I started a new job recently. I already knew the person who I work closely with and am friends with him. This may change the typical dynamic for a work relationship.

Anyway, he sometimes goes really fast when showing me how to do things. So fast I can't understand. I try taking notes but it's not possible when I can hardly catch what he's clicking on in the first place. I tried asking for documentation I can learn from, but I was told there isn't any (since it's a new project). The project is behind schedule so I understand why everyone is rushing.

What's the best way to approach the issue? One thing I would like to consider is, if it's a one time thing I don't need to repeat then I don't care if he goes fast, but if I'm supposed to be learning so I can repeat the process, than this is an issue.

Obviously I don't want to come across as incompetent, and the work environment is very quiet so I'm sure others will hear me. (Back when I was in school I had a work placement that didn't go so well. I told my advisor I was trying my hardest to get the work done and he said 'sometimes trying to do work is different than actually doing work.' I personally don't see it this way because if you try your best and it still doesn't turn out well, there's nothing else you could have done. Bugging someone to slow down, to me is doing my best because for me to do my best I need to know exactly what it is I am to be doing).

Thanks for all the great answers! They helped a lot. Another thing I found that has helped is asking for time to finish writing a note e.g. "so that's how you get to that window! one moment while I write it down in my notes".

  • 3
    It looks like these things are computer-related ("I can hardly catch what he's clicking on"). Are you allowed to record the screen, e.g. with your phone?
    – walen
    May 22 '18 at 14:56
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    – Tinkeringbell
    May 22 '18 at 18:59
  • Is your friend (or another employee) responsible for teaching you how to do the job? Or are you asking them to to show you as a favor?
    – user61524
    May 24 '18 at 7:36
  • @walen recording the screen is allowed. I have been looking for a good free screen recorder but haven't found one. Any suggestions?
    – user18125
    Jun 12 '18 at 7:00
  • 1
    @Hesterry I don't know enough to recommend one, nor do I think it'd be on-topic here. Just download the two or three more popular ones, try them on your own computer, see which one works best, and ask your coworker to please use it during your training sessions so you can review it later.
    – walen
    Jun 12 '18 at 7:11

My experience

One thing I learnt during my work attachment is that I cannot be afraid to speak what's on my mind. I had a similar experience as yours; I was an intern at a R&D company, and when my supervisor showed me the outline of the project and what I was supposed to research on and how I could go about doing it, I couldn't understand some things that he was trying to say, but I didn't seek to clarify as I didn't want to come across as incompetent, like in your case. So I tried to do the research without understanding the big picture of the project and the purpose of the particular segment I was researching on, and ended up getting reprimanded during the review meeting for not doing my work accurately to the project's needs.


I think the takeaway from that experience is to boldly request for the thing that you want, i.e. ask your co-worker to slow down. Yes, your co-workers may be rushing to complete the project, but they would rather spend 5 more mins of their time explaining the ropes to you at a slower speed than to have to spend a couple of hours trying to fix your mistake and correct your errors somewhere down the project line. Also, you mentioned that your relationship with your co-worker is closer than a working relationship. Therefore, he would be even more inclined to help you ease into the new working dynamics, instead of thinking that you are burdensome for making him slow down so you can understand better.

Also, a small tip you can use is to ask him about any questions over lunch, or after office hours (whenever convenient). You can offer to buy him a drink / treat him lunch as a gesture of your gratitude.


You can approach the matter like this:

Hey [co-worker], I'd love to take notes on this part so that I can replicate this on my own without having to always clarify it with you.. Maybe you can go a little slower so I can catch up with you on my note-taking? Thanks!

That aside, all the best in your new job!

  • 3
    Also, start writing up your notes about what you are learning in a public place so the next new employee can benrfit:; this helps your Co worker realize that there is value in investing the time in slowing down and explaining better.
    – arp
    May 23 '18 at 16:11

I used to teach folks how to use a computerized analytical chemistry instrument. I quickly discovered that no one learned the instrument if I ran it. So I made it a point to have the "student" run the instrument while I told them what to do.

Thus I'd suggest that you ask to give the input to the computer while your associate tells you what to do.

  • 4
    If the asker were to have trouble insisting on this (or asking about it), taking into account the worries mentioned in the question (e.g. the one about co-workers overhearing this and being worried about the noise).. Can you explain a little more on the 'how' of your answer? How should OP ask, so that they don't seem incompetent? Anything to keep in mind when insisting to do the operating with regards to noise?
    – Tinkeringbell
    May 22 '18 at 18:58
  • When I pair program at work we do exactly this. One person controls the mouse while the other uses the keyboard. This means that both developers have to agree what changes they make and how to navigate the project. At first it can be very frustrating, having to clarify things the other developer might not instinctively do. It is a very interesting exercise requiring understanding from both parties. It also fosters honesty. An "adjust the flux capacitor" command cannot be completed if the other developer doesn't understand it which leads they to question "where/how/why..."
    – sam_smith
    May 23 '18 at 1:17
  • 1
    @simon_smiley there is a significant difference between someone controlling the computer as you teach them how to do something and pair programming... which is challenging enough without splitting the mouse and keyboard controls!!! "Very frustrating" would a definite understatement
    – Jesse
    May 23 '18 at 5:14
  • @Jesse I agree there is a difference but, in my opinion, not a significant one. In the example above the student is running the instrument while the teacher is explaining how it should be run. In pair programming the junior developer can write code while the more senior can explain where and what needs to be developed. Frustrating yes but in my experience very beneficial for the person learning and the teaching skills of the person leading.
    – sam_smith
    May 23 '18 at 5:24
  • One small problem that I faced when using this method is that I tend to fumble around looking for the buttons to press / trying to type out the commands into the command line correctly instead of actually remembering "oh, this is how it should be done". I think a dummy-proof method around this situation is combining your answer with notetaking... that way OP can never go wrong :) nice approach! May 24 '18 at 6:08

I first want to mention Brook's law which states

adding human resources to a late software project makes it later

At a certain point this is even true for senior employees. The extra overhead to work together is more than what you gain from having an extra person doing stuff.

For a new employee it's even worse. When we got a new colleague in our team, our team lead clearly stated that "it'll probably take you at least 6 months just to know what we do here". And that is most likely an optimistic estimate.

So for those first 6 months we all know that the new guy will slow us down with the hope that afterwards he'll start contributing more and more so we can start actually doing more work than without him.

This isn't your fault. So your main goal should be to catch up to everyone as fast as you can and "bug" your colleagues just as much as necessary to do so.

That being said there are also 2 different goals your friend can have when explaining things to you. Either teach you how to do it yourself next time. Or show you that it exists for future reference.

If it's just to give you an overview, it's fine the way he does now and goes over this really quickly. Although when I did the same for our new colleague, I explicitly told him that I was going to go too fast and that he should focus more on the big picture and not so much on which buttons I press.

If your team is responsible for multiple projects, or somewhat separate parts of a project, it's a good idea to start with quickly showing some parts of it. That way when your team lead later on has to decide what you should be doing, you at least know what they're talking about. You wont know how to do those things yourself yet, but at least you can say things like "Ah yes, friend showed me that last week. That looked really interesting to do".

If the purpose is to actually teach you how to do it and your friend is the one responsible for that task, I fully agree with MaxW's and gnasher729's answers. Ask him if you can have the mouse and keyboard and let him tell you what to do.

At this point it's worthless to just try it yourself without knowing what to do. If you don't know something, don't waste time trying to figure it out yourself. Immediately ask someone how to do it correctly instead. That way you're going to be a valuable team member faster, which will benefit everyone in the long run.

  • "it'll probably take you at least 6 months just to know what we do here" I've heard similar before and it confuses me. If a person isn't productive for the first 6 months wouldn't they be fired?
    – user18125
    May 25 '18 at 7:56
  • @Hesterry No. It's that they can't be productive yet. Think about hiring a new bus driver. He has a driving license for large vehicles so he's qualified for the job. But he first needs to learn how to handle passengers and operate the bus doors, ticketing system, .... Learning this takes time and it's expected that it'll take time. These are company specific things that nobody can know before they start working for the company.
    – Imus
    May 25 '18 at 8:18

If it's imperative you learn the process, and it definitely sounds like it is, you should try to put some control back in your hands - schedule some time for him to come to your desk and have you walk through the process, rather than trying to follow him with your eyes.

By having control of the process yourself, you can set the pace that you perform it at - and by doing it while he explains the steps, you get a chance to perform it as well, which may help ingrain the steps into your mind.

Note that this suggestion is aimed to help you learn the process - it might be more difficult to convince your co-worker to go along with it. Explain the importance of you learning the process, and how doing it will help you memorize how it's done. Say something like:

"Hey, you know that (process) you showed me how to do? Could you come by my desk and walk me through it? I want to make sure I get it right."


If your co-workers job is to teach you how to do something, then you need to help them. There are several ways.

The best way is to ask them to let you do the job, they tell you every step, you write down notes for every step, and then you do the step. Writing the notes down first so they don't tell you the next step immediately, leaving no time for notes.

Even better: His job is to teach you how to do something, your job is creating the instructions to do it, with that made clear from the start. So you don't just take notes. You create a document at the same time, that could be used by anyone else.

If he insists on doing things himself, then you must stop him from doing the next thing before you finished taking your notes. After the first step you say "Stop, I have to write this down". When you are finished you say "Ok, go on". If he continues at speed, you say "stop, this is pointless if I don't have time to take notes".

Now it may be that the work has to be done urgently - that means it's the wrong time to teach you. But if the problem is just that there is a lot of work, that cannot be helped. It's much more efficient to teach you things in a way that you actually learn it, than you trying to do this and making lots of mistakes. So if you interrupt your colleague, that's not rude, that's a requirement of the job and in the best interest of the company, so you are perfectly fine to do this.


One thing I would like to consider is, if it's a one time thing I don't need to repeat then I don't care if he goes fast, but if I'm supposed to be learning so I can repeat the process, than this is an issue.

You should discuss with the co-worker which case is it. And ask if you should take notes or even what exactly should you note. Don't assume you have to learn every step. Maybe you have, maybe you don't.

In my opinion when interacting with a new system, you should usually first understand what it is, what it does, how it works etc - the big picture. Almost always it's more important to understand "why" behind the user actions not "what".

I have had to explicitly tell others not to take any notes. Because the exact sequence of actions might be useful in a single case ever and learning it does no good. The actual point would be - to understand what we are trying to achieve and how did we decide that. "How to do it" - that's usually a tiny detail that you can ask when you try to do it yourself.

Your case might vary so there's no other choice but to ask what you should learn and then discuss the details about teaching speed or whatever else.

  • I always take notes. Not to memorize the exact steps (although sometimes that's necessary) but often to be able to locate the start point of a process. I agree that the "why" is at least as important as the "how", but when I take notes I'm taking notes on the why as well as the how. People who are familiar with a system underestimate how new and strange everything they are doing is to a new person. For me, note taking is absolutely essential.
    – DaveG
    May 28 '18 at 16:13

You're misunderstanding your role. No one expects you to already be competent at what you're being taught: that's why you're being taught. They expect you to be a good student, and that means you need to ask questions. Asking pertinent questions makes you look interested in what you're supposed to be doing and shows the instructor that you're learning. And more, asking questions now means you'll be able to impress after you're trained, and you can show that you actually do know what you're doing. Your current practice of sitting through training, asking no questions, and demonstrating later that you had no clue what you were trained on is what makes you look incompetent.

Ask questions and ask for the trainer to customize lessons to your needs. I'd recommend asking to control the mouse while he talks you through the tasks. Something like "Hey, do you mind if I drive/control the computer while you talk me through it? I learn better by doing than just watching." That way, you control the pace and he can see where you're struggling.

At the least, you need to bring up when you miss things. "Hey, could you go over that again slower? I missed it the first time." Ask any other questions as well, such as why you're doing something.

Finally, if you're going through a task that you thought you understood, and it turns out you don't, ask a question as soon as possible. Spending 10 minutes trying to figure out where you're going wrong is usually fine. Spending an hour is way too much (there are exceptions, but not if you're just learning rote tasks).

Your prior acquaintance with the person training you should make no difference in this. His job right now is to train you, and if you fail to learn, that reflects badly on both on you. And don't worry about others hearing you ask questions. They already know you're new and they expect you to ask questions.

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