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How to resolve conflicts between coworkers?

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Anonymous User at Taro Communitya year ago

I’m an E5 iOS engineer at a Big Tech company. An E5 Android engineer (let’s call him A) on my team is very direct & blunt in his communication style. If he doesn’t like something, he’ll definitely let you know. An E5 backend engineer (let’s call him B) on my team is the complete opposite in his communication style. A and I collaborated on an official spec that we shared with our entire team to align everyone. B deviated from this spec in his RFC, but had tagged A and me on his proposed name change in the sample json response in his backend RFC.

A called B “sloppy” for embedding the source of truth in the backend RFC’s sample json response instead of using the official spec as the source of truth. This offended B, who viewed it as “finger pointing”. From B’s perspective, it was an innocent misunderstanding that’s easily resolved since it’s so early in the project that not much code has been written. It’s a single string that can be easily changed on both the mobile and backend sides. B thinks that A is making a mountain out of a molehill.

I worked closely with B last quarter and really enjoyed it. He’s extremely kind, easy-going, encouraging, and puts you at ease. If you make a mistake, he would never call it out explicitly. A seems to be the complete opposite of all those things, but I haven’t worked much with A yet.

Both A and B vented to me privately for support. A thinks that B is “sloppy” for burying the changes in the backend RFC instead of updating the official spec. B thinks that A is “difficult to work with” and “points fingers” over something that can be easily resolved. We’re still in the early stages of this project, and B doesn’t know how he can work with A if A keeps finger pointing.

When I suggested that A sugarcoat the “sloppy” comment, A told me that’s already the sugarcoated version.

B’s planning to escalate this to our EM, since he suspects that A will as well, so he needs to “defend himself”. Any advice on how I can improve the situation? Sadly, I feel that most engineers at this company use A's "direct" approach. I personally get along fine with both of these individuals (so far, at least), so they both confided in me. I think that A is “right” that the source of truth should be in the official document, but the manner that he communicated it could have been improved (not that I’m an expert at this skill either!). Are there concrete actions that I can coach A on to make him a better teammate to work with? When another teammate (E6) previously berated B in front of the entire team, I escalated it to my EM on B's behalf and my EM had intervened. Should I just escalate this to my EM as well? There are some strong personalities on this team that are going to make this project challenging. Sigh.

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Discussion

(6 comments)
  • 1
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    Senior Infrastructure Engineer at Stripe
    a year ago

    Sounds like you’ve already had success raising interpersonal issues with your EM, and this situation is no different. I’d continue to do that.

  • 0
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    Anonymous User [OP]
    Taro Community
    a year ago

    Thanks for the suggestion, Harish. I've seen improvements in the E6, but there's still work left. My EM's dealing with a lot right now (e.g., interpersonal issues, managing up, managing stakeholders, setting the team's vision, filling in for team members who are on PTO, etc.). He told me that this is the toughest team he's ever managed in his career. He's an incredible EM, so I worry about him getting overwhelmed and stepping down to be an IC. He has hinted about it, so I'm trying to lessen his load however I can.

  • 1
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    Senior Infrastructure Engineer at Stripe
    a year ago

    That’s unfortunate but I’d argue that resolving these kinds of interpersonal issues falls under the job description of the EM. If this is something you feel unequipped to take a first pass at yourself, it’s crucial to the health of your team that your EM is made aware of this.

  • 2
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    Senior Infrastructure Engineer at Stripe
    a year ago

    It seems like both A and B trust you and value your opinion. You can definitely try arranging a 3-way discussion and resolving this yourself before escalating to the EM if you feel comfortable doing so.

  • 2
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    Engineering Manager at Blend
    a year ago

    Here's a few thoughts:

    • Rare in the conflict it's 100% one person's fault – in most cases that I've seen when conflict arises, rarely is it 100% one person's fault. Maybe see if, Person A + B can buy into this perspective and see if they'd be willing to admit/own how they've contributed to this conflict (even if they believe it's a minor part)
    • Promote team mindset – something that you can encourage folks to have is a team/community mindset (e.g. seeking what is good & best for the team). If people are unwilling to work through conflict in a mature & healthy way then they're prioritizing their self over the team which most of the times is just selfishness.
    • Treat others how you'd want to be treated – curious if "person A" would appreciate to be called out in the same manner that he called out "person B" – the same tone, style, word choice, setting etc. Could lead to an interesting conversation.

    Hope that helps. Happy to clarify and/or provide more thoughts.

  • 4
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    Tech Lead/Manager at Meta, Pinterest, Kosei
    10 months ago

    You definitely don't want to be caught in the "crossfire" between two engineers here. We all want the team to be harmonious and happy, but as an IC engineer, you should primarily be concerned with your project and the deliverables.

    Trying to appease multiple parties, or giving feedback on an employee's conduct generally does not help you (or the situation). Leave that to the eng manager.

    You should address this insofar as it impacts the timeline and quality of the project. One way to move forward productively is to propose how you'll prevent the same mistakes going forward. In your case, that could be:

    • A recurring meeting between the 3 of you to discuss progress or changes more regularly.
    • A well-defined protocol (or just an agreement) on where the source of truth will live.

    Just having the conversations can often go a long way in soothing the tensions.

    Here's the masterclass on building relationships in tech, for which communication is critical.