Q. My first day on the job, a co-worker pulled me aside, warning "Watch your back." When I asked, "Watch for what?" He said, "Watch out for Peter. I'm not going to say more; draw your own conclusions."
While this initially worried me, I decided to ignore it. My supervisor, who I liked, was super busy and Peter was always willing to help. He passed along valuable insights concerning the tension between my supervisor and other department heads. He explained the employee whose place I took had left because she didn't like our supervisor's micro-management. Because I hadn't had anyone to confide in for a long while, I let Peter know what I hoped for in this new job and why I'd left my last employer.
Yesterday, I had the three month review that was to have ended my probationary period. My supervisor complimented me in a couple of areas but said he planned to extend my probation as other employees still needed to spend a great deal of time coaching me because I "caught on slow." He also said he'd heard I brought a lot of baggage with me from my last job and urged me to drop it if I wanted to succeed. I was so shocked I didn't ask questions.
After the meeting, I confronted Peter. He was surprised that my review had gone poorly and hurt I thought he had anything to do with that, saying our supervisor had slanted "casual, positive" comments he'd made about how much he enjoyed mentoring me and how glad I was to be in my new position. What do I do -- including with Peter? Should I seek out the person who told me to watch my back and find out why she said that?
A. Pull your leg out of the office politics trap you've placed it in. Ask your supervisor for a follow-up meeting and say you're sorry you got off on the wrong foot. Let him know what you like about your job and how hard you plan to work.
Follow your words with action. Undo your supervisor's initial negative impression through hard work and by building a positive relationship with him. New employees often seek help from everyone but their supervisor. This can prove a mistake, because by asking questions they build a communication channel with the key person, their supervisor, who most controls their job future.
You handled the initial gossip about Peter correctly -- don't seek out any more. Peter himself gave you all you need to know when he dished the dirt on your supervisor, making sure you knew why a former employee left. By doing so, he created a false sense of intimacy, leading you to share information that came back to bite you. In the future, limit what you share with Peter, however, neither seek him out nor avoid him. If you carry an obvious grudge, you may appear the problem.
Your supervisor can also learn from this situation if you ultimately have the chance to tell him the "rest" of the story. New employees feel like strangers in a strange land. As a result, they seek out the first ready source of apparently friendly information. Occasionally, these information sources have agendas which strongly influence the new employee's view of their supervisor and can sabotage the new employee's success. Supervisors that invest time in their new hires get them off to a good start.
Dr. Lynne Curry is a management/employee trainer and owner of the consulting firm The Growth Company Inc. Send your questions to her at thegrowthcompany.com.