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A bit of background first: My employer is a subcontractor on a contract with a large organization. My work is done at the client's site. My corporate supervisor rarely sees or talks with me; instead I take direction from an employee of another subcontractor who I'll refer to as my boss for simplicity.

When I first started the job, I often approached my boss with questions of various sorts. If the question was technical, he almost always turned me away with a remark something like "We hired you to figure that out." After a while I realized that asking him things was pointless and stopped doing it.

Now, I've been on the job long enough to have had a performance review. My corporate supervisor went over it with me. I'm told that the boss complained that I don't ask enough questions, which he thinks is leading to slow downs getting my work done.

The boss is right: I am slowed in my tasks because I have to figure out stuff he could help with. However, he has created a "Catch-22" situation and it seems that there will be problems whether I ask questions or not. On top of this, I've come to realize that he doesn't respond well to things he perceives as criticism or complaints, and he'd probably see an attempt to discuss this as criticism or a complaint. I'd like to change jobs, but due to a variety of factors can't right now.

How should I proceed in this situation?

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    Could there be a difference of what kind of questions you asked and he wants more off? I.e. there is a difference between "technical questions" and "questions", i.e. the boss might be willing to answer business domain questions but not technical implementation questions. – Frank Hopkins Jul 8 at 20:18
  • @FrankHopkins: Perhaps, but he's supposed to be the technical lead, and he knew when he hired me that I was coming in with only a passing familiarity with the general technology we use and no familiarity with the domain or specific technology. He wouldn't even provide suggestions of good resources for answers to the things I was trying to figure out. – GreenMatt Jul 8 at 21:21
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    There seems to be a disconnect between "We hired you to figure that out." and "he knew when he hired me that I was coming in with only a passing familiarity with the general technology we use and no familiarity with the domain or specific technology." Your boss may be unreasonable, or it may be that there was a miscommunication when your company was hired. Personally, unless there were special circumstances, I would be quite put out if a contractor I'd hired needed my help on a purely technical matter. Is it possible that your company promised more than it could deliver? – Charles E. Grant Jul 8 at 22:07
  • @CharlesE.Grant: I understand what you're saying, but he was the lead interviewer and decision maker when I was hired. – GreenMatt Jul 8 at 23:12
  • Have you been asking these questions in person or over email/chat? Is there any proof you have been asking? There's also a difference between asking a technical 'how do car engines work' question and 'how can you improve torque on a rotary engine' type question. Are you asking basic questions that could be googled, or in depth questions that show a lot of existing knowledge, but how to apply it best? – Smock Jul 9 at 10:57
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How should I proceed in this situation?

Start asking the boss questions again. It is better to have a problem of asking too many questions instead of having the problem of not asking any questions. If you feel that the boss could help by answering a question then you should at least ask the question. Remember that asking questions is never pointless because although you may not receive the answer you are looking for, you at least are demonstrating that you are trying to find a solution to whatever you are working on.

Also, make sure that all your questions are asked in writing. This is so that you can keep a trail of what questions were actually answered, what questions were answered with a snappy remark, and what questions went unanswered. You can then present these communications during your next performance review if they contradict what the boss has claimed.

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    Upvoting for the "in writing" paragraph. Always keep records when someone, especially a supervisor, is sabotaging your efforts. – CaM Jul 8 at 20:13
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    "We hired you to figure that out" sounds like a (somewhat obnoxious) way of saying "I don't know but I'd like you to to find a solution." Keep asking questions and over time, you should start to get a sense of the kinds of things he can help with and what questions you'll have to take to someone else. – AffableAmbler Jul 8 at 21:45
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Shoot him an email outlining that it has been brought to your attention that he does not feel you ask him enough questions which result is slowdowns. Ask him to clarify his concerns, and inform you of the best way to communicate your questions to him.

If he contradicts what you have been told send his response to your supervisor and ask they help you how best to move forward.

If he responds with constructive information, then follow his advice. Be sure to document everything between you. Email would be best. If this comes up again you have evidence of being proactive to fix the issue.

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