Tips for Engineers to Stop Underhanded Behavior

monty burns with fingers together looking deceptive

One of the biggest complaints I hear from fellow engineers is that of feature creep.  For those of you who don’t know, feature creep is the process where others in your project team, or management, get a great idea that they think would be good in your project.  They then proceed to tell the engineer that this feature is critical and needs to be implemented in the system, and then, “how long will it take?”

This post is not devoted to feature creep though.  Its focusing around deceitful and underhanded behavior in trying to coax something out of another person.  It is also about a coworker of mine who came into my office and began to explain how a desired feature was requested by one of the team.  He informed  them that he couldn’t do it in the time he had already allotted, so if she wanted the feature put in, she needed to move the deadline back by a few days to accommodate the development time.  To her, that was not a satisfactory answer, and so she spoke to another in the design team… who then went back to the engineer and asked for the same thing.  Yes, he got the same answer.

One would think that it should have ended there, but in fact, the idea originator went to my coworker’s boss’ boss to tell him of the virtues of the addition to the project.  The boss said that it was a great idea, and that there shouldn’t be any reason why it couldn’t be done.  Then he asked the engineer and received the same response as the other two: if you want this done, I need more time!

There are two sides to the story, obviously, and the person requesting the addition had a legitimate right to ask for it to be completed, however, once she received a negative response, her request to the boss should have been via email to the entire team.  There are two reasons for this.  One, everyone in the team can now see the idea, the response, and the entire timeline of the discussion from start to finish (that’s GOOD).  Two, how would you feel if someone went above your boss, to his boss (apparently in secret) to try to gain an affirmative answer.

I don’t know about you, but I prefer that adults behave like adults and not like 10 year old children who have just figured out that if  they ask daddy they get a no, but then they can ask mommy and get another answer!

Here are a few tips for you engineers out there:

  1. Stick to your guns.  I admire integrity and having the (pardon the expression) cojones to stick to your guns throughout a process.
  2. If you find out that this type of conniving behavior is happening, first thing to do is to take some time to speak to your boss in person to discuss the problem and your resolution.
  3. Once you’re sure that some action has been taken, take it upon YOURSELF to begin the email chain with all that you know of the history to now and send it to everyone involved.  You may just find that not everyone involved knows that this is an underhanded deceit.  That knowledge may very well change their mind.

Have you experienced any underhanded or deceitful behavior in your job?  Tell me about it in the comments!


  • Gian Sorreta

    I agree with your tips, although I would modify tip #2 for myself. I think professionals should act like adults and should first talk to or confront the person they have a problem. Talking to a boss first would essentially be doing the same thing as the lady in the story above did. Only after direct face-to-face communication is not working, then the boss should be involved as a last resort.

    • Attempting to resolve an issue yourself is definitely a very good idea. The problem I see is that by the very virtue that they chose to disregard your decision and move on to someone else, I’m curious how much good would be accomplished by speaking to the person about it. That being said, even with speaking to them, your manager should be informed so that they will be ready to back you up in the event that the situation escalates beyond you.

      By simply going to the coworker who is being devious and calling them out, it can lead to bitterness and potentially going back to the leader and complaining about how uncooperative YOU are.

      Thank you for the insights!

  • Tawnya Lively

    I’m glad you mentioned that there are two sides to this story. Usually people aren’t intentionally trying to coax, undermine or decieve anyone through underhanded behavior like a 10 year old especially when they all have the same goal. So, I am curious about the lady’s perspective and to know all of the facts of this situation. It’s cool you’re interested in corporate communication issues, I have been reading through these because they are quite good and intelligent. I look forward to reading more!

    • Tawnya,

      Yes, there are always two sides and different perspectives to a story, but I believe the true lesson here can be learned from the final results.

      While intentions may have been good on both sides, the result was negative reactions from both sides. What we really need to look at here is how the same situation presented can either be remedied properly or avoided completely.

      What I am gathering from the story is that more direct communication and consistency is needed, regardless of intention or goodwill from the participants.

    • Christian Fey

      Hey Tawnya!

      Thank you so much for reading! I never got the outcome of the situation because it fell off of my radar. I wholeheartedly agree that most people aren’t attempting to coax or undermine anyone (not to mention I would be horrified to learn that someone had those intentions in mind from the start), but I think that the means to the desired ends are of critical importance. In fact, I have found myself the antagonist in situations like these, because I know that I wanted my way to be the one taken. I think one of the hardest parts of wanting something and going to get it, is knowing the lines that are being crossed before one crosses them.

      Processes and chains of command are in place for a reason, and despite that, higher-level managers (in my experience) especially, have a hard time saying, “Ya know what, maybe you should be talking to this person instead of me,” when they could simply do what is being asked of them.

      Finally, I also think that this is not only the fault of any one person, but also the manager and the engineer in facilitating the situation becoming something larger than the simple request it should have been.

      Unfortunately, feelings get hurt and animosity comes out in these types of situations, not because anyone intended there to be any deceit, but because of the miscommunication, and facilitation of requests that should not have gone the directions they did.

      Thanks again for reading and contributing to the discussion! I look forward to more!