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I recently came across an unusual issue, which I analyzed in some detail. I emailed my observations to a Senior Architect, something like this:

Hi John,
While working on Foo, I observed 'Z'. I analyzed this issue further, and found out that it is caused by 'W', as explained below:

- W causes X due to ...
- X causes Y due to ...
- Y causes Z due to ...

To fix this issue, we could do either 'A' or 'B'. However, both these go against the project guidelines due to reasons 1 and 2. Could you please have a look and suggest a different approach?

Regards, Masked Man

2 weeks and 3 reminders later, I got the following response from him:

Hi Masked Man,
Thanks for bringing this issue to my notice. I had a look into it, and it appears that 'W' is the reason for the issue 'Z', because 'W' causes 'X', 'X' causes 'Y' and 'Y' leads to 'Z'. To fix this issue, I suggest you try either 'A' or 'B'.

Regards, John

He has replied with the same analysis and the same solutions that I emailed him! I am not sure if he has actually read my mail completely, or just jumped into the problem on reading the first line.

I am more concerned about whether he realized the part about the solutions being against the project guidelines. I cannot share more details of the issue, but it is easy to miss that these solutions are against the guidelines unless someone spends some time to realize what is going on.

Hence, I can see two possibilities in this case:

  • I am wrong about 'A' and 'B' being against the guidelines, and "John" already knows that it won't be a problem, so did not say anything about it.
  • "John" had a truckload of issues to look into, and proposed solutions 'A' and 'B', without considering the full ramifications of it.

How do I reply to his email, without sounding rude or condescending, asking him if he has actually read my email, in particular, the portion which talks about violation of the guidelines?

  • 117
    You could start a reply with "I'm glad you agree with my analysis..." – Grimm The Opiner Jun 14 '17 at 8:25
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    The simple answer is this is "B", a miscommunication. Answer very concisely as per morsor's answer. So, hit reply and "Wait - I think A and B are against guidelines?" Secondly, dump email and go talk about it. – Fattie Jun 14 '17 at 11:02
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    @GrimmTheOpiner and add "I agree with your recommended solutions, however, I'm concerned that... am I misreading the guidelines?" – FreeMan Jun 14 '17 at 13:17
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    I'm betting your email was too long. I doubt he read all of it. Many people will skip everything after the first five lines or so. Maybe skim it. Keep things much shorter in the future. You probably could have just listed solutions A and B, then asked your question. Three lines at most. – fredsbend Jun 15 '17 at 6:49
  • 1
    This is why I keep emails short. Especially to certain recipients. If someone obviously hasn't read my email. I'll repeat the info and remember to make it shorter next time. – user5621 Jun 15 '17 at 8:38
170

E-mail didn't work as a communication method the first time, therefore don't do it again. Pick up the phone, walk into their office, instant message them or similar. The conversation then hopefully goes something like:

You: do you have a couple of minutes to chat about Z?

John: sure.

You: You suggested I do either A or B, but I'm not very happy with that as they violate the project guidelines.

John: oh yeah. Whoops. Can we do C instead?

As an aside, I think you should have probably changed communication method after sending the first reminder - it sounds very much like John is suffering from e-mail overload, so if you're not getting the appropriate response after a couple of efforts, then find a different way of communicating.

  • 2
    "find a different way of communicating." My first thought, the manager has all the signs of drowning under emails. – sh5164 Jun 14 '17 at 7:47
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    @Nelson Soo … practice is insanity? ;-) – Konrad Rudolph Jun 14 '17 at 10:39
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    @Dukeling Depends how much it obviously violates the project guidelines - if the guideline says "thou shalt not use any GPL code" and the suggestion was to use GPL code then it's pretty blatant. If it's something more subtle, then absolutely ask the question. I don't expect my words to be used literally! – Philip Kendall Jun 14 '17 at 11:06
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    @KonradRudolph Practice is not insanity because its goal is to be able to produce the same result every time :) – Laconic Droid Jun 14 '17 at 11:27
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    You need input from John - if you can't get that decision under your own power, it's time to escalate to your manager. – Philip Kendall Jun 14 '17 at 14:38
19

You are probably correct in assuming he hasn't really read your email.

Depending on the company culture and the availability of the boss 'John' , perhaps scheduling a meeting is the best way forward?

If a meeting is not an option, an email will have to do. Given the previous unsatisfactory reply, the email needs to be shortened and the wording 'sharpened'

Hi John,

Would it be problematic that both A and B actually violate project guidelines?

Regards, Masked Man

  • 3
    I would use "Is it an issue given that both A and B..." unproblematic may be a real word but not used much in common usage, at least in US/UK – Michael Durrant Jun 14 '17 at 17:00
  • Or "isn't it problematic" / "is it not problematic " – Tim Jun 14 '17 at 19:15
18

I would say something like:

I'm glad you reached the same conclusion as I did in my original analysis ( OPTIONAL add: as I outlined previously).
However, the problem remains that solutions A and B seem to violate our development guidelines.
So this is what I need your help with. How can we modify one of these solutions to keep it in line with the guidelines, or can you clarify why these solutions do not violate our guidelines?
I'm just not seeing it.

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    "I'm glad you reached the same conclusion as I did" there's a huge danger that this will be seen as a smarty-pants comment. It's extremely likely Boss simply didn't read through everything properly, that sentence could be highly irritating to Boss. – Fattie Jun 14 '17 at 11:34
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    It's not his boss, but a senior dev/architect. There is little doubt the senior didn't read the original email. If he had it would have likely saved him the trouble of looking into it himself while still getting basically nowhere on the solution end. – user71374 Jun 14 '17 at 12:00
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    Saying "I'm glad you reached the same conclusion" shows a) you already share common ground b) you are glad to have a second opinion backing up your findings c) you did your due diligence (investigating yourself instead of running to the senior for a bailout) and d) yes, does point out that you already told him everything he just said. But it does that in a non-confrontational and respectful way. Can you offer an alternate phrase that captures all of this and doesn't sound "smarty pants"? – user71374 Jun 14 '17 at 12:09
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    I am with @Fattie that the first sentence is strange. It sounded passive-agressive to me at the first reading. – Mindwin Jun 14 '17 at 13:15
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    @Fattie I think it's important to mention, since the coworker in question may not have done the analysis themself if they had read the whole email. It's possible the coworker thinks OP is a lazy good for nothing who pawns off work to others. When really it's just that the coworker didn't read the email... – industry7 Jun 14 '17 at 15:47
9

As you stated in the question above, there was clearly a miscommunication of some kind. At this point you have 2 option (in my opinion) either call him, or send another email. Either way, it should look something like this:

Hi John,

I am on board with A and B being the action we should take. Correct me if I am wrong, but I was under the impression that both A & B go against our project guidelines. If I am correct about that, can we get together and come up with a new plan for solving this issue

This is a very passive wording that shouldn't sound rude or condescending. From personal experience, I have found when I am in I situation where my response might sound rude, I will play "the dumb card" and say something like, I thought it was supposed to be this way, but I am not sure. This usually turns the conversation into the other person telling you the answer you want without making feel like they missed something or that they are stupid.

3

John seems to largely agree with you, so one can hardly speak of a complete misunderstanding. If anything his reply was a bit ambiguous or incomplete. It could reasonably be that he:

  • agrees with either A or B and doesn't mind that the project guidelines are violated
  • forgot that you wanted some advice from him regarding A or B or something else
  • is rather disinterested in the matter

I suggest to send another inquiry with a clarification of the problem and repeating the question.

Hi John,

I agree that we could do either 'A' or 'B'. However, both these go against the project guidelines due to reasons 1 and 2. My concern was that this might mean that we need a different approach. Are you okay with either A or B? Or do you think we need a different approach?

2

In today's office environments, there are usually a variety of ways to communicate. I have found that most people tend to prefer one or two, and frequently either dislike, or do poorly with, other forms.

Many people who don't do well with email (either through preference, or through sheer volume of emails received), demonstrate this by only responding to the first point or two raised in any given email.

That looks like what is happening here.

Pointing out that you've already mentioned what he replied with accomplishes nothing (unless, at some later date, you are criticized for not reaching those conclusions on your own, at which point you can certainly forward your original email as evidence).

Moving forward, the best approach is to simply present your "ask". In this case, your ask is "Do you have an alternative suggestion to solutions A or B?" You can then follow up with an explanation, front-loading the key concern: "I have looked at those approaches possible solutions, however they violate the project guidelines."

When people show signs that they only read part of your email, it is best to prioritize the most important information, in the form of a question, right at the beginning. That way, if they don't understand the question, they may read a bit more to find out what you're talking about. Always try to keep these emails as brief as possible.

Generally, though, these people tend to prefer some other form of communication. Some prefer IM, others phone calls, and others face-to-face discussion. I suggest you try to get a feel for which means of communication this colleague prefers, and stick with that in the future.

0

When pointing out a miscommunication, I find it's best to offer to take the blame for that miscommunication whether it's actually your fault or not, to avoid coming off as rude:

I don't think I communicated the situation well. While A and B would theoretically solve the problem, each one violates project guidelines. I'm hoping you can help me find a solution C.

It should be done in person or over the phone, since this coworker is avoiding answering your emails. If this coworker is too difficult to contact, you may need to escalate to a higher supervisor who can either help motivate him to work with you, or explicitly approve the guideline violations so you can use solution A or B.

protected by Community Jun 16 '17 at 13:55

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