Thursday, July 02, 2009

It's a rare thing...

But I am genuinely, severely, angry; and it's because of something at work.

Normally I don't let things bother me that way; but this one really got to me.

Obviously I can't talk about it in great detail, but suffice it to say I'm fine, he's fine, and we're both going to remain employed.

I do want to talk about it in some very general ways, as an illustration of inappropriate conflict resolution.

Someone who I generally have a good relationship with is under a lot of pressure. We have a critical project, on an emergency basis, with a very short deadline.

Unfortunately, not particularly uncommon; but this issue involves us being sued for an enormous amount of money.

This person has been directed to make sure the project isn't held up by our organization (not my team in particular, the organization of our SVP as a whole. He is on a different team from me, but we both report up to the same SVP and CIO).

His directive is to insulate our group from liability and clear the project out as quickly as possible. Mine is to provide a solution for the project that meets the requirements set for us by the judge. We both need to keep the legal and technical side separate.

So, perhaps you understand the degree of pressure here.

We have been having problems finalizing the design and costing, because we have several conflicting sets of requirements, several conflicting statements, and conflicting diagrams etc...

Today, we had a meeting with them to specifically discuss only the specific questions and issues we need to complete the design and sizing. Prior to the call, I discussed what we needed to know with the person I'm in conflict with, who I would be asking, what I would be asking, how I would be asking it, and how we would keep the legal side separate from the technical side.

There's the setup.

While we were on the call, I began asking questions about how data would be exchanged between systems. The person I'm in conflict with immediately interrupted and stated that I didn't need to ask that question.

Well yes, actually, I did. I attempted to explain what we needed to know and why, and he cut me off and said that I needed to focus on delivering the solution.

I again attempted to explain what we needed to know and why, and he kept insisting that we didn't need to know this, and couldn't ask these questions.

He was saying this, in front of the customer we're delivering the project for.

After several times back and forth, futilely attempting to get this person to listen to me, he said "If you can't stop asking these questions, you can't be on this call".

Well... never mind that this is my job, it was my call, and my project... Ok, that's secondary to the issue...

I responded, "All right... I'm going to hang up now, and we're going to talk about this later".

Ok, now, first of all this person is not in my management chain, he is my peer. Second, even if he were not, that isn't his job. He is effectively customer relationship and account manager for our internal customers (we call them enterprise planners). It is MY job to analyze business needs, develop, and deliver solutions. It is HIS job to manage projects, budgets, timelines etc... I manage the technical side of the relationship, he manages the business side.

But really, I'm not one to stand on titles and roles. That bit doesn't bother me so much.

Honestly, I think he panicked when he didn't understand exactly what I was asking, or perhaps how I was asking it; because he was paranoid about encroaching on the legal side, and had tunnel vision on just clearing the project out.

That bothers me.

This panic caused him to behave towards me in an inappropriate and unprofessional way. He shut off his input processing, stopped listening and reasoning, and simply reacted.

That saddens and irritates me, but what happened next is really why I'm angry.

He called me up immediately after the call, and apologized for HOW he did what he did, but he still believed it was necessary. He STILL wasn't listening. I then very quietly, and calmly explained to him again (as I had before we ever got on the call) why we needed to get that information, how we needed to get it, how what I was asking WASN'T doing what he was afraid it was etc...

And he didn't listen at all. He is sorry he behaved inappropriately, but he still thinks it was necessary. Meanwhile, one of the guys I lead was asking the same questions, making sure we got the answers we needed to complete the project.

Before we talked the first time (before the call), it seems this person fixed in his head that I was going to ask inappropriate questions; and he was incapable of perceiving otherwise.

Flat out, I said to him "Look, I DO understand what the concerns are, and I agree with you that certain areas were off limits before the call when we were talking earlier. Do you not trust me to, once we were on the call, follow through with what I said? I'm an experienced professional, and an expert in this field, including the legal side of things. I know what to say, what not to, and when."

He said that yes, he respects me and trusts me but I needed not to do what I was doing.

The thing is, he really meant that... but his own panic, and need for control overwhelmed his reason to the point where he couldn't see the disconnect.

Not only that, but he has destroyed our credibility with our internal customer, and showed that protecting the group, was a higher priority than providing a successful solution.

And THAT, is why I'm angry right now.