20

I am a German guy working in a company with around 50 employees in Germany. I am responsible for IT. The hierarchy is flat, with the exception of the manager of course.

The way of speaking is pleasant. If someone needs help from me, they usually ask if I could swing by and have a look at it.

Then there is this other guy. His emails always have that demanding tone. On top of that, he always blames the tech first, instead of asking me what might be the issue.

Now, this other guy sent this email:

Hi Daniel,

today, access is not possible again.
Please configure that.

[Signature]

(Original email is in German.)

First of all, his demanding tone really annoys me. As a co-worker, he is in no position to order me around. Secondly, access is possible. I explained to him in person how to access mailboxes of co-workers via Webmail. It's not a configuration problem, but a problem of him not listening. (I absolutely hate when people always accuse tech first, as this also kind of reflects on my ability to do my job as a sysadmin. But mainly because it shows no research effort and does not help me one bit without a screenshot of the error.)

I want to tell him to phrase his emails in a respectful manner. Something along the lines of:

Hi Daniel,

today I had trouble again accessing those emails. I did this and here is a screenshot of where I struggled. Could you assist me please / have a look at this please?

[Signature]

But before I do, could you please give me a reality check whether it's just me having a personal problem with that attitude, or whether his attitude is in fact rude.

As a sidenote, this is not a single incident and it's not a problem of writing. The way he acts and speaks is the same. He comes off as bossy.

Edit: Sorry, if it has not been clear. I want to emphasize that the question is about the tone and how it is perceived. Although I appreciate your input about how to train people to write support tickets, that is not the primary matter.

closed as primarily opinion-based by gnat, Masked Man, Chris E, JasonJ, IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 14 '17 at 16:12

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 5
    Is the email actually in English, or have you translated the German? If you are not used to working in Germany, they are pretty direct. – Martin Bonner Aug 14 '17 at 9:40
  • 4
    It's not you! You perhaps have to develop an even thicker skin but in the end, it's not you. Mails like that would get me fired up too (perhaps it's "us"). That said, I doubt there's much to do about it other than staying professional. I would not hesitate though to return the favor using some tongue in cheek if it's a "layer 8" problem "again". – Lieven Keersmaekers Aug 14 '17 at 9:43
  • 22
    Disagree with @LievenKeersmaekers, it's you. If read without the accompanying sob story, there is nothing in that 11-word e-mail that's rude. You can layer your own interpretation onto it with all the backstory, context, and personal history between you two, but the email itself isn't rude at all. I'm not saying there isn't an antagonistic relationship, or that the interpretation of rudeness is totally invalid, but the words themselves aren't where it's coming from. – Nuclear Wang Aug 14 '17 at 13:09
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    At least he said 'please.' – AffableAmbler Aug 14 '17 at 13:37
  • 5
    Could you include the German wording for comparison? – Daniel Jour Aug 14 '17 at 13:56
35

Just ignore the tone; some people don't go to work to be polite - they just want to do their work.

I'd just reply with:

Hi there, just follow these steps to gain access to x/y/z, it should be pretty straightforward

Let me know if there's any issues

You sometimes have to gradually train users how to report issues by repeatedly asking for repro steps and/or screen-grabs.

  • You say "for now". I have been ignoring his tone for a year now. Would you think I should still ignore him? He speaks like that also in person, not only in writing. Also thanks for your input on the issue reporting, although that is not a primary matter. It just adds to his tone. – Daniel Aug 14 '17 at 8:20
  • 14
    Not everyone is naturally polite, and you just have to get over that. By and large, if you keep asking for repro steps and screen-grabs, they'll start figuring out that it's less effort for them to supply this in the first place. Emailing the access steps allows you to simply re-forward the same email the next time he asks the same question. – Snow Aug 14 '17 at 8:23
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    The " Kill them with kindness" approach – Martijn Aug 14 '17 at 10:06
  • 1
    @Martijn Not really kindness. This is a mixture of "this is easy, you can do it yourself", "help me to help you, or I'll keep asking you for more information", and "I told you this already, here's the proof". – Snow Aug 14 '17 at 10:36
  • @Daniel Dude there's 50 people at work. One of them is bound to be grumpy. – corsiKa Aug 14 '17 at 15:52
26

I'm from Germany. Software Developer. The tone is a bit rude. But: Tech staff is viewed as a kind of service for the rest of the company where I work (500+ employees). So you are a service provider.

I would first ALWAYS check, if it really isn't a technical problem. Nothing is more embarrasing than realizing, it's a technical issue after blaming the user. Answer in a polite way. Once again explain the way he has to solve this issue. Make a little step by step guide with screenshots. If he asks the same question again, just forward the answer again. Stay calm and polite. He is not really insulting.

  • 4
    I am servicing the company and my co-workers, there is no doubt about that. But in my opinion, that does not permit that kind of tone. Thank you for your honest opinion. – Daniel Aug 14 '17 at 8:23
  • 20
    Maybe next time go to his office and show him in person. Maybe he is quite nice in person and just thinks simple, on the point email is more efficient. Sometimes changing the communication channel helps. – Korinna Aug 14 '17 at 8:36
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    He is exactly like that in person. And I always train co-workes in person. – Daniel Aug 14 '17 at 8:38
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    I see. I don't believe you can change his tone. If you really want to try, say something polite and set boundries. But as you have nothing you can do to make consequences to his actions, it might not help. You can't not help him anymore. You will have to deal with him. You might as well let it go. – Korinna Aug 14 '17 at 8:43
  • You might be seen as a service provider, however you are not an external service provider. It is rude to handle colleagues as janitors. – Rui F Ribeiro Aug 14 '17 at 15:18
26

It can sound somewhat rude when a foreigner first encounters it, but this is one of the ingredients that make Germany's "just get to the point" work culture so wonderful.

Caricatured version of a US boss:

Hi [name]

[Pleasantries.] [More pleasantries.]

Anyway, [circles around the subject.] I was wondering if you could do [stuff]. [Fluff.]

Is [deadline] a reasonable time frame for you? [More fluff.]

[Yet more fluff.]

Thanks!

Time spent: 5 minutes.

Caricatured version of a German boss:

Hi [name],

Please get [stuff] done by [deadline].

Time spent: 5 seconds.

In rarer cases they omit the "please" and go "I need [stuff] by [deadline]". It's not intended to be rude or anything, it's just a different work culture. In my experience they periodically do that when they're in the middle of something and issue a quick order as they switch to their next task.

Source: spent years living in both.

  • 5
    There's a fine balance that lies somewhere in between these two, I'd say. – cbll Aug 14 '17 at 8:50
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    I'm German. And you can be to the point while being polite. Example: "Hi, I can't seem to do that thing you showed me last week. There is no error message, I just don't see the emails. This is a screenshot of where I am having trouble. Could you please have a look at it? Thanks." Polite, short, to the point. – Daniel Aug 14 '17 at 8:51
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    @Daniel: To me that read as more descriptive much more than more polite. Also, maybe it's just me, but I've lost count of the number of times I got a direct request, barely with a please or thanks, when working with Germans, Swiss, or for that matter with Hungarians. Usually it's when they're in the middle of something and issue a quick order as they switch to their next task. – Denis de Bernardy Aug 14 '17 at 9:00
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    The person in question is not the OP's boss. – jcm Aug 14 '17 at 9:46
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    @jcm , the person actually is kind of a boss. As a tech in a company you are actually there to help people with tech problems. There is not really a way to say no to a request. As long as your manager doesn't say otherwise you have to help. – Korinna Aug 14 '17 at 12:05
17

Denis de Bernardy's answer is spot on, but I think you need to check your own attitude as well.

The "tone" you hear in his email (and perhaps even in person) is at least partly in your head. This guy seems to get on your last nerve but you know? You need to deal with that. You simply cannot expect someone else to change to suit your preferences.

The "tone" I get from many of your comments is not good. Is that tone accurate? I have no idea, but even if it is, I would not would let that affect my ability to work with you. It's a job, not a marriage.

  • I think that a respectful email is a must at work and throwing a please between the words is not enough. – user1 Aug 14 '17 at 13:02
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    This seems more approriate as a comment under Denis's answer – IDrinkandIKnowThings Aug 14 '17 at 16:13
5

First, assume good intentions. It will help your own mental state and keep you from looking unreasonable if you start from that standpoint.

If you still feel the person is being rude, turn the politeness up to 11. In the American south, the phrase "Well, bless your heart" sounds sweet, but it's not.

You can reply with something like....

Hi [coworker] I'm very sory to hear that. Could you please send me some details as to what you tried, what the result was, and any screenshots of the problem so that I may address this issue effectively.

thank you in advance for your cooperation in this matter

Kindest regards,

Daniel

If you have to defend yourself against false accusations, ask questions such as:

I cannot recreate the issue, have you tried [XYZ]? Do you know anyone else who is having this issue?

It is very hard to determine tone through an email, so unless you know it to be hostile, assume it is not.

  • OP has had several face-to-face conversations with this guy - it seems as though he really is this abrupt in person too. – Snow Aug 14 '17 at 13:21
  • @Pete I have an aunt like that. It could just be his style, he might not intend anything by it. – Retired Codger Aug 14 '17 at 13:23
  • I would rather opt for matching their tone as opposed to being overly polite, but then I don't really consider the tone to be rude in the first place and I'm not an overly polite person. – Dukeling Aug 14 '17 at 13:24
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    @Dukeling I suspect that my social skills are nowhere near as nuanced as yours. I opt for being as polite as possible because I tend to misinterpret tone. – Retired Codger Aug 14 '17 at 13:27
  • My partner always reads an email or any text directed to her as negative. When I read the same bit of text, more often than not I never see the problem and she's over-reacting. With the written word it can be interpreted many ways. Plus, in the OP's case, it could be that the user is putting more emphasis on the "technical" aspect of the request rather than the way it's presented. I've often had long emails that just ramble with niceness and don't contain any information on the issue. – mickburkejnr Aug 14 '17 at 14:04
3

That email IS rude and I've worked in Germany, UK, Italy as a software developer. If I were you I'd be pissed also. A normal email from that guy would be:

Today I can't access it again.  Here is what I'm doing:... 
Is it possible that the issue might be your end? Can you please check when you have time?

Only once I had this issue with a colleague. We, developers, were in a different room so I asked around for other opinions. Everyone had the same feeling so we took it to the manager. Sorry, but being respectful in an email is a must, not an option and using the word please is not enough. The manager handled it nicely by instructing the other team to always explain their steps in emails/tickets, nothing directed at a specific person.

If that guy is not a friend of yours I would advise against speaking with him personally and do it through adequate channels.

EDIT: If something is rude or not depends on the people in question and their culture/education. In a workplace environment one should make an effort to come out as polite and make sure that his actions cannot be regarded as rude by others. Some here find that email rude so there are clearly issues with his way of "asking" for help.

  • 6
    What part of the email is rude? the author states its not working again (implying that this has happened before). Please configure that, leads me to believe last time there was a configuration issue. I am also guessing this is a rough translation of what was actually sent making it even harder to convey tone. – SaggingRufus Aug 14 '17 at 13:49
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    @SaggingRufus you cannot throw tasks in a definite manner like that without a trace of self doubt. Maybe he is doing something wrong (Like the OP says that he doesn't follow the right procedure). The polite way is to explain what you're trying to do and if what you're trying to do is correct, then look into it because it is a bug. He just skipped a step and assumed he's right. – user1 Aug 14 '17 at 14:36
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    so assuming you are right is rude? either he is right, or he isn't. Either way, that doesn't make his email rude. It's short and to the point. Email is down again, please configure. if that type of email offends you in anyway, you are too soft skinned to be working with people. – SaggingRufus Aug 14 '17 at 14:53
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    @SaggingRufus and if the IT guy is behaving in the same way he will reply: email is not down again. please do it the right way. without explaining what he checked. Anyway in 10 years I've come across messages like this only a few times so I wouldn't consider myself too soft skinned. – user1 Aug 14 '17 at 15:16
  • 1
    "Do it the right way" is rude. "try again" is not. – SaggingRufus Aug 14 '17 at 15:19
1

This may be a somewhat culturally dependent interpretation, but I also wanted to put forward a way to address this while maintaining your attitude, if that's what you want.

I'm hearing a lot about this guy blaming you for things that aren't your fault, and always speaking with a demanding tone.

Have you considered responding with accedence and forbearance, not because he's "the boss of you", but because it's the last thing he will expect?

I'm not suggesting being a doormat, instead do it with a body language and tone of voice that suggests 'Haha you are seriously more of a pain in the ass than anyone else in the company, but since I'm such a great and forbearing person, and you're so special, I'll do it just for you'. This isn't a groan and bear it kind of thing - make it plain his request is exceptional (because he hasn't bothered to read the doco or your previous emails explaining the solution).

Certainly people can still respond rudely to such consideration (despite the fact they've explicitly gained more from the interaction than most), but it gives you leverage - blatantly refusing or even being ungrateful for such especial treatment is often considered gauche in the workplace.

One unexpected side benefit of this is that previously problematic staff members can become surprisingly less problematic - either because they realise their attitude is rolling harmlessly off your back, or because they believe they're being taken seriously for once. I've found it has actually re-introduced civility to some co-worker interactions that previously would not have rated space in the same dictionary with the concept of 'civility'.

A point of clarification that may (hopefully doesn't) pigeonhole this advice is that my normal work is as a 'solutions guy'. If someone comes to me with a technical problem, it either means the data centre is on fire or they know I'm the guy with the hook up (i.e., If I can't fix the problem, I know who can). So I always know what extra details I'll need to efficiently address the problem. As such, if somebody comes demanding to me saying "we asked for X 3 weeks ago and it still hasn't happened", I'll be able to say "3 weeks-1 day ago I sent you this request for details about the problem, have you filled it out yet?"

If you don't have the necessary systems in place to honestly send a response like that yet, I suggest you investigate it.

The added benefit of treating everyday requests as 'no big deal' and generally helping your colleagues through all the necessary rigamarole to bring them to a successful conclusion, even when it isn't particularly your job, is that when somebody requests something TRULY inappropriate (e.g. open a security hole), hearing the non-negotiable 'NO' actually snaps them back to reality, as they are unused to hearing it. They are then, generally, very receptive to hearing your alternate and sane suggestion, because they are used to you solving problems for them.

  • 1
    I seem to have received a drive-by downvote, could I please have some feedback from the downvoter? Downvotes without context aren't - uhhh - very instructive. Or, y'know, helpful or useful. – Bruno Aug 14 '17 at 12:31
  • That's a fair point, one of the issues I have with traditional conflict-deescalation recommendations (agree to everything, adopt massively conciliatory and submissive tone etc.), is that they do, in fact, escalate the situation for some people, especially those with anger issues who most likely get sick of being talked to like that, and probably assume you are no longer listening to the actual content of their words at that point. Not to mention people who count on conciliatory responses like that - getting what they want while making everyone else miserable. – Bruno Aug 14 '17 at 22:43
  • So my point is helping them out while making it clear their request could be better phrased and they don't cow you, practicing some assertive body language. This tends to short-circuit their normal expectations where they either expect you to give in or make the mistake of arguing back. – Bruno Aug 14 '17 at 22:45

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