I have worked with a more junior coworker for some time and recently there has been both degradation in the quality of communication between he and me (curt answers, rude interruptions) and uptick in tension (he will do what I ask, but won't acknowledge my request and won't acknowledge his own completion).

I tried to get this coworker to open up to talk about what was going on so I could do my part to make the situation better. All I've gotten is denial that anything is wrong.

What are some established approaches to handle this kind of situation? Personal experiences are also appreciated.

  • 6
    What's your job role? If you're not his team lead or manager, definitely the first thing you should be doing is discussing the issue with his team lead and/or manager. Commented May 9 at 10:07
  • 2
    @PhilipKendall For now, I'm only his project lead. That's a reasonable approach. Thanks.
    – yurnero
    Commented May 9 at 10:22
  • 1
    (Moved to an answer, I'll delete my comments in a bit) Commented May 9 at 11:04

5 Answers 5


Maybe they're right, and nothing is wrong at work; they're just hitting life complications.

Try to let style stuff go by and focus on content. Look for alternative ways to keep each other informed, such as a ticketing system or quick scrum-style check-ins (here's what I've finished, here's what I'm working on, here's what I need) that only need minimal attention/interaction.

If that doesn't succeed, then yes, get management involved CONSTRUCTIVELY. "It would help if I could get a bit more feedback from Fred, so I know when to expect things and where I can help. Could you nudge her about that, please?" Don't create more contention where there may not be any in the first place; focus on what gets the job done.

  • 4
    Right, I'm thinking that the cause could be external to work. It reminds me of the incident that Gerald M. Weinberg told about in "Becoming A Technical Leader", where a coworker wasn't engaged in important employer-sponsored training. It turned out (spoiler alert) his wife had been diagnosed with untreatable cancer. The solution was to offer him help with the situation and get him the training later on. Commented May 10 at 1:33

Bring it up to your supervisor? Sure. But do this first:

  1. Document a few specific instances where communication from your coworker was inappropriate, rude, insufficiently clear, etc. Document dates, topic or issue that was the focus of communication, and specific response (try to quote exactly, if possible). If you do not have such documentation for past interactions, then start a private (!) journal where you document specific instances moving forward for the next week or two.

  2. Review the documented history of interactions for patterns of behavior. Look for what you did or said prior to that that could have prompted such responses. In other words, look for behavioral or verbal 'triggers' that could produce the responses you consider inappropriate. This might give you some insight into the why of what's happening. If some patterns surface and you can isolate the triggers, see if minimizing these triggers might help. Alternatively, if no clear patterns emerge that point to causes in terms of your conduct, then at least you can rule that out (which is still useful information for you).

  3. Discuss with your supervisor, citing specific examples that you consider problematic (dates, exact quotes, context). Mention how this negatively impacts your ability to coordinate work with this colleague and how it objectively results in miscommunication, reduced quality of work or lengthier timeframes for task completion, and any other impacts on work environment and performance.

The steps proposed above should help you put approach this situation in a more objective, concrete manner. Without this, it is your word against his word, and that's a harder case to prove for yourself as well as to act on for your manager.

There could be a variety of issues at play here that would be impossible for anyone commenting here to figure out as it amounts to guesswork. Without getting into the reasons, these suggestions should help. Good luck!

  • 1
    @blankip: It depends on what is documented. If it's a bunch of instances of "they were not very nice to me," yeah, it's pretty useless. If it's a bunch of instances of "they didn't tell me about [thing] and it delayed my work on [whatever]," that's much more likely to be of interest to management. But ideally, you'd discuss this with management contemporaneously and not after the fact (so that it sounds less like making excuses and more like trying to get the [whatever] project back on track).
    – Kevin
    Commented May 11 at 7:50
  • 1
    @blankip: Documenting is the first step towards filing an incident with HR. If you have multiple reports who feel the need to document things, I would be very concerned by that fact alone. (As for whether it is "gospel" - if they wrote down specific dates, times, and witnesses, and you did not, then their version of events is automatically more plausible than yours.)
    – Kevin
    Commented May 11 at 22:36
  • @Kevin - no it is not more plausible at all. I am not sure where you are based out of but if someone writes down vague things like the OP stated I certainly would not believe their sentiment because it was written. I would be like why does this person have so much free time to do all of this?
    – blankip
    Commented May 12 at 3:03

To paraphrase:

  • You have noticed some issues with a coworker
  • You have done the right thing and attempted to resolve these issues between the two of you in an informal manner
  • That hasn't worked

At this point, your only real option is to make this more formal - i.e. by bringing the issue up with your coworker's manager / team lead (whichever you judge to be more appropriate in your company). As always, the more specific examples you can bring, the better as that will stop it becoming a "he said, she said" debate.


You asked for personal experiences.

TL;DR - Head on with nuance

I have a small business with about 25 employees, most remote. We do work for much larger companies. Our team members are a mix of people that used to work for large companies and people that have either been at small companies or only here.

I have dealt with this type of thing multiple times over the years. Many times it is outside (home) concerns leaking into the workplace and being projected onto other targets. A simple nudge, like you've already should fix the problem. Other times, a sitdown and reminder of what is and is not acceptable must happen.

This is the logic that has worked for me. It is detailed because I learned the hard way over the years. But, I will point out that am a random internet person.

The key thing about your question is the time aspect. If it was a just a short term (week or two) issue, IMO, I would ride it out before acting.

Have specific examples of the degraded behavior ready.

Not on a Friday (assuming that you both have the weekend off), ask the person for "few minutes of their time". Do it when they are already engaged in another activity. For example: just when they are coming back from lunch.

Explaining what the issue is without using "You" or "Me" is important. The issue is the communication not the people. Never is it "You make me feel . . . ", because someone can't make someone else feel anyone. Explain what about the communication methods isn't acceptable.

The points that you don't consider acceptable:

curt answers, rude interruptions

How to get either to being or back to "Professional" is the point.

Quickly acknowlege any previous conversations about this topic and move on. Don't waste a second on the previous conversations. They didn't get results.

Now the hard part. State the expecations, but without an "Or Else". This isn't a threat. Give them way out with dignity, something like "I can understand that xyz may be on your mind, but this is important to have a smooth operation".

The reason for not the day before a weekend, vacation, or holiday is the human mind likes to spiral to worst case scenarios. It is a lot easier to lose someone that is acting out than to correct them. The next day, face-to-face, check in with them and ask your version of "are we good?". If they hedge, ask them what's up and get them talking.

  • Yes, definitely don't go over the past. And, it is hard for someone to stay rude during repeated interactions. Just don't add any more stress. Commented May 10 at 11:16

You have two choices, although it appears you have 4:

  1. you can discuss each incident as it occurs, with your coworker
  2. you can discuss each incident as it occurs, an authority such as your boss
  3. you can mention the overall pattern to your coworker
  4. you can mention the overall pattern to an authority


The coworker interrupts you. #1 would be "please don't interrupt me, I'd like to finish what I was saying" or "please don't interrupt, I'm in another conversation right now, I'll let you know when I'm free." #2 would be getting up from what you're doing and going to the boss to say "Bobby just interrupted me!".

You ask the coworker to do a task and they don't acknowledge. #1 is "pardon me, Bobby, I need to know that task is on your list. Are you taking it on?" or more shortly "so you're doing that, right?". #2 is again going straight to authority to report "I asked Bobby to X and he didn't say anything!"

Clearly #2 is an over-reaction and not a viable option.

You've tried #3 and it didn't work. That doesn't surprise me at all. People whose behaviour has changed sometimes don't think it has, or don't want it to so they deny it, or don't want to talk about it to you so they deny it.

So, you can keep doing #1 for a while. Every time you don't like the way they're communicating, you tell them. You don't mention patterns (that's the 3rd time I've had to ask you) or motivations (I think it's obvious you're angry at me) just behaviours. Ideally in the form of "please don't X" or "please X" rather than "you just Y'd".

It's entirely possible your coworker isn't angry at you at all, but at the job or the workplace, or is going through something personal that limits the energy they have for the usual niceties. Should that be the case, they have no obligation to tell you about their marital woes or how the infertility treatments have used up all their vacation savings without success, or whatever.

After a time of politely asking for what you want (longer answers, acknowledgements, notifications) and not getting it, if it's affecting your ability to work then go to some authority to discuss it. This holds even if the only effect is to consistently annoy you, and make you take an extra minute or two to find things out yourself. You have the right to a pleasant workplace. When you go, be clear on what your issue is (I don't want to be treated like that, perhaps) but let the authority decide what to do about it. Be prepared to be told that the colleague needs some slack and to stop taking it personally. It's not the most likely outcome, just one you need to consider in advance.

You must log in to answer this question.

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