Arguing Up The Management Chain

How do you resolve an argument with another team member?

Do you talk to them?

Do you raise the issue to some common manager (who is over the both of you)?

Recently (March 2002) I was interviewed by a project lead who kept asking me what I would do in various situations where I had a (hypothetical) technical disagreement with another project member. I kept saying that I would talk with that person. And that I would only raise the issue to a common manager if I felt that the other person was being unreasonable *and* that the issue was of critical importance.

He said that he asked such questions often and that I'd be amazed at how quickly most people will appeal to management for a resolution -- and how often people take that as their *first* option!

[I probably will be amazed: I plan to start asking such questions when I do interviews. Probably this has something to do with the interview setting: in real life most programmers I've seen do not appeal to management easily. Maybe people believe this is the right answer. ]

My approach to conflict is that I should...
  1. Go talk with the person (and others involved in the decision) and attempt to come to consensus as to what would be best.
  2. Failing that, determine who is really responsible for making the decision, give it to them, and respect them for doing their job by making the decision as best they can. Sometimes this means that I make the decision; sometimes this means that I ask my "opponent" to make the decision. In either case we live with it -- at least until the situation changes significantly.
  3. Only in the most extreme of conditions will I climb the management hierarchy. And when I do, it *will* be an item in the next round of performance appraisals. (...except in cases where the problem is terminated.) ;->

For me, the far more interesting question is knowing when to *stop* arguing. ;-> -- Jeff Grigg

This seems appropriate for technical disagreements. For resolving conflicting priorities, however, the management chain is the right place to escalate things to -- PaulHudson

Only in the most extreme of conditions will I climb the management hierarchy

Absolutely. My last boss once asked the question "Why do you never ask me to resolve your problems with the management of the company?" Two answers (a) you're assuming I have problems? (b) don't you pay me to deal with that sort of thing anyway?

One guy's opinion:
"[...] if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that "by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established."' (Matthew 18:15-16)

Very good advice.

A note to the witness (the 2nd & 3rd person) -- try to observe rather than arguing. You don't want to "gang up" on the person you're talking to. The first person states his case and discusses it. The 3rd and 4th person should pretty much talk only when asked questions. (...or if needed to keep the whole thing from going "off the rails.")

See also HelpYourManager

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