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I have a colleague who will never accept he made a mistake or that his idea is just wrong. He thinks he is "the next best thing". He is also arrogant in his way of talking to people around him in general.

The only person that he accepts listening to his ideas is the only guy in the group that has been hired before him. All the others are non factor in his mind. He knows a lot about the enterprise domain but everything he codes is very hard to maintain.

I have coped with it for a little more than a year but it just gets harder and harder to work with. We do not have a project manager or such a position we are just a team of developer working together on tasks given by upper management. I do not want to take that to the management as they will not do a thing about it and also because the trade union is very powerful. I have tried to talk to him but it leads nowhere as he pretty much laughed at me.

How would you handle this kind of situation?

  • 4
    Belongs on programmers.stackexchange.com – Danny Varod Jan 20 '12 at 17:51
  • 1
    2+ year later... this programmer has gone a little too far with other people and he has been talked to by management. He is now super friendly and a very good team member. – mateoc Apr 30 '15 at 19:54

11 Answers 11

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A simplest way I dealt with one similar a guy is by reviews and leading by example. The guy who initially joined a small team like mine had always had an impression that he was far superior than other team members because he worked in a big company etc.,

What we did was to assign him a task and ask for his estimates. We give our estimates, but finally leave him to work with his work estimate. He would always be late and it took some time for him to realize his mistake.

Also we did strict peer code reviews, our code reviewers simply read code and tests line by line. And he could not but bow down and come to normal levels. .

Now he is another good team member I have!

  • Nicely done. Code reviews can be a very useful leveller; if you have a small team, it might be worth doing them as a group, on a bigger screen (or around someone's monitor), as then everyone can give feedback and constructive criticism, which should make it feel less like he's being picked on. – Owen Blacker Feb 8 '12 at 23:00
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I would talk to the guy ( who was hired before him ) and see if "the next best thing" listens to him . Key here is to make him understand that his behaviour is turning out to be detrimental to the team and to his relationships as well.

If that does not work and if I am still disturbed by his behaviour , I would approach management , not wanting him to get fired but to make them aware of this situation & since you guys dont seem to have leadership or middle level management , I would suggest to management that we need to hire someone externally ( a coach or a soft skills consultant or send him to a relevant training course ) to talk to him and sober him down .

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Agree with Mark. His behaviour will not change. Without a team leader or someone in charge of quality, there is no accountability. I would strongly suggest to management that you need to appoint a team lead. Perhaps the guy appointed before him if he is mutually respected amongst the other team members and is happy to do so. Best practice methods can then be employed across the team so the issue is not just about what he does, but how the whole team collaborates.

  • I think that even having a team lead might not solve the problem because the team lead would be hired "after" him. :) However, I agree that there does in fact need to be some sort of leadership elements. – jmort253 Jan 21 '12 at 7:51
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Changing the way he thinks about himself is of no use to the team and probably not possible.

I would only concentrate on actual behaviors like being arrogant to the team, writing code that is hard to maintain and confronting with actual bugs. Feedback is very important, and he should be made aware how he is perceived by the team.

I think the important role should be played by the guy that was hired before him, maybe he should be made into a team lead if he approves of becoming one.

Also people up the chain should be made aware of this situation, as someone earlier wrote.

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Don't try to change him, change the team. I think Muthu has a good start of an approach.

Management principles have shown that if you focus on your top performers, over your bottom performers, you bring the whole team up. This can work even when you are part of the team. Focus on the relations with the other team members and the whole team will improve.

Work on your relations with the other team mates, work on clear communications, agree on clear acceptance criteria.

You can also do some thing to work on the problem team member. Peer feedback, which focuses on behaviors (what you say, how you say it, your body language, your work product), is the best way to raise an issue. When he denies it, then you just say "Okay" and walk away. He knows, you know, nothing else needs to be said.

You can also turn a weakness into an asset. I've seen a lot of success from teams that took their crumudgeon and turned him into an elder statesman. "You know this stuff, can you help the newer guys understand it better?"

I wouldn't do anything with the problem team mate until you have the rest of the team working well together.

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Grin and bear it. Or, find another position. Nothing you can do to control him or modify his behavior.

Besides, why spend your energy trying to change him. Use it to do something you want to do, like a cool project or learning something new, or, expend it on someone who appreciates you giving them attention.

  • If it was easy, it wouldn't be work. That said, I do agree, don't try and change him. Make the entire team better. Pull up the team and the negative developer will be less able to bring the team down. – Joel Bancroft-Connors Jan 23 '12 at 0:22
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As much as it isn't a great situation to be in, @Mark's answer of "grin and bear it" or to find another position is probably the best you can hope for unless you really get your managers on board and invested in trying to modify the behavior of this one person...and that likely isn't going to work. However, if you (or a group of your colleagues who agree with you) go to your manager with some good reasoning and examples of how the behavior is detrimentally affecting your team and its productivity (and morale), then maybe the individual could be assigned to tasks that did not have so much direct (negative) effect on the rest of you.

Although this doesn't sound like a situation of cowboy coding, the individual sounds like he shares some of the traits of sometimes associated with "cowboy coder" (in a negative way; sometimes cowboy coding is a necessary and positive thing). To that end, it might be worth looking at this question on Programmers.SE because some of the answers contain commentary on how people manage to work with cowboy coders or developers with some of the negative traits. (note: unfortunately, I don't think your question fits the the Programmers.SE mold, because your problem really is a generalizable one -- people are arrogant jerks no matter the field).

In the end, though, you're going to have to choose whether or not it's a place you can continue to work, especially if management is unwilling or unable to make moves for the good of the team.

  • thanks for your input, i thought about posting on SE but then changed my mind and posted it here. I will take a look at that post. – mateoc Jan 20 '12 at 14:35
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I would tell him that a mistake is always the start of a genial idea.

  • Hi Simon, welcome to PMSE. The Q&A site for project managers. It sounds like you're onto something with your answer. Can you add more detail and expand on your answer? The best answers on our site are ones that include lots of detail. Thanks again, and welcome to PMSE! – jmort253 Jan 23 '12 at 1:15
  • Thank you for your comment. I do not have the hacker heart you know. With my training and experience (work and life), I found simple ways to solve complexe problems. Human psychology helps me a lot. Most human beings have the same motivations, dreams and expectations. Behind wath this guy say "I want to be the next best thing" hide a motivation or a desire of recognition. Maybe he is only surching for a mentor having the same potential as he has. But is true that I could post more details answers. Thank you. – Simon Boulanger Jan 24 '12 at 17:50
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A few points, in the order they should be taken:

  • Find a issues in which you can help him, make him respect your knowledge and abilities.
  • Listen to what he says, show him that you consider his views.
  • When you are sure you are right - be stubborn, show that you have confidence in your opinions.
  • Form a coalition - find people that can listen to you and understand and use the coalition to show that you do not have isolated opinions.
  • Go over his head, find someone in a superior technical position e.g. chief architect, project manager that can enforce policies and ask them to publish a company/department wide development quality policy - mention that you are aware of low quality code that justifies such a policy. If there isn't anyone with such a position, alert management to the lack of technical supervision in your team/project.
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I believe your problem is half internal, and half external. From what you say, this co-worker doesn't respect your opinions as you're not the one other co-worker he listens to. This means that you feel hurt and insulted by your belief that he does not find your opinion valuable.

When you broadcast another person's motivation, what you're really broadcasting is your interpretation of what your feelings make you believe. I question your attempt to appear unbiased and find it slightly suspicious.

Consider this: if he is such a pompus jerk, why does it bother you that he is a pompus jerk? Why do you need him to admit to mistakes? Why does he need to be nicer to people he works with?

I think he's within his rights to treat people however he wants, and you're within your rights to realize that you can control how you feel about him, and you have the ability to make it not affect your work and your life.

(Perhaps if you were his boss and not colleague, this would need solving)

  • 1
    On the contrary - software projects are not measured by the work of individuals - they are measured the work of a team. If one member write unmaintainable code, the whole team's future work will be harder and with much more risk. – Danny Varod Jan 20 '12 at 19:44
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Hi Im a Project Manager in a medium sized company. To deal with this situation you have to follow :

  1. Take a note on his behaviour and gather your team members and take their views as well.

  2. Management would be thinking you are all working pretty good and expects you all to be a team player. So above mentioned point will work for you all.

  3. There is a need for Project-Manager in your office. Ask your management if they can provide.

  4. If he is really a discouragement towards you and your team, try taking notes of what has discouraged you from him.

P.S : The behaviour won't change unless he doesn't respects the opportunity given to him by company.

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