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I've been working at my current company for several years now and there's always been an impedance mismatch between me and my technical lead. Some of our communication problems include:

  1. Their questions ramble into statements. "What's the difference between A and B? In my mind, I think X about A and Y about B...". Done often, I think this subtly shifts discussions into debates I can't simply answer the question, I now have to challenge his unarticulated faulty assumptions first. It feels like I'm not being allowed to answer the question itself.
  2. Their questions ramble into...nothing. They'll preface with "Can I ask a quick question?", then make a couple of statements before just kind of...stopping. Asking around, nobody understood the question.
  3. I use the common baselining tactic of asking them to repeat my idea back to me to make sure we're on the same page, only to be told "I don't actually understand your idea!" (Why make statements about the pros and cons up in #1 if you can't articulate the actual point?)
  4. When I ask questions following an explanation, "Does X mean Y?", I get an immediate yes followed by another, different, explanation. Very often it turns out X does not in fact mean Y, and the "yes" comes off as more an acknowledgement of my existence (since understanding the question would take vastly more time and likely some back-and-forth). It does not feel like he took the time to set his idea aside so he could understand mine.
  5. Just straight up being ignored. Trying to understand a problem, I'll say "I think the key idea here is..." followed by no response and a return to the computer.
  6. Difficulty disengaging with the computer. When I ask a question, they'll stay engrossed with what's on the monitor. I frequently ask "Can you put the computer away so I can talk to you?".

among others. I understand many of these things are couched in feelings/perception which make them difficult to articulate. If I do point them out (diplomatically), then a lot of defense mechanisms come up like "I'm just asking questions! I'm just trying to understand!".

I'm certain that's true -- understanding is at the core of these actions and there's nothing malevolent -- but it lacks a certain empathy, an acknowledgment that they might have to put their thoughts aside for a moment to play inside someone else's head before communicating that back to them. Moreover, I still feel some of these actions are straight up rude or passive aggressive (ignoring me or not giving questions sufficient space to let me answer them). Are there any good ways to move this forward/improve the situation? I find myself spending lots of time re/explaining concepts to this individual that other team members seem to understand.

Ultimately, I want to encourage this person to engage with me as more of a mentor by understanding my ideas and helping me to direct and refine them.

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  • Though I agree with @keshlam that describing what a useful outcome looks like would help, I would respectively disagree with them on this being a rant. One striking thing is that you seem to be talking solely about verbal communication. Since this is about design discussion, can you clarify if written design sketches or diagrams are ever used in your team? What about structured design discussions in the context of a code or design review?
    – Adam Burke
    Jan 12, 2023 at 5:15
  • Correction accepted... What would constitute "moving forward productively" for you? Have you taken this to your manager, which would be the normal way to resolve a personality clash that you can't deal with in your own? Are you demanding more attention, from the wrong person, than you should? (Sounds like they think so...)
    – keshlam
    Jan 12, 2023 at 5:24
  • Do you both speak the same official language equally well ? Is language the barrier here ? Jan 12, 2023 at 5:58
  • Have you raised this with your manager? Jan 12, 2023 at 6:40
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    @AdamBurke Yes, design documents are a large part of our company's process. That was actually the catalyst for this becoming a 'problem'; we are encouraged to read and comment on the documents before meetings and I had sent a document a week prior to a review. I found myself repeatedly describing/defining things in the document, suggesting it hadn't been read.
    – rayhem
    Jan 12, 2023 at 11:05

2 Answers 2

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People have different ways of effective communication. If you have persistent issues with one method then use another.

Personally I would long have started communicating in writing by email or messager. I know plenty of people who are incoherent verbally, but can express themselves fine in writing at their own pace.

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  • 100% this. I communicate in person/on the phone very poorly in comparison to my abilities via text. A lot of it has to do with ADHD and my mind frequently wandering off or getting ahead of me and derailing my train of thought.
    – user83977
    Jan 12, 2023 at 16:22
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I'm not sure if this will constitute an answer, but this is too long to put in a comment.

When I first read the points of difference between your communication styles - the way you phrased each issue is the way I would frame a conversation between yourself and a subordinate.

Yet, on re-reading, I noticed that the issue is between you and your technical lead. I don't know if this means they are your direct manager, but suffice to say they have some form of seniority.

I don't know whether this is conscious or unconscious - but I feel that the first avenue to explore in this issue is to raise how you perceive yourself in relation to them.

Without intending any disrespect or to impugn your character - it sounds like you consider him to be beneath you - and that it's a hassle dealing with him, as opposed to you taking his direction as the technical lead.

In addition to that - the last line - you don't want to align yourself with their way of communicating, you think that they should make concessions for you and meet you in the middle. That in of itself wouldn't be an issue - but given the rest of it - my 'answer' (if you can call it this) - is that part of your issue is one of attitude.

That all said, I will add something - I did, at one point, have to deal with a 'senior dev' who likewise waffled on with questions, talked himself round on an issue, expressing every possibility as his opinion and contradicting himself. In my case, I was fortunate because due to company structure, he wasn't in my management chain and so he had no formal (or otherwise) authority over me. Due to other factors (namely I actually completed the work that needed to be done, whereas he just talked about completing the work...) the rest of the Management team tended to side with me. In which case, I became the de-facto 'technical lead' on the project that we were working on.

TL;DR - I think the bigger barrier here is less communication, but more attitude and perception and a little self-reflection as to how you see yourself in relation to your technical lead might help.

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    I think there are very much threads of this at work, but I think the cause and effect might be backwards. I mentioned in another comment feedback of the form "I don't understand", vs. a more actionable "I think you're trying to say X, but I don't understand how you get there from Y. Can you add more detail describing...". Receiving the former is less quantifiably actionable, and I think that has lead me to "underweight" this person's perspective (and likely position), especially when other team members "get it" and I can point to where it's explained.
    – rayhem
    Jan 12, 2023 at 11:21
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    I think I should also add I've talked to coworkers both within and external to my team to get a bearing on this. They have similarly mentioned communication difficulties, citing repeated questions about items explained both in text and verbally.
    – rayhem
    Jan 12, 2023 at 11:42

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