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I'm new to the corporate world and workplace. I am wondering if the following things are considered not polite to do as an intern:

  • Ask about how a co-worker or supervisor does their job.

  • Give lengthy answers to questions coming from people. Like explain why I did my work in a certain way.

The reason is that I did those things and was told not to. Maybe I came off as arrogant. My interest was in knowing how my role fits in the bigger picture so i can better serve them. But it could've came off as interfering with my supervisors and co-workers' work that I had no place in knowing about at the intern stage.

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TL;DR

Interns are the lowest of the low. Everybody's time is more valuable than yours right now. Therefore, only take other people's time if it's work-related, not too much time, and worth both your and their time. Anything else is likely to annoy people. Nonetheless, interns are supposed to learn, so if you can quickly explain your goals and keep it brief, it shouldn't be too bad.

Full answer

Ask about how a co-worker or supervisor does their job.

Do you have a work-related reason to need to know this? If not, then how much time would be required for them to answer? Is the importance of the question worth both your and their time? Ask away if you think that the answer is yes, not too much, and yes, but hold your tongue otherwise. Since you're an intern, the default answer is no, too much, and no, unless the person is a designated mentor or something.

If you are genuinely curious about these details, then consider asking them at a work-related but more relaxed venue, like in a break room, or at a company party (assuming people are comfortable talking about work when at those places.) Either way, keep it brief.

Finally, be sure you don't sound like you're looking to criticize. Lots of people think they know everything about everything everyone else does. The last thing you want is for people to think you're one of those people, but it's all-too-easy for that to happen when you're new and asking lots of questions.

Give lengthy answers to questions coming from people. Like explain why I did my work in a certain way.

The same exact questions can work here. Do they have a work-related reason to know everything you're telling them? If not, then how much time would be required for them to listen? Is the importance of the question worth both your and their time? Once again, as an intern, the default on these is no, too much, and no. Answer as concisely as you can without losing important details, unless they really want to know details, in which case, go right ahead.

My interest was in knowing how my role fits in the bigger picture so i can better serve them

Do they know this? This is the kind of thing that might help them see how this is work-related, won't take too long, and worth the time to answer. It would be great to preface your questions with something like this (the first time.)

Be careful with how you phrase even this, since it could be taken as criticism of your supervisor, since you clearly feel like they're not giving you enough direction. This mostly applies if you're talking to your supervisor's direct superior, although I don't see why you would (as an intern) do that.

Finally, don't worry too much

You're an intern. A certain level of annoyance is expected. I'm sure you'll figure things out soon enough, and even if you don't, you'll just be better prepared for later.

  • I think this is a great example about how an answer can be blunt, direct, and helpful without being rude or disrespectful. – IDrinkandIKnowThings Nov 30 '16 at 16:14
  • To expand on this answer a bit; it is impolite and unprofessional to expect these interactions during work time. These sort of big picture questions are probably better suited to research on your own personal time or even businesses management classes offered by a college or the community. Of course, if you find a mentor willing to impart this knowledge at you're workplace then that is great, but they MUST be very clear about their desire to do so. – user30031 Dec 1 '16 at 22:02
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It seems that it wasn't WHAT you asked, but rather HOW you asked it.

You can come across as arrogant if you demand answers from people, or if it seems that you're questioning someone's abilities to do their job. Few people care for those things from co-workers or peers; no one is going to tolerate it from an intern. You may have closed the door to any solution to this dilemma if you have already been advised not ask any more of those questions.

If your position is still viable, then I would suggest that you start by watching and listening more than you talk. You can learn a great deal about a variety of subjects if you simply watch how someone performs a task and listen carefully to what they say. This doesn't mean that you should engage in a staring contest; it does mean that you should be observant and silent throughout much of your workday.

If or when the stigma created by your earlier attempts to learn fades (3-6 months minimum) I would then slowly and deliberately begin to ask questions. I would suggest not revisiting the questions that you had before and I would also suggest not interrupting people while they are explaining things to you. Make certain that your facial expressions and body language are neutral and that you politely thank someone when they have helped, even if they are simply repeating something that you already know.

To be honest with you, if you were indeed called "arrogant" you may have already lost your audience. Your best bet is to hope that your earlier behavior fades from memories or that a larger issue arises and that it obscures your past interactions. Either way, you need to start from the beginning by watching, listening and then asking question in an appropriate manner.

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I think it is alright to do so, as long as you inform them of your intention. Also, it would be good if you do not put judgement on what he/she is doing - like if he/she is performing lazy work or not http://scrolldownandread.blogspot.com/2016/11/traits-confused-for-laziness.html.

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