update: is my trainer sabotaging my work?

Remember the letter-writer last month who was worried that the person training her at her new job was sabotaging her work? Here’s the update.

Thank you very much for featuring to my question. I was impressed with your complete and thoughtful response. I was blown away by how much the commenters know about database audits and spreadsheet sharing and tracking, and also by the perspectives I had not even considered. What an amazing community! A few commenters requested an update, so here it is…

I wish I had a really interesting update, but the problems I was having training with Jane resolved pretty quickly, and I didn’t need to do anything. Another coworker, “Bob,” took over my training very shortly after I wrote (no explanation about why, but Bob’s role is similar and slightly senior to mine and Jane’s). Bob found fewer mistakes than Jane did, and they were presented calmly, sometimes by sticky note (versus long, emotional, conversations about following instructions). I fixed the mistakes and didn’t make them again – which is a better training approach for my personality. After a week, Bob said I wasn’t making any mistakes, and I was cleared to do my job without close supervision.

I never mentioned anything to Jane or our supervisor about the number of mistakes Jane found because Bob took over her role as trainer. The mistakes Bob found were more in line with my expectations of the type and volume of mistakes someone makes when training for a new position. Some commenters suggested I check the audit logs in the database and spreadsheets we use, but a lot of my pre-Bob training was done on Jane’s computer, and with her login, so there was not a clear way to differentiate between our entries (short of writing down the exact times I was making changes for comparison). I think Jane would have noticed if I saved copies of my work in front of her, but it never came up.

Fortunately, once I started working on my own computer, the mistakes… went away. I have a good working relationship with Bob and Jane, and our supervisor never even mentioned the mistakes Jane was finding.

I have been doing my job since then with very few mistakes, but the other day I made a pretty major mistake (I saved a document to an incorrect client file) and Jane caught it. Jane was actually really nice about it, and I fixed the problem with basically no fuss. The next day Jane left flowers on my desk with a letter saying how well I was doing my job, and how happy she was that I joined the team. I think this gesture illustrates Jane’s preference for relationship-oriented interactions (versus my preference for task-oriented interactions). I still don’t know if Jane was sabotaging my work, but I understand how to work well with her now. Thanks again!

{ 57 comments… read them below }

    1. Silver Radicand*

      Yeah, almost like trying to buy your silence, given the other weirdnesses. But not weird enough to worry about in my book.

      1. Sketchee*

        I like to guess positively because honestly it’s just less work to pretend she’s doing it to be nice. Maybe she’s just insecure about how to train someone. Which is really not the best training and onboarding situation, still nothing vile =)

        1. Silver Radicand*

          What Sketchee and Juli G. said!
          Also, apparently I come across as more negative and suspicious than I intended.

      2. TootsNYC*

        But the OP is the one who made the mistake; she’d be the one buying Jane’s silence.

        It bet it’s more that Jane doesn’t want the OP to feel judged or self-conscious about making a big mistake.

    2. Juli G.*

      I don’t know, I had a coworker like that. Really critical but because I held my own for a couple weeks, she warmed up. She often brought flowers for us when she liked all of them team members.

      It is weird but not a “buying silence” weird.

      1. my two cents*

        not really that weird. some people express gratitude differently – gifts, verbal validation, favors, etc.
        heck, the co-worker might have even requested that bob take over and felt sorta guilty/bad about her and op not meshing well.

    3. Foxtrot*

      I had an internship where I shared a desk with a full time employee. We’d chit chat and got along great. On my last day, she got me flowers saying I was a great desk mate and best of luck back at school. I thought it was really nice and I liked them. Maybe Jane just wanted to smooth out any animosity?

    4. Kelly*

      I took it as a guilty unspoken apology. The sudden change in trainers made me feel like Jane was complaining to Bob about the OP ineptness so Bob stepped in to see for himself; found that Jane was being a bit ridiculous and came back with a completely different view of what was going on, put Jane in her place and now she is on her best behavior.

      I would be interested to know if the OP was hired instead of someone Jane wanted to hire.

      Can you tell I’ve worked with someone who tried to sabotage my work before? lol I’m a bit cynical.

      1. WorkingMom*

        I’m totally with you here. After reading the update I would think that either Jane raised concerns to Bob or someone about the OP’s training performance, and there were concerns about validity of Jane’s input for whatever reason. Bob stepped in, and Jane was shut down, by default. Glad the OP has the situation resolved!!

    5. ginger ale for all*

      I would have been uncomfortable. But I have awful allergies and they would have made me miserable healthwise. My boyfriend sends me them on Valentine’s Day so I am glad to have seen this so I can start the no flowers talk again. Hopefully he will remember.

  1. heatherskib*

    Meh, I do them for my team on special occasions or occasionally if they’ve gone above and beyond. Or I’ll bring treats (bubble tea, pizza, donuts, etc). I’ve had a team mate give me flowers as a peace offering after we got into a disagreement and she grabbed me. I think these are kinda a combo of welcome aboard and peace offering.

    1. Artemesia*

      Donuts seem right here but flowers a bit weird. Flowers have that courtship vibe, donuts are universal coin.

      1. heatherskib*

        Just to clarify- we’re not talking a dozen red roses here. More like a mixed daisy bouquet from Publix.

        1. Artemesia*

          It is still weird. Flowers are normal for romantic relationships and for bereavement and illness. They are an odd gesture between workmates. Just odd.

          1. Kat M*

            Depends on your workplace. It’s pretty common in mine, but out of 50+ employees only two are male. (And one has explicitly stated that he hates flowers and is not interested in receiving flowers from anyone ever.)

          2. Mallory Janis Ian*

            I think it depends on the workplace. I’m an administrative assistant in a university department, and there have been several times when one or more of the faculty has sent me flowers. The usual times I’ve received flowers are following a high-effort, long-prepared-for work event (such as the every-eight-years visit by the accrediting board); administrative professionals day; and end-of-semester / good-bye for the summer. The new dean of the school has flowers delivered to every member of the staff following any big event where everyone has pitched in to make it a success.

      2. TootsNYC*

        We always gave one another flowers for our birthday at one of my jobs. It’s just what we did.

        and some people don’t give food, because they think it’s possible the food won’t be appreciated much (calories, gluten, dairy…..). Also, food gets shared (and bringing a couple of donuts, or a single muffin is a little weird to me), and flowers don’t. So if you want to make a gesture of niceness for only one person, and not the whole office, you bring flowers.

    2. Kyrielle*

      Yeah, flowers seem a bit weird to me too. I wonder if it’s an office culture thing, though, since some others see it as normal.

      That said, people who bought Edible Arrangements for my old team were always thanked very, very thoroughly. Especially if the chocolate-dipped strawberries were in that arrangement.

      1. my two cents*

        i had a much senior (20-25+ yrs exp) male engineer leave a grocery store bouquet in a simple glass vase alongside a VERY apologetic note (for being too controlling and pushy) on my desk the day after we had a (very) slight disagreement about a datasheet rewrite. i definitely did not think ‘courtship’ – he just wanted to apologize for bristling the day before. it hadn’t even registered as a ‘disagreement’ on my scale, but obviously he felt he had over-reacted and had been out of line.

        he was kind of a health nut, so i’m glad he didn’t try to gift me anything edible. heh

        1. Artemesia*

          do you think he would have left flowers for a male subordinate in the exact same situation? if not, it is tinged with courtship even though that is not the intent.

          1. my two cents*

            i think he would have still given them some sort of gifted object, like a desk trinket or maybe balloons or something. flowers are easy to pick up at a grocery store. at the end of that same year before xmas break, he had left ‘anonymous’ $40 cash at every person’s desk.

          2. eplawyer*

            that’s an excellent point. Maybe not “courtship” connotations, but it is gender specific to only give flowers to women employees as a thank you (and not all of us like flowers). I think if you are thanking your employees in a tangible way you should avoid things like that. If you give flowers, it should go to men and women. If you would only give flowers to women, come up with something else.

          3. TootsNYC*

            No–not courtship.

            Gender roles, perhaps, but not courtship.

            Treating someone in a stereotypically female way is not restricted to courtship.

      2. Olive Hornby*

        Yes, I think it’s a workplace culture thing–we like to send congratulatory flowers to clients, and our bosses often give “job well done” flowers. It would be unusual to give flowers to a coworker, but not any weirder than it would be to give any other relatively expensive gift.

      3. Natasha*

        As a Ukrainian-American, I would say flowers are big in my culture and basically mandatory for all friendly and some professional interactions. I used to get so embarrassed when my mom would make me bring in flowers for my schoolteachers, but now I think it’s old-fashioned in a good way.

  2. M. S.*

    Dunno.. Makes me wonder that someone DID check the logs, and saw all sorts of “edits” from Jane and asked, And was told you what happened..

    Her manager didn’t like the training style (you using her login/etc.) and moved your training to Bob.

    Regardless, Glad it all worked out for you.

    1. Stranger than fiction*

      That was my take too. Manager wonders why Op is making mistakes and (maybe wondering about Jane from something in the past) switches it to Bob. Bob reports back she’s doing fine and Jane feels a bit guilty and gives her flowers.

    2. J*

      Granted, I don’t know anything about the kind of work that was being done, but the very fact that the training was being done on Jane’s computer with Jane’s login struck me as kind of weird! Even if Jane wasn’t doing anything shady, it seems ineffective — you’d then have an additional (albeit tiny) learning curve that would occur when she then had to switch to doing the work on her own computer. (Think of all the extra little pauses you have to take when cooking in someone else’s kitchen). Wouldn’t it make sense for the coaching to be occurring *in the environment in which the OP would be doing it*?

  3. Quillotine*

    I would be …careful with that whole ‘flowers’ thing and possibly VERY careful with Jane.

    This is from a strictly personal viewpoint, but some of her behaviors are worryingly close to the sort of thing you see described on message boards for survivors of abusive narcissists. Altering your environment without your knowledge or ‘changing’ past events and pretending it was always that way is called gaslighting. The term comes from the title of a play about a man who tries to make his wife believe she’s gone insane. It’s an abuse tactic intended to make you devalue your own judgment.

    Gaslighting is a BIG red flag, but so is inappropriate gift-giving –especially if it comes after they may have been messing with your head. In the context of dealing with a narcissist, gift giving is about dominance or negating abusive behavior. It’s basically them sending you a message saying ‘I haven’t been hurting you. I am a Nice Person.’

    This may be way off-base, but on the basis of that story I would say that you should probably be cautious of Jane.

    1. Dawn*

      Excellent, excellent, excellent advice, particularly since after you trained with Bob for a short while you were cleared to work by yourself with no supervision. Either you magically stopped making mistakes in two weeks (highly unlikely) or your gut reaction to Jane was correct and she was sabotaging you. Tread with caution!

      1. TootsNYC*

        It may also have been that Jane was a lousy trainer, a sloppy worker, and unaware that she was the one making the mistakes.

    2. Kyrielle*

      It’s also possible that Jane was making mistakes and/or that her training style was terrible for OP, that Jane requested that OP be switched to Bob to see if that helped or that someone else came up with that idea, and that Jane realized it and felt terrible, thus flowers.

      Which is to say, I would not *assume* Jane is acting in bad faith or good faith; both are possible. I would, as Quillotine says, be wary – but only wary, until you have additional evidence. Just remember to trust in your knowledge and senses more than in what Jane tells you, in case there is something wrong here.

      1. Quillotine*

        What Kyrielle said!

        Your power of observation is going to be your best friend in this kind of situation.

      2. INFJ*

        +1 I also like to give people the benefit of the doubt, and agree that OP should keep her eye out for further information on Jane’s character.

    3. 2 Cents*

      The flowers are problematic to me too. If I was happy with a coworker, especially one who’s on the same level as me or lower, I’d invite them to lunch or for a coffee — not send flowers. Stay wary of Jane. Seriously.

    4. Granny K*

      Thank you for posting this. It’s always tough to figure out how a person is from reading the letters, rather than actually working with the ‘Jane’s’ of the world. A big flag is getting overly emotional when all that was needed was clear direction.
      In regards to understanding ‘gaslighting’, you can also find the movie ‘Gaslight’ with Ingrid Bergman.

  4. katamia*

    I’m pretty task-oriented myself, but Jane’s actions don’t necessarily strike me as having been caused just by a more relationship-oriented working style. She may indeed be relationship-oriented, but I don’t think you should write off all of her actions as “Oh, she’s just relationship-oriented, while I’m task-oriented.”

    I think the flowers were a weird gesture, too.

  5. Kylynara*

    I feel like there are so many possibilities as to why things played out this way. It could be boss noticed independently that Jane was sabotaging you, gave her a stern talking to, and gave you a new trainer and the flowers are her trying to get back on your good side. It could just as easily be that boss was giving Jane a chance to stretch her skills by training someone for the first time, she did her best and indeed tried too hard (coming down hard for mistakes, making you nervous causing more mistakes, cycle repeats), it didn’t work so he had Bob train you since he has experience and a good track record doing so, you learned, and Jane is trying to make a subtle apology for how she treated you.

    Or you know, just about any combination thereof. So just go forward with your eyes wide open towards Jane and see what the future brings.

    1. Marketeer*

      I thought the same that maybe this is the first person that she trained; and she just doesn’t know how to do it.

      Anyway, I’m glad everything is working out for you!

    2. Shelby Drink the Juice*

      When I started this position, my coworker that was training me sucked. She totally knows the job, but she was awful at delivering instructions. It took about 8 months, but then I had gathered enough info/processes I was off on my own. I’m actually good friends with the coworker now, but it was tough.

      She’s just more abrasive and short when explaining things and sometimes just thought it would be easier for her to just do it instead of answering my questions.

      I’m now training someone and I give the why and what we’re doing this for explanation to the new person. He’s commented how great I am at training.

  6. Former Retail Manager*

    What a fabulous update for this cold Friday. If I were OP, I would remain a bit cautious of Jane (just in the back of my mind really) as she does sound like a smidge of a nutjob.

    Like other commenters, I think that flowers would be a weird thing to receive from a platonic female co-worker, but I guess it really all depends on the personalities involved and the norm for your office culture. Hopefully, she is just a lady who likes to give flowers and your working relationship will remain professional and pleasant! Thanks for the update!

  7. GreenTeaPot*

    I live and work in the Great Lakes area, and in most workplaces, flowers between coworkers are sent as thank-you gifts. I’ve sent them to board members, peers, even staffers who report to me. Usually flowers are meant as day brighteners for one reason or another, sometimes as apologies. I do think in this case, there is a small red flag that has gone up, and I agree with the cautionary suggestions. It could also be that Jane just wants to be friends in order to feel secure.

  8. NicoleK*

    Former BEC coworker and I had a troubled working relationship. We were working through the issues and I had thought about getting her a cupcake (she loves chocolate and sweets). It’s pretty common for people to bring in treats and sweets at ex job. I had bought cupcakes for other coworkers. From my end, it was just a gesture to show goodwill and to smooth things over. Based on the comments here, I’m glad that I did not get her a cupcake as it may have been viewed suspiciously.

    1. CMT*

      Like other people have pointed out, though, food gifts are a lot more appropriate for coworkers than flowers are. (Usually. Obviously there will be exceptions to this rule.)

      1. sunny-dee*

        A lot of people complain about food, though. I happen to love flowers (and gardening), and one year a coworker gave me a potted amaryllis for Christmas; I appreciated that tons more than I would have, like, a cupcake. I read Jane’s action as an attempted apology, and flowers would make more sense there than food.

  9. Liz L*

    I also think the flowers are weird. Not because flower-giving itself is inherently weird but because they came from Jane who reads as very, very strange. I’m glad things worked out but I’d steer clear of Jane as much as possible and keep an eye out.

  10. I'm not a lawyer, but ...*

    Had a job in a dreary downtown in the 1970s. If someone was sad or grumpy they’d go to the corner flower vendor at lunch & get a bouquet for their own desk. The office was predominately male. It was taken by all as an apology for their mood AND a small ray of sunshine for all. I sort of miss it.

  11. MissDisplaced*

    Jane’s behavior seems quite weird to me.
    But as you say, you now seem to have a fairly decent working relationship and it pays to keep things that way and be cordial and professional without becoming too close.
    Probably, she’s just one of those people that is overly… I don’t know: needy, insecure, motherly… and means well, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to work with her unless you absolutely have to.

  12. Meowzers*

    I had a coworker who was similar to Jane. She was my manager at one point, and would make a huge deal out of any mistake I made. I honestly think that it came from a place of insecurity and wanting to remind me that I was under her. She would also do things like flowers or other small gifts. For the flowers to have come right after OP made a big mistake, I interpret that as a passive agressive, “Aww, poor thing. Don’t worry. I am here to help.” But she isn’t! And OP should worry! I would say, keep it amicable but keep your distance, OP.

  13. Em*

    I suspect that some version of someone higher up than Jane suspected that the training issue was with Jane and ordered the switch. I suspect that the flowers were because Jane was happy that she made a major contribution (finding OP’s error) so she isn’t outdated or unimportant or whatever. I base this on OP’s original letter saying that Jane had said she found OP intimidating.

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