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How to fortify questions when asking a hot-tempered E6 for more context?

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Anonymous User at Taro Communitya year ago

I’m an E5 at a Big Tech company. My team’s E6 does not communicate or delegate effectively. He dives straight into the weeds without providing proper context, then gets frustrated and explodes when people ask questions or do the "wrong thing" because they are lost. I’ve seen him do this to multiple team members, including my EM and another E5 teammate. He always assumes that everyone has the same context that he has and is unable to tailor his communication to the appropriate audience. How can I best work effectively with someone like this? He would delegate tasks to me without providing acceptance criteria or proper context, then explode when I ask questions or do something other than exactly what he had in his mind (but never communicated properly). Is there a way to fortify my questions so he’s less likely to explode on me? My EM thinks that this E6 has a “my way or the highway” approach because he’s not used to people challenging his ideas. The E6’s feedback for me is to drive discussions more. However, I find it challenging because he leaves out critical information, then explodes and shares it only when we pull teeth about it in team discussions. I tried sharing pre-read meeting docs beforehand, but he still waits until the meeting to explode / share his feedback. Unfortunately he's a domain expert in this area, so there's no one else I can extract the context from.

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(5 comments)
  • 4
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    Staff Eng @ Google, Ex-Meta SWE, Ex-Amazon SDM/SDE
    a year ago

    If your EM cannot give this person critical feedback on this negative pattern of behavior, they need to escalate. This is not acceptable.

    You COULD ask the E6 where in the issues delegated to you that you can find the required information, as it feels as if you should be able to find this yourself based on their response to questions. If there is none, you can then ask “is there another method you’d like me to use for knowledge transfer on tasks? Right now I feel that I’m bothering you when I ask in X or Y forum, and I’d like to smooth this out”. Something like that. But I feel like this person has… something else going on. I think they have technical depth that their level requires, but does not have the soft skills required. They need support in developing this. Your skip or a more senior IC in the org may be able to help, but this person needs to accept they need the help. Feedback from a high enough level may get them there, but it may not.

    You can also leverage your EM and ask them to triage these issues coming from the E6, with a standard format that includes the details that tend to be missing. If the E6 won’t follow the process, then it has to get escalated.

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

    Thanks for the response, Lee! My EM told me he's working with the E6 on this, but my EM needs me to lead more discussions in the meantime. I don't feel like I'm set up for success due to this dynamic with the E6 on this team. I'm constantly walking on eggshells around him.

    I previously escalated to my skip when the E6 belittled an E5 in a team discussion. My skip's feedback was "don't take it personally" and recommended reading "The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom". Is it worth escalating to my skip's manager?

  • 2
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    Senior Software Engineer and Career Coach
    a year ago

    Oof, that situation is rough + the skip level's response to "don't take it personally" and read this book might be nearly as bad.

    I agree with Lee's points, and have a couple other suggestions to tack on to hopefully improve your relationship with this E6 in the meantime of the managers hopefully working on it too.

    The first thing is on mindset: It will be very difficult for your E6 to be offended by your questions if the following 2 things are in place

    1. Intent: If your E6 knows that your intent with your questions is purely to gain a better understanding of the task he is assigning you
    2. Mutual purpose: Do both of you want the same thing? If he believes this to be true, then again it will be very difficult for him to get frustrated by your questions. For example, do both of you want to just perform well so your EM can notice and then give you a positive performance review. Probably. But in the moment, he's probably not thinking about this.

    See if you can get him to align with you on these. Don't call it out as explicitly as I did. But here's one potential avenue for approaching asking:

    "Hey E6, I'm looking forward to jumping into this. It seems like an interesting task. Thanks for sending it on. So that I can get a better understanding for my process, would you be open to a 15 min zoom where I ask a few additional questions?"

    I padded in a bit more niceties than you may need, but modify based on your style and relationship. That could hopefully communicate the 2 things of intent on why you are asking your question and mutual purpose, that both of you just want to do well. On mutual purpose, you may be able to add in something else to emphasize it a bit more.

    As a second piece:

    You can have a 1 on 1 with your E6 where you let them know some of the challenges you've been experiencing and how it has been making you feel.

    I'm not great on advice for asking for the 1-1, but generally, when requesting it, don't put them on the defensive like saying "Hey, can we talk about your communication this last week." Instead, maybe something like, "Hey, I had some things on my mind about the handoff process we've been doing and was wondering if you would be open to having a zoom 1-1 to chat further?" I don't necessarily like that too much, but just giving you a general idea.

    For the actual 1-1, this goes into the "giving feedback" form of advice I'm sure you can find on Taro; but some things to keep in mind are...

    Focus on these:

    1. The situation and actions, not him as a person
    2. The impact on you
    3. The intent and mutual purpose that you share above.

    Tell him that you want to have a great relationship with him and you'd like his thoughts on how to better accomplish that.

    If you did your job right, he will probably first apologize profusely for his actions, tell you he is going to take steps to correcting it, and get a better communication process with you going forward. He may not do exactly this though just FYI, especially based on his prior actions. But based on his level that's what I would expect.

    I wish you the best of luck with this sticky situation! Feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jordancutler1/. I'm always looking to grow my network with like-minded people :)

  • 3
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    Senior Software Engineer [L5] at Google
    a year ago

    How can I best work effectively with someone like this?

    Lee and Jordan's answers are both great, if you wish to work this out. But honestly, do you need to? Can you leave this situation? Can you find a way to not have to work with this person?

    Is it worth escalating to my skip's manager?

    It doesn't sound like that this E6 is willing to change their ways (this isn't the first time I've heard about this E6, it seems.). The relevant people to this person's performance review already know about this person's behavior. I have doubts your skip's boss would appreciate hearing about a squabble happening 3 levels below. The ball is now in your EM and your skip's court to decide what to do about it.

    For you, ask yourself, what is your goal in all of this? What can you accomplish that is within your control?

    Getting this E6 fired isn't within your control. Changing the E6's behavior isn't, either.

    But how you respond to all of this is. Will you try to ameliorate the situation, knowing what you do may not have an impact? (It's true that if you did manage to build a solid relationship with this E6, it would be tremendously helpful to both you and them). Is there something technical you can learn or an interpersonal skill you wish to pick up amidst all of this?


    "The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom" is a great book. From what I can tell, it's all about setting personal boundaries and having integrity, and is a great read regardless.

    If you want to read a book that help with this situation, read Leadership and Self-Deception instead. It was tremendously helpful to me in understanding my own role in sticky situations like this.

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

    Thanks for the advice, Jordan and Kuan!

    Lee and Jordan's answers are both great, if you wish to work this out. But honestly, do you need to? Can you leave this situation? Can you find a way to not have to work with this person?

    Not easily. We're the only 2 iOS engineers on this team and this team only has 1 work stream, so we need to work closely together. Here are my options to not have to work with this person:

    • Switch skillsets. I can ask my EM if I can switch to being a backend engineer on this team. I'll still need to work with this E6, but just not as closely. I'm not sure if my EM would even allow that, because he'll need to find another iOS engineer to replace me and we already have several backend engineers on this team. iOS engineers are hard to find. I was a backend engineer for a long time before becoming an iOS engineer, so I can easily make that switch from a skillset perspective though.
    • Our company had layoffs, so switching teams will be difficult.
    • Look for a new job. Not a great option due to the current economy.

    The relevant people to this person's performance review already know about this person's behavior.

    I didn't name names when I escalated it to my skip level. I just asked him for advice on the general situation. Would it be advisable to name names with my skip level?

    Is there something technical you can learn or an interpersonal skill you wish to pick up amidst all of this?

    Great question! I'd love to learn how to navigate working with such hot-tempered E6s. Sadly, such people are not rare at this company. I have no guarantee that I won't encounter such an individual if I somehow manage to switch teams.

    If you want to read a book that help with this situation, read Leadership and Self-Deception instead. It was tremendously helpful to me in understanding my own role in sticky situations like this.

    Thanks for the book recommendation! I'll add it to my reading list.