my coworker says I bullied her … should I tell her boss she needs more of a backbone?

A reader writes:

I recently received feedback at work and need to know how to respond. I think my boss is very wrong, but I am unsure of the best way to make her see that.

I started my job last year. My role is highly technical, in a niche industry. Not a lot of people do what I do, so these positions are hard to hire for.

One of my colleagues, Sally, accused me of bullying her recently and asked to stop having to train me as a result. The reality is that her training is not very good and it seems when I express that, I am “bullying” her. Her role is tangential to mine and she was filling in for a couple months before they hired me. She does not know how to do everything in my role, although our titles are the same. A lot of my training has been her guiding me rather than providing step-by-step instructions (i.e., actual training).

The examples of bullying that my boss gave me include telling Sally that her “procedures are not good” and also a time when I “dismissed” her. The reality is that her procedures weren’t that great and need to be strengthened. When I made the comment, my colleague responded with “you are welcome to make any updates to any procedures” and even said the procedures get better every time someone new comes aboard. She didn’t seem upset. When I “dismissed” her, it was actually a misunderstanding: She was trying to tell me something that I was sure was inaccurate. From my years of experience, I did not think what she was saying could be possible and so I told her, “That cannot be right.” I admit my tone wasn’t completely snark-free, because she went on to explain why she wasn’t wrong and I doubled down that she “must have been mistaken.” She just walked away. I found out from another colleague a couple weeks later that Sally was right and our company is just a rare exception to the rule, but it is certainly rare enough to warrant my pushback. There were a couple other examples, but I hate to bore you with details.

These hardly seem like bullying to me rather than misunderstandings. I think Sally is being very sensitive and immature. She is much younger than most people on the team and is further along in her career than most people her age. I think this is a self confidence issue on her part, to know that I was trying to help her see ways to improve her procedures and explaining why she was wrong. I want to tell my boss that Sally would benefit from a backbone and will certainly need one to further her career. It seems my boss wants me to blindly accept everything Sally says as true and not ask questions.

How can I convince my boss I was not bullying my colleague but actually trying to help her?

Noooooo. Do not do that.

I don’t think I’d call what happened here “bullying,” but it does sound like you’ve been being — forgive me for being blunt — a bit of a jerk!

Look at what’s in your letter:

* You insisted something Sally told you was wrong, in a tone that you acknowledge was snarky — and you pushed back on her competence to the point that she chose to walk away rather than continuing to engage with you. You later learned she was right and you were wrong, but it doesn’t seem to have changed your assessment of that interaction, and it doesn’t sound like you went back and apologized to her.

* You note that Sally was only filling in for a few months doing your job and it’s not her normal role, but for some reason you want to tell her that her procedures “are not good.” Maybe they’re not — this isn’t her job! It’s now your job, so that’s something you can fix if needed (as she suggested to you) — but Sally doesn’t need to be berated about not doing a job perfectly that was never her position to begin with. And given that you were wrong at least one other time when you dug your heels in, I’m curious about why you wouldn’t bring some humility and tact to these interactions rather than approaching her in a way that sounds pretty aggressive.

* You’re speaking about Sally’s training skills in a disrespectful and distorted way, claiming she’s not giving you “actual training” because she’s guiding you rather than providing step-by-step instructions, when plenty of good training is more about guiding than step-by-step direction.

* You note there have been other examples too, so these aren’t isolated incidents but instead are illustrative of a broader trend.

* Your interactions have left Sally feeling so put off that she’s asked to stop training you. Rather than considering she might have valid reasons for feeling that way, you’re assuming she’s overly sensitive, immature, and lacking in confidence. It’s easy to see why she might find you dismissive!

It’s possible, of course, that Sally is overly sensitive — but given the blind spots that jump out in how you’ve narrated your letter and the flippant way you’ve dismissed your own missteps, it’s more likely that that’s not the case, and that most people in her shoes would be fed up at this point.

And to be clear, maybe Sally’s training isn’t good! That wouldn’t necessarily be surprising, since this isn’t her job. If you’re not getting adequate training, you should either tell her specifically what you need help with (without implying she’s incompetent) or talk with your boss about the additional support you need (again, without implying Sally is incompetent). But just negatively critiquing her work and being snarky to her isn’t constructive and is going to make you come across as a jerk.

To answer the question you’re asking: No, do not tell your boss that Sally needs a backbone. Doing that would be wildly out of line. (At a new job, no less! Think about the impression you’ll be making on people who don’t know you well yet.) If you proceed with that, you’re likely to give your boss grave concerns about your people skills. You said you feel like your boss wants you to just accept everything Sally says as true and not ask questions — which sounds like your boss has already looked at the situation and concluded Sally is not the problem but you might be. Don’t further that impression.

The right move here is to apologize to Sally for coming across as if you were dismissing her experience and skills, acknowledge the things you got wrong, thank her for training you, and figure out how to take a lighter touch with peers going forward.

Read updates to this letter here and here.

{ 815 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    Please keep comments constructive and polite, even if you strongly disagree with the letter-writer. If you don’t feel you can do that, please pass this one by.

  2. Lucious*

    Well said Alison.
    This LW is a great look at the other side of those questions from people confronting “entitled” employees/direct reports unwilling to accept instruction.

    1. WomEngineer*

      I like how Alison approached this letter, acknowledging OP’s feelings while making it clear how out-of-line they might be. I’d love an update to this one.

      I feel like this comment section will have some strong words. I just want to say that the advice here doesn’t just apply to “Sally.” Alison’s response isn’t about a cultural difference at this particular company, but rather how everyone should be treated.

    2. MusicWithRocksIn*

      The language on this one really jumped out at me. As soon as I saw “Needs a backbone” I immediately assumed the LW was going to be a huge jerk. I think in general I only see “you need a backbone” said by people who were legit bulling someone, usually the kind of people who insist they are just being ‘honest’, or ‘joking’ about something. LW doesn’t strike me as that kind of person at all, and I wouldn’t call what she is doing bullying, but the words definitely got my hackles up, and I would never dream of saying that at work. It is the kind of language I associate with very aggressive people.

      1. CoveredinBees*

        The specific use of making someone see something also sends up a warning for me. This is not a discussion in which they want to come to an understanding or compromise. It implies they don’t see how someone could come to any other conclusion but their and they must force it to happen. Sometimes, it’s just a wording choice, but more often than not the person is looking to force an issue that someone has already addressed.

        1. Amaranth*

          What baffles me a bit is LW’s acknowledgment that coworker was right, but somehow they can’t follow that to the conclusion they might be even a little bit wrong.

      2. Melody Pond*

        I have to admit… I relate a lot to the LW.

        Now, I know better than to use language like “that person just needs a backbone” – but my default setting is definitely very direct and task-focused, and I would absolutely WANT to say something like, “this process seems bad and broken.” Over the years, I’ve managed to refine that first instinct into something more like: “this procedure doesn’t seem like it would work well to achieve its intended purpose, based on what you’re telling me.”

        The tone that I would consider “direct” seems to come off to others as rude or snarky. And I know that, and I’ve had to work to try to compensate for it. In my 20s, I overcompensated a bit, and performed a “sweet” persona at work to the point that it left me pretty drained and left me almost no energy for socializing outside of work. More recently, I’m trying to find a balance between the two – letting myself state concerns directly, but trying not be too much of a heartless robot about it. (This blog has actually been a big help in figuring out how to frame things directly but not-too-harshly.)

        1. RedinSC*

          I can see saying that this process doesn’t seem to be great, or whatever. But the thing is, if the process is part of the job you were hired for, as a supervisor, I don’t want you to stop there. DO something about it.

          I see that this process isn’t great, I think I can add in efficiencies here and here.

          Just complaining that something is broken isn’t helpful. Taking that next step to either fix or propose solutions is what appears to be missing from the LW.

          1. PlainJane*

            I think a good script for that is, “Sally, when I was doing this project, I noticed that it went through a lot of kind of strange byways because of process X. Do you know why that’s there? I was thinking that I might be able to streamline it a little by doing Y.”

            Not only does that not set up hackles, but it gives Sally a chance to explain that process X was implemented because ______, and any streamlining will still have to take that into account.

          2. tangerineRose*

            If I may suggest an improvement over “this procedure doesn’t seem like it would work well to achieve its intended purpose, based on what you’re telling me.” it would be something like “If we , I think this procedure would be easier to use/faster/whatever.” Bonus points if you can make the changes and offer to.

        2. Lemming22*

          Another note that I have made to employees and colleagues that have struggled with the direct vs. rude line is thinking about what kind of outcome they are looking for. Telling someone who temporarily worked in a role that the processes are bad doesn’t help anything. They probably didn’t make the processes, and if they did it was probably as a temporary solution. Instead I would recommend asking a bit about the history of the procedure and figure out if changing it would impact other workflows.

          1. NotAnotherManager!*

            This is exactly the way to look at it. I strongly prefer direct, but you can be direct and not be mean – it’s all about what you want to accomplish.

            I had to fill in for a highly specialized role with very little advance knowledge and in a high-volume/fast-turn work environment. The folks who worked there were gracious but didn’t have the bandwidth to help me. I implemented a lot of band-aid solutions that I’m sure the highly qualified person we finally found for the role had a good chuckle about on their own time. We work closely together, and they’ve never made me feel like a moron for not knowing everything they’d learned over 15 years in the niche field.

          2. LifeBeforeCorona*

            Oh my yes. We recently hired someone who spent their first month complaining about how inefficient our systems were and how they were so much better at their old work. Once they understood that we were working with a ramshackle cottage and not a McMansion did they begin to understand our processes. All of our solutions and workarounds took into account the reality of what we had, not what we wished for.

          3. truesaer*

            Two ways of saying the same thing that are both direct: “These processes are bad”, “It looks like I can define the process for generating those reports more clearly”. One is jerk-y, one isn’t.

        3. letsgotokokomo*

          Melody Pond makes a good point here about giving feedback on an issue. “The process is bad and broken” is subjective language and applies a value judgement that some people will interpret as reflecting on them as people.

          One of the best pieces of communication advice I ever received was to approach potential conflict with a statement of your understanding or expectations, followed by your observations. So Melody Pond’s reworking of your statement conveys the same information, but takes the value judgement out- “this procedure doesn’t seem like it would… achieve its intended purpose.” Stating facts in this way also leaves space that you might be misinterpreting the intent of the procedure- even if you’re certain that is not the case, it can be a polite fiction that decreases the likelihood that someone might feel defensive. And, as another of your anecdotes points out, there are times when you are missing a key piece of information.

          At the end of the day, we all need to learn to communicate with people whose general communication style is different than ours. I am also someone who prefers direct communication, and it’s caused some interpersonal rifts in the past. Learning to soften my approach and leave space for other people to provide more information has also helped me personally to let go of feeling like to need to prove how right I am to the other person- although it is still frustrating to feel like they’re completely dismissing me!

          1. Christina*

            I used to manage IT consultants, who often didn’t have great people skills. I used to say “don’t tell someone their process/system/whatever is bad – you may be talking to the person who designed it. Or, you may be talking to someone who knows its bad, tried to fix it, and has run into a political wall and really doesn’t want to go there. Or someone who knows its bad, but frankly, there are bigger fish to fry. Take your cues from them on what they think their problems are and help solve those problems. Take the systems that are bad, find the good in them to compliment, and then work to make them better.”

            The number of people I had to pull from clients because they went in with “I know better than everyone else” and then managed to annoy the client enough that I was asked to remove them was unfortunately NOT in the single digits.

            1. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

              That’s such a great way of illustrating why “___ is bad” isn’t a helpful approach, feelings aside!

            2. tangerineRose*

              “Take the systems that are bad, find the good in them to compliment, and then work to make them better.” This!!!

          1. Le Sigh*

            Yeah, I think some people lump them together, but there’s some value in teasing out directness v. snark. Directness (“this process is broken”) isn’t always great and can seem rude if you don’t soften it, but when you add on LW’s instinct to say someone needs to grow a backbone, well, now you’ve escalated it. It’s not quite name-calling, but in this context feels adjacent to that — and it is certainly dismissive. It tells someone that you have more than a communication styles issue, you have someone who is unwilling to listen and more interested in defending themselves and being right.

            I don’t mean that to attack LW — my own instinct is to defend myself or even over-explain (which often reads as arguing to others). It’s a thing I’ve had to really have to tamp down on.

            1. TootsNYC*

              also, “this process is broken” is just a negative. There’s no positive. It’s sort of an insult.
              And it’s just about the LW passing judgment

              “This process creates a lot of back-and-forth” is not the same insult. It points to a problem that could be solved, and it might open a door for Sally to say, “it’s there because Executive X has seen a lot of errors and so wants to be involved at each stage”–valuable info.
              And now it’s about LW contributing insight. Which is not the same as judgment.

              1. AcademiaNut*

                The other problem is that “this process is broken” is too vague. It can mean “this isn’t going to do what you want it to do”, “this does the task but is in a very inefficient way”, “this will work in the best case scenario, but won’t if anything unusual happens”, “this is actually illegal” or “this is going to break other things”.

                1. Sleeve McQueen*

                  This. “this process is broken” does not give anyone enough information to act on. “I know how we can tweak this process to make it faster/more accurate or whatever” is. You’re not relying on the person your speaking to figure out the problem

            2. Brisvegan*

              To me, “needs to grow a backbone” indicates “I know I am upsetting X and will not modify my behaviour. Instead, I will blame X for having a human response to my upsetting behaviour.”

              LW may not realise it, but this is actually a way that a lot of actual bullies try to deflect when they are called out for their bad behaviour. It would be very counterproductive for LW to use that language because their supervisor might hear that as “I am a bully who is victim blaming and intends to continue bullying.” That’s especially a danger since LW is an unknown to their new employer and their use of bluntness is not established as not being intentional bullying.

              1. Salymander*

                Yes, the OP’s comments sound a lot like the kinds of things that abusive or bullying people say. It would make the OP, who is new to the company, seem like a really arrogant and unpleasant person straight away, before anyone has a chance to work with them and get to know them. Not great. I am not saying that the OP really is arrogant all the time, or an unrepentant jerk, but this is not a great way to introduce yourself at a new job.

                Also, it isn’t Sally’s job to debate with other employees, or to verbally defend against inappropriate and rude behavior. Sally is doing what she can to train OP in a job she did for a short time to temporarily fill in until the company hired someone for the role. She gave information, attempted to steer the OP in the right direction, and walked away from an argument when OP seems to have been rather rude. Sally sounds like a very competent and professional person. She doesn’t need to grow a backbone. OP just needs to develop better people skills and dial back the arrogance a bit. If a person is rude, they should take responsibility, apologize and then try to do better. This will be useful to the OP generally, not just in OP’s interactions with Sally. Being clever or good at a job is not the same as being infallible. If a person is arrogantly overconfident on a regular basis, people tend to be less forgiving of mistakes. You want people hoping for you to succeed, not laughing when you fail.

              2. Lily*

                “To me, “needs to grow a backbone” indicates “I know I am upsetting X and will not modify my behaviour. Instead, I will blame X for having a human response to my upsetting behaviour.”

                100% this

              3. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                Yes, it’s on the same level as being told to remember that “sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me” (despite research showing that often people remembered insults and what led to them far better than physical fighting and what led to it).
                So OP, thank you very much for writing in to Alison for a reality check, you’re looking up at a pretty steep learning curve right now, but you’ll be a better person all round once you’re over it.

            3. Kat*

              I think a difference is that snark is generally aimed at a human as opposed to a process or object, too. There isn’t really any place for snark at work, but (polite) directness is often useful.

              1. Ginger Dynamo*

                I draw the line with snark being meant to tear something down, while direct feedback is meant to improve something. Saying “this process is bad and broken” is closer to snark for me because it is not actionable feedback. Even if you’re not insulting someone directly, you’re insulting someone’s work product and calling it irredeemable, which is pretty rude to do while this person is training you in based on what knowledge they have doing this role for the company for a short time. It’s also far too vague to be actionable. “Direct” would be pointing out “X and Y steps could leave openings for delays or errors. Would it be useful to add a stopgap/ expedite to simplify, etc.?” That is actionable and productive, and therefore properly direct.

        4. Jules the 3rd*

          I’m direct, and people like me for it.

          My strategy, which would be useful for LW, is to skip blaming (“oh, that’s bad!”) and go straight to brainstorming solutions or improvements. Try: “Based on my experience in other companies, I think we may have opportunities if we change X, Y, Z – can you tell me about why we do things that way so that I can think about what may work in this company?”

          But I also ASSUME MY COWORKERS ARE COMPETENT. Sally has demonstrated her competence with that thing where she was right and LW was wrong. Also, the ‘younger and more advanced in career than most’ is another signal of a competent person.

          On top of Sally’s green flags, every company has specific quirks and knowledge that you have to get an understanding of before you can be effective at change. My employer’s policies were long dominated by some anti-trust legal rulings in the 80s, and it lead to definitely inefficient processes, but we had legal reasons for the requirements. There’s also wrinkles of executive / sales team reward structures that lead to keeping old stock ‘just in case’ we can sell it someday.

          LW: Examine your assumptions. Don’t assume Sally is always right, but assume she’s competent (because she’s shown you that she is!) and she knows more about *this* specific company than you do. Think about why you dismissed her – is age or gender affecting your view of her? APOLOGIZE for doubting her on the wrinkle where she was right. Possible script: “Hi Sally – remember that time I told you ‘X cannot be right?’ You were right, our company does do X. I didn’t pay enough attention to the fact that every company is different, and that you know more about *this* company than I do. I’m sorry for not listening to you. I’m going to really focus on learning this company’s unique drivers from here on.”

          Do not reference how you’d be right in any other company, focus on the fact that you were wrong, you know why you were wrong, and what you’re going to change in the future.

          If you can not address that you were wrong, it’s not Sally’s backbone that needs work.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            I haven’t heard the phrase “green flags” before, but it makes immediate sense. Identifying green flags is a life skill I need to cultivate!

              1. Brisvegan*

                Off topic, I am so sorry you and MigraineMonth have to endure that. Migraines are utterly awful. Internet hugs if you want them.

            1. Anonomatopoeia*

              Right. I’m adopting it immediately and putting it to work as a way of talking about the things that should get positively noted.

          2. iglwif*

            All of this! Many companies and teams have procedures that could be better, things they do a certain way just because nobody’s ever had the bandwidth to fix their workflows, and ways they differ for valid reasons from what a new person might expect. It’s not always easy (or even possible), as a new person, to know which of these situations you’re seeing–but asking questions of the “I’ve usually seen X done in Y way in the past, I’m curious why this company does it in Z way?” variety can be a great way to find out. Saying “Z is a wrong and bad way to do X” is not.

            Most companies and teams want to know if there’s a quicker, easier, more efficient way to do things. (That’s part of what Sally means when she says that procedures get better with every new hire.) Offering up those ways is usually welcomed when you frame it as “Can we try…” or “I’ve usually found in the past that…, is there any reason I couldn’t try that?” Blaming your trainer and questioning their competence is seldom welcome, ditto complaints that offer no way forward.

            1. Daisy*

              I would add that comments that point out an issue without a proposed resolution have their place, as well. For example, if you are faced with a situation where you know you need X, but the tool you have can’t provide it, stating, “We need to achieve X to meet deliverables for our contract and from what I can see this tool doesn’t seem to have a way of achieving that” can be very helpful, even if you don’t have an answer right at the moment. That can also prevent using the wrong tool for months and possibly losing a contract just because you didn’t meet the deliverables when you don’t have control over which tool is used.

              1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                Yeah. It’s always good to have a solution, but even if you don’t have a solution you need to express the problem. You never know whether Jane in accounts might not be sitting on a better solution than you’d ever imagined, because she knows Excel inside out.

          3. Jasper*

            LW seems to take “younger and more advanced in career than most” as a red flag instead, prejudging her to be incompetent ipso facto.

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              Thereby assuming that not only is Sally incompetent, but so are her managers and the other people who have promoted her. That’s a lot to assume, and directly in conflict with the other evidence.

              That’s why I strongly encourage LW to examine their thinking about her.

          4. KTB1*

            I also want to point out that Sally’s backbone is not remotely the issue here. She showed plenty of it when she simply walked away from the LW once they doubled down on being wrong and stubborn about it. She also showed plenty of backbone by asking to be removed from their training as she wasn’t willing to continue putting up with the LW’s refusal to respect her competence. Both actions tell me that Sally is more than willing to stand up for herself, and LW may not understand that “having a backbone” and “successfully arguing with the LW” are not the same thing.

            1. Piffle.*

              Exactly. Sally also has enough backbone to take on a temporary role probably a little outside her comfort zone while the organisation was going through the hiring process for LW.
              Sally has more experience doing this job *at this company* than the LW. The LW should listen to Sally.

          5. Reluctant Mezzo*

            Yes to the dress on reasons for procedures. Ask me about Fun With Sarbanes-Oxley and why we cursed that nice Mr. Lay at the time for doing so many illegal things which forced us to change our procedures in ways we did not enjoy in order to comply with the (new at the time) law.

          6. AussieAcademicManager*

            I love the “green flags” framing too – and I also want to say how much I agree with & appreciate you articulating the point that it takes backbone to accept that one is wrong, and address it.

          7. KateM*

            And I’d consider the “you are welcome to make any updates to any procedures and the procedures get better every time someone new comes aboard, without seeming upset” another green flag, partly about Sally and partly about the whole company – they obviously aren’t stuck in “because we have always done it like this”. If this happened before the “she went on to explain why she wasn’t wrong and I doubled down”, OP really should have remembered this.

        5. turquoisecow*

          Having been in situations with outdated and cumbersome processes, I’d probably start by asking questions, especially as the new person, rather than outright stating something doesn’t work. Maybe there are legit reasons for the inefficiencies OP is seeing that are workarounds intended to be temporary or were built for older systems.

          My current company is undergoing a slow and painful process of modernizing a lot of its systems, so a new person coming in would probably see a lot of dumb redundancies and things like that, which were created because of limitations in the old system that aren’t used anymore. When I first started, my previous company was a bit more modern, so a lot of what was going on seemed backwards. Instead of saying “this is stupid,” I would ask “why are we doing X, could we do Y?” and sometimes the reasoning was indeed “we always did it that way, maybe we can change it,” and sometimes it was that way for a specific reason.

          As the new person, it’s possible there are things OP doesn’t know – and in fact that turned out to be the case in one example they give! Assuming you know everything is rarely a good look for the newbie, but asking questions can help both you and the existing employees maybe see holes in the processes.

          1. MusicWithRocksIn*

            Yes, I’m not wild about someone coming in right away and changing the process around before they fully understand all the context around it. Live with it for a little while, really get to know what is happening at both ends, what all the variations can be, how it ages a week or a month afterwards. Then once you really know your stuff you can probably make even better changes that are tailor made for that company, not just what you’ve done before.

            Don’t expend a bunch of capitol changing the process and then having to go back and fix it a few times, then realizing there is another thing that could make it better and change it again – then you are that person sending out revisions every week that everyone is annoyed by. By the time you have really figured out what will work no one will want to hear it anymore. All new jobs have something of a learning curve – wait until you are fully trained before you go making a bunch of changes.

            1. Jules the 3rd*

              YEP. Managers who come in with specific process changes their first week are one of my pet peeves. Changing targets or incentives, sometimes maybe ok. Changing processes when you don’t understand the full flow? grrrrrrrrrrr.

            2. bowl of petunias*

              Yeah, exactly this – get the background, understand the job, then change what really needs it. If you are new there absolutely will be stuff you’re missing. If you charge around in a new environment thinking that your years of other experience have taught you all you could possibly need to know, you’re going to fall flat on your face.

        6. Amykins*

          I think maybe instead of working to couch your words or trying to be sweet, being more specific and offering possible solutions might help? Like “I’m concerned that x might be causing y problem – have you considered a? Or perhaps b, or c?”

          1. TootsNYC*

            or instead of dropping in their proposed fixes, LW could say, “This seems to have X problem; can you tell me more about this process and how it evolved, how it’s working?”

            Instead of telling and proposing, ask and absorb. Pronounce and propose later.

        7. D'Arcy*

          If you’re a *brand new trainee* as OP says they are, you are really not in a position of experience to say “this process seems bad and broken”. Even if you have substantial past experience elsewhere, you’re only beginning to learn the context of this particular company’s specific operations, and furthermore you haven’t earned the trust and respect that are required to take charge in such a way.

        8. solutions not problems*

          1) There is a difference between saying “this process seems suboptimal” and “your work seems suboptimal” and sometime either the speaker or the listener (or both) miss the nuance. There are ways to comment about processes that do not cast aspersions on the skills of the people who are realistically doing the best they can with what they have.

          2) Saying “this process seems broken” does nothing to fix the process. It is not a helpful thing to say. Whereas, “I wonder if there are ways we could streamline/adjust/enhance this to make it better, maybe I’ll set aside some time to think about that after I have more information” is something the speaker may be thinking, but that is not what comes across in the critique of the process. Bitching about something is easy. Fixing what’s broke is hard. Your co-workers will likely appreciate the offering of solutions a lot more than just a critical restatement of what they likely already know is a problem. If you don’t have a solution yet, then the better part of discretion is to keep your mouth shut until you have something constructive to offer.

          1. Pink Candyfloss*

            If there was an easy solution to what’s broken, you’d think someone would have found it by now. When a process or system is inefficient, many times there’s an entire system of inefficiencies around it, so that what seems like it might be a simple fix actually is a nightmarish web of interdependencies that can’t be solved unless the entire thing is broken down and rebuilt. But by all means, new guy, tell us how we’re doing it all wrong.

            1. Lego Leia*

              I was looking for this. I had,at one time, what appeared to be a dumb set of sets. But, it turned out that the “dumb” set up a whole bunch of interdepartmental reporting. My few minutes of seemingly dumbness saved so much time company wide. Yes, I could skip the step, and then spend hours fixing it later when the other reports didn’t happen properly.

      3. I laugh at inappropriate times*

        Yes, entirely too many people use being “honest” (or passionate) as an excuse to just be an ass.

        1. Momma Bear*

          Agreed. At a lot of my tech jobs I’ve found that people prefer to be direct and organized – it’s how they are generically good at their jobs. 99% of the time, that is fine. I know if I ask person x, I’m going to get a blunt and truthful answer. However, that doesn’t mean that sometimes that doesn’t cross a line, and if that happens they deserve to be called on it. Sometimes SMEs have been so siloed in their area of expertise they forget about what other people bring to the table. OP might be an expert in the skill, but is (as demonstrated here) clearly not an expert in this company’s use of that skill. All other technical things aside, OP should have taken the opportunity to learn the corporate culture from Sally instead of dragging her for doing something unexpected. It’s not her job, she’s only done it a few months, and yet she’s trusted to bring someone up to speed? Maybe Sally is a smarter bear than she’s being given credit for. She actually DOES have a backbone – that she’s used to stand up for herself when mistreated by a coworker.

          OP, I hope you apologize. Soft skills are important, too.

          1. bowl of petunias*

            I’ve worked with very direct people, and the ones who succeed and work well with people are those who are direct *and respectful*. Respectful of others’ competence and time and labour. Respectful enough not to be dismissive. Aware that they’re not the be all and end all of workplace knowledge. If you’re direct, that’s fine; if you’re direct and you spend a lot of time thinking about how everyone else is useless compared to you, that opinion will come out loud and clear.

            And yeah, this situation IS Sally using her backbone to stand up and say no more, I won’t be treated like this at work.

      4. marvin*

        I do wonder if on some level the LW was irritated or embarrassed to be trained by someone young. I didn’t get the impression they are necessarily aggressive as a default but they seemed to be looking for reasons not to take Sally seriously.

        1. BookishMiss*

          Yeah, I was wondering this, too. I run into it from time to time, and really all I can say is that the person training you is your trainer for a reason. That reason being that they have more knowledge about how this job at this company works than you do. Take advantage rather than dismissing them because of (whatever).

          1. D'Arcy*

            OP describes the trainer as young *and female*, which really does shine an extremely negative light on the way he is in fact bullying and trying to flex on her as if he was superior in rank rather than a new trainee.

          1. Kat*

            I was looking for this comment among the see of “she”s. How anyone got female out of LW is beyond me?

            1. Jamie #38*

              When reading first person account, I default to my sex until something indicates or suggests otherwise. That may explain it. Also, I believe Alison defaults to “she” when using pronouns. (Or used to; I haven’t been here for a while.)

      5. Jennifer Strange*

        Agreed, it has a very “I’m just being honest/keeping it real” tone to it, which is generally just a way people excuse rude behavior.

        1. Salymander*

          This is true. Why does being honest/keeping it real so often mean that someone is saying mostly negative things about other people? If they were really going for full honesty, I think there would be a lot more positive stuff in there. Brutal honesty seems to emphasize the brutal more than the honesty. And being honest means that you have to admit when you are wrong.

      6. Sloan Kittering*

        Yes, and similarly OP seems quite fixated on the language of “bullying.” I admit that bullying was likely not the right term, but – that doesn’t negate all the rest of Sally’s points, and OP harping on the use of that specific term over the broader issue is not the win she may think it is. It reminds me of an ex who always tried to argue that I shouldn’t feel a certain way and try to get me to defend my position logically – but I just dumped them instead.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          OP is so set on All That Is Wrong, I am not sure if she’s actually learning anything from the trainer.

          I can see where the trainer might see some components of a bullying personality- such as a single focus (this is wrrroooong!), lack of a human touch (thanks for helping me!) and so on. But I am not sure this is full on bullying.

          I learned early on that training time was just that- training. Corrections, modifications, upgrades etc were all supposed to be handled once training is OVER, but never during training. As a trainee, their only task is to sit and absorb the information. If OP wanted to keep a personal list off to the side of things she’d like to fix later, I see nothing wrong with that either.

          I would like to caution OP that the expression “grow a spine” can actually read as “learn how to fight and argue with me”.

          1. BugHuntress*

            Yes. I can imagine what it would be like to be in the trainer’s position, young but qualified, when everything they say seems to be sneered at by someone older and new.

            Training the OP is her job; passively absorbing disdain/eye rolls, or ignoring disrespect thrown her way, is not her job.

          2. Salymander*

            Maybe it seemed better to say that OP was bullying rather than saying that OP was being a jerk? Weird quirks of language aside, OP was being rude and needlessly critical and argumentative as a new employee at work when speaking to someone assigned to train them. That isn’t great. They are still forming an opinion of the kind of person and employee the OP is. They don’t know whether this is OP’s regular behavior, or if OP can be trained to behave politely and appropriately with their coworkers. Based on OP’s description of their own behavior and attitudes, I would be very concerned if I was OP’s boss.

      7. Mike*

        Amusingly, I saw the “coworker needs a backbone” first and thought it would be a letter about advice on how to help a coworker learn to push back effectively. Then I saw the part about the coworker reporting the LW for bullying and went, “Um, nope, I was wrong.”

      8. Lea*

        When someone’s own example, the one they think shows them in best light!) is one where they have rudely told someone else they were wrong about something they were absolutely not wrong about?

        Well. That person is the one clearly in the wrong. Letter writers sounds really thick. I don’t blame sally and he’s (assuming!) already looking bad to the new boss. How is that helpful?

        Nobody is required to get better at taking your bullying when you could grow up and stop being a jerk.

    3. Lynca*

      I agree. And Alison’s advice to work on having lighter/more gracious interactions with peers is really important. I hope the OP thinks hard about that.

      I work with a lot of people that can be incredibly dismissive and abrasive based on their own technical experience or their percieved experience of others. There have been accusations of bullying similar to what the OP has described. Doesn’t matter if you call it bullying, animosity, lack of respect, etc. It’s a problem attitude that you cannot build successful work relationships with.

  3. ThatGirl*


    I have been in positions where I was being trained and the new thing didn’t make sense to me, because it seemed counter-intuitive or just plain wrong. It’s fine and good to ask questions about the whys – but assuming the person training you is an idiot is a HUGE mistake. The goal should always be to seek understanding and clarification, not make an ass of yourself. “Hmm, I’ve never seen it done this way before, can you explain why?” in a calm, friendly tone is a GOOD question. Saying “this cannot be right” in a snarky way is very Not Good.

    1. Lab Boss*

      That’s what stood out to me too! Even if you’re pretty sure you’re right and the other person is wrong, soften that by acknowledging you MIGHT be wrong or failing to grasp the nuance. If you’re actually right it will become obvious, and if you’re actually wrong you’ve been wrong with tact and grace and won’t come out looking like a jerk.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Precisely. Even a year into my current job, even when I’m pretty darn sure, I still tend to say “hmm, I thought it was ____” or “can you clarify on how we do ____?” because there’s always a chance I missed something or am wrong! And either way, it makes me look much more gracious and tactful.

        1. bookworm*

          Agreed! I have been in my role for 2 years, and still use the phrase “forgive me if this is a basic question” every so often when it seems like people in the group are overlooking something very obvious. This is perhaps unnecessary softening language, but as a woman I think it’s been helpful to me to kind of jar people out of defensive reactions if it’s something that’s been genuinely overlooked, and gets me good info if I’m missing something important.

          1. Lab Boss*

            My go-to phrase is always “OK, I think I may be misunderstanding something here” because it lets me very gently convey “based on everything I know, what you’re saying is wrong” but leave the door open for me to be wrong as well. (And I’m a white man, which is often seen as the “default” in the sciences, but I still find it super valuable to defuse people being defensive and just get the information handled) :)

            1. Employee of the Bearimy*

              I use this a lot as a manager supervising subject-matter experts when I’m not one. I learn quickly and it often doesn’t take me long to acquire a working knowledge of various types of work, but I always want to acknowledge that there are things I won’t know. In this case, where the LW is the SME, what they need to absorb is Sally’s expertise in the organization itself, and it’s completely reasonable for her to expect professional respect during the learning process.

              1. Salymander*

                Yep. You can’t learn well if you think you know everything already. A little humility and an open mind might have allowed OP to learn a fair amount about the organization from Sally. Instead, they were rude to Sally, made themselves look bad to the boss, and missed an opportunity to learn.

          2. Duck*

            Using the phrase “forgive me if…” implies that asking a basic question is wrong. Asking for forgiveness in this case just doesn’t make sense and undermines your value as a colleague. Why not simply say “I realize this may be a basic question,” or “Perhaps this is a basic question, but…” Gets the point across without apologizing. We (especially women) need to get out of the habit of constantly apologizing for… well, almost everything.

            1. Tequila & Oxford Commas*

              I’m a polite and warm person. I naturally like making people feel at ease, and from a pragmatic standpoint it’s very beneficial to me to keep my colleagues from going on the defensive. I’m also very confident in my abilities, direct in my communication, and able (too able, some might say…) to assert myself. If someone misreads my softer way of framing my point as undermining my value, I’d argue that that’s on them.

              That’s not to say that I can’t imagine a scenario in which that language WOULD undermine the speaker–delivery and context really matter–but I don’t love the idea that women have to conform to more traditionally masculine norms to be taken seriously. (I’m female, if that wasn’t clear.)

              1. Femme Cassidy*

                Thank you for this.

                It feels like there’s this trend that is intended to help women assert ourselves, but plays out as denigrating softness and warmth as personality traits.

                I’d argue that we would be better off with encouraging *more* softness in men.

                1. parsley*

                  Exactly this! There are certainly some women in the workforce who really could stand to ease off on apologising so much, but I can guarantee that there are infinitely more men who should be learning to say sorry more. It’s not women’s fault that men can go through life having terrible manners.

              2. bookworm*

                Yeah, agreed with all of this. It’s not super clear we’d all be better off if everyone agreed softening language in communication is unnecessary, and even if that was true, we live in a world where using these strategies appreciably approves the responses I get from people. I know that as a woman who has a lot of opinions and is not shy about sharing them, I can come across as intimidating. I use this in moments when I’m fairly sure I *am* asking a basic question… but I’m also pretty sure nobody’s actually bothered to address it yet. I’m not asking forgiveness for asking a basic question, I’m preemptively defusing people bristling at the implication that I’m judging them for missing something obvious. “Perhaps this is obvious” actually doubles down on the exact misperception I’m trying to avoid.

              3. Salymander*

                Yes to this. So much. Having good interpersonal skills is a real strength. Ignoring that and acting like being the smartest person in the room is the only worthwhile trait is not a benefit to anyone.

            2. Cheap Ass Rolex*

              Ehh, I think people also need to stop taking pretty common politeness phrases (as in “forgive me if this is nosy, but…” or saying “sorry” instead of “excuse me) and applying the “stop apologizing, ladies!” framework to it.

              I think we all know the connotation of those phrases isn’t a real “apology” any more than saying “I’m so sorry” to a bereaved person implies that you’re responsible for the death. Taking denotation out of context is just disingenuous and annoying.

              1. calonkat*

                I feel that I could break my keyboard on this post if there was a like button.

                Soooo many times I’ve said “I’m sorry this thing has/hasn’t happened. I’m copying in (the actual person you should have contacted about this), who will be able to help you.”
                I’m not apologizing on behalf of my employer or myself. I’m expressing a brief sympathy to the person and getting on with helping them. Which reads SO MUCH BETTER than:
                “I’m copying in (the actual person you should have contacted about this), who will be able to help you.” That reads rudely without the courtesy beginning, but it’s the same words.

                1. bowl of petunias*

                  Yes! It basically functions as an acknowledgement of the other person, their stakes in the situation, and your good intentions. In the case of ‘sorry if this is a basic question but’ or ‘sorry if I’m missing something but’, it opens the door for the other person to feel OK about having made a mistake. You’re saying hey, something seems off here, maybe it’s you or maybe it’s me, let’s team up to figure it out. That’s a skill and it is worth doing, and men should do it too!

              2. zillah*

                Yes – and it’s also worth thinking critically about how applying that framework indiscriminately can also lead women to feel frustrated and self-conscious about basic communication.

            3. Aggresuko*

              I get a lot better results in life if I apologize for everything, as a woman. I know it’s ridiculous and I shouldn’t “have to,” but frankly, life seems to really need that social lubricant, especially with the easily angered.

              1. Huh*

                But on the flip side, the “easily angered” continue to get away with their behavior if the rest of us bend to their bluster.

                It may be easier in the moment, but it only pushes the problem further down the same path, and it usually gains speed and mass as it continues on that path.

                1. Lizianna*

                  That’s fine, but it’s not necessary for a woman to take that anger on if she doesn’t have the bandwidth to do so. It’s not my job to train everyone I encounter in the workplace in emotional intelligence.

                  Totally understand that means that someone else has to deal with it. But I’m also tired, and sometimes I just want to get an answer to my question so I can finish my project and go home for the day.

                2. zillah*

                  On the flip side of that, though, criticizing women for not always pushing back on misogyny and sexism as they’re trying to maneuver around it can exacerbate the problem we’re trying to solve. It’s okay to choose your battles.

                3. KoiFeeder*

                  And that’s for someone who can actually make them stop to deal with. We both know that if I don’t apply that social lubricant and get a broken nose for it, the immediate response isn’t going to be “wow, it’s completely unacceptable that he was violent to a coworker/his direct report/you, random citizen” but “what did you do to deserve it?”

            4. Swingbattabatta*

              Honestly, I’ll get out of the habit of constantly apologizing once the rest of society gets out of the habit of being threatened by my competence and expertise. At this point I’d rather soften my language to get my results and not have to handhold more than necessary.

      2. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        I have always found asking why something is done a certain way when it is done in a way that *I* think is wrong helps a lot. There is generally a sound logic behind it and it is the best solution given a bunch of internal and external factors specific to that workplace. The times there is no sound logic (e.g. is is 2017 and we are still doing certain things on handwritten carbon forms), everyone agrees the process is not good but some regulatory or political externalities (or upper management interpretation thereof) mandate it.

        1. Aggresuko*

          Yeah, I love hearing “this is why we are doing X” and it turns out to be a good reason. Then it’s like “oh, ok.” On the other hand, there are some things at my job where I’ve literally never gotten a good explanation for it.

      3. Sloan Kittering*

        Yep, I’ve realized during training that there was something deeply weird about the entire approach to the position I’d entered – but I still wish I’d been more circumspect, because it turns out that was absolutely reflective of the culture, not a quirk of the person training me. I did try to keep my thoughts to myself, but it was still too evident that I was put out. It was a bad foot to start on and it didn’t get better.

      4. Rainbow Brite*

        I used to teach primary-aged kids, and I STILL took that approach when they were doing something I didn’t understand. Because, yeah, sometimes they’re goofing off, but sometimes they’re just doing something perfectly reasonable in an unexpected way, and you don’t want to be the jerk who assumes the worst of people instead of giving them the benefit of the doubt.

      5. Solana*

        If I have a question for a trainer, if something isn’t making sense, I’ll start with, “My understanding is….” since I’m still learning and might be wrong or missing a key bit of information.

    2. Bagpuss*

      Yes, even if OP had been correct, then ask about it or phrasing it as “When I’ve dealt with this type of thing before it’s always been X, can you clarify why this is as an exception?” would be OK – that way, either you get the information as to why this is different to what you are used to, or else the two of you heck it and maybe find that it should be the ‘usual’ way, and the previous post holder made a mistake, or that it is an exception, and you’ve learned something.

      1. Bagpuss*

        *check . (Although depending on how critical it is, if you find out that it’s been being done wrong for ages I guess you might be hecking it as well! )

      2. Sariel*

        YES to this. I often say I’m “reconciling my knowledge” if it’s something like this and explain it in just the way you phrased here. It’s a way to better understand something, but also explain your own knowledge and why you’re checking on something that’s new to you.

      3. Middle School Managment*

        Is there a way to continually ask questions this way without constantly saying “How I used to do it is…”, “The instructions I’ve received in the past…”, and “At my old site, we had always…”
        I feel like every time I try and reconcile my previous knowledge, I’m just calling attention to being new and sounding like I am stuck in my old ways, but I had a decade of experience at another organization that I need to adapt.

        1. Ama*

          The one I’ve used to great success is “Hey, is there any reason why we couldn’t do X this other way?” I learned this when I worked in academic administration, where sometimes processes are complex or overly bureaucratic for no real reason (and people welcome a change), and sometimes they are complex or overly bureaucratic because a Dean wants them that way or because the simpler process was tried and it caused an unforseen side effect, or some other reason why it isn’t worth your time to try to change it.

          1. Koalafied*

            Yes, variations on this phrase – make it simply a question about where you are now: “[have we ever tried/can it be done/is there a reason not to do it] X way?” There’s a sense in which it’s not super important and thus not necessary to indicate up front whether you’re interested in the other approach because it’s how you did it at a previous job, or because you just read a whitepaper on the topic that had some intriguing ideas. (Of course, if the person perks up with interest at the idea, you could at that point add that you’ve handled in that way in previous roles so have some experience with the method.)

          2. Helen*

            I think sounding interested or excited in trying to do the thing this new way
            If I can think of a shortcoming about the old way, I might mention that.
            But you’re probably fine as you are

        2. ThatGirl*

          See if you can cut the “at my old job…” part? Like get right to the “oh, I’ve only done it X way before, can you explain why it’s Y?”

          But also, over time the references to your old job will fade, so it’s not a huge deal as long as it’s not every other sentence out of your mouth. People understand it takes time to transition.

        3. Sharon*

          Can you focus your questions on understanding the current approach vs. comparing it to the way you used to do it – e.g. : “Why do you print out hard copies of the orders when they are already in the system?” or “Have you had any issues with the product deteriorating when it’s stored where it can freeze?” or “Do you find the clients like receiving a report once a month better than receiving updates whenever we work on their project?”

          If they are procedural questions, it doesn’t really matter how you did it at your old job – what matters is what the procedure is at current job (you can always suggest a more efficient approach but you wait until you fully understand the rationale behind the current approach).

        4. hbc*

          I think it’s crucial to explain *why* you’re reconciling previous knowledge, because in most cases it’s not really important why you haven’t encountered that situation before. For example, if you’ve only worked places where they’ve paid biweekly and everyone is getting paid weekly, I would only ask about the origins if you’re going to be involved in payroll and it’s going to be a hassle for you to do your part twice as often.

        5. Fedpants*

          I changed agencies about 6 months ago, and definitely felt like I was saying, “at Other Place …” too much. Now I phrase my questions along the lines of “was this an active choice to do it this way, did someone want it this way in requirements gathering phase, or do we have some flexibility with this?”

        6. Anon Supervisor*

          Oh yes, the dreaded “At my old job we…” Personally, I think you can get away with that qualifier for about a month before it becomes cringy. It’s OK if you think the way your old company did it was better, but I think after a certain amount of time you can leave off the qualifier and own that idea outright.

      4. Le Sigh*

        Yes, agreed. I’ve had staffers ask questions along these lines. Sometimes, they have a good suggestion and I’ve just been doing it X way and realize theirs is better. Other times, the answer is we have a reason to do it X way, even if it’s tedious/slower/more expensive, etc. — complying with regulations or rules, for example, or “I’ve done this X number of times and tried these things out, this has been most effective.” But they’re asking instead of insisting they’re right, which actually opens the door for good conversations.

      5. Crumbledore*

        I think context matters a lot here, too. OP has years of experience at different companies and has never seen it done this way, while Sally is early in her career and may *only* have seen it done this way – so she may not be able to answer OP’s questions. But asking questions instead of saying “this must be wrong” leaves the door open for both of them to learn something new.

        1. Hollywood Handshake*

          Yes. And it sounds like Sally is open to this when she said
          “ ‘you are welcome to make any updates to any procedures’ and even said the procedures get better every time someone new comes aboard.”

          It sounds like if the conversation was friendly and question-based instead of judgmental and adversarial on the part of the OP, everyone could end up learning.

    3. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Ugh thank you.

      A lot of the workplace advice I see is so embarrassingly bad because it assumes that regular office employees have a lot of unilateral power. They typically don’t.

      This is what happens when you get people in managerial roles for so long that they get out of touch.

    4. Charlotte Lucas*

      As a former trainer, I can guarantee that the OP needs an attitude adjustment. You can ask the same basic questions in a positive way that the OP was doing in an unpleasant, aggressive way.

      And good training *is* guiding someone to be able to find the answer themselves. Sure, sometimes you just need some step-by-step instructions, but isn’t it great to know how to find them yourself when needed?

      1. ThatGirl*

        Right? When I’ve trained people, a lot of it has been “okay, when this happens, here’s where to look” or “here’s how to find the answer for this situation” … like that’s the whole point of training, so you can do it yourself?

        1. Charlotte Lucas*

          My mentor in training told me the job of a trainer is to make yourself gradually less necessary to your trainees.

          1. Clisby*


              1. Melissa*

                I kind of enjoy the implication that Maria Montessori was a revolutionary educator who also just yelled everything.

              2. Former Young Lady*

                Nth-ing the delightful mental image of Maria Montessori in permanent shout-mode.

                Alas, if only she’d had an intern to disable her caps-lock key…

          2. Not So NewReader*

            Am sort of chuckling to myself. I read somewhere and I believe that if the teacher does a good job, later the student teaches the teacher. A role reversal can take place. This is what instilling a good foundation does, subsequent “generations” do better and better. The teacher shows the student how to keep progressing in knowledge in the arena and sets them up to do so.

            To me, OP’s teacher seems pretty open to new ideas and methods. But this is not appropriate to start during training periods.

      2. Anan*

        I recently started a new job and am desperately wishing I had step-by-step instructions for a bunch of new-to-me processes, which (like many office processes) are not perfect. But I don’t hold it against the people who do know the processes and I certainly don’t assume they’re incompetent if they can’t provide me with written steps and a justification for each and every step.

        What stood out to me is this: “She is much younger than most people on the team and is further along in her career than most people her age.” If the OP sees this as anything other than an indication that Sally is _good at her job_, then that’s another attitude that needs adjusting. Sally is doing just fine “furthering her career” without the “backbone” the OP thinks she needs.

        1. Me*

          I get the impression that instead of seeing that as a testament to Sally’s competence, OP is trying to imply that Sally is undeserving of her success.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            Eh, if each one of us lives long enough most people will be younger than us.
            My husband and I were in our mid 40’s-early 50s and we said, “The days of having a doc who is older than us are definitely numbered.” It was weird how we just expected doctors to be older than ourselves. Of course, we adjusted our thinking.

    5. fine tipped pen afficionado*

      Yes! Like if the LW is sincere about trying to improve their workplace, I hope they take a good, long look at their social interactions and get curious about whether their questions are actually about collecting more information or about creating opportunities to show off how impressive they think they are.

      I say this very gently but if someone in this scenario is insecure, I don’t think it’s Sally.

      1. The Prettiest Curse*

        People who have a genuine interest in improving their workplace generally don’t assume that their colleagues are incompetents who don’t know their jobs. If you want to improve your workplace, go in with an open mind and recognise that good ideas and great work can come from anywhere, even people that you consider to be inferior to you.
        And it sounds like Sally has plenty of backbone. She has recognised that the OP does not want to listen to her and isn’t willing to learn from her, and she has put a boundary in place. That’s not easy.

        1. BugHuntress*

          Yes, it takes a ton of backbone to realize you’re being mistreated and report it. It is not comfortable, at all.

          So many OPs on this site are people who are desperately uncomfortable at work but are afraid to say anything—— out of the fear that people will dismiss their concerns as trivial. Irony.

          1. BugHuntress*

            (People meaning esp. women, in the first case, and people meaning esp. men, in the second case)

        2. Lea*

          Honestly Sally’s response of ‘hey this is your job now not mine knock yourself out’ is totally reasonable.

          Op honestly sounds like he wants things spoon fed while simultaneously not even listening to sally when she tells him things outright. No wonder she’s frustrated.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Yep. It’s important to know how to get buy-in. The best ideas in the world are never going to leave the port if no one buys in to the idea.

    6. Homebody*

      It strikes me that the LW wants a lot of accommodation from Sally but isn’t willing to give her the benefit of the doubt on well…anything.

      I know a lot of people who are technically very gifted but stunt their career growth by refusing to work on interpersonal relationships. Though it may be a bit harsh I think that LW would really benefit from taking some humility and accepting that they may have some things to learn yet and can only grow from working WITH Sally, not against her.

      1. LPUK*

        Really glad someone raised this angle – yes they may be technically a very rare commodity and their role difficult to recruit for – but OP seems to be using that as a reason to excuse their behaviour. And yes, it might be difficult enough to recruit to allow for some assholish behaviour… but is that really the career OP sees for themselves? A technical expert deemed essential but a pain and hedged about with workarounds developed to minimise the impact of their jerkish behaviour on other colleagues? This doesn’t sit well with OP’s desire to improve the workplace – people want to collaborate with likeable people, and they’re unlikely to achieve their objective of being able to significantly improve the workplace without bringing other people onboard, so its imperative to manage technical skills with interpersonal skills.

        1. Employee of the Bearimy*

          We recently had an employee retire who was very good at his job and was the point person for a number of technical support functions, but to describe him as “prickly” would be generous. When he left, the CEO was terrified that a number of essential functions would completely break down, but his replacement was much easier to work with, and so everything got done much more easily because his coworkers weren’t avoiding him all the time.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            THIS ^

            Someone who is difficult to deal with makes everything ten times harder. And I say that as someone who’s been on both sides of it.

          2. NNN222*

            I’ve also found prickly people like to gatekeep their role to the point where it turns out that other people are in fact capable of doing at least some of that work, it’s just that the prickly person knew they were never going anywhere else so they felt the need to hold onto their specific tasks.

      2. Loredena Frisealach*

        at my first post-college job I was attempting to teach a new (technical) skill to a coworker who was older, and more experienced in general, but less technical. the tool was new to us both, and I had picked it up faster. I got frustrated, and developed a definite edge to my tone. She (rightly!) called me out on it — I acknowledged that I was frustrated both with her for not understanding, and with myself for not knowing how to explain it.

        I was grateful she pulled me up short though, it made me more aware of my tone and how quickly I edged into impatience when someone didn’t catch on as quickly as I thought they should.

        If the LW can take on board the response and the comments both, I think that will be a very good thing for her long term career.

        1. No Name Today*

          And unlike OP’s situation, your coworker didn’t insist you were wrong to the point of either ending the conversation or continuing to call each wrong.
          Sally does have a backbone. She walked away from OP’s “no, you are wrong,” ignoring her institutional knowledge and experience which shows strength. She escalated an issue with a coworker to management instead of avoiding OP or giving in and letting OP continue to be aggressive/hostile.
          OP does not understand what you understood from your coworker: the way you were acting was not right. You corrected. The way OP is acting is not right. OP wants Sally to accept it.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Here’s something we don’t think or talk about much, ” with myself for not knowing how to explain it”.

          It’s really easy to end up as frustrated with our own selves or more so, than we are with other people.

          Explain to me how to put toothpaste on a toothbrush. [omg. NOooooo.]

          I have been through the frustration of not being able to explain commonly understood things so often, that I have decided that people who can do it are actually gifted with patience and vocabulary.

      3. Hippo-nony-potomus*

        Also going to note the Dunning-Kruger effect: those who are the most confident are often the ones with the mediocre abilities and knowledge, not the superstars. Sally likely got where she is in part by having a very solid idea of what she doesn’t know, and being willing to learn or send the issue over to the SME. That kind of humility is often seen by incompetent people as lack of confidence or lack of ability.

    7. Koalafied*

      Wowie zowie indeed.

      When I encounter a situation where someone is giving me information that I feel cannot possibly be correct, I might first ask them if they’re certain of that, and if they aren’t able to offer me compelling evidence in that conversation, I say something like, “OK, since you feel certain about it I’m willing to proceed under that assumption for now – but it is very unusual, so I’m also going to [verify with a senior manager/check our contract/whatever] after this call just to double-check we weren’t given bad information somewhere upstream.”

      This way I’m not just taking them at their word, but I don’t look like an ass if they end up being right, I’m being above-board about my intention to verify the information so it doesn’t seem like I was concealing mistrust, and I’ve also allowed for the possibility that someone/something else is at fault for giving my colleague bad information, as opposed to my colleague just being wrong. And boy can the latter happen in large organizations where you have senior leadership who are sometimes less precise/nuanced in their language that the frontline workers – along the lines of saying “online” (which the downline reports would expect to refer to email, website, and social media channels) when what they really meant to convey is “on the website.”

    8. JelloStapler*

      This this this! Keep in mind that may also not be that person’s choice about how the process is done, but something decreed from above (happens all the time in academia when things take ages to change).

      1. Not So NewReader*

        That’s what this entire story sounds like to me. The trainer knows there are problems, she knows there are parts that need to be updated but no one has gotten to it yet. She’s not trying to fix All That Is Wrong right now, she is just trying to train OP. But OP keeps derailing with All That Is Wrong.

    9. tamarack & fireweed*

      Indeed! Even if I am fully convinced that something can’t be right, the way to say it is “Can we stop at this point for a moment because I’m really surprised. If I understood you right we don’t have a Blam manager. Aren’t were a Class 3-B blimblam provider and therefore Federal Rule 178 requires us to have a Blim manager and a Blam manager?” In a tone of inquiry and seeking understanding.

    10. somanyquestions*

      The way they said “this cannot be right” and then doubled down, but then believed another co-worker with the same info, seemed to show how bitch crackers the LW is with Sally, for whatever reason. And they think it’s juts fine to put her down.

      I was wavering while reading this question, thinking maybe they were just a little cluelessly direct, but that scene was over the top.

      1. Vimes*

        I don’t think it’s BEC. I’m pretty damn sure Sally is a woman and OP is a man, largely because of the tone of reflexive contempt for everything she says and his assumption that she can’t possibly be right about anything ever and there is zero possibility she knows more than him. I have an alternate explanation for LW’s behavior.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, I must say I agree with you. For this post, I’m going to assume that the LW is a man.

          Sally has plenty of backbone, because she’s refusing to deal with the LW any further. The LW needs to learn to take instruction from others, even when they’re younger women, or he won’t last long in this job or any job. He frankly comes across as an obnoxious jerk and a bully. I’m just hoping that he’s willing to learn from this experience, but I’m not holding my breath.

    1. Littorally*

      It couldn’t possibly. I’m sure the OP treats absolutely everyone, regardless of gender or seniority, with this same attitude of low-key condescension. They’re definitely not bristling at being trained by someone younger than them.


      1. Observer*

        Honestly? I’d be willing to bet the the OP DOES treat most people with a lack of respect. There is a huge amount of self-justification here, which indicates a LOT of practice in defensing acting disrespectfully. So much so that it can’t have only been towards younger people and women.

        It’s not that I think that their prejudices are not playing a role here – the fact that they are calling out Sally’s age and being “ahead” of where she is “supposed to be” based on her age, is very, very telling. But I think that it’s just an additional layer of problematic behavior.

        1. Me*

          Agreed. I had a boss who displayed similar behavior to OP. He was an all-around jerk to everyone, but especially liked to target women. Problematically it then became, oh that’s just how so and so is. Oh I don’t think it’s cause you’re a woman he’s like that to everyone.

          1. Amber*

            I work with someone who is exactly like this. He’s a jerk to almost everyone. The handful of people he treats are exclusively other white men. And he’s an exceptional jerk to women and minorities.

    2. Fran Fine*

      It sounds like it. OP said herself

      She is much younger than most people on the team and is further along in her career than most people her age.

      and then proceeds to say Sally needs to grow a backbone if she wants to further her career. Well, she seems to have done just fine in furthering her career without OP’s “advice,” lol.

      1. animaniactoo*

        Nice catch.

        And yes, if Sally has gone to ask to not train someone who is snarky and judgmental about her training, rather than continuing to deal with that, I’d say her backbone is just fine.

      2. ceiswyn*

        This is a woman who managed to calmly explain why the OP was wrong even after the OP snarked at her, and then walked away when OP doubled down on being wrong.

        OP, why don’t you think that showed ‘backbone’? What would you have preferred her to do, shout at you?

        1. anon teacher*

          This was my thought exactly! Remaining calm in the face of hostility, enforcing boundaries when necessary…sounds like plenty of backbone to me. And as OP mentioned, Sally is doing fine for herself, career-wise, which suggests that she isn’t the one who needs to take a hard look at her behavior. Technical expertise is valuable, but there comes a point when it’s not enough to compensate for a lack of interpersonal skills.

          1. Stinky Socks*

            THIS. Sally was acting like the adult in the room. Honestly, OP would do well to step back and rethink his understanding of “backbone.”

            1. unaccountably*

              All people with “backbone” agree with me. All people who do not agree with me are lacking in a virtue I feel is incredibly necessary, but can’t quite define in a way that doesn’t make me look like a jerk, so I will call it “backbone” or – in high-stakes circumstances – “gumption.”


        2. Anon in IT*

          Sounds to me like the OP doesn’t understand the difference between aggressive behavior and assertive behavior. That could land him in hot water in the long run.

          If he focuses so strongly on looking for ways to be right, he will miss important details and opportunities.

          1. Fran Fine*

            Yup, agreed. The fact that the manager even approached OP and used the word “bullying” to describe what OP was doing to Sally tells me the former’s on thin ice already and doesn’t even realize it.

            1. GS*

              Yeah – especially if any of the conversations about how training went are in writing. Could be evidence gathering to deal with a bad fit.

              I am a bit amazed at someone walking into a new company and treating someone the company clearly values like this. The company has already said that Sally is a good and competent employee that they trust to train, cover open roles if needed and it is advancing her quickly in her career. Why exactly would LW walk in and treat her like this and expect to make a good impression on anyone?

          2. unaccountably*

            When I started my new job, there was one procedure that I was convinced was ridiculous and unnecessary and should be phased out as soon as possible.

            Guess who was wrong? You are correct, it was me! Guess whose work is better for having that procedure in place? Also me. My work is now *more right* than it would have been otherwise.

            Right for a day and wrong forever; wrong for a day and right forever. We all have to pick our degrees of mortification.

        3. ...*

          I think LW confused “backbone” with “doormat.” It doesn’t seem like LW wants Sally to argue or defend herself (since Sally has already defended herself and that did not please LW), but rather bow to LW’s “expertise.”

      3. Observer*

        Yes indeed.

        OP, if you say this to your boss you are going to look REALLY bad – not just a jerk who is trying to justify that, but like an idiot.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          OP is considered a trainee.
          OP is not a doctor assigned to assist the trainer on improving her life skills.

          The trainer IS however assigned to train OP about how their systems work in current time. This means now, present time, and requires focus on the current system in use.

      4. Spero*

        yes that stuck out to me too! So you think she’s incompetent and lacks a backbone yet completely fail to reflect on how she has managed to advance in her career more quickly than you and your other colleagues?

      5. Spero*

        Also! The LW completely glosses over how Sally, despite seeming to lack the extremely specific technical knowledge the LW prides themselves on and ‘not knowing how to do everything in the role’ AND not having very good procedures inherited from the predecessor…still seems to have covered the role just fine for ‘months’ before they hired the LW?!?
        Because I’m assuming if Sally had made a myriad of mistakes in those months we would have also received a list of them. So this person you think poorly of as a person, discount her professional skills, and don’t think the things she is passing on are worthwhile…was still able to do your job just fine. Maybe reflect on that a bit.

        1. Fran Fine*

          Right. The manager would not have Sally training period if she didn’t know what she was doing. That would be a waste of everybody’s time.

      6. Meow*

        Honestly, it sounds like Sally already has quite the backbone – she’s complained about OP’s toxic behavior instead of just accepting being beat down by them constantly.

      7. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        Good point. Whatever Sally is doing to further her career is working quite nicely, at least according to the LW. Why change something that isn’t a problem?

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I kind of went the other way. Backbone equals standing and arguing as opposed to walking away.

          I’m a big fan of picking our battles. Trainer decided not to fight this battle because she saw she was not going to win. Here, “win” means successfully train OP.

    3. PNWForester*

      My exact thoughts. It sounds like Sally is a younger woman in what might be a traditionally male-dominated field. I’m sure this has absolutely nothing to do with it… /s

    4. Voodoo Priestess*

      I thought the same thing. And as others have noted, OP writes about Sally being younger as a confidence issue, where I would see it as “someone clearly thinks she’s a rock star” and maybe give her just a bit of respect.

      When in doubt 1) Assume positive intent/competence and 2) Ask questions instead of making assertations. And avoid snark when you’re the new person being trained.

      1. Nanani*

        Being a woman does not make one immune to misogyny, or the perception that women (other than yourself) don’t belong in the field, or what have you.

      2. unaccountably*

        An unfortunate percentage of women in the workplace are prone to resenting other women in nontraditional roles, or young women who receive opportunities that they themselves did not.

    5. Observer*

      Does the fact that Sally is younger and a woman have anything to do with it?

      Hard to think otherwise, when the OP specifically calls out Sally’s age.

      1. Observer*

        Except that the OP actually DOES make a point of calling out Sally’s age. So, it’s really not helpful to pretend that the elephant is not in the room.

        At minimum, the OP needs to realize that a LOT of people are going to read it this way, which is something that (fortunately) is becoming a lot less acceptable. And perhaps it will help the OP think through their apparent prejudices.

      2. marvin*

        It would be a more pleasant world if everyone was self aware enough to just say “I feel threatened by accomplished young women” but I don’t think this is an arena where most people can be trusted to self report.

      3. Your local password resetter*

        OP did bring it up at several points though.
        And most people who are being sexist don’t recognize it, and certainly don’t advertise it as such.

      4. ShinyPenny*

        Better for whom?
        People write in with questions, wanting an outside perspective. If outsiders see potential for ageism, sexism, racism, ableism it is super valuable for these things to be clearly called out. The whole premise of an advice column is that a frog in hot water might need a bystander to yell, “JUMP!”

  4. TyrantRex*

    With the references to “my years of experience” and Sally being younger, to me this smacks of someone who is dismissing Sally for perceived inexperience and nitpicking her work to find fault. The OP comes across as almost insulted at having to take direction from someone they’ve judged “not worthy” of being in a trailer role.

    1. Respectfully, Pumat Sol*

      Especially considering that OP said “She is much younger than most people on the team and is further along in her career than most people her age.” If she’s further along in her career than most people her age it should be an indication that she’s actually probably PRETTY GOOD at her job.

      1. Fran Fine*

        That part. She’s insulting Sally all over the place, but acts like Sally’s the one with the problem since she’d rather not continue being undermined and criticized while doing OP a favor.

        1. Van Wilder*

          Yes, now the question for the OP to ask themself is why they feel so threatened by a young woman who, while much junior, is very successful for her age, that they feel the need to undermine her at every opportunity?

      2. Three Goblins in a Trench Coat*

        100% agree here, Pumat Sol.

        (I took love the name! Always good to find Critters in the wild.)

    2. Genie*


      LW’s attitude sounds just like my insufferable boss, to be honest. In my experience, it’s unusual to see this attitude coming from a new hire, and someone who is not (by the sounds of it) in a management position. I’ve usually seen this sort of nonsense from terrible managers!

    1. EPLawyer*

      My thought exactly. This letter reminds of the intern who disabled the capslock key on the person’s keyboard because they were sooooo convinced their way was better and the person would just LOVE it if they tried it. then was surprised they were fired.

      OP, your job might be hard to recruit for, but a decent company won’t put up with attitude — from a new hire no less – for long. You might be find yourself out of a job regardless of how great your “skills” are.

      1. Zennish*

        I was just thinking of that… This is exactly the sort of “everyone bow before my obvious greatness” attitude that gets new hires fired during their probation period before they can become a more entrenched problem.

      2. Popinki*

        Holy smoke, I don’t think I ever read that one. I wouldn’t even know how to disable a specific key on a keyboard. If someone’s typing in all caps, you ask them nicely to stop. You don’t dink around with someone’s computer to teach them a lesson.

        1. met_anon*

          Oh it was great. The person wasn’t even typing in all caps. They were just using the caps lock key instead of the shift key. The LW figured that by disabling the key and teaching them to type ‘correctly’ they were saving the company millions in efficiency or something like that :P

        2. MEH Squared*

          It’s even worse than that. The person was using caps-lock for capitalizing, say, the first word of a sentence instead of using shift. The letter writer was so aggrieved by this and convinced that their way was better, they disabled the caps-lock key.

        3. Userper Cranberries*

          Oh, it’s worse than that. The person wasn’t writing in all caps – they were using the caps lock key instead of the shift key to capitalize the appropriate letters.

        4. Vanellope*

          If I remember correctly, that wasn’t even the issue – the senior staffer used caps lock instead of shift to do normal capitals (ie, caps lock/letter/caps lock) so there wasn’t even any readability issue, the intern just strongly felt that an extra keystroke every time there was a capital letter was way too inefficient. So they disabled the caps lock key to force use of the shift. They felt they were being very helpful.

          1. Popinki*

            I wouldn’t even notice if someone was doing that, let alone get so worked up about it that I’d mess around in their computer.

            1. Lance*

              The staffer in question was specifically training the intern, so the LW intern saw the habit first-hand.

      3. GammaGirl1908*

        Word. LW is new, but has already irritated a rock star at this company such that she is avoiding working with LW. That’s not a good look.

        Further, even if LW’s skill set is hard to find, LW likely just competed for this job with at least a couple of other people; LW likely was not the only candidate for the job and can be replaced with the second choice. It’ll be one of those times when “We’ll keep your resume on file for future opportunities” actually pans out.

        1. JackSee*

          Personally, I even question the extent of their “skill set” if they take issue with being “guided” through their training rather than being told step by step how to accomplish something. Someone highly competent in their skill set should be able to take the guidance and pair that with their knowledge and expertise to accomplish the required task at hand. There will of course be some nuances that would likely require more direct instruction, but typically being guided through the training generally has better learning outcomes than just being told what to do at every turn. Personally, if I were Sally I would also be annoyed by OP’s apparent need for hand holding throughout the training (but I also despise training, so that may just be me, lol).

  5. Just Here for the Cake*

    As someone who trains people for a living, I would do the same thing the Sally did. Her job is not to tell you the best way to do something, but to tell you how it is currently being done. You need that context and understanding before you start changing everything. Being rude to her because you don’t agree with how the company has set up procedures is the quickest way for no one to want to help you. LW, I tried to train someone like you before and he ended up getting fired really quickly. Please do some soul searching.

    1. it's just the frame of mind*

      And it’s a good thing that the procedures can be updated and that they get improved as people learn more. I’m also in a technical role, and all the procedures and tools I use — many quite sophisticated, but none perfect — got their start as hacky, junky stuff people did just to get the job done.

      1. Hogwash*

        I was immediately struck by that. I’m a technical writer and even I have SMEs look over my work. This is a normal part of the process and much better than writing in a silo and pretending I know everything. If OP is suggesting Sally’s incompetent for iterating on existing work, well, that’s awfully out of touch.

        1. Imaginary Friend*

          Another tech writer here, agreeing with you. If I’m not an expert in the topic, I have actual experts look over my writing to make sure I didn’t get anything wrong. And if I *am* an expert, I have someone look over my writing to make sure I didn’t leave gaps where I assumed knowledge in the topic.

          To relate this back to the letter, LW is the expert on the highly technical role that is hard to hire for, and Sally is the expert on how the company uses the skills that LW brings to the role. LW needs to recognize that they are not the only person here with expertise.

    2. Caramel & Cheddar*

      All of this. It is virtually impossible to train someone who is combative, doesn’t listen, and insists the trainer is wrong.

      1. JelloStapler*

        It is also impossible to have long-term change because this same person will react to any future suggestions of improvement in the same way- combative, not listening, and will insist everyone is wrong.

    3. Smithy*


      While the OP has a technical niche skill, this company identified a work around until they were able to fill it with the skill and experience level they desired. Because the role was not being done in the more traditional technical fashion, learning about how it was done will likely require a bit of investigation by the OP as opposed to a more traditional handover. And when doing that, having people trust you becomes incredibly important because their processes may be VERY informal.

      And it’s even more important to build that trust for them to share that their “system” is just a few post-it notes or something else ad hoc. Because the opposite is that they’ll say they just followed the older instructions made by their predecessor (who can then be blamed) and you’ll be missing some very relevant intermediary steps. For someone only doing the job for a few months or on a much smaller scale, that approach may very well be fit for purpose. So dumping on the person for not doing it at the more technical level only deprives you from receiving what information does exist. And not respecting their professionalism for patching in during an intermediary period.

    4. Public Sector Manager*

      This letter smacks of a scenario where the OP is hired on to be a chef. Sally is doing the onboarding to get the OP up to speed on how the restaurant runs for the most part, and Sally says, “hey, I’m not a professional chef, but here is how we’re set up.” The OP looks around, says “this is all wrong and it needs to change.” Sally looks at the OP and says, “I know, that’s why we hired you.” OP replies, “oh no, that won’t do. I need to be taught by a professional chef and they need to give me a list of recipes to follow.” What the deuce?!?

      1. Smithy*

        Really good description.

        I will also add that it can be the case where the non-professional chef may have one recipe that by the culinary world is “wrong” that sells like crazy or in their kitchen organization due to a quirk of the building/nature of staff hired has one process that works incredibly well and is worth keeping. And if you don’t ultimately go through everything, you’re not going to uncover all of that.

      2. Not So NewReader*

        Real life example, where I was the non-professional chef.

        Our work place was chaotic. I trained by examples. Today it is gizmos. I would show the trainee how to set up the gizmos for assembly and package them. Yesterday it was thing-a-ma-jigs, we set those up, the crew assembled them and packed them. And this is how it went.

        My trainee decided that she wasn’t learning anything and she needed a professional trainer. Meanwhile I am running my butt off and she is dabbling with random things. So I suggested to her that she call the department head or HR and request that professional trainer.

        I dunno what happened and I really did not care. I was tired of putting energy into a person who was not interested in learning and had every excuse in the book for not trying to follow along. In the end, I don’t think much came of it, because I remained as her trainer.

        (She was the only person I ever trained who decided they needed a professional trainer. smh.)

    5. Elizabeth West*

      You need that context and understanding before you start changing everything.

      Exactly. One of my proudest accomplishments is updating a process at OldExjob that was clunky, inefficient, and a waste of resources (and subsequently, contributed to a waste of money). Even so, I didn’t create a proposal until I’d been there for a good six months and had a solid grasp of how it worked. I could see it needed improvement, but without the experience, I couldn’t have come up with a good plan on how to implement those changes.

      One reason for that: a colleague had already configured a database for this task, an element of which I was not aware at the start. Had I begun without that knowledge, I would have just reinvented the wheel. The two of us together worked up a business case and took it to our managers, they gave us the green light (because it didn’t cost anything), and I hammered out a procedure. And boom, it worked beautifully.

      I love process improvement. But it’s not something you can arrogantly stride into without a good grasp of what you’re trying to fix.

      1. Pikachu*

        Some places I’ve worked, it could take six months just to unravel what the real-life process even is LOL

        1. GS*

          I have one process I refer to as whack-a-mole – the teams all sort of touch the same thing but refuse to communicate with each other so we are constantly being surprised by asks. It took around eight months to finally find the last team that touched this process when they (as per usual) popped up out of nowhere with a request.

    6. Cookie Lover*

      My insufferable trainee was a nagging Nancy.
      She deemed herself overqualified and wise beyond her years and constantly questioned everything I told her in our training group.
      She thought she could rally her peers and gang up against me and took every noncommittal murmur as enthusiastic agreement.
      Even the slightest bit of criticism was met with snark and defensiveness.
      Finally we had a one sided fight where she’d insist one procedure was plain wrong and even claimed it was illegal.
      Suprise. It was neither.
      After a non-apology she finally finished the training and started to work.
      She wasn’t bad at first but the more complicated the cases became the more it was obvious she didn’t really take in the training and tried to force her ways against the demands of our client. I the end she got into the same argument she had with me first, but this time it was with the client.
      She was fired the next day.
      Dear OP, don’t be a nagging Nancy!
      You might indeed be a hot shot in your field, but no two jobs are the same. There’s some institutional knowledge Sally has that you cannot have yet and the only way to really excel in any given job is to learn how it’s done their way and why before you can even think of implementing your way.
      Otherwise you risk messing up big time.
      Please, please, please, consider this: if the job is not really in Sallie’s line of work, she’s probably relived to hand it over to you. That makes her your biggest asset, not your adversary! Don’t search for failure, be supportive and grateful against her, listen to her. Even if you will change lots of things in the end, you’ll only be able to tackle the right things and not get in trouble if you listen to her!
      Apologize honestly, back way down and really listen. Even if you don’t believe it now you will learn a lot from her!

  6. ZSD*

    Hoooo boy.
    I must be missing a line in this letter. Surely somewhere the letter writer said, “So I promptly went to Sally and apologized to her. I realized that I had been in the wrong, and I made it clear that I realized I shouldn’t have assumed that she didn’t know how the company where she’s worked for years does things.”
    That line somehow got cut from this letter, right? Right?

    1. jessismyname*

      THIS!! “Once I discovered I was, indeed, incorrect I apologized” Of course not… that would be admitting LW isn’t the most amazing and smartest person on the team who doesn’t need guidance – from some young girl who needs a backbone

  7. Snarkus Aurelius*

    When you’re new, assume you don’t know anything about internal processes and procedures. If you’re sure you’re right, then you can wait a couple of weeks and then revisit the issue with the person in charge, not the underling who has no control over any changes and doesn’t want to get into trouble for insubordination.

    I don’t want to pile on here but…

    Training is hard enough as it is. It’s even moreso for someone who doesn’t do training on a regular basis. It’s triply moreso when the new person you’re training is contradicting and undermining what you’ve been told by your superiors. The training takes that much longer and so much more difficult, that I’d probably throw up my hands too.

    There’s a time and a place for everything. Rarely is it the first day, week or month.

    1. it's just the frame of mind*

      “then you can wait a couple of weeks and then revisit the issue with the person in charge, not the underling who has no control over any changes and doesn’t want to get into trouble for insubordination.”

      Then you can wait a while and you’ll know better who has the authority to make changes. Sounds like in this case (like in many technical roles) it’s the people doing the job.

      1. Hekko*

        There may be connections to other processes (administrative, billing – depending on what the issue is and how complex the processes are) the technical people doing the job may not be aware of (because they don’t have to be as long as they follow the internal processes correctly). Ideally the person in charge would be aware of the broader picture and able to say, you can change this on your own OR we need to discuss this with X and Y department to be sure they get what they need if we make any changes.

        Where I work, all internal orders need to be marked as with or without processing. The order may work just fine without this information, whatever needs ordering arrives, the supplier doesn’t need it – so seemingly I could stop demanding my colleagues signal which one is it when sending the order to me, and I can get my part of the work done. But the accountant later doesn’t know how to enter the invoice in the books. And we are a very small company (<20 employees).

        1. Koalafied*

          Yeah, I do some technical work where ultimately I have the authority to make changes, but I can’t do that in a vacuum. I need to talk to everyone who will need to use the product and share what I’m planning to change and what the downstream effects will be for them as end users, and verify this isn’t going to save me 15 minutes a week while adding 45 minutes a week to someone else’s plate, or inadvertently eliminate a component I thought was obsolete but someone is in fact still using.

    2. Kevin Sours*

      Hell there are ways to address things immediately when you are sure you’re right as the FNG. You just have to approach it with a sense of humility and the default assumption that there is something you don’t know.

      “In my previous jobs we did X here, can you explain why you guys do Y?”

      Nine times out of ten you learn something important about the current job. The remaining time they don’t have a good answer and you can have a discussion about it. In none of these instances do you come across looking like a complete ass.

      1. JelloStapler*

        Exactly, it’s not a message of don’t ask or comment, but with a different approach and less arrogance.

    3. Salymander*

      This is a good point. Training is not easy, and training an arrogant and combative person sounds like an extremely unpleasant and likely futile task. Sally doesn’t have to give perfect, step by step instructions for every single process, and even if she did I bet OP would argue about it. This must have been really disheartening and infuriating for Sally to be so disrespected. Especially since the OP said that one of the times they argued with Sally and said she was wrong, it turned out that Sally was definitely right. And OP seems to just dismiss that like it is unimportant, and never mentioned apologizing. OP is coming across as being steeped in sexism (or internalized sexism? could be either) and oddly resentful of Sally’s success at work. It is as if OP is so determined to believe that Sally is inferior and OP is by comparison so wonderful that they don’t even realize how terrible their behavior looks to everyone else. It is like that letter where the employee kept talking about how great he was, and how much integrity he had, while lying repeatedly and not doing his job. It is jarring when a person’s image of themself and how they describe themself is so at odds with their actual behavior. It makes OP seem less competent and like they can’t be trusted to look at things realistically.

      OP, a bit of humility and a sincere apology to Sally, followed by being more open to learning and to other people’s knowledge and opinions might help you to keep your job and even repair your work relationships. I know you are probably feeling a bit ganged up on, which must be uncomfortable. I hope you can see that the people who are commenting really do want you to be able to make the changes you need to so that you are able to succeed.

  8. quill (and the bees agree with me)*

    At the risk of sounding too flippant… OP’s attitude is some Cheap Ass Rolls garbage.

    1. quill*

      And to bring it back to topic: If Sally’s training is bad, it’s better to take notes on what you think is lacking to check them later than to tell her so. If there is no step by step instructions for something that needs it, it’s entirely possible that you will have to create some. It’s never too late to create work instructions.

      1. Becky*

        In my experience, in a technical role–there is a whole lot of stuff that doesn’t have “step by step” instructions. While some things will have standardized steps, a lot of it is more general critical thinking skills and guidance on figuring out the right questions to ask and understanding your resources for looking for solutions, etc.

        I had a direct report who I was trying to help develop these skills since he always wanted step by step instructions for everything and that just isn’t something we can do. And when I did provide him with step-by-step instructions he could never seem to see similarities to other issues to make connections or widen the applicability of what he was told to enhance his critical thinking/solutions tool box.

        (Direct report is still in his position and still has these and other issues, but I’ve moved to a different position.)

        1. RunShaker*

          When I saw guidance vs. step by step training, it caught my attention. Many technical roles will only be guidance training. To me, junior roles would have more involved training. I was taken aback on this point since I took it that LW isn’t in junior role. I’m wondering what LW was expecting in reference to “training?” I train new hires for my department. The people we hire have years of experience so all I do is guidance training & assist with how our department works & how we handle things.

          1. JelloStapler*

            …and makes me wonder if that is why Sally is “years ahead for her age” and OP is not.

        2. quill*

          I mean, a lot of what I do with document control is very much a “this is the sequence of non-searchable, poorly named buttons to get what you want,” but that’s the nature of the system we use to do things, not the job. For stuff that doesn’t require arguing with the computer, a more general guidance is probably better.

    2. MicroManagered*

      I actually thought this one was bad enough that “Sally Needs a Backbone” deserves to be its own reference.

      1. MicroManagered*

        *it’s own reference for “when you think someone else is the problem but really you are the problem x 100”

      2. Boneless Chicken Wrangler*

        I second your nominiation! “Sally Needs a Backbone” should be entered into the official AMA lexicon.

        1. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

          i third this. i really enjoy “cheap ass rolls” and “bitch growing vegetables”

          1. Obfuscated Orangutan*

            Wow, “bitch growing vegetables” is new to me, and I’d love to know the story!

            1. Beth*

              Trying to avoid Link Limbo:

              Go back to August 3, 2021, for “My annoying coworker lurks near every conversation”. The bad behavior includes “brings in random objects from home, including a vegetable plant, which honestly has no place in the office.”

            2. The Rafters*

              The comments were even better. I don’t think anyone actually addressed the real issues OP had or thought they had.

      3. Heidi*

        What strikes me the most is that the OP wants Sally to have “backbone” in such a way that they put up with OP’s snarky dismissive jerk behavior, but not the kind of backbone that makes her push back and do something about it, like bring it to the boss.

        1. Ama*

          This is a VERY good point. Sally had backbone enough to go to the manager and say “I can’t train OP if they are going to treat me like this.” She stood up for herself plenty.

          1. Librarian of SHIELD*

            Yeah, OP says backbone, but that doesn’t actually seem to be what they mean. Having “backbone” means doing exactly what Sally did. She set boundaries and enforced them, and refused to accept contemptuous and belittling comments from her coworker.

            What the OP seems to want is for Sally to not be offended when they treat her in really offensive ways, and that’s not a very good thing to want.

            1. Emmy Noether*

              What OP means is usually referred to as “thick skin” and it’s usually not a good sign when someone uses that phrase either.

        2. MicroManagered*

          Great point. Sally *did have* a backbone. She walked away from an interaction where she knew she was right but was not being listened to. She addressed her coworker’s poor behavior with her boss and asked the boss to intervene and/or to not have to train OP anymore. That’s… what you’re supposed to do? That’s handling a difficult situation like an adult rather than causing a scene or sucking it up like OP apparently wants her to do.

        3. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

          Yep. So really they want a doormat rather than someone with a backbone. Someone that will let people treat them however and never complain.

      4. LinuxSystemsGuy*

        I literally read the headline for this and thought, “Oh, if you’re writing this, your probably being a bully”. Then read the letter and one of the Mythbusters style “confirmed” sign flashed through my head.

        I assume most letter writers are readers, which may not be true. That said I sometimes feel like if people just read their own letters and tried to think, “Hmm, how would I react to this letter if it hadn’t been written by me” they would have their answers.

    3. CoveredinBees*

      Today, I found out that the company who makes Hawaiian Rolls has acquired a drink company and had to bite my lip to stop from giggling. I mentally pictured someone shouting about cheap ass drinks. I’m neutral on them as a product but any time they get mentioned, I get the giggles.

      1. unaccountably*

        Every time I see them in the store I have to pretend to have a sneezing fit so people won’t know I’m snort-laughing.

        1. EchoGirl*

          Not to derail too far, but I had something similar happen recently. In this case I was shopping a few days before Christmas and a certain Christmas song came on — one which I will always associate first and foremost with a movie scene in which a guy is singing that song as just as he does something totally clueless and ends up in a hilariously absurd situation because of it. So I ended up walking through the aisles of this grocery store unable to stop laughing hysterically until the song ended (and it’s a long one).

  9. High Score!*

    OP, you’ll learn more if you listen more than you talk. When you are sure someone is wrong, kindly ask questions!
    Like, “That hasn’t been my experience with llamas, what makes your llamas like their fur combed backwards?” Or “I need more information on our procedures on how to deal with near sighted sighed llamas.”
    Try being kind first.
    While I don’t think you actually bullied Sally, you do sound unpleasant to work with.

  10. Sara*

    Bullying might be the wrong word, but the new guy constantly telling me I’m wrong about how to do my job would make me lose my mind.

    It doesn’t escape me that this is also an example of him again saying she’s wrong in the workplace.

      1. Purple Cat*

        I don’t think it’s a guarantee that LW is male. It is just as likely it is an older woman entrenched in a male dominated field that is insulted (for lack of a better word) that a younger woman is more successful than she is (or at least “was” at that age). Anger that “Sally” didn’t have to pay her dues in the same way LW did, or LW is trying to maintain her place in the hierarchy by jumping on the misogyny bandwagon.

        1. JelloStapler*

          I had an old boss that had been in her position for decades and would pitch a fit anytime anyone tried to change anything (After all, if it worked in the 80s, clearly it works in the 00s)- she was often quite condescending in these moments. This made me think of that.

          1. BugHuntress*

            Yes. The amount of abuse someone is willing to take, is often the amount of abuse they see as “normal” for anyone younger than them.

            My theory is, normalizing others’ pain can be a way of minimizing one’s own painful, shameful memories and feelings so they don’t become overwhelming in the present. “Everyone has to do that! Buck up! Grow up!” goes the self talk. It’s self talk that on its face is encouraging, but actually leaves no room for speaking up against disrespect.

    1. MistOrMister*

      Yep, I agree it’s not really bullying. But it does seem to be OP being oddly combative to their trainer. I find it really odd that someone would just flatly state that the trainer’s procedures are crap and that they were wrong and to just leave it there. I am not one for a lot of conversational fluff, but my goodnesss you just don’t talk to people that way. I find myseld wondering if OP is mad about being trained by someone so much younger than them. Perhaps they don’t feel Sally deserves her job title at her age. Whatever it is, I think they need to do some major damage control. If I was Sally I would be refusing to work with OP anymore at this point.

    2. Elbe*

      I have a few colleagues who are like this and it drives me up a wall. I see them on an invite and it ruins my day.

      They have a default stance that they know how to do your job better than you and they’re constantly putting everyone in a position where they have to explain/defend their decisions and it’s so draining and deeply unnecessary.

      And then when you DO show them that you’re right, they just brush it off like “well, I didn’t have XYZ information” or “I didn’t know that XYZ” had changed. It never quite sinks in that of course they don’t have all of the info and of course people know things they don’t know…WHICH IS EXACTLY WHY THEY SHOULDN’T BE A POMPOUS JERK ABOUT IT in the first place. It’s very illogical to think that you know everything and that you’re always right.

      1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

        At my job just prior to this one I worked with a guy who was convinced he knew how to do all the things because he was a good SAS programmer when it came to birth, death, and medical records and the codes used. He was very, very, good at that, but that didn’t mean he knew anything about doing autopsies or diagnosing anything. He insisted all the Medical Examiners and doctors were doing it all wrong because things got coded certain ways. Could not wrap his mind around the fact that MEs are quite literally up to the elbows in a body and when they determine cause of death or that a MD actually, you know, talked to and touched the patient and knew a whole lot more about what was going on than Mr. Programmer looking at the records 6-12 months later. It was so bad that one ME finally invited him to an autopsy so he could have it explained exactly what they did to determine cause of death. Mr. Programmer declined, but continued to proclaim MEs and MDs were wrong as long as none of them could hear him. I hated working with that guy

      2. Curmudgeon in California*

        I work with one of those. Yes, he’s the subject matter expert in his area, and was handling a lot of stuff in my area before I joined. But every little change I make he has to make minor, often unimportant changes. I’ve gotten so that I leave small spelling or grammatical errors just so he has some issue to find and feel that he has done his job. He does it to both myself and my colleague in the same job space. (We’ve compared notes.) It drives both of us nuts, because he’s applying standards from his area to our area, and it isn’t always necessary or appropriate. (Think “he crinkle cuts carrots, and he thinks we need to crinkle cut the asparagus.”)

        Both of my colleague put up with this, but I do tend to snark when he seems to contradict himself with impossible demands. The number of times I have to sit on my hands rather than react to his pedantic comments is astounding. I know he means well, but the effort is exhausting.

        One of the most irritating things he does is post to our Slack “reminders” of our written procedures when he doesn’t think someone has done something exactly “right”. Think “Remember to cook the asparagus for 5 minutes in the steamer, not 6 minutes.”, when someone accidentally let the asparagus cook for 5 minutes and 30 seconds. He does this instead of a private message like “Hey, I noticed you cooked the asparagus 5:30 minute, not 5 minutes. Please watch it a bit more closely.”

          1. unaccountably*

            “Importance Signaling” needs to be a much more common phrase. It explains so very much behavior.

      3. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex*

        Oh I work with this guy. He tells every department how to complete their work (despite knowing little to nothing about that work) and thinks he’s running any meeting he’s invited to. As far as I can tell I am the only one who ever bothers to (nicely) ask him to pipe down and stay in his lane. He drives me bonkers.

    1. I'm A Little Teapot*

      That’s uncalled for. It’s perfectly possible for an individual to be rude and oblivious of their rudeness to someone who is the same age, gender, race, etc.

          1. The OG Sleepless*

            It does to me too. I work in a field that was male dominated until about 40 years ago and quickly shifted to female, and a great many older women in my field sound exactly like this.

        1. Koalafied*

          The writing style was parsed as weak female by Hacker Factor’s Gender Guesser, FWIW.

          Slight tangent, but the research the Gender Guesser is based on is pretty interesting. Non-fiction writing by females tends to use narrative phrasing in which they are a character and the reader is being made by the retelling into an invisible observer, and correspondingly use a lot of pronouns, especially I, you, and she, and frequently ask “facilitative tag questions” that actively involve the reader, like, “[statement], don’t you think?” or “[statement], isn’t it?” Non-fiction writing by males tends to use informational phrasing in which they’re positioned more like an omniscient observer and the reader is completely removed and learning about it after the fact, and they correspondingly use a lot of noun determiners like this, that, the, a, some, or much and the possessive pronoun its.

          For instance, a female writer is more likely to refer to “our IT person,” where a male writer would be more likely to refer to “the person who does IT.” If Boss and Grandboss had a meeting about something affecting Employee’s work, a female writer would be more likely to write something like, “Boss told me that she talked to Grandboss about it, and they’d like me to make X change,” where a male writer would be more likely to write something like, “It was decided in a meeting between Boss and Grandboss that I should make X change.”

          I’ll stress that these are modest correlations that can predict author gender only somewhat better than chance (about 70% accuracy). I do find it pretty fascinating though and often run the letters from here through the analyzer out of curiosity, to see if the linguistic analysis agrees with my gut impression. (It often doesn’t!)

          1. Delphine*

            Huh, I put some of my writing through and it guessed 71% male. I’m a woman. Neat little analyzer.

            1. DANGER: Gumption Ahead*

              I got similar (76% male) and I am not male. My non-fiction writing is so geared to scientific journals and grants that I never use articles and it is always an outside observer with a terrible case of passive voice describing things

          2. Engineer with Breast Cancer*

            Thanks for the heads up about the tool. That’s really interesting.

            What gender leaning would “My Boss and Grandboss decided in a meeting that I should make X change”? That seems like something I would write.

            I put some samples of my writing through the tool, and I got a mix of weakly female and weakly male for my informal writing.

          3. Emmy Noether*

            This is interesting background! I tried it a few times in the past and it tends to guess male from my writing (I’m female). The thing is, humans *also* tend to guess male from my emails – I have a name that, while gender-specific, is rare enough that not everyone is familiar with it and work in a male-dominated field. I have wondered if it would happen less often if my written “voice” was more female.

      1. Sha*

        I don’t think it is uncalled for. We know that Sally is a young-ish woman but we don’t know if the OP is a man or woman. Having worked in tech, I would guess it is a man. Sorry – that fits the trend and very accurate stereotype of *some* men working in a technical field and being very dismissive of people who aren’t as “smart” as them or as “educated” as them. OP – there’s nothing wrong with bringing a friendly and humble tone to your interactions with your colleagues. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses, even you.

      2. Kat*

        Oh dear! OP, you need to hit the reset button quickly. Clear all of this arrogant, self-righteous nonsense out of your mind, find some grace and humility, apologise to Sally, and resolve to do better than this. You are off to a terrible start in this role and if you don’t turn it around quickly your reputation is going to take a massive hit. Defensiveness and dismissiveness are a bad look!

      3. Observer*

        It’s perfectly possible for an individual to be rude and oblivious of their rudeness to someone who is the same age, gender, race, etc.

        It is possible – the OP sounds like a piece of work.

        But given how explicitly the OP calls out Sally’s age as an issue, and the extent of the tropes they use, it’s kind of hard to dismiss the very, very strong probability that age is playing into this, and almost as strong probability that gender is also at play here.

      4. Le Sigh*

        I’ve absolutely worked with women who are sexist and rude to other women. It’s quite possible LW is not male or does not identify as male. But it’s not uncalled for to raise the overall question here — the LW specifically brought up Sally’s age as an argument against her abilities and sensitivity, and women are often more readily dismissed as not having the expertise, being too sensitive, or not being able to take a joke. Regardless of LW’s gender, it’s still something worth examining because it is likely playing a role in LW’s behavior, even subconsciously. LW probably needs to take a hard look at how they view women in the workplace and how they’re likely coming across to others.

    2. The Crowening*

      Definitely picking up on this vibe too. OP mentioned Sally’s young age and how she’s already ahead of where she’d normally be at her age. There’s a lot of condescension coming from somewhere.

      1. Littorally*


        I’m agnostic regarding the OP’s gender, because older women are fully as capable of being nasty and condescending toward younger women as older men are, but the age gap is pretty clear and evident imo.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Yeah, I know plenty of women who are very aware of their status in male-dominated fields and apt to be mean to other women to maintain it. (I also know plenty of condescending jerk men, so it’s not that the women are particularly guilty of this, just that they’re not default innocent, either.)

        2. Sylvan*


          I’m female and I’ve mostly worked with women. I have seen this between women more than I’ve experienced it with men.

          We’re fully able to be rude and mean to each other, no men needed, lol.

      2. Cold Fish*

        Yes, Sally is young and ahead of those typically her age but she has a confidence problem!?!

        That said, I find insufficient info to determine if OP was “bullying” Sally or not. I think that word gets thrown around a little too easily now. OP can be a jerk without being a bully.

        1. sb51*

          Or that the definition of “bullying” has changed a bit and it can cover a much shorter pattern of verbal-only actions , but whether or not this qualifies as one’s personal definition of bullying or not, I think we can all agree it’s not appropriate professional behavior and Sally shouldn’t have to put up with it.

          Yes, many of us grew up in an age when grownups would tell us it wasn’t bullying if no physical assault was happening, but that’s not how it gets used today and I think that’s progress.

          1. Clorinda*

            We don’t really know that SALLY said the behavior was bullying. Sally said whatever she said; the boss called it “bullying” and gave examples.

            1. Christina*

              Nor do we know how many “other examples” there were and what timeframe we are talking about. If this is two of twenty over a six week period – its bullying. If this is two of four over a six month period, then its just concerning.

          2. unaccountably*

            I grew up in an age (the 70s-80s) where girls were expected to kiss and make up with boys who literally punched them in the face, because “he feels bad.” I know because that exact thing happened to me.

            The idea that bullying is bullying whether the boy feels bad about punching you in the face or not is definitely progress. The idea that bad behavior is bad behavior no matter how justified you feel is a lesson that OP might do well to learn.

        2. Melissa*

          It’s a fashionable term right now, much like “gaslighting”. We’ve conflated gaslighting with old-fashioned lying.

          1. Charlotte Lucas*

            Yes! Everyone needs to watch the original film(s) to see what it really means.

            It’s weird that this term is suddenly so popular. I remember having to explain it to a younger coworker about 20 years ago.

            1. Critical Rolls*

              It’s pretty understandable that the term has gained popularity since a major political party made it one of their operating principles. “I never said that” “That didn’t happen, and if it did, you don’t understand it” etc.

              1. JelloStapler*

                The Narcissist’s Prayer:

                That didn’t happen.
                And if it did, it wasn’t that bad.
                And if it was, that’s not a big deal.
                And if it is, that’s not my fault.
                And if it was, I didn’t mean it.
                And if I did, you deserved it

        3. CoveredinBees*

          She seems to have the confidence to walk away from someone being rude and file a complaint. I’m guessing the OP was reaching for “thicker skin” but I don’t know.

          1. Observer*

            Probably. But this tells you that the OP is being SO reflexive that they can’t even think through what they mean while writing to an advice columnist.

        4. Observer*

          That said, I find insufficient info to determine if OP was “bullying” Sally or not. I think that word gets thrown around a little too easily now

          True. But as Alison pointed out, that’s not the issue. The OP’s behavior is way out of line. It’s not typical of her to tell a letter writer that they are being a jerk, but she’s doing that now for a reason. That level of jerkitude just should have no place in the workplace. (Nor in other relationships, but this is a workplace blog.)

      3. JSPA*


        “I judge everyone based on how I was given to understand the world works, and it’s my right and job to do so” only (barely) flies if you’re the founder or CEO. When you’re the new hire? Heck, no.

        “I put much of my attention into the process of judging my trainer, and judging my training, rather than putting the vast majority of my attention into using whatever training is provided to me, to figure out how I can best do my own job”–again, that’s not a job description, unless your job is “training analysis and feedback.” Not your title? Then refocus on your actual job duties (which almost certainly do include, “create own process based on general training.”)

        As to your trainer and her age…let’s unpack that.

        Someone who’s way ahead of where they’d normally be at their age is all of the following:

        a) doing something right
        b) potentially considered a rising star
        c) intrinsically impressive
        d) a good model for “how to get ahead, here”
        e) someone who is highly likely to be promoted over you, repeatedly. (Especially considering that she seems to have the patience of a saint, merged with the guts and ability to draw reasonable boundaries, and stick to them. That’s management gold. Regardless of her technical skills in your sub specialty.)

        How does that get rounded down to, “someone who’s immature and should not be listened to,” based on “not convincing ME that she is excellent, on my terms, based on my assumptions, and not being willing to put up with my self-appointed role as her judge”?

        The only path to that point, so far as I can see, is “prioritizing my overgeneralized assumptions of how everything works, over making good choices about how to succeed in my new workplace.”

        OP, in the starkest terms, you are cr*pping where you eat. Scoring own-goals. Setting snares in your own path. (Pick whatever metaphor lands hardest.) You’re doing it in public, without any filter. The only way you could do it yet more blatantly is…to take the path you’re considering.

        You’d be telling your boss, “I can’t understand generalized training, or develop my own processes. I can’t take in new information, if it conflicts with my assumptions. I don’t think this is something I should be expected to do, and I actively believe it’s a positive good to blame everyone but myself for those problems, instead of working together to get to where I need to be. While my training implies I should be capable of doing the job, I’m instead choosing to die on the twin hills of, ‘being effectively untrainable given the resources available’ and ‘misdirecting my energy into a blame storm.”


        Think you’re too essential to fire, even though you’re new? Hate to tell you: Training, essentially no matter how specialized–money can buy that. Attitude and awareness and patience and people skills? That, you have to come equipped with, or develop, quickly.

        As a side note, do you often have a hard time seeing past the end of your own assumptions? Or broadly find it mystifying how people learn from “general training,” and use that to develop their own set of practices? Whether this is partially biological / psychological, or purely philosophical / cultural, you can almost certainly benefit from some cognitive or behavioral coaching, analysis or training. Going through if/then/expected reaction scenarios with a trainer can help pretty much anyone improve their functional interactions in the workplace.

    3. BookishMiss*

      LW is older than Sally, but as a younger- looking trainer I’ve gotten this attitude from all genders.

  11. Littorally*

    OP, near the end of your letter you say that you want to show Sally’s boss that “I was trying to help her see ways to improve her procedures and explaining why she was wrong.”

    Telling someone that their procedures suck isn’t the same as helping to improve them. And in fact, Sally wasn’t wrong, and you were. You need to take some massive steps back here and recognize that these two things cannot be true at once:

    1) You need to be trained step-by-step and Sally’s training is not in depth or thorough enough
    and also
    2) You know these processes so well that you can provide meaningful feedback about how to make them better and you can rest assured that you are correct and Sally is incorrect about how this business does things.

    I think for a start you need to recognize that #2 is categorically untrue here. #1 may also be untrue, but that part of your attitude is honestly the lesser of your interpersonal problems here.

    Calm down, remember that you’re a newbie, and approach training with the intention to learn rather than showing off your knowledge.

    1. Cold Fish*

      Unsolicited, snarky advise is never helpful. OP you are admit to both; you were not trying to be helpful. You really need to spend some time thinking about how you are coming across to others. I don’t think you are being seen as positively or as smart as you think you are.

    2. KHB*

      I’m reminded of the LW (from July 17, 2017) who was fired for disabling a coworker’s caps lock key. The coworker, for whatever reason, used caps lock instead of shift for all capital letters, and the LW was just dead set on showing why this was wrong.

      1. Nea*

        I’m reminded of one of the linked letters – the one about undermining the boss and then being shocked to be fired. In both cases LW was so locked into their own mindset and personal belief in their unshakable correctness that they could not see how poorly they were treating someone who was a rung up the ladder.

      2. Observer*

        The key difference is that THAT OP was an intern, totally new to the workplace. And they were actually trying to be helpful.

        This OP? Old enough to know better, and even if the REALLY think that they were possibly being helpful, no one is going to believe that. Because anyone with this amount of experience should know better.

        1. KHB*

          “And they were actually trying to be helpful.”

          I’m not so sure about this. My impression was that they were trying to “win” – by getting the caps-lock-coworker to admit that she was wrong and LW was right – which is pretty much what it sounds like OP’s trying to do here.

          1. Observer*

            I could see it either way for the intern. For the OP? No way. There is nothing in the least bit “helpful” in what the OP describes, not even in theory.

            Unless “helpful” = “knowing how bad you are”

    3. AC4Life*

      Also, Sally was upfront with the fact that she was keeping the wheels on someone else’s bus and the OP could make changes as needed one they were able to fly on their own. OP was keelhauling her over someone else’s process documentation. Walk before you run buddy.

    4. hbc*

      Yeah, “these are bad” might be direct, but it is neither helpful nor a fact. It is an opinion that can’t be acted upon.

      OP, if you’re coming out of situations where you are wrong and telling people that they “can’t be correct,” you need to drastically adjust how you speak with other people, even if you never get another thing wrong in your life. “Wow, I’ve never heard of anyone in this industry being allowed to do this” is a fact. “Sorry, I hear what you’re saying, but this clashes so much with my previous experience that I’m going to have to dig further” also doesn’t leave you stating objective falsehoods (or, as you like to call them, “misunderstandings.”)

  12. HugsAreNotTolerated*

    Let’s talk about the fact that OP says that Sally is further along in her career than most people her age and is younger than most people on the team. In a niche industry that requires a lot of training.
    OP, you’re being a jerk. If Sally is that far progressed in her career that young, chances are she’s vastly more knowledgeable than you presume and has already dealt with a lot of jerks. If your level of jerkiness is so high that she’s requesting to not work with you anymore than you probably should update your resume.
    Remember, Sally is a known quantity to this company, you are not. You may think that you’re “safe” because it would be difficult to replace you, but replacing one new hire is a LOT easier than trying to replace someone more tenured and skilled.

    1. Fran Fine*

      Remember, Sally is a known quantity to this company, you are not. You may think that you’re “safe” because it would be difficult to replace you, but replacing one new hire is a LOT easier than trying to replace someone more tenured and skilled.

      This is the gospel truth right here. OP, don’t talk yourself out of a job.

    2. Soup of the Day*

      Yes, this. OP, I can’t emphasize this enough – whatever soul-searching needs to happen here should happen VERY quickly. Very few companies are willing to risk disrupting the harmony of their current team for the sake of a brand-new employee. In my experience, the opinions of known quantities matter much more than the performance of new employees, even when it doesn’t seem fair. Finding a place in the office culture should always come before trying to make sweeping changes to any processes. You’ll have a lot more capital if your new team likes you.

    3. EmmaPoet*

      “Remember, Sally is a known quantity to this company, you are not. You may think that you’re “safe” because it would be difficult to replace you, but replacing one new hire is a LOT easier than trying to replace someone more tenured and skilled.”

      Plus, OP is still in training and has managed to not only get things wrong but be nasty to their trainer. A company could very well decide to cut their losses and look elsewhere before they invest any more time/money into an employee who doesn’t want to learn.

    4. Koalafied*


      Sally is not only a known quantity, she’s one who’s demonstrated her willingness and ability to step up when needed, like learning how to temporarily cover the most important parts of a highly technical role that she doesn’t have formal background or training in. That’s incredibly valuable.

    5. NotRealAnonForThis*

      And having been Sally, believe me when I say I went to my boss with a “I’m sorry, am I being set up to fail here? Because OP is a know it all blow hard and I am NOT dealing with her nor am I going to correct her mistakes. Suggesting you address this.”

      There was a perceived power imbalance (she thought she held it), when we were on fairly equal footing, and no age or gender gap. She was just an absolute piece of work. I’d have paid to have been a fly on the wall if she’d gone to our collective boss over this, as she was downsized during the recession where I was not as it was, for reasons Koalafied mentions below :)

  13. Det. Charles Boyle*

    Not really related to the OP’s letter, but does anyone else use Alison’s calm and reasonable mode of thinking in dealing with issues in work and life, just in general? I have found her responses incredibly helpful in setting boundaries and thinking through how to deal with difficult people. If she wrote a book about that, I would definitely buy it!

    1. Fran Fine*

      I always take a beat now before responding to people at work (especially those getting on my nerves) and think, “How would Alison handle this? What would she say?” I’m a very blunt person and sometimes that works, while other times, it really doesn’t fly, so having various examples of how to approach tough conversations from the many letters posted here has made me much more effective in the workplace.

    2. CoveredinBees*

      Absolutely. I even sent her a thank you email when I used her advice in dealing with a difficult personal discussion.

    3. I-Away 8*

      I couldn’t agree with you more! I have a “WWAD” note taped to my monitor, which I refer to multiple times per day.

      (That stands for “What Would Alison Do?”, in case you couldn’t figure it out. Maybe an idea for an AAM coffee mug?)

    4. Finance Friend*

      The other day I had to set a boundary with a friend who is pretty sensitive. I was somewhat fraught, but stated them matter of factly, like of course she would agree. It went really well!

    5. Jennifer Strange*

      Yes! I’ve even used a lot of her scripts in talking through things with my husband when I’m getting annoyed with him about something. I’m generally a non-confrontational person, but I also then let my anger and resentment bubble up until I blow rather than addressing things in the moment. AAM has been super helpful in giving me better ways of talking about issues so that I don’t feel I’m being confrontational but I’m also not letting it fester.

  14. Cold Fish*

    I’m getting strong flashbacks to the guy who was hired for data entry and within two weeks was telling the manager that she was doing her job wrong and didn’t understand the industry. He lasted another 4 weeks before getting fired. This manager bends over backwards and does somersaults before firing people so getting fired required a special set of skills!

    1. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex*

      We had a new grad, also hired for a role that was largely data entry, who during training said to the peer training him, “this is really boring, I went to college to do this??” Sorry bud, welcome to the real world! It sucks!! He didn’t last long either.

    2. Dust Bunny*

      I was thinking about the “strong personality” candidate who was recently out of grad school but not getting any permanent jobs because s/he had no compunction about telling prospective employers their procedures were “rubbish”.

  15. CommanderBanana*

    OK, so, just so I understand, “I found out from another colleague a couple weeks later that Sally was right and our company is just a rare exception to the rule, but it is certainly rare enough to warrant my pushback” = Sally was right and I was wrong, but I’m still finding a way to justify my behavior because Reasons.

    Cool cool cool.

    1. ThatGirl*

      Like…. the right thing would have been to say “oh, is this an exception to the general rule of X?” in a polite way, not “well, I GUESS I was wrong, but like, how was I supposed to know that”.

    2. Meow*

      And this is the example that they handpicked to presumably put themselves in a good light. I shudder to think what the “other times” they reference were like.

    3. Critical Rolls*

      Right. The fact that LW was provably, objectively wrong seems to have made no impression on them whatsoever, never mind generated the apology and self-reflection it should have. That was a real standout red flag.

      In the spirit of helpful commenting: LW, your interpersonal procedures are bad. If you don’t work on them, your future at this company (and most companies) is going to be hindered, if you don’t just get fired for your inability to be civil and constructive. I hope this moment is the wake-up call you need.

    4. Jorts*

      Yeaaaaah. OP, I would do some soul searching about why when Sally told you this, your immediate response was that she must be wrong, even when she repeatedly told you that she wasn’t – and it never even occurred to you that she might, in fact, know what she was talking about – but then your “other colleague” told you and you believed them. It really sounds from your comments in this letter, and from the way you’ve treated Sally, like you don’t think a young woman could be good at her job.

      1. Cheap Ass Rolex*

        Yeah, setting aside humility / civility / open-mindedness and all similar virtues which might’ve saved you from this situation, why do you express yourself in ways guaranteed to make you look like an ass if you’re wrong? Even if you think there’s almost no chance of that, why gamble with making yourself look like such a donkey?

        Why not insulate yourself from that possibly by NOT digging in blindly without reflection?

        1. Cheap Ass Rolex*

          (Which is to say, if you don’t develop humility for its own sake, maybe self-preservation is a stronger incentive.)

    5. zillah*

      Yeah, that stuck out to me, too. It doesn’t matter how rare it is, especially since it doesn’t sound like Sally was insisting it was the most common way to do things, just informing you that that’s how they’re done there. I believe you that it’s rare, but encountering something rare – even really rare – is pretty common. Sally’s presumably not getting any benefit from saying that this rare thing is the case and is in a position to know it; challenging her (especially to the extent the OP did) just doesn’t make sense.

  16. not a doctor*

    OP, if you read the comments, I expect you’re about to encounter quite a lot of criticism. Try to take what Alison said and the overall spirit to heart and keep an open mind. Your assumptions, and the way you’ve behaved based on those assumptions, have been… not good. You owe it to Sally *and yourself* to improve, and I believe you can! If you’re willing to eat a little crow first.

  17. EJane*


    I’m with Alison on this one.
    LW, it’s worth remembering that having more knowledge than someone, perceived or actual, puts you in a position of power. Whenever the power dynamic is unequal, it’s vitally, vitally important for the person with more power to treat the other person with extra respect and consideration, because you two are not on equal footing. It sounds like you started at a new company to fill a position that very much needed filling, a position which Sally had been pulled from her regular work to do until they found someone. Because you (think you) know more about the industry standards and such for this position, that power dynamic isn’t equal.
    Because you’re new here and Sally is an experienced employee, that dynamic should equal out, but it sounds like the way you interact with her is preventing that from happening. You are instead doubling down on your experience and refusing to acknowledge the possibility that there are things about this company that you do not, in fact, know.

    It’s always, always better to be quietly right than obnoxiously right. People who are insistent about the fact that they are right, and fail to acknowledge when they aren’t, lose their credibility as a colleague. You may have more knowledge, but that doesn’t do you any good in the workplace if no one wants to interact with you because you’re not kind with that knowledge.

    1. Observer*

      It’s always, always better to be quietly right than obnoxiously right.

      And it’s even more “better” to be quietly wrong than obnoxiously wrong. Remember, in at least one case, the OP was actually WRONG while being obnoxious and never even acknowledged it.

      Which is going to make ” You may have more knowledge, but that doesn’t do you any good in the workplace if no one wants to interact with you because you’re not kind with that knowledge.” even more important – but also incomplete. Because people will avoid someone who is obnoxiously right. But they will go a lot further to not work with someone who is also obnoxiously wrong.

    2. Jackalope*

      One of my good friends has a saying: If you’re rude, no one cares if you’re right. It’s incredibly true and very helpful to take to heart.

    3. librarianmom*

      I think that being new on the job creates a feeling of wanting to show that one is knowledgeable and has all the “right” answers to justify their hiring. The insecurity of LW is quite clear, and at least somewhat understandable. But nobody knows everything, and I hope that LW can find the confidence to acknowledge that they handled this situation badly and learn from their missteps.

    4. JelloStapler*

      *You may have more knowledge, but that doesn’t do you any good in the workplace if no one wants to interact with you because you’re not kind with that knowledge.*

      This really stands out to me.

  18. Rainy*

    This is one of those situations where I wonder how the LW sat down, typed this out, and then didn’t sit back and the end and say “Oh, crap, I’m a giant asshole, aren’t I.”

    LW, you could really learn a valuable lesson here about assumptions and coming into a new job like a gift from the heavens and how that’s usually not how it actually plays out, especially when you are dismissive of someone’s abilities and contributions due to their age and (it seems like) sex as well. I don’t think you have and I doubt you will, but this is a place where you *could*, if you were so inclined, and it would be a net positive for everyone around you as well as your career.

    It’s possible that your shit is currently as hot as you think it is, but shit does cool, and the people whose careers thrive even as their field expands or their skills age are the ones who don’t rely on possession a scarce skill set to prop up their lack of interpersonal skills.

    1. Marthooh*

      Dear AAM,

      I have been behaving badly at my new job, to the point where the person training me has complained to our manager. I wish to cavil at one of the words used to chastise me. Kindly validate my feelings in the matter.

    2. Robert Sigley*

      [I’ve posted this before on NAR, but it really fits this letter]

      The moral high ground, as a matter of course,
      Is often found under a moral high horse.
      And its ultimate source, we then find without fail,
      Lies under that morally high-lifted tail.
      (Yes, you can get loads from an uplifting tail!)

      So, what follows from this uplifting account?
      From a high horse, there’s no graceful dismount,
      Just a high probability that you will find
      You’ve landed right in what your horse left behind.
      (You’ll be smelling as high as that horse’s behind!)

  19. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

    It’s a not unusual thing to happen, especially in highly technical fields, to go into a new job and immediately be faced with things that are done differently to a previous role. The temptation (and yes I am very guilty of this too) is to point out where it’s ‘wrong’ or ‘not how we did it at X’ during the first few months at a new place.

    Because it’s just being helpful and correcting people!

    From one viewpoint. From the perspective of the new coworker/employer/systems trainer etc. it’s arrogance. It also means you’re not taking in the training fully if you’re just looking for errors in it the whole time. Lest people think I’m being harsh I have done this exact same thing and been reprimanded for it and I really want to help others not fall into the situation of having your new firm tell you that you’re coming across as arrogant.

    (I’ve recently trained a new member of staff and there were a few ‘but that’s not how we did things in IT in my last job!’ comments to wit I gently pointed out that we’re a different company…)

    1. Lady_Lessa*

      I’ve learned to get the lay of the land, before thinking about making changes. I’ve learned that a LOT of companies have significant amounts of tribal knowledge, which must be passed on (and documented).

      1. Bagpuss*

        This – having a new pair of eyes is great, and can mean that things get picked up on and improved, but you need to take a bit of time and learn the lie of the land first.

        Some years ago, a trainee we had asked some questions about a specific process they had been taught, after they had been doing it and other procedures for a while, as they had realised that the processes appeared to duplicate each other, but one was a lot slower but he couldn’t see that it added anything. It turned out that the slow one was in fact an old procedure, that the two were supposed to have been running in parallels temporarily when the new one was set up, until any teething troubles were ironed out, because the information and records are part of our mandatory regulatory requirements. But somehow it had never been discontinued.
        His asking the follow up questions, about why we were doing both, meant that we were able to discontinue the redundant process, which saved massive amounts of time, and he did it without being rude to or about anyone. But if he had come in at a different time and been rude about the duplication, he’d have been wrong, because it was essential that that we had the older, slower system as a back up until we had enough usage on the new process to be confident that it did in fact work and that it gave us everything we needed, over the full cycle needed which would be around 2 years.
        He’s still with us now, in a more senior role, and is both very competent and very well liked.

    2. Two Chairs, One to Go*

      I’m also curious about OP wanting to be seen as “right.” In my field, there are best practices. But there’s not really a “wrong” way to do the job. People have different styles. There’s more than 1 way to solve a problem, etc.

      I agree that a little humility goes a long way. Understand why the new company does things a certain way, and then you can change it to align with your own style.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I heard Dr Phil talking about a right fighter one time. (Thanks late night YouTube). And as I read OP’s letter, I thought that it’s more important for OP to be right than say… learn the job or perhaps keep the job.

        Interestingly, OP tells us that the trainer has agreed OP is right but it seems not to register with OP as OP keeps on right fighting.

        What are you doing, OP? What do you hope to gain by telling the trainer All That Is Wrong after she had indicated that you are right? Is she supposed to go back to the boss and say “OP is going to fix all our problems!”? What answer from her would satisfy you and return your focus to training?

    3. Just a different redhead*

      Yeah. And one additional thing that can be helpful is, if you are new somewhere but do know what you’re doing, and you have a strong internal reaction to something being done differently because the way you’ve seen it done was vital to some other aspect (especially if it’s indirect), ask “Oh interesting, how do you handle (aspect)?”
      If for some reason (aspect) is a gap, you’ll be able to find out, and more likely you’ll just learn more than you otherwise would have about your new place’s system. ^_^

    4. Quinalla*

      Yes, it is so easy to do this in technical fields. You really, really have to watch out for all the things you may just be assuming are how it is which were really just how my last company/companies did it. I advise you in all things, but especially here, to stay curious. Focus on being curious: “Why is this different?” than jumping to “Clearly this is wrong!”. As others have said, if it is wrong, that will become evident very quickly, but likely it is just different for reasons. If they aren’t good reasons, maybe it can change, but you have to learn what the current procedures are and why before you start mucking about changing them. If you don’t understand why they are the way they are, you are going to have so many unintended consequences trying to change things.

      And yes, when you find out you were wrong and someone else was right, you should ALWAYS go to them and apologize for being so insistent when they were the ones who were right all along. And I’d take a hard look at how often this happens to you, it may be more than you are noticing as we tend to have a bias for things like this towards the positive ie remembering mostly the times we were right and forgetting most of the times we were wrong. A pattern of this would affect your reputation quite negatively!

      1. Keymaster of Gozer (she/her)*

        Oh yes, very important life skill in general is being able to apologise when you were wrong! It’s another thing I drum into new techies: if you make a mistake, own up and make amends.

        Especially if you’ve found ou what you’ve been stating as fact is actually incorrect. Lost count of the number of systems that have fallen over because someone put in an instruction they thought was right but actually wasn’t viable in our infrastructure.

    5. PibbleStaff*

      I’m pretty experienced in my field, and my go to response to these: “Oh, that’s new to me, I haven’t seen Task done that way before! Can you tell me more about why/howthis works for Company?” And if the answer is “I don’t know” as I’m frequently being trained by someone junior to a Sally, “ok, thanks! Let me get some notes.” Then, I can follow up with my supervisor later. Even with them, my goal is to come across with humility and confidence. “Process X seems like it doesn’t follow best practices A and B. Can you show me where it does, or how we support it to meet Standard C?”

    6. JSPA*

      Another tack is “making sure I flag for myself the differences.”

      “Can we pause for a second? I’d like to write this one down twice and make notes. This option was not just discouraged but explicitly forbidden in previous workplace, so if I don’t flag it up for myself, I’m going to doubt myself, repeatedly, when I hit this step.”

      Doing so invites (but does not demand) additional info from the trainer on “why we do this thing this way.”

      It allows a moment for your trainer to pause and think, in the unlikely event that she mis-spoke.

      It avoids that awkward, “so far as I know, based on Old Job, The Only True and Good Way is not Your Way, and Your Way is not The Only True and Good Way.”

      You have also invited (but not demanded) the follow up, “so, tell me, was there a reason Old Job banned Our Way?” from your trainer. The exchange of information can then happen naturally and nonconfrontationally, with your trainer remaining in control of the training, if indeed she’s interested and welcomes the input.

      The key difference is in the underlying message: “I’m working on doing the job right, by New Workplace processes” vs. “I am putting my active learning energy into making comparisons and letting you know about all the ways to do this differently, thus lightly but repeatedly hijacking the training.”

      1. WS*

        Yes! Flagging the differences is really important, especially when the training is relatively short and you need to be prepared to do things their way. I work in healthcare so there’s almost always a “oh god somebody died/nearly died” reason behind apparently strange or redundant processes, even if that might not be the fastest or smoothest way to do something. And you don’t want to mess with someone’s workflow while making up chemo drugs, for example!

    7. CoveredinBees*

      At my last job, I kept a list of these things and then reviewed it after a few months. Most of it was easily struck off, but there were a few tweaks that made sense which I only knew because I learned how that employer functioned first.

  20. AllyPally*

    So this woman is “further along in her career than most people her age” and that makes you think she’s insecure, not that she does know what she’s talking about and you should listen to her?

    1. HugsAreNotTolerated*

      Beautifully put! We don’t know the OP’s gender or the ages of those involved, but from experience I can say this whole thing just reeks of ageism and sexism.

      1. Zephy*

        OP doesn’t actually have to be a different age OR sex to treat Sally badly on the basis of either or both of those things.

        1. Neurodivergentsaurus Rex*

          that’s why they said “from experience”. We know they don’t HAVE to be, but we know Sally is younger, and the letter resonates with those of us who have experienced sexism in the workplace. And I’ve also experienced sexism from other women; I had a female boss who clearly preferred men and favored them for recognition & promotions.

        2. Canadian Librarian #72*

          Both of those things would still be ageism and sexism even if the LW is the same age and gender as Sally, fyi.

  21. Rando*

    LW, even if you were 100% right on both those instances, there are ways to express the ideas with more tact. E.g., instead of “These procedures are bad,” you could have said “Some of these procedures are a little unclear to me- once I’m settled maybe I’ll try to take a look through and make them more helpful.”

    In the second example, you could have said “Huh, I’ve never heard about it that way. Is that different here?”. Or just, reflect that a person who needs “step by step” instructions may not be quite at the expertise level to make bold assumptions like that.

    1. Essess*

      Exactly this. Each interaction sounds as though OP directly questioned Sally’s competence and deliberately put her on the defensive instead of actually trying to work out the discrepancy of understanding together.

  22. Another Ashley*

    The OP sounds like a nightmare. It takes a lot of audacity to argue passionately with your trainer, be proven wrong, and still walk around with a big ego and a lot of arrogance. I would refuse to train the OP too.

  23. Sunflower*

    I don’t know if I would call you a bully but Alison is right that you acted like a jerk. I would not want to work with you or train/trained by you. I think you have a lot of work experience which is clouding the fact that you can still learn from others, especially from someone younger. Even if you are right in procedures, you don’t need to correct them by looking down on them and being snarky.

    If you can take advice, apologize to Sally and work on how you come across to others.

  24. WavyGravy*

    You seem like a very smart and professionally successful person, so maybe you should think about how your actions are impacting your potential for future success at this company. I am also a technical specialist in my field, and started a new job recently where I am the most experienced person in my field. However, I know that I am not the most experienced person in my job and there is a lot of value in learning how this company or group does things. Do I think some of their methods are outdated and dumb? Yes. Do I complain privately to my partner? Yes. Do I come in and tell them how dumb they are? Hell no, because they would ignore me and I would not be able to show them my proposed solution because nobody listens to a jerk. I have built up trust and camaraderie over time and now can gently suggest new methods.
    Also, can you imagine how you would feel if someone dismissed your experience because you are older and essentially said you are too stubborn and too out of touch to be worthy of listening to? Just some food for thought.

    1. Rainy Day*

      At risk of being off topic, I immediately envisioned this being said by a tour guide atop a tour bus, and a flock of happy tourists cooing and taking photos.

      1. Certified Scorpion Trainer*

        that sounds amazing (and terrible). i imagine a tour of infamous AAM letter writers/coworkers all residing in a big cubicle maze in the office from hell. “here we have Cheap Ass Rolls.” [moves forward]. “here we have Hellmouth Manager.” [moves forward] “here we have High on Their Own Farts 1 – settle in, we have a lot of these.” [moves forward into eternity]

  25. sb51*

    Also, even if Sally had been wrong/completely incompetent at delivering training, this isn’t the way to go—the right thing to do would be to be polite to Sally, ask polite questions to get enough understanding of her knowledge/lack thereof, and go to your boss with a calm, factual description of the errors and problems with the training/answers/etc.

    The fact that you didn’t start there and are focused on attitude suggests you know Sally’s mostly right.

  26. KHB*

    I’ve been thinking this morning about something I read about Eric Lander’s resignation from OSTP – the idea that people with certain science backgrounds tend to believe that they’re “the smartest guys in the room,” and how that can be a problem for workplace interactions. I have the type of science background being referred to, and although I’m not a guy, I do sometimes assume that I’m smarter than other people, and I put my foot in my mouth sometimes because of it.

    I think OP could stand to reflect on this as well. It’s great that you have these niche, valued, technical skills. But that doesn’t mean that people like Sally can’t teach you anything, don’t have anything to offer, or that their feelings don’t matter.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      My dad always thinks he’s the smartest, most objective guy in the room. Truth is he’s often clueless and wildly wrong in his readings of situations and makes sweeping generalizations based on superficial traits.

      1. CoveredinBees*

        Yup. I’m related to one of those too. You can cite actual authorities on black-and-white questions and he’ll still blow it off that he knows better. Sometimes in areas where I have years of training and experience and he has zero. While I’m no stranger to enjoying the feeling of being right, these interactions are exhausting.

        1. Former Young Lady*

          Co-signed. My undergrad degree was in health, and my graduate degree was in law.

          No points for guessing the two favorite topics for the less-educated men in my family to lecture me about.

          1. CoveredinBees*

            One of my degrees is in law and that has definitely been the source of issues where I could cite chapter and verse and he would just loudly insist over me “that can’t be right” “there’s no way that’s true”…

          2. Liz*

            Ugh, same. My grandpa was a lawyer, and, though he’s been gone 30 years, apparently that pedigree has given my dad (via osmosis?) more law knowledge than his attorney daughter has accumulated in 10 years of practice.

          3. Dust Bunny*

            My dad has tried to override my veterinarian’s recommendations. He does have a doctorate, but it’s in an earth science. My BA-holding loser self literally knows more about biology than he does.

            (The only two fights I can recall us having were both over pet care. I won.)

    2. fine tipped pen afficionado*

      Not to get pop culture but I always think of this as the House/Sherlock/Sheldon effect where a person thinks because they possess some particular skill they have the right to treat others in any way they wish and those folks should be grateful to receive whatever “guidance” they have so benevolently offered.

      It’s endlessly frustrating and how much popular culture tried to make this trait endearing has not done any of us any favors.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I hate all these characters. Like, actively avoiding watching a lot of contemporary TV levels of hate.

      2. AC4Life*

        I one worked on a team where three guys on the floor thought they were House and we were their adoring sidekicks. Burned my “less than a year” card to run screaming off the roof for a dramatic superhero landing on that one.

      3. Former Young Lady*

        OMG, thiiiiiis.

        The whole “insufferable genius” trope really did a bang-up job of convincing a lot of mediocre people that they could prove they were geniuses if they acted insufferably. “Hey, I’m ALSO getting constant feedback about my bad manners at work. Clearly I’m an underappreciated visionary. I shall henceforth double down, so they realize how special I am!”

        Like, dude. You’re not destined for greatness. You’re Peggy Hill. You’re Ted Baxter. You’re Cliff Clavin. Without the charm.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          And they never fired Ted Baxter. Why-oh-why. Oh, right. Storyline.
          The only place where poor behaviors and poor work ethic consistently allows you to keep a job is in the storyline of a movie or tv show.

      4. penny dreadful analyzer*

        And it’s even worse inverse, where people think that treating others poorly gives them genius-level intellectual skills that they don’t actually have!

    3. DarthVelma*

      OMG yes this. I get really tired of people like this (a certain well-known public science educator/celebrity comes to mind). I get it, dude. You know a lot and are highly educated about a particular branch of science. That does not add value to your opinions about a) any other branch of science, or b) any area outside of science.

      It’s like their expertise in just one area makes them experts on every-damn-thing. And yet, somehow they don’t have to respect the expertise of people with education and experience in the social sciences or history or English or whatever.

      Sorry. End of rant

    4. Bluesboy*

      A few years ago I transitioned to a job where I am literally never the smartest guy in the room – I have other skills that make me worth my place, but smartest? Never. In the Big Bang hierarchy I’m basically Howard with better dress sense.

      Interestingly, my experience in this job in real life seems to suggest that they genuine smartest guy in the room is often actually very nice. The problem is with the people who only THINK they are the smartest guy in the room…

      1. EmmaPoet*

        Yep. I have met people who are the smartest person in the room- in their particular field. They’re also aware that what they’re smart in is not actually every field ever, and they are interested in learning from other people.

      2. LolaBugg*

        One of my high school teachers told us something that I’ll never forget- he said, “never be the smartest person in a room. You’ll get cocky, and there won’t be anybody to learn from”. I’ve tried to take this advice to heart my whole life. Surround yourself with people you can learn from. And if you DO happen to be the “smartest” in the room, it’s guaranteed you can still learn something from someone in there.

      3. Critical Rolls*

        The clash of reality and self-image/personal narrative tends to throw off sparks of misanthropy.

    5. Bagpuss*

      I think you get in in other fields too. I remember when I went to university (I studied law) and suddenly there were 300 people pretty much all of whom were used to being the smartest guy in the room, and some really didn’t cope at all well with suddenly finding that, in that context, they were only average, r even below average….

      There were some who were still struggling with that by the time we graduated, who I imagine must have been fun to work with.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I went to a Fancy College and there is a discussion on an alumni chat right now about how Fancy College ate smart, promising, kids alive.

        I do not deny that it was hard but I suspect a lot of this trauma is rooted in being used to being the smartest kid in school and then landing in a place where literally everyone was the smartest kid in school and the bar was raised considerably. For once, I am glad I learned to fail at stuff early in life.

        (This was not my experience at Fancy College. I mean, yes, it was brutal academically, but I was a lousy, dysfunctional student so anywhere else would have been, too, and honestly it wasn’t harder than I expected it to be. The rest of it was great and very healing after a lifetime of being a social misfit, as well.)

      2. CommanderBanana*

        Haha this is so true in the major metropolitan city where I live. I moved here as a child, but when I was dating in my 20s I realized that so many of the people I met who had moved here for school and then stayed or for a job came here because they were the smartest guys in the room – and failed to internalize that they were now in a place where almost everyone else was, too.

        I will never forget sitting opposite some guy who bragging about fancy job and his super-important boss – who I happened to be on a first-name basis. He could not comprehend why I wasn’t impressed.

        1. penny dreadful analyzer*

          I do not date, but according to my friends who do, the number of people IN CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS who think that name-dropping their affiliations with Harvard or MIT should be extremely impressive is embarrassingly high.

      3. Emmy Noether*

        Same when I went to university (physics). First week, there was this woman bragging about being top of her class in high school… look around, my dear, most of us around this table were!

        Interestingly, I loved it. High school often made me feel like I had to downplay my intelligence in social situations. Being at Uni and *not* being (or being perceived as) the smartest person in the room was very freeing.

    6. Hanani*

      I work in academia, and the “smartest one in the room” effect is a real problem. Since it is academia, they often get away with it and win tenure. Thankfully that’s much less prevalent at my current institution, and the ones like that find that no one steps up to help them when they need it.

  27. fine tipped pen afficionado*

    “She is much younger than most people on the team and is further along in her career than most people her age. I think this is a self confidence issue on her part, to know that I was trying to help her see ways to improve her procedures and explaining why she was wrong.”

    This bit hit me like a punch in the gut. There is something particular about being a young woman that makes people jump to dismiss your expertise and ideas. Perhaps you don’t realize it but you are telling on yourself with this line. You think she lacks confidence because you think she SHOULD lack confidence, because you don’t think she deserves her position.

    I’ve been in Sally’s position so many times and so many times I never bothered raising it with my manager because this is the response I expected. I try not to leap to gendered conclusions and maybe it’s my experience coloring my perception, but this feels very gendered to me. And it doesn’t matter what the gender of the letter writer is; young women get this kind of dismissal from people of all genders.

    1. HugsAreNotTolerated*

      “. You think she lacks confidence because you think she SHOULD lack confidence, because you don’t think she deserves her position.”
      This is both beautifully phrased and incredibly powerful. I think it really hits the nail on the head of what the essence of the issue is here.

    2. Scarlet2*


      That really jumped out at me as well. If anything, being further along in her career than most people her age should make her more confident, not less…
      That quote is VERY telling.

    3. Observer*

      You think she lacks confidence because you think she SHOULD lack confidence, because you don’t think she deserves her position.

      So well put!

    4. Meow*

      I have also been Sally. Even if he’s right in perceiving that she has low self-esteem, maybe, just maaaaybe it might have something to do with the fact that people take one look at her and automatically assume she is incompetent?

      Or, even if this isn’t something she experiences on a regular basis, having someone with more experience than you constantly question how you do things or tell you outright that you’re doing them wrong, is a good way to develop poor self esteem in relation to your job.

    5. Not So NewReader*

      Actually where she lacks confidence is not in herself, OP. She lacks confidence in you. She doesn’t think you can learn the job. Worse yet, if your life advice is bad, she also thinks you are clueless and lost in life also.

  28. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    OP, if you’re in a highly technical field as you say, I think you need to adjust your expectations for training.

    Any training that is a list of “click here, then fill out this field, then click here” is something you can do yourself from reading a manual and by referring back to first principles of your field. I can’t stress the first principles thing enough.

    If something seems off, then you ought to consider whether there’s a difference in terminology or business philosophy before you immediately jump to the conclusion that your trainer is wrong.

    1. Generic Name*

      Exactly. You say you are an expert, and you imply that you know more about the task than the person training you, but then you turn around and complain she isn’t providing you with step-by-step instructions on what to do. So which is it? Are you an expert who knows better processes, or are you someone who needs to be shown exactly what to do with step-by-step instructions? It can’t be both.

  29. Katherine Vigneras*

    Sympathy for the letter writer: I lean a little know-it-all myself, and I have certainly faced and succumbed to the temptation to say “that can’t be true.” I’ve learned that a more curious response, like “wait, I’ve never heard that before, can you tell me more?” stays authentic while having better long-term results in both relationship building and topical understanding. I’m taking this as a sign from the universe to say curious today.

    1. ElizabethJane*

      OP, I strongly suggest you do a lot of introspection. This seems 1000% like a you problem. I mean, if Sally is so incompetent and you are so good at your job why do you need the “step by step, actual training” that you say you are not getting.

      Seriously, you are simultaneously critiquing Sally for not giving you enough information while also not knowing as much information as you do. This does not sound like a Sally issue.

      1. Katherine Vigneras*

        Was this a nesting fail? I agree with the need for some looking inward on the letter writer’s part, for what it’s worth.

    2. Just a Thought*

      Yeah – I can get terse when I feel like I can’t get traction in my role/understanding. It is not good and I apologize when I am too abrupt. Sometimes it happens when I try to control the discussion so I can put the issues into my schema. I am learning to express — “oh wait, I am getting lost.” or “Can we slow down?” “I am thinking about this step …. am I jumping the gun?”. I am learning to let other people help put a check on my anxiety to get something battened down.

    3. Generic Name*

      I’m dealing with a very similar situation right now. I’m working on a huge project in a state I’ve never worked in before. I am an expert in terms of regulations in one state, but not this other state. So I don’t always assume I’m right, because things can vary across states. So when something sounds wrong to me, I’ll say something along the lines of, “Hmm, in my experience, it’s handled this way. Can you tell me more about this other way?”

    4. Caraway*

      “Leaning a little know-it-all” is a perfect way to describe me, too. I still struggle not to get defensive about things occasionally, but I’m much, much better than I used to be because as I’ve progressed in my career (and life in general), I’ve realized I really don’t know it all! Even in situations where I’m really sure I’m right, sometimes I’m wrong. Like you, I’ve gotten good/much better results from saying things like, “Oh, I thought it was (fill in the blank),” or, “I think I’m missing something, can you explain (whatever),” etc. Even better, it’s helped me truly internalize the fact that other people sometimes know more than me and their contributions are valuable too. I hope the LW can come to that understanding as well.

      1. Katherine Vigneras*

        “Helping to internalize” – that’s right. It’s a tool to help me say it in a thoughtful way so that I also learn to be more thoughtful. I’m a new parent and I’m hopeful that I can help my kid work through some of this stuff – sometimes it bums me out that I didn’t learn it earlier on in life but I’m trying to reframe it as an opportunity. :)

  30. HR Ninja*

    My three main thoughts:

    -Is this the first time you’ve received this type of feedback? Professionally or personally?

    -Even if she had been incorrect with her information, there are more constructive ways of saying so beyond, “That can’t be right.”

    -“There were a couple other examples, but I hate to bore you with details.” says to me, “There other instances where I was _________ (snarky [OP’s word], abrupt, etc.), I but I don’t want to realize how wrong/unkind I was.”

    1. Pocket Mouse*

      Your first two points are key. Just gotta say about the third point: “I hate to bore you with the details” -> Generally speaking, this is an audience that loooves details, and OP is deciding for us what our experience will be if we were to hear a few additional relevant examples. I know it’s a fairly common phrase and it does fit with the overall thrust of the letter, but it did stand out to me in this context.

  31. Bernice Clifton*

    Even if Sally was being over-sensitive (which she’s not), responding to this feedback by saying that she just needs to grow a backbone is not a response that is going to do you any favors whatsoever. You don’t want your boss thinking you can’t tolerate negative feedback even if you’re in a hard to hire role.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      And with being older and everything, you should be no stranger to feedback and be absolutely graceful when receiving this feedback.

  32. middlemgmt*

    I think a key part is also the bit about her being further along in her career than most her age. Instead of being a reason to dismiss her, that should be a reason for the LW to look deeper. She must be doing something right, if she’s achieved that level.

  33. blackcat lady*

    Speaking of flashbacks: Remember the boss that complained about the employee’s attitude when she was paid late – two or three times? That LW seemed to think the employee should have been eternally grateful she had a job, getting paid weeks late was not big deal. I think this LW is drinking from the same pitcher of KoolAid. The whole letter was smug and condescending with a cup of superiority mixed in.

    1. Observer*

      Yes! In fact one of my first thoughts when I read this letter was “You think she’s too big for her britches?”

  34. Rusty Shackelford*

    You insisted something Sally told you was wrong, in a tone that you acknowledge was snarky — and you pushed back on her competence to the point that she chose to walk away rather than continuing to engage with you. You later learned she was right and you were wrong, but it doesn’t seem to have changed your assessment of that interaction, and it doesn’t sound like you went back and apologized to her.

    This one is huge. You begrudgingly admit Sally was correct, but your response is “I found out from another colleague a couple weeks later that Sally was right and our company is just a rare exception to the rule, but it is certainly rare enough to warrant my pushback,” which basically translates to I was wrong but I should have been right, so I’m going to consider myself right. Did you go to Sally and acknowledge what happened, and if not, why?

    You also said “I was trying to help her see ways to improve her procedures,” but that’s not what you did. You just told her they were bad. How is that helping her?

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      Also, if she was temporarily in this position and it’s not her usual area, why does she need to improve? She’s not going to be doing this anymore!

    2. Antilles*

      I noted that example too and had to chuckle at it.
      Every workplace I’ve ever been a part of has some stuff that are quirky/odd/inefficient and everybody KNOWS it’s not great, but there’s a legitimate reason that it can’t be changed. And nothing is more eyeroll worthy than when a new person (like OP) comes in and tells me I’m doing it wrong when I know dang well that (a) we could be doing X instead of Y but (b) there’s a reason we’re not.

      1. JelloStapler*

        …or even that it’s not a legitimate reason, but just the people who have the authority to change it – won’t.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I wonder why the other colleague is credible and Sally is not. They are both saying the same thing,

      Worse yet, if Sally is training you improperly her rep and/or job could be on the line. Yet, the person with no horse in this race is credible.

  35. Just Your Everyday Crone*

    LW, you are very blunt and it would serve you well to learn how to ease that a little bit. A couple suggestions–don’t assume your way is right and other people’s way is wrong, just that they’re different. So, just because Sally’s way of training might not work for you doesn’t mean it’s bad. Rather than straight-out criticism, think about how the thing you’re criticizing could be improved and discuss that, preferably in terms of yourself. So, rather than “your training is bad,” it’s “I think I could use some step-by-step instructions on XYZ.” Rather than “these procedures stink,” it’s “I would find these more useful if they had more detail.” Look forward, not backward–solve problems, don’t just complain about them.

    1. Just Your Everyday Crone*

      I’d also add that you are blaming Sally for things that are not her responsibility at all given that she is not in your same role and only covered it for a few months. So, the procedures are “her” procedures.

    2. Generic Name*

      It’s not just bluntness. It’s the OP’s bluntness to the point of rudeness and seemingly lack of self-awareness. OP, if you want to continue to progress in your career, you need to work on interpersonal skills in addition to growing your technical skills. You may still find companies that tolerate “brilliant jerks” but those companies are becoming the minority. At a bare minimum, you need to come across as “not unpleasant to work with”. Part of that is understanding how you are perceived by others.

    3. Bagpuss*

      That’s a really good point.
      Different people have different ways of learning and different ways of teaching, and a mismatch doesn’t necessarily mean that either person is wrong, just that you need to work on communicating more effectively about what would be helpful / effective *for you* .

      I like, and can readily retain, written instructions. I retain the information way better if I have read it than if you have told me verbally or made me watch a demonstration but that doesn’t make other methods wrong, just not optimal for me . And I think, a lot of the time, you need to be able to make adjustments because (especially if the person teaching you isn’t a trained teacher / trainer) so you have to adapt to their training style at least as much as they might need to try to adjust to your preferred learning style. Which might mean for OP, making their own notes of the steps based on Sally’s guidance, the answers to the questions they ask, and their own experience, rather than demanding that Sally provide step-by -step instructions .

  36. Dust Bunny*

    Yeah, I wouldn’t want to keep training you, either, not because I’m weak but because life is too short to waste it on sarcastic know-it-alls who don’t take responsibility for themselves. You don’t want to listen to me? You’re going to blow off what I say without even finding out if I’m right? You’re wrong and won’t admit it? Yeah, I don’t need to spend my time on this. Figure it out for yourself if you’re so smart.

  37. Leilah*

    Listen, LW, I get it. You know a lot, you have a lot of experience, you are coming into a position or company that is not performing at the best of their abilities. I’ve been there! It’s frustrating! But you’ve got avoid being insulting, or falling victim to Dunning-Kruger. For example, the issue where you were sure they weren’t doing it that way (but they were).

    (surprised exclamation!) What, that can’t be true!

    Sally: Yes, it is, we do it that way here.

    What you did: Nope, not true, impossible, you are wrong about your own company and experience. (Now you look like both a jerk and sillly)

    What you could have done: Wow, that is so surprising! I’ve worked in this industry for 20 years and never seen that. Why do we do it that way here? (Now you learn something, and aren’t being mean!).

    You can even follow up with more questions, like “Huh, I would think that might cause X problem” — maybe it does, and you need to update the procedure. Now you learn what is blocking the procedure update and how to fix it. Maybe you learn that actually here it *doesn’t* cause X, because they are in Y situation. Whatever, so on, so forth. You can use your knowledge and expertise to probe the situation and find out the real details. To find out interesting, important information.

    Please note tone is really important , too, though.

    1. Cthulhu's Librarian*

      This ties into the concept of Chesterton’s Fence fairly well, LW – you assumed a thing couldn’t be done a particular way because it didn’t make sense to you, rather than trying to figure out why they did something that way. Because you didn’t ask about the why, you didn’t realize this organization is an outlier and exception.

      As a general piece of life advice – Ask why a given practice or procedure came about before you go changing it. The reasons may no longer be valid, and if you can explain that, you’ll have better luck getting people to support the change – but if you don’t know the reasons behind why X has been done a given way, you might change something in a way that breaks a lot of other things you didn’t know about.

  38. GrumpyZena*

    A good rule of thumb in any interaction at work (and in life, mostly), is to try to understand why another person thinks the way they do. If someone tells you something that you are *sure* can’t be right (based on your experience), find out what about their experience leads them to their point of view. You will surely learn something, and there won’t be a conflict.

    “You make chocolate teapots here, interesting. Everywhere else I’ve worked has found that they’ve melted.”

    “Yes, those are our novelty gift teapots, they are meant as confectionary, not for brewing tea.”

    Can you see the difference between your attitude and what I’ve described?

    1. Myrin*

      And it sounds like Sally was trying to do just that – “she went on to explain why she wasn’t wrong” but OP doubled down and basically ignored (and possibly even interrupted) Sally’s explanation.

  39. Lab Boss*

    I’m going to be charitable to OP here and say, maybe you’re stung by the use of the term “bullying?” It’s a strongly negative word that carries a connotation of deliberate cruelty, so it’s understandable you’re strongly invested in not being seen as a bully.

    However, it also seems like you got into this situation by over-valuing your own self image. Things like not being able to accept that your trainer was right and you were wrong, or acknowledge afterward that you should have listened, are hurting your reputation in more concrete ways than a single unpleasant word ever could. If I were a manager at your company you’d be on thin ice at this point- and making the word “bully” your hill to die on would NOT speak well of your priorities. Focus on learning from your coworkers and apologizing for your boorish behavior and you won’t have to worry about the exact connotation of the negative words used to describe you.

    1. Clever Alias*

      I wanted to +1 on the bully comment — it has become such a contentious, polarizing word. So much so that when I read the title I rolled my eyes and I thought there’s a chance I might side with OP. I of course quickly changed my assessment, and really appreciate the light in which Alison framed this one. I am hopeful it will help the OP look at the situation differently, without getting stuck on the vocabulary.

    2. Observer*

      This is a good point.

      What the OP needs to realize that even assuming that the boss overstated the case in calling this “bullying”, it would be a HUGE mistake to respond by saying “No, I wasn’t bullying her. She’s just a baby who can’t take some necessary correction.”

      Because they are NOT being a “baby” – by your own very defensive account you were quite rude; She CAN take correction – she even told you that you were welcome to make changes you feel appropriate; and you were NOT necessarily even giving correction, much less *useful* correction.

  40. Trek*

    It sounds like Sally has plenty of back bone. She made the procedure clear and when you pushed back several times and wouldn’t accept her explanation she walked away vs continuing to argue with you. She has determined the best way to train and that is to guide rather then show each individual step-I think she’s probably taking your years of experience into account with this approach vs a new graduate.
    She has escalated the on-going issues between you to your shared manager and now has requested to stop training/working with you which is reasonable vs blowing up at you or just refuse to train you but not tell the boss. I watched an engineer try to train a new hire on a process and the new hire was so certain they knew better engineer told them to do what they thought was best as they were tired of arguing. It didn’t turn out well and new hire was almost terminated. Training someone is hard enough but training someone who argues over the training or information provide is a waste of time.
    The boss may be using the term bullying vs Sally using it, I’ve seen that occur before but either way this is not a positive working relationship and you should work towards repairing the damage. Whomever they have train you in the future, I recommend you make an extra effort to make it work otherwise you may not be at the company much longer.

  41. Myrin*

    What stood out most to me in this letter was the fact that OP draws the conclusion that Sally has “a self confidence issue” when literally none of the described issues, behaviours, or situations even so much as allude to Sally not being confident (in fact, she seems pretty put-together).

    It seems to me, OP – and I could be very wrong but your whole reasoning read like it to me – it seems to me like you’re trying to find a reason for Sally’s “bullying” accusation and what you came up with was that surely she must lack confidence in her own actions and abilities. Which in and of itself is quite often on the mark but it ignores the most obvious soluation that shines through pretty clearly in your letter, which is that you’re feeling and behaving pretty patronisingly towards her. I agree that by saying “bullying” she’s not using the right terminology (if indeed all other, unmentioned examples are in the same vein as those you have provided here) but that doesn’t change the fact that you’re being quite dismissive even when just describing your own reasoning – “I was trying to help her see ways to improve her procedures and explaining why she was wrong” when you aren’t in any way training, mentoring, or guiding her.

    I would take a very hard look at not only how you further interact with Sally but also at how you interact with others – I have a sneaking suspicion that Sally isn’t the only person in your life feeling this way about your relationship.

    1. Popinki*

      Not to mention it takes lots of discipline to walk away from a futile argument because the instinct is to defend yourself and zing back the person who’s upsetting you. She was thinking clearly enough to know that she wasn’t going to be able to solve the problem herself, and that escalating was only going to make things worse and maybe get herself in trouble, and that it was time to go to someone with the authority to make a change.

    2. mreasy*

      Sally does seem to have a self-confidence issue, according to OP. She has too much of it – helping her succeed early in her career, and telling the boss she won’t work with someone who is a bully.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      “I was trying to help her see ways to improve her procedures and explaining why she was wrong”

      That’s not your job, OP.

      I’ll repeat that. That’s. not. your. job.

  42. ENFP in Texas*

    I hasn’t sure if I was reading AAM or AITA with this letter.

    The OP sounds extremely unpleasant to work with and full of themselves. Thinking it’s okay to tell the boss that Sally needs a backbone? WTF? That is so far outside the scope of their job that they can’t even see their job from there. Especially considering that THEY WERE WRONG in their arrogant assurance that she couldn’t be right.

    I feel bad for Sally, and I hope she doesn’t have to deal with the OP anymore.

    1. Anonymous Luddite*

      Seriously, the line between AAM and AITA draws ever-thinner, but only rarely is it “Am I the Manager?”

      1. EK*

        This has been said here before by others, but I would definitely read a blog called Ask An Asshole where somebody answers workplace letters with terrible satirical advice!

  43. Kelly*

    In the last paragraph the OP continues to defend him/herself by saying “I was trying to help her see ways to improve her procedures and explaining why she was wrong” when we already know she WASN’T WRONG. Like you’re the problem if you’re rude to someone, find out you were wrong, and continue to claim you were right and that’s why you acted that way. I’d love to see the OP react to someone snarkily insisting they’re wrong when they’re not. I’m sure they wouldn’t just ignore it like they’re expecting Sally to.

  44. irene adler*

    Is this the kind of attitude/situation employers fear should they hire an older or greatly experienced worker?
    Maybe that colors hiring decisions?

    Personally, I would not want to put an employee like Sally through this experience. But how to know this will be the situation?

    1. Daughter of Ada and Grace*

      I don’t think it’s an issue of hiring older/experienced workers. I think it’s a problem with hiring jerks. (I can absolutely picture someone fresh out of college with the ink still wet on their diploma making similar sorts of critiques of things that don’t work the way they learned in class or their most recent internship.)

      1. Littorally*

        Oh yeah. There’s the letter from a few years ago about the younger worker who disabled the capslock on their older coworker’s computer to try and force them to use a ‘better’ typing technique. Same attitude, age flip.

      2. irene adler*

        Okay. And I agree.
        Sometimes hard to ferret out the jerks prior to hire. Most times the “truth will out” during the interview stage.

      3. Ridiculous Penguin*

        I can verify. I teach college and I’m having a disciplinary hearing tomorrow with a student who acts the same way as the OP (if you add email harassment into the picture).

    2. Observer*

      Is this the kind of attitude/situation employers fear should they hire an older or greatly experienced worker?
      Maybe that colors hiring decisions?

      By that kind of reasons we shouldn’t hire men, because they are going to be rude to women, we should not hire anyone of ethnicity X because they will be rude to people of ethnicity y, we should not hire young people because they will be know it all special snowflakes.

      The idea that because ONE person, or SOME people of a particular demographic acts like a jerk it’s reasonable to assume that everyone of that demographic will behave the way is the essence of bigotry.

  45. GrumpyZena*

    Another thing I’ve learned is to spend the first month (AT LEAST) of any new job in listening and asking mode ONLY. You can’t have good ideas without context. Yes, maybe X does suck, but:

    * Y and Z have already been tried.
    * There is no budget for big fixes.
    * It doesn’t matter that X sucks because the impact of that is low and not worth the person hours or budget to fix it.
    * X is about to be replaced by snazzy new thing.
    * The function X serves is about to be canned by the business anyway.

    And so on, and so on…

    The point is that without a few weeks of gathering context under your belt, YOU DON’T KNOW!

    1. Former Young Lady*

      This is so important. No matter how new you are in your role, it should occur to you that your radical ideas about how to reinvent the wheel have already occurred to other people.

    2. Observer*

      Or X is required by Regulation Y or, or, or

      There are so many things that can come into play, so even if someone can and should be changed, it’s worth really waiting to find out.

    1. Purple Cat*

      Good question – I think it can boil down to intent. When you’re curious you genuinely want to know the answer and are asking to learn more. When you’re judgmental you already (think) you know the answer. If OP had left the door open even a smidge to say “Interesting, I’ve only ever done it X, why is it Y here?” that would have been a million times better than “Absolutely not Sally, YOU”RE WRONG!”

    2. Hlao-roo*

      Some of the difference is in tone. “Why do you do it that way?” can be asked with a curious tone or a judgemental tone. Same words, very different feel to the question.

      The other big difference is in follow-up. Responding to “because XYZ” with “oh, that makes sense! I learned something new today” indicates a curious person. Responding with “that’s dumb/that can’t be right/my way is still better” indicates a judgemental person.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Curious people for the most part are satisfied with the answer.

      Judgmental people are often NOT satisfied with the answer.

  46. SK*

    While some people might not call this bullying, I’ve been in Sally’s shoes so I understand how she can see OP’s treatment of her as bullying. Specifically, when OP said Sally was wrong on something and continued to double down even after Sally explained herself, I would consider that treading on bullying territory. That’s how bullies act: they persist until someone gives in to them.

    1. mreasy*

      Yeah I mean telling someone repeatedly they are doing a bad job and that they are wrong feels like workplace bullying to me.

  47. Former Young Lady*

    This jumped out at me as well:

    “A lot of my training has been her guiding me rather than providing step-by-step instructions (i.e., actual training).”

    As someone who has trained a lot of colleagues at my own level and below, I’ve come to recognize some red flags that a person is not teachable. Foremost among those red flags is the New Person trying to micromanage how I teach them. If I’m guiding you through the process and you’re complaining about not getting spoon-fed the procedure step-by-step? Red flag. If I’m making you a checklist and you’re coming back to me after ticking off the first item to ask what’s next? Red flag. If you’re giving me more feedback on how I’m training you than you’re willing to accept about the quality of your work output? Red flag.

    And yes, I’ve run into a particularly acrid flavor of this among people who couldn’t see someone younger (or someone female) as their true “peer”, or people who felt the “highly technical” nature of a job meant people skills were superfluous/optional.

    You can coast on hubris in some work environments for a little while, but it doesn’t play out well among actual professionals. Please make some time for self-reflection, and figure out how to take feedback with grace.

    1. GrumpyZena*

      I do think this disconnect regarding training can happen when someone switches industries. When I worked in call centres, the training was very much “step by step”. “This is how to direct a call, this is how to log a complaint,” etc, etc.

      I can see how someone who has come from that sort of an environment (where there are very specific procedures, software, equipment, etc that just needs to be *learned*) would find a more mentorship-style training to be “not real training”. Most people aren’t jerks about it though.

    2. Narise*

      If you’re giving me more feedback on how I’m training you than you’re willing to accept about the quality of your work output? Red flag.
      This stood out so much to me! Very true and inciteful. These people are setting up the conversation later to blame the trainer vs their lack of effort to learn the process.

    3. LDN Layabout*

      I might be coming from my own experiences in my own sector but if OP were as skilled and technically gifted as they say they are, that level of training e.g. step-by-step instructions wouldn’t be necessary.

      Guiding vs. handholding is exactly what you’d expect in a higher level/more skilled position.

    4. MissMapp*

      If OP views training as being given step-by-step directions, they sound a. Very inexperienced b. Like they have been doing fairly junior-level work all their careers. If you have had any level of responsibility in most fields, you don’t follow a simple checklist all day. I have trained folks who just want to follow checklists, and they generally have not had very self-directed jobs before.

      1. Former Young Lady*


        Heck, even following a checklist requires some degree of self-reliance. I’ve absolutely worked with junior people who didn’t understand that “complete this checklist and let me know if you have any questions” didn’t allow for, “OK, I completed item 1 on the checklist. Do I need to do item 2 now, or do you do that for me?” (Even at entry-level, that’s…hoo, boy, it better be a phase.)

        But yes, if this job is at the grownups’ table (as OP implies it is), the implication that guidance isn’t “real training” suggests a mismatch between OP’s perceived and actual skill levels.

      2. Ace in the Hole*

        Even a lot of junior-level work isn’t the type you can train with just step by step checklist instructions.

        For example, I work at a garbage dump. Our training is done through shadowing and guidance, even for the entry-level workers… you can’t really teach someone how to use heavy equipment or identify hazardous materials in trash using a step by step checklist. If entry level garbage workers are expected to have more critical thinking and independent judgment than this guy is expecting to use, I strongly question how rare and irreplaceable his skills are.

    5. Elizabeth West*

      I like a step-by-step approach for certain tasks because I don’t want to have to come back later and ask you eleventy billion questions. So I take lots of notes—it might slow things down, but it helps me learn.

      The thing is, if I need that, I ASK for it. Like, “This is a bit more complex than the general llama polishing, and I want to make sure I understand it. Can we slow down here and go through it?”

  48. Cat Tree*

    I want to give a helpful perspective. A lot of people have a mental image of a bully who is doing it intentionally, or for some nefarious reasons like wanting to feel powerful. So when someone is called out for bullying behavior, they think it can’t possibly be true because they weren’t trying to make the other person feel bad.

    Actions matter more than intent. Your boss’s feedback isn’t meant to be a commentary on your character, but simply to get you to change your actions. It’s easy to feel insulted and defensive, but it’s more productive to examine your actions and change them.

    1. Midge*

      Yes, I was thinking about intent vs. impact while reading this. The LW might have “good” intentions in their head. But the impact of their words and actions on Sally is what’s important here and that’s why their boss is giving them this feedback. And from the letter, I strongly suspect that the LW’s tone of voice and word choice are contributing to the negative impact of their words.

    2. anonymous73*

      Intention is often irrelevant. If your actions or words hurt me, whether intentional or not, it still hurt me and you need to acknowledge that, not use it as an excuse for your behavior. It took me 30 years to comes to terms with that and end a toxic friendship.

  49. So Tired*

    So, Sally is “further along in her career than most people her age” yet LW thinks she’s insecure and needs a backbone to further her career. Her career where LW has already indicated she’s further along than others her age? How does that make any kind of sense??

    LW I would advise you to take several seats and reevaluate your attitude here. Just because your skills are in demand does *not* mean you’re above or better than Sally. Especially not when you’re new to a company she’s been at for at least a little while. I don’t blame Sally one bit for not wanting to continue training you, based on your tone and attitude in your letter I can’t say that I’d want to be training you either.

    Apologize to Sally, and fix your “I’m better than you” attitude.

  50. ErgoBun*

    LW, you seem to be setting up a false dichotomy between “my experience and knowledge is respected and I am listened to” vs. “I blindly accept whatever Sally says without questions.” It doesn’t have to be this black and white. Your boss isn’t telling you to be a robot without thoughts or experiences of your own. Your boss is telling you that you need to work WITH Sally instead of AGAINST her. If you can stop seeing Sally as an adversary and start seeing her as a teammate — if you need an adversary, you can think of it as fighting inefficient processes together — I think you’ll be a lot more successful.

    1. Presea*

      +1 on the suggestion to try to see work problems as your team/coworkers/trainers vs whatever problem you’re trying to solve, rather than you vs your ignorant teammates. I struggle with people skills and have an adversarial streak of my own, and I don’t always have a lot of patience when I feel that people aren’t doing well at their jobs (even at times when I know my mindset inaccurate!) and this framing helps turn that adversarial streak into something that builds my teams and people skills instead of destroying them.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Have to ask this. OP, how has it gone for you with other trainers? Did you have difficulties? If yes what type of difficulties?

  51. my experience*

    I have had to train people before on procedures that are bad. It’s hard to train someone in this case. I know the procedures are bad, but we have been short staffed and haven’t had time to redesign. So I feel for Sally in this case! On the other hand it is frustrating, I know, for my colleagues to receive these messy processes – it can be hard to start a job where it feels like things are a mess. So I feel for the LW on that too.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I agree it’s not easy.
      I usually start up front with this procedure is a pain because [reasons].
      I am willing to restate that if the person appears to really miss the point. “As I said at the start this procedure is a pain. While it is not ideal, this is the system we have. I need to get you trained on the system so we can move on. Let’s focus on the training.”

      But somehow don’t think I could have redirected OP.

  52. LKW*

    Intent and perception are two very gray areas in business. OP it doesn’t seem like you have acquired some business norms 0r perhaps norms about your new place of business. If your curt and direct style worked elsewhere, it doesn’t mean it works where you are now. My workplace has a “Respect for the Individual Policy”. I often refer to it as the “Don’t be a Dick” policy and we annually train on all the ways that one can be a dick basically anything that demeans, belittles, ridicules, or dismisses someone.

    Perception is reality – if you are perceived as being a jerk, then you are a jerk. If you get a reputation for being a jerk, then people are going to simply assume that every interaction is you being jerky. They will assume your intentions aren’t innocent, that you’re trying to be a jerk, trying to make other people feel or look stupid and trying to prop yourself up for whatever reason.

    Remember honey not vinegar – you can raise your concerns or address the gap between expectation and reality without being a jerk. “Usually when I get training on systems like this it’s step by step. Have you ever taken that approach or are there any job aids that would provide that kind of detailed information?” or “I’ve never seen it done that way before, it feels wrong, but perhaps I don’t have all of the context – can you give me some more information or suggest someone who can?”

    Your experience is I’m sure valuable and in demand, but that doesn’t mean that you’re smarter than your coworkers, just that your knowledge is different.

    1. FashionablyEvil*

      My company also has a “Respect for the Individual” policy—it’s something I really like about working here because a) people embrace it and b) it gives clear language for calling out behaviors that aren’t aligned with respect for others.

  53. Falling Diphthong*

    OP, it seems like Sally has a backbone: she pushes back when you’re (in her view) unreasonable or rude. She just doesn’t do it in the words and tone and actions that I guess would puncture your (self-admitted) snark and lead you to realize she is being reasonable or has a point–she turns and walks away while you’re still snarking, and talks to the manager rather than keep trying to explain herself to you.

    I think management is making it clear that they view this as a you-problem. You should listen to them! It sounds like Sally knows more about your job tasks than other people available to train you, so you need to find a way to hear what she’s saying and dial your snark to negative three.

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      Yes, this stood out to me too. LW, ask yourself why your concept of having a backbone is for Sally to quietly put up with behavior that bothers her, and not for her to stand up for herself and set a firm boundary.

  54. L-squared*

    Totally agree with Alison here. I think the term bully gets thrown around WAY too much, and this is an example of the problem when that happens. Things that are misundertandings, or just people not liking somone else, gets labelled as bullying, which gets A LOT more attention.

    That said, I don’t think OP was being very nice at all. But adults are allowed to have arguments without it being called bullying.

    1. not a doctor*

      Eh. Even taking OP at their word, they’ve been openly rude and disrespectful to Sally on several occasions, including at least “a couple” that weren’t outlined here. Given their overall attitude about Sally, I’d guess that their feelings about her have come through in other, less obvious (to the OP) ways. This also definitely appears to be at least based on age if not also gender.

      Basically, I think while the two confrontations here don’t rise to the level of bullying on their own, it’s not hard to see why Sally might be feeling bullied by the OP.

      1. Happy*

        Also, “there were a couple other examples, but I hate to bore you with details” but we don’t know exactly how those panned out.

        And I think we have ample reason to extend more benefit of the double to Sally than to OP, given OP’s narrative.

      2. Me*

        Exactly while we take OP’s at their word, this OP is demonstrably out of touch with their behavior. As such, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if these specific examples do not encompass OP’s poor treatment of Sally. I doubt they’ve been an attentive and polite trainee and otherwise treated Sally with the utmost respect.

        They’ve made it clear they do not respect Sally at all and feel justified in demonstrating that lack of respect. Focusing on the word Sally may or may not have used in her complaints, is absolutely not helpful and in fact may further fuel OP’s attempts to justify their frankly sh$&&y behavior.

    2. Littorally*

      I don’t think it’s necessarily useful advice to the OP, though. Sure, if we were talking to Sally, we could tell her that it doesn’t really sound like bullying is the right word to use. But the OP is indisputably in the wrong, and they need to change their behavior, not quibble over wording.

      1. L-squared*

        I don’t think its a quibble about wording though. Words have power, and going to management with specific words can make a lot of difference.

        Its like you can say “X person raised their voice at me” and also say “I felt threatened when X was talking to me”. That, to me, is a big distinction, and saying the second one will get a very different response from management.

        And again, i said she was wrong, but I can also agree with other points she made.

        1. Littorally*

          If the OP tries to go back to their boss, who has spoken with them about Sally’s complaint, and say ‘Well actually I wasn’t really bullying, real bullying would be XYZ…” Then it would absolutely be quibbling.

          1. Fran Fine*

            And it would get OP in hot water with management right away because, is that really the effing point?! Stop being an arrogant jerk to someone trying to train you is the point.

      2. Observer*

        But the OP is indisputably in the wrong, and they need to change their behavior, not quibble over wording.

        Exactly. I really, really don’t think that the OP needs any support in how to argue with their boss. They need to understand how to change their behavior.

    3. Heidi*

      What gets me, though, is that people who write in tend to present their behavior in the best possible light. I think the OP did this, and they STILL come across as a massive jerk. The whole “I won’t bore you with the details” of the other examples of OP’s behavior could actually be hiding the worst of it.

    4. Purple Cat*

      Eh, I think constantly belittling someone, telling them they’re wrong and that their documentation is all terrible, = bullying. This wasn’t an “argument” where there was a difference of opinion. LW went off on Sally so much so that Sally had to walk away.
      Definition “seek to harm, intimidate, or coerce (someone perceived as vulnerable)” LW is absolutely trying to intimidate Sally. Doesn’t need to be physical to be bullying.

    5. Observer*

      But adults are allowed to have arguments without it being called bullying.

      Sure, but they are NOT allowed to be rude and obnoxious and expect it to not have a negative impact on their employment!

      And that’s the issue here. What the OP needs to understand is that whether the boss used the right term or not, their behavior is out of line – and it’s a PATTERN of misbehavior here that is the problem, not just a couple of incidents. That means that they are on thin ice. If they go on to insist that since they are not being a bully, Sally “needs a backbone” and that being reasonable and respectful is actually “ blindly accepting everything Sally says as true and not ask questions“. . . well I think that their employment is going to be in absolute jeopardy.

      1. ONFM*

        This is what stood out to me! LW/OP might be in a niche industry that is tough to hire for, but the fact that these issues are being raised in this way with this wording signals to me that his new company may be preparing to separate him.

    6. Not So NewReader*

      Sadly, word choice could be the wrong hill to die on. Sally could easily say, “After thinking about it, I realize bullying wasn’t the right word. The word I want is “unteachable”.

  55. Squidlet*

    Oh dear.

    Even if Sally was terrible and you were entirely in the right*, “get a backbone” is simply NOT how you give feedback on someone’s performance or attitude. It’s rude, unhelpful and judgemental. It’s likely to make you look bad to your manager and colleagues.

    * Clearly not the case from your own description of what’s been going on; I feel that I need to reiterate this.

    Also, “My role is highly technical, in a niche industry. Not a lot of people do what I do, so these positions are hard to hire for” – this doesn’t make any difference. Having sought-after skills doesn’t mean you can behave like a jerk. Without some interpersonal skills, humility, and a pleasant demeanour, people just won’t want to work with you.

    Looking forward to an update :)

    1. Fran Fine*

      Having sought-after skills doesn’t mean you can behave like a jerk.

      That part. They can decide tomorrow they no longer need or want your particular skills, or just don’t want to deal with the headache, and cut you loose. No one is irreplaceable, OP.

  56. I don’t post often*

    I started a new job in July. I am a white woman born, raised and living in the South. My mentor in my new job is from Eastern Europe. I’ve known her a long time but this is the first time we have worked closely together.

    She is very blunt. While training me she will say things like, “I already explained this. Why don’t you understand?” Or “no that’s horribly wrong. Redo it immediately”. Or “you need to know that now. Go take a class and figure it out”.
    This is simply her manner and a difference in culture. Another new to our team colleague started at the same time as me. He finds her difficult. I’m just used to her mannerisms and I appreciate her directness. She also acknowledges that softening her approach is a skill she is working on.

    I wonder if a difference in culture applies here? This doesn’t excuse OP. Or her coworker but possibly something to keep in mind.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      That’s not what the OP is describing. The OP isn’t saying, “I come from a background where bluntness is the norm,” they’re saying that they were “snarky” and pushed back on something, about which they later found out they were, in fact, wrong, and don’t mention apologizing. That’s not a culture difference, unless we’re talking civil people vs. jerk people.

      1. Fran Fine*

        THIS. Please don’t try to find an excuse for OP to latch onto. OP already seems to have a problem with self-awareness and accountability, it’ll only get worse if she believes she can fall back on the “cultural difference” argument.

    2. Former Young Lady*

      It can be a “when in Rome” thing. I live in the Intermountain West, where people have a hard time distinguishing between “direct,” “blunt,” and “rude,” and we have a real problem with passive-aggression.

      But also…your mentor is your mentor, whereas the OP in this case is supposed to be learning FROM the person they are criticizing. I imagine you put up with your mentor’s bluntness because you respect her authority and value her expertise. OP should be respecting the same qualities in Sally, rather than ‘splaining her job to her. OP has some major blind spots here.

    3. Dr. Doll*

      I work with some STEM faculty from Eastern Europe and Russia who are downright mean. (“You are too stupid to do this. You should go back to the kitchen.”) I don’t care if it’s appropriate where they are from, they need to treat their (our) students respectfully in their *current* cultural environment. Eric Lander just resigned for behavior in this stripe.

      YOUR boss is clearly self-aware enough to realize that she needs to learn a different cultural skill. I’d call her on the way to being culturally competent in fact!

    4. Observer*

      I wonder if a difference in culture applies here?

      Not by a long shot. Even your coworker is problematic, and it is NOT all that cultural – I’m very familiar with Eater European culture and this is not a description of someone with good management and / or leadership qualities in that culture either. But, as problematic as her behavior is, it’s nowhere near as bad as what the OP is doing. *AND* she is aware that she needs to make adjustments and is working on it.

      The OP? Being rude to your trainer; misunderstanding the nature of training (ie only step by step instructions qualifies, for someone with years of experience!); dismissing them because they are a rising star; doubling down when being corrected and then not only refusing to apologize when someone (other than your trainer) confirms that you are wrong but insisting that you were right to be rude ANYWAY are all simply bad behavior. Period.

    5. anonymous73*

      I am a pretty direct person and not at all overly sensitive but what you describe sounds incredibly rude and demeaning and not the way at all to treat a colleague.

  57. NW Mossy*

    Oh dear. If I’m your boss, your take on the Sally situation is really troubling.

    When your boss gives you feedback, it is not an invitation to a debate about whose interpretation of what’s going on is correct. Feedback is not a court case where both sides present evidence and an independent arbiter decides who’s right. It’s your boss doing their job – to tell you where your behavior needs to change for the benefit of the organization. You burned a bridge with Sally, and your boss is well within their rights to tell you that you need to fix that. Basically everyone is expected to have good working relationships with their colleagues, and your boss isn’t asking for anything wildly out of the norm here.

    When you resist and get defensive about feedback that is reasonably fact-based (as it appears to be in your telling), what you’re really telling your boss is “I’m not going to change, and the negative behavior(s) that you saw will continue.” This is a very risky thing to do from your standpoint – as Alison notes, it will likely reinforce the perception that you’re the problem, not Sally. If your boss can’t trust that they can coach you and get a positive result, their estimation of your value will plummet, no matter how brilliant you are technically.

    In addition to mending fences with Sally, you also need to go back to your boss to make it clear that you’re taking the feedback seriously and acting on it. It’s among the best things you can do to redeem yourself and show your boss that you’re worth investing time and energy into.

  58. Butterfly Counter*

    This reminds me of the time I was watching a soccer game with a friend. There was a BLATANT foul where our team’s player pushed another player to the ground. No question it was an illegal play and it was done right in front of the ref. However, it stalled our team’s momentum and was generally a disappointing moment. My friend yelled down at the ref who made the call, “Aww, c’mon Ref!!! That player just needs to get stronger!!!”

    It was obviously tongue-in-cheek.

    I suspect this isn’t the only time in your life that you thought those around you need to be stronger, have more of a backbone, or grow thicker skin. Maybe you should try to figure out if the problem is everyone else or if the common denominator is you.

  59. Green great dragon*

    I recommend to LW greater use of the question. To be said with a genuinely inquiring tone. If you are wrong, when you are answered, you can see that you are wrong and also why.

    Eg: “we always direct the water from floor level to the llama’s undercarriage” to someone who’s always used a bucket of water to clean his llama, and therefore assumes it must be poured from above:
    Bad response “That won’t work”
    Better response “That’s not how we did it – how does that work?”
    Even better response “How do you stop the water falling downwards, away from the llama?”
    Which could result in ‘Oh, I meant from above, of course, I must correct that’, or ‘the water supply to our hose is pretty high pressure’, but gets the required info either way, with hopefully no accusations of bullying.

    This is also a much more effective way to deal with wrong and stubborn people than telling them they’re wrong.

    1. Insert Clever Name Here*

      For this to be successful, OP has to actually *want* to know the answer and be willing to be wrong, which it does not seem like has been the case from this:

      She was trying to tell me something that I was sure was inaccurate. From my years of experience, I did not think what she was saying could be possible and so I told her, “That cannot be right.” I admit my tone wasn’t completely snark-free, because she went on to explain why she wasn’t wrong and I doubled down that she “must have been mistaken.”

      Asking a question when the only reason you’re asking is to bludgeon the other person with their answer is not a good look.

      1. Green great dragon*

        Perhaps I should have said a genuinely inquiring tone and a genuinely inquiring mind! At least enough to listen to the answer and hear the new information.

  60. Bluzcluz*

    Wow. The attitude on this letter just floors me. It reminds me exactly of a new hire we had and I had to train him. He dismissed my instructions telling me that he had done the same thing at his old work and then did something weird with the record. When I asked him about it he said he did it that way at his old work. I was trying to keep my temper and told him that we do things this way in our company. He kept doing things his way no matter what we kept telling him that it wasn’t done that way. Thankfully he was fired but honestly people need to listen to how things are done at a company since it’s probably because of reports or whatnot. Once you understand then you can try to make improvements. Hope we get an update.

  61. HLKHLK2019*

    From now until the end of time or until an update comes through, I will be checking AskaManager to find out what happens next on this. I have never wanted a time machine to go forward and learn what happened next as much as I have for this one. My prediction? OP doesn’t make it much longer. It will be “she mutually agreed to pursue other options with more competent companies” or “I was unfairly terminated and am pursuing a legal case” or “I chose to resign voluntarily because I took another job with a better company.” But I would be surprised to see true humility or acts of contrition from this one.

      1. BG*

        Do you really think your comment is making it more likely that the OP updates? Please be kinder, if at all possible, because I would also love an update.

    1. CoveredinBees*

      Occaisionally, OPs write back that the response helped them get perspective and be better. Not that I’m counting on it, but it has happened. Here’s hoping.

  62. Clorinda*

    We don’t really know that SALLY said the behavior was bullying. Sally said whatever she said; the boss called it “bullying” and gave examples.

  63. Rachael*

    Whenever I train, I do a little “presentation” about expectations. One of the expectations is to save process improvement for after training. I welcome questions, but only about the procedure. Basically, I am showing them how the company wants them to do the procedure and they are expected to listen and be able to do the process according to procedures. They are more then welcome to apply any process improvement or questions about how the process works after training and I am happy to answer those questions or investigate if there is a better way to do something or more efficient. That has worked well for me. (1.) Learn how to do it according to company guidelines (2.) Apply process improvement techniques or ask questions as needed once procedure is understood and able to be executed. Sometimes this results in some great suggestions on how to do something efficiently. OP, it would be best when being trained to follow these steps in order not to frustrate your trainer or make them think that you do not respect them as a trainer.

    1. Littorally*


      I’m really into process improvement, and one of my biggest rules for coming into an new space is “before you change something, learn why it is the way it is.” Never assume you have all the details and necessary history from a quick look! Once you understand why things are the way they are, you can improve them without repeating old pitfalls.

  64. Gingerbread Gnome*

    OP, you need to work on your communication style. Healthy companies don’t put up with new hires that can’t get along with well-performing employees. It doesn’t matter how good you are, or how niche your skill set. Absolutely no one is irreplaceable, and good management knows that. It is more efficient to rehire or train up someone who doesn’t send current employees fleeing. Employees who radiate arrogance and anger are hard for others to work with. You don’t have to be a social butterfly or best chums, you just need to be neutral.

  65. MustardPillow*

    It feels to me that the letter writer had the “self confidence issue.” Sally was fine. She walked away when required. She took the steps to handle the issue including talking to the shared manager. She didn’t respond with the same level of agression given to her nor feed into it. Letter writer feels to me as someone who is demanding respect and attention from outside. Sure, you too have worked hard to be an expert in your field, you don’t have to be a jerk to prove it. Relax.

  66. Ayla*

    Have I misunderstood, or is Sally only in this role temporarily until you get up to speed? That’s what I took from the mention that she “stepped in.” If so… what is to be gained from criticizing her procedures or her training style? You seem confident in your knowledge of both, after all.

    A respectful question (Why do we do it this way?) or specific request (Could you demonstrate for me?) is fine, because you want to get the most from your training experience. However, I’d reserve criticism for when it is your job to help someone improve in a role in which they’ll be operating long-term. And even then, phrase it constructively with a focus on improvements to be made rather than simply pointing out shortcomings.

  67. Charlotte Lucas*

    As a former trainer, I can guarantee that the OP needs an attitude adjustment. You can ask the same basic questions in a positive way that the OP was doing in an unpleasant, aggressive way.

    And good training *is* guiding someone to be able to find the answer themselves. Sure, sometimes you just need some step-by-step instructions, but isn’t it great to know how to find them yourself when needed?

  68. DameB*

    So a thing I’ve been thinking a lot about lately is the effect that people like OP have on organizations. And how one bad apple can just shift a whole culture.

    OP, there’s a good chance you’re a senior dude. If that’s true, you have structural power that you probably don’t even recognize just from dint of your dudeliness. Sally is apparently really good at her job (very advanced for someone her age) and has been very very clear that she doesn’t like the way you interact with her. You can quibble about whether being an asshat = bullying, but she’s really clear that she doesn’t like that.

    If I were Sally and some new dude behaved like you, and didn’t get slapped down HARD by management, I would immediately start looking for a new job. Because a culture that allows the kind of behavior you’re talking about tends to start skewing an organization towards toxic. So you’d be responsible, in this economy, for losing a talented worker.

    1. Gingerbread Gnome*

      Yeah, and when one good worker leaves you can bet others will follow. Good employees have options, and they may not say they are leaving because of a difficult coworker as they don’t want to burn bridges but it seeing toxic not stopped has an impact.

  69. RagingADHD*

    This sounds rather like rules-lawyering over the term “bully.”

    Was the LW engaging in a sustained campaign of purposefully hurtful behavior in order to target Sally and exert dominance over her? No, it doesn’t sound like that, so as Alison said it isn’t exactly bullying. But that doesn’t mean their attitude or behavior was good, positive, or even acceptable! The idea that they were “helping” Sally by being confidently incorrect is a transparent justification.

    It would be interesting to find out why LW is no longer at their old company. And it would be even more interesting to see how well LW would take their own flavor of intransigence and snark, if someone like Sally were dishing it out. Especially since they seem to have a problem taking very clear feedback from their own manager.

    LW, you’ve been told by your manager that your approach, whether you think you were being “helpful” or not, is not the way things are done at this company. Instead of arguing about labels, you need to take that on board and straighten up.

  70. Heather*

    You should really apologize and have a conversation with yourself if this job is a good fit. It’s okay if it is not.

    As a manager, I have let go people before during training periods that been combative or dismissive of coworkers. In my view, someone that feels comfortable enough in that short, new time period to be rude and unkind, where you are expected to give your best first impression, does not bode well for a long term employee.

    I wish OP luck and hope this is a positive learning moment.

  71. idwtpaun*

    OP, you describe a situation which you were not only wrong but very rude about it, and then go on to say that, actually, you were still justified. You weren’t. You dismissed Sally’s expertise and will not acknowledge it even when faced with evidence. Regardless of how this particular situation is ultimately resolved, this is an attitude that will harm you professionally (and probably personally) going forward.

    You may be an extremely intelligent, educated and experienced person. To be frank, it seems apparent from your letter that you believe yourself to be so. But, sometimes, you’re still going to be wrong. Being unable to accept that is not a healthy mindset.

  72. The Crowening*

    In my job prior to this one – where I worked for well over a decade – we had a lot of policies and procedures that would drive you nuts. However, they also all had a reason for existing. That work environment involved many more levels of review than most folks would expect, especially compared to other organizations that do similar work. It was maddening how many new hires would stroll in and immediately balk at the processes – and then criticize *the team they just hired into* for having them. Never seemed to occur to them that things were the way they were for a reason. The successful new hires were the ones who’d ask why it’s like that, nod, and then follow the process from then on. Questions, sure. Arguing, not cool.

  73. Lady CFO*

    I believe Allison responded very politely to this LW.
    OP, I sure hope you read and reread her response and others here. You are very new at your job and are coming across a bit arrogant, bull in a China shop-ish. You’re turning employees against you in the training phase and would prefer to double down instead of doing a little introspection. While reading the critique here may sting at first, I hope you’re able to internalize some of the feedback provided.

  74. Lobsterman*

    On the other hand, if LW sticks to their guns on this one, it definitely gives their boss useful information.

    1. Jam Today*

      Yeah this is definitely one of those circumstances where I’d be happy to sit back and watch Icarus fly too close to the sun.

  75. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

    OP, I really hope you’re open to all of the feedback you’re getting in here (or at the very least, to Alison’s excellent response). I also just want to point out that:

    1) Sally clearly does not need to grow a backbone, her backbone is excellent. She handled your behavior and derogatory statements professionally, refused to stick around and be treated disrespectfully by the new employee that she was tasked with training instead of getting embroiled in a petty argument (even though she knew she was right), and when it became clear that the employee was going to be impossible to train due to their attitude and actions she went to the appropriate person and requested to be taken off of the assignment. That’s a lot of backbone AND a lot of calm, professional behavior.

    2) Sally is not insecure. Sally is a proven worker who is (by your own statements) advanced to a point in her career not typical of her age. She is so good, in fact, that she got tasked with taking over a whole other tangentially related job temporarily while the company searched for someone to fill that role fulltime–so she’s clearly regarded as competent and trustworthy and skilled. Sally also knows that she doesn’t have to deal with a new employee who is untrainable due to a hostile and aggressive attitude towards her to the point that they refuse to believe her when she is detailing straight up factual information and who keep interrupting her to tell her that she is wrong. Sally is confident and professional, and not planning to deal with any nonsense.

    Sally might honestly be my hero. She sounds rad af, to be honest. She handled a really difficult situation (that, I am sorry to say, you created, OP) with grace and truly professionalism.

    1. londonedit*

      Yep, I was coming here to say all of this. If I was Sally I’d have no time for someone who came in and told me my procedures were rubbish and my training was crap and also I was wrong about the way we do things (especially if I wasn’t wrong, and especially if their response when I explained was ‘yes you are wrong’ rather than ‘that’s interesting, can I ask why it’s done that way here?’.

  76. Bones*

    LW – I think a bit of self-reflection is in order here. First, whenever I’m unsure if I’m the jerk in a situation, I try to take a step back and look at what I said or intend to say. As you were writing a letter to an advice column, it would have been a perfect opportunity to really reflect on your words before you hit send. Truly not trying to be mean here, but your letter (even if one were to take out the comments you reportedly said to Sally) is dripping with bitterness and self-righteousness.

    Secondly, it might be worth asking yourself *why* Sally is comparatively young and simultaneously pretty advanced in her field. Could it be, perhaps, that she’s perfectly competent–even stellar–at what she does?

    And, lastly, as a person who has had to work hard to make my no-nonsense personality more palatable, I think it’s worth considering that other people don’t need to restructure their personalities/”backbone” around your method of communication, and instead you should probably work on being direct without being rude. I’ve found it helpful for me to fully believe that everyone I interact with is legitimately giving everything their best shot and that we all struggle sometimes. It makes it easier for me to be empathetic and solution-oriented when I’m faced with something or someone I might otherwise consider incompetent in the moment.

    Short version: people don’t need to be tougher; you likely need to be kinder.

  77. Colorado*

    OP – take that chip off your shoulder and replace it with a kitten. You’ll feel much better. But seriously – you need to take it down a few notches and find some humility. This line showed that it did go on after the few examples you provided. “There were a couple other examples, but I hate to bore you with details.” The entire letter is dripping with condensation. Sally is not the problem here.

    1. bunniferous*

      I imagine you meant condescension but I am over here enjoying the mental image of condensation on this letter….the joys of autocorrect happy accidents!

      1. Colorado*

        haha! I know! Once I realized I spelled the word wrong I was thinking dripping like condensation, then pictured this person all sweaty in their condescending self

    2. Purple Cat*

      I have to disagree on one point. Currently working from home with 2 kittens – having them perched on your shoulder solves absolutely nothing ;)

      1. CoveredinBees*

        It might prevent someone from bullying their colleagues if they are accustomed to carrying around a large chip.

      2. Kit*

        I think of it as being like that Japanese news show where the discussion takes place at a table on which a kitten is permitted to wander freely. It discourages raised voices and helps keep things pleasant because nobody wants to scare the kitten! (Plus, it solves the problem of ‘I do not have a kitten to pet.’)

  78. ManyHats*

    I kept waiting for this LW to say he was “just teasing.” He admits he doubled down, snarked at a colleague who’d been tasked with training him, and talked isht about procedures that turned out to have been correct all along? Oh, and he brought her age into it, too! Yeah, NO. He’s lucky he still has a job.

  79. bunniferous*

    OP, please treat this as a learning experience. “People” skills are just as important as technical skills in the workplace. You may very well have superior technical skills in these procedures but if you are bad at communicating and dealing with others in the workplace this will absolutely bite you in the butt career wise. So called workplace “soft skills” are a big part of being a good employee. Please take Alison’s critique to heart. This is valuable information for you to have and to spend time and effort improving. Please do not blow her and the rest of the commenters off. I imagine that Sally is highly valued in your workplace and you really need to do everything you can to fix this RIGHT NOW. A sincere apology would be a great start.

    Finally, it is not a bad thing to be confident in your technical skills but too often people are actually OVER confident-that lack of humility WILL also cost you eventually even if you really are knowledgeable at what you do. But the good news is you did reach out for Alison’s perspective and while this can’t be fun to hear, at least you did get her feedback and if you take it to heart you will be way better off for it.

  80. Sharon*

    I am saving this to read later as I am in the same type of boat HOWEVER – the person who trained me has threatened me, retaliated against me, and continually accesses the program to change things without being assigned to the role! (It’s all electronically tracked) These changes have no explanations attached and ultimately comes down to being my responsibility. I spend too much time trying to figure out why and how. Mgmt is aware. What is that nonsense about?!

    1. not a doctor*

      I think you’re replying to the wrong letter, Sharon? The trainer in this one hasn’t done anything like that.

      1. Fran Fine*

        Yeah, I’m not seeing the correlation to say you’re in the same type of boat as OP. OP is the problem employee here, not Sally.

  81. Observer*

    OP, Alison’s advice is spot on. Which means that you cannot ride on the fact that you are mostly pretty good at your niche skills.

    And, perhaps she’s better than you are willing to give her credit for. After all, despite this not being her actual job, she was right and you were wring. Yet, somehow YOUR pushback was the right way to handle things, while simple acknowledgement of your error doesn’t even seem to be a consideration. It doesn’t sound like you have the faintest willingness to see and hear what she has to offer you.

    Also, am I the only one getting strong whiff of ageism here? It sounds like the OP is complaining about this young whippersnapper who is jumping the line is too much of a “special snowflake” to deal with some “straight talk.” Or is this sexism, and she’s a “girl” who’s just a bit of a “sissy”?

    OP, if I’m misreading here, I think you need to still take this seriously. Because your motivation is not really the point here. Your behavior IS the point – and it’s coming across as extremely disrespectful and dismissive.

    PS – Since when is “guidance” not “real training”? I would have thought that if you have enough experience to justify the level of push back you gave her, you wouldn’t need the kind of step by step hand-holding you seem to be asking for.

    1. Fran Fine*

      + 1 to your last paragraph

      I haven’t needed step-by-step instructions on how to do my main duties since I was entry level. Something’s amiss here.

  82. Enn Pee*

    OP, to your credit, you did not immediately tell your boss what was on your mind (that Sally needed a backbone) but you instead approached Alison for advice. This shows me that you want to do the right thing, and not just BE right.
    Take Alison’s advice to heart. All of us can improve in our interactions with others.
    I have had a coworker like you. That person was not interested in her interactions with me and was one of the main reasons I left my job! I do believe that you can repair your working relationship with Sally…follow what Alison says!

  83. Me*

    Oh my goodness OP, I really hope you do some self reflection on your behavior and tone.

    Let me let you in on a secret – the new person acting like a know it all doesn’t usually end well for the new person. Whether they think they know better because of education or experience, it does nothing but set you up as the jerk no one wants to work with. That is if you even make it out of probation. The last person we hired with that attitude lasted 8 weeks and since our industry is niche, he’s unlikely to ever find a job in the field in the local area.

    Being a good employee isn’t just about your direct work. It is in large part how you get along with your colleagues. Based on what you wrote you are failing at that.

    For your sake, take Alison’s advice to heart. And maybe go further an take some classes on workplace communication.

  84. Polecat*

    It may actually be helpful for her to push back on her boss because it will let her know very quickly whether or not this is a cultural mismatch. I’ve been in organizations where what’s been described here would be considered a blip, and everybody was pretty blunt. I’ve been in organizations where this would be a severe issue. Every company is different. My advice to the OP is to Think about whether she’s ever gotten feedback like this in past jobs, and think about whether she’s comfortable working in this new job if this type of behavior is considered out of line. It may be that this is the beginning of a bunch of these type of situation where she is acting out of sync with the corporate culture .
    When we remove the judgment of who’s bad and who’s good in the situation, you can just boil it down to, should the situation continue? Is this a good match of employee and company?

  85. Cranjis McBasketball*

    At the very least, you should apologize for the misunderstanding in your second example. A REAL apologize – not one where you justify by explaining why you’d be right in other cases. She’s been there longer than you and she knows the company better than you – acknowledge that and the face that you should’ve trusted her in that case. And resolve to do better.

  86. GenXisReal!*

    This is amazing for many reasons, but it’s really the lack of self awareness for me. None of us is perfect. We all say things we shouldn’t, on occasion. But one thing I have learned over the years is that it’s okay to admit you were wrong. Either wrong in the content of what you said, or in the way that you said it.

    A little bit of “I’m sorry I was being a jerk” can go a long way.

  87. Workerbee*

    Last time I saw that level of entitlement from a new employee, it was from a young man at the start of his career. OP, I’m not sure what your age in real life or in your career tenure is, but it actually makes no difference: Your behavior is just the same as that fledgling youngster I knew. And nothing could make him see that he was in error, either. It is definitely a personality type, and a sad, unoriginal one at that.

    OP, you have already got your name up as that type of person in this new job. In your next job, if you care, you can catch yourself before deciding on a course of action that involves putting “bullying” on a scale of Yea or Nay. It takes work, but if you know as much as you say you do, you’ll know it’s the better way to behave.

  88. Purple Cat*

    I read the headline and went “oh no”. I read the first sentence and went “OH, Noooooooooooooooo”.
    The amount of arrogance shown in a letter that’s written to gain sympathy is astounding.

    LW the comments are going to be rough but I hope you’re able to look at them with an open mind.
    You may be very good at your “niche” field, but that doesn’t excuse you from offering grace and showing humility. Especially because Sally didn’t actually do anything wrong (except being younger and more successful than you think she has a right to be!).
    Please self-reflect if this is a common issue in your life – both personal and professional – that “other people” who “lack backbone” think you’re a bully. It seems impossible that this is an isolated incident.

  89. Coffee Owlccountant*

    LW, I am curious how you would have preferred Sally to respond to your criticisms. When she presented the procedures and you told her they were bad, what did you want her to say? “Yes, they are definitely bad, you are right and I’ll immediately stop everything I am doing to update them?” Or when you told her she was wrong when she was right, were you expecting her to say “Oh, of course you must be right!” and dismiss everything she knew?

    Your letter reads like you expected Sally to have immediately deferred to you any time you pushed back over literally anything you might have pushed back on. I am afraid that behavior would be the actual opposite of “growing a backbone” and it seems to me that Sally’s backbone is just fine.

  90. TBColo*

    LW, I have been there.

    Once, new to a job, I was so sure from my old work experience – I had so much to offer the new place. While in training I dropped a lot of bombs how they could be doing something, or how I used to do XYZ. Big boss pulled me in, and told me – pulling no punches, that I needed to learn their way, once I was good and trained (and trusted) then I could suggest improvements. A lot of other no-so-great feedback in that meeting as well.

    I ended up getting fired from that job… but fortunately, that lesson stuck with me. Years later (at current job) was training someone who immediately thought everything I was showing was beneath her, and acted like a total snob to me. She was impossible. I eventually had to tell supervisor that I couldn’t continue to train someone who refused it.

    It’s insulting when a new person comes onboard and then insults the people and processes of the new place. Learn their way – and once you have done that, then work on improvements and changes that will make you shine.

    I think you probably still have a good opportunity here – if you can take in the great advice that Allison and others have offered. Good luck.

  91. ecnaseener*

    I get that it can be very annoying when people misapply the word “bullying” to things like “was a little rude one time” (current season of the bachelor, anyone?) but set that one piece aside and take the overall critique that you have been behaving badly.

    If you want to set the record straight with your boss, I think it would be fine to say “I really don’t see how I’ve done anything approaching bullying, but I’ll admit I haven’t been very patient with her and I need to work on that.”

    1. Olivia Oil*

      It’s not technically bullying in that the LW isn’t proactively harassing their coworker; it’s more like repeatedly being crappy to her, which is not muuuch better but definitions matter. I guess there isn’t enough terminology for different types of shitty behavior?

      1. ecnaseener*

        “Frequently disrespecting” might be the best term (out of those you’d use at work) ? I like it because it doesn’t imply LW is getting a kick out of hurting Sally (which is what bullying implies). When people assume your intentions (you’re being a bully = you’re being mean on purpose) it’s easy to dismiss that because only you know your intentions. When people criticize your actions in a way that doesn’t assume your intentions, you can’t wave it away as easily.

    2. River Otter*

      “I really don’t see how I’ve done anything approaching bullying, but I’ll admit I haven’t been very patient with her and I need to work on that.”

      That suggestion opens with defensiveness. I would reword it to take responsibility first:

      “After reflection, I can see admit I haven’t been very patient with her, and I need to work on that. In my defense, I think it’s an overstatement to say that I bullied her. Regardless, I will change how I communicate going forward.”

      1. ecnaseener*

        I may be veering into pedantry, but I’d steer clear of “overstatement” because the difference is a qualitative one rather than quantitative.

      2. Fran Fine*

        In my defense, I think it’s an overstatement to say that I bullied her.

        The OP doesn’t need to be trying to defend anything right now. The behavior is disruptive, disrespectful, and not remotely helpful and it needs to stop. That’s all OP needs to know and so that piece should be eliminated from the speech altogether.

        1. Former Young Lady*

          Plus all of the ones to this!

          When I was a kid, there was a dandruff shampoo commercial with a memorable tagline: “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.”

          OP has already made a poor first impression. This is not the time to explain why the manager and Sally are both mischaracterizing what they’ve observed; this is the time for OP to demonstrate that they are actually capable of receiving feedback like a professional and learning from their mistakes.

    3. Observer*

      If you want to set the record straight with your boss, I think it would be fine to say “I really don’t see how I’ve done anything approaching bullying, but I’ll admit I haven’t been very patient with her and I need to work on that.”

      That would go over like a lead balloon with a good manager. The OP’s behavior is a pattern, and it’s waaaay worse that just “not very patient”. It’s actively rude, dismissive and disrespectful of Sally’s role.

      If the OP is going to set the record straight they need to acknowledge that they messed up.

      1. ecnaseener*

        Impatient in my mind gets at rude and dismissive pretty directly, but sure, it would be even truer to say rude and dismissive.

        I’m trying to propose a script that feels doable and genuine to LW though, not one that they’ll reject out of hand for feeling like a lie in their mind.

        1. Observer*

          I hear you. But if they can’t accept that they were, in fact, being rude and dismissive, going to the boss with a “clarification” is not going to server them well. Or at least not do anything to ensure their continued employment in good standing.

  92. HugeTractsofLand*

    This is such a key observation from Alison: “You later learned she was right and you were wrong, but it doesn’t seem to have changed your assessment of that interaction, and it doesn’t sound like you went back and apologized to her.”

    It seems like OP cares more about being told they’re wrong, whether or not that assessment was deserved. OP, so much about work is taking feedback. So much about interacting with people, period, is about being open to what they have to say. My advice for OP is to be more open, especially when starting in a new role. Sally is your co-worker and by forming a low opinion of HER so quickly (i.e. not taking into account the other points Alison mentioned about this not being her job), you’ve already made her have a low opinion of YOU.

  93. I am Sally!*

    Actually- I’m not Sally but I’ve 100% been in that situation albeit 20 years ago. Young female, progressing well in my job and got asked to act up into my bosses job for 6 months while they recruited more widely. When I was orientating the new person- 10 years older and more experienced than me they critiqued everything I told them. The reality was the previous manager was weak and I had continued their processes. Probably the same as Sally- I was caretaking the role (whilst also covering part of my own job). Give Sally a break- she’s just doing it this way because that’s the way it’s always been done and if she’s a more junior staff member in a temporary role she hasn’t had a mandate to make changes.

    1. Martha*

      Sounds like Sally actually had plenty of backbone, OP. She dealt with your BS with confidence, professionalism and clarity. She’s doing just great. Sally is going places!

    2. Kevin Sours*

      I would not take as a given that Sally’s training or the processes are at all problematic here. We are dealing with, shall we say, an unreliable narrator. Frankly I find the I’m a highly skilled, highly technical person, with a great deal of experience but need step by step instructions instead of “guidance” a little hard to reconcile.

      1. CoveredinBees*

        I don’t think it makes a difference whether Sally’s procedures are objectively weak or not. Neither would make OP’s behavior acceptable. I think offering a scenario in which Sally is carrying on existing procedures might help OP get some perspective.

        1. Kevin Sours*

          Fundamentally feeding into the scenario where Sally is carrying on substandard procedures because she lacks the ability or standing to change them is just going to feed into whatever issue he has going on. And if the procedures aren’t substandard, why does it matter if Sally is carrying them on or wrote them herself?

          There is really no reason at all to believe that there is any issue with the procedures aside from OPs unwillingness to understand them and engage with them in the context of the job at hand. He’s already admitted to getting something completely wrong, digging in, and insisting that he was right to do so.

          The perspective he needs is that he’s the FNG and needs to listen more than he talks, not that might have a point.

    3. JustA___*

      I, too, was a Sally. I trained my replacement to take over my last job, which was more like 2-3 jobs (I worked for We’re A Many-Hatted Family, LLC), so there was A LOT to train on. Strangely, two weeks was a tight turnaround, and I had very limited time to do training, but replacement wanted to argue about every process, telling me that she would change it. I was like, “Okay, but can I show you how we’ve been doing it for now?” because I *truly did not care* if she changed everything when I left, and fully accepted that she could improve some of the processes.

      OP, a few things happened:
      – We did not get through everything I wanted to cover in my notice period.
      -It was continually frustrating working with someone who would interrupt constantly, and argue when I tried to explain the thought-process behind our processes.
      -I stopped trying to explain why procedure were as described (mostly for intentional redundancies to avoid errors) as I did not have the energy/time. This was to the detriment of replacement.
      -I had other projects that I could not wrap up because training took more time than it should have.
      -I *was* able to provide written, step-by-step instructions for many procedures, however I don’t think replacement referenced them.
      -My replacement did not last long. I heard she made some major errors after she took over and was essentially given the option to resign.

      In my case, training became my job when I put in my notice. OP, please try to remember that training is not a normal part of Sally’s job. Moreover, training someone who is argumentative, and makes snarky comments, and unable to really acknowledge they are wrong is not only not her job, but likely feels utterly pointless to her. Your job during training is to listen, take notes, and digest the information before providing feedback in a thoughtful and constructive way (not “that’s wrong”).

      Please rethink how you are approaching this. I don’t think you are a bully, but I think you are developing a reputation as someone who is difficult to work with, and that will not serve you going forward.

  94. Olivia Oil*

    Wow. It sounds like (based on the letter), that the LW is older than the coworker training her and that plays into the lack of respect (not that it’s an excuse). But yeah, the tone of the letter makes it easy to believe they were being less than nice to their coworker. If someone isn’t giving you clear instructions, the way to deal with that is to follow up with specific questions clarifying what you need to know. No need for all this snark.

  95. SofiaDeo*

    OP, even IF you were hire to improve/streamline processes instead of simply perform the task, you are going about it less than optimally. Consider that you need to learn the current processes before attempting to analyze ways and means of improving them. How is constantly interrupting/arguing accomplishing this?
    And also consider, after a certain point in many many industries, rote memorization/step-by-step “training” necessarily stops. One needs to impart more of the Socratic method for training, and assess how the trainee “problem solves/arrives at conclusions”. So training evolves from step by step. I want to assess “How” people arrive at their conclusions, and the resources they turn to, in problem-solving. Sally likely is doing some of this, because it’s a norm in more advanced ANYTHING. Pushing back on this, stating you want to be hand held step-by-step, indicates you aren’t as advanced as you think you are. Why not ask if there’s a manual? Or other resource for exact step by step?
    Reacting/arguing in the moment instead of asking polite questions, and having a discussion, makes me think you “think you know it all” but you don’t. Your insecurity as well as aggogance is showing by your actions, and IMO you may be let go from this job, skills or no. Please consider apologizing to Sally as well as your boss, and start listening instead of arguing.

  96. Happy*

    LW, you note that Sally twice tried to explain why she was right in the case where your company is a rare exception to the rule and you refused to even consider the possibility that she could be correct until another colleague a couple of weeks later told you she was.

    You might want to consider why you gave that colleague’s opinion more credence than Sally’s. If you’re dismissing Sally’s input because she’s a young woman, it behooves you to work to counteract that impulse.

  97. Dumpster Fire*

    Hmm. It seems like I thought I clicked on my “AAM” bookmark, but I must have mistakenly clicked on my “AITA” bookmark!

    OP, if you’re still reading responses after being thoroughly “corrected”: I hope you are beginning to understand how your arrogance and attitude can lead to a huge loss of respect. It doesn’t matter how good you are at your niche expertise if you are impossible to work with. The fact that Sally (who was willing to pick up the slack until you came on board, and so is definitely a team player) doesn’t want to train you any longer should be a warning sign to you to think about what you need to do, not how to improve Sally’s work. Sally isn’t the problem here.

  98. GrindSnore*

    OP, the only thing you’re right about in this letter is that this isn’t bullying: it’s insecure arrogance. I think you are the one who needs a backbone as clearly anyone trying to tell you anything shakes you to your core. Sincerely apologize to your coworker for arguing with her when you were completely wrong, and then maybe take a deep dive into yourself to figure out why you need to be seen as The Untouchable One Who Knows All to feel valuable at work. Also, your ageism is showing.

  99. CatPerson*

    It takes a lot of mental contortions to use an example of Sally being right and LW being wrong as an example of Sally having an interpersonal issue, not the LW. Self-awareness is not a strength of this LW, but it’s an opportunity, as they say.

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      If you thought “I was objectively wrong but I still feel justified in repeatedly ‘correcting’ Sally until she walked away” was your best example to include in this letter about how Sally is the problem, I’m desperate to hear the other incidents that you left out.

  100. River Otter*

    It seems my boss wants me to blindly accept everything Sally says as true and not ask questions.

    No, your boss wants you to ask questions politely. I am a classic spectrum direct communicator who values a factual pragmatic style of communication that a lot of people dislike. I have learned to bend over backward to accommodate other people’s need for less direct communication of information, and I was praised by my current boss for my humility. That doesn’t mean I don’t ask questions or push back on things that I think are incorrect. It means I learned other communication styles, despite it being the case that since I am spectrum, other people should really be learning more about my communication style. You can do this, but first you have acknowledge that you need to do this.

  101. shalimar*

    Sally handled things appropriately. You did not. Sally has capital in the bank with your boss. You do not. Sally doesn’t need your approval or assessment of her skill set–her position is secure and based on her performance. All you’ve done in your performance so far is argue with a valued employee and act like a jerk.

    Who do you think is going to be left standing in this game you’re playing?

  102. anonymath*

    This letter reminds me of experiences in mathematics graduate school particularly with folks from Eastern European cultures. There can be a tell-it-like-it-is attitude that is perceived as toxic in the US. After spending time with folks, it truly is a communication style issue. Sorry, LW, but your communication style won’t fly without modification in the corporate context that you’re in. People let it be ok in certain academic circles, but in almost any business context that won’t work out. And that’s ok: in business, people from many backgrounds are coming together to accomplish larger goals and individual attitudes do need to be adjusted to be effective.

    1. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

      There’s a difference between “tell it like it is” and “willing to die on any hill, even if I’m wrong”. I’ve worked with loads of pretty blunt people and I have worked with people like OP. Some of this may be a personality clash or communication style clash, but OP also seems to be unable to admit when they are wrong without trying to spin the situation in a way that still has them come out victorious. People like this are exhausting to work with if they’re unwilling to learn from others and ask questions about why xyz might be true if their experience dictates otherwise. (I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought, “This seems like a very dumb procedure.” and then I asked for the logic/history for the procedure and it contextually made sense. This sort of curiosity and openness is ESPECIALLY important if you’re in the middle of being trained for a new job.) They’re also miserable to train in my experience. I’ve worked with plenty of blunt people who still played well with others and were willing to admit when they’re wrong; this does not seem like that’s the case with OP.

    2. Observer*

      No, no and NO.

      What the OP is describing is NOT “telling it like it is”. It’s being a rude know it all. Look at what the OP is complaining about:

      They have years of experience and supposedly lots of knowledge yet they are complaining that Sally is not giving them “step by step” hand-holding.

      They are blaming Sally for “her” procedures being “bad” without having learned why those procedures are in place. *AND* they are apparently assuming that Sally is going to be proprietary about them, which is demonstrably not the case.

      They were, by their own admission, when they tried to “correct” Sally, and even when it turns out that they were wrong, they STILL justify their rudeness. “Direct” is NOT the same as “snarky”. And it CERTAINLY is not the same as refusing to acknowledge that you made a mistake!

      1. Television*

        Yes, and why would OP even want step-by-step instructions when they just spent the entire letter stating that the procedures are crap. What exactly do they expect to be trained in, if not the same crappy procedures they are criticizing?

    3. some of my divisors*

      I also went to mathematics graduate school, but for me the common denominator in the experiences I had which reminded me of this letter wasn’t nationality… it was men. Men mansplaining to me. A couple of them were in fact of Eastern European background, sure, but the ladies from Eastern Europe in my cohort (who were often blunt) never came off as rude or toxic, at least to me.

  103. A Pinch of Salt*

    LW. I can sympathize with you 100%. I’ve been there. But I found it helped to look at my training as a general knowledge base…and then as you get better and gain everyone’s confidence you can approach changes. Painful, yes. But it’ll get you much farther.

  104. Excel-sior*

    “I think this is a self confidence issue on her part, to know that I was trying to help her see ways to improve her procedures and explaining why she was wrong”

    Ok, but she wasn’t wrong, was she? That’s the point. You were wrong, she was right, and you’re still acting like it’s the other way round. The “misunderstanding” was entirely on your part.

    1. Observer*

      You were wrong, she was right, and you’re still acting like it’s the other way round.

      Exactly. There is a lot wrong with the OP’s attitude, but this is the key to everything else, I think.

  105. JelloStapler*

    This has shades of “I was just being honest” and “they should be less sensitive”. All employees should be expected to give feedback or ask questions in a constructive way.

    Well done in your response, Alison!

    1. Me*

      Add in they just have a direct communication style or they have a strong personality and the free square in teh center and you have Bingo.

    1. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

      I have worked with someone who had a very similar attitude regarding others’ expertise and opinions. Every hill was one to die on and they’d go rogue whenever they disagreed with our company’s policies because “that’s not how we did it at my previous industry jobs”. Their industry knowledge was to their detriment because they refused to be flexible and rarely admitted when they were wrong. I was actually friends with them for quite awhile, but by the time they were included in a round of layoffs, I was SO happy they were gone even though it meant more work for me. These people exist and it’s VERY hard to coach them.

    2. Former Young Lady*

      I doubt that. If you’ve never had to train a colleague with OP’s approach to giving/receiving feedback, you’ve lived a blessed life.

  106. Snaffanie*

    I supervised a person very similar to LW and person left a lot of ruffled feathers in their wake. Yes, maybe you have a better way of doing things, yes maybe your ideas are more refined. But there is a polite and courteous way to bring these things up, and then there is the FU way of bringing things up. LW, it sounds like you took the FU approach, which just causes headache, frustration and bad feelings across the board.

  107. yala*

    “She was trying to tell me something that I was sure was inaccurate. From my years of experience, I did not think what she was saying could be possible and so I told her, ‘That cannot be right.’”


    “I found out from another colleague a couple weeks later that Sally was right”

    Aaaaaand chaser.

    OP, you could greatly benefit from some humility here. It blows my mind that you still consider your actions in this situation reasonable. That it “warranted your pushback.”

    If a situation is truly unusual, it’s one thing to say, “In my previous workplaces, we trimmed the llama’s fur after blow-drying them. I’m just checking–the procedure here is to trim their fur before blow-drying them?” Or something like that.

    But you didn’t do that. You told her she couldn’t be right.

    Of course she walked away from you. What would you suggest she do to get through to you when you completely shut her down, and reject the instructions she’s giving you? You Know Better, so how exactly is she supposed to teach you anything?

    I hear you on step-by-steps. I love them. Nice and clear and coherent. Perhaps you could write down the steps as you understand them and email them to Sally (or whoever has the onerous task of training you now) to verify that they’re correct and you’re not missing anything?

    1. Nom*

      It’s also worth noting that LW calls this a “misunderstanding.” “I was absolutely sure I was right (even though i wasn’t) that i belittled my experienced trainer” is not a “misunderstanding” :/

  108. Seriously?*

    Am I right in my assumption that this is an older man being dismissive of a younger woman? Sure reads that way.

    1. Elbe*

      Even if the LW is female and even if they’re a jerk to a lot of people, I would bet that Sally’s age and gender play a huge role in the way that this is going down. People generally don’t feel as entitled to treat older men with this much disdain.

      1. Former Young Lady*

        This. I’ve been treated this way by other women, but it was always women who made a point of disliking other women.

        “I’m not like other girls.”

        “Most of my friends are guys. Women are so DRAMATIC!”

        “I wish I knew why other women are so THREATENED by me.”

        Internalized misogyny is a thing. It would be less of a thing if some male-dominated industries didn’t accept it as currency.

        1. Elbe*

          Yes, so true.

          And a lot of jerks adjust their jerkiness based on status. They’ll be as mean as they feel they can get away with. So, because lots of environments are some level of sexist, they’ll amp up their mistreatment of younger women, even if they’re not explicitly woman haters.

  109. QueenBee*

    I’ve been trained and have provided training that didn’t always make sense to me or where I thought procedures could be done more efficiently. I think the important thing in those instances though is to learn how the company does it because often there is a reason for it.
    When I was training my replacement she kept interrupting and asking why we don’t do X procedure Y way. I explained we had considered those options but ran into various problems like X, Y, and Z. Lather, rinse, repeat on nearly every task. Trust me when I say I had evaluated other possibilities and the way I was doing it was the most efficient to get correct results, even if it wasn’t most time efficient. My replacement wanted to just get the task over with but in doing it that way, she sacrificed accuracy and didn’t get the results desired so it had to be redone. If she had taken the time to learn the tasks, learn the end result, and worked backward from there she would have been able to understand why we couldn’t do things a different way.
    It’s important to learn the company first, then try to change things once you’re settled and understand better the ins and outs.

  110. Beautiful, talented, brilliant, powerful musk-ox*

    LW, I have to ask: are you possibly reacting this way to Sally BECAUSE she’s younger than many of her peers? I know that can be a sensitive situation for some people — having to be trained by someone younger than them — and I’m wondering if you went into the entire situation making the assumption that Sally had little to offer you.

    Sally doesn’t sound like she needs a backbone. From your own account, it seems she’s pushed back appropriately when you’ve been unnecessarily harsh and a little insulting. If she had no backbone, she wouldn’t have responded at all or might have just talked about the situation behind your back. But she didn’t.

    I’m admittedly younger than most of my peers and have had people at multiple jobs try to explain things to me that I, frankly, knew more about than they did. I cannot express how frustrating it is to have someone “correct” something that I’m intimately familiar with and then stick to their guns when I am positive I know the ins and outs of something that they couldn’t possibly have. I worked with someone like that at a previous job and, while it wasn’t the ONLY thing that made me not want to work with or train him, it certainly didn’t help. And it’s doubly annoying when I can tell they think they know better just because they’ve been on earth longer than I have.

    I think some serious self reflection needs to take place here. I agree with Alison that “bullying” isn’t quite the right word, but I could see why your boss and/or Sally used it, especially if it seems as if you’re picking on her specifically. Whatever is going on here needs to stop.

  111. OutofOffice*

    I recently worked closely to transition processes to someone like LW. The processes have existed for a long time and often have a reason for being structured in a certain way. Now, I’ve known this person for years, and know that’s just often how they are – but it still made training them something I really dreaded. Despite my long tenure and contributions in that department, our interactions made me feel challenged and like this person thought I was incompetent. It was a difficult period to get through and it can be exhausting to have to defend what is essentially a decade of your work! In case it helps other Sallys out there, I was able to mitigate some of this by 1) stating the why up front where I could (i.e. “and then we do X this way because Y.”) and 2) asking my colleague to hear out the full process first and save specific questions until the end of the training.

    I also get it from LW’s perspective; when I was new to my company, I noticed what I thought were a lot of inefficiencies and was…grumpy about it. The best advice I received at the time is to do the process as-is and keep note of any areas for potential improvement. Complete the process until you’re familiar/comfortable with the current state and then either propose or make changes (depending on your role and the work culture). The more familiar you are with a process, the more efficient you will be at…making it more efficient! And always ask open-ended questions if you aren’t sure about something – this allows the person to provide you with information

    1. OutofOffice*

      Got cut off there – should say “allows the person to provide you with information without feeling defensive.”

  112. Elbe*

    I feel like I’ve met the LW many times in my career.

    It’s one of my least favorite attitudes where someone feels like they can be snarky and rude if they feel they have a 51% chance of being right. Having a default stance of “You’re an idiot unless you prove me wrong” is one of the worst things a new (or existing, frankly) employee can do. It’s so unnecessarily nasty and combative.

    Being rudely, confidently wrong is not a good look.

    The LW should keep in mind:
    – As a new person, they don’t know this particular company’s quirks. Assuming that the company “should” follow industry standards is not a good position to take, because there are lots of good reasons why something non-standard is preferable in some cases… and that’s literally the point of training.

    – Assuming that Sally is incompetent based on the current procedures/trainings isn’t very logical when this wasn’t her main role. If everything was perfect and there were no issues, the company probably wouldn’t have needed to hire the LW. “Sally isn’t doing MY job right” is a very tone deaf complaint to make.

    – Professional communication is part of the job. If the LW is unable to interact with Sally respectfully any time they think they’re right, they’re not being a good employee.

    – Making mean judgements about Sally’s “backbone” making things way too personal. It’s not the LW’s place to evaluate her as a person. And it sounds like her backbone is just fine if she’s able to push back on an older colleague when they’re wrong, and walk away when they don’t treat her with respect.

  113. FashionablyEvil*

    Ooh boy. I manage someone very like the LW (dismissive of feedback, belief that being right is the most important thing, etc.) I’m pretty sure we’re going to end up letting them go because they’ve burned so many bridges in such a short period of time and can’t begin to understand how their attitude and behavior is a problem.

    There’s always information you don’t have about a situation—humility, trust, and listening to others go a long long way towards problem solving.

    1. Brett B*

      I was thinking how the original advice should have been to try and report it Sally to the boss, so the boss could coach the LW!

  114. SallySux*

    It still isn’t fair that Sally gets to complain to the boss about LW’s comments without any review to check the complaint’s veracity or an opportunity for LW to tell her side.

    1. Me*

      Are you kidding? What do you think the manager raising the issue with the OP is? That’s quite literally the time for the OP to tell their side. And they’re telling their side here which doesn’t paint them favorably or “right” in any sense of the word.

    2. Daffodilly*

      Hi OP! Nice to see you’re in the comments.
      Sally doesn’t suck. You did get to tell your side (aka the crappy excuses you made here) you just weren’t right.

      1. Excel-sior*

        The good news is, we’ve literally just read LW’s side of the story. Th bad news? It does not make LW look good.

    3. OutofOffice*

      LW states that they received feedback. It sounds like the feedback received was something along the lines of “Sally mentioned that she feels bullied by you in your trainings because of X and Y. She has asked not to train you anymore.” To me, that’s indicative of a conversation in which LW had an opportunity to clarify. I would agree if LW had punished without sharing their side, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here.

      Everyone should be allowed to raise issues like this to their manager! It strikes me, from my experience, that Sally handled this professionally.

    4. Former Young Lady*

      Huh? The LW pretty much confirmed the veracity of the complaint right here.

      They obviously didn’t MEAN to self-incriminate, no, but it’s the kind of thing that happens easily enough when your confidence outstrips your competence.

      If I’m a boss and a known-quantity employee with a track record of professionalism raises this kind of alarm about a new hire, I will give the new hire a chance to explain themselves. But if their explanation sounds even faintly like this one, it will not exonerate them — quite the opposite.

    5. Jennifer Strange*

      If the boss had immediately fired the LW without any further discussion or questions you might have a point, but that’s not what happened.

    6. I WORKED on a Hellmouth*

      This is the most hilarious response I have ever read here. From start to finish. Just HILARIOUS.

    7. fine tipped pen afficionado*

      In the hypothetical situation where — and I’m not saying this is what’s happening — the LW were to see their letter published and were to read the comments and find the overwhelming consensus that LW has misjudged their situation and perhaps themselves pretty severely, it would be understandable if LW was upset.

      I’m not saying you’re LW! This is all hypothetical, see. But if, hypothetically, you were LW, I would tell you that being criticized is really hard no matter how secure or mature or competent you are. It’s okay to be upset about negative feedback.

      But attached to the critique is a lot of really helpful advice and perspective in these comments. None of us, including the hypothetical letter writer who may or may not be you, including even Sally, like to face the fact that we may be wrong. But a mature, competent, and confident professional will work through their feelings privately and start trying out different methods to correct the issue that these comments have spelled out in ever possible way.

      LW if you’re out there — and I’m not saying you are — I hope you see this and take to heart that you can’t reach your full potential without developing your interpersonal skills a little more and that would be a shame for you, and for your coworkers and organization.

    8. Not So NewReader*

      You’re right. LW should march right into the boss’ office and say all the things she is telling Sally. I mean I am sure the boss will get right on it and fix all those problems. And she will probably send Sally for life coaching or counseling, too.


      If LW goes to the boss and presents the same case/talking points she uses here then LW might be out of a job before she is out of an 8 hour work day.

      So yes, LW can do as they wish, but they have to know that there will be consequences.

    9. Piffle.*

      If you are the LW and *that* is the user name you have chosen, then I would say it’s fair that your behaviour amounts to bullying. That’s a whole lot of hostility and disrespect on display right there.

  115. Daffodilly*

    Boggled that OP at the time time:
    – Is annoyed that Sally didn’t hand hold him enough in his training and expected more detailed “tell me step by step what to do” info
    – Thinks he knows better than her about everything.

    I mean, was there any way this young woman who has done really well in her career and is farther ahead that you have deemed appropriate for her could possibly have done anything right?

    Something tells me the answer is no.
    OP, you need to take a long hard look at yourself in the mirror. Are you actually qualified for this job? I don’t think it’s unwarranted for Sally to expect you to have some skill and knowledge already. Could you be feeling threatened that you’re in over your head and this young uppity woman who should not be at the level she is has to train almighty you? Are you maybe taking it out on her that she knows better than you?

  116. Sparkles McFadden*

    I don’t know if you’re going to read this far along in the comments, LW. There’s good stuff here, so please keep an keep an open mind.

    I just want to add that even someone who does not have the same technical experience will know many useful things. There really is something to learn from everyone, even if you are just learning what not to do.

    Based on your account of Sally’s response, I’d say she’s very professional and she handled a difficult situation well. That, along with your mention that Sally is far along in her career, would make me think Sally is highly valued. (Just a guess of course.) So, right at the start in the new workplace, you’ve annoyed a valued person enough to have her say “Hey, I tried and I am done with this new person.” Apologize to Sally, listen more than you talk and dump the “I’m the expert here” bravado. Even if you are an expert, you’re not the only one out there. You’ve started at ground level and dug yourself a hole. Don’t make the hole deeper.

  117. Idontevengohere*

    “I was trying to help her see ways to improve her procedures and explaining why she was wrong”
    …”I told her, “That cannot be right.” and “I doubled down that she “must have been mistaken.”

    Where is the explaining why she was wrong? You seem to have been more focused on you being right, then on learning why your company might do a procedure at different way.

    You might benefit from some self reflection here. Are you really interested in learning your job? Or are you interested in proving you know more than another person?

  118. Red5*

    “…I was trying to help her see ways to improve her procedures and explaining why she was wrong.”

    LW, but you now KNOW she wasn’t wrong. You asked and found out she wasn’t wrong, yet in you’re letter you’re still claiming she was wrong. That’s some next-level contempt you’re showing right there for your new coworker. I highly recommend that you do whatever is necessary to add the phrases, “I was wrong,” and, “I’m sorry,” to your vocabulary. Managers can always train people to execute new skills; they can’t train people to not be a jerk.

  119. AnonYTA*

    For half of this letter, I was convinced this was my former male colleague who was never wrong, never made mistakes, knew more than anybody, became agitated and angry when corrected, and adamantly defended himself with “but it wasn’t directed at her! If she was offended it’s HER fault for being that way” when he trashed his office, punched furniture, and screamed profanities at me while blocking my escape. The entire letter dripped with this general kind of grandiose thinking and dismissiveness. I hope this colleague gets out or doesn’t need to work with LW again. Going to the boss with the backbone argument would be a great way to help insulate the colleague and open some eyes, actually.

    1. Observer*

      OK, this is a story I really want to hear more about.

      And I certainly hope he got walked out of the office for this particular escapade.

      1. AnonYTA*

        I refused to do something red tape illegal that he was involved in. He lost control of me and flipped. I reported it to my boss and HR. That was his defense to them. I was nearly fired for refusing to sit down with him and talk it through, no harm/foul, big misunderstanding, etc. He was fired for something else entirely. I quit. Yeah.

  120. Temporarily Anonymous Technician*

    LW, you’ve got to be sensitive to the fact that you are IN TRAINING, and things you say will be heard in the context of your in-training status. Tone and kind wording always matters in a workplace, but doubly so when you are taking on a new role, without capital or a reputation built up in that role. Until you are fully trained, and have gotten familiar with not just how to perform the tasks/procedures, but WHY they are in place, and why the SOP or Work Instruction or whatever you call it exists in the first place, the best course of action is to ask questions and ABSORB.

    Coming in without a combination of time physically sitting in that chair doing those things, or a more-than-superficial understanding of said Things IN THAT CONTEXT, you have no standing to critique them. Doing so, as you have done, will (and unfortunately already has) come off as arrogance.

    I am a senior technical person in my company, with serious experience in Quality Management Systems, which I do not enjoy (understatement of the year). We recently brought in someone from a sister company to train on our QMS, in hopes of putting him in a Quality Technician position and taking a load off a couple of us who were already swamped and needed to get back to our usual muckery. I’m not lying when I told you that within the first week of giving him training on the first set of tasks, I got told over and over “oh, WE do it a different way”, “oh this is SO inefficient why didn’t you use the company intranet”, “why are the shop travellers on PAPER still”, all with a tone that could only be described as condescending, and always ending with a weird little smirk-laugh at how terrible our procedures are. Mind you we are in a related but functionally VERY different industry and have two decades of reasons for how our SOPs and documents evolved into their current form.

    He was lucky that he was, at the time, on loan on a trial basis, and had a job to go back to. It was less than a month before we were simply exhausted by the constant pushback and dismissive attitude towards the various people who worked with him.

    If you have made it this far through my cautionary tale… You may still have time to apologize, express appreciation to your trainer, and make a solid effort to be warm and respectful of the time she is giving you to grow. Fixing broken systems comes later. Right now, you aren’t yet in a position to accurately determine if they’re actually broken. Take all the advice here to heart quickly. “Not a good fit for the team” can be a devastating thing to hear, and I’m afraid you will hear it soon without some reflection and self-awareness.

    Good luck.

  121. Caryn Z.*

    Sometimes you just need to get through the training and make notes on changes you want to make, and not criticize the trainer.

  122. Boo Radley*

    I’ve gotta say Alison, I’m always impressed with how even and non-emotive your advice always is. It’s a good skill I’m trying to pick up from reading your blog.

  123. ShaquilleOatmeal*

    When in a new job I like to consider the first few weeks or even months sometimes an information gathering phase. If you come in voicing extremely strong opinions I find there are a lot of opportunities to mistep (practically or even politically) and create a negative first impressions with your new colleagues. You don’t yet know the companies processes might be different or if something you would suggest has been tried and failed previously. I think it’s generally a good idea to suck up all the information you can, be curious and then come out with some impressive insights and changes.

  124. just another bureaucrat*

    OP one of the things to note here is that you say that she was guiding you rather than giving you step-by-step instructions.

    It sounds like you’re someone who has a decent amount of experience in your field, and assuming you are a senior person rather than an entry-level person, you should expect that most of your training shouldn’t be step-by-step instructions, but rather general guidelines. The expectation is going to be that either you will know the details, or you’ll be able to follow procedures, or part of your job will be to create them.

    One of the things about more experienced roles is that you’re expected to bring more to the table, which you clearly think you do, and that means you’re not going to need the detailed hand-holding that someone who is newer might need.

    You should expect detailed step-by-steps in some jobs but I think it’s a good place to step back and check your own expectations for what the work you’re going to be doing is and how that aligns with the expectations for you.

  125. Jessie Spano*

    I was bullied in a similar way at my last job. Let me assure that every time it went to my supervisor (and eventually HR) my bully insisted she was just trying to be “professional” and “helpful” and she was sorry that I lack the maturity to handle a professional workplace.

    1. Required Name*

      I am very sorry that happened to you. I resonated with Sally as well and even thought about anonymously sending this letter to some people if they could see themselves in LW and learn from it.

  126. anonymous73*

    Just based on how your letter is written, you’re coming across as very defensive and combative, and if that’s the way you were treating Sally, I don’t blame her for reporting your behavior. There is a polite and professional way to interact with a colleague and the way you describe is wildly out of line. I don’t think I’d describe what you did as bullying, but it was disrespectful and rude. I suggest you take a step back and really think about the way you’ve been treating Sally, apologize, and find more constructive and polite ways to express yourself at work. Sally may not be the best trainer, but that doesn’t excuse your behavior.

  127. ariel*

    Totally agree with Alison’s advice and perspective, but I’m wondering if OP should apologize via email or note rather than in-person. I have to wonder if Sally wants to be approached by them right now! Maybe consider a nice note and an offer to buy her a coffee in thanks sometime, OP, if you think you could treat Sally with goodwill and generosity once she is not responsible for guiding you through your work. I too can be a brusque know-it-all, so I’ve been there, and maybe a note will be eaiser for you to make sure your tone is right?

  128. LGC (aka Sally)*


    So, the only thing I agree with is that I think calling it “bullying” is a little inappropriate. Mostly because I personally find the term childish, so that’s my baggage.

    Okay, maybe Sally might be sensitive as well. I know I’d be DREADING working with you if I were in Sally’s position, and I’ll admit that I take things way too personally still. (I am beginning to question why we’re expected to take all sorts of poor behavior calmly while at work, but that’s for another day.) But – this is crucial – it can be possible for someone to be “overly sensitive” AND for the other person to be (as Alison said) a jerk. Even if Sally is overreacting, that still doesn’t give you the right to behave that way.

    Finally, one of the things I’ve had to learn is a sense of humility, and it seems like that’s something you might need to learn as well, LW. In the instance where Sally was right about the exception…it doesn’t matter that you would have been generally right, Sally knew the situation better than you did and had the required context.

    Okay, one more thing (And another lesson I’ve learned the hard way): don’t email when angry, LW. Maybe I’m projecting, but it feels like this letter was written when you were mad about the reprimand. I hope that after sending it, you’ve had a chance to reflect on how it sounded.

    1. MCMonkeyBean*

      I don’t think “bullying” is an inherently childish word and it is absolutely something people can experience as adults! I do think though that the word has become overused and that it is not the same thing as just being a jerk. “Bullying” I think is generally a more targeted kind of meanness. Hurting people is the purpose. I don’t think OP is actively *trying* to hurt Sally… but is clearly doing so anyway by being extremely dismissive, inconsiderate and just straight-up rude.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      If you google work place bullying you can get lists of specific behaviors to help identify what workplace bullying looks like.

      And you are not that far off the mark, we are talking about an adult with the behaviors one would expect of a five year old. And that is the problem right there, an adult behaving like a child in the workplace is not acceptable.

  129. The Other Katie*

    Honestly though claiming someone who’s the target of your criticism just needs a stiffer backbone is a classic bully move.

    1. Dark Macadamia*

      Yep. Even if Sally was overreacting and LW had been correct and professional, “it’s her fault for being weak” is the wrong response.

  130. LMB*

    The LW seems also to be interacting with Sally based on a lot of bias and/or resentment around the fact that Sally is young and successful (and a maybe because she’s a woman). It doesn’t seem necessary to include those details, but they were included. This may have been part of the reason the LW refused to accept what she was telling them regarding that one issue the LW was wrong about, and then didn’t seem to think of apologizing.

    1. AnonYTA*

      Yep. I also suspect Sally’s convo with the boss was less about bullying and more about the new person not being a good fit.

  131. Nom*

    LW, i might recommend you read the book “the first 90 days”. I think it helps lay out how to spend your time in a new role learning, and then adapting your knowledge and procedures to the job.

  132. NotAnotherOne*

    OP, I think you should go to her boss and tell them everything you told us here. Tell the boss that you’re just trying to help and since Sally is a younger woman, she really needs your guidance. That way, you can establish that you’re the SME of the industry. Sally is being waaay too sensitive (probably because she’s a young woman) and even though you’ve only been at the job for a year, you know way more about the processes that go on. I think the boss with be so overwhelmed with your gumption that you’ll be on the fast track to upper management./s

    I’ve worked with your type too many times. I appear to be young and sometimes when I’m training an older person, they won’t take me seriously or will challenge me (even tho we’re on the same team and I’m trying to help them). I’ve even had a couple people say “wow, you’re really young”. I then go to my boss and inform him that my trainee refuses to do what I’m training them on. Often times that person was let go. It’s really not a good look for a newer employee to come in, challenging those who have been there and not even have the decency or professionalism to apologize when they’re wrong. You may be this way because you think you’re not replaceable (since it’s a niche industry). But unless you’re the only employee there, which you’re not, there are other people who can do your job. The company survived prior to hiring you and will survive if they have to fire you. No one, in any field, is irreplaceable. Honestly, if I was your supervisor, I would be watching you very carefully and making sure you’re not trying to intimidate or bulldoze over younger staff.

    I strongly suggest you get some self awareness and learn how to be humble. It may have not caused trouble for you to be this way up until now, but at some point, your attitude is going to hurt your career and reputation. I’m sure you don’t want to be known as a know it all bully in your industry.

    Also, if you don’t agree with the way you’re being trained/guided or if you aren’t happy with the way the training is, why don’t you work with others to update the workflows or whatever documents are used?

    1. Critical Rolls*

      Well, if LW follows the /s advice in the first paragraph, they will probably save everyone some time, lol. Why be a slow-motion train wreck when you can be an actual speed train wreck?

  133. EmmaPoet*

    To quote the ever-brilliant Alison Green from another post:

    “Regardless of how you think things should work, it’s worth learning how things do work, and why. You’ll be happier. You’ll probably be more successful at whatever it is you want to do.”

    LW, you were wrong, and Sally was right. The reason she was right is because the procedure she gave you is how things work at this company. Your previous experience doesn’t matter. Current Company has their own way of doing things, and it works for them. You owe Sally an apology for being rude and snippy. You also need to put in some time and energy on soft skills, like the ability to ask a question when something seems wrong without being a jerk about it.

      1. EmmaPoet*

        Serendipity led me to it just before I read this post. It was from a while back, where someone sent feedback to an applicant about their badly written/overly long resume and the applicant pitched a wall-eyed fit.

  134. mouse*

    Even without the rest of the letter, the opening had my hackles up — if someone says they were hurt by your actions (or they were bullied, or literally anything negative) then it means you hurt them (even if they are wrong — their feelings still matter and you being right doesn’t change that).

    If you don’t want to be a jerk, then consider the fact that people aren’t robots, and your actions effect others.

  135. argh*

    Opening line: I recently received feedback at work and need to know how to respond. I think my boss is very wrong, but I am unsure of the best way to make her see that.

    Not only does OP think his colleague is wrong, his boss is VERY WRONG, and he needs the boss to see the wrongness too.

    1. GammaGirl1908*

      Yep and ouch. So everyone is very wrong except LW? And LW needs to make them all see that? And in LW’s examples, LW is actually the only wrong one? And LW has already alienated at least one colleague? And LW is still new and doesn’t yet know how everything works?

      We’re all trying to be nice-ish to LW, but … LW is coming in WAY too hot. LW needs to sit and be quiet and learn before deciding that s/he is the only one who knows the right way to do anything. Even on those occasions where LW does have a better suggestion, it needs to be expressed differently.

  136. Hippo-nony-potomus*

    “She is much younger than most people on the team and is further along in her career than most people her age. I think this is a self confidence issue on her part, to know that I was trying to help her see ways to improve her procedures and explaining why she was wrong. I want to tell my boss that Sally would benefit from a backbone and will certainly need one to further her career. It seems my boss wants me to blindly accept everything Sally says as true and not ask questions.”

    Everyone has covered a lot of the issues – just highlighting that you still think Sally is wrong when she’s actually right – but let’s focus on the fact that she’s young and advancing fast. Sally is probably really flipping smart and ambitious, and got where she is by knowing *exactly* what she’s talking about. That isn’t someone who needs a lesson in self-confidence; that’s someone who has a lot of confidence (and, frankly, enough confidence to put you in your place). Finding ways for her to still be “wrong” even when she’s right is going to annoy her, and it’s your job to figure out how to not annoy your colleagues.

  137. CommanderBanana*

    Also, sadly, best case scenario is that LW’s supervisor has a frank talk with them and they have the self-awareness to examine and correct their own behavior, but having worked with people like this in the past, what I (cynically) feel like is more likely to happen is that Sally and future Sallies will get fed up and leave and the OP’s office will be stuck with a Broken Stair employee.

    1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

      Insofar as the manager has told OP to accept what Sally says as correct rather than challenging her all the time, I feel it’s more likely that OP will be told to leave next time they upset her.

  138. MCMonkeyBean*

    OP I think this to me is the most key piece of your issue here:

    “I think this is a self confidence issue on her part, to know that I was trying to help her see ways to improve her procedures and explaining why she was wrong.”

    Even though *you now know that she was actually right* you are *still* describing that interaction as you explaining why she was wrong. She wasn’t wrong! But you are still acting as though she was!

    It’s certainly possible that Sally is also being overly sensitive, but it’s definitely clear that you need *less* backbone. You are so rigidly sure that Your Way Is Right, and that is not a good thing to bring into a new role. Bringing a new perspective is helpful and it’s good to ask questions! Say “I’m not sure about this piece because I’ve only ever seen it as X so why is this done as Y” is totally fine! But insisting the people who do something differently than you are automatically wrong is not.

    1. Liz T*

      What a great line to single out, since OP clearly has a self-confidence issue (whether too little or too much) and needs to know that Sally was trying to help them see ways to improve their work and their boss is explaining why they were wrong.

  139. Doctors Whom*

    Sally has had some A+ training (or instinct) on conflict management and communicating with difficult personalities.

  140. Daddy22*

    Perhaps you should ask your manager to help you find some social skills training as you clearly don’t have any….Sally was trying to help, encouraged you to make changes, rebutted your incorrect assumption of company policy (which you admitted to being wrong on), and has asked to be removed from training you – which you claim she isn’t doing anyway. And you want to report her for what? Trying her best to train someone who thinks they are better than her or that know more than her? Get down off your high horse and own your own arrogance, apologize to Sally for your mistakes, and take a moment to listen to her as you may just learn something.

  141. Calling to Confirm*

    I have learned that when you are new to a workplace and you see things that are obviously illogical/broken it is better to politely ask for an explanation vs assuming the people who work there don’t know any better and you are some kind of genius who noticed something everyone else missed. Sometimes fresh eyes do help spot new and great solutions but there’s nothing wrong with getting your bearings first. When newbies to my workplace ask about weird stuff I almost feel bad unpacking the true weirdness of some things… “we tried that but [insert giant rabbit hole here]” so I wait until they’re settled in before going into all the stuff that makes the company look bad. :)

  142. Pikachu*

    I found out from another colleague a couple weeks later that Sally was right and our company is just a rare exception to the rule, but it is certainly rare enough to warrant my pushback.

    Did this specific topic just happen to come up in conversation, and you just so happened to learn the truth because you were listening at the moment? Or did it come up because you were disparaging Sally to another colleague and they set you straight?

    I agree that maybe the interpersonal interactions between OP and Sally don’t amount to bullying, but if OP is talking negatively about Sally to other coworkers the way they do in this letter, then yeah we’re moving into bullying territory. However, with any number of relevant incidents omitted from the letter, who can know?

    It seems my boss wants me to blindly accept everything Sally says as true and not ask questions.

    This line rrreeeeeeeeally hit me the wrong way. It is so absurdly disingenuous.

    Sally is your trainer. In general, trainers are charged with presenting current fact/best practice/whatever within the context of the organization. Their job is to get you up to speed on the current state of things in the company and how things are done. This is what your boss expects Sally to do. It’s what Sally expects to do.

    Your job is to learn from your trainer. That’s what your boss wants you to do. With that goal in mind, OP, do you really think your boss doesn’t want you to ask questions at all ever? Do you REALLY think that? Of course you don’t. That would be ridiculous. You KNOW there is a difference between asking clarifying questions to get more information from your trainer (what your boss wants/expects) and questioning whether your trainer even knows what they are talking about (a question which, ironically, you are the least qualified person to answer!).

    I think a healthy dose of self-reflection is in order here. Most of all OP, lots of positions are difficult to hire for. None are impossible.

    1. TootsNYC*

      yeah, it’s sort of weird how those are cast as opposites.

      Or course everything Sally is going to tell them is true!!! Does the Letter Writer think she would lie? Or that she would be so stupid?

      Sally is training them about THIS company which is where Sally has worked (and learned enough to get a good promotion) and our LetterWriter has not.

      Why is “asking questions” set up as somehow challenging Sally’s truthfulness, and not as “gathering more information” or “asking her to expand,” or “clarifying”??

      1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

        Because the spirit in which OP asks questions is challenging. They see Sally as young and incompetent (on top of being female… am I the only one who is picturing OP as a man?) and so they challenge her truthfulness/competence/knowledge. They don’t seem to think they need more information or clarification, despite being shown that Sally was right and they were wrong.

  143. TootsNYC*

    “these procedures are bad and broken” is not in the least helpful, btw.
    It’s a generic negative judgment, which is often simply an insult.

    “This is inefficient”
    “This procedure creates a lot of back-and-forth”
    “this procedure doesn’t jibe with the regulations”
    “This isn’t secure enough”
    “Those instructions need to have more detail”

    Those are specific. It would still be better, when you’re working with someone else, especially when you’re the new person, to soften those (“seems inefficient” or “I think…”)

    And to express those as pieces of information or feedback, or even just observation, and NOT as something to blame the other person for.

  144. Sleeping Late Every Day*

    “[B]ut I hate to bore you with details” = I don’t want to admit all the other ways I screwed up.

  145. Chriama*

    OP, has this ever come up in other work or personal relationships? Because the way you describe your interactions her is *so* combative that I find it hard to imagine no one else in your life has ever had a problem with your argumentativeness, aggressiveness, or condescension. I don’t use those words to deride you, but to ask you to stop and take a look at how you interact with people in general. You approach these interactions as a fight to be won against someone (I told her she was wrong, my boss wants me to accept what Sally says without question, Sally needs to grow a backbone and not refuse to engage with me when I get “snarky”). How would you interact with Sally if you were thinking “Sally is helping me as best as she knows how. We both want me to succeed.” instead of “Sally is incompetent and weak.” It may be worth talking through this with other people in your life, or even a therapist.

  146. pcake*

    I wonder what made the letter writer think that the procedures he didn’t care for were Sally’s. I have had to teach people bad procedures in the past because the company required me to do so. The procedures were in place before I worked there, and after I worked there, they were still using them.

  147. Paige*

    What if the procedures were actually written by Sally and she’s really proud of them? Even if they’re not great, that would mean the LW was disparaging about them