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I am communicating in non-english language, one not native to me. I have this super analytical guy in the team as a coworker and I keep noticing that when I say something, analyze a problem, or something around these lines, he repeats my analysis, clothes it with 1000 different words and more or less says the same.

He is also a native speaker in the language we use.

Siting from the side to a non-technical person it may actually seem as he is kind of analyzing the problem and even telling me how to challenge it. At the end I catch myself acknowledging what he is saying even though I analyzed and said it first.

It is a strange situation and I am actually starting to question my sanity if this is only in my head, but in general I have never had this kind of experience with another person in my 20 years career.

Can someone explain what could be this situation? It is kind of problematic, because we are surrounded by older, non-technical people and this may be reflecting that I may seem incompetent. I am also the designated Tech lead of the project. Any suggestions on how to handle this situation?

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    After your coworker rephrases or re-explains your idea to non-tech people, do you feel that non-tech people understand your idea better ? Mar 3 at 4:44
  • Or do you feel that without your coworker's repeating and rephrasing your idea, non-tech people already fully understand your idea ? Mar 3 at 4:45
  • Does your colleague say anything along the lines of “As my colleague here says…” or “To explain that a bit…” or anything else to acknowledge that they're expanding on what you said?  Or might that be clear to listeners anyway?  (And if not, would having them say so help matters?)
    – gidds
    Mar 3 at 9:12
  • No he does not says «as my coworker says» and he is talking to me, not to the non technical people.
    – Pesho
    Mar 3 at 14:02
  • I get the feeling that the OP is old-school, in the "not-desired" meaning of the old-school, where he expects the people around him to do what he says without his having to interact "too much" with them. He's basically asking the "thousand words" guy to guess at what he said, and the "thousand words" guy is not going to play the game of "guess and lose". And saying "thousand words" is a subtle jab at demeaning a person who's obviously not getting the full picture, because the OP isn't offering it.
    – Edwin Buck
    Mar 3 at 16:24

5 Answers 5

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In many cases, this is what is called communication.

Saying something is words that leave your mouth. There is no way to know if anyone received the information you sent. There is even less ability to know if they understood what you wanted them to understand.

To show that you are understood, a person should repeat enough of what you said, in their own words, to you. You can then decide if they understand what you wanted, or if they misunderstand some of it (or all of it). Using this pattern is called "communication" and is different than you saying something. It is active acknowledgement that you both understand each other, which is more work than you saying something that might not be understood.

The "1000 more words" is something you need to be very careful expressing. It shows that you think the other person is using too many words. That's the wrong way to look at it. Instead it means you are communicating in ways that don't provide enough detail. He's trying to add in the missing details you didn't provide, so he can understand exactly what you are not fully expressing. Use a few more words, and use them carefully, and you will find that the communication cycle is faster as he doesn't have to do all the work to figure out what you half-said.

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    +1. I was about to write this answer. Fantastic analysis, I also see it this way. Many communication improvement courses actually charge you to teach this technique. This is also known as paraphrasing. Mar 3 at 9:59
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we are surrounded by older, non-technical people and this may be reflecting that I may seem incompetent

This is obviously the root of the concern.

I find it hard to believe that when you say something, and your staffer immediately rephrases what you've just said, that others would naturally consider him to be the originator of the idea, or that they would immediately consider you to be technically incompetent.

Even if he is describing the idea better than you are, that may be because he is indeed just as intelligent and technically competent a person as you are, and it may be because he has a native command of the language which you don't.

If your language skills are somewhat poorer than others on the team who speak a language natively, then inevitably that might be taken into account in perceptions of your competence in leading this particular team, but the only solution would be either to improve your skills in this language, or else seek a role which uses the language(s) you already know to a higher standard.

In technical jobs, it is rare that someone who is a poor communicator can be technically effective, unless they are only assisting a principal who is both the real communicator and the real technical expert (and therefore capable of overseeing the assistant's activity, without the assistant having to put too many things into words). So anybody acting as a principal in a technical function and needing to liaise with non-technical colleagues, will always need the best language skills.

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  • Well believe me this project does not need too much communication 😃 The guy in question was the previous tech lead and he did not manage to deliver this project in 2 years. I am delivered it in six months. Just this copycat aproach to his communication with me is strange to me.
    – Pesho
    Mar 3 at 14:09
  • The project is 90% nonfunctional requirements 10% functional.
    – Pesho
    Mar 3 at 14:11
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    @Pesho, "the guy ... was the previous tech lead and he did not manage to deliver this project in 2 years.". Well that's crucial information isn't it. So he has experience of leading this team and this project, having been its former leader. Whether that is the origin of conflict between you two, or whether he is still trying to salvage his reputation with superiors, it's probably just something you are going to have to live with. If you've successfully recovered and delivered a project already, then let your record speak for itself.
    – Steve
    Mar 3 at 14:37
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Your colleague might simply try to rephrase what you said in a way that is easier to grasp for the non-tech people by using words and analogies from that language they think is more clear.

In general, when communicating to people outside the team it is in most places considered professional to represent your plans as a team, i.e. it should not matter who designed what pieces. Inside the team, management should know anyway which role everyone fills in and what people contribute.

However, if you're unsure you can try to clarify with your manager or one of the non-technical colleagues whether the rephrasing your colleague adds are helpful to them or not. If not, you could either directly ask them to reduce their summary commentary to avoid wasting time (but phrase it polite!) or indicate to your manager that they might want to provide that feedback to your colleague when they talk (e.g. in a feedback one-to-one meeting, in case you have such meetings in your team).

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    "wasting" 60 minutes in detailing the idea or requirement, vs actually wasting 60 hours in re-work. Any day, I'll pick the former. Mar 3 at 10:00
  • As far as I can tell from the question and comments, the other person isn't rephrasing for other people, they are rephrasing for the OP, probably to establish if they understood OP correctly or not. Mar 4 at 16:04
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Not having a specific example or context, this could simply be an awkward attempt at "active listening" -- playing back their understanding to make sure they have it right. Or, as @FrankHopkins said, to make sure others understand the implications; what's obviously implied to a skilled practitioner may not be so obvious to folks who don't have these specific skills.

So he may honestly be trying to work with you, not against you; this may be a matter of perception and style rather than intent or content.

Or it may not. Insufficient data. Assuming good will, however, gives you a better basis for saying "Hey, I presume you're trying to help, but this is getting on my nerves a bit; can we find a better way to do it?"

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What is to distinguish here is the motive of your colleague.

  • Is the person behaving benevolent or malevolent?
    • Benevolence: Are you being supported, contributing and visible to the team?
    • Malevolence: Are you used and manipulated (cf. gaslighting)? Is the team mistaking the other person as the source of your ideas and work?
    • Find out the motive of your colleague or question the motive with your superiors.
  • Are your ideas plagiarised?
    • Talk to the persons that benefit of your work and ideas and ask them if they understand that the source of the ideas and work is you.
    • Clarify that although that colleague is paraphrasing you, you are the source of the ideas and knowledge.
    • Seek for support in communication with your superiors.

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