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As a technical project lead, I received a problem report from a Colleague marked as "Critical". Though I could have delegated that to another colleague on a Monday, I put some effort on a Friday late afternoon in solving it. Though I am not required to give a detailed explanation for the causes of the Problem, I gave an elaborated reply with detailed explanation of what causes the Problem, how it could be solved etc.(also with some veiled criticism to some other team whose actions have caused this issue in the first place).

On next Monday morning, I happened to see this colleague and I asked her whether my reply helped her and the problem was solved. She told me that she has not yet seen my email as she left Friday earlier. I found it weird as I already saw that the Problem was rectified based on my input around half an hour after my reply on Friday itself.

I checked the system history and found that she has indeed taken certain actions on Friday itself just few minutes after my reply - so obviously she was being dishonest. I confronted her through chat about this and she evaded by writing something like "yeah i may have forgotten, you know weekend" kind of thing. As the Problem was critical and she has been waiting for it, I can see that she is lying.

But now my question is: I perform a managerial type function. From time to time when you come across dishonest people at the lower level, is it a better idea not to confront him/her as this would not bring anything except to make him/her feel stupid?

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Based on the comment I received, I try to clarify and summarize my question:

  1. should I confront a colleague who is not a subordinate? (After all, they have their own boss and is it better to take the issue to their boss?)
  2. is it the job of managers to confront people who are being dishonest?

closed as unclear what you're asking by jmac, CMW, jcmeloni, Michael Grubey, IDrinkandIKnowThings Apr 8 '14 at 14:27

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    Hey zencv, and welcome to The Workplace! As-is, this is a bit unclear to me. You are asking several different questions: (1) should I confront the person? (2) would this be a good story to share in an interview? (3) is it the job of managers to confront people who are being dishonest? If you edit your question to focus on one of the three questions you're asking, you'll get much better answers. Thanks in advance! – jmac Apr 7 '14 at 9:16
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    It sounds as though the "lie" you refer to is that the colleague had done some work that they claimed not to have done. Their subsequent claim of "forgetfulness" sounds quite reasonable to me at first reading - why would they intentionally hide that they had done work? From first reading I feel as though either I am misunderstanding the problem, or the real problem is that you feel under-appreciated for having helped. Either way, it doesn't seem as though there is any great dishonesty involved - can you explain further? – Dan Puzey Apr 7 '14 at 11:47
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    Again though, as framed in the question this seems like forgetfulness rather than intentional lying. There's nothing that suggests, for example, that someone else has taken public credit for a piece of work or that the OP has missed some opportunity for lack of the credit. It seems to me that the person in question is forgetful, possibly inconsiderate, but I'd not assume anything vindictive from the description given. And certainly, as a manager, I think you should approach situations like this with a certain level of delicacy and open-mindedness. – Dan Puzey Apr 7 '14 at 11:57
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    Okay: some process has been missed by this person, that you feel has slighted you - that makes more sense. It still seems as though you are taking quite personally that could easily be an innocent moment of forgetfulness. (Maybe the person left in a rush and wasn't paying attention on the Friday - obviously I don't know your internal processes so I can't say). It doesn't seem as though this was a malicious act, but your reaction is certainly treating it as such. From your description so far, I would take it no further unless you find it's a repeated action. – Dan Puzey Apr 7 '14 at 12:06
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    What is going on here? This is ONE INDICENT. First you "found it weird" - fine. Then you just conclude "so obviously she was being dishonest". Then you confronted her sarcastically. Your sentence "I felt hurt and insulted and so I confronted her." sounds to me as if you responded to your own reaction more than to the facts. Is there any room for another interpretation than your being right? – Jan Doggen Apr 7 '14 at 13:37
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It seems you are treating this issue as a problem that needs solving. In management, nothing is black and white. There are only actions, and the results of those actions. More often than not, there is no ideal action or outcome. This is complicated by the fact you have incomplete information: you can only guess which action is best, and you will never know if you did the right thing.

There are a million possible reasons why your colleague lied to you. Maybe her husband just filed for divorce, and she has other things on her mind than thanking you for working late on a Friday afternoon. Some of these reasons are perfectly legitimate. You should therefore only take action/escalate if you know there is a real problem: a measurable business impact due to a structural negative attitude of your colleague.

Finally, I am sensing quite a bit of pride/arrogance from your post:

Though I am not required to give a detailed explanation [...]

[...] also with some veiled criticism [...]

[...] in a sarcastic way [...]

I felt hurt and insulted [..]

I am much more qualified and higher paid [...]

[...] a bit of anger towards her for not appreciating me [...]

Maybe you did a good thing by going above-and-beyond to solve her issue quickly. Maybe you sent a harsh criticism to another team that know these issues far better than you do. Maybe you are blowing this thing out of proportion due to a false sense of entitlement, and not being appreciated for working late on a Friday?

Self-knowledge is the beginning of all wisdom, and the end of most illusions. (Gerd de Ley, Flemish author)

  • thanks for the reply. I did not bring qualification/pay to disparage my colleague. The reason is inorder to ask this: are persons at a higher position paid also to overlook certain issues like this inorder to keep team harmony? May be the willingness to overlook these kind of issues are also part of an experienced manager's soft skills(?). As for the arrogance, I find it more arrogant to request for help posing it as urgent and once it is solved, trivializing it by saying that she cannot remember what happened – user18524 Apr 7 '14 at 12:10
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I think the best thing might be to take a pragmatic approach to the issue. I understand that it's no fun being lied to, or feeling that you're being lied to even if you're not, whichever the case may be. But set that part aside for now.

The questions to ask, from a practical point of view, are:

  1. Has any harm been caused by the lie/perceived lie?
  2. Is the lie/perceived lie likely to be repeated going forward, and if so what harm will that cause?
  3. How much good will come from confronting the issue head on?

Based upon what you've written, it seems like your answers are:

  1. Little to none.
  2. It's unclear if she will continue taking credit for the work you did, or if she's simply forgetful/absent-minded. In the worst-case if it does continue, perhaps she could be promoted to a position that is beyond her actual abilities on the basis of work that you did/helped her with. But it would be simple for you to nip that in the bud at any time, since you have an e-mail trail/audit log from the ticketing system and logs from the revision control system. So if her behavior is deliberate, and it continues, you can easily deal with the problem at any time.
  3. Little to none. At best you force an apology out of her, damaging her pride and the working relationship between you. Especially if she was just forgetful/absent-minded.

Based on that, I'd say the best thing to do is nothing. Keep an eye on the situation, and if it gets out of hand step in before anything bad can happen. The odds are that it won't get out of hand.

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"Yes" to confrontation when something strange is going on.

"No" to confrontation coming from an emotional place of hurt or rejection.

This is a place where as a senior, you do have to back up and think about the greater good. My read on this particular case would be:

  • You took time on Friday to help out an issue marked as Critical. It wasn't convenient, and you did it in the spirit of team leadership and making sure that no one was waiting on you for an urgent response.

  • She treated the issue as urgently as you did - she did the follow on work that your response ennabled before going home for the weekend.

  • When you two talked on Monday, her response was incorrect - let's not infer motive to the incorrectness by calling it "lying" - she had been helped by your email, she did do the right thing and finish up a critical issue before leaving. So far, the biggest mistake is that she didn't remember it or acknowledge it come Monday morning.

  • Then things get hazy. You started lying to her - pretending that you didn't know she checked in a fix, pretending that you thought she hadn't read an email from you. And using sarcasm via chat... which isn't a guaranteed win, given how hard it is to imply emotional tone in a text format.

This is where if I was either of your bosses, I'd ask you to cut it out. Either talk honestly about what's bugging you, or leave it alone.

Now - if her inattention to the details of you helping with the fix, getting it in, and handling something with the potential for a real crisis is something that everyone is expected to be aware of first thing in the morning on Monday, then it's fair to say she's not doing her job. If for example, you had a forgetful friend and he did the same thing and you'd be just as concerned - then this may be case for, as a senior, pointing out why knowing the final state of a Critical issue is super-important and what the expectations of the overall team are. In that case, it benefits more than just your ego. This may NOT be something you should discuss with her directly - this is negligence in doing the job and may be something for her direct supervisor.

NOTE - "critical" means all sorts of different things in all sorts of different contexts. It's a relative term. A critical issue for an on-call team is very, very different from a critical bug for a software team - how well it's recalled and what level of lesson learned review is involved can be very different.

OTOH, if you two have a trend of you helping, and her "forgetting" - more than once, and always somewhat personal (ie, she doesn't forget everyone's help, just yours) - then it may be time for a personal chat on "is my help unimportant to you? If you feel like I'm not helping, I'll be glad not to waste my time". I don't think you can call this on a one-time case, but if it's a trend that's damaging the trust of your working relationship, then it's worth bringing up. And if her forgetting that others help her out is a universal trend, and she never says thanks to anyone - this might be time where you can (gently) point out that her success in a team will be much greater if she can acknowledge the give and take of helping.

From a senior individual contributor who has responsibility for the technical work but not the people doing it, I expect:

  • First and foremost, the ability to model productive behavior, don't say it, do it. Say thanks to others when they help you. Be able to rise above petty stuff - like not getting thanked one time.

  • Be able to see trends and repetitive behaviors that may be harmful to the team. Ideally, you may be able to get someone back on track by small, helpful guidance, but if this becomes a "this person is seriously not doing his job" type issue, then it's also having the wisdom to go to a direct supervisor. The senior can absolutely be a mentor to those around them but there is an area where unsolicited advice that isn't really a requirement of the job can be too intrusive.

  • Be able to use technical prowess and experience to help the team get coordinated correctly - if the process doesn't make sense, or we're using technology in a weird way, I expect seniors to be able to point it out.

  • Be a point of reference on the performance of others when management needs information. If someone has a skill gap or a behavior gap, you may see it first or more clearly than a direct supervisor will. Being able to give insight on the strength and weaknesses of others can be a real advantage if handled well.

The litmus test I'd use in the end is "If having the conflict will help the team and the company - do it. If having the conflict will make you feel better - skip it."

  • thanks(+1) for such a detailed, interesting reply. "You started lying to her - pretending that you didn't know .... given how hard it is to imply emotional tone in a text format." Not true!!, i had to check our process system history timestamp to verify that she had acted on friday. My response is more or less normal in the smaller circle of colleagues where people point fingers at each other and know exactly what they are talking abt; but given that I am given more responsibility now, I believe in my own interest, I have to stop picking on the these issues as they are also a distraction. – user18524 Apr 7 '14 at 14:08
  • Red flag: "[...] where people point fingers [...]". Try to rise above blame culture, it is unproductive. accidentalcreative.com/teams/… – parasietje Apr 7 '14 at 15:32
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One of the most important lessons a parent can learn is not to invite their children to lie - approaching a child whose face is covered in cake crumbs and icing and saying "did you eat the cake?" is an invitation to lie since apparently, you don't know whether they did or not. The same is true with your coworker. Why on earth would you ask "did my reply help you solve the problem?" if you already knew the problem was solved?

What should you have said instead? How about "I am happy I was able to help with that Friday situation. Nothing worse than a critical problem on a Friday, is there?" I presume you wanted to talk to her to get a thankyou for your efforts. IF you wanted to raise your visibility with others, you could email her (cc-ing the others) and say something like "it appears from [whatever you checked] that this problem is solved now, can you confirm please?"

If you actually wanted to followup on your "veiled criticism" (a phrase that makes me cringe a little) of the other person, or other root causes of this issue, then do that - "I am happy I was able to help with that Friday situation. Later this week we should talk about the root causes, especially what [other person] did previously, and make sure neither of us has to deal with critical problems like that on a Friday again."

You seem to be hyper aware of communication - text, subtext, veiled criticisms, deeper meanings, should I confront this person - but not everybody is. Try just saying what you mean straight out rather than expecting others to infer it, or asking for what you want instead of manipulating others into offering it. I find this leaves me more mental energy for my actual job.

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You don't have to be someone's direct supervisor to require them to be professional and honest. This person should be confronted directly, but I don't know if it is as much about lying in this specific case or the impact this will make on future interactions. She needs to address the fact she will have to earn your trust again.

Nobody likes to be lied to. If you get too confrontational about this specific instance, most people will just get defensive. She could have argued that she quickly viewed your email, but didn't read it in detail. For practical purposes, she didn't "really" read it.

There are additional consequences when you can't trust someone. Imagine when she sent the request, instead of providing a solution, you responded with more questions to make sure it is a true emergency or ask for a more specific due date, etc.

Communication is less efficient when there isn't trust. I would focus on creating and maintaining effective levels of communication going forward. Hopefully, she'll make an effort to be more honest.

  • "Nobody likes to be lied to." quite true I believe (+1). This is what I was also wondering, why should I trust her word next time something is urgent. But this is also the tricky part - may be in the best interest of the firm, I may have to learn to overlook these kind of demotivating incidents and pretend that nothing happened so long as no other material damage is caused. – user18524 Apr 7 '14 at 14:19