Plan B
May 11, 2012 6:23 AM   Subscribe

He is an old friend of mine, and I recently helped him out by getting him a role at our company where I am senior developer. Issue is buddy demonstrates a supremely arrogant streak, and loses his temper during discussions about architecture – when the approach under discussion is not his and tends to pout for the afternoon or storm off. This has come to a situation where I want to terminate his contract and will also probably terminate a very old friendship. Catharsis below the fold...

Is there a way I can terminate his contract and remain friends? We share a sense of humor, been through a lot together, and have known each other for about 20 years.

He also constantly and very publicly calls me out on technical matters then retracts privately. He disagrees with any approach that isn’t his, and loses his temper –next day he will privately apologize and the cycle begins again. In his first ICT team meeting I invited him to, the business were asking me if we could improve a feature of some UI that doesn’t render brilliantly in IE7 – I told them that given their requirements for how the UI must function it’s about as good as we can make it for IE7 – he says - “I would say that you’re doing it wrong then”. CIO looks at me, PM looks at me – I’m embarrassed. Thanks buddy.

After the meeting I ask his advice, and show him the problem. He then agrees with me that that’s just IE7, and with a lot of coding we could do something different – which we had considered. This is an intranet app that uses IE8/9. Later we’re walking up to lunch and he apologizes.

It wont' matter what the task is. If I assign him a task it's impossible, can't be done, insane, badly thought out, won't work. What I have tended to do is code a prototype and show my lead developer, then old buddy can understand that it's not any of the above and takes it on board - and typically does a great job.

I’ve been asked to start using agile in the business, and have attempted to introduce the team to scrum. I have been doing some scrum training – and it’s part of the continuous improvement the business has asked me to undertake (all dept heads have to do something for continuous improvement). While showing the team how the scrum works, my buddy kept telling me that we might as well use MS Project, and that MS Project is better etc. I attempted to explain that the two are different, and why – and also that this is a change that the business wants.

Anyway, some heat, usual push back, and we agreed to disagree with me going home and frustrated and annoyed – it’s just typical pushback from old buddy. Next morning, he’s probably done some reading, and he tells me he’s fully on board – great, so we start breaking up this small test project into stories/tasks. Again – it starts – this won’t work etc, blah blah, risky etc. He doesn’t get it, it’s clear, though he tells me he’s used scrum.

This is a small highly visible project that the business has given me to test agile. I have a plan B in my pocket that only me, the lead developer and the PM know about – so fuck it. So I agree with him that it’s too risky, pull plan B out, say where doing this instead, we need to deliver by end of June and I can’t be fucked arguing – it’s essentially using another system that doesn’t require development, and means the project is cancelled, means his contract is, well, cancelled. That’s where we left it. He stormed off in a huff – kinda always does, but this time I want it to be terminal. He will come back on Monday and be fully on board, until...

What are some words I can use? I’m angry, I don’t like getting angry, and I try to keep a level head. I think I’m beyond “when you say this, it makes me feel this”

I actually think he's a bit of a bully in a weird perverse way, his behaviour is designed to make me feel bad, but will very discreetly and privately apologise, I wonder if he knows he's doing it. Has a bully effect on me, I obsess and lose sleep.

Thanks for listening.
posted by the noob to Human Relations (21 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I actually think he's a bit of a bully in a weird perverse way, his behaviour is designed to make me feel bad, but will very discreetly and privately apologise, I wonder if he knows he's doing it. Has a bully effect on me, I obsess and lose sleep.

Yeah, it's called the "cycle of abuse". It's CLASSIC.

Seriously, he calls you out in front of your employer, but apologizes in private? "Discreetly and privately"? Dude, those apologies may or may not feel good, but they're not making amends for the actual damage he's doing your reputation. He gets to put you down AND he gets off the hook for it.

Why do you want to be friends with a bully?
posted by endless_forms at 6:40 AM on May 11, 2012 [14 favorites]

Best answer: Yes, you are going to have to terminate his contract. You can be open to keeping him as a friend, but that's up to him at this point.

Take him aside, in a very professional manner, and tell him that his outbursts, his undermining and his general demeanor are counter-productive to what you want to accomplish in your role.

Your personal connection to this boob are keeping you from seeing clearly that he's just an insubordinate jerk.

He may get emotional, you can't. Terminate him just as any other employee would be terminated. Get security involved, get back the keycard, etc.

Learn your lesson, never hire anyone you'd be uncomfortable firing.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:40 AM on May 11, 2012 [9 favorites]

Best answer: Your question "can you terminate and remain friends" is only half under your control.

1. Can you terminate and still be willing to nurture a friendship outside of work? Yes
2. Can you terminate and assure that he won't be the jerk he always is? No (and that's "no" no matter what words you use.

He is a liability to the company, you DO have control over that.
posted by HuronBob at 6:40 AM on May 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

Best answer: Well, if you were just trying to figure out a way to solve his behavior, I would recommend telling him that every time he challenges you publically on something, he also has to apologise publically if he turns out to be wrong. The bitterness of eating crow in front of other people will quickly fix his attitude problem. Also, it might be good to implement a rule - absolutely no debate in front of clients. If he has a problem, he needs to tell you privately.

If you're already at the point where you already want to get rid of him and simply are trying to salvage the friendship, just make sure you've given him plenty of warnings about his behavior. If you've been playing nice this whole time instead of expressing what a pain in the ass this guy is and then all of a sudden let him go, he has a right to be upset, because you never gave him a chance to correct his behavior.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 6:42 AM on May 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

The only way to salvage this is to deal with him openly and honestly. It won't be as painful as you think. Take him out for coffee at a time where you don't have any planned interactions with him for the rest of the day and lay it out there. I think there's both an ego at play and, perhaps, a basic incompatibility. You need to set your friendship aside and deal with him as a peer. He doesn't have to "play nice" because he's a friend, he has to behave because that's what you do to keep your job.

If you want to be even more buddy over the thing, take him for a beer Friday -- tonight! -- right after work. Do not drink more than 1 beer. Ask him how it's going for the first half of the beer. Tell him how you'd prefer to see him work -- not undermining you, taking time to think over the requirements/requests before responding, supporting your decisions, etc -- for the second half of the beer and then pay the bill (leave cash on the bar) and leave. Give him a handshake, look him in the eye and say, "I want this to work, buddy. Have a good weekend." And walk out.

If things don't improve, you may need to go to your supervisor/boss and get help with handling things. I'm sure you're not the only person who isn't loving this guy. Get out in front of it and take ownership of it.
posted by amanda at 6:42 AM on May 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

You need to sit him down in private and have a good ol' fashioned Come to Jesus meeting about this.

I'm not sure what's going on with him -- obviously something. That doesn't matter. What does matter is that (a) you establish clear, reasonable boundaries with him, and (b) that you explain what the consequences will be if he does not respect those boundaries.

Hold the meeting in private, and work out how you'll be addressing this in advance. Make it at a time when you can be calm about it, not right after one of these incidents.

And I'm afraid you'll have to follow through on the consequences if he doesn't improve. Make sure you check with your bosses about the exact termination procedure, if you haven't gone through it before. At most companies it's more complicated than just telling someone they're fired.

Karen Pryor's Don't Shoot the Dog is an excellent book for looking at ways of dealing with this kind of situation.
posted by pie ninja at 6:44 AM on May 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

Oh sweetie, that's a horrible situation to be in! When you have vouched for a friend, got him a job and then he treats you like this. I've been through this before with my brother, exactly the same arrogance, anger, sulking and aggression so many friends have got him jobs and he has been a dick in all of them.
If you have some sort of mediation system within the company, that might be a suggestion, not only will you have someone independent to mediate between you but you also have a witness so your friend can't say one thing in private and another thing in public.
This sounds like very devious behaviour and it sounds like he might be jealous of your position? and trying to undermine you.

This doesn't sound like it's going to end well, you're wanting to work hard and concentrate on the task in hand and this is a constant distraction which makes you angry and unhappy. You could tell him that you are so upset that you are thinking of terminating his contract and give him an ultimatum if he doesn't change his behaviour, but he may well just quit and not want to see you again, or you can just fire him and the result will probably be the same, from what you say about his angry and childish reactions, I don't think just saying "This isn't a good fit, you should look for something else, but we're still friends right?" is going to work.
Giving up a 20 year old friendship is something that none of us do lightly, but you have to think of yourself and of the people that you actually want to surround yourself with and this guy doesn't sound like he has your best interests at heart.
Have a good rest over the weekend.
posted by hitchcockblonde at 6:46 AM on May 11, 2012

I think it's important to use language around, "This is why it's difficult to work with friends," and acknowledge that you may have erred in hiring a friend for a position under you. This is both true, and it also helps him emotionally feel less blame, and also have a time-tested reason for blaming why things went wrong.

I think, for what it's worth, that this isn't actually unusual behavior for having a friend working for you. Often when you hire a friend (and I've seen this personally) it upsets the dynamic in a lot of ways. It is difficult for them to see you as a boss, and extremely difficult for them to feel publicly subservient to you. Often they push back with public challenges to show themself that they're really just coworkers with their friend, not their actual underling-"we're still equals, so I can trash you publicly to demonstrate that." He may actually feel bad, but be in the moment and unable to let go of it.

He may also be slightly less competent than the guy who didn't have an "in" and may be sensitive about that. He may think of these challenges as proving his expertise.

On preview, others are exactly right. If you haven't had a conversation about his performance at work, where it was clear it was a boss-employee Talk, you need to have one of those right away, so he doesn't feel blindsided.
posted by corb at 6:47 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

When you publicly are insubordinate, I start thinking about whether there's a place for you in the organization.

When you refuse to accept my decisions and continue to argue your pet point of view, I start wondering if you're a good fit for my team.
posted by bfranklin at 6:47 AM on May 11, 2012

Have you spoken to him about these behavior patterns?

Does he exhibit this behavior outside of work?

Are you more concerned with keeping his friendship or avoiding conflict?
posted by thedward at 6:49 AM on May 11, 2012

Response by poster: Does he exhibit this behavior outside of work?

Hmm, he's arrogant, I've known that, and he's brittle. I fully take on board that you don't hire someone you can't fire - I suppose I was helping him out and his initial contract was short and really could have been finished at the beginning of the year so I didn't really consider the downside.

We're good friends out of work, so we get along pretty well - even though he's superior in all ways. But I had always put his arrogance down to insecurity - it doesn't bother me so much. Like he'll sound off authoritatively about US / Mexican trade relations as if he's a fly on the wall, but typically it's a day after a NYT article.
posted by the noob at 7:06 AM on May 11, 2012

Best answer: I think I’m beyond “when you say this, it makes me feel this”

"when you say this, it makes me feel this" is how you communicate with loved ones when you want to address difficult issues without getting fighty.

"Do not contradict me in a meeting again" is how you communicate with your contractors and subordinates who are obstructive and fighty at work. After the first time this happened, you should have said "if you have a concern about a particular aspect of this project, talk with me privately about it" and then stuck to that.

This guy might be clueless or a bully, but this sounds like your management style is playing a role here. You are in a senior position and (at least from what your post says) not behaving as his superior.
posted by headnsouth at 7:11 AM on May 11, 2012 [18 favorites]

Ask yourself "If this were any other contractor or employee in this firm that worked for me, what would I do?"

And do that.
posted by THAT William Mize at 7:14 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: He feels upset that he is beholden to you for the job/subordinate to you, and he won't quit this undermining until he gets you fired or until everyone starts going to him before they go to you and you're completely out of the loop. He is going to be toxic to your career and your reputation.

Fire him ASAP and EXTREMELY firmly and clearly. Don't worry about being polite about it, just do what you need to do to get him out. Then you can deal with the fallout if you want.
posted by the young rope-rider at 7:18 AM on May 11, 2012 [7 favorites]

This guy might be clueless or a bully, but this sounds like your management style is playing a role here. You are in a senior position and (at least from what your post says) not behaving as his superior.

yup, you are right, I wouldn't take this from anyone else, he's a friend hence the "when you say this, I feel like" statement.
posted by mattoxic at 7:23 AM on May 11, 2012

Response by poster: Yeah, great answers all. This has really helped me get some perspective.
posted by the noob at 7:26 AM on May 11, 2012

I tend to agree with those that suggest to fire him. If you are not ready to do that, you should have a meeting with him during which you go verbally through the inappropriate behaviour and tell him that he has to change if he wants to keep his job. If you have an HR office, you should have one person from the HR office accompany you (they may have their own suggestion/procedure as well, which you should follow). At the end of the meeting, you give him a letter that contains the same information you gave him verbally, with a copy going to his employee's file. The idea behind a meeting with HR person present (if possible) and a letter is to reinforce the gravity of the situation and to make it clear that it is not a simple conversation between friends. Having a private conversation with him (with no other formal follow up, like some have suggested) is not going to have the same impact.
posted by aroberge at 7:26 AM on May 11, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think I’m beyond “when you say this, it makes me feel this”

I think you should say "when you say this, I feel like firing you."
posted by no regrets, coyote at 8:05 AM on May 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

I'm only going to say this about the work situation - this guy is a subordinate who won't follow your playbook - he needs to be dealt with as such, but the core issue is this guy is just an asshole - at least to you. I knew someone who constantly did stuff like this, but I always let it slide because he was someone I knew from back in the day. People had told me for years to stop hanging out with him. I'm wondering if other people in your social life have had similar experiences, and mentioned them to you, but you (like I did for years) just cut him slack.
posted by Calloused_Foot at 8:11 AM on May 11, 2012

I don't know what you can do about him but you can certainly do some things about yourself:

1. Buddy is a buddy outside of work. Get that, loud and clear. Act accordingly so that HE gets it loud and clear.

I am also assuming you are a woman. Either way, stop trying to please or appease him for the sake of "friendship". You are at work to work. Stop trying to be a likable character that doesn't offend this guy. Your actions should let him know who is in charge here, and they are clearly falling short.

Based on personal experience, I can tell you that there will always be some men at work who need to be *trained* to respect a woman supervisor and her wisdom. They just won't give you the respect you deserve, being in a superior position, unless you act a certain way. You are NOT acting that way.

2. I think I’m beyond “when you say this, it makes me feel this”

You are not his spouse. You are his supervisor. Can you appreciate the difference?

When you let him apologise in private, without demanding a public apology for a public wrong on his part, you are as much to blame. And good lord, you asked for his advice?? Looks like you sure are trying to appease this guy and maintain your relationship that you have with him outside of work, which undoubtedly makes him more bold for the next episode.

This is what it looks like to me-

The guy- Does not respect you. Undermines you publicly to maybe prove or suggest that you are not a good leader (and you are not because you are playing the classic gender role at work rather than be assertive and act like a supervisor who commands respect) and don't know what you are doing.

You- You are making the classic mistake of mixing friendship with work given that you both belong to different genders and that this guy has issues respecting you at work. This is not going to work out till you change how you handle yourself first- with either this guy or his cousin that you next employ.

When you are in a frustrating situation where you want to grab him by the collar and cry your eyes out and tell him what is frustrating you, excuse yourself. When your breathing settles down a bit, go up to him and say, "You have a minute? I need to talk to you". Sit him down and give him a sampler of what's to come by asking him a few questions to gather what he was thinking about the project (eg why is it risky? why would you think I haven't already taken that into consideration? etc and then actively listen to his answers and think about if he has a point or not) and then tell him the rules of engagement explicitly- "Next time you interrupt me or anyone else in the meeting and say I am (or they are) "wrong" in the meeting, you better have data to back that up. And if you don't then you apologize in the meeting to that person. You don't disrespect your colleagues or your supervisor's intelligence in a public meeting. Period. This behaviour is absolutely unacceptable and better not be repeated."

Highly recommend reading this. It will not tell you whether you should fire this guy or not but it will certainly give you some insights.
posted by xm at 8:13 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

IMO, here is your best action for the two relationships:

1. Work relationship: You must terminate him without warning, and have him leave immediately. For your own benefit, you should not risk giving him a warning. A disgruntled employee can be dangerous; a jilted friend... even more so. Don't risk your position.

Enlist HR/security to do the termination. Get them to do the entire termination process as possible. Tell them you are too busy with your other work to handle this yourself.

2. Personal relationship: If you can get HR to handle the termination, your friend will doubtless criticize you for lacking the guts to fire him in person. If you wish to salvage the friendship, this is your opportunity to communicate that the process was painful for you. That you regretted that you were unable to say good-bye at work and you would welcome a chance to meet and discuss how get your friendship back on track. You might suggest that "HR gave me no choice."

On the evening of the termination, communicate to your friend through a personal mode. Do it in writing, so that you can be clear and avoid emotional fireworks. It would be helpful to mention some positive experiences from the past. Do not apologize. But you might express regret that it didn't work out. If he responds in a belligerent fashion, communicate that you value the friendship and you'd really like to sit down in a week or a month, and have a calm discussion. I suspect he will come around, after a sulking period.

Good luck.
posted by valannc at 10:41 AM on May 11, 2012

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