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This morning one of our designers called me and asked me to complete a task. In order to have a written record, I asked him to email me, but he suddenly said he was going to talk to the manager and hung up.

A few minutes later our manager called and politely told me that, while it's generally good to have everything in writing, I don't need to follow that rule religiously. A few minutes later I got the following email:

Integrate in the news section in web site.

Please check all other functionality and integrate, if you are the developer you have to check the functionality. Don’t ask me to send a mail.

This email really bothers me. How can I reply so I don't make matters worse? In the future, what are some good ways to handle this?

Note: In my company for 95% of the projects we don't follow any ticketing system or task scheduling unless the client asks us to. We normally just start doing the work.

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    Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – enderland Jun 9 '17 at 2:01
202

If the designer doesn't want to e-mail you, you can take down notes when you're on the phone and then send him an e-mail with what you discussed.

Hello Designer,
As per our discussion I will start working on X, Y.

The phrasing above might not fly in South East Asia, which I'm guessing you're from, but you get the idea.

This is good practice for people you can't just ask to send you an email, ie. your boss or a client. It makes sure you're both on the same page.

A final point, you don't have to be told to use Jira (or any other ticket system) to actually use it. A few months ago I was the only one in my team using Mantis (before a company-wide switch to Jira) and I was using it as my personal to-do list.


edit: Incorporating some notable comments so they don't get lost

Only thing I would add to this is to include in the email any details that 'Designer' told you orally.

by DJClayworth

This is really good advice especially if you are dealing with people who ask for things but don't want to be held to what they requested. When someone is reticent about documenting their requests, you should be considering this as a risk. This is actually where project manager/scrum masters are helpful. You can let them be the sticklers around such things

by Jimmy James

It might make sense to briefly outline the requirements you get as well, instead of only mentioning task X. [...] Thereby the designer cannot complain if what was agreed upon gets delivered.

by Søren D. Ptæus

[...] Performing and keeping this practice documents the verbal conversation with a timestamp and gives the other parties the opportunity to correct any misunderstandings. If they fail to do so, and then complain later, you now have a documentation proving otherwise. As a developer, this is a strong skill to have; and, as a professional, this protects you against their lack of documentation.

by KareemElashmawy

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    Only thing I would add to this is to include in the email any details that 'Designer' told you orally. – DJClayworth Jun 6 '17 at 16:30
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    This is really good advice especially if you are dealing with people who ask for things but don't want to be held to what they requested. When someone is reticent about documenting their requests, you should be considering this as a risk. This is actually where project manager/scrum masters are helpful. You can let them be the sticklers around such things. – JimmyJames Jun 6 '17 at 18:15
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    I second @DJClayworth. Rath is suggesting to memorialize your conversations via email similarly to James Comey (Former USA FBI Director). Performing and keeping this practice documents the verbal conversation with a timestamp and gives the other parties the opportunity to correct any misunderstandings. If they fail to do so, and then complain later, you now have a documentation proving otherwise. As a developer, this is a strong skill to have; and, as a professional, this protects you against their lack of documentation. – KareemElashmawy Jun 6 '17 at 23:26
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    'The phrasing above might not fly in South East Asia'. Why not? – PagMax Jun 7 '17 at 6:56
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    @PagMax I gave pretty much the same answer on a different question some time ago. Enderland's comment to that suggests cultural differences I'm not aware of. I thought I'd take it into account this time around :) – rath Jun 7 '17 at 9:24
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Anyone who refuses to put things in publicly accessible writing, such as an email, is most probably doing so in order to avoid leaving an information trail that can somehow be used in the future to hold them accountable for something, the nature of which is not always understandable to other people. It is a type of paranoid behavior. The question you should be asking yourself, I think, is not how to respond to this person, but what it is that this person is doing their best to avoid taking responsibility for, and why. It basically comes down to office survival politics, as in "I'll give you instructions but if they were wrong then you will be blamed and not me".

As others have mentioned - you would best find a way to leave your own information trail, a log of some sort, which details what it is you were asked to do and who told you to do it. It's called covering your backside and it's part of office politics. I think that this person who is refusing to email you is not innocent, has a hidden agenda and you'd better watch our for them.

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    I have a coworker who always refuses to email, I now give her an itemized email of the things I'm going to do. – CodeMonkey Jun 7 '17 at 6:16
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    I don't think this is right. I think it is much more likely that the designer thinks their time is much too valuable to waste on composing an email - they have already told the peon what to do. – Martin Bonner Jun 7 '17 at 7:02
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    I agree. I've been in situations where changes have been requested orally and I've actioned them, only to then be told to change them (again orally). Saying that I did everything they asked, it then gets spun as "no you didn't, I never asked for that". At least with an email you can fire it back to them and say "Yes you did tell me to do that". – mickburkejnr Jun 7 '17 at 10:20
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    -1 I know plenty of people who are not malicious at all in leaving no paper trail. Just uncoordinated, chaotic, confused, overworked. – AnoE Jun 7 '17 at 13:59
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    @AnoE uncoordinated and chaotic doesn't match the refusing to send an email part. A person like that would simply forget, not refuse. – Summer Jun 7 '17 at 14:15
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I usually try to parlay a call or IM request into an email via something along these lines:

I'm in the middle of something at the moment, can you send me your request in an email? I will follow up with you when I am available.

This has the following benefits:

  1. Sets the expectation that I am not at anyone's beck-and-call.
  2. Gets the desired outcome (written record of the request), though yes a ticket would be great.
  3. This is a completely reasonable response to an interruption.

Phone calls and IMs are synchronous communications that often interrupt people in the middle of a task. I think that my approach is both professional and cordial, which can go far to gain favor with coworkers.

9

I'm just going to look at this slightly differently.

The text of the email seems to imply (in a very rude and snarky way, mind you) that the colleague believes he shouldn't have to email you how to do your own job!

Take a look at this sentence:

Please check all other functionality and integrate, if you are the developer you have to check the functionality.

He seems to be explaining something he thinks you should already know to do.

Maybe your response should take this into account?

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    This is exactly the interpretation I took away from that email as well. I read "don't ask me to send an email" as "I shouldn't have to remind you to do this". – duskwuff Jun 8 '17 at 6:44
  • Sounds like he just asked to have some content added to the web site and make sure it doesn't break it. A response will label the OP as a nitpicker. I would simply make myself a note, maybe even email myself, so there's a date stamp with a record of what is understood as being requested, just in case there's a question in the future. – Brian D Sep 14 '17 at 7:03
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What should I reply to this email.

Reply "Okay".

In future how should I handle this.

Apparently, you should just do the work and not try to require them to send you an email.

You learned a lesson regarding how the designer expects to be treated. Not a big deal, nothing to worry about. But now you know.

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    @Neuromancer Based on the original version of the question, the poor grammar may have been because of the OP's translation, not because of the coworker. – David K Jun 6 '17 at 16:24
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    @Neuromancer David is probably right, but just asking coworkers to "write in grammatically complete sentences" seems like a good way to make enemies. If a request is unclear, one can ask for specific clarification. – Dukeling Jun 6 '17 at 17:00
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    Why does the designer have to be right, and allowed to control the working environment? They may be asking for something completely unobtainable. If the designer refuses to put their requirements in writing, and the manager allows this, then the answer stating that the developer should email their understanding of the requirements back to the designer (cc the manager to keep them in the loop) is the right one. – Steve Ives Jun 7 '17 at 7:50
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    How is OP supposed to be accountable for executing the task if the details are not written anywhere? I find suggesting that accepting oral undocumented requirements on technical tasks a bad idea. – luk32 Jun 7 '17 at 9:09
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    I wouldn't reply "Okay" to an email with such a dearth of any useful information/requirements capture. I also would be wary of giving the impression to this designer that they can boss me around like this – Lightness Races in Orbit Jun 7 '17 at 9:12
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Integrate in the news section in web site.

Please check all other functionality and integrate, if you are the developer you have to check the functionality. Don’t ask me to send a mail.

This would have been my answer:

If you don't think I'm a developer, that's fine. I will still integrate the news section in our website.

But in the future, if you want me to prioritize a specific task of yours over my other work, I want you to send it to me directly by email.

Don't get me wrong, I will do the task even if you don't email it to me, but if the task is very vaguely worded and unwritten to begin with, it's going to the very back of my queue.

PS: Replace 'vaguely worded' with whatever you think was wrong with his initial request. For all I know, what he initially requested of you over the phone may even be worse and more ill-defined than what he wrote to you in the email.

Also, I know this answer comes one week too late, but if you like this answer, I can tell you the name of the book and the principles it is based upon.

  • Any particular reason why you wouldn't just attribute your source from the start? Sources don't often apply to this site but they're always good to have. – Lilienthal Jun 15 '17 at 19:31
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    @Lilienthal, Because I've recommended that book so many times and in so many forums, I don't want to sound like a spammer. Also, each time I feel like I have to repeat the same caveats: 1. Do not rely on the title of the book. The book is not what you think it's about. 2. Read the Amazon customer reviews. 3. Read the book backward, from the end to the beginning, the end has the example transcripts, the middle has the metaphors, and the beginning didn't make sense to me until I read the rest of the book first. amazon.com/When-Say-No-Feel-Guilty/dp/0553200666 – Stephan Branczyk Jun 16 '17 at 3:13
0

This is an interesting question as it's one I have encountered multiple times in entirely different settings. I've been to court before (and won, without any help), so am well aware of just how evidence based the process is in reality. On TV it usually comes down to who can bang on the desk or shout enough. In reality, it's almost entirely reading through receipts, looking at letters, paperwork, proofs of postage etc. The success or failure of your case can come entirely down to whether or not you can actually produce some form of 'solid' evidence as opposed to just your own account of things.

There are certain people or organisations that will always attempt to avoid putting anything down on paper or in an email as it potentially renders them liable in some form or another. This is not only in a legal sense, some people won't do it purely for the potential (and sometimes very trivial) reputation damage it could do; e.g. if they're supposed to be supervising something yet make an incorrect or poor suggestion.

After my exposure to court and various other anomalies, I've taken the approach of hanging onto at least one copy of anything remotely official. If I had a scanner, I would also scan these. It seems time consuming but it's actually really simple to just drop things into the folder when they turn up and it has actually been useful; e.g. I managed to reproduce three different voting registration confirmations from there for the bank.

I have also worked in the pharma R&D sector which is heavily dominated by paperwork and chains of custody. Anything and everything that is done (scientifically) is supposed to have at least one piece of paper associated with it.

There is an immense amount of rank pulling and avoiding of stepping on toes. E.g. I frequently watched people doing things (as the most junior member of staff) that were categorically incorrect (such as writing down what a volume should be as opposed to what it actually is) or that would potentially be picked up by the FDA as inappropriate. But basically nothing was ever said because people didn't want to get into arguments with the other people they'd spent 15, 20, 25 years working with and would be stuck in the office with.

As the most junior member of staff, I also frequently observed people attempting to hand off blame in my direction. For instance, I could be sat at the desk with a person either side of me handing me their own paperwork to countersign against some unknown error they'd decided had to be something to do with my involvement; with precisely zero scientific basis behind it or truth. As a for instance, I watched a senior scientist spend three months running one analysis that should have taken two weeks, and generate over two hundred results for it when it should have only required around 20, the entire time with a fault message ('heater not functioning') they didn't understand appearing on the front of the equipment (a point I raised, three times, and that was ignored, three times). This alone resulted in a three month long argument between departments about why the results of the tests where all over the place. Again, one of the outcomes of this situation was (for the one or two tests I was partly involved in) to have me sign off on it essentially being down to me 'not mixing something enough'. Which they not only didn't have any actual evidence of (because it wasn't true) but obviously wasn't the problem because the error was there before and after my temporary involvement. They then attempted to imply it may be due to me tampering with equipment; which was me emptying a bottle on the machine, that they'd asked me to empty. There were sheets of countersigned paper in the files dedicated to the errors I'd solely made, after asking three or four different senior members of staff what should be done, minus their names, a statement that I'd been reminded this wasn't company policy, and then their own name at the end next to the correct set of outcomes. Ironically, given that they were highly reluctant to let me work on any regulated work, they were fine with me fixing broken bits of equipment (e.g. they'd managed to pull a signal lead out of it's screw terminals on the back of a detector dragging the equipment around and between them and the manufacturer couldn't figured out how to reconnect the two wires due to a major breakdown of communication). Technically, the heater fault should have been investigated as soon as it appeared and I shouldn't really have been fixing the wires as I wasn't technically trained, signed off (or paid) to repair anything at all (and this piece of equipment was being used for 'regulated studies', i.e. those that might form the basis of an application or support profile, so the results it generates could be considered direct legal evidence). They were literally just guessing at what could be wrong and randomly trying different things to see what would work, not only my own supervisors but also their own (people with 'decades of experience' in analytical science).

This happened endlessly, they weren't one offs. It was a culture of 'if you can pass the blame along, do so'. As another example, my own supervisors made liberal use of the flexible hours policy. In so much as they would often turn up at 10 or 11am then have left by 2 or 3pm or in some cases both take what seemed to be un-noted mini holidays to the point that I was left entirely in charge of handling requests, collecting samples and sending results out. The study directors ended up coming to me as a primary contact point to ask about changing study protocols because they'd only ever get arguing with the others. This was pointless in some instances as I wasn't approved to request any service or material or make any changes whatsoever to any protocol.

They also had a habit of putting things down in an email after deciding what to do. And would purposefully avoid saying 'we decided this' or 'this should be done' but would go with 'what was suggested' etc without discussing what it was that was suggested.

I would highly recommended adding a call recorder to your phone just in general.

As dire as it sounds, I have even looked into wearing some form of voice recorder when in such an environment just in case something gets said 'off the record' that turns out to actually be 'on the record' when it turns out to cause a problem. This is effectively the nuclear option you would only want to use in a serious situation; e.g. someone trying to fire or formally warn you for something they told you to do.

There is essentially no way to fix many of these problems. You can sometimes make suggestions (which they will likely take personal offense to) or attempt to force the chain of custody by replying with what will be done and how and asking them if its what they meant but that's likely going to need doing any and every time and will eventually be seen as being argumentative.

Eyal is correct that keeping some form of note book of what's going on could be useful however it's not actually very good evidence at all really. A court might consider that, or if you contact a different (and preferably higher) manager they might be interested, but they might also see it as being disruptive; as an example, someone attempted to warn the company I was working for of inappropriate sales strategies being used by some representatives and were then made redundant for having a poor team work mentality (the company was later found guilty of criminal activity, fined a few billion dollars for related problems and everyone within the company was forced to undertake anti-bribery and corruption training, yearly). In the long haul, your own account of things won't actually carry very much weight at all either in a company or in a court. If you only email out what you're going to do, or think has been suggested, and get no 'okay, that is correct', they can just as easily say you weren't ever told to do what's in the email; that you've just assumed it to be correct.

Given that your manager has specifically told you not to ask for any emails, it seems quite clear that they are specifically trying to avoid taking any responsibility at all and are almost certainly aware of what sending such emails can mean; that they may have to take some responsibility at some point. Hanging up the phone is ridiculous and, in combination with the emails, an almost sure sign they are purposefully avoiding any kind of record involving them.

I think life is too short to put up with that as it's essentially a form of soft slavery; they get more than you because they're supposed to be solving problems and taking some extra responsibility for getting them solved, not creating them and then trying to blame other people. If it's built into your department or the company structure, the best solution is to look at changing departments or jobs.

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    What an enormous wall of text. – Mister Positive Jun 14 '17 at 18:45
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    Recording people without their knowledge or consent or during a phone call will certainly lead you to serious legal trouble, where losing your job would be the least of your concerns. I strongly recommend against this unless you're a character in a TV drama. – rath Jun 15 '17 at 12:45

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