my trainer at my new job lied about me to our boss

A reader writes:

I recently started a new job. I NEED this job. It’s full-time, permanent, and for a fantastic wage in an area where job prospects are so bad that, aside from 2-3 month temp contracts and zero hour work, I was unemployed for over 3 years before this. And I’m good at it. The supervisor is already telling me they are impressed with me, that I’m taking on more work and am doing a better job of it than most people get the hang of in 6 months. Of course, I’m making mistakes still, but overall feedback has been incredibly positive. I feel I can do well here.

The department is small – my trainer is the only other person who knows how to do my job. Although I am technically in training, I am somehow already essentially doing 90% of what will be my job independently, and am just expected to ask him when I need help – which requires me to intuit when I am misunderstanding or missing something that I am not actually familiar with yet. But I’m a quick learner, and so far it’s been working out okay.

A lot of people in the department wear headphones while working in this office. So a week ago, I asked my trainer if it was okay for me to listen to music while working, and he told me it was fine by him, he didn’t mind people doing it, and waved away my offer to limit it to a single earbud in case he needed my attention as “not a problem.”

Today, the supervisor came back from her holiday, and there was a sudden, unplanned “chat” late in the day. There was some praise of my work, some valid criticism, and then she mentioned the headphones. She doesn’t agree with headphone use in the office, although she accepts it’s permitted in this office by the actual boss. But she doesn’t think it’s appropriate for me to use them while training, which I accept completely. But then my trainer immediately spoke up to say he agreed with her and he doesn’t like it when people use headphones in the workplace either and would rather I didn’t do it. Which gave the impression that I had just *started doing it* without asking or checking with anyone, and was the literal opposite of what he told me.

I’m already in a sink-or-swim situation where this job is concerned, and if my trainer is willing to outright lie and throw me under the bus over something as minor as this, how can I trust him not to do the same or worse when it comes to work issues that actually matter?

I wasn’t prepared for a 1-2-1 so didn’t have time to come up with a response to that or anything else – I was in the middle of a task 15 minutes before the end of my shift when the meeting was announced as happening *right then*, so I was caught off guard and just nodded and agreed with everything I was told. I don’t want to make a big thing over something so minor, and I’ve already learned through gossip that department culture is heavily against people who “make complaints” to HR and similar, but my faith in my trainer is shaken and I feel like I’m going to need to tread incredibly carefully in how I do my work. How can I best protect myself going forward?

Well, you’ve just learned something valuable about your trainer: He’s weak, and at least a bit of a jerk. And he’s willing to misrepresent things to make himself look better. Minimally better, apparently, as I doubt your manager would have held it against him if he’d said, “Oh, Jane actually asked me about that and I told her it was okay. Sorry about that!” (And that’s why I say he’s weak — people who are confident about their skills and their standing would have just been straightforward about it.)

So, you cover your ass where he’s concerned. You document things in email as much as you can without looking strange, and you build relationships with other people on your team so that you have other people you can go to with questions that don’t absolutely have to be answered by him specifically.

You can say something directly to your trainer, although that may or may not make sense. For example: “Bob, I must have misunderstood you when we talked about headphones last week. I thought you had said they were okay to use. It’s totally fine for me not to use them, but did I completely misunderstand our conversation?” Your tone here should be genuinely confused and curious, not confrontational. But if he’s really toxic, there’s no way to say this that won’t feel threatening to him, so you have to judge based on what you know of him and your own tolerance for risk.

Of course, you could say something to your boss too, but I’d lean against it. I think that would make this into a bigger thing than it should be and potentially make things worse with Bob. But I would absolutely be ready to say something to your boss if you notice anything similar from Bob toward you in the future.

But beyond that, I’d just work on getting fully trained as soon as possible, so that you’re less reliant on this guy for help.

{ 127 comments… read them below }

  1. Anna

    As Alison said, you have just learned a lot about this person. Namely that they have no problem throwing people under buses. Too bad you weren’t quicker on your feet. “Oh, I wish you had mentioned that when I asked you about it Tuesday.”

    1. Holly Olly Oxen Free

      I always like to frame things as if I must have misunderstood with people like this. That way it can’t be viewed as an attack. “My apologies, I must have misunderstood when I asked you about it.”

      I think it’s worth considering that this guy is more a brown noser than anything. He may not have even realized how it came off but is so wrapped up in sucking up to the supervisor that he just always agrees with whatever she says. Still someone you want to watch, but perhaps a little less formidable than someone who is specifically looking to step on their coworkers.

      1. TCO

        I do this, too, when I want to passive-aggressively point out that I didn’t actually do anything wrong, but I don’t want to start a fight. “Oh, I asked Judy how to fill out the forms and I thought she told me to do them this way. I must have misunderstood. How should I do them in the future?” or, “I thought I heard someone say that the dress code allowed sandals. I must be remembering that incorrectly. I won’t wear them again.”

        When used properly, this strikes the right balance between taking responsibility for your own mistakes while not over-apologizing for something that wasn’t completely your fault.

        1. Holly Olly Oxen Free

          You phrased it much better than I did. I certainly don’t advise anyone to be passive aggressive. That get’s you nowhere. For situations where you want it to be clear that you were not the one who made the error this tactic can work. But it’s best saved for more serious issues and then worded in a way that emphasizes that you’re goal is to get it right next time, not to get someone else in trouble.

          1. TCO

            “Your goal is to get it right next time, not to get someone else in trouble.”

            Yes, exactly. Well-said.

            1. Jessa

              Um I’m not sure of that. The coworker lied to the manager because the manager disagreed with what the coworker thought was okay. What else is this person lying about? Covering up? It’s a minor thing, but not being willing to stand up and say “Sorry I told OP it was okay,” now, means they’re not going to stand up when the error is bigger. As a manager I’d want to know that.

              1. Vicki

                I worked with a guy – not a manager, another individual contributor brought over from another team. He was lying to everyone. He’s say he would do something and never do it. He’d say he had _done_ something he had not done.

                When I alerted my manager to this, manager said we couldn’t get the guy off our team. I left (with the manager’s blessing; it was a short-term contract). This guy was actively sabotaging the project and I wasn’t going to let that appear to have any relationship to my work.

            2. Vicki

              Oh, I don;t think I can agree with this.

              My goal would be to get it “right” next time while making it crystal clear that I had permission to get it “wrong” this time.

      2. A Definite Beta Guy

        I agree. Brown-noser to the extreme. Whatever the Boss says, yes!

        There’s quite a few people like this at our office. The company calls them Account Managers. All Yes Men and Yes Women.

      3. "Jane"

        I like this! Really wishing I hadn’t been so caught off-guard, because this would’ve been a perfect response.

        1. Holly Olly Oxen Free

          Hard not to be caught off guard in that situation, especially when you’re still new and getting your footing.

    2. Ellen

      I think the OP should never have asked the trainer at all but should have asked her boss. This guy does sound kind of like a piss ant, so any type of important on-the-job (not training-related) questions should go directly to the person to whom she reports. A hard lesson to learn, but at least it was learned in the beginning.

      1. Karowen

        But the boss wasn’t in and her trainer is, to some extent, her supervisor at the moment. I wouldn’t blink twice if a new employee asked about things that should be common office knowledge while I was training them. Besides, would you really want to bother the boss about this when you have no reason to think the trainer would mislead you?

        1. KathyGeiss

          I agree completely. But, now that the OP knows how the trainer operates, I’d save these sorts of questions for when I have time with the boss. I Wouldn’t do that normally, but with this new info, I would!

        2. TootsNYC

          True, the boss wasn’t in, and it was a totally reasonable course for our Letter Writer to ask the trainer.

          But, going forward, now she knows that the trainer is not to be trusted. She -does- have great instincts, in terms of knowing what she should ask (i.e., ask permission for the headphones; big points to her for stressing the “single earbud” thing as well–she should feel confident in listening to that “little voice”; her is working well).

          So, when she wants to ask, she’ll hesitate before asking the trainer. She’ll ponder whether she can interrupt/bother the boss with something that small, and she’ll consider whether it’s worth emailing so she has documentation.

          This sort of thing stinks, though, bcs if she -had- emailed, she’d have looked stupid forwarding the email to her boss to defend herself, bcs now she looks like a tattletale. That’s the worst about not being able to trust people.

          But being ready with “I must have misunderstood” on speed-dial in her brain will buy her time to brace herself (and will frame the next words appropriately) and say, “I’d asked Trainer about that, and he said it would be OK.”

          However, I think this is your most important strategy–I can’t emphasize enough how important it is:
          “you build relationships with other people on your team” combined with “getting fully trained as soon as possible, so that you’re less reliant on this guy”

          You want to make this job, and your reputation, be yours, unfiltered by this guy.
          (Those relationships aren’t friendships; they’re “these people work with me directly and know what I can do; they see me as qualified and competent.”)

          1. "Jane"

            Thank you!

            Yes, I will try and pay attention to my instincts as much as possible. It’s a funny old department I’m in – I was actually warned in both interviews that I’d be working with “strong personalities”, so I was expecting and bracing for some sort of drama. I just wasn’t quite expecting this!

            It’s a shame, because I get the impression my trainer does like me as a colleague – we’ve been getting along well, and I’m fairly compatible with his style of training – but I’d rather be cautious now and avoid trouble in the future than end up getting pulled up short over something that actually matters.

            1. TalleySueNYC

              Also, your little voice told you that using headphones might be a problem.
              So in the future, listen to that little voice, and don’t even ask–choose the most conservative pathway. At least for a while, until you’re less “in training” and more plugged in to the office.

              Choose the safe route. It’ll be less angst!

    3. fposte

      I think it’s good that she didn’t, actually. You already know this person will throw you under the bus to make herself look better, so if you say something that makes her look worse in front of the boss, that’s going to cause problems. I’d consider it if the perceived error is a really big deal that’s worth the likely future animosity of the trainer, but the big boss really isn’t going to care about the headphones thing (and may already have an idea that the trainer is a wuss), so I wouldn’t bother to antagonize the trainer over it.

    4. CAsey

      And I would be really curious about how the supervisor feels about Brown Nosing Bruce, because it he is THAT obvious, I wouldn’t be able to keep my eyes from rolling if he immediately starting slobbering to tell me about how much HE loathes earbuds in the office. Because, who asked you anyway Bruce? You weirdo.

      Ya, watch your back OP. He’s a weak sad little man. That’s kind of a bummer too, because these folks usually end up ‘competing’ with those that they feel threatened by. I would do whatever you can to start building a good relationship with supervisor so you can dodge this douchnozzle, fast.

      1. Brandy

        I have never understood bosses that love brown nosing. Its so obvious to me that I too would be rolling my eyes. But Ive had bosses that love it and I hate having to play that game. “girl your hair looks so good. did you just get it done?” when its obvious they just rolled out of bed.

  2. MsM

    LW, I agree with Allison’s advice, but I also want to push back a bit on the life or death stakes you’re setting here. I get that this is a great opportunity for you. I get that there are not a lot of those out there, and you’ve been waiting a while for one to come along. And hopefully this is just a minor misunderstanding that’ll quickly be smoothed over and forgotten on the way to a long and happy career at this place. But if this turns out to be the kind of organization where you’re just supposed to know the unspoken rules and no one will stick up for you if you accidentally break one? It’s not worth driving yourself crazy over.

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

      +1. In your managers eyes, this probably wasn’t a big dramatic thing that happened. Unless she is totally unreasonable, she is aware that new employees bring all kinds of ideas and habits from other workplaces that need to be shifted for the current workplace.

    2. Cath in Canada

      I was going to say the same thing. If this happened to me I would absolutely be bothered by it, but it’s not at an “OMG I might lose this awesome new job!” level, as some of the language in the first part of the letter seems to suggest. It sounds like everything else is going really well, and hopefully this will all just fade away into memory very soon. Good luck, OP!

    3. AnonyMiss

      MsM – I mostly agree with you; but only mostly. I think OP’s biggest issue here in “needing” the job is not the opportunity, or being good at the job, but merely the abysmal job situation in his/her area, and quite possibly not being able to pay bills. Been there, done that, not fun – when you are willing to stick it out in even a place like that, as long as there is a paycheck that covers rent.

      Good luck, OP… I hope this shapes up to be better.

    4. Anonsie

      I think the LW is, very reasonably, concerned that they finally got a big break after many years and this dark shadow is suddenly looming on the horizon. This is one of those situations where making sure you carefully lay the groundwork to protect yourself can be the difference between being ok with your job and suffering in it.

      1. lost in bizzaro land

        OP do not to let this incident continue to get to you. I can empathize because I was in your same situation 3 years ago and after 4 months of office toxicity, I made the decision to look for a new job regardless that I was formerly unemployed for 1.5 years.

        Continue to put out quality work, improve your skills and CYA so that you can grow and eventually move on. You are receiving kudos from the people that care about your growth and that matters more than some petty guy snitching about head phones.

        There will always be those types of work mates in the office.

    5. Tinker

      I agree, with some caveats.

      I’ve got this thing that I call the Wheel of Results. It’s a theatrically large spinning pointer wheel with wedges on it labeled things like “Relaxing Fun Time”, “Partly Cloudy with Chance of Passive-Aggression”, and “Inexplicable Rain of Biting Weasels”. These, of course, can be labeled appropriately to the situation.

      When I’m thinking about a future interpersonal encounter that may be of a crazymaking type, I think of taking a spin on this wheel. It makes soothing clacking noises as it spins around and around and lands in a spot which cannot be predicted, even by spending hours thinking about the possible interactions of various factors. And: if it isn’t possible to predict what will happen, one is only responsible for taking ones best shot at things that actually can be managed, and then dealing with whatever comes as it happens. So, yeah, there’s a lot to be said for not plotting out the “what if they’re setting up a surprise trap for me” when the entire point of surprise traps is that they are: a surprise.

      On the other hand, certain sorts of fuckery are actually predictable. There are some folks involved in one of my hobbies that aren’t quite under-bus-throwers, but if you ask Bob how to correctly construct a football bat then Bob will confidently tell you that the legal materials and dimensions are thus and such… regardless of whether there actually are rules, or if Bob correctly knows them, because Bob’s data does not come from petty mortal rule books but rather from some other and crucially non-authoritative source.

      If you’ve been around this cycle a few times, even in matters where it’s no great harm to quickly saw an extra inch off your football bat or repurpose the forty-pound bag of Tidy Cat kitty litter that Bob assured you was the appropriate fill for burying your enemies up to the neck in (much to the surprise of the actual kitty litter rules overlord), it follows that even if you don’t think that Bob is a Great Betrayer or that you need to have them Marked as Someone to Watch… if you’re ordering a truckload of non-returnable slabs of carbon fiber and you ask how thick they should be, when Bob gives an answer you should be aware that the data point you have isn’t “the correct size is” but rather “BOB SAID the correct size is”. So you thank Bob nicely for the help and then you take someone with a better track record aside and ask them.

      Thus, I think, with this matter. It’s not something to go around endlessly thinking “what if it turns out that correct staple orientation is something that they will INSTANTLY FIRE me over”, but if there is an established predictable failure mode in this company’s culture, giving some thought to how to gracefully incorporate that into one’s planning has merit. Particularly given that it seems that OP’s medium-term interests are served by sticking on at this place even if it does turn out a bit backstabby.

      1. Camellia

        “…certain sorts of fuckery are actually predictable…”

        You win the interwebs today.

  3. R10Tact

    As much as I agree with Alison’s advice – I’d be almost hesitant to go and talk to your slime ball trainer. Instead I would use the same tone and speak directly with the supervisor…and say the same thing…or address in when you’re back in the 2 on 1 meeting.
    I’ve been in situations like this and I’ve always heard them, agreed and then sent out an email recapping the conversation, apologizing and stating that I did check and I was told it was o-kay but going forward I won’t.

    Good luck…and like Alison says…DOCUMENT EVERYTHING!!!!!

    1. Holly Olly Oxen Free

      The problem with that is it could create the perception that OP is also someone who will toss a coworker under the bus over something as trivial as headphones. It may be an invalid perception, but I can totally see someone thinking that what she was told about this is pretty irrelevent. This is so low on the scale of offenses that I doubt the OP was even in trouble. I think it’s important to choose carefully where you push back so that when a serious issue pops up you will be taken seriously rather than being seen as the person who’s always saying “not my fault!!”

      1. HR Bloviate

        I’m going with you on this HOOF, this is a minor issue addressed at the time. It’s highly likely long gone from the bosses mind.

      2. Jennifer

        Depends on where you work–in some places ANYTHING can be bad.

        But in this case, hopefully it wasn’t because the OP didn’t get flat out yelled at.

        And in the meantime, you know not to trust the trainer. Good to know.

      3. Zillah

        I agree. As much as it rankles, I think the OP needs to let this one go – it sounds like a fairly innocuous correction in response to an understandable mistake, if many people at the office wear headphones. The OP should absolutely be on their guard around this trainer in the future, though.

    2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

      I actually don’t see Alison recommending documentation all the time. It seems like she’s more likely to recommend (a) letting it go or (b) having a direct conversation about it. Why would you document this? In case you get fired tomorrow for wearing headphones and you wanted to prove that you were given permission? In most states, they’d still be within their rights to fire you whether or not you had written down your side of things on the day it happened. And if they did fire you, it’s pretty unlikely they would cite this as the reason – most managers will at least try to come up with the most legitimate sounding thing they can, like “made too many errors”.

      1. John

        Agreed. When I see people move into documenting mode, it only works them up more, guaranteeing a contentious relationship.

      2. Stranger than fiction

        They’re saying going forward document everything concerning this dude to cover her ass

  4. Jillociraptor

    I wonder if there could be a more innocent justification for the trainer’s behavior. The one presented is certainly likely, but I can imagine the trainer also thinking something like, “Boy, I don’t want to send mixed messages! I better reinforce what Boss says!” Not in a sycophantic way, but just somewhat awkwardly trying to let you know that he was going to back up this directive.

    Do you have other evidence that the trainer is a little bit slippery? I agree that going back to him to discuss this situation has potentially more risks than potential rewards, but if it were me, I’d be guarded and careful, but definitely wouldn’t write off this job as terrible or toxic.

    1. Holly Olly Oxen Free

      I agree with you. I got suck up more than bus thrower. I definitely didn’t get toxic. I actually thought the reaction was a bit over the top. It would have bugged me, but this one incident wouldn’t have made me feel shaken or that I needed to tread incredibly carefully from that point on. His actions certainly don’t scream integrity to me, but they don’t scream toxic either.

    2. illini02

      Thats what I was thinking. And realistically, what he “prefers”, what is done, and what he has the ability to do, aren’t necessarily the same. He really could not like it that people do it, but doesn’t have the standing to say “don’t do it”, so he says “I don’t care”. I know its semantics in a way. However, I’m not going to jump to the “he is a slime ball that can’t be trusted” line of thinking either

      1. LBK

        I’d be wary about trusting him not from the standpoint of being devious (he’ll try to screw me over given the chance) but from the standpoint of him being a pushover (any time I ask him about something he’ll say what he thinks I want to hear and then get mad if I didn’t read through the lines). I agree with your reading that it’s less about him lying to the OP about the rules to get her in trouble and more that he probably weaseled out of giving a direct answer until he was in front of the boss and could piggyback on the strength of her conviction. It was easier for him to turn the OP down when it was just agreement with what the boss had already said as opposed to having to flat out say no to the OP’s face.

        People do this all the time and I never understand to what end. If I’m bothering to ask you the question, it’s usually because I want an answer, not because I want you to approve no matter what. If I didn’t care whether you said yes or no, I’d just do it on my own without asking.

      2. AlyIn Sebby

        In some cases though this is a glaringly obvious ‘first of many’

        The last toxic place I had the misery of working in started exactly like this. Something that should have been “one and done”.

        “Oh, my apologies, I checked in with trainer first while you were out of the office. In the future I’ll wait until I can run it by you.”

        From the moment of the first crazy random meeting about who was supposed to handle X -crazy boss said “Don’t believe anything co-workers say, it IS their job.” But the minute she was gone they would ‘refuse’ to do tasks under their purview and to throw it back at me.

        I really wish I had be comfortable being SO uncomfortable about this and saw a red flag & fireworks instead of believing it was as minimal as it should have been.

        The path I wish I had followed would have been a lot more cautious and less trusting and especially I should have trusted my gut when it said “Don’t trust Boss or anyone here. They aren’t good people and they will throw you under the bus for ANYTHING.”

        Some paranoia is healthy – OP can you find the balance?

    3. Anonicorn

      Yeah, I’m more on this side of the fence. I don’t think it’s necessarily an indication that the trainer intended to sabotage the LW in any way.

    4. Stranger than fiction

      Yes but if the dude is that insecure…insecurity+new employee superstar that’s picking things up so quickly = insecure dude throwing new superstar under bus…next time this could be about something far more serious. Message: Op keep your wits about you

  5. the_scientist

    Ohhhhh…..I am having serious flash-backs to an old job. I had a co-worker who frequently made careless, lazy mistakes and was constantly trying to throw me under the bus. He absolutely hated my guts; I think he thought I was out to steal his job. While we were technically “at the same level”; I was a student and he was a full-time employee so he did have some authority over me.

    From experience, I would recommend a) documenting everything via email as suggested but also b) avoiding having one-on-one conversations with the guy as much as possible. This can be quite tricky depending on the workplace setup- in my case, it was a laboratory, so there were often other people around and I also had a trainer/team lead who I worked closely with. With one-on-one conversations, you risk the “he-said/she-said” thing, but having witnesses around means the guy is less likely to say something inappropriate/threatening (if it gets to that) and that you have someone to check in with if he tries to misrepresent something you said.

    Finally, you can and should push back in meetings about big issues. Frame it as being genuinely concerned about making errors and trying hard to fix them and improve your performance, and eventually the boss should be able to see what’s going on. In my case, my nemesis co-worker made a critical, costly error, which I noticed. When I brought it to the manager’s attention, he through me under the bus by saying “oh the_scientist has made this error a number of times before, but I didn’t want to upset her so I never mentioned it”. I responded with “oh, gosh, really? Can you remember the last time you noticed it? I’m very concerned about this. Can you remember the events leading up to the error? I really wish you’d said something right then so I could fix it right away. Please be sure to mention it as soon as possible next time; I promise that I can handle the correction professionally” in front of the manager and team lead. It was very obvious that co-worker’s version of events were not true and that I wasn’t making frequent, careless errors…..especially when the team lead said “if you couldn’t mention it to the_scientist, why didn’t you bring the issue to me directly? Because you know we have to document these issues….”.

    1. Anonsie

      All good ideas. I’ve worked with people like this before (IIRC we’re in similar fields so maybe that’s got something to do with it) and these are all the same steps that have been pretty effective for me in the past.

      Another big one, bigger than having everything documented in email, is making sure that you are talking to everyone else frequently and sort of representing yourself and what is going on and what you’ve been told/are doing/what’s been agreed upon. They can’t BS people about you if those people have already spoken with you and already know the truth.

  6. LQ

    I wanted to mention something, it seems like you were expecting more training than you got or are getting and that they are expecting you to ask questions and figuring out what you might be missing. I’d say this is pretty common. Certainly some jobs have very strict or rigorous training programs, but usually for positions where there is high turn over, or large hire groups (call center for example). If there is only one other person who knows the work then I think that it’s very common to not get a lot of formal training and be set loose with a just let me know when you have questions, kind of attitude.

    There’s also the chance that your trainer wasn’t sure that it wasn’t allowed and felt like he couldn’t say you shouldn’t do it and was relieved when the boss said it wasn’t allowed. He should have still said that he’d said it was ok. But there are things that are ok at my company that I do not like and when my boss has put a smack down on them I’ve been thrilled, even when I’ve grudgingly said they were ok because it was either acceptable in the rules or that it was just A Thing that was done.

    1. LQ

      Oh all this said if there isn’t documentation for the processes you are doing them make them – for yourself – but it will be something to have your trainer check to make sure is accurate, and then can also be turned into a manual for the future. Looks good, and does documentation in a way that is helpful for you and the business.

    2. "Jane"

      Ahh, no, sadly this isn’t one of those kind of jpbs I’m replacing someone who retired, and it’s a rather niche little version of something that *would* be a low-training high-turnover style job in most other circumstances. I can’t think of a good teapots style analogy for this!

      Actually, mostly the reason I’m being expected to take on the work so quickly is just because there is *so much work*. Given that the job I’m taking on takes 100% of my time, I’m being praised for my speed/efficiency at it and it was one of *three* separate duties my trainer was having to try to cover alone after his co-worker retired, I think that aspect of it is just him being relieved to be able to hand off a job that they were struggling to get done on schedule, and since I’ve managed to get the hang of it he’s been gladly giving me as much as he feels I can manage. I do know that at least some of the things I’m doing now, I originally wasn’t supposed to be doing for the first six months or so.

      1. LQ

        If this is a high turn over kind of job then creating the documentation if it doesn’t exist will be superbly helpful, assuming it doesn’t exist. But it is still really common to be told just ask questions, so I’d say to not worry about that too much.

      2. hbc

        Jane, your description makes me think you could show up to work tomorrow wearing headphones, flip-flops, and nothing else, and they still wouldn’t fire you. There is just no way that people this desperate to fill a role are going to toss out a high performer over something like taking an office perk on a little too soon.

        I think that discussion was only stressful because of your job history and because it was unexpected. I bet your boss has entirely forgotten about it.

  7. Mockingjay

    I would follow all of Alison’s advice, except for speaking with your trainer. I guarantee he will have selective memory regarding the headphone usage conversation. Let that one go.

    1. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec

      Maybe, but maybe not. I forget stuff I’ve said All. The. Time. I have so many different things going on, and if someone is popping into my office or catching me in the hallway when I’m not focused, I don’t always recall what I said. It’s pretty normal for people to say, “hey – last week you said x. Did something change, or is that still okay?’ and then I can try to recall my thought process. Another vote for sit-down supervision meetings where I can focus on what I’m responding to.

      1. fposte

        Ditto for me–that’s why I ask people to follow up in email on significant stuff. But a headphones thing isn’t worth documenting, and I could see a tossed off “sure, fine” one day and then a later thought that I’d rather this employee didn’t have headphones.

        If I’d done that and the employee later mentioned that to me, I’d definitely drop a note to the boss saying that I had given permission.

    2. M-C

      I’d follow AAM’s advice to the letter too, especially about documenting. EVERYTHING. Do not delete a single email, you don’t know what will save you later on. And act all innocent about putting everything down on paper, after all you’re still ‘in training’ so you can justify a paper-itis attack as ‘making sure I’m getting things down correctly’. If pushed, you can allow that clearly you’ve misinterpreted a couple small things already and you want to make sure you can refer to procedure exactly as imparted. You might want to backup emails discreetly too, but only if you know how to do it really discreetly. At least change your password to a good strong one and make copies to your hard drive.

      And I’d also not mention this incident to the manager ever again, you can only hope that she’s seen the shock on your face and drawn her own conclusions. Be sure not to let anything near your ears ever again in the office of course :-). And don’t mention it to the trainer either, as it’s highly unlikely that he did this without being conscious of it. No point in letting him know he got to you.

      Now what’s not clear from your letter is if the problem is the trainer, or the whole office. From what you say, I’d guess it’s probably just the trainer. For all you know, they are aware that they have a controlling psychopath on their hands, and are hoping for someone who can eventually replace him. Keep your nose to the grindstone and hopefully this can be you soon :-). Read “snakes in suits” and take its excellent advice to heart in order to protect yourself. And start immediately developing direct relationships with everyone else in the office, making sure hes not isolating you under the guise of training so that he can feed them whatever reality he wants if you prove not compliant enough. Hang out by the water cooler, go out with the girls, do all those things you should otherwise be leery of :-). You can also use the guise of ‘still in training’ to spill the beans about stuff you can sense you’re being misled about, cc’ing important people because you don’t know how important they are etc etc. Act all helpful and nice at every opportunity. Develop good relationships beyond the jerk and chances are you’ll outlive him :-). Good luck OP!!

  8. Jeanne

    There is a long waiting list for those who need a spine transplant. You’ve met one. My theory is you’re learning too fast. Your trainer feels threatened that you will surpass him. Keep working hard and try to interact with him as little as possible.

    1. LBK

      Do people actually do this? I see it suggested all the time in AAM comments that bad behavior is born of fear of being surpassed/feeling threatened and I just can’t wrap my head around that actually happening in real life. IME it jives with Mad Men but not with reality. People who aren’t smart enough to stay ahead of the curve are rarely smart enough to understand what being outpaced means for them.

      1. fposte

        I think even if it was deliberate, it was just about the headphones thing, not about the OP’s overall work, otherwise the trainer would have raised other issues.

        1. AnonAnalyst

          Yeah, I think that if the trainer is deliberately trying to sabotage the OP’s progress there are more effective ways of doing that through the work they’re actually doing, rather than telling her she can wear headphones and then going back on that sentiment.

          I mean, it seems like if the trainer wants to stunt the OP’s progress he would be forgetting to give her key work process or content related information that would impact the quality of her output or efficiency, or lead to making major errors, not using this headphone tactic. Because, seriously, if that’s the play, then he’s doing it wrong.

      2. PurpleMonkeyDishwasher

        From personal experience, yes, people actually do this in some workplaces.

        I left my first workplace after 2 years (in spite of liking the work and most of the people) because the person one notch above me was constantly sabotaging me. Some examples: He’d give me incomplete information and then throw me under the bus with our boss when I did the work “wrong” (meaning, based on the information he’d given me which failed to include some crucial fact); he’d fail to tell me about meetings on our shared projects and then tell my boss he “didn’t know where I was” when I “missed” the meetings; he’d crack jokes about my (young-ish) age and (female) gender and working-class hometown when introducing me to clients; he’d ignore my suggestions and reminders to him to do certain things and then tell our boss that he forgot to do those things because I failed to remind him to do them (or told him not to do them!); the list goes on, but I think you get the idea.

        As near as I can figure it, he acted this way towards me because we were in a setting where there was limited space in the upper levels of the organization, and it was (historically and statistically) very likely that only one of us would make it through to the top level. My work was praised more than his, I had better internal relationships with some of the key decision-makers, and I have a much “fancier” degree than he does (important in our profession, and especially important to our particular boss). The sad part to me is that my boss knew we didn’t get along, and basically took a “work it out amongst yourselves” approach, so my boss lost me (and two other really excellent female employees after me) while jealous dude is still kicking around the office.

      3. The Strand

        I am not diagnosing anyone described in the letter, let me say that first. But my better half works with someone who is a textbook narcissist. He will do and say absolutely anything to make himself look good, and nothing revs that up more than feeling threatened or surpassed by his colleagues.

        He has been known to make outlandish promises to clients without the wherewithal to actually come through, and to behave inappropriately at company events in a bid to grab attention. He will actually copy specific people in the office in terms of their dress, interests, and life choices. At a Christmas party he made a scene of himself as some lounge-lizard karaoke star. Half a year later, he arrived at an anniversary party most of the office attended, and announced that he had spent the evening proposing marriage to his girlfriend; he seriously expected the night to come to a halt. While there are some genuine weasels out there who are just trying to save their skins or threatened over their turf, I feel sorry for this person, because he’s that delusional. He’s in his mid-thirties, not someone from the “Mad Men” generation.

      4. Anonsie

        I felt the same way until I actually saw it, and even then it was hard to believe for a long time for exactly the same reasons you say– it just seems silly. People are silly, though.

      5. Sarahnova

        In my experience, yeah, they totally do. I think the thought process is rarely “Persephone THREATENS MY POSITION” and more of an unconscious emotional response to “the boss used to praise me for getting X done on time, and now Persephone gets that praise!”

        Years back as a new grad I actually did have another employee get threatened by me and do her best to embarrass me and/or box me in. Being a new grad, I actually didn’t spot it; it was my boss who explained to me what was happening.

  9. Turanga Leela

    I second all of Alison’s advice. Get things in writing from this trainer and archive the emails. If he gives you instructions in person, send an email later that day saying, “Just so I’m clear, you’d like me to…” or something similar. If he pushes back on this, say you like to have things in writing so that you don’t get confused later—this is a normal thing to do.

    1. Tough_Situ

      That’s a great idea.

      Also if the trainer ever suggests you don’t write things down, insist on slowing the training down and getting it in writing. I’ve been burned on that one before.

      At OldJob, my trainer told me not to take notes at a couple of sessions because he was going to send me the documentation and that he wanted me to get a “general overview” of how this is done. Well a month passes by and suddenly they want me doing those reports. I asked for the documentation and was told “there is none” and that he “didn’t remember” telling me to not take notes.

      Even worse, after this incident my co-workers “coincidently” started making comments to me whenever we had a training session about how I “better pay attention” that they would “only say this once” and that they are “big on note taking here” so I am pretty sure he bad mouthed me to my co-workers. : <

      1. Elizabeth West

        Ugh, that stinks.
        I find that taking notes actually helps me learn better–I’m more likely to get it right the first time if I write it down, and then I can target further questions better later. This is how I explain it when I start to do it. “It slows us down now, but I won’t have to bother you much later.” Plus, of course, the backup if anything comes under scrutiny, or I get hit by a bus and they have to get a temp, etc.

  10. Tough_Situ

    That’s tough.

    I was in that position at OldJob. My trainer seemed nice enough, but when I started to pick up the ropes faster than expected and started recieving complements in front of him … whooboy did he turn. He started to feed me misinformation, or would flat out be “too busy” to answer my questions. It was a real catch 22 because he was “such a nice guy” to everyone else and my boss would frequently say you should ask your trainer this.

    All I can say is document! document! document! If there is ever a case of misinformation like this, simply write it down and save a copy to your desktop (not the server). What you want to do here is 1) give your co-worker the chance to be professional 2) see if it s a pattern vs a one-off mistake and 3) not turn out looking like the problem maker. If you are new and suddenly there is office drama surrounding you, sadly it will be thrown on you even if you didn’t “start it”.

  11. Dr. Pepper Addict

    I think the bigger problem here is that they singled out the new employee for wearing earbuds but not everyone else who had been there longer. This subject is so minor that it didn’t need to have it’s own meeting and could have been settled with a simple email that said “Let’s refrain from using earbuds until you are fully trained.”

    OP the only other thing I could have thought to do was say, “Oh, I saw other people wearing them so I thought it was ok, but I will wait until I’m fully trained.” You don’t need to be singled out for doing something everyone else does and that type of answer puts it back on them.

    I still don’t understand the need for a meeting just to discuss this when it’s obvious OP’s not the only one doing it.

    1. fposte

      I didn’t think the meeting was just about the headphones–it could have been, but it sounded like lots of other things were discussed. It was just the headphones thing that stuck in the OP’s craw.

      1. Brandy

        I really cant believe a 1 on 1 was needed. The boss could’ve just stopped by and mentioned it.

        1. fposte

          If it was about the headphones, yes. It’s not clear to me that it was just about the headphones, given that the OP’s work in general was assessed.

    2. Steve G

      I don’t see that as a problem. A new employee still learning and making mistakes doesn’t need an added distraction on the job. They are using a lot more conscious brain capacity than someone doing the same work for years.

  12. "Jane"

    Thank you, Alison, and everyone else, for your advice.

    I agree that bringing this up with someone now would make me come off worse than just saying nothing – the headphones issue really is a minor thing, and although I had my reasons for wanting to wear them in the first place (it’s not something I’ve done in the office before) I really don’t have any problem with being held to different rules to everyone else while I’m in training.

    The trust issue is a worry. The nature of our job is fairly sensitive in terms of quality control – we actually get a monthly report from our client detailing each individual error made on the work, however minor, that we need to respond to fully, and some of the work I’m being trained to do has a 100% quality target (currently relaxed a little to allow for my training, thankfully!). Today I got to have a slightly worrying taste of what that’s going to involve:

    We received the report for April’s work, with the list – very short, representing about 0.1% of my productivity – of my errors. I immediately recognised and was able to place the errors listed and what had caused them, as I’d actually realised most of them shortly after they were made and had owned up to them at the time. But my trainer shushed me – told me not to worry and that “we’ll sort it out”, and since the report was sent *only* to him and not to me, I didn’t really get a say in the matter. As far as I can tell, reporting on my portion of the error report is part of his duties as trainer. He did get me to explain each one and then took it to the supervisor himself. Fortunately I was in earshot and, this time at least, he didn’t say anything that contradicted what I’d told him. But if that’s the usual way this is going to be dealt with, I do need to be careful.

    1. Gandalf the Nude

      Ooh, that last paragraph sounds like something that’s happening to a friend of mine. She’s a testing coordinator in a public elementary/middle school, and she’s extremely careful about compliance and security, but the guy with whom she shares testing duties is ridiculously, disgustingly lax and has pinned every one of his errors on her. But because he’s also a vice principal, she’s too worried about her job security to say anything (even though I’ve given her all my best AAM advice on how to approach the principal about it!), so she’s stuck getting dinged for his mistakes.

    2. Cath in Canada

      You mentioned up-thread that your role is going to be taking some of the workload off your over-worked trainer. With that in mind, after your training’s been over for a few months, you might be able to get control of reporting these results on to supervisor just by saying that you’re happy to take that part of the work off his plate, too.

      1. Jenna

        My concern is that the only things she may be getting are the things that are quality controlled at 100% accuracy and also expected to do them fast, with no provision for self checking her work.
        And then he reserves for himself the reporting, and the tasks that are not quality controlled.
        So, in a way he would be insulating himself from the outside quality control framework, in a way that she is not.

  13. Brett

    If it took the OP only a few weeks to figure this out about the trainer, I wouldn’t be surprised if the supervisor already has the trainer all figured out too and would not put very much weight on what the trainer said.
    (For one thing, if she really trusted the trainer’s word, then the trainer probably would have talked with the supervisor before the meeting, rather than being pulled in without warning like the OP. If the trainer did get prior warning, then he is extra annoying and his comments would tag him to be even more of a sycophant.)

  14. Steve G

    I don’t see the explicit lie part, I just see the manager being weak. I see AAM and some of the commenters’ points, but I think they are being somewhat harsh. I’m not sure we can assume that this one interaction is how the trainer would behave in other types of situations.

    I think it doesn’t show great judgment to be wearing earphones so soon at a new job. Maybe your trainer was just afraid to say “no” and/or felt it would have been awkward to say no when you asked if it was OK. I could imagine being caught off guard with “is it OK if I…….” type questions if you’ve never thought through what you want as a manager.

    To me, wearing earphones either shows that the work is so rote to you that you can handle the disruption (which isn’t your case), or that you are bored and need something to keep the interest level up. If you were truly engrossed in your work, you wouldn’t need music to help you through the day.

    1. "Jane"

      Ehhh, in this case it’s more that several of the people around me keep *whistling and muttering along* to the music they’re listening to, which has been distracting me somewhat from work that is monotonous but complex, and which requires very close attention. I’m working with data that needs to be meticulously checked, and it’s easier for me to focus on that when I have outside noise blocked out. But as I said in my letter, I’m really fine about the instruction my supervisor has given me – if the boss wants me without headphones then that’s their right and I’m happy to find other ways to avoid distraction. It’s not the headphones that bothers me, it’s my trainer saying one thing to me and the complete opposite to the supervisor.

      1. TalleySueNYC

        There are noise-canceling headphones, and there are also white-noise machines with headphones. And I worked with a woman 25 years ago, so think of the technology; Walkman era; who had a Walkman-sized noise generator that made clicks in certain patterns; she used it as a concentration aid and to block out noise.

        You might be able to salvage this by going to your boss (not the trainer) and saying, “The reason I’d asked Bob if I could use headphones is that I’m finding it hard to concentrate with the ambient noise. Could I try a white-noise machine with earbuds?”

        (there’s an app that has Pink Noise and Brown Noise! http://mynoise.net/NoiseMachines/whiteNoiseGenerator.php )

        Then you’ll get your concentration level; you’ll impress your boss bcs you make it clear you weren’t just entertaining yourself.

        I too use music to quiet the active part of my brain; I can’t work with music that has lyrics.

        1. Elizabeth West

          I can’t work to music with lyrics either. I use headphones to block out other people talking when I’m editing or working on my data sheet. Sometimes the people around me get pretty talkity.

    2. Anonicorn

      I’m not sure we can assume that this one interaction is how the trainer would behave in other types of situations.

      Totally agree here.

      If you were truly engrossed in your work, you wouldn’t need music to help you through the day.

      The total opposite is true for me. I listen to music so that I can become engrossed and concentrate on my work. All the random sounds that happen – abrupt voices in the hall, the elevator doors opening, whispering in the next office, shoes clacking on the floor, etc. – are far more distracting than my music.

    3. Judy

      Or you want some background music to mute the surrounding noise.

      I always studied with classical piano music in college, because the dorm was pretty noisy.

    4. penelope pitstop

      Other commenters are being harsh? Pot, kettle. Well, that’s not quite right…you weren’t harsh. Just a little too assumptive and over-reaching yourself, especially your last paragraph and the first sentence of your second.

      OP wasn’t asking for advice on headphone-wearing. You turned that into a strawman and a soapbox, particularly with your last sentence.

      1. steve g

        Soapbox? The main theme of the article is wearing earphones at work. I didn’t pull it out of left field. Yes the op didn’t ask for advice on certain things, but it is a common thing that letter writers don’t always ask for the advice that is really needed. Imo (and you can disagree, but calling me assumtpiv and overreaching just because you don’t like my comment isn’t playing nice) the op should tough it out without earphones until they are fully independent and have a zero percent error rate.

        1. Tinker

          Is it?

          The main theme to me, at least, seems to be the question of how to interpret the trainer’s behavior related to a question on a minor issue of policy, which in this case happened to be the matter of headphones but could have been any given item of similar weight.

          Even if you happen to be of the opinion that the headphone issue is the “real” issue and the other one is actually unimportant (which strikes me as kind of odd, as I’d rate one as being a matter of aesthetics and the other potentially as a matter of integrity), in terms of narrative structure the question as framed by both OP and Alison is mainly about whether the trainer can be trusted and how to manage the situation if not, not about whether headphones should be worn (presumably, since the OP now knows they should not be, they should not).

    5. Magda

      “If you were truly engrossed in your work, you wouldn’t need music to help you through the day.”

      Ha ha ha, you clearly don’t work with my chatterbox coworkers.

    6. Lily in NYC

      Your last sentence raised my hackles; it’s a bit condescending. I can guess you’ve never worked in a bullpen environment.

      1. steve g

        Omg I need to get away from this blog for a few weeks. I really can’t believe that you found that last sentence condescending, you really need to be reading a lot of stuff into it that isn’t there to come to that conclusion.

        Also what is up with it being ok for other people to make all sorts of assumptions about the people mentioned in these letters, but me getting called out for “assuming” totally non-controversial things, like earphones can be a distraction? It seems like some commenters only want to be 100 percent agreed with…….

        1. anonymous j. anonington

          Well no, it seems like some commenters don’t appreciate you saying that their preference for headphones (often to block out surrounding noise and make it easier to focus on the task at hand) means they aren’t sufficiently engrossed in their work and need to be “helped” through the day. (Seriously, WTF?) I don’t think Lily’s reading “a lot of stuff into it that isn’t there” when that is, you know, exactly what you wrote.

          1. Steve G

            These comments are very heated for an article on ear phones at work, you guys need to step back and realize we are just talking about ear phones at work. I really don’t want to be arguing about this with people on the internet, but I have to say this. Lily called me condescending for this sentence:

            “If you were truly engrossed in your work, you wouldn’t need music to help you through the day.”

            It isn’t condescending at all. That is my opinion on wearing earphones at work. I’ve worked with people who do the earphones thing and I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked up to see them looking up songs on youtube, etc., or pausing to listen to an interesting part of an NPR podcast.

            I don’t get why you put WTF in parenthesis as if I said something wildly inappropriate. I don’t get why Lily said I was condescending (How? To who?), and you haven’t explained it either. She called someone an a-hole on an open thread just because she didn’t like the tone of one comment someone made last week, which doesn’t set me up to take being called “condescending” for no reason from her very well. Just saying….

            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              People are objecting because you’re telling them that they’re disengaged from their work or not actually focused, which they know to not be true. People don’t usually appreciate having their work insulted by strangers, which is how this comment came across.

              However, I’m going to ask that we move on at this point. Thank you.

            2. Cam

              Earphones can be distracting to some people, and they probably are to you. But just because you’ve seen people get distracted wearing earphones doesn’t mean much. People get distracted not wearing earphones, too.

    7. Mike C.

      First, I too am not sure that there’s a fire here, but I certainly smell smoke. Maybe it’s a fire, or maybe someone burned some popcorn.

      Secondly, I think you’re being a rather narrow regarding the issue of working with headphones. Brains work a whole lot differently based on personal neurochemistry, the work being done or the type of music being listened to.

      If I’m doing tedious or manual work, putting on something deep like BBC World or recordings from the SCOTUS are a great way to keep the rest of my mind engaged rather than getting bored and distracted. If I’m doing more programmatic/mathematical/analysis tasks, house/trance/etc music helps keep distractions at bay without needing to really pay attention to what’s going on. Otherwise I get distracted by the conversations of everyone around me, and then I won’t get anything done at all.

      Either way you’re making a ton unsupported assumptions on the behavior of others. It comes across as really patronizing – you’re relying on a gut instinct to make broad generalizations regarding how a wide variety of people do a wide variety of work in a wide variety of conditions while listening to a wide variety of audio material. Focus on the results rather than assuming that someone with headphones on isn’t engaged in their work.

      1. The Strand

        It’s moments like these when I wish I could favorite certain comments on the blog (including Katie’s below) for future reference.

        When I started my latest position, I was coming off a job where I hardly saw anyone outside of meetings. For months my workday tended to be virtually silent, unless I was in a meeting or one of my two closest friends stopped by to talk to me. Moving into a cubicle farm was really tough those first couple of days; I listened to waves and quiet music until I got used to the sound and adjusted to the constant sound of people working around me all the time. My new boss actually recommended wearing headphones if I was working on something and didn’t need distractions… but by Steve that must mean he and my other colleagues who wear headphones have a lower work ethic. Not true.

        Steve’s comment was OK, if it was about what it means for Steve – that when he uses the headphones, it’s only to distract himself from boredom. And for Steve, the main theme is that it’s about earphones at work – not about a trainer’s behavior in trying to cover for himself. Also OK if that’s what’s crucial for Steve. Hopefully Steve can see that you’re talking about the same thing – focusing on results – and that for different people, different tools are necessary to get to the same goals, because that’s definitely a lesson we all need to keep in mind working with and for other people (or managing them).

      2. Tinker

        I agree. Actually I’ve been thinking recently that I probably need to listen to more music at work, as my job is often one that lends itself to the house/trance/etc flow type of musical assistance and I am assailed by both internal and external distractions that I have found through experience are mitigated by said music.

        Also, as far as “If you were truly engrossed in your work, you wouldn’t need music to help you through the day”… you know what? Yes, sometimes. Typically this isn’t the sort of thing that comes up for me at work because of the nature of my job, but there’s a whole class of tasks that I pretty much owe Dan Carlin credit that I ever get them done. Sorry, but cleaning my bike chain is not ordinarily all that profoundly compelling and fascinating a task for me, and yet the degree to which it needs doing is not dependent on the degree to which it is not boring.

        (I say, with the grim realization that the recent rain hereabouts means that a great deal of abrasive sand previously found on the bottom of the river has been moved from there to the bike path and thence to my chain.)

        Nor does being bored by a task and yet doing it, whatever strategies one engages in to manage this, necessarily indicate anything negative about the person so doing. If anything rather the opposite, I would think.

    8. Katie the Fed

      “To me, wearing earphones either shows that the work is so rote to you that you can handle the disruption (which isn’t your case), or that you are bored and need something to keep the interest level up. If you were truly engrossed in your work, you wouldn’t need music to help you through the day.”

      This is like the “messy desk is a sign of laziness” vs “messy desk is a sign of genius” debate. People are DIFFERENT. People thrive in different work environments. Some people thrive in noisy, busy environments. Other people thrive in quiet environments. Some people like to have music on to block out distractions.

      I think you do yourself a disservice when you make such broad assumptions about what amounts to differences in preferences that don’t at all affect work outputs.

    9. Anna

      Your last paragraph isn’t even remotely true for most of the people on this site. I love my work, I get engrossed in it all the time, but I also like to have listen to stuff while I’m working. In fact, even though I like having something playing in the background, I get frustrated when I’m working on something and miss part of what I’m listening to.

  15. John R

    What I haven’t seen mentioned is that this whole headphone policy seems silly to me. People work in open offices with lots of others around who are talking on the phone, etc. I couldn’t function when it was time to write code or reports, or prepare Visio documents, without headphones–the external noise would just be too distracting.

    1. Cath in Canada

      Two jobs ago, the president of the company hated seeing people with headphones or earbuds on, so it was banned company-wide, even if listening to music was what made sense for your job, your office layout, and your work style. When I left that job for one where the boss was often away for long stretches of time, I started listening to music while he was away, because that’s how I work best. The boss came back early one day, and on a reflex I yanked my earbuds out and started apologizing profusely for listening to music. He said, “why would I care? Listen to what you like, as long as I can’t hear it!”.

      This was around the same time that the panic attacks that started during the previous job started to subside…

  16. J-nonymous

    I think you got two great pieces of information out of this, OP.
    1. Your trainer’s opinions on things are swayed by the strongest opinion in the room, or at least the opinion that comes from the highest ranking person.
    2. Your trainer isn’t actually in a position to give you direction on team policy, he’s just there to show you how to perform the functions of your job

    1. AnonAnalyst

      This is exactly the impression I got of the trainer reading this letter. To me the trainer just comes across as weak, but not malicious. Either way, it’s valuable information to have.

  17. Mike C.

    You know, I’m on the fence as to how big of a deal this is.

    On the surface, we’re talking about headphones, and there wasn’t a punishment or black mark against the OP. This has already been discussed at length.

    Deeper down, there’s a demonstrated lack of transparency, accountability and honesty.

    The trainer should have jumped in immediately and said, “I gave Jane permission, but we’ll follow your lead from now on”. The issue is so minor that the trainer would suffer nothing by stepping in (in fact, taking responsibility for the actions of the people they’re training looks really good…) and it further cements the trust and cooperation between the trainer and trainee.

    Instead, the trainer appears to throw them under the bus (regardless of intent, perception is important), and now Jane has to question everything she’s been told, and is told in the future. Is this a one time thing, or is this the start of a pattern of behavior? How many things has she been taught are wrong? Will there be other mistakes that are made (and there will be, you’re new!) that you’ll be inappropriately blamed for? The next time you ask them a question or need help from them or work with them in any capacity, can they be trusted not to act in a dishonest manner?

    Look, I don’t know if you should bring this up to your boss or not, but be careful. Maybe this is a pattern and maybe it isn’t, but I don’t like it.

    Also, the supervisor should have told you what their expectations are – this shouldn’t be a surprise requiring a one on one meeting. Double for the fact that it was regarding a policy in which everyone else is treated differently about. It makes me wonder how many other “special rules” there are that go counter to greater company policies and norms. Maybe those make sense and maybe they don’t, but you should at least be told about them, right?

    1. Not So NewReader

      I agree. To me, it’s not conclusive that this guy is a thorough bred jerk. And headphones are not a matter of life and death. The boss did not say “you mess up everything you touch!” , she just said “ditch the headphones”. There is a huge difference between those two statements.

      Since you are 90% on your way, it could be that the guy thought you would work without headphones for maybe a week or so and then be allowed to use the headphones again. Since you are doing fine at the job, maybe he felt that it was a non-issue. Some people do not get the nuances of conversation. Yeah, not really subtle, but some people miss stuff like this.

      But I am not in your shoes, if you have similar examples of problems with this guy, then, yeah, you have a real concern on your hands.

      I think I would be more careful about wording when I asked this guy questions. My questions would start out with, “What does the boss want us to do in X situation?” Or “how does the company typically handle Y when it occurs?” Yes, semantics, as mentioned above, but it also shows that you want to get it right. I have done this in work places and it sometimes it gets me a different answer than if I asked “What do you do?” or “How do you handle this?” Sad, but true. People take notice that you are interested in doing the correct procedure and handling things correctly. In one instance it saved my butt. I had a long history of asking the boss, “What is the correct/legit way to handle X?” When I ended up in an unfortunate situation my boss was able to say that it was happenstance because I had spent years asking about the correct way of doing things.

      I think going forward, make sure you respond to everything the boss says you need to work on. Just focus on that stuff. Decide not to let the smaller issue with this guy damage your opportunity with this employer. It seems to me that everything the boss mentioned is fixable- rejoice! You do have control over this situation. If you put energy/brain space into how this guy might be trying to unravel you, it will only be to your detriment. Be sincere, be honest and be transparent. Continue on owning your mistakes and fixing your own errors where ever possible. Whatever you do – DO NOT get lost in thought about this guy, limited job opportunities in your area and 3 year of unemployment- that stinkin’ thinkin’ will do more harm to you than this guy ever will.

  18. A Bug!

    Do you think the trainer knew that the boss wouldn’t like the headphones when he gave you the okay? I’m with everyone else who agrees that he’s shown you something very important about himself, but if he knew he was leading you astray it takes him from mere sycophant to full Wormtongue and would be cause to be on the lookout for other subtle sabotage attempts.

    Regardless, now you know you can’t rely on his honesty. You also know you can’t assume that any information he gives you is reliable independent of supporting evidence, because he gave you information he knew you’d be relying upon, either knowing that it was wrong, or without knowing it was right.

    It’s good information to have and better for you to have it now, with relatively trivial stakes, than later when the “oopsie” he greenlit is a fireable offense.

    Congrats on your job and I hope things go well as you settle in.

  19. Vicki

    OP – I sympathize, I know what this is like!

    I had a manager (not a trainer) like this. I had a meeting with him once, we went over some ideas, he agreed they were good and suggested I present them at the next staff meeting.

    So I did. And the department head (next level manager) pushed back. And my manager said “I didn’t know about this. I don’t know where she got those ideas. I’ll have a talk with her.”

    While I was in the Room!

    I managed to get lucky and transfer to a different manager in the same department.

  20. YandO

    a bit of a side-issue

    what’s wrong with headphones? Especially where work is data-driven?

    I work with clients now. Phone calls, emails, etc. I don’t use headphones anymore because they would interfere with my ability to do my job. I talk to other employees a lot.

    In my old job? Where 80% of my job was data entry driven? I would go crazy without headphones in a busy open-plan office.

  21. kac

    I think you can look at this as a positive thing, actually. The trainer showed their hand–as someone you can’t trust at all–and did so over a very low-stakes issue. Your boss is not going to really hold the headphones issue against you; it has very little impact long term, and now you know to be extremely cautious with the trainer and, as Alison says, document everything.

    It would be far worse to discover this about your trainer, months down the road, when you were getting thrown under the bus about something far more serious.

    Good luck with the new job!

  22. Erin

    When I started working at my current job, there was a lot of drama in the department I was unaware of. The main drama person was the person I replaced. After trying to pull me into the “Let’s trash the Boss” and not succeeding, she actively starting trying to sabotage me by hiding files, etc. I caught on after one fiasco, and started reading through everything I could get my hands on, asking questions, and making sure I documented what I was doing–a weekly activity report. A year later, and she still works for the company, but I rarely see her. Her main partner in crime sits next to me, and whenever he thinks I or the Boss aren’t around, he calls her up and she comes over…there have been some other petty things, but the upshot is that I have had numerous people come to me and say how happy I am here and she’s not. Do the best job you can, keep your head down, don’t get ahead of yourself, and document everything. That’s what I have learned.

  23. Purr purr purr

    I know this might seem like a bad thing but I think it was the total opposite! You now know that you can’t trust this guy, which is a far better position to be in than thinking you can trust him and finding out later that you shouldn’t have. The headphones issue will blow over since it’s so minor. That being said, I’d still privately say something to the trainer, like, ‘Hey, I’m really confused because you said it was OK to use headphones and then in the meeting you said the total opposite. What happened with that?’ so that you’re basically calling him out. I’d quite like to listen to him try and wriggle out of that one because, since he seems to be a bit of a coward, he’s likely to do. In the meantime, I’d limit your interaction with him as much as possible, which I’m positive you’ve already realised!

    On an aside, I have a colleague, K, exactly like this. A friend, T, was working with K and T asked if there was anything else he could help with. K said no so T went off and did some other work. Our manager later swung by and K complained about how T wasn’t helping him. That was a repeated occurrence. Another time, T was in the field and K was providing office support and when our manager asked how T was getting on, K replied that he was, ‘Totally useless.’ I should point out that T was actually training in the field so being useless is almost expected. T was asking K questions on how to do various tasks and K would moan at our side about how T didn’t know how to do these things and then tell T to ‘figure it out.’ There wasn’t much ‘office support’ing going on! T was made redundant about a month ago and I’m pretty certain K contributed to that decision by throwing T under the bus so regularly.

  24. David Hefner

    I’m retired from being self employed for over 23 years. I always wanted to be a bartender so I was lucky enough to land a job at an up-scaled restaurant. They started me out bussing tables. That’s OK….for a while. Anyway, my trainer wants me to do everything the right way. This is also OK by me. His job is also bussing tables and I think he resents me for wanting to be a bartender. Oh….I have been to two bartending schools. Anyway….he want everything done the right way down to the smallest detail. Here is the kicker….he NEVER washes his hands between bussing tables and serving or setting tables. This is just plain wrong. He wants everything to be done right. I think not washing his hands is a big deal.

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