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I recently had an experience with a 'Principal Architect' (who has been with the company for 12 out of the 15 years its existence). He forwarded me a defect with a comment saying that it's caused by some code I recently added.

I investigated it and found that the cause was something in his code. I wrote him back a paragraph explaining the exact location and root cause of the problem. I suspected that this defect was invalid and the code was working as intended.

The next day, he sent it back, with a comment saying 'No, you're wrong, it has nothing to do with what you wrote. The problem is here.' and he referenced the same piece of code in the first comment.

I figured he maybe didn't understand my explanation, so I sent it back to him again with a different approach at explaining it, and offered to show him what I'm talking about if he wants to stop by my desk.

Again, he returns the defect to me: 'I already told you where the problem is, please fix it.' At this point, I'm at a total loss; I haven't experienced this in 8 years of working as a software engineer.

I passed it off to my manager and explained the situation. He immediately saw that I was right and went to deal with the architect. If the architect had even looked at the code he was accusing, there were at least four different things that would have confirmed that it wasn't related to his problem.

My manager gets this behavior from other teams regularly, and his solution is to become passive-aggressive, bordering on aggressive, and intimidate the other party until they concede. I don't think this is ideal, and it only really works because most developers tend to be non-confrontational, but I can't see any other solution in scenarios like this.

What is the correct way to deal with a colleague who behaves like this? Is there even a correct way?

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    How did this back and forth communication take place? If it took place by email, how long did you wait between each reply? If by email, is it possible to arrange a short chat with this person face-to-face or by telephone? Email back and forth can sometimes escalate in a bad way if both sides are seeing the problem differently. Also, what is the extent of your work relationship with the senior colleague? Do you often work on things together or is this communication one out of only a handful of official contacts you've had? – Brandin Apr 26 '15 at 23:04
  • I would have fixed the defect in his code, tested it to show it worked and then sent him a copy of the code delta + test results. – Laconic Droid Apr 27 '15 at 15:59
  • Write some tests. Show the architect a working test for your code and a failing test for his code. So long as your tests are good then he should see it, plus your codebase got some more tests! – Qwerky Apr 28 '15 at 8:36
  • In your question you state 2 people in different roles with behavior you don't know how to cope with: the principal architect, and your manager. In the comments and answers I only see people only referring to the architect, but in the last paragraph of your question you clearly state you dislike the approach of your manager towards people who are ignorant or lax. You want to know how to deal with people who can't be bothered listening to you, or how to deal with a manager who (sometimes) behaves (passive-)aggressively? – Edwin Lambregts Apr 28 '15 at 13:47
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    I once had a noob insisting their code is correct if we just changed the existing code to work "like so". Well, the problem is that the rest of the system doesn't work "like so". I didn't want to create a special case just to let the system work with the new guys code when changing his code to work like everyone else's is the correct solution. This guy griped about this for the year he was with us as I didn't know what I was doing. Which proved to me that he didn't understand design but that's a tangent. Point is, you can write working code that doesn't fit in the system. Is that what you did? – Dunk Apr 28 '15 at 14:42
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What is the correct way to deal with a colleague who behaves like this? Is there even a correct way?

There's no single correct way. Even among people like this, people will vary. Even their mood will vary from day to day.

offered to show him what I'm talking about if he wants to stop by my desk.

I would recommend not doing this in the future. Since they think they're right, taking the trip to your desk to (likely) only find out that they were in fact right is a waste of time. Offer to go to their desk and show them what you're talking about. For most people it also makes it harder to be an asshat when you're standing right there, and did them the courtesy of coming to their desk.

Back to "what to do". Escalating to your manager is fine. They're the ones who are trained (hopefully) to deal with conflicts between their staff. But another great tact to take as someone lower ranking is to ask the architect to show you. This way, you can seem more like "I don't think that's it" rather than "you are wrong". You can then ask questions "but what about XYZ?" rather than making statements "XYZ means that you're incorrect". This softens the interaction into less of a conflict - and it allows much more wiggle room in case the senior person is actually correct.

  • I have had good results using the "show me please" approach. Even if I know I'm right, I try to believe that I'm just misunderstanding and ask them to help me understand what they're saying. Most folks respond well although some of the ones that knew they were wrong when they made their assertion get even more aggressive. I avoid a charging bull by stepping out of its path, not by locking horns. – ColleenV Apr 29 '15 at 18:35
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Do you feel a need to be nice to your colleagues when that act smug, arrogant and more than a little conceited? I don't. In fact, I flip the "bad guy" switch to "on".

You resolved the issue quickly enough by escalating to your manager, and unleashing your manager on the culprit. The world is not perfect. The method you used to resolve was not perfect but it worked. At the end of the day, given the kind of individuals you have to cope with, I don't think you have a surfeit of choices.

Under normal conditions, your colleague should have expressed a willingness to work with you to resolve the issue. Not only he didn't, but he brazenly obstructed the actual resolution of the issue. It is at this point that my armored vehicles run all over people's legs. If they scream in pain, better them than me.

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