Three weeks ago I started a job working in a liquor store. For the past several years I have held office jobs and working retail is a lot different. For example we don’t have computers to search things or written documentation. I enjoy the job very much (very nice change to not be stuck behind a desk 9-5) and I think I’m doing it well.

The other day the head manager came in and asked if I had a few minutes to speak with him. It was probably closer to an hour, but he talked about several subjects. The way he was speaking seemed like there was something wrong, but he spoke in a way with very few specifics.

He said that 5 coworkers had said “I ask why a lot” (and named those 5 people). A few things that concern me

  • I do not believe I ask “why”. If I’m getting paid and what they are asking me to do is legal and moral, I do not care what I do at work. I may as HOW as I want to make sure I’m doing it right.

  • Is it a problem or should I change something, if yes, what?

  • If several coworkers had the same problem with me, I’m a bit uncomfortable no one ever mentioned anything to me.

During the meeting with the main manager, I mentioned that I was unaware that I asked “why” a lot and he said it’s not just why but asking questions in general.

Just before we closed the store, I asked a coworker who had said this in private, and he said it’s not a problem but I do ask a lot of questions about the cashing out procedure. I do ask a lot of questions about the cashing out procedure because it’s very long and complicated. For example one part of it is to print several receipts from several printers and it makes a difference when we rip the page (for example receipts A,B and C get printed from printer 1, but you need to rip the paper after receipt A but must print B and C together without ripping the paper).

In two past jobs I had experience where my manager mentioned I asked a lot of questions. One said “I am definitely not afraid to ask questions” and that was all he ever said about it. The other work place was a very toxic environment and the manager complained in two performance reviews that I asked a lot of questions (but after the first I made a point of not to ask any questions, so I don’t think this was a legitimate concern). But most jobs I have no one has said I ask a lot of questions.

If there is something wrong with what I’m doing, I would like to fix it.

I don't believe I ask the same question more than once. I also wonder if it's my personality to make things a question. For example the same guy had taken out the garbage by himself the past 3 days and I said "are you sure you don't need a hand with that?" which technically is a question. I could've said "let me do that" or just remembered to do it before him.

  • 1
    Do you ask a given question more than once? If so, you should write down the answer when you ask a question, and check your notes before asking again. Nov 12, 2016 at 23:15
  • @PatriciaShanahan No, I don't believe I do ask the same question more than once.
    – HarlyK
    Nov 12, 2016 at 23:18
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    Let me be clear, asking questions is what must always be done. If someone doesn't ask questions, I assume they're either arrogant or don't know what they're doing, or both. And I'm usually right on that. The key here... is to ask the right questions. There's nothing wrong with even 'wrong' questions, but there's a limit to what co-workers may care about, even if you do care... So remember that just because it may be interesting or somewhat important, think about it before asking (if it must be asked) to help avoid bothering those who don't want to be bothered. I don't blame you, js.
    – revofire
    Jan 26, 2017 at 13:59

4 Answers 4


The manager says you ask a lot of questions. You say that at two previous jobs, you were singled out as asking a lot of questions.

Frankly, I have no idea what you are doing. So, you need to go into information gathering mode and ask yourself:

  1. Are you asking the kind of questions that they feel you could have figured out the answer by yourself?

  2. Are you asking the kind of questions that can be answered by a cursory glance into documentation?

  3. Are you asking questions in a way that disrupts your colleagues' workflow? "You are asking a lot of questions" could be a paraphrase for "you are irritating me"

  4. Are you asking "low quality" questions i.e. questions that they feel are not worth asking?

  5. Are you phrasing what you say as questions i.e. rhetorical questions instead of making statements?

  6. Are you perceived in any way by others as badgering them with questions?

  7. Do they feel that the questions that you are asking are relevant and appropriate to the functioning of your workplace, or do they feel that your questions are off-topic?

  8. Or is it a situation where they don't want to talk to you and they feel that you are in their face and all over them?

  9. You are not asking "rock the boat" questions, are you - like you are challenging procedures and work flows, are you? "Rock the boat" questions could lead to feedback like "you are hard to work with", "you are not a team player" in addition to "you are asking too many questions".

I don't know what to say - not enough data that you are providing for me to conclude anything - but there is something about your communications style that they, rightly or wrongly, don't like. Or something about you that they don't like when they officially speak about you asking a lot of questions.

You need to do some introspection. Getting feedback that "you are asking a lot of questions" is unusual. I have worked for decades and no one has complained to me nor have I complained about others "asking a lot of questions".

If I ever tell anyone that "you are asking a lot of questions" (*) - and I have yet to say that to anyone -, that would be because I am irritated with them. And I'd be irritated with them if they asked a lot of obvious, silly, off-topic questions. And especially questions that are so vaguely phrased that the answer could be anything. And I am none too fond of it when people ask rhetorical questions instead of making definite statements.

(*) I'll exclude the possibility that I am a serial killer and I feel that they are asking too many questions that could lead to where I buried the bodies :)

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    The question did mention there is no documentation at this job so that's not a possibility. Nov 13, 2016 at 20:58
  • @SomeCallMeSam creating the documentation, however, as questions are answered the first time, is a possibility.
    – newcoder
    Nov 13, 2016 at 23:50
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    @newcoder - What you are suggesting is a lot better than just standing around asking questions - it justifies to management and to the colleagues the time spent on asking questions. Nov 14, 2016 at 0:28
  • re: Getting feedback that "you are asking a lot of questions" is unusual. I disagree, I've seen it happen at multiple workplaces (not to myself in every case, to be clear) This may be a symptom of workplace where "trainers" aren't properly equipped to deal with training someone. Maybe they would rather OP learn-by-doing but that necessitates learning the "hard way" by making mistakes, which nobody really wants if it can be avoided. Just another perspective.
    – user30031
    Nov 14, 2016 at 20:08
  • Reading OP's other question, they work in retail, so employees in such lines of work aren't always known for their ability to train others properly.
    – user30031
    Nov 14, 2016 at 20:11

Tl;dr your response must be to ensure that you're acting on the correct information, in a manner appropriate to the workplace.

In any situation where a coworker has expressed a grievance you must identify what will resolve the issue. You don't always have to change what you're specifically doing--misunderstandings do occur, and variations in communication and work style are common. However, if you do need to change you must change for the better.

You had an almost hour-long conversation about asking too many questions, specifically about the cashing-out procedure, and it sounds like you left with the impression that coworkers are annoyed to the point of management needing to intervene.

In a situation where you're annoying coworkers, but have a business reason to take the annoying action, you need clarity from management about how to meet the business need w/o being annoying.

Some offices/stores/etc don't mind the same question being repeated, others do. Regardless, you don't believe you're repeating questions. Perhaps coworkers do. Gather objective evidence, not to accuse, but to act.

The solution is to find out how management wants you to approach this. In the process, make sure that you understand the root cause of management intervention, and what (if anything) management really wants changed.

Are you sure the gist of the meeting was really about annoyance? Cash is involved and the meeting was an hour long. Reading between the lines, I think there's more likely a concern the manager did not express--for example money missing and your inquisitive nature has cast suspicion on you. If so, the other 5 named employees were probably also questioned.

Assuming this is the case, regardless if whether any one employee is disciplined, there is still the question of whether the complicated cashing out procedure is being consistently followed.

No-one needs to act in bad faith to cause a cash issue if the records are wrong. I once was involved in a major flap when a new drop box was added for some payments and folks didn't always know which box to drop in. In that case, ensuring everyone understood the "why" solved it--the new box wasn't for Tuesdays, it was for a particular vendor who usually (but not always) vended on Tuesday.

A written flowchart of the procedure, for example, would both help you and help streamline their employee onboarding. You can and should pitch this to management while you clarify. Doing so will reduce the store's risk exposure to unintentional mishandling, reduce your risk exposure to repetitive clarifications, and make it easier to identify intentional mishandling.

The meeting had several subjects, not just cashing out or me asking why. But a lot of things seemed to suggest something was wrong, for example the manager spoke a lot about how team work is important and things work best if someone does a little extra to save the next person a lot of time. But only vague statements like this were made.

The fact that someone doing a little extra saves the next person a lot of time is not too vague to act. The specifics differ by who does what--when the boss' advice is too vague, you need to ensure you have actionable items. You can independently find these helpful extras. It's ok that you didn't ask the boss what "extras" he's thinking of, as in retail-land (in my experience) it's rare that the boss is hands-on enough to know. The specifics vary by who your shiftmates are, who comes in before you, who comes in after you, even by the day of the week.

You can and should know how to apply the abstract framework to the job--in the job requirements this is summarized as being a "self-starter." I don't shop at your liquor store, so the examples below may not exactly apply (and that's the point). The framework is what matters.

Think on what your coworkers already/could do to save you time, and do it for them. If you're unsure, find out what your shiftmates wish was done, or if the environment clearly doesn't want you to ask, announce.

Just be careful not to sound bossy, and only do what you can consistently deliver--whatever is an "extra" now will become the new normal. Tomorrow maybe you're getting the trash and you can ask whoever's watching the store if they'll start facing the aisles. When you get back, help them finish.

E.g. you can tell the coworker who's currently tying trash bags "I'll face the vodka and start restocking the beer cooler while you take out the trash." It's been a long day and everyone wants to go home. They'll either appreciate it or readily tell you what would really help them instead.

  • Thanks for the answer. The meeting had several subjects, not just cashing out or me asking why. But a lot of things seemed to suggest something was wrong, for example the manager spoke a lot about how team work is important and things work best if someone does a little extra to save the next person a lot of time. But only vague statements like this were made.
    – HarlyK
    Nov 13, 2016 at 8:05
  • And this can also apply to said rhetorical questions. Don't ask "do you need a hand?", just help etc. Nov 13, 2016 at 18:06
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    @user7019377 first off the boss didn't say it was stupid. second, he did not say I'm supposed to find the answers myself. third it's not possible to help take out the trash because one of us needs to watch the store. fourth, I still would say "there's a lot of team work involved" without adding anything else, is too vague of a statement to know which actions to change.
    – HarlyK
    Nov 13, 2016 at 21:11
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    @newcoder it's vague in the sense that saying "team work is important" is not an actionable item.
    – HarlyK
    Nov 14, 2016 at 9:00
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    @HarlyK this discussion is getting a bit long for comments and it seems to me there's room for deeper communication. Care to join in chat? chat.stackexchange.com/rooms/info/48503/…
    – newcoder
    Nov 14, 2016 at 19:02

Based on this question and your other question about your attempt to force customers to leave tips, I don't think you're cut out for retail. You're probably way overqualified and seem to have come from some other job where you had a much larger degree of autonomy, which is not a bad thing.

Let's think about this. I have patronized, for 20+ years, a large retail electronics chain with great prices. Before I go, I figure out what I want to buy by searching their website. Why? The salespeople on the floor, who don't get paid very much, are mostly useless. I learned this years ago. If they knew anything about the products they sold, they wouldn't be there working for peanuts.

It's the same in that liquor store. They're not interested in efficiency - that's overhead. They're not interested in new processes, because staff turnover is high and training is wasted. So they keep things 8th-grader simple. This is probably already annoying you, and perhaps the intervention you had is really saying you're coming off as an untrainable know-it-all because you're challenging the way things have been done (probably for ages).

You need a thinking job. This one isn't it.

  • Haha I hope you're not trying to flatter me. I had "thinking jobs" in the past but I'm quit happy with this one for the time being. I'm not going to quit it that's what your suggesting. Also I'm not "forcing people to tip" as you put it, by giving them change.
    – HarlyK
    Nov 13, 2016 at 21:35
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    Changing jobs is probably a bit overkill, but this answer hits on the right points. If it's a low paying retail job, higher-ups (sadly) aren't interested in investing in employees with quality training, because it's just easier and more cost-effective to advance those who can figure things out on their own and who get lucky without breaking rules.
    – user30031
    Nov 14, 2016 at 20:15
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    I don't know so much about him needing a thinking job, but I do think he needs more experience with handling people. That just comes with time Nov 17, 2016 at 13:27

Your behavior is completely logical. You want to understand in detail the exact way everything should work so that there is no ambiguity about what needs to be done.

Unfortunately, the average person is a moron who does not believe in understanding things before they do them. The average person thinks the way to accomplish tasks is just to dive in and try something and if something bad happens, correct it later. Such people (who are 90% of the population) do not appreciate scientific thinkers who want to get it right the first time.

Another problem is that the morons you are working with are not certain how to answer some of your more technical questions and that makes them feel embarrassed and angry. That's why they are complaining.

Your only option is to stop relying on other people for information and try to figure out what to do solely on your own. If something bad happens, just say "I was never told how to do X."

Another way to look at it, is that asking ANY question is an imposition on another person, so at a certain level interrogating someone is rude. So, look at it as an etiquette thing. Polite people don't ask questions.

  • 3
    Science would never get anywhere if researchers didn't do anything unless they knew, in advance, what the outcome would be.
    – Simon B
    Nov 13, 2016 at 19:43
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    This would be an excellent answer if not for the use of the word "morons"
    – user30031
    Nov 14, 2016 at 20:25
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    I think you should edit for a more professional tone. that should reverse the down-votes Nov 17, 2016 at 13:28
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    @RichardU Even after such an edit, the answer is based on an assumption (and a judgment) about co-workers behavior.
    – user8036
    Jan 26, 2017 at 10:44
  • @JanDoggen Yeah, but insults never help. Jan 26, 2017 at 13:22

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