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I just started a new job. One colleague is supposed to help me with the onboarding, but from the first encounter, he seems very resistant.

He never replies to kind words like "Thank you" and seems to ignore my requests like helping with environment setup. Also, he does not hesitate to say, for example, what you did here is nonsense.

I'm hesitant to talk to my manager because this colleague has been working in this company for 20 years and he looked well-rooted. I'm worried about how the trial period will end (since he is not the one who hired me, he can be a roadblock for me reaching performance objective).

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    My first instinct would be to ask him directly (in a 1-on-1 setting, of course), using "I statements" and avoiding accusations: "May I ask you a personal question? ... When I request onboarding help from you (like last week, when I asked you to help with environment setup), I get the feeling that my request is not really welcome. Did I do something wrong or offend you in any way? It's just a feeling, might be completely unjustified, that's why I'm asking." Then shut up and listen. You didn't specify a location tag, so that might or might not work for your culture.
    – Heinzi
    Jun 2, 2022 at 10:11
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    Which country is this? This might be cultural. As described, the behaviour of your colleague sounds relatively normal (though maybe a tad blunt) to me as a Dutch guy (except maybe the "ignoring requests", though that could depend on how you're phrasing said request). Jun 2, 2022 at 11:04
  • define "seems to ignore". How do you state your requests, how does he ignore them? Also, give us a culture tag and mention if you are part of the same culture or not.
    – Benjamin
    Jun 2, 2022 at 11:46
  • country : germany Jun 2, 2022 at 11:59
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    when he says he is busy, how do you respond? please give us a complete interaction, not just pieces
    – Benjamin
    Jun 2, 2022 at 12:25

5 Answers 5

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I have seen this happening way too often unfortunately. Sometimes ignoring is one way to show power over another. Of course, there could be other reasons in your colleague's case.

Things I can suggest are:

  1. Even if you colleague ignores you, continue asking him respectfully over email or chat while giving him his space. Sometimes I feel working directly with your colleague works best even if you have to swallow your pride for sometime, just to get your foot hold strong.

  2. Do talk to your manager but not to talk about your co-worker but to figure out what else you can do on your own. Just discuss him about ways which you can take up a project or work on something which does not require coaching from your co-worker.

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Sorry for falling into stereotypes, but who knows, sometimes they are true. You said you have a new job in and the name you chose here implies that you might come from a different culture. Apologies if that is not the case.

Germans can seem very grumpy and unwelcoming to foreigners. We don't do small talk like other cultures do. We just don't.

In case you are communicating with said colleague in a language that is not their native language (for example if you use English), then most Germans speak it good enough to get their point across in conversations. But they do not know the rules of etiquette or small talk. They never asked what they are in different languages because remember, they don't do small talk. I have seen many a German sentence translated into English that to a native English speaker or someone with a good grasp of English sounds curt and abrupt, almost like an order rather than an explanation. But it's just the direct translation of a perfectly fine and respectful German sentence into English. They just did not know to add the extra niceties to it that other languages have as a default. They just translated the sentence as they would have said it in German.

Specifically computer people in Germany can have a real "no bullshit" attitude to conversation. They want to transmit information as efficiently as possible. If something you did was a stupid mistake (that we all make) then a good colleague that you have a good relationship with will just say "oh, that was stupid". Collagues that for one reason or another have a rather distant relationship to you will feel required to dance on eggshells for a little while, packaging the truth in nice little sentences like "I think maybe in my opinion this might be a good place for optimization. But I'm not sure. What do you think?".

Another practical example: when I get back from grocery shopping, my American wife will find things in the bags that are "amazing", "great" or something along the lines. To my German ears it sounds like I just bought the cure to cancer in an ALDI when in fact I just picked up the strawberry jam that was on the shopping list. Please note that "looks okay" is really the highest praise you will get for your work from a German. "Looks okay" literally means I looked at it and couldn't find a single point to criticise. It doesn't get any better. But I will never use words like "great" or "amazing". It's just a job well done, none of us is Beyoncé. Especially if you are used to the American way of using the English language, all Germans will sound like ignorants trying to put you down.

I have had a few mentors that could easily be described the same way you did it. And I learned a lot from them once I started looking past their directness.

But on the other hand, the other answers might be correct, too. We cannot really see the context, you have decide what is more likely in your situation.

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    Well, one of us is Beyoncé. Jun 3, 2022 at 7:33
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    Geman here, I fully agree that this may be answer. I'd like to add that the "ignoring" described in the question comments looks to me like a reaction trying to avoid disruption (see J. Doe's answer) that may also be culturally German. Jun 3, 2022 at 17:26
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    +1 Austrian here and I say something alike "looks okay" all the time when I literally have nothing to criticise, it means "good work, I can't find any faults" Jun 8, 2022 at 13:06
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    We have a joke here at work in Germany. The highest, best and greatest compliment a german can give is "not bad" (nicht schlecht). Because that means that whatever you did was literally "not bad" (no errors, nothing to complain, simply not a bad result).
    – some_coder
    Jun 8, 2022 at 13:26
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He is 20 years in the company. He quite possibly had to tutor dozens of people already, most of them are out of the door now. You can care only so much before running out of energy. Also, assuming you are in software industry, developers tend to be grumpy bunch.

Try to ignore this as much as you can.

You should also try to ask questions in least possibly disrupting ways:

  • Do your own research. Try to read manuals, documentation, company wiki, try experimenting with things, if reasonable. When you ask the question, say you already tried these, but it wasn't enough because of {reason}.
  • Ask when the guy has natural break, e. g. after lunch or going for coffee. No one likes to be interrupted when they focus deeply on their own work.
  • If you get stuck, write the question down and go work on something else (when applicable). Then ask bunch of questions at once, instead of ten different things during the course of the day.
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    I‘m sure most will suggest to not ask about work during another coworkers break. Jun 3, 2022 at 7:08
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    In office setting people take a lot of "microbreaks", to stretch or get a drink, but when they aren't of the clock. I meant using those. Obviously, bothering someone as they are about to dig into their lunch is different matter.
    – J. Doe
    Jun 3, 2022 at 7:30
  • +1 for trying hard not to disrupt him in his other work. Jun 3, 2022 at 17:17
  • Personally, when someone approaches me while I'm concentrating on something, I manage to say "not now" without loosing flow. But if further requests like "it's only..." or scheduling a time follow, I'll be thrown out of my thoughts. Instead, I ask people to leave a note or an email suggesting 3 time slots that work for them. Otherwise, I'll show up to help without notice at the next occasion (like you describe). Jun 3, 2022 at 17:22
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Although this particular collegue is appointed as your official onboarder, it might not be forbidden to ask help from other colleagues as well. So why not give that a try? One of your other colleagues might be more friendly and helpful.

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This answer covers an aspect I have not seen mentioned in the other answers, which is valid under the condition that the OP is working in some kind of a larger team.

You write

One colleague is supposed to help me with the onboarding

Let's call him A.

You also write

[A] seems to ignore my requests like helping with environment setup.

Unless you are the only person working in your particular project together with A, chances are more colleagues had to go through the same environment setup. Have you tried asking any of them?

The reason I ask is because the situation you describe sounds somewhat familiar to me: One person (among a larger team?) has been assigned to help you with onboarding, yes - so there is one default contact that you can turn to if nothing else helps, and one person who has somewhat of a centralized overview of your onboarding progress.

In my experience, this often does not mean that A is the only or the first person you're supposed to ask about everything. In particular, the person assigned to do the onboarding is often a senior colleague. This is justified in that they have more experience with guiding new hires and the overall processes. At the same time, it is usually someone with a full schedule and little time to hand-hold colleagues through "menial" configuration tasks that less senior colleagues could support just as well.

Now, with all bluntness involved, point-blank telling the OP "Go find someone else to help you." might appear as too rude even to A. Instead, they may somewhat intentionally ignore some questions, hoping that you catch the hint and ask around in the team first.

Thus, as a conclusion: As described in other answers, the bluntness may be born out of a desire to be open and efficient in communication. The perceived resistance to support is an (actually not very efficient) part of bringing you from the "I'm being onboarded by A." stage into the "I'm proactively integrating myself into the team and building my network of internal contacts." stage.

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