In this blog, I’ll address an email I received from a TechRepublic member:

I was, up until recently, a trainer. I trained new employees and current employees on new procedures, policies, and guidelines set by the companies we work with and the FDA.

My boss was always on all of us as to why we have so many technical errors, why policies aren’t being followed, etc. In the past I discussed with her that the only time that she treated me as a trainer was when I was in trouble about something, I told her that any other time I was not taken seriously. She even commented in my review that that was because she felt I “cried wolf” too many times. Yet the error rates have gotten worse and the policies aren’t being followed. Her comment when I mention that to her is:  “I can’t do anything if I don’t know about it.”

Here’s what happened and I hope that you don’t judge me too harshly. As a trainer in an effort to improve things I didn’t let anything slide. I explained things and demonstrated things in order to train. I have a loud voice, but don’t cuss and scream in my training. I ask people why they do things the way they do or who showed them how to do that. I was told that was the wrong approach. But I had an expectation that I felt people needed to reach. A staff member complained that I wasn’t very nice and I didn’t like him. This is something that was discussed a year ago and I changed my approach.

Six months ago everything was fine per my Director in my review. But in my review last week, I was told that the staff complained that I was “grumpy, nit picking, belittling and talking down to people.”  I was told by my Director and the COO that this constituted a hostile work environment and that my negative attitude and keeping the pot stirred makes people not want to come to work.

I thought everything was going well, and I had no idea that things were as bad as they were. I knew I wasn’t well-liked but not like this. My Director never said a word to me about this until my review last week. I felt I was doing a good job getting training done and improving performance. My Director got most of her information from a peer review. I received a PIP and a demotion into a different position. My Director said that this all came to light two weeks ago and if it would have happened after my review, I wouldn’t have been demoted. They said I still had to fix all the communication problems except that I will not be training.

Toni’s take

I would first like to quickly address the process by which you found out about your demotion, etc. This is one of the reasons I advocate more frequent reviews (quarterly perhaps) or that a manager should at least have enough awareness of the day-to-day activities of the staff that he or she can make an educated observation without depending solely on what they’re told by your peers. Your Director at one point even said, “I can’t do anything if I don’t know about it.” Well, how about peeking your head into a training session? Or doing more frequent canvassing of those in the training classes? At least then she could learn about your issues and work with you incrementally on changing some of the behavior.

Now, as to the issue itself–your demeanor as a trainer. You are not alone in being unaware of how you come across to people. People will interpret the behavior of others in many ways. Sometimes the interpretation is wrong and sometimes it isn’t. For example, even though you say you didn’t “cuss or scream,” there are other ways to come across as belittling or intimidating.

I’m wondering, for example, what purpose was served by asking folks why they were doing something a certain way or who told them to do it that way. What difference would it make who told them? What would you do with that information if you had it? Those types of questions come across as ways to humiliate more than correct.

You mention you knew you weren’t well-liked. What indications did you have and why didn’t you take steps to address them before? You don’t always have to be liked but you should examine the “why’s” if only for yourself. If they’re disliking you for how you come across and you don’t intend it that way, then you can work on it.

As to what you do now, I suggest you take a look at how you work with others. In other words, success at your job has been defined for you via your review. If you want to stay at that company and move forward (actually this holds for any company you might work for), you have to look at your behavior objectively to see what you can do differently. If you can take it, you might try talking to one of the people who finds you belittling and get specifics. It won’t be a pleasant conversation, but it may be the only way to see what’s going on.

Maybe training is not where you need to be. Maybe you should be writing documentation or tech books and articles. (It’s like the doctor who chooses to work in research because she doesn’t have good people skills.) Either way, it’s a good time to look at what you really want to do.