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I've been in situations before when I ask a question to management, and been told; they had asked at an earlier time if I had any questions, and I said no.

How can these situations be avoided or dealt with? If I'm asked one day if I have any questions, and I say "no", but later find I don't know something?

One example, I missed a shift, and had to explained to a manager that I had never been trained on how to read the schedule, and didn't realize I had not read it correctly. He replied "on the first day he asked me if I had any questions". I hadn’t asked how to read the schedule, because I didn't know that it would be complicated and involved interpreting codes, I thought it would be a regular schedule with simply dates and times.

Another example, I had a programming job where my boss would email me instructions. He would immediately walk over and ask if I had questions. I said I need time to read it and he said he will wait, and stood there as I read it and then asked if I had any questions. I tried to reply open ended saying things like "not now but maybe latter" and he got mad and said "it’s a yes or no question, are the directions clear?".

To me it seems obvious that things evolve over time and you can't know what you may need to know latter. What's the best way to reply in situations like this or is there a way to avoid them all together? For example, I was thinking of confirming "are these all the instructions I will get for the task? What should I do if a new question comes up?"

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    Sounds like you're working for dicks. – Sean McSomething Dec 30 '16 at 22:58
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    Sounds likes very draconian behaviour to me from management. Where in the world do you work out of interest? I've never run into this kind of behaviour at any of the companies I've worked for in the UK. Edit: @SeanMcSomething said it how I was thinking it before I tried to phrase it more diplomatically! – 3N1GM4 Dec 30 '16 at 22:58
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    The only logical response here is "I was sure I understood it, but then you explained it to me, and now I'm totally lost." – A. I. Breveleri Dec 31 '16 at 0:57
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    What's with all the questions mentioning being unable to read a schedule? There was this one just a couple days ago.. workplace.stackexchange.com/questions/82177/… – Herb Wolfe Dec 31 '16 at 1:06
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    You are working with the wrong people. Consider getting yourself a new job and then firing your current employer. – Vietnhi Phuvan Dec 31 '16 at 1:26
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I get the feeling you've been burned by this more than once. Don't worry, so have a lot of other people! Check this question from yesterday (similar issue'ish)

How to write a good resignation letter when quitting under poor circumstances?

In my experience the problem in these circumstances is that your manager/colleague may think that the answer to your question is self explanatory, or something that you would solve yourself if you just tried to figure it out. (which leads to issues like misreading the schedule)

(you and your are used in a general sense, and are not directly pointed at 'you') From your perspective, either you don't know the answer, or you think it's better to ask than it is to just do what 'you' think is best, and find out it was the wrong thing to do. (which leads to them acting like your question is stupid)

Both points of view are totally valid, but both points of view are in conflict.

Unfortunately this problem is really one that only resolves itself with experience and time. Being able to judge when you can guess the right answer, or should go ask, has a lot to do with how well you know the business, how well you know the person you're working for, and honestly how well you know the task in general.

However! These approaches may help:

  • Hey, Did you want me to "option 1", or "option 2" (Your boss will tell you about option 3)
  • Hey, I just want to make sure I've got this right, does "this" mean "that" on this complicated thing you have given me?
  • Since this is my first time doing this for this business, do you want me to do it like I did in my previous job "do x" or do you have a different way of doing that here?
  • I'm going through the instructions you gave me, and now that I've started the task and understand it better, I've got a quick question.

Why these kinds of phrases? Because when you word your question like this, it shows your manager that you are thinking about the problem, and that you could solve it (or may have already solved it (when guessing option 1, option 2)), so they don't feel like you're just coming to them, for every small thing that they think you should already know.

Now admittedly you're going to find managers like your programming manager, who think that they can give you a short instruction, and get a massive perfect thing out of you later. These kinds of managers suck, and unfortunately there's nothing you can do to help these people. You'll just have to get really good at wording your questions to cater to their needs, until you get a better offer somewhere else, and one day, you'll find a boss who is an excellent communicator, don't worry, they do exist.

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    Thanks, that makes a lot of sense. I do have difficulty knowing when to ask a question, most people would say "ask whenever you have a question" but I believe part of being paid to do work is trying to find the answers for yourself. – Sammy Jan 3 '17 at 4:51
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Both you and your bosses seem to have a very similar mindset; when you don't understand something and go to someone with a question, it's very important to everyone to figure out whose fault it is that you don't know, more important than giving you the missing information. It's not a very mature approach on either side.

I'm also seeing that you probably wait too long to ask. At some point there was a schedule posted that you didn't understand. You wrongly thought you weren't working and just didn't come in. My guess is that on more than one occasion, you've done something a boss didn't like and said "oh, I didn't understand that was what I was supposed to do, or how the schedule works, or when the work was due." Your bosses are trying to prevent that by asking if you understand, but as you point out, people don't always realize when they are missing information.

What should you do? First, let go of the blame game. Don't use not understanding instructions as a reason it's "not your fault" that you let your boss down. It may or may not be your fault, but it is your problem. When you do something wrong, even if it was unavoidable due to strange and unclear instructions, apologize. When you need to know something, ask the moment you realize you need to know it. Don't carry on not knowing. And you can apologize for taking a while to realize that this information was missing, too. Try to show that you feel a responsibility to understand what is expected of you and that you really value delivering what is expected of you.

The moment people start saying things like "you had a chance to ask about this earlier", or start demanding that you issue a ruling on instructions right away, you can see that arguing about whether instructions are clear or not is something that must happen a lot. Perhaps not just with you - if they are unclear it's likely many staff have issues with them. But digging your heels in and insisting that at any time in the future you can say "well I didn't understand the instructions" and so it won't be your fault - that's never going to be helpful. You can try to minimize the number of times it happens. When you're given instructions, don't just listen. Speculate based on them. What are the consequences of those instructions? If there's a prop, like a written schedule, look it over and test yourself as to whether you understand it.

Finally, if you must hedge your bets, "I might have more questions later" is a terrible way to do so. Take those programming instructions. If I was asked to add a report to a system, I would need to know the columns to be added, and how to calculate each one, how they should be sorted, and perhaps some formatting like how many decimal places. If any of that is missing, I can answer "I can get started, but I'll need to know how many decimal places for these numerical columns within the next day." But if I don't know how average service length (adjusted) is calculated, I can say right away that I need a formula for that before I can do anything. When you just say "oh, I don't know, it looks ok at first glance, but next week I might tell you I couldn't do anything for 4 days because you didn't give me a formula" (and that's what I hear when you say "maybe later") then I am not happy with you. See the difference?

  • Honest question: What makes you think I'm playing the blame game? – Sammy Jan 3 '17 at 4:42
  • You seem to be saying that "not knowing something" is "playing the blame game" which I don't believe to be true. I find it much more passive aggressive to deny not understanding something and try to cover up a mistake. – Sammy Jan 6 '17 at 8:41
  • At the moment when you learn you've done something wrong, are you focused on what to do next to make it right? Or on "I didn't know I had to do that"? Or, even further from fixing it, on "I didn't get trained so I didn't know ..." which is further still away. It's not that it's irrelevant that they have a complicated schedule or whatever. It's that "Hey, you didn't come in Thursday?" "Your schedule is way too complicated and nobody taught me to read it properly" "Don't be ridiculous you were given a chance to ask questions!" is all about whose fault it is and why. By both "sides". – Kate Gregory Jan 6 '17 at 13:14

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