3

My issue

What's the best way to deal with a verbally aggressive/bully colleague?

Context

Objective background

I have started a new job 2 months and two weeks ago as a software developer. It's my second job, I'm 26.

Ten days ago, a newcomer came in as a future lead developer, he is at least 32.

We are 4 on our team :

  • Bob: the oldest developer on the project (here since 9 months), doesn't have good knowledge of what we do.
  • Me: I have far less experience on it
  • Joe: an old QA, came 1 months ago
  • Gregory: The newcomer

And my manager (Alice).

Subjective background

I'm a quite discreet person, I don't make much noise, I don't interact with others more than necessary, I work on my own to find a solution and only ask for help as a last resort. I'm attached to my space (having a clean/empty desk and a need for flow mode/hyperfocus state). I'm more efficiency/technically oriented. Despite of that, I work "a lot" (meaning solving 1-2 bugs per day) with Bob and Joe. It also happen to me to make jokes with members of other teams (that's my way to fulfil the social contract), but usually I don't make eye contact and show a poker face.

The newcomer is more people-oriented, trying to speak to everyone, making a lot of noise, talking to everyone, taking a lot of space. He is also not very good technically and prone to ask before trying to find a solution.

To sum it up: I'm an introvert (INTJ-T) and he is an extrovert.

To be really honest, I don't like this type of men, even when he doesn't talk to me. I feel no offense but I am a little envious of it, sometimes.

Actions

Phase 1: help

Despite that, in the beginning, I have spent a large amount of time explaining where the things are (multiple times), how they work (for those I have a good understanding of), setting up the tools we have, debugging some configuration issues. In the mean team suggested to my manager that she should propose a bunch of training courses to the team to fulfil the technical gap.

Phase 2: taking distance

In the last few days, I have tried to take some distance from the questions he was constantly asking (because it was tiring and it just dropped my productivity).

I have started by saying things like: "I don't know", "Go to see Bob about it", "I don't feel legitimate to answer you on that", "I have no time for you now", "That part is assigned to you". According to the context, it's all true and I have said it in a neutral tone.

His answers: "Say it anyway", "I don't care", "You have to explain me", "I'm the newcomer, you have to explain me", "How will I do it if no one explains it to me", etc.

Phase 3: the clash

He asked me something yesterday, something very obvious to me, something I think he'll be able to deduce with much less information than he has. I answered mechanically "obviously not" (it was a yes-no question), in a neutral tone.

He began to be very aggressive and saying: "There is nothing obvious, you have no choice than to help me, etc.".

I answered: "It's not my job to undergo that you calm your nerves on me, I deserve to be treated correctly" with a tensed voice.

Acting while being overwhelmed and letting these feelings leak against your interlocutor isn't an acceptable behavior (in France). It's mostly viewed as a childish behavior/lack of maturity.

Phase 5: manager/Alice talk

I raised the issue during my weekly meeting (just Alice and me), and her reaction was to tell me that we will get to know each other better and I should have been more careful about him.

I just told her that I'm not here to fulfil his needs and I've quit my job few days later for many reasons including the lack of support from her (my hierarchy).

Phase 6: Gregory talk

As I have expected, I had a talk with Gregory few days after the clash. There are a lot of people like that who like to have a frontal confrontation, thinking that it solves everything. I do not share this view (I know that this situation would eventually happen with him).

He told me that he feels useless and that he frustrated, plus the fact that I was not providing him the help and not even watching him I was saying so.

What I'm not looking for

How to get rid of a help vampire: I perfectly managed to get rid of his question Why is he doing that: I think I had an accurate view of his feeling and of what would happen How to earn his respect: I don't care about his respect, I just want to be treated respectfully

Interesting raised points

He is testing you. Even if it's part of his job (I don't think it's the case), one one hand I just can't pass an "extrovert-test" and on the other hand, I don't see why he would get upset when someone fails at his test.

marked as duplicate by anongoodnurse, Alina Cretu, A J, curiousdannii, JAD Oct 24 '17 at 11:45

This question has been asked before and already has an answer. If those answers do not fully address your question, please ask a new question.

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    Let me just get one thing clear: You have already quit a job which you've been in for less than three months, because you were having difficulties getting along with someone new who began working with you less than two weeks ago? – a CVn Oct 23 '17 at 9:46
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    This is better suited for The Workplace, although it is not off-topic here. The workplace atmosphere is stronger than IPS, and this is better solved by asking the management, rather than trying to confront him yourself. – Vylix Oct 23 '17 at 9:51
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    @MichaelKjörling I have quit my job for various reason (my colleague was one of them) and I have had a better opportunity. – GlinesMome Oct 23 '17 at 10:13
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    @GlinesMome I don't see the indication of disrespect from him in your question – Vylix Oct 23 '17 at 10:32
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    I believe location is relevant here, could you add it please? – Xander Oct 23 '17 at 13:26
21

If you take a step back and imagine this from your new start's perspective:

  • He doesn't know the environment
  • He's not up to speed with the technology
  • You won't answer questions to help him
  • He is trying to learn from others

And what he gets is you telling him to leave you alone.

I can't see a threat to you - I see what looks like you being very unwelcoming to someone who already will be stressed.

Respect is not to be enforced - you earn respect by your actions. If you want it, you should act in a way that supports new team members, and helps them integrate and learn.

  • 1
    I think that not meeting someone's expectations dedicates me to be their emotional buffer or prevents me to be treated with the bare minimum respect every human deserve. – GlinesMome Oct 23 '17 at 12:44
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    I'm assuming a wording/culture challenge here, but that the way you wrote your question gives me the impression you are causing the core issue. Obviously there will be two sides to the story, which is why I suggested looking at it from their perspective. – Rory Alsop Oct 23 '17 at 12:58
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    You said "obviously not" in a neutral tone... but you don't know what they will see as neutral, and what you see as obvious may not be obvious to them – Rory Alsop Oct 23 '17 at 13:00
  • I felt that this time would come, I know that it's difficult to come in a new environment (lots of stuff to learn, the urge/self-pressure to produce something), the frustration to don't be helped, to feel alone in the sea. I went through all steps, but I was able to think to the others who also have their limits without being angry at them. I also have my limits and my job to do and my limits and I won't break them. My voice tone isn't the issue, it's the lack of eye contact which bother him (he told me), but again, I'm not here to fulfil his needs. – GlinesMome Oct 23 '17 at 13:49
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    @Xander - Still a stretch. I'm working on an answer, but note that this person was hired to be a lead developer. One of the things a new leader will do is evaluate the team members, see who knows what, willingness to help, etc. If you can't figure out how to communicate with someone, that will always be a liability. – JohnP Oct 23 '17 at 14:15
11

Aside from the excellent points that @rory made, there is something else in your post that you should look at:

Ten days ago, a newcomer came in as a future lead developer, he is at least 32.

We are 4 on our team and the older newcomer doesn't have good knowledge of what we do.

I'm not sure what the age has to do with anything, but this person was hired as a future lead developer. This means that unless he completely snowed the hiring panel, he has talent and experience that make them think he can lead the team. One of the things that he is (or at least should) be doing is evaluating the people on the team for their skills, strengths and weaknesses.

By refusing to help him, you are demonstrating that you are willing to put your own comfort over helping a team member. I realize that as a true introvert, it is incredibly difficult to do, but if you want to be a productive team member, rather than just a skilled programmer, you will have to make some effort to communicate not only your technical knowledge, but your own comfort levels as well. Something you can also do is say something like:

"I have some work of my own I really need to finish, but here is a resource that can help you. Once I get past this problem, I will check in with you and see if you need some help with it."

Again, as a true introvert, this is probably going to be difficult. It is necessary to be able to say things like this and then follow up if you want to have a successful career on a team of programmers.

(Here is my argumentum ad verecundiam, appeal to authority): I spent 12 years moving from junior to lead developer at a company, and then 6 years as a manager of the programming division. I know what it takes to have a successful team programming environment, and we had a couple of developers along the way that were in the same situation as you. The ones that can adapt and break out of that shell enough to relate to others last in the environment.

Yes, it's possible that he did not realize how much turmoil he was causing. If that is the case, you again really need to be able to break out of your shell enough to talk with him and let him know how much it is troubling you. A good leader will listen to you, and take that into account. It will be difficult, but it will also save you a lot of the same stress in the future. If need be, request that you have a colleague that you are comfortable with in the room as well.

If all of this is not possible for you, then you really may need to find a job (Contract or work from home type situation), where you don't have to deal with colleagues directly. Be aware, though, that even those kinds of jobs you will need to deal with people that expect you to deliver on their terms and their deadline, and be able to communicate effectively with them.

  • Yes, I'm a true introvert (INTJ-T to be precise), I know that I have difficulties to make eye contact (I'm working on it), to have an expressive face or to do small talks. I'll edit my answer later but I don't have any issues to work with the other members of my team (I'm quite proactive about it). I find your point of view interesting, but if I follow along, all he does is testing me? If so, he made tests that matches his "extroverts" criteria that I have no chances to make. So, why bothering trying to? – GlinesMome Oct 23 '17 at 18:29
  • Being an introvert is not a barrier to being a reasonable person with a user friendly interface. One part of being an adult is growing a protective skin over your natural instincts and learning to get on with all types of homo sapiens. It's just another part of the skill set you need to learn. – RedSonja Jan 10 '18 at 7:45
7

I've been on both sides of this situation.

The Clueless New Hire

As the new hire, I've felt overwhelmed by using a new technology stack, which perhaps caused me to ask for more help than I should have.

The senior developer was a great teacher, and had seemingly infinite patience. He always shared the latest things he'd learned, and I consider him a mentor to this day.

The other guy I had to work with I soon learned to avoid, as he would give half baked, utterly useless answers, often prefaced with a few crude comments as to my skill level (low, according to him).

Sometimes you're in a situation where you could spend an hour or two digging through the code to figure something out, or you could have a more knowledgeable person explain the project to you in 15 minutes to give you a "head start". Tracing out all the logic yourself is not a bad approach as the knowledge really sticks, however sometimes time is of the essence, and it helps if the more knowledgeable person understands this and actually answers helpfully.

There are people who abuse this, and the situation devolves into them asking for help for every little task that they need to accomplish. You certainly don't want to encourage that sort of behavior, however that doesn't mean that you should become completely uncooperative. Instead, try to guide him without simply feeding him answers:

We use that technique in project ABC. Check out the XYZ module, you'll see an example there. The comments should also be useful.

Or, if you have any links to documentation on the issue, simply send him those. If he gets a little entitled about the amount of help you "owe" him, speak to your manager:

Hi boss, I wanted to speak to you for a second. Joe's been asking for my help regarding task X, Y, and Z lately. I've tried to help him as much as I can, however I'm in a situation right now where providing him with more help will impact my own delivery times. Would you like me to put more time into helping him, or focus on my own work?

If your boss decides that you should focus on your own deliverables, politely tell Joe that you can't help him at the moment:

Listen, Joe, I'm afraid that I really don't have time to help you right now. I need to get task ABC done, and I'm barely going to make it as is. If you can't figure X out, try mapping out the logic on a piece of paper, and Google concepts bla bla bla.

Dealing With a Pretender

Some people are simply hopeless. One (older) individual I dealt with early in my career was brought on board because he had "a lot of experience", although not in the technology stack we were using. The assumption was that he would catch up in a couple of months, and become a productive member (even leader) of the team. Sadly, that never came to pass.

The more help we offered, the more help he took. He would blatantly ask for our help before even really looking for the problem, or putting any effort into trying to track down the bug.

When we did help him out, he would take complete credit for the solution, and downplay our involvement to the manager. Furthermore, he just never learned from any of these experiences, and just kept coming back for more help.

We all soon learned to shun him, and our answers to him became monosyllabic. With this sort of person you need to simply cut your losses, and minimize your involvement. Never be outright rude, but don't let him manipulate you either:

Him: Hey, could you help me with project X?
You: Sorry, I'm not really that familiar with it, and I'm pretty busy right now.
Him: I'm the newcomer, you have to explain this me.
You: Well, I'd like to, but I'd need to sit down and figure it out, and I just don't have enough time. You should speak to the boss, and ask him to set up a training session.

As in the above case, provide the basic sort of support that you'd normally offer a more "self-sufficient" person. However, don't act such that he comes to blame you for withholding information. Answers such as "Go to see Bob about it" (aka I don't want to deal with you), or "I don't feel legitimate to answer you on that" (aka I don't want to deal with you) might be taken poorly.

Instead, elaborate, and remove any potential insult from it:

I'm pretty new myself, but Bob knows all about that project, and can probably tell you more than I could.

Or: I think I read something about that once, but I really don't remember the details. Try searching it up online, and let me know if you find anything interesting!

I would also immediately speak to your manager (privately) about this person's attitude and behavior:

Hey boss, I need to speak to you regarding a sensitive matter. Joe's been asking me for a lot of help lately. I answer to the best of my ability, however he seems to think that I'm holding some information back from him. He gets very frustrated that I can't answer his questions in the manner in which he's expecting, and he's getting a little rude in his attitude toward me. I feel like he's expecting me to solve his task for him, and I'm not sure how to handle this situation.

If your boss tells you to keep helping him to the best of your ability, make sure to mention that this will doubtlessly impact your own productivity - that usually gets people's attention.

3

Firstly, respect is earned, not enforced

Anything that goes beyond simple professional courtesy is something you have to earn. Respect is earned by showing that you're trustworthy, doing what you promise and by treating people well. Expecting people to respect you just because you're their superior/have been there longer/are older/[insert any other reason here] is a recipe for disappointment.

Now, on to the problem

You state that it's not your job to explain things to them. This isn't entirely true. As someone who's already working there, you have a head start on them because you have gained knowledge about the company, the application, the design, etc. Regardless of junior/medior/senior status, it's generally expected that fellow team members help one another by sharing their knowledge to solve problems together.

This doesn't mean that you should always just give the new colleague what they're asking for. In fact, as the saying goes: "Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day, teach a man to fish and he will eat for the rest of his life". By telling him how he can obtain the information he's looking for you're also helping him. That doesn't mean he is asking questions he shouldn't be asking: he's new to the domain so he doesn't know where to find domain-specific information and when it comes to the technical side, he may simply not be familiar with the specific implementation so he asks you questions to prevent himself from finding the wrong answer himself, wasting time.

At the same time, that doesn't mean that your main task is to help this person. In a case like this one, you should communicate with your manager to get a clear picture of the extent to which you're supposed to help this new person. Sometimes the expectation will be that you prioritise helping them above anything else, including completion of your own task. Other times, the responsibility is shared by the team and you're supposed to be just one of the people that answers the new colleague's questions. It's dangerous to make assumptions about this on your own.

The reason this clarity is important is because it allows you to set boundaries. If you're the only one who is supposed to help this person, your manager should know that this means you will be less productive as long as you have this responsibility. I your case, because you strongly prefer working in a more solitary style, the impact is extra high. On the other hand, if your whole team is supposed to be helping this person, then you can use answers like "Sorry, I'm working on something at the moment, could you ask someone else? If not, I'll try to get to you when I get to a place where I can stop".

The latter approach only works if you actually do get back to them within a reasonable amount of time. If you're just using it as a line to blow them off for a while, they're going to notice this and will stop accepting this answer because they will feel like you're not respecting their needs.

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