The Chicken or The Egg Manager

There is a certain type of manager I like to refer to as the “Chicken or The Egg”. A while back, one of them used to be my manager. Let’s call him David.

A typical encounter with David would carry on like this:

[David] What came first the chicken or the egg?
[Me] I’m not sure, maybe the egg.
[David] But it must have been a chicken that laid that egg, no?
[Me] You are right. The chicken came first then.
[David] But that chicken must have come from an egg, no?
[Me] True… I’m really not sure then.
[David] But we need to know… so which came first?

In short: whenever I said “the solution is A”, he challenged by asking “but what about B”. And when I changed to “the solution is B”, he would rebuff with “but what about A”. Until I gave up, we would go around in circles over and over, never reaching a conclusion.

Here are samples of the above conversation we have had over the years:

Topic: expired options
[David] Peter, we need to update some of our positions in this portfolio because the listed options have expired. Can you take care of it?
[Me] Yes, of course.
[David] Right, but if you do that then the portfolio will no longer contain the same positions…

Topic: one vs two service calls
[David] Peter, we need to return an additional set of fields for this request. We can’t make a separate request so everything needs to be returned in the first one.
[Me] OK, we can do that.
[David] However, I don’t want this additional set of fields to be returned for everybody. And I don’t want to change my first request.
[Me] Well… then we should probably have a follow-up request.
[David] I cannot do that. I need these additional fields returned in the first response. But not for everybody.

Topic: testing
[David] Peter, we need to test out this new feature on production. Not on development or alpha, but on production.
[Me] Sure, I can work with our QA on it.
[David] But to do that, you need to be enabled for this new feature on production. And business doesn’t want anybody enabled for it on production.

Thinking deeper, there are three main characteristics of David:
1. He loves to go around in circles.
2. He loves to ask questions but provide no answers.
3. He loves to repeat (and hear) himself.

Now, I studied basic psychology. I know that those who ask questions drive the discussion & generally have the upper hand in conversations. In some ways, that’s what managers are paid for.

It’s the going around in circles that bothers me. As engineers, we are trained to provide answers. We love to analyze problems, break them down to smaller pieces, and provide robust, maintainable solutions. In some ways, that’s what we are paid for.

But when presented with a David, we lose it. What’s the deal with this guy? Why is he playing devil’s advocate to everything I say? Why is he wasting my time?

Honestly, I am still not sure why they do what they do. But over time I have grown accustomed to them. Perhaps they are simply confrontational. Perhaps they just like to hear their voices. Perhaps they prefer to stay in charge of discussions. Or perhaps they are just plain dumb.

The key is to identify the Davids in your life and realize who you’re dealing with. Don’t lose it, grasshopper. Provide your answers, keep calm and carry on.