I have been given a small team of 4 developers to create a project. The team varies by title as in we have 1 senior engineer 2 juniors and 1 normal. And then there is me with a title of let's say senior normal engineer (bear with me). I am not labeled as a team leader as well but it has been clearly described (to the team) by upper management that the project is mine and I must lead the project team to finish this work.


While planning future work and talking about the design of the application with the team, I have began to attract unnecessarily harsh criticism and extreme resistance from a single member who is the normal titled person. Every move I make is questioned intensely and the arguments sometimes go on to become borderline aggressive. I am not titled as this person's team leader so I have no real authority over anyone. These arguments damage the team morale as well.

I believe this problem stems from this person being 4-5 years older than me and I'm starting to think this person is trying to butt me off this position by challenging me like this. Just this morning he/she redid my scheduling charts just to show how much his/her's is better.

How can I make this specific person understand that I really do value his/her opinion but the final word is mine and mine alone? Speaking to management about this is a last resort.

  • 7
    you will have to explain "normal"
    – Neuro
    Feb 12, 2013 at 12:01
  • titles are: junior: software expert, normal: software engineer, senior-normal: software analyst, senior: system analyst. I didn't want to bug people with titles.
    – mechanicum
    Feb 12, 2013 at 12:04
  • 8
    Just remember this probably has NOTHING to do with him being older than you and everything to do with him thinking he should have been selected for the position. It shows some prejudice on your part that his age comes to mind as a reason. Older workers are not necessarily out to get younger ones just because they are older. Heck my boss is only a little more than half my age and we don't have these problems.
    – HLGEM
    Feb 15, 2013 at 19:22

6 Answers 6


Your position is that of a lead, not Supreme Unquestionable Leader High Exalted. In the end you have to try to lead the project to a success but does this give you the authority or even the right to monopolize the technical decision process?

Ignoring the person who is your senior, one of the greatest learning experiences and benefits that a Junior can have on a team is to actively encourage their participation in whiteboard meetings where design and high level technical decisions can be hashed out. Of course most of their ideas are awful, but nobody should outright say this, you continue to throw scenarios and questions at their ideas and have them defend their positions in a civilized, non-confrontational and non judgemental way. Having them come to the conclusion of their own mistakes is how junior developers are groomed into productive indpendent self starting team members that are on their way to leading a team of their own some day.

The bottom line is, for this to be equitable then everybody must be treated this way, including the senior members as well as lead. I like not to think of the lead as the one making the final decisions, instead, the lead encourages the debates, stifles heated emotions and directs with strong questions. If the senior member indeed has strong ideas that are better than your own then you should encourage the team to challenge his assertions and come to their own minds on it. You should whole heartedly and logically accept if his idea is better than your own. You aren't coming to a decision for the team, you are leading the team to the inevitable best decision.

With that being said, some people just get too emotional or are just controlling jerks or bullies (I am not saying that is the case for the senior person at all). If the person cannot logically defend or argue for one technical or scheduling decision over another then the team will pick up on this and will naturally lose credibility in this person. If it needs to elevate beyond that then your team will back you up on this if they have to.

When somebody is passionately arguing for what you feel is a wrong point then the following are some tips to help you:

  1. Try to diffuse heated emotions by not being reacting emotionally.

  2. Don't let this person lead you into an emotional state as emotional arguments are won by passion not by reason.

  3. Be more stubborn than the senior guy. What I mean by this is that some people are naturally very persuasive and bullheaded. To lead such a person you need to elevate your tenacity and determination above theirs at all cost or they will start leading you subconciously. Hold out on decisions until the senior member either proves his point well or gives up. Everybody gives up after a certain amount of resistance, don't let that be you.

  • I never thought of my position as such:). Since I'm also a developer, I have opinions about design patterns. Of course better idea is always better and it may not be mine and thats fine. Also, I have to agree with all the tips. Perhaps this specific member of the team is trying to prove his/her worth. Would it help if I applied one of his/her ideas so that person could bathe in the glory of it and perhaps calm down or should I just create a debate of doom at team meetings where all of that person's ideas get invalidated by the others everytim. That also sounds like mobbing of a technical sort.
    – mechanicum
    Feb 12, 2013 at 12:55
  • 3
    @mechanicum Certainly if he has a good idea then try to promote it to boost his confidence... but if all he has is bad ideas then the team should tear apart those ideas, even if it crushes his morale. That would be a self inflicted wound on his part. If he can't come up with good ideas then he needs to come to terms emotionally with being a follower until he understands more of the domain. Just make sure EVERYBODY knows that nobody gets special treatment, including yourself. It must be said that finding the BEST idea is an imperative. Feb 12, 2013 at 13:07
  • Good answer; I would just add that conflict isn't "bad." Good stuff comes out of professional conflict in the workplace. Try embracing it, use it as a learning experience but don't be afraid to assert yourself where it is needed.
    – jdb1a1
    Feb 12, 2013 at 13:11
  • 3
    +1, and also: There are 4 widely-recognized steps to team buildling. Forming, storming, norming, and performing. Everyone always goes through stroming (though to a different extent) and it's normal, every new team goes through this and you will notice it more once you are in a leadership position. You need to establish boundaries and ways to communicate that work for everyone.
    – MrFox
    Feb 12, 2013 at 13:22
  • It seems this person is his "senior" only by age. The poster is the "senior normal" developer (whatever that means), there is a senior developer, and a "normal" developer who is the trouble maker.
    – gnasher729
    May 28, 2016 at 18:29

It looks like you're in damage control mode and should treat it as such.

The damage is that you did not establish respect AND a good relationship with the individual when you met them and/or when the team formed. This is something you need to learn to see coming in the future when someone is an obvious threat.

Note, you don't want to "expect trouble" in the future, you want to build a better relationship and establish respect to keep trouble from happening.

Control the damage by:

Damage Control: Relationship:

Immediately getting to know more about the person and finding things that you like about them. Don't try to make them think you like them or you'll lose more respect, just genuinely look for things you like and/or respect about them and remember those things when you look at them or talk with them etc.

Damage Control: Respect

So, to stop the team demoralizing arguments, you're going to have to simply stop arguing. It may be hard to see, but the argument is not about the topic at hand, but more about your ability to control the situation. He/She's saying you cant control the situation and is proving it with their unproductive actions.

You're feeding the monster by giving it attention when it's bad. That's your primary fault here.

Another way to look at this is, by arguing at all, it says that you feel the need to justify yourself, therefore proving your team member's view that his/her age or title or whatever makes them superior to you causing even more damage in terms of respect.

I agree with the other poster in that you're getting baited in and your adversary is winning when you get involved.

Here's a simple strategy you can use that has these benefits:

  1. you still get valuable information
  2. you remaining in control
  3. you do not justify yourself
  4. you don't demoralize everyone else

Try this:

  1. Conflict starts over an idea. Recognize when it has become a conflict and that if so, it is not about the idea but about emotions. You will need to learn to recognize this earlier and earlier. The earlier you can tell the slight vocal intonations or word choices, the easier it is to stop.
  2. Ask to hear the point of view of the person. Listen during this time to weed out the conflict from the information that might actually be valuable to you.
  3. Make a decision right then and there based on the information you have. If no decision is to be made, skip this step. But either way, don't justify yourself. If you're insulted, just ignore it. If you're asked "why" you can easily say "I heard what you had to say and took it into consideration, but this is the way we're going". He/she will definitely try to bait you and/or demand that you justify your decision. Don't. Don't justify and don't fight. Sometimes they will give good information and you will agree with them. Sometimes they wont. Even if you agree with them, Don't Justify.
  4. Move on to the next point with a gentle persistence. Probably ignoring more comments.

After a couple of times he/she will get the message.

Also, If at any time during the process they start to raise their voice, be prepared to remind them to "please act professional"

Don't forget to build the relationship or this will just create a cold war.

Of course this is a short reply to a complex topic, but hope it helps.

  • This is also a great answer! In a previous project, we had a project manager who had an air of absolute authority, and spoke a little slower and clearer than normal people would. Maybe that is also what emphasizes authority. We knew he had limited tech knowledge but no one ever questioned his decisions, except the occasional under-breath mumbling. I'll try your suggestions. I have so many chances, I see this person everyday.
    – mechanicum
    Feb 13, 2013 at 9:39
  • "Don't justify and don't fight." I'd rather say "Don't justify when in a fight." (even when the fight hasn't openly broken out) As I understand your answer you recommend to generally not justify decisions. To that I disagree. Explaining why decisions are being made bring transparency which gives a team trust. Please explain your point here a bit more.
    – s.Daniel
    Dec 12, 2013 at 11:49
  • Great answer. This person wants an argument, so deny them the argument.
    – gnasher729
    May 28, 2016 at 18:35

Tell this person you want his input, but you're not going to waste everyone's time debating every single item and once you make a decision, it's over. I see some potential problems:

  1. You make the final decision, but the person does not comply/get things done.
  2. This person continues to waste everyone's time with their objections.
  3. By excessively complaining to others, it undermines your ability to lead the project.

Otherwise, you don't have a problem. You are the project lead. Let this person know that you intend to report this person's behavior and how it affects the progress of the project. Be objective and not take the criticism personally.

Just remember, you're responsible for the project and not this person's behavior. That's the job of his/her supervisor. You will have to deal with the consequences if the project fails because you didn't take his advice or you let him get in the way.


"Speaking to management about this is a last resort" why? It is managements job to manage employees. If they attempted to put you in a role that requires authority but actually has none then they have made a mistake that needs to be fixed. I'm sure that if you were a manager your coworker would not act this way towards you. I would talk to the coworker first and explain that you were put in charge of the project then if the attitude continues notify management that he/she isn't playing ball. In worst case the others in the group may start to follow his/her example and clash with you or even follow his/her direction instead of yours.

  • If I spoke to that person, s/he would take it wrong I think. It's one of those hysterical/over anxious/will step on their family to rise up kind of people. Also a very fine developer but the problem is getting through the message of that not all of his/her ideas can be applied and other people also have correct ideas, without destroying the project. I agree about talking to management also but doesn't that make me look like I can't handle it.
    – mechanicum
    Feb 12, 2013 at 12:56
  • @mechanicum He sounds like he may be self conscious of his own abilities. Anyone who is over eager to prove themselves don't have very high self esteem or self worth. Feb 12, 2013 at 13:09
  • @maple_shaft I work with some people that have been brought in from overseas and act this way because their stay in the US is conditional on them keeping their jobs. It's a bit twisted, but people have different reasons.
    – MrFox
    Feb 12, 2013 at 15:47

Having team members who are experts and who are very much familiar with specific areas and experienced in the team is good for you. Your work will be easy. Your success depends on how effectively you use them, how you make them work for you. .

As per your description it appears to me that this person feels that he deserves the position that you are in currently. And he feels he is better fit for it and management didn't recognize that and puts you into the position instead of him. At this point of time what he wants is recognition. You recognize that. Make sure that person understands that you recognized his capabilities and also your say has more value at management. Have one to one conversation with him, and ask about his aspirations, strengths, weaknesses and immediate goals etc.. If he has aspiration to become team lead, you recognize his/her capabilities and give a word him/her that you will help him to reach his aspirations and if possible you will recommend him/her for this position for next role change or promotion cycle. You assign him tasks which requires more leadership skills or which aligned his aspirations. If he is better than you recognize that fact and use his expertise for team success or project success.

Another way of handling him is, assign the task or assignment completely to him and you just review it and make necessary changes and appreciate him once he is done successfully . If any task or assignment that you only have to do and take his suggestions and tell him as he is senior in the team his suggestions are very valuable.

At the end of the day you have to make him work for you. he needs special treatment. You give him and then he will work for you.


Please consider the truth in the other answers here before considering this:

  • The team has 4 people. Is your estimation that a reduction to 3 people without this developer increases or decreases productivity? If no decrease -> Ask management to remove him.
  • Give him work to do, and if he then deviates (like re-doing charts which you did, and which may be your responsibility), expose his issues to the management
  • Ask him to prepare a suggestion to you in written form about topics where you believe he can give good input. Make it clear to him that some things/aspects may be his fundamental responsibility but others are not.

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