Friday, April 30, 2010

Deciphering the Things Bosses Say

Chances are you’ve had a conversation with your boss where he or she says something that sounds a little bit lopsided – or perhaps even crazy. Or maybe you were the boss and you found yourself saying something that – in retrospect – you’re really not proud of.

Here are some of my least favorite things I have heard bosses say:

“That’s just the way the system works.” I’ve seen managers use this line when delivering a less-than-appropriate assessment. This boss probably believes what they are saying. But what they really mean is, “My boss told me I had to do this,” or “I think you deserve more but I failed to get you the result you deserve.”

“I can’t let you take that opportunity/promotion because you’re too valuable.” This is a classic response to an internal (within the same company) job opportunity. This boss (usually) doesn’t really want to keep you from achieving your goals. What this really means is, “You have great skills and I’m worried about how I will replace you.”

“You’re working too hard.” Sounds a little crazy, right? The truth might be that this boss is afraid of losing resources. She may want the job to look harder than it is, or perhaps protect lower-performing employees from being fired.

“You don’t want to do that,” or “Do you really want to do that?” This one is tricky – some great bosses will use these words when they want to help you think things through. If your boss is a good mentor, this is likely the case, but there’s also a chance that this boss really means, “I don’t want you to do that,” or “I’ll look bad if you do that.”

The craziest thing a boss ever said to me was, “You didn’t get the job because the last two managers they hired were female, and this time they needed to hire a male.” In his defense, he was telling the truth (and he was relaying a decision made by someone else). I was appreciative that my boss was willing to share what really happened (and I did get a management job shortly thereafter), but it was nonetheless – crazy.

It’s your turn. What’s the craziest thing your boss has ever said to you?


Gretchen Gottlich said...

"Well done".

Colette said...

Gretchen, glad you liked it!

Jerry McCutcheon, Jr. said...

Hi Colette: There have been a lot of strange comments and occurences: such as a former supervisor telling me - in my review - that the only way to get a promotion is to "post" to the internal job board instead of earning one through work. This had been kept from all of us by management even thought it had been policy for months. Obviously, a latent policy at best!

Anonymous said...

It's not your job to work on product A, it's your job to work on product B.

However product B had a HEAVY reliance on product A and actually required that I have in depth knowledge of product A to do my job.

I think my manager was missing the whole point of what we actually did!

Colette said...

Jerry -- good one. I actually remember the days when you would get promoted because you deserved the job.

Anonymous - sadly, I think that is a common problem -- looking too narrowly at your job description may get you (and your boss) short term success but could lead to failure in the long run. Good one.

Gary said...

Here are a few sad-but-true things that bosses said to me.
“Plan to find a new job next year. The owner always fires his top paid employees every year when he does his year-end books, to cut expenses. That’s how you got this job!” It was true, although I lasted a little longer because I was doing a good job and he had trouble finding somebody else to take it over more cheaply.
“I kept taking people away from your projects because mine were going badly. Now I need to fire you so I can blame you for this whole mess.” This company went bankrupt not long after.
“We’re not making enough money so I’m going to cut everybody’s pay by 10%. I want you to tell everybody else.” I wasn’t a manager or anybody’s boss. When I did as told, the reaction was so negative that the boss claimed he’d never told me that he was cutting anybody’s pay.
“I need you to get this customer to sign a blank work order. I’ll fill it out later when I figure out how much extra I need to charge him to cover my mistakes on his quote.” I got chewed out when I objected due to ethics.
“I don’t need any help.” After making an impassioned speech during a management meeting about being overworked and understaffed, he told me this when I visited him in his office. He was actually trying to look indispensable and get a raise.
“We never pay our invoices when due. Then we can negotiate a lower payment later.” This company went out of business when its suppliers refused to ship anything.
“We’re shutting down because we’re making too much money.” The owner was looking for a tax shelter, not a profitable business.

Colette said...

Gary, you have either had a lot of bosses who say crazy things... or maybe just one really crazy boss. Yikes! those are some great ones! My favorite is the last one. A company that makes too much money... now that's something to complain about!

Splaktar said...

"I think that this would be a really great career move for you."
My new manager of only 2 months told me this. When I asked her about the internal position, she had no details. When I spoke to the manager who needed people, it turned out to be an entry level job (answering phones) that would have set my career back 10 years. My manager was just trying to get people off of her team because she knew that corporate had demanded reducing headcount. She didn't care about my career, she just didn't want to have to lay anyone off.

Colette said...

Splatkar, I guess you have to give your boss credit for trying to save jobs, but unfortunately in that situation too many bosses move their best employees -- because they can.

Anonymous said...

I had applied internally for a posted job. The interviewing manager, explaining that I didn't have the background he was looking for, said he thought I'd be a great candidate for 'Art's job' as Art would soon be moving on to a new assignment. If he'd read my resume before the interview, he'd have known that I was 'Art's predecessor' and had trained Art.

Colette said...

Anonymous -- oh my -- hopefully he/she felt kinda silly when they learned the truth.

Anonymous said...

I was fresh out of college interviewing at a large IT company. The man I was interviewing with says, "and I trust you and your mister will want to have children?" They had trained us on on interviewing in college and I knew right away this was an illegal question but very quickly (after wiping what had to be a shocked look on my face) said, "maybe someday." He really was trying to make sure he wasn't going to hire me and have me walk out on a maternity leave. Little did he realize I'd work much harder than he did and didn't take a maternity leave until long after he retired.

Colette said...

Anonymous, that's a great example!

Traub Motorcycle Detective said...

“I can’t let you take that opportunity/promotion because you’re too valuable.” This is a classic response to an internal (within the same company) job opportunity. This boss (usually) doesn’t really want to keep you from achieving your goals. What this really means is, “You have great skills and I’m worried about how I will replace you.”

"This boss (usually) doesn’t really want to keep you from achieving your goals." Hahaha, I cracked up about this old school idea. What supervisor or executive today really cares about an employee's goals if those goals don't enhance the supervisor's or exec's job/department/division/company etc? Mentoring is just some business book term now. Companies typically want employees who already are able solve a problem, not to develop careers to solve problems and advance.

kanishk said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

"I like to watch the strife. It's so entertaining!" Said by the company owner, in response to several complaints about a Type A salesman who was extremely disruptive and combative. The owner was losing lots of money via this salesman, due to him making customers mad and chasing away good employees. Yet the owner thought that the "entertainment" was worth it. Even though he admitted that he knew that it was costing him his business.

Rat Racer No More said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rat Racer No More? said...

A couple of favorites:

A strategy executive who was my internal client became frustrated at her inability to describe what she wanted from my team and, on a conference call, spat out the following: "[The problem] isn't that I'm not explaining [what I want]; it's that you aren't understanding." I'm not sure I muted my phone quickly enough to cover my startled laugh. (I had been instant messaging with the expert in this particular area who also was on the conference call and who also didn't understand what she was trying to get at. It ultimately turned out that she had been misusing some jargon.)

My manager's manager once described a peer as "a nobody" and, when I objected that this statement meant that I too was a nobody, replied "we're all nobodies." How's that for a pep-talk?!

In providing me with some performance feedback, the above-mentioned executive cited her predecessor as having said that all I needed to do was "get over" myself. I wasn't familiar with this expression at the time and asked what it meant, hoping for some specific/constructive feedback but she couldn't or wouldn't elaborate and that was the end of the discussion. In retrospect and in the context of her "everybody's a nobody" comment, I think I understand what she was saying and am happy to let her think it of herself; but not of me.

These gems, occurring within a period of 6 months or so crystallized an until-then merely nagging notion that I needed to get out.

Colette said...

Rat Racer No More (love your name btw), your example of the executive who claimed the problem wasn't that she didn't understand but that you were failing to properly explain is a classic! I think I worked for that exec (more than once).