffering because I feel intimidated, without blaming the co-worker for "being intimidating"? Jun 27 at 6:31
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    No, you don't give half a vague reason, you just come out with the problem, otherwise the wrong problem gets solved.
    – Kilisi
    Jun 27 at 21:48
  • Agree with this, and feel that a more detailed paper trail capturing facts, as suggested by other answers, to back up what OP tells the boss, may be useful. Also I think it may not be a good idea to print out the Original Post and hand to the boss to read (if that was ever an idea - it may be seen as too vague and opinionated to be in tangible format that gets handed to whom knows who); if needed use it as notes but speak to the boss.
    – frIT
    Jun 28 at 7:51
11

To be honest, it seems like you have a pretty good understanding on how to approach it.

It would just recommend you stick to facts as much as you can, and certainly don't disparage your co-worker in any way.

Go there with specific code review numbers that show the kinds of things that are slowing you down.

And show a willingness from your side to change how you operate yourself to get better outcomes.

10

Here's one that hasn't been offered - explain all that you did above, but then at the end (or perhaps even periodically in the middle) flip the tables, throw in some benefit of doubt and make this about yourself.

For example:

He's not signing off on my work, but also isn't telling me why. I keep resubmitting it until he begrudgingly accepts it just to get it over with. I just don't understand what I'm doing wrong.

Here you finish with the assumption that it's something you've done wrong, instead of blaming him.

Or another example:

He always seems angry at me for some reason, I find it hard to ever talk to him. Code reviews are almost impossible. Is everything OK in his life? I don't want to pry, but perhaps there's something I should know to better communicate with him? I really don't want to offend him, even unwittingly. How can I change my behaviour to better suit him?

Here you're giving the benefit of the doubt. You assume that there's a legitimate reason for his behaviour which you don't know, and then ask how to change yourself to accommodate that.

Whatever is going on here, either the boss will know, or they will be just as surprised as you are and will start to dig deeper. The redirection at yourself will show your goodwill and willingness to adapt and accommodate whatever is necessary to ensure a smooth cooperation, rather than outright blaming your coworker. At the same time it will also clearly state what is currently not working and then your boss can assign the blame. Don't change that, even in further communications (although I know it can be hard not to slip when talking face to face).

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  • I agree with this 100%, but maybe don't start there as a pretty new employee. If, at the beginning of the meeting with the boss, it's readily evident that the boss is going to support the coworker, directing blame at oneself will simply add fuel to the fire. Ensure the boss is supportive, or at least neutral before going down this road.
    – FreeMan
    Jun 27 at 12:43
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    @FreeMan - if the boss starts supporting the old employee and piling up unreasonable expectations, then it's time to polish the CV again. This is a battle that cannot be won.
    – Vilx-
    Jun 27 at 12:56
  • I'm not sure I agree with asking if something is wrong in his life. Surely even if the manager does know about something, they can't just tell you? Just asking that seems kind of inappropriate to me (but that might just be a culture difference). The first suggestion is a lot better and is what I'd do in this situation.
    – Dnomyar96
    Jun 30 at 5:38
  • @Dnomyar96 - Might be a cultural difference. In my culture asking something like that would be... well, not typical, but also not considered rude or overly prying. Vague answers to such questions are completely acceptable and expected, and taken to mean "don't pry further". Or perhaps the manager doesn't know and then can also respond as such.
    – Vilx-
    Jun 30 at 7:57
3

I agree with Tanner that you are maybe too afraid to blame your coworker. There is a difference between blaming a coworker and protecting a coworker. Given how this coworker treats you, you should not feel the need to protect them. As long as you state facts without interpretation, possibly even providing a positive spin of it for your coworker you should absolutely not feel guilty. Now the question is how to do that.

You could frame it as a difference in communication styles: You seem to have a relatively high degree of Agreeableness, your coworker on the other hand a very low degree.

  • When you review something your default is to "agree" with suggestions for improvements while their default reaction is to "reject".
  • to avoid confrontation you do not insist on a more extensive explanation, and your coworker cares so little about agreement, that he does not care to expand his explanation until you come to such an agreement.

You both seem to be at very extreme ends of this spectrum - accepting some/rejecting some things should be the norm not 100% one or the other. You can tell your boss that due to this difference you are currently unproductive:

  • you are often stuck on issues because the reason for rejection was not made clear to you and you did not insist on it
  • your coworker is less productive because they do not benefit from reviews they ignore/interrupt

This unproductiveness can be solved in two ways:

  • (bandaid): pair you two up with other people closer to your communication style - this does not require as much effort from the manager but does not fundamentally solve the problem that you are probably too agreeable and your coworker too little.
  • help/teach you to find a more productive middle ground since you are at the opposite ends of this spectrum. This requires a time investment from the manager and extends the time you two are unproductive since you probabbly won't master this skill from day one. This also assumes that your manager is capable to deal with this situation.
2

In addition to other great answers telling you to tell your boss what you told us (don’t hide info to protect your colleague who is climbing over you to get to the top), you might want to take this opportunity to push back on the process too. Why are the non-experts in each domain getting the final say on work by the experts in that domain? It’s totally backwards. Yes everyone needs the input of others, but you should be reviewing the other person’s work in areas of your expertise and they should review your work in their areas of expertise with final authority, not the way it is currently. This is just crazy.

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    Perhaps when the working relationship between the coworkers isn't broken, having the domain expert explain their changes in sufficient detail to the non-expert for the non-expert to approve the review is helping to share the expert knowledge and improve the bus-factor... that of course assumes co-workers who are working together to improve the delivered product rather than [whatever we assume is happening here]
    – Steve
    Jun 29 at 6:48
1

One possible solution is to have a small but formal design review before every implementation.

This way, you get a formally approved design before you implement your work. Then, after you finish implementing your work, your coworker can't force you to change your work against the formally approved design without his clearly explaining to you his reasons or logics.


For example, I am going to describe this process in terms of software development.

  1. Before every small iteration or sprint (Agile), you and your coworker should have a meeting to discuss, debate, agree, and sign off on the design. This design will be used to implement the code by you.
  2. You can invite the manager or some other experts to meeting to observe the behavior of both developers (you and other guy). At least, your manager should be there for the first few meetings.
  3. In the design review meeting, your design should clearly and briefly describe how you are going implement the code. For example, the new features will send messages from component A to B. The formats of the messages will be ABC. The protocol or the transmission mechanism will be XYZ. The data structures will be stack/queue/vector/list. The chosen algorithm will be this or that algorithm.
  4. If your coworker disagrees with or wants to improve your design, then he will have to clearly speak up in front of the manager, and explain the reasons. He will also need to clearly provide an alternative design or suggestions for improvement in this case as he is an expert in this domain.
  5. After the design review meeting, you will have an approved design that you, your coworker and possibly your manager agree on. Make sure that you keep the approved design either in a formal repository (if your company has one) or in your email for reference later. The approved design should be treated as a formal document regardless if it is a small document in size and shape.

After all that, you can start writing code with confidence.

The potential benefits of the design review meetings are:

  1. You can observe and learn about the coworker's preferred way of designing and writing code through the design reviews. (You don't have to try to read his mind with a crystal ball).
  2. You clearly document what you and your coworker agree on before you start writing code.
  3. After you finish writing code, your coworker can't randomly force you to change your approved design and code in a mysterious and unreasonable way. If he has a good reason to ask you to change the design and the code, then he will have to clearly state the reason to you. If he refuses to clearly state the reason he wants you to change the design or code, then you have the paper trail to show the manager.
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  • 2
    Once way to spin this is "Hey <coworker>, our code reviews tend to highlight a bunch of potential improvements after the dev work has already been done. I'd like to shift those discussions left so we can avoid having to do stuff twice - can we turn them into up-front design reviews instead of code reviews". This would (hopefully) be an easy sell to the boss as well if there's any pushback from the coworker.
    – mclayton
    Jun 27 at 10:16
  • But any process changes might be met with stiff resistance or outright rejection. Jun 28 at 15:00
1

I've been down this path myself. The key points here are

  1. Your coworker has no incentive to approve your work or respond to your emails. Whatever criterion he has to remain employed is being met
  2. You're trying to be a nice coworker by approving his work
  3. Management doesn't understand

Management won't resolve the "subject matter" disputes. They literally can't. I wouldn't want my boss trying to resolve nit-picks over what i do. That's way outside his knowledge base (and it's why he pays me well, so he doesn't have to understand it). Moreover, the big trap to avoid here is making this look like nit-picking between two coworkers ("Bob doesn't like the way I do my job", "Well, Ralph doesn't like the way I do mine. I don't see the problem.").

What you need here is to focus solely on the problem you need management to solve. That problem is twofold

  • My co-worker doesn't respond to emails
  • My co-worker won't sign off on anything I do in a timely fashion

Avoid dealing with this via email

Another answer suggested emailing them as a first step. Normally, it is indeed a good suggestion, but your coworker has a poor track record of dealing with emails already. My experience here is that some people doesn't include email in their work flow. It could also be that they don't use email very well. Emailing your coworker and CC-ing your boss may not get you very far. Your coworker may not react well and your boss might ask the coworker about it, only to be told "I dealt with that already. They included you by mistake" (proving this type of statement to be a lie is surprisingly difficult).

Documentation

Start a spreadsheet. Go back through your emails to your coworker and start writing down when he responds. If the response isn't timely (let's say 2 days, for example), color that response yellow. If there's no response, put N/A and color it red.

Next, start a separate table(tab) and document your projects. Note the project name, your completion date, and any rejections. Note any accepts in a different color (rejections in red, accepts in blue).

What this does is it helps to establish a pattern. Specifically, your TL;DR complaint to management is my coworker is hindering my ability to work. That is something management can deal with. Remember, you have it documented. This is not merely a "blame game" anymore. Management should look at that and step in (if they don't, it's a good time to start looking for other employment).

The path to resolution here can be messy. The coworker will undoubtedly be upset, and he wasn't very helpful before this so expect things to be worse in the short-term. In one instance management had to personally slow-walk things through between two coworkers on what should have been normal communications. Either management and/or your coworker will get tired and walk away from having to do it (i.e. termination or resigning), or it becomes a new normal that those two parties tolerate. Either way, you now can get your work done because there's a procedure to deal with them.

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The Feeling Good podcast episodes 14 and 15 on "The Five Secrets of Effective Communication" might help you with some ideas on connecting with him. The approach involves things like:

  • Frame your thinking so that you aren't trying to win, or overpower him, or force him to do things the way you want, or even force him to meet you halfway.
  • Assume he has reasons which make sense to him, and that if he's angry with you he has valid reasons to be angry not stupid reasons. If he's feeling burdened by you, then you are being a burden.
  • Find things about him that you genuinely do admire, flattery with truth behind it. His expertise, or long experience, or high standards, or anything honest and not lies for manipulation.

Then talk to him, not trying to manipulate or change his behaviour, but trying to get him to tell you from his side. Being respectful, flattering (honestly so), humble, and meeting him on his side not in the middle will make it easier for him to talk and harder for him to dismiss you.

If he's been there years and has expertise he might feel unappreciated, or insulted and disrespected to have to submit his code to a newcomer, or he might think your area of expertise is less important than his and that you think too highly of yourself putting yourself on his level.

Or completely differently, it might be that he feels that he has had too much work and been asking for help for a long time, and now someone else joins and just gives him more work to do instead of taking work away. Or worrying that you're trying to learn just enough of his skills to replace him. Or any number of feelings, feelings which won't go away just because the boss demands he behave differently or because he's arm-twisted into cooperating.

Here, from your question:

He seems to assume what I was going to say, which is often something ridiculous, and then argues against what he thought I would say - sometimes with anger and sometimes laughing at the ridiculousness. My work gets stuck in arguments for days or weeks

This is him looking down on you and you looking down on him and trying to win. As you see, it isn't working. Why does he imagine you saying something ridiculous? Imagine for a moment, trying to walk in his shoes, that you have a coworker you admire and respect. When you wonder what they think about an issue, you predict it will be insightful and wise. By comparison if you have a coworker Bozo who has no clue, when you try to guess what Bozo will say about a topic you imagine it will be something ridiculous that shows their total ignorance about it. So if he puts ridiculous words in your mouth, he thinks you are Bozo. Now imagine you speak your expertise to Bozo and Bozo argues back - frustrating! You argue because you know you are right. Now imagine you have to submit your work to Bozo for review. Sometimes Bozo approves work you know is shoddy(!). Don't they notice? Have they no spine? You lose more respect for them. And on top of your work, you're being asked to teach Bozo how to do their job by editing and reviewing their code.

You don't see the situation the same way, but if you did, wouldn't it make sense why it's annoying? Why he's angry? And wouldn't it be a little bit better if you told Bozo his position was ridiculous and they agreed? And was contrite, and recognised your expertise, and didn't argue, and communicated that they respect you?

How embarassing to find out that you are Bozo, right? Nobody is or isn't, it's like relativity, people have different frames of reference and see things differently. How embarassing to find out that he thinks you are Bozo? Not so embarassing - you can already tell he thinks that from his behaviour, after all. So agree that you are Bozo and then he'll see that you are starting to "see sense". Agree with his ridiculous positions for you, and he will see that you are "starting to listen" and take him seriously and now he can stop arguing so hard. Agree that you need his reviews more than he needs yours and you'll never be on his level, and he'll start to see that maybe you have more sense than a horse, and all hope isn't lost.

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