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Short version of question: Is it appropriate to ask a higher-ranking coworker, who is in the company's management, his/her opinion or to get advice on potential decisions that the company's owner (aka the Big Boss) has sought my feedback on?

Long Version: The Big Boss has sent me, and me alone, an email regarding some potential business decisions that I have mixed opinions about. I am not part of company management and have no decision-making power. I am in charge of a project that is directly involved in this decision-making process. Whatever decisions get made as a result of my project will affect several other people, as well.

I'd like to share this email with one of my coworkers who would be affected by these decisions for the sake of getting his advice on how to respond. This coworker is higher-ranking than me and is in a management position within the company. He would ultimately have a say in the final decisions, so it's not like the email has any information that would be withheld from him.

Essentially, I'm concerned about these decisions being made to support me and my project without reasonable input from other parties. I have explicitly voiced this worry, but I feel like it's fell on deaf ears. I also get the sense that I'm repeating the same concerns over and over and that they're going ignored, so getting a read on whether my opinions are on-target or not would be nice. But I'm not sure if contacting someone in company management is appropriate. What is the best way to go about soliciting my coworkers opinion on this matter?

  • If in doubt, and you haven't been told to keep it confidential, ask your manager how to interpret the request. – keshlam Dec 31 '14 at 23:36
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    Even better: If in doubt, sense a response back to the Boss ASKING THEM whether they want your gut reaction or an informed one. – keshlam Dec 31 '14 at 23:53
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    I don't think anyone can really advise you what to do in this specific situation which makes the question off-topic. – user8365 Jan 2 '15 at 14:09
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Summary: Initially No, and not without permission from the "Big Boss".

Considerations

  • Correspondence from and conversations with others in the company should be treated as confidential unless you know otherwise.

  • You do not know why the co-worker is being excluded or if the co-worker actually is privy to the information.

  • You do not know what the Big Boss knows or why you have been asked and others you think relevant not included. Your discretion and decision making may be being evaluated.

Is your discomfort because you are not comfortable in your ability to give a good answer, or because you are not comfortable with the co-worker not having input? These are two VERY different things.

If you are comfortable with your ability to give an answer, give the answer, and then suggest that this co-worker might be able to contribute to a more thorough decision, and ask permission to share. If you are told No, nod your head and don't press the matter.

If you are not comfortable giving an answer, say as much to Big Boss, and ask permission to share with the co-worker prior to giving an answer. If you are told No, don't press, and give the best answer you can to the question.

Under no circumstances should you appear to be questioning the judgment of Big Boss in how things are being handled. That is not your place.


For future situations like this, immediately asking who you may share this information with to prepare and provide a good response, and at the same time asking when your answer is needed is a good practice.

  • Agree with much of this as generally being good practice, and absolutely agree with asking questions to make sure you understand why this assignment came to you and what resources you can or can't use to formulate your answer -- and most definitely with making sure you know the due date of any assignment. I still disagree with the "assume you can't discuss with co-workers unless told otherwise" principle, but that may depend on company culture. – keshlam Jan 1 '15 at 22:47
  • @keshlam Of course it depends on company culture. Since that isn't known, we generalize here with caveats and things to think about. Keeping "Big Boss" information confidential unless told otherwise would be best in the vast majority of companies with which I am familiar. – tomjedrz Jan 10 '15 at 12:36
  • Our experience differs then. I'm used to a presumption at all levels of company internal but not eyes-only unless stated,and it's the originator 's responsibility to clearly state that case. – keshlam Jan 10 '15 at 16:16
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The work environments I operate in are pretty open - No one cares how I go about getting the answer as long as the answer is a good one, it makes sense and they can do something with it. In addition, I am fairly senior in the technical pecking order. Under these conditions:

Unless you are explicitly told otherwise and unless considerations of confidentiality and discretion apply to that person, you have the right to seek advice from anyone in the company whom you deem qualified to give the advice.

  • Would that include forwarding said person the email with a message like, "Person, could I get your advice on this?" I guess my concern is mostly the explicit content of the email that was sent to me. – user30671 Dec 31 '14 at 21:54
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    @user30671 I'd go full speed ahead and forward the explicit email. But if I were a bit paranoid and wanted to be cautious about it, I'd paraphrase and summarize the content of the email rather than send him the email itself- that way, he can deny having been sent the email. Or you might just have lunch with him and discuss things off-line - both of you may have your own considerations of confidentiality, too. – Vietnhi Phuvan Dec 31 '14 at 22:05
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    @VietnhiPhuvan I disagree, and think you have it backwards. When a superior breaks the chain of command, assume that there is a good reason and assume that the info should be kept confidential. – tomjedrz Jan 1 '15 at 0:39

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