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I started a job in January in a big company in France directly managed by the head of one research team. Since three or four weeks, I've noticed a change in his behavior toward me. Having spent a lot of time in North America, I find this part of this new behavior a bit rude, and also I didn't notice this behavior before. It's worth noting that most of this actually came in the quarantine period we're facing, so from online discussions, including messenger and video calls. Here are some examples:

(1) We were talking about my probationary exams that's two weeks from now (in France there's a four month long probationary period for almost every new position). I got to know of the date 15 days ago and before contacting the HR, I sent him a message to check with him if he'd be okay to postpone it for a week or so, citing that I just got to know of it yesterday. He wrote on messenger: "It' a pretty lame reason to postpone an exam, you knew it months in advance". I wasn't expecting the word "lame".

(2) Today I asked on messenger a scientific question about the project we're working on, politely asking whether doing certain things is enough or not. He replied saying: "Why not if it's for free. But now we're talking about investing your time, which is not free, so there's to be a more interesting return", followed by "To be clear, if you do this and that, your work has no value for the company." I was shocked, because I was asking a scientific question, didn't expect such a return at all!

(3) I told him casually today on video call that "I didn't sleep last night well, so a bit tired, but otherwise good": he pretty much shrugged it off. Not that I was expecting a sympathy or anything but at least something, given that he told me about his insomnia problem two months or so ago, and we do talk a bit about non-work stuff while at work.

(4) In the quarantine period, I noticed that I'm often the last person to be asked "How are you?" and there isn't much follow-up after I say briefly how I'm doing, whereas for other people, there are some follow ups, not just "Okay, good."

Despite the above, he did reply to most of the emails carefully, read my reports and commented; but this behavior is concerning me, specially given that my probationary exam is approaching. I do know that sometimes I turn some people off without saying or doing anything, but for them I'd not care about it so much if it were not my work. I can't simply go ahead and ask him what's wrong, because I consciously didn't do anything wrong.

What do you think this is? Is there anything that I can do so that I don't end up making this worse? Thanks a ton!

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    @JoeStrazzere perhaps OP is comparing the work culture on those two regions. For example, here on Latin America it's common for interactions to be really polite and tend to put on more makeup to the words said as to not be to blunt. I guess that North America could be similar in that way, but it is also know that European culture (Germany and France specially, as I've heard) tend to be more blunt and to the point... I am speculating, but perhaps this is what OP meant by saying that (as in, "I know European culture may be more blunt in those aspects but never thought this blunt")
    – DarkCygnus
    Apr 8 '20 at 19:17
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    @DarkCygnus Precisely my point, and thanks for the answer!
    – Stat_math
    Apr 8 '20 at 19:20
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    no problem @van1van :) Welcome to The Workplace BTW
    – DarkCygnus
    Apr 8 '20 at 19:43
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    To complement what DarkCygnus said, there is more of a familial culture in Latin American workplaces where more weight is put on positive colleague interaction
    – Anthony
    Apr 8 '20 at 20:54
  • @Stat_math : I found myself in a similar situation months ago. It turns out my manager was having a hard time in his personal life and this impacted his behavior at work. +1 for Mike Robinson's answer : communication is key! You should talk with him. BTW, I'm surprised to read about a "probation exam" (I would expect the probation period to end with an interview, not an examination). What is it? Is it a technical exam at the end of your probation period? Never heard about that.
    – pitchounet
    Nov 6 '20 at 9:44
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What do you think this is? Is there anything that I can do so that I don't end up making this worse?

To be honest, I think that you are over-analyzing this situation.

I am sure that your manager is under a lot of stress lately because of the Covid situation, and that is likely to make them less patient than usual (not an excuse for rude behavior, but always a thing to consider when interacting with others).

I think that the best course of action you can take is to keep doing your job, focus on prepare yourself for your upcoming tests, and try to be a bit more comprehensive towards your manager (patience and politeness is a two-way street).


Now, going to provide some feedback on the specific points you mentioned:

  1. Perhaps "lame" can be a strong word, compared to other alternatives, but it's not necessarily rude. It seems to me that you knew from the start that this was a 4 month probation period, so it's evident that the test will happen sometime near that 4 month period (so, no surprises, and thus not a great "excuse").

  2. Today I asked on messenger a scientific question about the project we're working on, politely asking whether doing certain things is enough or not. [...] I was shocked, because I was asking a scientific question, didn't expect such a return at all!

    Perhaps you did ask something scientific on what you said, but as you put it, you were also asking (in a suboptimal way) about the extent and requirements of the project.

    And I say "suboptimal" because you could have phrased it better. Saying "Is doing this enough" may give the impression that you are putting in the minimum effort possible.

    This is most likely how it was interpreted by your manager, and evidence of it is the response you got (which, as per my interpretation, it translates to "If the project were for fun it would suffice, but it's not, so if you give your minimum effort you are not contributing to the project.").

    Have in mind that one can't express 100% clearly on written, giving way to possible misinterpretation.

    A better, more constructive, way to phrase this would have been something like:

    Following method A, and doing X, Y and Z would give us the desired feature right? I see that we could also add method B and/or method C to this process, and end up with the same, but perhaps better, feature. What extent do we want to give to this feature?

  3. & 4. These points I honestly thing you are over-complicating and analyzing things. No need to dwell and break your head on aspects like these. Besides, under the light of point 1 and 2, your manager is surely not extremely happy with your recent attitude, so no surprise they are not extremely joyful or amicable with you.

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    Most people have incredible difficultly, expressing tone, in a written language. So what might have clearly been taken as a sarcastic remark in person, sounds like they are truly upset with you in a written language. Best way to clear the air, is to talk to your supervisor on the phone, if you still have problems consider the advice in this answer. This is an incredibly insightful answer.
    – Donald
    Apr 8 '20 at 23:25
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    @Donald Yes, giving a call is also good advice, as it makes communications clearer. I would suggest calling boss if the question is lengthy or intricate, but if it's simple or short, a message is better (phone calls interrupt whatever else you were doing). Having it in written is also helpful as it makes it completely explicit. This is quite important, specially in the case of project requirements. Given your suggestion, perhaps what would be best is to write IM first asking if they can talk to make sure the manager is not interrupted.
    – DarkCygnus
    Apr 8 '20 at 23:33
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    Yeah; Interrupting your boss during a virtual meeting might not be the best idea ;-)
    – Donald
    Apr 9 '20 at 0:49
  • @DarkCygnus : " Besides, under the light of point 1 and 2, your manager is surely not extremely happy with your recent attitude, so no surprise they are not extremely joyful or amicable with you." This seems to be the case indeed - during the last video call he mentioned that my performance is a little below his expectation (those exact words), but eventually, talking about my probationary exam that's near, he also aid in the middle of the conversation: "There's nothing to worry about". Now in France: the company can let an employee go in the probationary period without any reason (contd).
    – Stat_math
    Apr 11 '20 at 22:14
  • @DarkCygnus I'm just trying to fathom what he's really thinking, apart from putting in the extra hours to get some decent results. Hopefully I'll be okay.
    – Stat_math
    Apr 11 '20 at 22:15
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Talk to(!) your manager!

Seriously. "Your" world, of course, "revolves around you," but – please trust me on this – your manager's "decidedly doesn't."

Someday, someone might invite you to be "a manager," and, shortly after, you will begin to understand. (Koff, koff ...)

Meanwhile – don't borrow trouble, don't psycho-analyze someone else's actions from your own perspective, and, remember that "open-door policies exist for a reason." Cordially ask for a fifteen-minute appointment in that person's always-busy schedule (it will be granted ...), state your concerns just as you have now stated them here, and then, listen.

Your manager has a job to do. So do you. Together, you are a team. It's just that (s)he's the Coach.

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