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I started my new position just under a month ago. I was hired by a senior manager, whom my manager reports to, but never spoke with my current team during the interview process.

My manager is relatively new to the position. However, I have one co-worker on my team who reports to the senior manager. This co-worker has been with the company for years, and has the most domain knowledge compared to the rest of my colleagues.

This co-worker is rude to both myself, and other colleagues. While it's not enough to categorize it as a hostile work environment, he displays the following behaviors:

  • Becomes upset when interrupted by other colleagues.
  • Becomes upset at others when they ask seemingly "dumb," innocent questions.
  • Does not communicate well with my current manager and project manager about expectations (mostly due to the issues I mentioned above).

I'm in a position where I'm still learning the domain and the ins and outs of my job. I communicate with my manager to see what I should be working on (we're just beginning to follow the scrum process). However, when I have to ask my co-worker a question, I do it begrudgingly. I've since resorted to communication via email to avoid these problems. However, it doesn't put me in an optimal position because I want to learn as much as possible to quickly become competent at my job.

Now, I have my theories about why he acts the way he does, how do I go about approaching the problem? My manager came to me and told me other colleagues have had these problems in the past (without me mentioning anything, so it was already on his mind). But this doesn't fix the problem. I made some suggestions that basically amounted to sticking to the Agile/Scrum process, but I don't see that resolving the issue over night.

Should I talk with my co-worker directly? Or speak with the senior manager? I don't intend to go around my manager, but I understand that's how it could be perceived.

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    Is there anyone at the company that you've seen that DOES get along with this problem employee? I would start there, and analyze who it is that he treats appropriately, and why that is. – SQLSavant Feb 14 '15 at 19:01
  • Good suggestion. I'll add that he does seem to get along with his manager, but his manager shares some of the same characteristics (although, not to the same degree). I'll keep an eye out for other colleagues. – Matt Feb 14 '15 at 19:32
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    I understand your wanting an "optimal position" but it seems like you're not considering the negative impact interruptions can have (some research indicates 15 minutes of lost productivity per interruption.). This person probably has the most pressure because of his knowledge and still has to hold everyone's hand. I doubt management has factored this into his workload. – user8365 Feb 15 '15 at 16:29
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    @Matt - Seems like you need to have a conversation with this person and negotiate a time when he is less busy. This way you can collect a series of questions at ask them at once. Catch him first thing in the morning before he gets started. – user8365 Feb 15 '15 at 19:27
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    If the expert is at his desk but not signed into his chat client, that may very well be his "I'm busy, please do not disturb" signal. In which case he will be upset if you just walk up and interrupt him. Discuss exactly this scenario with him and how he would prefer you to act in such a situation. – Stephan Kolassa Feb 17 '15 at 20:11
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Talk directly to your co-worker. Schedule a one-to-one meeting in a private meeting room. (Don't do a "friendly" chat in the hallway.) Recall a specific instance where he was rude to you. Explain matter-of-factly how he came across. Do not psychologize him with your theories. Emphasize that you are not trying to get his goat. Instead, tell him that you would like to work productively with him and that you would like to understand what he expects from working with you. It might be as simple as running a StackExchange search before asking him a question, and demonstrating that you do your homework.

If this fails, you can still go to your manager. And indeed you should if this does not work and your colleague continues being rude. But managers do not want to supervise a kindergarten; they reasonably expect grown-up employees to resolve interpersonal issues among themselves as far as possible.

(Incidentally, I also become upset when I am interrupted. Are you sure you are not talking about me?)

  • Excellent answer, thanks for the input. I suspected this was the best approach, but I wasn't if it could be viewed negatively by others, for the reasons I mentioned in my question. – Matt Feb 15 '15 at 18:41
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    @Matt "Dumb" questions can also be frustrating when they show a lack of effort on the part of the person asking. – Lumberjack Jun 17 '16 at 20:49
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I'll answer from the perspective of the more senior person.

To start, getting asked by inexperienced staff about trivial questions is super, super annoying! If I can Google the answer in 5 seconds, it completely sets me off because your "question" wasn't actually a question, but a "Can you do my work for me?" And it just wasted at least 20 minutes of my time to pick up where I left off just do deal with a problem I believed solvable by yourself.

I do sympathize with new hires so I try to put together documentation and Wiki-type systems with a lot of "tribal" knowledge. Things that you cannot possibly Google. I also kept records of error messages with details of the diagnostic and fix. I then give them a month and keep directing them to this system, over and over and over, until they start off their questions with details of what search terms they used instead of "I can't do this."

It is really annoying when the exact error shows up, the exact solution is available on the system, and the new hire asks me that specific error... please don't do this.

Just because the person "knows the most" or even "knows everything", his job is to do his job, not to help you with what you don't know. If he needs to train you guys, approach your manager collectively with all your colleagues, and works with the manager on determining what needs to be taught, then have the manager approach the senior staff with planned knowledge requests and work out a training plan. It is entirely possible that some people just don't know how to transfer knowledge. That will be something the manager would have to address, not you.

In his current role, he has no assistance, so some of his work is orders of magnitude more difficult because he is at the top of his company's knowledge chain, and he has to fix it.

Due to the complexity of his work, it is also critical he is not interrupted every 30 minutes. Interrupting someone every 30 minutes over 8 hours basically translates to him not working AT ALL.

Instead of people randomly going to the experienced staff for questions, establish specific windows of questions (first hour of work is a good one, since he's probably catching up on communications, but be ready for emergencies where he is not available, then probably another hour after lunch, but it is up to the senior staff). This does couple good things for everyone:

  1. It prevents new hires from using the senior as a crutch and being robbed the essential skill of problem solving. You MUST learn how to fix things yourself at some point. Sometimes, nobody in the company "knows the right answer". It's not school anymore.
  2. It lets the more experienced staff know that he won't be interrupted, and it'll calm him down when it is expected.
  • Good answer, in particular this got my vote because this is where the buck stops "he is at the top of his company's knowledge chain, and he HAS to fix it." – Kilisi Jun 19 '16 at 14:39
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I think that talking calmly with your co-worker and trying to understand how he feels about his job would be a good first step. It's possible that he feels stressed, or insecure. Don't be antagonistic, and make him understand that you value working with him.

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