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My manager and I have arguments from time to time. Now these arguments are just part of the business, they're constructive to the tasks at hand and are calm and well thought out and ultimately lead to better results. However, I'm concerned that due to the frequency of these, there is a void forming between my manager and I.

Here is an example of an argument we would have:

Me - Well we should use an observer pattern on the back end and push updates to our clients based on the database's entries, instead of polling from the client.

My manager - The issue I have with that is things have been done my way for a long time now, and as I see it, if it ain't broke don't fix it.

Me- But I can actually prove the metrics are better my way.

My manager - Alright, if you can prove it, then go ahead.

And then things are awkward for awhile the rest of the day between us. In the past we were good friends.

Is this common? And how / can I fix this?

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    In my experience this is very common. I'd go as far as to say my manager expects it from me, and it is part of why I'm invited into the meetings I am in. – Andrew Whatever Apr 27 '16 at 17:25
  • Don't have the time to do an answer justice, but one thing I don't see mentioned below is that it sounds like you should have a meeting with your manager now that this has become a pattern. While your manager should be addressing the bigger picture if these arguments are affecting your work and relationship, for some reason he isn't, so it falls to you. – Lilienthal May 1 '16 at 22:58
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I do this with my boss all the time. I agree this can be constructive, especially in an environment where you are the subject matter expert and your boss possesses some technical ability/literacy, but is not 'on the ground' coding, as it were.

To your question: I assume that was an abridged version of a typical conversation between you and your manager, remember to be friendly. You two are colleagues working together for your company. You win when you both get paid.

I've found that I get the most out of these conversations when I understand why things were done 'that way' before (example: why did the previous developer choose to poll the client rather than push from server side?). If it was done because of time or resource constraints or because that's what the previous dev was most comfortable with, so be it. Express to your boss you think it can be done better and how, then tell him how much time it will take and ask if he thinks that would be a valuable use of your time.

You'll notice the key here is to remind him that he is still the manager, even if you are the expert. You may know how to make the project better from a technical standpoint, but he may have other business or political forces he needs to deal with. Perhaps he is worried about straining your friendship if he says something like "I agree with you, but I need you to do something else now".

Essentially, you should be having these conversations. Keep them academic, as you said. Remind both your boss and yourself that even if you technically know better, he may have some other reason to disagree with you, and it's his word that is final.

  • I'll add that I assumed in my answer that you were some sort of developer at your firm. From the small quote that seemed obvious, but if that's not the case, all this holds for any semi-technical field. – agentroadkill Apr 26 '16 at 20:26
  • Thanks. This seems really thoroughly and you actually understand the situation. – user49733 Apr 26 '16 at 20:27
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    @JeffQuick, this sort of thing is common in small teams. If you can learn to get the most out of these sorts of interactions, your boss will see more value in your work and in you as an employee. – agentroadkill Apr 26 '16 at 20:30
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    "You'll notice the key here is to remind him that he is still the manager, even if you are the expert." Exactly. Managers are forced to make decisions on things other than technical merit. Perhaps he is worried about retraining other, less capable developers, or being able to understand the code himself. There might be concerns about fallout if the new technique fails. Managers, unfortunately, are held accountable from both directions. – DVK Apr 26 '16 at 20:32
  • @DVK while I agree, please keep in mind that was an example. – user49733 Apr 26 '16 at 20:33
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Discussions are productive, arguments never are. I suspect if you are seeing more tension between you and your boss, then you are having arguments. This needs to be fixed.

First you need to rid yourself of this idea that there is only one right way to do things. Just because something is the best technical solution you have doesn't mean it is best when other nontechnical issues are factored in. It is your boss's job to consider those issues as well as the technical points you brought up. The reason why this attitude is a problem is because it will lead you down the path of patronizing people and nobody takes that particularly well let along people above you in the chain of command. So even if you are right, the tone with which you convey your superiority can be grating. It is more grating, in fact, when you are right. You need to help him save face then, not crush him with your superior technical knowledge.

Just from the snippet you posted, it seems to me that you are discounting his input. It sounds like whatever he says, you interpret as "he is saying some stupid management BS." That too will lead to resentment and tension in the workplace. Would you like it if he discounted everything you said with an attitude of "Stupid technical person who doesn't get the real world?" That is highly likely to how you are making him feel with your "oh so superior, I am smarter than you" attitude.

Yes is is your job to bring up these issues, but there are productive ways to that and unproductive ways. Failing to listen, really listen to the other person is one of the most unproductive. Sometimes it is even helpful to draw him to the right conclusion by asking questions rather than flaunting your knowledge. Sometimes it helps to take some of your idea and bits of his and make something that gives everybody some input.

And there are going to be times when the decision isn't going to go your way due to those pesky non-technical reasons. How to you behave then will also determine how your relationship to your boss evolves. If you sulk and keep bring things up over and over again, most managers will come to hate your guts fairly quickly. If you give in gracefully and try hard to make it (whatever it is) work, then he is more likely to listen to you the next time you think something will be a problem.

Another thing to be aware of is the importance of the issue. If you agree with him on some of the less important things, you save face for him and then he is going to be less likely to push back when it is really important. You only get so much political capital, don't waste it on the small stuff.

  • +1 - I also think that the opening sentence in the OPs conversation starting with "we should" can be construed as "we've been doing it wrong" and "i know better" and adversarial, instead of "i have a suggestion for getting better performance/maintainability" – HorusKol Apr 27 '16 at 3:12
  • Ok well you're reading into it way too much @HorusKol. I use the word should as merely a suggestion of a method. – user49733 Apr 27 '16 at 15:49
  • Consider that maybe your boss is, too – HorusKol Apr 27 '16 at 23:13
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Arguments, where the goal is to convince the other person that you are right, are never productive.

Discussions, where the goal is to understand why the disagreement exists an determine if either, both, or neither is correct and synthesize a consensus even if it isn't the one you prefer, are far more productive.

  • I think you misunderstand. This is part of my job. This is something that must be done. My manager and I architect the projects together and these arguments are part of it. It's not to make someone wrong, either one of us can be right. Did you not read my entire question? – user49733 Apr 26 '16 at 20:13
  • I'm suggesting that a shift in approach can resolve the same disagreements without the winning/losing dynamic that makes things become awkward. Agree to focus on the nerd, not the individuals, and to consider province that an approach was properly considered before being rejected as much if a success as having it accepted. Work as a team, not as comptetors. – keshlam Apr 26 '16 at 20:18
  • So what I'm having trouble wrapping my head around is that these issues are rather black and white, in fact, arguments with shades of grey are more of the work together case. It's the one or the other situations where I'm having an issue. – user49733 Apr 26 '16 at 20:21
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    I don't see that this answer is particularly helpful, though there's a point somewhere in there that could be. Don't be vague - explain how the OP might apply this high-level principle to the problem at hand. – Air Apr 26 '16 at 20:37
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You must think from his angle. Are you taking into account that you are his inferior? Are you being honest about how you're addressing him? Is it always with the intention of sorting things out? Perhaps he sees what you're attempting to do differnetly.

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    So as I read your answer, I'll be honest, I'm having a hard time picturing this situation. As I stated in my question, this is part of the job. This is a perfectly normal discussion for us to have. – user49733 Apr 26 '16 at 20:04

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