I am part of a small friends group that (used to) routinely meet. Something happened that I am unsure how I feel about. Bob asked me to attend a "meeting" with him and Joe. I was not told what the topic of the meeting was before attending. Though I attended, I am frustrated that I am still not clear what the topic of the meeting was. The meeting was almost 4 hours long! I feel like I invested quite a bit of time just being there.

In this meeting I feel like I was being grilled. Joe did most of the talking. Joe made statements like he's "frustrated with me because he doesn't know what I'm trying to give the world" and that I'm "a millennial who expects a prize for everything I do". In addition to the words he used, the way he spoke was angry. It was almost as if he was yelling at me. The topic wasn't enjoyable, but I think they were trying to be respectful (in their own way).

I found a lot of statements Joe made were cryptic, hard to understand, focused on theory rather than specifics and lacked context. I find this is very typical of the way Joe speaks. Joe has a tendency to go on monologues and speak without giving me a chance to reply. I wish I interrupted to ask for clarity more often.

I'd like to ask Bob to clarify the things Joe said, as I find him easier to understand. My concern is Bob would reply "you should ask Joe yourself". Normally I would agree with this but I find I can understand Bob so much better that I'd like to bypass this. It would help to know if Bob agrees with Joe, and what he think the statements Joe made mean. I would like to give Bob time to carefully think of his answer, however I am afraid he may try to deflect my requests if given the time/opportunity to do so. Bob said a few things during the meeting but it was mostly Joe talking.

How can I get more clarity from Bob into what Joe was telling me or asking me to change? I'm concerned he will tell me just to ask Joe directly.

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    Hey hectorpepper! Just to be sure, this is about getting Bob to explain Joe's statements?
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 10:43
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    This is completely subjective, but I find the situation you are describing surreal. Your friends (!) Sat you down, screaming at you for 4 hours in cryptic statements like "i don't know what you want to give the world" and you didn't bother to ask them any questions like "what do you mean" or "give me an example" the whole time? You also write that you understand Bob better. Is this a general issue? Do you have trouble interpreting the meaning of what people say? Right now the described situation seems absurd because you boiled down the essence of 4 hours to one surreal statement.
    – Raditz_35
    Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 11:30
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    Okay, I gave this an edit to a.) Make it clearer in both body and title that this is about wanting X to explain something Y said, b.) Remove some details that might distract answerers, like speculation on whether Joe's management background had anything to do with this. I've also removed the details in the last sentence about getting an apology from Joe and having had coffee since, though the coffee bit may be relevant if Joe or Bob were present, and you feel it somehow hampers your ability to ask Bob for clarification now. In that case, it can go back in ;)
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 11:49
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    Also, like @Raditz_35 implicates, it might help us if you could also add a line or two about what you did during that meeting, in response to behavior from Joe (and Bob), and perhaps even about how much of this was just Joe, or if Bob made similar statements...
    – Tinkeringbell
    Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 11:53
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    Is there a language barrier somewhere in here? Are either you/Bob/Joe using something other than your first language? Commented Feb 13, 2020 at 17:16

1 Answer 1


Let me first start off with pointing out that Bob isn't likely to be very on your side. He may be able to explain things better, but Joe at least felt Bob would support him, or he wouldn't chosen Bob to be his implicit supporter. Unfortunately, unless you are able to better describe what happened to somebody local to you, Bob is likely the best option you have.

When I experienced something like this, it was only about an hour of this. But it sounds like yours might have been less stressful, as mine was with my supervisor from my client and my team lead from my client. It wasn't likely they could really get me fired, but they could certainly have tossed me back to my employer, requiring me to find another assignment, which would've been only slightly more pleasant than interviewing for another job.

I'd been teaching my coworkers about better work practices. These were things that normally are dictated by management, if they're done at all in an organization. This management team did not dictate any such practices. I had been following these practices myself, and my coworkers had noticed that I had better handling of certain situations, and had asked to know how I did that.

My supervisor apparently felt like I was trying to usurp his position, which was rather crazy because I was a contractor and couldn't possibly do that. Also, I was mostly instructing my fellow contractors. This could've been handled off-site, but they wanted this training for better handling their jobs at that customer site, so it was quite relevant. There were a few employees who were interested from time to time in listening to what I had to say, but they weren't his employees.

But my supervisor did not actually talk directly about any of that. I only found that out from talking to the team lead. My supervisor talked about teamwork and following the same processes and going for the same goal. He asked what I was trying to accomplish, who I thought I was, what my purpose was. He complained about things that were done improperly before I was even part of the team and wouldn't have been my responsibility even if I had been around already and attributed them to me.

It's my thought you probably want something like,

Bob, please help me, because I really don't understand the meeting the other day. I understand Joe is upset with me. But Joe was speaking so indirectly I couldn't understand what his real concern is. Joe often does this. You are often able to explain things that he says in a way I can better understand. Please help me understand what his concern is. I'm really wanting to know his real concern, if you understand it, but I know from prior experience with him that he wouldn't tell me that.

That said, when I had this problem, I went into the equivalent person's cubicle after the other guy left for the day (the supervisor came in before pretty much everybody, the team lead stayed at work until most people went home. There were several hours each day when only one of them was around.) and said something along the lines of

"Bob", could you tell me why Joe is upset? I sat and listened to him through that whole thing, but I couldn't believe that he was really complaining about me not being a team player, or any of the other things he was going on about.

My approach technically worked, as "Bob" did explain the real issue. However, "Bob" also reported back to "Joe" the manner in which I approached him. I was really lucky, because there was another supervisor in that work group who did like me. Her employees were the ones who were eager to learn about better processes for managing changes. My better processes weren't amazing, but they basically had "well, try this thing, and if it works, great. Otherwise, try something else." So when my supervisor talked about maybe getting rid of me, she volunteered to handle his problem contractor for him.

This was all very many years ago. Since then, I've had experiences that were basically in Bob's role. The approach I first suggested is more or less the gist of the requests that most of the people who come to me for this assistance make. Being in this other position in this process doesn't require a great deal of communication skills on my part. The various people who've played the "Joe" role and had me be their "Bob" generally ranted to me about their real issue for at least half an hour at various points before the meeting. I'm not sure why they couldn't communicate their issues directly.

I'm not the team lead that I had to deal with in my time in the OP's position, and I've never explained to the people who called any of those meetings how the person they'd had issues had approached me. But it feels like the way most of them have approached me probably would've been seen as less abrasive than my approach if I did relate them on to others.

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