My manager went off on me?

Hello all
I just started working at a company a month ago. This is my first job after a 2 year sabbatical that I took to raise my child.
I work in high tech and this company is an extremely well known one, at the top of their Fortune 50 game. So I. Was thrilled to actually get in. It is a consulting position though.
So, I was brought in because the previous consultant had suddenly quit for health reasons and they were really behind on meeting a project deadline.
I came in and got the most urgent thing that was left hanging in the air completed in the first 10 days.
I have been attending various meetings with my manager and am trying my best to connect the dots and understand what’s going on.
I admit I have been absorbing informAtion in large group meetings or technical working sessions than actively participating. It’s another thing that I have no context of what the meetings are about- an invite just pops up in my calendar.

So last week I got an invite for a 3 hour meeting. No background whatsoever of who we are meeting and what it’s about.
As an aside, and not making excuses- I was down wih a cold and was feeling miserable too.
So as the meeting progressed, I grasped what it was about. But again, I didn’t speak up or ask questions. I did have some, but before I could ask them, some key else would.

Well, once we stepped out of the meeting, my manager went off on me. She started her rant in the lobby, saying “ok… I really need you to ask questions and not just absorb, a sorb, absorb”. Then she asked me to follow her to the office and shut the door and said " I expect you to ask questions, show leadership. How will you handle a your business users? I see you as a good note-taker and order-taker, but I’m not seeing any leadership. I’m worried for you. Do you understand d what’s going on? Do you connect the dots?" ( yelling all of this btw).
I said I did understand, and started to add that I did deliver something within 10 days of starting, I am speaking up at my project meetings, recently demanded that I take over a part of the project that was entrusted to someone else who wants actively doing anything about it, have already made a presentation to several groups of business folks worldwide… but I do need time to ramp up and pitch in when meetings are about things you guys have been working on for months!

But I didn’t say any of it… for some reason I said “if I’m not working out for you, let me know”. She was like no no … we are not even going there.

I have never got a bad performance review in 10 years of work in high tech, never been laid off, never failed at a project. So this was very humiliating to me.
I’m dreading going back to work tomorrow.
What do I do? I was tempted to just turn my badge in.

If I was wrong in not speaking up at all, from a manager’s perspective, I’ll accept that. I just want to know what a third person’s opinion would be.

Use that famous quote better to keep you mouth shut and be thought a fool then to open it and remove all doubt.
Tell your boss that going into that meeting you had no background or context. You did not want to make him look bad by asking a really dumb question, and while you are good you aren’t psychic. If he wants psychic tell him to call Dione Warwick.

Her anger suggests to me that she was trying to showcase you at this meeting. She was clearly at fault for not prepping you in advance. My guess she was projecting anger at herself on to you.

There’s no excuse for her to yell at you at all. As far as expectations, depending upon the complexity of the project, I can understand her thinking that you already have a good understanding of the project since you’ve already managed to take care of critical items. But 10 days isn’t enough time to have a thorough understanding of every aspect of it.

I work with a lot of consultants in my job. I get a little annoyed when it’s clear that they’re just there as time keepers and never bother to gain subject matter expertise. But, I’d be shocked if they suddenly understood everything we’re doing from soup to nuts. Unless they’d been working in the very specialized field I do for years, they couldn’t possibly get it all.

There’s an entire forum for this sort of thing with a wonderful pre-existing thread devoted to bitching about work. Here. A mere 7,034 posts in the thread, 670,992 views.

I don’t think there’s a right or wrong here. Your manager was indicating to you what her needs/desires are, though she could have done it without all the yelling. You can choose to take it as constructive criticism or beat yourself up over it. Or vilify her. But it might be better for your self-esteem to take it as constructive criticism and try to work on it.

I can’t speak off the cuff well, and I need some time to digest my thoughts before I can really dissect a problem and come up with a solution. But one of the most important things I learned in graduate school was how to ask questions at the end of a presentation. A speaker would rather get a bone-headed question (as long as it’s prefaced the right way) rather than no questions at all. And sometimes one question is all that’s needed to get the juices flowing from the other audience members.

Managers rely on underlings to ask questions because many times they don’t know what questions to ask. Any technical question they do ask is likely to show their ignorance, and they’d rather not show this. They hire people like you to do the detail-oriented listening for them so that then they can focus on the big picture-type issues. So while I don’t like her approach, I don’t think your manager is being unreasonable here. Unless you’re quietness and non-assertiveness was just a one-time thing.

You’ve got a nice placement in a competitive industry and you’re making excuses for being somewhat passive which drives many bosses up the wall. You need to pitch in and at least start pretending like you are fully engaged.
Your feelings are valid to you, but from a distance they look a little whiny or at the least a little clueless as to what is expected of a consultant. Your boss wants more than a diligent worker bee, as a well paid consultant she wants some take charge action out of you. Waiting like Goldilocks until the oatmeal is just right to fully engage is going to get you re-assigned or fired. You need to pick up the pace or fake it till you make it.

Your boss just gave you carte blanche to assert yourself.

So get back in there on Monday and start asserting.

It would be far worse if—as a consultant—you were yelled at for speaking your mind.

Go git’em tiger.

First thing: tomorrow’s going to get here. And when it does, you’re going to have to handle your fear as best you can, go in there, try to get a fresh start, and kick some butt.

Sounds like it’s less than clear to you what your manager is expecting of you, what your areas of responsibility are, what you’re supposed to be doing in those areas. If so, you need to sit down and talk with her about this. You’re not going to make her happy if the two of you are not on the same page.

And just for my own education: it sounds like you’re employed full-time by this company. Exactly how are you a ‘consultant’? In the worlds I’ve been in, a consultant worked for an independent firm (or was an independent firm - my dad went that route for a couple of decades) that brought specialized expertise to other companies that those companies didn’t want to have to develop in-house.

I feel you. Getting called out at work stings, especially if you are a hard worker.

That said, dwelling on it won’t do you any favors. I’d chalk the outburst up to stress, and make a note to be more active.

I am definitely more of an “absorb and tinker on my own” learner myself. I’ve learned to keep a physical list of random questions handy to appease those who can’t imagine learning without dialogue.

Well, with a week’s advance notice of a 3-hour meeting, it behooves you to find out what the meeting’s about. If nobody knows, keep asking. Who would call a 3-hour meeting and not tell anyone what it’s about?


Care to share a random question or two that you pull out when the meeting starts to lag?



That’s a really good point.

I wouldn’t construe any of that as yelling, even if it was loud. Take it in the spirit that it was intended: constructive criticism, rather then calculated humiliation.

What pancakes said. The most worrisome part of the exchange to me is that your response to that constructive criticism was to say “if I’m not working out for you, let me know.”

It sounds like you and your boss need to have a talk about expectations and what each of you see as your role in the organization. It’s a talk that you have to participate in, and not just listen to. What she said was just the beginning of this conversation. “I see you as a good note-take and order-taker, but… I’m worried for you,” is her telling you what you’re doing well and what you need to work on. Her saying “we’re not going there” seems to me like it was intended to be reassuring.

The best way to not have this happen again is for the two of you to be on the same page as far as what you’re doing. It might be painful getting there, but it’s a lot less painful than looking for a new job.

The OP said “So last week I got an invite for a 3 hour meeting.” The meeting occurred, so it was last week as well, but there’s no sign of just when. For all we know, she got ten minutes advance notice.

My opinion of the situation is a little different than the others I have seen thus far. I have seen various management styles in my life, and from what I have experienced this may be one of those situations you want to really think about and plan a good course of action.

Some managers can be very good at manipulating others, I make no judgement upon whether this is good or bad it is just just something I have observed. Sometimes such managers are very good at gaining leverage for the purposes of getting people to do what they want in interesting ways. She has succeeded in getting a highly emotional response from you. She may know you and what makes you tick better than you realize, and your fear of getting a bad review etc. is something she can use as leverage to get what she wants; I have no idea of course, I just basically am aware of this particular technique.

Most often, I have seen this management style used heavily on people who take considerable pride in their work(which you seem to). The worker who takes personal pride in his or her work will often go above and beyond the normal job requirements to get the satisfaction of a job well done. If such an employee is made to feel that they are not doing a good job, they will often go to great lengths to try to become a “good” employee or do a “good” job, and will go to great lengths to gain approval. In an office environment I have seen it used effectively in motivating a lower paid employee to do the work of a typically higher paid employee, I have actually also seen it used in retail to great effect in motivating salaried managers to work very long hours while being understaffed as well as motivating hourly workers to continue to work after their shift is over unpaid.

Typical characteristics and outcomes of this style are many of the things you have mentioned - former employee left very abruptly with many loose ends left dangling, somewhat chaotic meeting arrangements that make proper preparation somewhat difficult. Usually in this situation employees are reprimanded for vague subjective criteria such as “lack of leadership skills” and concrete or measures of performance are ignored or given little weight for obvious reasons.

What I’m describing probably doesn’t sound too pleasant, but I wouldn’t say turn your badge in just yet. This sort of management style could be on the rise for all I know; as I described above it does have a way of getting a little more out of people - it may just be a way more and more companies are adapting to the current economic climate. It sounds like its a little different tune bein played than you’re used to, but maybe if you learn to dance to it a little better might not besobad.

Just a few thoughts I had on the matter. I’m no Peter Drucker by any means, but hope I could be of some help. Good luck.


“Can we quickly go over the timeline for X?”
“Just to clarify, how would you describe Ys role?”
“What points of tension might come up in Z?”
“Do you anticipate any resistance to A?”
“Can you explain why move B is happening now? What changed to enable this?”
“What is the buy in on P from Q?”

It doesn’t even really matter how inane the question is, because all people really remember is their (obviously) brilliant answer.

And the OP is asking for advice. In that thread people rarely get as much constructive feedback as has been given here and replies would be more likely to suggest the best size of pin to leave on the manager’s chair.