When You're New on the Job Try This Approach With an Impatient Coworker to Get What You Want

Dear Yom,

I am a new employee and have been at my position for a couple of weeks. My position consists of interacting with the public and helping them with legal matters. It is definitely a learning curve especially since the person training me has zero patience. She rushes through things at the speed she is accustomed to and gets frustrated when I don’t grasp tasks right away. She has jumped in to intervene and asked angrily “What are you doing?” when I’m not moving quick enough for her. I do not want to be “that person” which is new and is having difficulties and then complaining about her. She is a long time employee and liked by her peers. I can deal with the attitude I feel I am not learning as well as I might because I’m afraid to ask questions. Sometimes I ask and she makes me feel dumb for asking. Mind you all these things happen in front of the public. I don’t know what to do, i just want to succeed at my new job, help?
— New Kid

Dear New Kid,

Being in the learning and development field for longer than I admit, I am always sad when I hear that new hires aren’t properly onboarded and trained.  I am sure it is uncomfortable and stressful for you. I have some advice that I hope will help.

Rather than go above her head, I think it’s essential to speak with her first. You will no doubt create more tension in your relationship if you talk to her boss or HR. Only do that if this first approach doesn’t work.

I would think it through and plan how you’re going to approach her. I feel that appealing to her emotions, and her role might be the right way to go. Here are the steps:

  1. Create notes on the different tasks you perform, or add to any training materials you have.  It blows my mind when I see a new hire (often in a retail setting) being bombarded with instructions with no written backup for reference and the new team member isn’t taking any notes to remember.  Anyone struggles in that situation. So, I suggest you write out the processes or instructions. This way you will be able to identify what you don’t know or where you get tripped up.

  2. Make a list of what you need to know so you can respond specifically when she says “well what do you need to know?” Granted she is impatient, and that’s not appropriate, but it is the reality in this situation, so we want to finesse it.

  3. Determine when you will speak to her. Make sure you will have enough uninterrupted time to talk. Timing is critical here. Don’t ask her when she is rushing to lunch, or leaving for the day.

  4. Figure out how you will begin the conversation. You don’t want to stumble over your words. You need a strong opening statement and practice it beforehand. It can be as simple as saying “Jane, I’m having a hard time picking up on some of these tasks and keeping it straight in my head. There is so much to learn!  I appreciate everything you have done to help me. I want to do a good job, but I’m having a hard time with some of these tasks, and I wonder if you can help me? Can we schedule some time to walk through the process on _______, _______ and _______? That’s what I’m finding most difficult.

  5. It might be possible to do it right then and there - but start by giving her the option to set a time. But if it’s immediate, you will be prepared, so you don’t waste time. If she asks questions, you will have everything laid out, so it shows you know what’s going on and you are in control of your part of the equation.

  6. Take notes as you learn how to perform the tasks! This gives you a point of reference when you are working and have a question. It will also minimize repeated questions on your part, which I always find annoying and she may too.

  7. Somewhere in this conversation, you may want to ask her if she sees anything you need to do differently. Don’t be defensive. Hear her out and thank her for the feedback. If you need to discuss those things later, ask if you two can schedule the time to do it.

  8. Be prepared with a strong closing statement. In this approach, I’m hoping she will respond appropriately, but that may not to the case. So be ready for whatever. It might be “Thank you for taking the time to walk you through the steps.” Or, in the worst case scenario it may be “Okay, I understand you are super busy, and you told me this before. I’ll work on it myself and figure it out. Thanks for your time.” End of discussion.

Follow the steps above and edit as needed, because you know the situation and interpersonal dynamics much better than I do.

Now, if Jane doesn’t help you, or has a horrible attitude or demeans you so that you don’t get what you need, that’s when you go over her head and have a conversation with others.