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I am working in a research team that consists of researchers and a team lead. The team lead asked me with another teammate to experiment with several methodologies to get good results on a data. When we presented the results, we found that my teammate was getting good results compared to my results. Thus, the team lead asked me to have a meeting with the teammate to understand why my results are not good.

During the meeting with my teammate, I found that he has an issue with the way he is producing his results; he was working in a way that is biased and incorrect (he wants to get good results in anyway, and I don't know if it was intentional). I mentioned the issue to him and he understood it.

Later on, we had a meeting with the team lead again to discuss the results. He asked my teammate why there were differences in the results, and my teammate answered with a different reason. So he answered with something else to hide that he had an issue.

I didn't say anything because I felt that this will make our meeting weird and make him looks like a liar (which is actually the case). My team lead asked us to work more on the results to align them following the "wrong" reason that my teammate responded with.

I didn't like what happened and I was thinking to report that to my team lead, but I didn't want him to think that I am snitching. Also, I don't want him to talk to my teammate and then our working environment will be "weird".

What do you suggest me to do?

p.s. I noticed something in my teammate's behavior that he always acts as if he is sure of everything (in public meetings), but when I have private meetings with him, I find many issues in his work. Because of that, I thought that what he was doing is intentional to make him look good.

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    Can you please clarify if there is any actual bad outcome here. Does your colleague continue to insist these results are accurate to your boss? Nov 22, 2022 at 10:32
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    No matter what you do, the "atmosphere at work" is already destroyed. The question is whether or not you want to continue to work in a poisoned atmosphere or work to "clear the air?"
    – David R
    Nov 22, 2022 at 15:37
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    I have deleted several comments. Not because they were bad advice, but because advice goes into the Answer. Please do not answer in comments. If you think your advice was good enough to be made into an answer, please do.
    – nvoigt
    Nov 23, 2022 at 6:31
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    These answers are all belonging on IPS. Either tell us what the issue is and what's unethical about it, or migrate this there because all you want is advice on how to speak. If you should report them depends on whether or not I find it unethical, which is unlikely; this sounds like incompetence. That I would drop like a hot rock on their face. Practice sidelong glances at your manager that say, this is what I have to deal with.
    – Mazura
    Nov 24, 2022 at 1:30
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    @Mazura Can't we just accept that the OP finds it unethical according to whatever standard they are using, and provide an answer based on that. The question is not asking if the behaviour is unethical or not. Nov 24, 2022 at 3:29

7 Answers 7

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I'm going to answer this question, with another question:

Imagine you are not doing research data, but you are doing Engineering and building a Bridge. You notice mistakes, but decide you don't want to be a snitch and you don't want your work environment to be weird.

Then the bridge collapses and people die.

Is it worth it?

You might counter that it's 'just' research (although we don't know the field and whether that research is likely to be consequential or not) - but I would counter with, it doesn't matter. You have a personal and ethical obligation to advocate for the Truth.

Even if it means that in the short-term it might suck a little bit.

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    This analogy seems to assume the mistake won't be fixed. To me, it sounds like the mistake is going to be fixed but the "lie" was about the reason the mistake occurred. To be clear, are you advising the OP expose that his teammate was lying about the reason in order to advocate the Truth, even if the mistake is fixed?
    – ZLK
    Nov 22, 2022 at 4:27
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    I see nothing in the OPs question that says the issue was fixed. There's a difference between an honest mistake and intentional deception. Nov 22, 2022 at 4:31
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    Perhaps I'm reading it incorrectly, but it sounds to me like they had a meeting with the team leader, who then asked them to go fix the mistake. And what the OP is displeased with is that he perceives his teammate is lying about the reason the mistake occurred, not that the mistake itself is an ongoing issue.
    – ZLK
    Nov 22, 2022 at 4:34
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    I read it as: OP notices methodological issue in Co-Workers work, leading to fudged results (Fudged in that they conform to expectation but not using sound methodology), CoWorker accepts the critique and gives reason. Boss notices two datasets are different, Co Worker gives a different reason to Boss. OP is annoyed because he made CoWorker aware of issue and got a different explanation to what the Boss got. it's the fact that the Co Worker was pre-warned and then lied about it, rather than honestly fix a mistake. Nov 22, 2022 at 5:45
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    I read it the way @kaya3 did.
    – Barmar
    Nov 22, 2022 at 14:31
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keshlam's (now deleted) comment suggests a good approach that you can take in your meetings. Rather than coming out and saying your teammate is lying, instead say you're not clear on why the problem is reason T (what your teammate gave in the meeting) and ask if and how reason Y (your reason you discussed privately with your teammate) relates to this. That leaves it to him to explain himself to your and your team lead's satisfaction.

You'll want to prepare well for your next meeting with your teammate and the team lead so that you have further "questions" that illuminate problems with explanation T when he gives justifications for why he is correct about that. You can use both any justifications he gave at the last meeting with the team leader and also (very gently) press this approach during your next meeting between just you and your teammate to elicit further justifications that he might use that you need to address with questions.

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It may be too late now, but how I would have handled it during the meeting with the team lead would be to say something like "I thought you said that the reason was X, did I misunderstand?". Couching it this way doesn't directly accuse the coworker of lying, but it makes the team lead aware of the alternate explanation, and puts him on the spot to explain the discrepancy.

Now that the meeting is over, I don't think you have any choice other than to tell the team lead that he gave a different explanation during your private meeting and the meeting with the lead. Then it's his job to confront the coworker and reconcile this.

Yes, your coworker may resent you for telling on him, but if that's what it takes to resolve the technical problem, so be it. You already have a weird relationship, because you resent him for throwing you under the bus.

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  • Assuming it was a 3 person meeting, yes, I agree completely. If it were in front of a larger group, I'd consider being more diplomatic. It's not always easy to speak your mind like this, but I for one very much value environments where this is the norm. It's something I've always demanded of teams I've led or been a part of.
    – Eric Hirst
    Nov 22, 2022 at 18:01
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    That's what I assumed was meant by "a meeting with the team lead".
    – Barmar
    Nov 22, 2022 at 18:04
  • This only works if "reason X" is some ordinary innocent mistake. But OP's vague description of the issue and the way the coworker tries to hide it suggest it might be a more severe issue, like "I didn't like all the outliers, so I resampled them over and over until they all fell in line" (or data dredging/p-hacking, etc.). Voicing that in front of the group leader would be a direct attack on the coworker's integrity (or lack thereof, as the case may be).
    – TooTea
    Nov 23, 2022 at 16:00
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    @TooTea It's hard to avoid some form of that, since the coworker is actually acting without integrity. So the best you can do is try to soften it by the way you word it. Unless you do what the OP did, which is let it slide, with the result that the team lead sees the OP as the problem.
    – Barmar
    Nov 23, 2022 at 16:16
  • Compare "Why did you tell me X" to "He's lying to you! He told me X."
    – Barmar
    Nov 23, 2022 at 16:21
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I'm not going to tell him. You are.

Sorry but "just snitch" avoids the entire conundrum. It will destroy the environment at work, your relationship with your colleague, the trust that let you understand this problem in the first place, your reputation, and people may die.

Snitching doesn't keep the "bridge" from collapsing. Snitching inspires people to hide the issue. Giving people the freedom to correct issues openly does. An environment where this problem is corrected because the one who made it fessed up is safer than one where they simply got caught.

Which makes me suspect the lead already understands what's happening and is just watching what you guys will do about it. The longer it takes to resolve this the worse it is for both of you.

Help your colleague find a way to explain what is really happening. It's not the end of the world if they save face. Don't take any unjustified blame but don't create more than needs to exist. Make it into something to learn from.

I've worked on life critical projects. Having an open atmosphere is a must. Judge the work. Not the people. Check your ego at the door.

The first 3 way meeting may be over. But nothing says it will be the last one.

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    Good communication is key and you should give them every opportunity to report the failing themselves but if they won't, then reporting up is the only option.
    – Basic
    Nov 24, 2022 at 1:14
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I find it is almost always best to handle the situation at the lowest level possible. As such, I would speak directly to your coworker first. Explain that you are not comfortable moving forward under the present circumstances and ask how he would like to present your boss the correct information together. Do not, under any circumstances, agree to him presenting to your boss alone.

If he refuses, you may (if you're comfortable with it) give him the ultimatum of doing it together or you doing it on your own. If he still refuses, or if you don't feel comfortable, then you have to go to your boss directly.

You can start off by expressing the you feel awkward doing this but you don't know what else to do. Then, you need to tell the complete truth, including the fact that you and your teammate knew about this before your last meeting. That had agreed to tell them the correct information but your coworker had not done so and you were caught off guard and didn't know how to react in the moment. And include that you tried to talk to your coworker about coming forward but he refused.

You've tried your best to be a good co-worker and not a "snitch" but this is rapidly approaching cause for termination (if it's not already there)

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Talk to team mate and tell him to come forward and pronounce he discovered a flaw in his method and the fixed results are unfortunately not so good - otherwise you will have too.

If you do it he will resent you. If you do not, you will resent him.

Eventually it comes out, resentment abounds.

Deal with it fast: buddy you have to fix that calc its wrong, or I have to fix it.

Time may heal if you continue to treat him professional after.

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    There doesn't necessarily be resentment. OP's coworker just needs to realize it's the method that is flawed, not him or her. Mistakes do happen, no big deal, as long as they're fixed once discovered. Yes, sometimes it means a year of work goes down the drain, but that's just the way it is. The whole concept of "saving face" has no place at all in engineering or research; the sooner people accept that, the better for them and everyone else.
    – TooTea
    Nov 23, 2022 at 16:09
  • @TooTea "The whole concept of "saving face" has no place at all in engineering or research" I sort of disagree. Unfortunately, we human beings are imperfect machines. Even if we individually can rise above the pettiness of hubris, that doesn't mean our coworkers will. So we will always have to manage human emotions to some extent. Nov 24, 2022 at 1:00
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You talked to your coworker and know how he is getting the "good" results by biasing the data or inputs or whatever. But you do not want to snitch, or point him out.

In that case you can point those things out by reconfirming the requirements.

I've kept my inputs pure, [abc] and that gave me results [x]. Is that correct? Or can I apply a filter to the inputs to get [bc] which can get me results closer to [y].

Am I allowed to add tweaks to the code or process so the results get closer to [y] or are those code/processes hardwired and must be used as is. How much leeway or tweaking can I do.

Without snitching you've opened the question, and whether your coworker did those things or not when you said you did it the way you thought the requirements are. Who knows maybe you were wrong.

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