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About 3 months ago I started a new job. Today the main manager asked to speak with me in private. He said he had been getting the feedback that I've been questioning people when I'm told to do something. He also said he hadn't noticed it himself.

I'm very bad at thinking on the spot in situations like this, I much rather have an idea what a meeting is about before it starts so I can collect my thoughts.

I was vague back to him and said "Sometimes I say something that gets interpreted in a way I didn't intended it to. I apologize".

I asked if he had any examples he could share. He mentioned one supervisor, and I only worked with her once on my third day of the job. From what I recall, basically she got me to switch between tasks very frequently. For example "Hey! Work on Project A now!" 10 minutes latter "Hey! Work on Project B now!" and it kept alternating like this for the next 2 hours. Allegedly I said "I was told we work on Project B when [insert conditions here]". I can see how this could come across as questioning. I meant to say something more like "is there something wrong? You've asked me several times to switch, am I missing some information?"

First off, should I have asked the manager to elaborate on how I question people when they tell me to do something? Problems are easier fixed when given details. My manager gave me the tip to do something first then after ask why it's done like that. I'm really bad of thinking like that, are there any other social queues like that that if not done would make it look like I'm giving sass? In situations like this one where you're in "trouble" what's the best way to handle it? Just listen and apologize?

Perhaps I'm overthinking this but it seems strange that what I consider a small incident was escalated to the manager and he's talking to me about it 3 months later. Does this raise a red flag in terms of the way interpersonal issues are handled at this workplace? I got the sense that the manager didn't want to give me specifics or I would find out how the people were that said this and retaliate against them.

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    Honestly at this point, you need to wait to see what is actually said in the meeting. One incident three months ago suddenly being escalated is a bit odd, but it may be there's more stuff to come out here. – Philip Kendall Dec 3 '20 at 10:54
  • @PhilipKendall that was the meeting – kebabclang Dec 3 '20 at 10:56
  • "One supervisor". How many people do you "report" to? – paulj Dec 3 '20 at 12:12
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Perhaps I'm overthinking this but it seems strange that what I consider a small incident was escalated to the manager and he's talking to me about it 3 months later.

It is strange, and you are overthinking it. Just take it as a heads up to watch what you say to people more carefully in the future. Also you just learnt that your manager is the sort of person who will call meetings and be vague about the reason. This is potentially useful knowledge to have as well, so file that away.

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For example "Hey! Work on Project A now!" 10 minutes latter "Hey! Work on Project B now!" and it kept alternating like this for the next 2 hours. Allegedly I said "I was told we work on Project B when [insert conditions here]". I can see how this could come across as questioning.

In this situation, it's best to explain switching tasks has an overhead associated with it, and if it keeps being switched you'll never get any work done. Ask them to provide a prioritised list of the projects for the day / week etc... If the switching continues, then you report them. Switching like this causes stress, and the employer (depending on your country) has a legal obligation to protect you from this.

First off, should I have asked the manager to elaborate on how I question people when they tell me to do something?... In situations like this one where you're in "trouble" what's the best way to handle it? Just listen and apologize?

No don't apologize. You're not a child or in the military, you can ask for explanations and ask questions. That's perfectly fine, so long as you are doing it respectfully.

My manager gave me the tip to do something first then after ask why it's done like that.

Personal opinion: I would not accept that. If they want robots and yes men, I'd be looking for another job.

What's not acceptable:

  • This is a rubbish way of doing it
  • We only work on this project when...

What is acceptable:

  • Working like this doesn't seem very efficient, could we do it this way instead?
  • I was under the impression we were only meant to work on this when... switching now means it will take longer to complete etc... do you still want me to switch?

Perhaps I'm overthinking this but it seems strange that what I consider a small incident was escalated to the manager and he's talking to me about it 3 months later. Does this raise a red flag in terms of the way interpersonal issues are handled at this workplace?

It's hard to tell. Strange that you were pulled in specifically for this, and not sure there is much action you can actively take right now.

Maybe next time try and be a bit more tactful with your questions/objections to your supervisor, but also report them to your main manager if they start acting crazy. Explain to your manager how switching task every 10 minutes is inefficient and stressful.

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First off, should I have asked the manager to elaborate on how I question people when they tell me to do something? P

Yes. They are your manager and they're meant to manage your development to make you a better employee. You can still ask them this question!

details. My manager gave me the tip to do something first then after ask why it's done like that.

Yes, when you're new it is best to do this. Sometimes tasks need to be done quickly, and the explanation for them comes later. Just make a mental note to follow up - immediately on completing the task, just ask "I'd love to learn more about how we operate so I can take more ownership - do you have some time now to explain what we just did?" And if they don't then ask them when they might have time to explain it.

I'm really bad of thinking like that, are there any other social queues like that that if not done would make it look like I'm giving sass?

I just told you how to do it so you can follow that script to fame and fortune.

In situations like this one where you're in "trouble" what's the best way to handle it? Just listen and apologize?

Really depends on the situation, generally it is best to make everything a learning opportunity and try to tie it to measurable outcomes. Sometimes you have to fight the situation and blame someone else. You'll work it out as you get older.

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