my boss gets annoyed when I bring up problems, I use a fake name with clients, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My boss gets annoyed when I bring up problems

I work as a designer for a startup marketing company. The design team is a group of three at the same level as me and our creative director, who works remotely in another state.

He made it clear multiple times that if we ever had any issues, we should bring them up. I find I am the more outspoken person on our team and the other two designers are more inclined to either let things slide or complain to me and never say anything to him about it. We would have discussions as a group where he wouldn’t be present about things we wished were handled differently, such as how the account managers send us messages, or who is in charge of what task. These are things that I know are kinks that get worked out in a startup and so when they occur I feel justified in relaying what’s going on to my creative director. Especially since he is out of office and doesn’t always see what is happening.

Lately I’ve noticed that when I bring these things up to him in our weekly group meeting, he will snap at me about it. For example, recently I said “Can we have a discussion about how we are handling these ads? I think we should do X so we are dividing the work more equally.” His response was rather abrupt and annoyed: “Well, I can tell you feel really strongly about this, and I’m not going to go into why you’re wrong, so I will think about what you said and decide what we are doing later.”

I asked my fellow coworkers if it seemed like I was being rude or overstepping with my question, but neither of them thought I was but both agreed his response seemed like he was agitated. Additionally, this isn’t the first time he has said “I can tell you feel strongly about this” when I brought up an issue. Each time he has said that to me I have never felt like I was being particularly … fierce? So I’m not sure why he is responding that way to me. What can I say to help clarify the situation when it occurs so that he doesn’t take what I am saying the wrong way? Or should I stop bringing these things up?

He says he wants to you bring up issues, but he doesn’t actually want you to — or he doesn’t want you doing it this much or about these particular topics. Or possibly not in these particular meetings. I’d take this as a sign to pick your battles, cut way back on how many things you’re raising, and only bring up the things you think are most important.

But you could also talk to him one-on-one and just ask. For example: “I’ve had the sense that you’ve been annoyed when I’ve talked in our weekly team meetings about things I think we could be doing differently. Do you not want me making suggestions like that? I don’t want to be raising that kind of thing if that’s not the right forum for it, or if you want me to do less of that overall.”

2. Managers won’t stop talking during presentations

Two of my senior managers (and superiors) have an embarrassing habit. They won’t stop talking. I first noticed it at a conference when someone was giving a presentation on stage, and they were conversing and trying to bring everyone sitting at the table into the conversation. I thought this was rude and embarrassing but didn’t know how to deal with it. I just turned my chair around to face the stage more and tried to ignore them, but noticed people from surrounding tables were being disturbed by it.

Since then, this has happened on many occasions. One time, we were sitting in rows watching a presentation and one of them kept commenting on everything that was happening or going off on tangents about other topics. I tried not to respond further than the typical “ahuh, yeah, okay” and focused my attention on stage. Someone in front of us turned around and said, “Excuse me, can you stop talking? You’re being disruptive.” I cheered in my head but instead of taking the advice, she just scoffed and acted like the woman was being unreasonable.

Another occasion was when we were listening to a video conference and they talked through the whole thing. I kept saying “Shhh I want to hear this,” but they wouldn’t stop. At the end they remarked on how bad the presentation was, even though they hadn’t been listening. I tried to make a light comment on how they wouldn’t stop talking and my coworker said he agree, but they just brushed it off. What should I do to approach this, given that I’m several steps down the ladder from them?

Well, if they were peers or junior to you, you could be very direct: “I’m having trouble hearing the presentation while you’re talking. Could you keep it down?”

But because of the hierarchy, your standing to speak up is somewhat limited. In most offices, seniority comes with privileges that aren’t always fair — including, unfortunately, the standing to be rude in a meeting without having more junior people shush you.

You can certainly try a polite “I’m sorry, but I’m having trouble hearing the presenter.” And if there’s a particular person who’s often running the meetings where they do this, you could mention to her ahead of the next one that you have trouble hearing because some of the attendees talk the whole time, and ask if she could ask people to stop. But beyond that, the fact that they’re senior to you means that you have pretty limited options. Trying to sit far away from them might be your best bet.

3. I use a fake name with clients

About a year ago, I started a new job where I set up consulting. In the past, there has been a lot of turnover in the role, so the management created a very generic name (think something like “Sally Smith”) for whoever is currently inhabiting the role, to provide some continuity. In other words, when I interact with clients via email and phone (I never have face to face contact), I do so as Sally Smith and don’t use my actual name.

Does this have any potential downside for me? I am not leaving any internet footprint as myself in this role, and certainly not with the clients I interact with. I am wondering how this will come across if I ever look for another job. And since this is a really small company, there isn’t anyone else I work with directly besides the owner who could serve as a reference, to confirm that it really was me in this role. And it might be awkward asking the owner to be a reference. What are your thoughts?

It’s pretty weird — and I suspect clients would think it was bizarre if they ever found out about it — but it won’t necessarily have ramifications for you when you move on. If it’s not a high-profile role, and you’re not creating work as Sally Smith that you’ll want to show to future employers, and you’re not planning to use clients for any references, it’s probably not going to matter long-term because future employers aren’t likely to be aware of the existence of Sally Smith (and thus won’t need to confirm that she was really you).

But if you ever did want a client to vouch for you as a reference, then yeah, this is going to be an issue. (Most people don’t use clients as references though, so that may not impact you.)

4. Does “I don’t understand why we’re doing X” really mean “I don’t like that we’re doing X?”

Is it commonly known that saying “I don’t understand why we’re doing X” actually means “I don’t *like* that we’re doing X,” or is that just someone being passive aggressive?

Some context: I manage a lot of process improvement, and when we’re rolling out a New Thing to employees, I often hear “I don’t understand why we need New Thing.” I usually assume they are asking for clarification, because they *want* to understand. So I’ll try to be helpful and explain the problem we’re trying to solve, or why we decided to do X instead of Y, and they just repeat “yeah but I don’t *understand* why we’re doing that.” Sometimes I even try to explain again, being careful to be more clear or use better examples or whatever. But then I realize that they don’t really want to *understand*. They just don’t want New Thing to happen at all, but they don’t want to say “I don’t like the way that we’re doing this New Thing.”

It’s happened enough that I have to wonder if the problem is me; I’m a pretty direct person and also not great with subtext, so this might legitimately be one of those subtle social cues that most people understand but that I’ve never been great at picking up on.

Yeah, “I don’t understand why we’re doing X” often does mean “I don’t like that we’re doing X and don’t understand why someone thinks it’s a good idea.”

Not always. Sometimes it genuinely means ““I don’t understand why we’re doing X and would like to — can you explain it to me?” Often you can tell the difference by the tone the person is using, or by the rest of the conversation. (If you explain exactly why you’re doing X and the person is still saying they “yeah, but I don’t understand why,” there’s a decent chance that they mean “that reason doesn’t make up for my dislike of this change.”)

In some cases, you can say, “It sounds like you’re saying you have concerns about the change. Do you want to tell me what your concerns are, and I can make sure we’re trying to account for them in our planning?”

But this is a big thing when you’re working on process improvement; it’s not uncommon to get a lot of push-back. Sometimes that’s based on general dislike of change, but sometimes it’s based on legitimate and important concerns. So in most cases, it’s worth drawing people out about what their concerns are; you may not be able to change things to please them, but sometimes you’ll get crucial perspectives you wouldn’t have otherwise had. Plus, change usually goes down better when people feel they’ve had an opportunity to give feedback and truly been heard.

5. Offering to meet in person when I’ll be in the interviewer’s city during our phone interview

If the company recruiter is going to set up a phone meeting for you to speak with the hiring manager’s manager (at the hiring manager’s request) because you’re in two different cities, do you suggest an in-person meeting if you’re coincidentally going to be in that manager’s city at the time the phone conversation would be set up? Is that a thoughtful, positive, proactive suggestion to make or is it overstepping bounds?

You can make them aware that you’ll actually be in their city on that day and would be glad to meet in person if they’d like to, but be aware that they still may prefer to do it by phone. (Phone interviews are often briefer than an in-person meeting would be, and thus more efficient and less of a commitment for the interviewer.) You could say something like this: “I’m actually going to be in Boston that day if Jane would like to meet in person. Let me know if so — otherwise I’ll plan on speaking with her by phone.”

{ 254 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP#3, this sounds so bizarre to me. I would love to hear if other commenters are in fields that do this (create a fake name for clients to interact with so that staff can cycle through the role). Do clients seriously not notice the change in voices when speaking on the phone?

    Reply
    1. Ramona Flowers

      You really would think they’d notice the voice change. The only context I can think of for a shared name like this is Jo, which the Samaritans use when emailing people so they have continuity. But that’s in lieu of an actual name, not everyone pretending to be the same person.

      Reply
      1. Annonymouse

        I’ve worked somewhere that whichever of us in the small office (there were 2 women) answered the phone we gave the name “Kelly”.

        We were a finance company and sometimes people were irrational jerks so being able to be anonymous but offering “continuation” in service was important.

        Reply
      2. Nan

        That was my first thought. Wouldn’t the email tones/voice change. And what if the previous Sally Smith was familiar with a process/procedure and the new one wasn’t? I think the customer would think there was some funny potatoes going on.

        This idea is just weird to me.

        Reply
        1. The Other Katie

          I’ve worked in jobs like this and honestly? Most people making casual calls never notice. They just assume that the person who picked up the phone is the same person, even if one is a 13-year old girl and the other a 78-year old man who’s smoked all his life. It’s because they’re not really listening. (Obviously if you have an ongoing relationship with someone that’s a bit different.)

          Reply
    2. Accidental Analyst

      Instead of creating fake names, we created generic email addresses like accountspayable/reception etc. That way the person could change but the email (and phone) would stay the same.

      Reply
      1. BookishMiss

        Yep, I interact with a lot of “reports@” and “records@” email addresses, but the staff do sign off on the emails so I know when it’s someone different. My job has unique emails for everyone because our job descriptions are…flexible…

        Reply
      2. CMDRBNA

        Right? Wouldn’t this make more sense? I could understand having employees use a nickname or generic name if they were in some sort of field that might cause people to go looking for them, but this is just kind of odd, because you’re not “providing continuity” because the client isn’t working for the same person.

        Reply
      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Yes—I’m much more used to this model. The fake names doesn’t surprise me; it’s requiring that the name “stick” with the position regardless of who fills it.

        Reply
    3. Chaordic One

      I’ve heard that often telemarketers will use a fake generic “American”-sounding name when calling, usually because their real name is something that would be difficult for Americans to pronounce. (Of course, it might also be to cover up shady telemarketing practices.)

      Reply
      1. Chocolate Teapot

        Some UK companies have call centres based in India and the staff will give an English sounding name to customers.

        That aside, in the days of domestic service, all footmen used to be called John, and all housemaids Mary, since it was easier for the employers to remember.

        Reply
        1. MK

          From what I have read, the last was a particularly obnoxious practice of some employers who couldn’t be bothered to learn their servants’ names, not a general habit.

          Reply
          1. Dr Wizard, PhD

            The impression I have is that the extreme ‘rename all your servants’ thing was definitely not universal, but that giving more ‘appropriate’ names to servants whose names were too out there or above their station was fairly common.

            Reply
        2. Miso

          I think here it’s actually common that all employees in call centres give fake names. It’s to protect them from irrational customers, I assume.

          Reply
          1. KellyK

            Yeah, I’ve heard the same, and considering the horror stories I’ve heard about abusive customers, I’d want to be “Debbie Jones” if I were working at a call center.

            Crisis lines (at least the ones I’m familiar with) do the same thing for similar reasons. Not so much abusive callers, although that happens sometimes too, but not wanting to blur lines and have a caller trying to start a real-world relationship because they feel close to someone who talked them through a tough situation. It definitely makes sense in that context.

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            1. Connie-Lynne

              The virtual world company I worked at gave us the option of a pseudonym, because users could and would get strangely attached.

              Reply
            2. Sara M

              At AT&T, we were allowed to use a pseudonym as long as we told our manager what name we were using, and we kept it consistent. But this situation is very different.

              Reply
          2. That Would Be a Good Band Name

            At the one I worked for in the US, it wasn’t allowed. You had to use your given first name. Last names were never given out though. Only first names and ID numbers. I think it was because we were a vendor and if calls were reviewed by the client they wanted the name given to match the ID. The client was known to review calls and “remove the agent from the program” if they didn’t like what they heard. In other words, our client couldn’t tell us to fire someone but they could say that person wasn’t allowed to talk to their customers anymore and so we didn’t want any question of who was actually taking the call.

            I do not miss working at a call center.

            Reply
          3. Alli525

            On the other hand, I get very annoyed when I call someone with a distinct accent tries to call himself Gary or whatever – it starts out the call on a dishonest note.

            Reply
        3. Snark

          Wow, funny how back in the day we minimized the identities of the economic outclass to minimize our cognitive dissonance over treating them like sh-OH WAIT

          Reply
      2. Wintermute

        I know and I feel so, so bad for the Indian people at my last job with legitimately “generic american” names. They were born here, they lived in Wisconsin! But inevitably some racist jerk would say “oh sure, right ‘John’ I’m sure you’re not at all in Bombay,” and I’d feel like stepping in and saying “well actually, me and John here are in Milwaukee, so cram it.”

        Reply
      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Sure, but they don’t all inherit the same generic name, right? Like if you’re talking to “Kelly,” she’s usually the only “Kelly” throughout your call interaction.

        Reply
      4. Elizabeth West

        The one brief time I did telemarketing, we were told to use fake names because some potential customers were likely to scream at us, and it was less jarring if they were screaming at Drusilla DeMilo than at Elizabeth West.

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    4. Myrin

      I’d usually strongly agree with you but after not recognising my own mother on the phone yesterday (whom I live with, so hear speak daily, and while calling her mobile which no one but her answers), I’m honestly not so sure about voice recognition anymore…

      That being said, I don’t really know what a job to “set up consulting” means – is that something that gets the same clients over and over or are these going to be new people all the time (in which case there’d be no reason for anyone to notice a voice change)? I also got the weird feeling that the “continuity” had more to do with the role itself/internally (so that managers can pretend the turnover isn’t as high?) and not necessarily with clients feeling like they’re supported by the same person (there’s nothing in the letter to indicate that, it just immediately seemed that way to me).

      Reply
      1. Chicklet

        Some differences in voice would probably not be noticed, especially if they were in the spectrum of “average” and the clients didn’t talk on the phone with the person much. However, if you go from someone who sounds like Sophia Bush to someone who sounds like Kristin Chenoweth, most people are going to notice.

        Reply
      2. Falling Diphthong

        I’m thinking if the clients tend to be new–and so Sally Smith’s job is to set up the initial consult–maybe it’s more for the ease of sales and consulting and other (remote from Sally) staff. They just say “Great; I’ll put you in touch with Sally Smith” and it doesn’t matter who that currently is.

        If Sally Smith has ongoing relationships with clients, then this is really weird and a lot of clients, given a new voice on the phone claiming to be an old contact, would jump to “shady offshore fly-by-night that is about to run off with my money!!!”

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      3. Collarbone High

        Heh, your story reminds me of the time I answered the phone at my parents’ house and the caller was my dad. He said “Hi, Mom’s Name” and when I said, “no, it’s Collarbone, hang on” he replied “Oh sorry, wrong number” and hung up, genuinely not recognizing my voice or my name. We haven’t let him live that down.

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    5. AMT

      Also, is this role always filled by a young woman with a generic American accent? Can you imagine the weirdness if it wasn’t? “Sally, do you have a cold? You sound like a 50-year-old Cuban guy.”

      Reply
    6. Stop That Goat

      I worked in a company in a customer service type role who did something similar to this when folks shared names. Basically, if there were 2 Joe’s, only one would say he was Joe and the other one would be some other name like Stan. It was a small group of around 15-20 people so it didn’t happen often. The owner wanted every rep to have a unique name. In my example, I worked with Stan and had no idea his name was actually Joe for over a year.

      Reply
      1. Reya

        I once dated a guy with a similar story to this – let’s call him Steve. He worked in local radio, where apparently it would be far too confusing for listeners for there to be two presenters with the same name, and so he once spent an entire year answering to ‘Mike’ in the workplace (and on the radio).

        Unfortunately as soon as I heard this story my brain also immediately substituted Steve for Mike. It turned out to be an almost impossible mental habit to break.

        Reply
      2. Steve

        When I was a college intern I went by the name “Stan” just because it was funny (ah, youth). Everyone knew my real name except the one person who was on a long leave (don’t know what type) and came back half way through my internship. Someone called me Steve and she didn’t know who they were talking to.

        Reply
    7. RVA Cat

      “But how can you be Sally Smith? She’s been raiding the seas for twenty years and you just started six months ago?”

      Reply
      1. DivineMissL

        I used to work in the home offices for a major national specialty retailer. They used a fake name for the imaginary “director of customer service” because they felt it gave the customer interactions a personal touch without having to give out real names. It was still a real person on the phone or sending the email, it just had a different name on the bottom. The result for the customer was the same.

        Reply
        1. The Cosmic Avenger

          When I managed a (small) call center, we once had someone show up at our office out of the blue, asking for one of my staffers by name! Luckily the front desk person was smart enough to act dumb and call me, and after that I told my staff that they should think up a fake name that started with the same letter as their real name, so we’d all know that “Cindy” was really Cersei without having to think about it too much. Even though just having a first name doesn’t exactly make it easy to stalk someone, it really shook up the staffer, so this gave them more privacy while not impacting our operations in the least.

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    8. Blank

      When I worked in university recruitment, we’d sign letters containing bad news to certain kinds of potential applicants with a fake employee name. This was partially to help the student workers on the phones to screen follow-up calls from these applicants – especially the applicants who would try claiming one of the recruiters had promised them impossible things. I think mainly for our amusement, the fake employee was given an ambiguously-gendered name so it was clear the callers were lying when they’d use gendered pronouns when claiming to have an exemption/special case.

      Reply
      1. Collarbone High

        I’m curious, from a sociological standpoint, to know if the lies leaned heavily toward one gender. In other words, given an ambiguous name, did liars feel that assigning a particular gender to their fictional over-promising recruiter would help make their case? Did they engage in stereotypical assumptions (for example, a person who made false promises must be a woman)?

        Seems like a fascinating data set for a dissertation.

        Reply
          1. Blank

            Oh, I wish I had an answer for that! (I wasn’t taking any of the calls myself.) It’s too bad I’m not there anymore, or in a position to find out.

            Reply
        1. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain

          A really excellent question. I would have gone with the fictional recruiter being male though because the student might assume a man had more authority and invoking their name would carry more weight.

          Reply
    9. OxfordComma

      I don’t know if they still do this, but back in the late 90s/early 00s, collection agency people had fake names they would use, which kind of makes sense given the nature of the work. I also recall at least one national health insurance company used a generic/fake name which would be signed on rejected appeals.

      Reply
      1. Clewgarnet

        Back in the dark ages, I worked tech support for an ISP that didn’t have any form of ticketing system. There was absolutely no continuity if a customer had to call back for an issue, other than having the name of the person they spoke to.

        If a customer was either aggressive or just too clueless to cope with, they’d always been speaking to ‘Terry’. So when you got a call from somebody asking for Terry, you escalated them straight to the shift supervisor.

        Reply
      2. Licensed Agency Manager

        Depending on the state, but usually, if you’re a collector, you have to register the alias with the state. That way issues that you cause can be traced back to you. You can’t change your name every phone call.

        Reply
    10. Girasol

      I worked for a recruiter that did this. The work was sometimes phone and sometimes face to face, and there were some embarrassing moments. One fellow noted that I looked so different, and was my sister okay? (We’d never met and I don’t have a sister.) One company said that they told me last time I called, and in no uncertain terms, that they never wanted to hear from me again. (I myself had never called them before.) So if your pseudonym is pre-owned, as mine was, you can expect to run into some issues.

      Reply
    11. Nanc

      Back in the dark ages of the 1980s I worked in an industry and staffed the fake position for a year or so. The name was gender neutral, the position was designed to be The Buck Stops Here end answer to customer complaints and rarely did I speak with the person after the initial phone call–everything was handled by letter after that. In that particular industry it was very common as most of the time the complainer just wanted someone in authority to give the final no, although I usually sent them something free, especially if it involved something that really wasn’t anyone’s fault but I could see how it ruined the experience.

      I have no idea what they do in this day of instant communication–it’s probably a real person and full-time position now.

      Reply
    12. SAHM

      Actually, I did this before. I worked for a small start up, think MySpace gaming (I know, ages ago) and to “hide” the fact that there were actually only two CS reps (one of whom was the owner/start up guy) they created a couple fake CS reps. I think one of their names was Susie Smith, lol. Most of the CS was done via email/the ticketing system. You have a problem with your gaming $ you send an email at our help page and we’d respond via email. So it was fairly simple, but occasionally we’d get phone calls. I think the reasoning behind creating fake CS Reps was bc they were handling thousands of accounts but only had two reps, so admitting to having only two reps wouldn’t have been good for business?

      Reply
      1. #3 Was Me

        Well, I don’t know who will still see this, being so late, but I was traveling all day and away from a keyboard. PCBH, thanks for asking this question, since I have wondered this too and this particular thread was very illuminating to me! To answer some ques:
        – the name *is* more gender neutral and altho it has been mostly women in the role, there was at least one man. And there was someone who is not a native English speaker, who had a pronounced accent. I am told no clients ever noticed, or at least didn’t bring it up.
        – we do have many repeat clients, but since they sign up for consulting about once/year, maybe they don’t remember what the last “Sally Smith” sounded like???
        – this is a very small company and I am not the only pseudonym. There are a few more. Since I was the 5th person in the role in 2 years, I think it’s a combo of trying to portray stability and make the company look bigger.

        Reply
    13. I am here now

      In my position I spend a lot of time dealing with the IRS. I am quite sure they use fake names because they are all colors. Like Ms. Green, Mr. White, Mrs. Black, etc.

      Reply
  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP#4, I am (unfortunately?) a person asks questions like “I don’t understand why we’re doing X”—usually with lots of disclaimers to make it clear that I genuinely have an analysis gap, not that I’m whinging. A lot of it has to do with how my brain works—I can incorporate changes in a faster and more logical manner when I understand how a change fits into the broader context.

    So having been on the receiving and delivering end of this question, I find it really helpful (when I’m on the receiving side) to ask follow up questions that force a person to articulate what they understand or to clarify why they don’t like a particular change. This will help you sort out genuine confusion/curiosity from entrenchment. And sometimes there are valid reasons for entrenchment, but following up will also force someone to have to come up with reasons for their entrenchment. You’re basically putting the responsibility on the “ask-er” to be more constructive, nuanced, or thoughtful than a blanket statement that “I don’t understand why we’re doing X.”

    [Sidenote: I do think there’s a bit of a difference between “why we’re doing X” and “why we need X,” though. The first one leaves room for an explanation, while the latter suggests a value judgment that the change is unnecessary or unwanted.]

    Reply
    1. Ramona Flowers

      Re your sidenote: I actually think those mean the same thing. They both suggest the change is unnecessary and unwanted. I’m just not sure there’s that much nuance in it.

      I think getting to grips with this one thing may be a bit like winning the battle but not the war. I’d be looking at the bigger change management processes. Are you getting people’s buy-in early enough? Are you listening to their input? Or whoever should be doing these things. How does your change management process look as a whole?

      Reply
      1. Frozen Ginger

        I think there is a difference, at least for me anyway. “Why we’re doing X” comes across as concerned/confused but not opposed; they’re accepting the change is occurring (instead of “why would we do X”).

        Reply
        1. JHunz

          For me, “why are we doing X” reads as “why did you choose to solve the problem this way”, and “why do we need X” reads as “I don’t want to acknowledge there was a problem to solve at all”. The latter feels a bit more adversarial, although it’s entirely possible this is just from my personal experience with the people who have asked those particular questions.

          Reply
        2. Annonymouse

          Oh there are SO many things you can imply from this one phrase depending on tone and expression.

          Here’s a list:
          1) I legitimately do not understand the change/process that’s happening. Can you please explain it?

          2) I don’t understand the reasoning behind the change and why we should do it. Can you explain it?

          3) I understand how and why but think this is a bad idea for reasons (cost, timing, content etc). But it’s already happening/happened. Can you explain why we are doing this now/at all?

          4) I understand how and why but I don’t like it and what it to change because it is not active yet. Is that possible if I complain in a roundabout way?

          5) I understand how and why but I don’t like it and it I know there’s not much I can do. Can I complain to you and maybe get you to change it before it goes active?

          6) I just like to play devils advocate and I’m using this as an example for us to keep talking. Wether or not this gets changed is irrelevant.

          7) This change has been made by someone higher up in the chain of command who doesn’t understand the day to day practicalities. This is going to screw everyone. Have you considered how this impacts X,Y and Z? Because this is about to ruin us/make some really bad things happen and you need to know this. But I need a non confrontational way to bring this up.

          Reply
      2. OP #4

        Thanks for the input — I sort of agree about the “winning the battle but not the war” comment, but I’m front-lines of change management at our org (training, support, user feedback) rather than an explicit decision maker, so a lot of those high-level tasks (getting buy-in, overall change management) are above my pay grade. It may be “winning the battle and not the war” but I’m just a grunt whose job it is to fight the individual battles. I totally agree that those things are important, though.

        Reply
        1. Anonymoose

          I used to be you in a few past roles. The question generally came from end users fighting against change as a whole – they didn’t really care about the change steps, just that it wouldn’t really impact them – so why did they have to change their tasks?

          Admittedly they had several points, but it was easiest to share their feedback to change masters upstairs and allow them to provide bigger picture changes that would actually impact users (‘we can now afford to give bonuses due to changing the ____ on the ____’), or whatever.

          I loooove process improvement because i’m a fixer by nature, but the actual people part was…frustrating at times.

          Reply
    2. Aurion

      Seconded. I asked “why are we doing this” all the time. If I understand the reasoning behind it, the chances of me forgetting to do X drops to less than 5%. If I’m just rote memorizing The (New) Way Things Are Done, my error rate is much higher. And I do think it’s valuable to counter with “okay, so I hear we’re doing X because of Y, but did you consider the effects of X on Z because I didn’t hear you mention it?” The latter isn’t being argumentative, or at least I don’t think it is; I’m genuinely curious if the cost-benefit analysis has concluded that it’s best to do X in spite of its effects on Z, and if the powers that be have considered it as such, so be it.

      I am a big fan of the principle of Disagree and Commit, but tone is everything; I make sure I’m genuinely curious, and if I suspect the powers that be hadn’t considered all the bases I will bring it up. If the powers that be stand firm, so be it. But asking “I don’t understand” in and of itself isn’t indicative of a combative attitude; the sum of everything will tell you if it’s curiosity or entrenchment.

      Reply
      1. Paris Geller

        This is often what I do when I ask “why are we doing X?” I’m not trying to be argumentative, but without knowing what the end goal is, I often feel like I’m floundering to remember this new thing. If I know what the end goal is (say, to improve customer service) then it’s much easier for me to adjust because I also value that end goal.

        Reply
      2. Snark

        My feeling, though, is that “can you walk me through the reasoning for this so I understand how we got here” is a more constructive way to ask this question than “Why are we doing this?”

        Reply
        1. Aurion

          I definitely agree your wording is better, but I wouldn’t think of using the more wordy “can you walk me through the reasoning…” unless I know my boss or the lead to be prickly. Perhaps I’ve been really lucky in that my bosses were all fairly easygoing/forgiving, but a mild “why are we doing this?” seemed to have achieved the same end. Again, tone is everything, and maybe “can you walk me through this?” would be more forgiving if the tone isn’t quite on-point.

          Reply
    3. Jesca

      A big part of my roles in companies over the past couple years has been process implementation/improvement. A lot of times these were in very intense environments (think companies hit hard by federal regulators and can’t just “bow out” of the industry). In my current role, the company is just transitioning some so it is not too dramatic.

      You are getting this question because do not see how the change is beneficial for the company but it is not beneficial directly to them whether because it causes them more work or requires them to now think of their roles differently. What I have found is that if you do not involve the people who will use/be affected by the process (not just their managers, either), then you will get this question at roll out. It is best to sit down and explain to everyone affected at the planning stage and actively seek input throughout. Sure you will get those who will push back, but if you are really upfront saying “X needs to change because of Y” and make it clear that you want their input but that input can never be “but we always did X and why Y never mattered before”, you will decrease this greatly. Often people do not understand the broader sense of their roles within a company or how the information from X is used down the line (KPI tracking, financial analysis. Auditing results, final product quality, end customer satisfaction). Setting them up from the beginning with the understanding saves a lot of drama and time later at roll out, because everyone knows. You will always have those that do not like change, but the key is to have that be a major minority of the group.

      Example: We are rolling out warranty claims to be tracked differently. The goal is to have it tracked more easily system wise as obviously C level management wants to see the high level root cause of customer complaints. But the people responsible for logging this do not understand that their way of kind of document it and remember the details to be ready to discuss when asked does not give a big picture of where all the money is actually going and why. I explained that C-level management does not want to sit in a meeting going through 100 warranty claims individual listening to excuses as to why the product failed. They want to see a pie chart showing them what percentage was what root cause so they can make business decisions on where to put labor to lower warranty costs. And the cardinal rule was broken. Those involved in entering the data were never included in the process development and really do not understand (as they have no experience with it) presenting big picture analytics. So, without this being explained at planning in the manner explained above, how would they know or have any buy in to the new process? It is more work for them!

      Reply
      1. OP #4

        Thanks! This *is* really great advice. Unfortunately (as I mentioned above), my role is more about training/support, and those bigger-picture decisions (about how projects are started, which people are involved in discovery, etc.) are out of my hands. I try where I can to influence those decision-makers to be more transparent and to involve users where possible at early stages, but to be honest I haven’t been terribly successful. It’s frustrating because while I’m not in change of the projects or decisions about how to implement change, I definitely carry the bulk of the push-back when it comes to rolling things out. The point about making the connection for people about how a change may not personally affect them in a positive way, but it is good for the company as a whole, is good advice and I’m going to try to make that connection explicit more when I can.

        Reply
        1. Wheezy Weasel

          Do you think it’s acceptable (based on your company culture and relationship with the manager) to create a list of the questions asked in training that relate to uninformed stakeholders, and the relative amount of time that you spend *not* training and deflecting these questions? Sometimes being able to say to the bosses ‘I spend 60 minutes of each training session explaining and defending the project instead of doing my tasks, and I do 10 trainings per month’ makes a difference in the bottom line.

          Reply
      2. Lynn Whitehat

        Yup. And if the reason behind the change isn’t explained, at the individual support-person level, it quickly turns into “just mark anything so you can move onto the next screen, that field doesn’t matter.”

        Reply
      3. nonegiven

        DH has said it’s like pulling teeth to get the documentation for changes the linemen make to the electric distribution lines. They half ass filling in the information on their ipads. Then one day, they start asking well, why isn’t this or that in the map? Well, whoever pulled that work order didn’t fill in that part. That helped, but not 100%.

        Reply
        1. Floundering Mander

          Ugh, I heard so much about this sort of thing at my husband’s last job. Management complained to him, as the database administrator, that the reports he generated were not up to date. However, he had no way of knowing that the people on the ground doing the work weren’t putting the right information into the system, and had no authority to make them do it.

          I don’t know how management expected the IT guy to know when the building surveyors were doing it wrong.

          Reply
    4. Annonymouse

      Sometimes it’s a case of
      “I understand the process/what this change is however it is not a good idea/the right time for it.”

      Like when the owner of the small business I worked at (in a niche industry that I’m very experienced in) signed up for new marketing and branding at a cost of 100k.

      “We just have to increase our clients by 20% to pay for it.”

      Except at our main location we had almost completely tapped out the market and the secondary location where we could get more clients didn’t have the capacity to take on more clients (it was a shared office space only available to us 3 days a week – including Saturday and moving from that location was not an option.)

      Also our website, logo, colour scheme and marketing materials were fine as they were. There was no real surge at the main location after changing everything and we couldn’t take on many new clients at the other one.

      So my “I don’t understand why we’re doing x.”
      Really meant “I don’t understand why we are throwing money at something we don’t need or have the capacity to take advantage of which will probably result in layoffs. I also don’t understand why you didn’t consult with me – head of admin and programs with 7+ years experience at 30 – about your idea and get my input.

      As I expected we had to cut hours, lay off staff and sell off our other location because of this bad decision.

      Reply
      1. Jesca

        Haha I have definitely been there! People do make weird, uninformed business decisions that are certainly insane! Like at the company I worked for who was in trouble with a federal agency for the own products they were making, yet wanted to important foreign product into an untested market in a desperate attempt to increase income. Its like you don’t even have your own house in order, and now you want to add even more heavily regulated processes that you do not have the knowledge/resources to even implement according regulations!

        Reply
        1. Annonymouse

          Oh yes.

          And this boss frequently changed the day to day processes I used without my input and couldn’t give me a good, logical reason besides he “liked it better this way”.

          Sure! This change will drastically increase my workload, alienate and drive away clients and potential clients and make us look incompetent. But if I don’t do it I get chewed out for 5 minutes in front of everyone and have my job threatened.

          And if I say “I don’t understand why” you take it as “I’m not smart enough to understand things are changing/what the change is” instead of “Please talk me through your reasoning because this appears to be company suicide”.

          Reply
    5. Lora

      Oh god, I do this too. I do narrow it down specifically to “here is the part I’m not getting, how did you get from X to Y and are you going to address Z later or by some other means?” but invariably there’s someone who takes it personally like I said their baby was ugly. But yeah, asking them to explain in detail which part they don’t get can sometimes help – and if what they mean is “don’t wanna” then they just get really vague all of a sudden.

      Also, what Lars said downthread about not having the big picture. It does help tremendously for the reasoning to be something more than “because the VP said so, that’s why”.

      Reply
    6. OP #4

      I am also like that, which is why I think I have trouble recognizing the difference in others — it doesn’t seem strange to me that someone would want to better understand something just because they are curious, or to help them adjust to the change. But I think that motivation may be less common than I had assumed until recently. Also, that is great advice to push the asker for more reasons, I think Alison’s answer and all of this advice will really help turn what otherwise has been a bit of an annoyance into an opportunity to do better.

      Reply
    7. Samiratou

      I do “I don’t understand why we’re doing X” when I a) genuinely don’t and b) don’t see the change as being useful or positive. If some explains why, and it’s reasonable, I agree it’s reasonable and go on about my day, but I’m not particularly shy about asking additional questions or countering with “okay, I see that it fixes A, but I see it potentially breaking B, have you thought about that?” and then we go from there. Sometimes, all scenarios have been accounted for and it’s all good, but other times B really is a big deal and wasn’t on anybody’s radar so it’s worth giving a change more thought.

      I don’t think I’ve just repeated that I don’t understand it, though, because that’s stupid. If you disagree with the change, and have a reason that’s better than “We’ve always done it that way!”, be a grown up and use your words.

      Reply
      1. OP #4

        “If you disagree with the change, and have a reason that’s better than “We’ve always done it that way!”, be a grown up and use your words.”

        Can you please come be a manager at my job? <3

        Reply
    8. Geoffrey B

      Part of my job is applying optimisation methods to make what we do more efficient. My standard analogy is that optimisation is like a bloody-minded genie that gives you exactly what you asked for, interpreted very very literally; even if you have experience with those methods it’s not easy to design the criteria so that you get what you actually *want*. So understanding the reason for the client’s request is crucial to implementing it in a useful manner and not in a “don’t blame me, this is what you asked for” sort of way.

      Reply
      1. Samiratou

        I don’t work in optimisation methods, but the rest of it is pretty much the story of my work life. People get irritated when they make a request for data points a, b and c and I ask why they need them, often muttering “I should give them what they ask for!” under my breath because 99% of the time, data points a, b and c won’t get them the answer they’re looking for and could lead them to the opposite conclusion.

        See also: software requirements.

        Reply
  3. Berry

    I used to work for a property management company and was the one to talk to all the tenants and I wish I had used a fake name! The person who held the role before me used one too, but when I came in the email address I used was my name so I couldn’t have just made one up anyway. It doesn’t really matter (one tenant tried to add me on LinkedIn and directly referenced my profile when they called about something, and that creeped me out) but I always wonder if I’ll ever run into any of the people that used to call me.

    However, I wouldn’t have used the same fake name as the person before me, with all the phone work it would be clear that I was a different person. So that’s a bit weird that OP3’s company keeps the same fake name. I wonder what would happen if there was more turnover and a person of a different gender was hired for the same role.

    Reply
    1. Runner

      I can understand the impulse to want to use a fake name, but in a landlord office it seems especially egregious. You are dealing with people’s living space. There has to be a real person who accepted their rent, promised the water repair would take place, whatever.

      Reply
    2. Fifty Foot Commute

      I am now questioning whether my all-time favorite building managers, a couple named John and Mary, were actually John and Mary I mean, I’m pretty sure they were, but…

      Reply
  4. Lonely Tree

    OP #1. That sounds like my boss. He works in many places and usually away from office. So he told us to bring up significant issues that he should know on regular meetings, but whenever we do, he treated it like it was nuisance. I consulted privately with him if he actually wanted to know about our office problems, and he said yes. But he still acted like that. In the end, I stopped talking about any problems, just letting things slide, and only telling him if he asked. That made our workplace more peaceful.

    Reply
    1. Runner

      Oh yeah. I had two top people in the organization take me out to lunch when I came on board and talk about how open they are. Very first time I went to No. 2 he shut it down — was the very opposite. You live and learn. So much of that is a crock.

      Reply
      1. Sharon

        There’s an executive at my job like that too. He goes around proclaiming his open door policy. But anything you bring to him is shut down with all kinds of rationales as to why they need to be the way they are. He’s extremely close-minded but refuses to believe it. (Multiple people at various levels have tried to solve this with him, with no luck. He was promoted to VP this year, so I think it’s a lost cause.)

        Reply
    2. OP #1

      Thanks for this – that is exactly my situation as well…and after
      reading the comments I am coming to the same conclusion. Its not worth it,
      although it is frustrating to me that he wouldn’t actually want to solve workplace
      issues.

      Reply
      1. Snark

        My read on folks like this is that a) they want to be seen as the one who solves all the workplace issues and b) if there’s a workplace issue they didn’t know about, they view it as a personal affront.

        Reply
      2. The Supreme Troll

        OP, I really am very sorry that you have to go through this crap. Many years ago, I had a boss who “talked out of both sides of her mouth”, and it was beyond frustrating!

        Reply
      3. tigerStripes

        Part of what I find frustrating about this is that supervisors who don’t want to hear about problems are really risking bigger problems down the line. Better to find out about the problems sooner than later.

        Reply
  5. Willis

    #1 – In picking your battles, it might be helpful to try to really cut back on how often you’re going to bat with the director on behalf of your two co-workers. It sounds like they know if they complain to you, you’ll say something to the boss about it. Maybe try leaving it to them to speak up more if they want an issue addressed?

    Reply
    1. Artemesia

      This is what jumped out at me too. At one point of my career I allowed myself to be the spokesperson for all the people who didn’t have the courage to raise issues. I actually had somewhat greater credibility than they did but I soon learned I could burn up my access and chips and appear to be unnecessarily irksome if I didn’t get more judicious about what and how I ‘complained’ and learned to only raise issues that I really did feel strongly about. Don’t let other people let you risk your neck. If you play it right you can sometimes move into leadership by being the go to person — I managed that over time, but you have to be savvy and also make sure the boss sees you as a leader and not a whiner.

      Reply
      1. LS

        I did this too, when I was inexperienced and naive. I ended up being labeled a troublemaker and… didn’t work there for too much longer. It was an unpleasant but never-forgotten learning experience.

        Reply
      2. CMDRBNA

        Yup. I’ve definitely been in workplaces where this happened, and I now realize that while some of the issues were legit, some of them were just coworkers who were kind of shopping around their particular grievances and trying to find someone who would take them on because they didn’t want to stick their necks out.

        Now, if someone brings an issue to me, I usually just tell them they should consider speaking directly to their manager or HR or whatever and leave me out of it. If something’s bad enough that they want it raised, they can raise it themselves.

        Reply
    2. Accidental Analyst

      Definitely support this stance.

      I was in a position where others would come to be instead of bringing up issues with the boss. I regret passing those issues on. My boss developed the view that I had problems with lots of things and genuine concerns were dismissed as me being difficult or having personality problems with others.

      Reply
      1. Susan

        I agree, this sounds like it could be part of the problem. If you’re mostly the one who brings up issues, the optics of that are bad. If you bring up issues in every weekly meeting, or even in most weekly meetings, the optics of that are bad. I would also think about the entirety of your contribution to the weekly meetings – are you also talking about what goes well, or only about the issues? Because of it’s the latter – now you seem like someone who complains a lot, and who contributes mostly to complain, and you really look like a malcontent – since the other team members don’t complain.

        You may also be making your boss feel put on the spot – if you’re essentially asking your boss to agree with your proposed changes in front of the team, without any time to think about the issue.

        I would try to only bring up the issues that you feel strongly about; let your coworkers speak for themselves. I would also suggest trying to say at least two positive things for every instance of a negative thing – or issue – that you bring up. And if you’re going to ask for a change, I would try to do it outside the meeting – or at least after some group discussion, so that it feels more like a consensus. You might find that if you email your boss an occasional issue a couple of days before the meeting, with a suggestion for a fix, it becomes his idea by the time the meeting happens – or at least an idea that he’s familiar with and comfortable addressing.

        Reply
        1. Ramona Flowers

          “You may also be making your boss feel put on the spot – if you’re essentially asking your boss to agree with your proposed changes in front of the team, without any time to think about the issue.”

          This is an excellent point.

          Reply
          1. Dr Wizard, PhD

            Yeah. Also ‘I don’t have time to explain to you now why you’re wrong’ really screams ‘an insecure boss who’s feeling threatened’ to me.

            Reply
        1. Artemesia

          I actually made my career being the person who would speak truth to power; I had a boss who appreciated having someone who was reasonably wise and also willing to be direct. But before we got to that point, I had erred in being a conduit for things other people needed to be championing. Luckily I figured it out before ruining my reputation and was able to be the ‘truth speaker’ not the whiner. These things are tricky and we all start somewhere and naive to some extent.

          Reply
    3. MommyMD

      Yes. Let coworkers fight their own battles. If every meeting is met with complaints from OP, I could see the annoyance coming from Boss, though I don’t condone his poor choice of language. Also, smaller issues can sometimes just slide.

      Reply
    4. hbc

      Yes, I recently got hit with this in a lesser way–I got told I “influence” others more than I think, and more than is healthy. I let the bosses know that some of the stuff I voiced I actively had to be convinced into by colleagues, but they didn’t believe there was a point in telling management because nothing would be done. I’ve now gone to those colleagues and told them I’m not going to be the conduit for their opinions anymore, and I’ve internally prepared myself to cut them off if (when) they start complaining about X or Y thing that’s not in my control. “Yeah, you should tell [Boss]” is going to be my new mantra.

      Reply
    5. OP #1

      Thank you for your thoughts!
      I hear what you’re saying, definitely going to take a step back
      and even encourage them to speak up as well.

      Reply
    6. INTP

      I agree with this. All the “You feel too strongly about this” crap makes me think that the boss thinks OP is excessively bothered by these issues since she’s bringing things up so frequently and the others almost never do. “Employee1 and Employee2 never have complaints so things must be fine, but EmployeeOP is whining every week.” OP should make the coworkers speak up for themselves. It makes sense to choose a de facto spokesperson, especially if one person is more comfortable with it than the others, but unfortunately the boss doesn’t seem to understand what’s happening and it’s undermining OP’s reputation.

      Reply
        1. Anion

          If your co-workers refuse to bring up issues themselves, it might be worth actually naming them when you do it. As in, “Bob asked me to mention XYZ,” or “Jane suggested we discuss B,” or something.

          It’s not an ideal solution, obviously, but if they keep bringing things to you and refusing to mention them themselves–and they’re issues that need to be discussed–at least that makes clear that you’re not the only one who’s noticed the problem, or the only one who wants to discuss it.

          Reply
          1. INTP

            Maybe also an issue-tracker spreadsheet. Whoever logs the issue has to attach their name to it, so no matter who has the conversation with the boss, it’s clear that all the issues are coming from different people. (This could also be sent to the boss ahead of the meeting so he can prepare, if he tends to lash out because he gets overwhelmed when presented with a problem he doesn’t have an immediate answer to.)

            Reply
  6. Ramona Flowers

    #1 It sounds like you’re going in quite strongly with this. Possibly taking a ‘don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions’ approach – which might make it seem like you want to make all the decisions. And rightly or wrongly that may be annoying your boss.

    Do you think it would help if you try starting with a question? That you’ve noticed X issue or you’d like to put Y on the agenda for the meeting. You could ask if Z is a possible solution. But I do think there’s a subtle difference between: “I’d like to raise this issue and suggest a possible solution” and “I’d like to raise this issue and tell you what to do about it” and it may be you just need to dial back on suggesting solutions.

    Reply
      1. Artemesia

        You might consider sitting down with the boss and laying it out. ‘I notice you seem annoyed when I bring up issues and I wanted to let you know that I have been asked by co-workers to bring these up since they are nervous about doing so. I realize that makes me look perhaps more invested in each of these things than I am and I will plan to cut back on that and suggest that colleagues bring these things up themselves and only raise issues that I actually am personally concerned about. What is your advice on this? How much do you want to hear from us when there are minor concerns about procedure and such?’ or something.

        If he is already annoyed, some sort of clearing of the air seems appropriate and might help reset the relationship.

        Reply
        1. The Supreme Troll

          Artemesia, I tend to agree with your approach on this. The OP is addressing the situation and the tension that appears to be coming along with it, but not in an accusatory way with her boss, but in a “really concerned for the best way of doing things in the office” type of approach.

          (This being said, like I mentioned to the OP above in a direct response, a boss like hers is incredibly annoying when they seem to be talking out of both sides of their mouth and contradicting what they’re saying). I wish her the best of luck, and for a positive resolution.

          Reply
        2. ECHM

          Not sure they should mention that the co-workers are nervous about bringing it up … that might make them look bad. No ideas for alternate verbiage, however.

          Reply
    1. Iris Eyes

      I wonder if that might not be the case. I wonder if perhaps the boss is using that language as a script that he learned/developed to acknowledge and allow employees to think he is taking it seriously. Its like he heard somewhere that that is how managers should respond to suggestions.

      Reply
  7. Ansel

    #3 reminds me of the confessions of a shopaholic books, the main character is always writing to her banker who finally responds and tells her it’s a generic name all the employees use for customer continuity haha.

    #2 sounds super obnoxious, sorry you have to deal with that

    Reply
  8. Caitlynne

    Sometimes phone interviews must be done by phone so everyone’s treated the same, in some organizations. A colleague of mine interviewed for a position on our same “campus” and was made to call in, as the hiring manager thought it would be a disadvantage if just some candidates interviewed by phone.

    Reply
    1. Falling Diphthong

      Huh. I’ve heard of radio stations doing this if they have two guests–if one is in the studio with the host and one on the phone, it gets unbalanced.

      Reply
    2. Justme

      A coworker of mine interviewed for a position in the same department and had to use a vacant office for a phone interview.

      Reply
    1. MommyMD

      Seriously. Not using a legimigate name in a legitimate company is strange and I bet some of the clientele wouldn’t like it, and might feel it was disingenuous.

      Reply
      1. #3 Was Me

        You’re right: the name *is* more gender neutral and altho it has been mostly women in the role, there was at least one man. And there was someone who is not a native English speaker, who had a pronounced accent. I am told no clients ever noticed, or at least didn’t bring it up.

        I also agree it is weird, and I actually need a sticky note in front of me that says “Sally Smith” when I am on the phone, to remind myself not to say my real name.

        Reply
    2. SusanIvanova

      I was reminded of the co-workers who swapped names for two weeks after noticing that customers were more cooperative when the email was signed with the male name, and thinking that, at least for email, “Sally” might want to be “Sam” instead.

      Reply
      1. Falling Diphthong

        There was a pair of women entrepreneurs who literally came up with “Keith Mann” to sign their emails, and tech dudes who had responded to “Kate” with “Hi girls” responded to “Keith” with “Great working with you, is there anything more I can do to help?” Right now, in the US.

        Reply
  9. Observer

    #4 Repeated “I don’t understand” is a sign that there is something you are missing, in the opinion of the questioner. Unless these are people who are poor performers or obstructionists, it’s worth finding out what they think you are missing. Often what they are really asking is “I understand that if we do X, we’ll get result A. But why do we want to get result A?” or some variation thereof. It’s well worth your while to get at why they ask this – most of the time it’s just a matter of them not having the whole story, in which case providing more information if you can is useful. But sometimes, they really are onto something that you might not have been aware of, and listening to the people who are most likely to be affected can save you LOTS of trouble.

    Another thing to think about is that you may not be as clear as you think. If it were one person doing this, I’d be pretty sure that they are just not happy. But when it’s a lot of people, then you really need to look at whether it’s you. I’m not saying it IS you. But, it’s really possible.

    Reply
    1. Lars the Real Girl

      Yes! When you’re in a change management role, it’s really easy to give the immediate answer of “why” but not get to the global/big picture “why”. It may make perfect sense to you, because you’re in it and amongst it all day, but people don’t always connect the dots that well.

      For example, I was helping to roll out new electronic timecards for different sites. We often got the question of “why do we need to do this”. We often answered with “the entire company is doing this to be more efficient (not so, in their eyes) and move away from paper timecards as we move to a new accounting system.

      That didn’t make sense to them because for them that was just extra/different work for something they didn’t see or didn’t even know was happening. What ended up working much better was “the client’s compliance rules have changed and for us to be able to maintain the contract (aka your job), we have to match their new accounting specifications, which require electronic timecards.”

      When we could explain the big picture, people were more happy (or at least less combative) about change.

      Reply
      1. Observer

        The time cards thing is an excellent example. When we moved to an electronic system a lot of people were unhappy – and some of them actually reasonable points. But we REALLY, REALLY needed to make this move for a lot of reasons, not the least of which was that we’d been told clearly by multiple auditors that our existing system was not appropriate.

        Letting people know this made a HUGE difference in the number of questions.

        Reply
    2. Lars the Real Girl

      And then they often would come with constructive comments about things we actually HADN’T considered and we could work out solutions together.

      Reply
    3. BouncingBall

      You are more charitable than I. Or maybe I’ve just got a couple of colleagues in mind who consistently misuse the “I don’t understand why” when they’re really just resisting change.

      I think the best anyone can do is be very clear when explaining. And if you get the “Yes, but I don’t understand why” again, I think you have to start asking your own questions right back. Maybe a “Can you please tell which part of the process you’re not understanding so I can address that specific issue?” could help clarify the asker’s intent (ie a real confusion or a resistance to change).

      Reply
      1. Essie

        Agree about resisting change. I think once the back-and-forth reaches a certain point, there’s a valid “because I said so” component.

        Reply
        1. AndersonDarling

          Yep. I’m lucky enough that managers are driving performance improvement at my organization, so if anyone is being resistant to change, I direct them to talk to their manager. Folks feel like they can push back against trainers, but they hit the wall with their managers. Whenever I roll out a PI initiative, I create a script for the managers to use with their teams so they can inform them of the change and answer questions, and then I step in later for support or training. This makes it clear that the change is coming from the manager/director and cuts down a lot of complaining.

          Reply
          1. OP #4

            This requires that managers (throughout the org) support the change process and are good at giving direct feedback to their reports :(

            Reply
      2. Observer

        I’m not saying that it’s never change resistance. But I have found that the resistance often goes down when people understand the bigger picture – such as that regulations have changed or there is a major market shift that we need to deal with. People still might grumble, but there will be less of this type of pushback.

        Also, when you are seeing a pattern, and you are the common denominator, it may be worth looking at what’s causing the pattern. Sure, it may be that the company has a culture problem that causes this level of passive aggressive change resistance. But it’s also possible that there is something else at play.

        Reply
        1. Perse's Mom

          Right, I’m not resistant to change. I’m resistant to change for no reason. Part of my job is training and explaining changes to the other cogs in the wheel, and a big part of my brain function at work is devoted to WHY. So if my bosses can explain WHY a change in process or a brand new process is necessary or beneficial, I can get behind it, which helps me explain it to coworkers and vendors in a way that means they don’t dig in their heels over it.

          But if all I get is ‘because we said so,’ then that’s literally all I have to pass on to everybody else. And that breeds resentment (at least in me) because it says the people implementing the change don’t care if or how it affects the people on the ground floor doing the grunt work. After all, if they cared, they’d ask… because chances are pretty high none of them touch the systems we work with and therefore have no idea how much more difficult they may be making our jobs.

          Reply
          1. OP #4

            Exactly! I also am in a training and support role. And I do, in fact, think we’re making good changes, but I am not in a position to promise anything to users, or guarantee that their feedback will be listened to, or even that I personally have the most accurate, up-to-date reasons for why something is happening. At the risk of dating myself, I sometimes feel like CJ Cregg in that West Wing episode where the rest of the staff deliberately withheld information from her so she would say untrue things to the press without technically lying (because she thought they were true at the time).

            Reply
  10. Chaordic One

    In my experience with situations like #4, I would always tell them why task X was performed and who used the information and for what reason they needed. Usually it was the case that it made more sense for me or my department to gather the information at the same time we were gathering other information. I was always secretly hoping that TPTB would take the task off of my plate, but it never happened.

    Reply
  11. Naomi

    #1: The “I can tell you feel really strongly about this” bothers me. In the context of OP’s boss repeatedly brushing off their concerns, it sounds dismissive–kind of like when someone non-apologizes by saying “I’m sorry you feel that way,” or when Captain Awkward advises telling pushy people “I’ll think about that” to mean “I will think about it for thirty seconds and then do what I was going to do anyway.”

    Reply
      1. Willis

        Yes, and the purpose of the meetings matters too. If they’re supposed to be check-ins or updates on the team’s progress on different projects, always introducing topics about overall process could really bog things down. The boss probably doesn’t want to constantly get derailed. But if he wants fewer suggestions, or suggestions at a different time/manner, he should really say it vs being snippy with the OP. “I don’t have time to tell you why you’re wrong” is not a great way to talk to people…

        Reply
        1. MommyMD

          I agree Boss shouldn’t be snippy. I also think employees who continually bring up problems run the risk of being seen as people who can’t solve a situation on their own.

          Reply
            1. Falling Diphthong

              Ramping up a new department in a start-up seems like the perfect place to expect a lot of problems in procedures and balancing work flow and such.

              Reply
              1. K.

                Agreed. They’re likely setting up processes that didn’t exist before; some rough patches are to be expected & there should be some forum for ironing them out.

                Reply
          1. The Supreme Troll

            But here, OP#1 does seem to be taking initiative to tackle problems (and I’m going to assume in a creative, productive way). She is not only just complaining to her manager.

            Reply
    1. hbc

      It sounds kind of gaslight-y. By acting like the OP is coming at it emotionally, it undercuts whatever logical points she’s putting forward.

      That’s not to say OP is approaching it perfectly, but the boss is pretty out of line. A manager should be able to say offline, “These meetings aren’t really for those kinds of issues” or “I’ve asked for feedback but I was thinking more high level.” Or even in the meeting “Okay, I haven’t had time to think about that, but we can put it on the agenda for next week if everyone agrees it’s important.”

      Reply
      1. Kathleen Adams

        That was my thought, too – it’s a PC way of saying “I can tell you’re upset,” and if you’re not actually upset that’s just Not Good. Used improperly, which it sounds as though it is here, assuming the OP is presenting him/herself accurately, it’s very, very dismissive.

        Reply
      2. OP #1

        Thanks for this – I thought it sounded that way too when he said it.
        The next day he called me and told me I sounded ‘stressed out” at yesterdays meeting.
        I calmly told him I wasn’t stressed but it was clear he had taken my suggestion that way.
        He then told me HE was stressed and thanked me for bringing the issue up. It is very frustrating…

        Reply
    2. OP #1

      Thanks for saying this…I also felt really bothered by how he said that to me.
      The next day he called me and told me I sounded ‘stressed out” at yesterdays meeting.
      I calmly told him I wasn’t stressed but it was clear he had taken my suggestion that way.
      He then told me HE was stressed and thanked me for bringing the issue up. (confusing!)

      Later he brought the “solution” that I had asked for and you’re right he did exactly
      what he wanted to. I’m frustrated but also nervous of coming off like a constantly
      nagging/complaining employee like others have suggested, also I wish my fellow
      coworkers would speak up…

      Reply
    3. Snark

      It strikes me as a very passive-aggressive response to tone – maybe OP is being more strident than they think they’re being, and the boss is being really crappy about how it’s delivered?

      Reply
  12. MK

    #4, is it possible that you are misunderstanding what issues your wants you to bring to his attention? The example you gave doesn’t sound to be an actual problem that needs a solution, but more your input about how things might be handled better. Maybe your boss meant “if you have problems that are making the work difficult, bring them to me”, and you heard “we can have discussions about all the decisions that are made”.

    Reply
  13. Consultant

    #1 “I can tell you feel really strongly about this”

    This may be an expression of his sexist prejudices. Women aren’t expected to criticise and take the lead so when you try to do so you are met with the above quoted comment implying that your tone is not appropriate or even that you are pushy or aggressive.

    The same would be seen as leadership when expressed by a man.

    I came across similar comments directed towards women so many times that it immediately sprung to my mind when reading the letter. I never witnessed men being criticised like this.

    Reply
        1. Julia

          It doesn’t really, I guess. If the OP had a male co-worker who would be willing to go bat for some change, that might help, but it seems like she is shouldering everyone else’s issues on top of her own, so I doubt that would work.

          If it is sexism, I guess at least the OP can stop doubting herself about the way she brings up issues and if she’s “feeling too strongly” about them – it’s not on her then, but the boss, as Consultant pointed out above.

          Plus, the OP could begin considering whether she wants to work for a sexist boss who basically gaslights her every time she brings a (legitimate if we’re to believe OP) concern to him.

          Reply
      1. Hey Karma, Over here.

        My first thought was “I wonder if LW is a woman.” There was a post on AAM where a LW said that her male manager labeled all disagreements between women as personality conflicts. And that is where my mind went. The manager is a guy who got some manager training to deal with “emotional staff.” Step one: acknowledge his/HER feelings “I know you feel strongly about this” Step 2: transition to your reply, “but, no because” Step 3: retreat. Back away slowly or run. Dealer’s choice.

        Reply
        1. OP #1

          Im really glad you responded – I never thought about it that way.
          Yes I am a woman and he is a man so this is definitely a possibility.
          Its frustrating because I am in no way being emotional so I wish there
          were a tactful way to respond in the moment considering this isn’t the
          first time he has said this.

          The next day he called me and said “you sounded stressed out in yesterdays
          meeting” and I said “Actually I wasn’t, but I can tell you took it that way”
          and he admitted HE was feeling stressed. So I took it as he was just projecting
          his own feelings of stress onto me…but it still begs the question of why he
          made that assumption about how I said it and whether it would be the same
          response for a man.

          Reply
        2. Consultant

          Interestingly, I’m not even able to imagine this situation between a male manager and a male employee.

          A male manager telling a male employee “I can tell you feel really strongly about this”. Such things don’t normally happen. The manager would argue using arguments not like this if the OP was a man.

          That’s why it was quite clear the OP was a woman.

          Reply
          1. Samata

            We have worked at very different companies. I worked at one in particular where men had this type of exchange in weekly meetings over a very difficult planning year. The exact sentence was “I can tell you feel strongly about this but I can also tell you were are going ahead as planned and are past the stage where anything else is an option.” I used to hear it in my sleep. I was the only women of 25 employees & I was not the one this sentence was being directed to.

            Reply
    1. OP #1

      Actually that was something I was thinking…but I didn’t want to outright say it in the
      letter because I was worried I was overreacting.

      The next day my manager (he) called me and said “you sounded stressed out in yesterdays meeting”
      I responded “Actually, I wasn’t, but I could tell you thought that I was” and he then admitted he
      himself was stressed. I guess he was just projecting?? But that wasn’t the first time he had said
      something like that to me…so I’m not sure what to think. Others in this thread have suggested I
      hold back on bringing up issues and I think I’ll just do that from now on, and then if there is an issue
      that is really important bring it up with him one-on-one.

      Reply
      1. Lora

        This is a good plan. He may still reckon you are stressed out – I learned that I was perceived as very stressed out all the time by a boss who spent the live-long day yelling and screaming and threatening to punch people. Really? You don’t say! But that’s a reflection on him and a situation you cannot win.

        Reply
      2. Consultant

        I would be stressed if someone insinuated my psychological states :D He basically ignores your suggestions using personalised arguments referring to your imagined feelings instead of taking your proposals seriously.

        That’s not cool.

        Reply
  14. Nacho

    OP #4: “I don’t understand why we’re doing X” is just a super condescending way of saying “I don’t think we should be doing X”. It means the asker knows they’re not in a strong position to be giving feedback on procedures, but they still think you’re an idiot for thinking they should do X.

    Reply
    1. Kathleen Adams

      Wellll…not always. Sometimes people are actually asking for clarification when they say “I don’t understand.” But not always, and it’s not always easy to tell what the intended meaning is.

      Which is why when *I* truly do not understand and want clarification, I’ll word it a little differently, e.g., “I’m not sure I understand” or “I’m a little confused.” But of course that’s not compulsory. Sometimes when people say “I don’t understand,” they really do mean nothing more than “I don’t understand.”

      Reply
    2. Perse's Mom

      I use that phrase in two ways. The VAST majority of the time at work, I’m using it because I literally lack comprehension around X – how it affects me and my coworkers, did anyone consider how X fits in with Z and we’ll also have to change how we do Y, etc.

      If you’re making changes at work and the majority response is “I don’t understand why we’re doing X,” then whoever’s supposed to be responsible for getting the rest of the company/department on board with the changes has failed at their own job.

      The much smaller use of it is a sort of passive-aggressive ‘this has nothing to do with my job why did Bob sign us up for [random non-work related charity event that’s nominally voluntary but I was not asked about or given a chance to opt-out of].’

      Reply
    3. Elizabeth H.

      When I say it I usually mean “I think this is a dumb idea and I want to hear you demonstrate why it should be a good idea.” That sounds more aggressive/challenging than I mean it (Which is why I say “I don’t understand why . . .” instead!) Like I might be convinced or at least appeased by the fact that there is a reason for doing thing, but I also want to register that it has such and such problem with it that it seems like the people who made the decision/idea either didn’t know about or hadn’t thought of or didn’t think was as important as I do.

      Reply
      1. Nacho

        Maybe this is just my experience, but a big part of my job is delegating tasks to other employees, and whenever I hear that phrase, it’s from someone who wants to get out of doing their job.

        Once I had a grown women call one of my co-workers crying and asking what to do because I took a hard stance with her and pointed out that the reason I asked her to do X is because it’s in her job description to do it.

        Reply
  15. NextStop

    Ugh, I hate people like the managers in #2. I can’t separate sounds, especially voices – if two people are talking at once, I can’t understand them. Once in middle school I dropped a class because a pair of classmates kept having side conversations.

    I think it might be a medical condition. If it were, and if I were in LW’s position, would I be able to get medical accomodation to have the managers shut up?

    Reply
    1. Colette

      I wouldn’t recommend trying. A better option would be to sit elsewhere. (If it were a covered condition that the employer had to make accommodations for, I suspect the accommodation could be that you don’t attend the meetings and get a synopsis from a colleague later, or that you get the meeting notes in advance, or something else that does not require people who have influence over you job to severely change what they’re doing.)

      Reply
      1. BouncingBall

        I agree that sitting elsewhere is probably a better bet. I have some coworkers who are infamous for doing the talking-over thing. And it drives me nuts! I’ve had to leave meetings and presentations to prevent myself from screaming or giving the death glare to people; it’s literally maddening for me to try and process that many voices at once, not to mention the second-hand embarrassment I get when adults around me act poorly.

        So what works for me is getting up, pretending to go to the bathroom/refill my cup of coffee/whatever, and then sitting back down somewhere else, far away from the talkers.

        Reply
    2. chocolate lover

      Years ago, I got my hearing tested for various reasons, a significant one being that I was struggling in weekly staff meetings (12 – 15 people) to make out some of what was being said, I couldn’t hear/understand everything, which meant I was having a hard time following and participating and was getting frustrated. Turns out my overall hearing levels themselves were fine, but that I had a tough time separating out background and other noises, and my group was easily excitable, sometimes loud, and often talking over each other in their enthusiasm. The audiologist gave me a few suggestions, like sitting in a location where there was noise coming from fewer locations, or sitting next to one of the quieter staff members so there would be less noise coming from their direction, etc.

      The odds of getting the group to “accommodate” me would have been very slim. And unlike the manager in OP’s case, people didn’t scoff that someone was being unreasonable, it’s not that they didn’t care – they were just very excitable and once their creativity and conversation got flowing, good luck.

      Reply
  16. SR

    Folks dealing with situations or dynamics like #4 may want to learn more about the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (CBAM), especially its Stages of Concern. It grew out of an educational context, but is quite applicable in any situation where there is an innovation or change that people must adopt (as opposed to one that “just happens” without adoption).

    Reply
  17. soupmonger

    #1: I agree with Alison’s suggestion of arranging a one-on-one to address the issue of why he doesn’t want you raising these issues in your meetings.

    I run my own business (15 of us) and I do welcome issues and solutions being raised with me. What can be frustrating though is when there seems to be a never-ending list of issues to go through. It’s not the issues themselves but the sheer number and diversity of them which feels overwhelming at times. And yes, it gets frustrating, even though I welcome it and deal with issues quickly. Maybe there’s a sense of pile-on?

    In your own business there’s a sense of personal responsibility for fixing issues in a way which doesn’t happen when your boss is also an employee. That can add to the frustration of feeling like you need to fix everything yesterday. Or that could be just me…

    Reply
    1. Not myself today

      Nope, not just you. I’m happy to hear about issues, except that I’ve got one employee who complains about a lot of stuff, some of it in my control, some of it not. Every time she brings something up I have to figure out whether it’s something we actually should change, what change needs to be made, where it fits in the budget, and whether I’ve got the political capital to raise it up the chain. I’ve got work to do as well as the team to manage and I haven’t got time or energy to deal with everything she brings up. That makes me feel crappy and doesn’t help her morale – aargh.

      Reply
    2. OP #1

      Thanks for your feedback!
      I can definitely see that being the case, although the majority of the issues I bring forth are
      in regards to dividing work responsibilities and clarifications about how the process is working.
      Since it is a start up and we are still trying to work out things the process changes almost monthly.
      Also I think because he is a remote worker while the rest of us are in office he doesn’t always see
      some of the issues (like an account manager verbally asking us to do something rather than looping
      him in)

      I guess I can see the frustration on his end but I am definitely going to do what Alison suggested and
      speak to him one-on-one.

      Reply
      1. J.B.

        If things like the account manager making a verbal request is an ongoing question, you may want to ask the manager how to handle that in general. How much authority you have to make a call, etc. Probably don’t do this before talking to manager, but when you get those verbal requests and scheduling issues, one avenue is to email “what we talked about and what we did” to the person making the request and cc manager. Not that he’ll pay attention in the moment, but you can gradually build up a pattern of expected responses and refer back to past decisions.

        Reply
  18. Y

    ‘I don’t understand’ is, like ‘with the greatest respect’, one of those phrases that means the opposite of what the words in it suggest. Like ‘there’s just one thing I don’t understand…’ usually means, ‘I am about to give you a long list of reasons why you are wrong; listen carefully.’

    Also, ‘I hear what you are saying’ means ‘you are an idiot and I have stopped listening to you’, and ‘that’s a very interesting idea’ means ‘you will get to do this over my dead body.’

    Reply
    1. Kathleen Adams

      It really isn’t fair to imply that those phrases always mean the opposite. Sometimes, sure. But not always. I for one frequently say “There’s one thing I don’t understand” when there’s one thing I don’t understand, and I also say that an idea is interesting when I think it’s, you know, interesting.

      Reply
  19. AdAgencyChick

    #1, how’s your tone when you bring up these issues? It may be that your boss is responding to that (especially if she sees “I see this problem and we should do this about it” as a challenge to her authority). Also, a group meeting might be a more charged atmosphere than when you’re talking to your manager one-on-one, since she might feel you’re calling her out in front of your colleagues.

    Not saying this is what you’re actually doing, but I wonder whether putting your comments in a very inquisitive tone (“I noticed X is happening, what should we do about it?” and mention your preferred solution as part of the discussion) would help.

    Reply
    1. OP #1

      Thanks for your response!

      I hear what you’re saying, although I can’t help but think “if I were a man would I need to monitor my tone?” (manager is a man)
      Also I guess from my point of view I was making a suggestion, but I do see what you mean..I should have said “Can we talk about how we’re handling these ads? I was thinking it might be good to do X so the work is divided more equally”

      Reply
  20. Essie

    #4 In my experience, the best responses to this type of question are tailored to the person asking, but that takes time and significant interpersonal skills to develop. A new team member will need to settle in a bit before developing that ability.

    Ex: Bob is close to retirement, feels marginalized, and tends to ramble because he desperately wants to be heard. Gently shut down his endless monologues by reassuring him that his concerns are being considered; perhaps follow up in person if time and resources allow. Fergus, however, is a belligerent blowhard who wants to throw his weight around. His “I don’t understand” should be addressed with firm authority that makes clear that the higher-ups are not going to be dissuaded. Of course, most people are somewhere in the middle of these two examples, and the slide will have to adjust accordingly.

    Reply
  21. ExceptionToTheRule

    #5 – definitely mention it. I had a phone interview with a candidate last week and was walking her through what my timeline for hiring was and she volunteered that she’d be in town on X day. So we lined up the next interview for when she’d be here and it works out well for both of us.

    Reply
  22. MJ

    #2 – I’m not sure I agree. Being more senior doesn’t mean you can run over other people, or be rude and disrespectful. Saying “I’m having trouble hearing the presentation while you’re talking. Could you keep it down?” seems totally reasonable and within the scope of professionalism to say to someone who even is your superior, especially if this is a business related event where your job is to be aware of the info in it. It’s no different from saying to them, “Hey, I find the fact that the lights flicker on and off regularly to be influencing my ability to read and write these reports, could we do something about that?” (Assuming they’d be the best positioned to do something about it).

    Aside from them being rude to the presenter, they’re messing with YOUR ability to be informed and subsequently to do your job in an informed way – you aren’t, I assume, attending these presentations or meetings because your employer thinks you would have fun at them, and so to find out that you’re being denied a work resource they’re paying you to use is legitimately an issue that I would consider escalating. “My manager is making it impossible for me to use the resources you’re providing” is something needs to be addressed.

    ADDITIONALLY, it’s interfering with people from OTHER groups and companies. I don’t see this as just a missing stair that should be worked around.

    Reply
    1. Colette

      Who wins when you get in a fight with your boss?

      Yes, the managers are being rude, but they’ve already demonstrated that they don’t intend to stop, and the OP has no authority to make them stop.

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        This. This is out of the OP’s control. She can mitigate the effects by where she sits, but she can’t suggest anything to these boorish clods. If they represent the leadership of her company, she should probably be scanning the environment for new opportunities because they are turning off clients and other peers as well. They have been ‘told’ their behavior is causing problems; they don’t care. There is no ‘respectful’ or ‘nice’ way to proceed to change their behavior.

        Reply
        1. MJ

          I don’t see a solution here, I think my primary objection is that the answer was “You can’t do anything because they’re senior to you”, not “You can’t do anything because there’s no good response”. Being senior doesn’t excuse this.

          Reply
          1. Observer

            No one, least of all Alison, said that being senior makes it ok. But in the real world, being junior means that your options are limited. That’s the unfortunate reality Alison is addressing.

            Reply
    2. AJ

      A couple of directors in my department do this, but the instigator is our departmental VP. It’s rude to the presenter, yes. And it’s actually embarrassing, whether the presenter is an internal person or an external one. They do it, IMO and because I know them, because they like to feel important (more important than anyone else in the room) and they want everyone else to know it, like they are too good to have to listen to someone else.

      So saying to them: “I’m having trouble hearing the presentation while you’re talking. Could you keep it down?” would see me out the door.

      Reply
  23. Xk

    #1 – is it possible that these are not the kinds of problems he meant she she said don’t be afraid to ask? Yhey may have meant to come to then with creative problems not day to day process. Could you be overthinking things as well? I only saw the one example of someone not looping your creative director in on their request. Is it pressing enough that your team can’t loop him in?

    Reply
  24. Delta Delta

    #1 – A couple things pop out for me. First, you’ve become the de facto “squeaky wheel” for yourself and your colleagues. That means either a) the colleagues are fine with letting you raise issues; b) the colleagues don’t feel like the boss gives them sufficient attention to address the issues so they let you do it because they perceive that boss listens to you; c) the issues aren’t worth bringing up but are complaint fodder and are just sort of something the people in your office talk about from time to time. Second, it could mean that you run over your colleagues in raising issues. Do people just not speak up? Why might that be? It seems like one way to help solve either version of the issue is to encourage the colleagues to talk to the boss, and if the boss asks, encourage him/her to talk to the colleagues. that takes you out of raising issues that aren’t things you’d necessarily raise.

    Reply
    1. OP #1

      Thanks for responding!
      Yes I think you’re right, I should encourage my coworkers to speak up.
      In the past they said they don’t want to because my manager sounds annoyed.
      Yet afterwards he always asks us to keep letting him know when we have issues
      so its confusing. Either way, I don’t want to be the “complainer”/”squeaky wheel”
      so I’ll be taking a step back from asking questions/bringing up issues during meetings.

      Reply
  25. JanetM

    Somehow, either the way my browser displayed the headline or my own idiosyncratic brain, lead to my seeing, “My boss gets annoyed when I use a fake name with clients.”

    Reply
  26. Delta Delta

    #2 – 2 ideas. 1. Sit far away from the noisy people. An effective dodge is to leave the room seconds before the presenter starts, ostensibly to use the restroom or something very last-minute before the presentation starts. then come back in the room just after it starts and sit in the back. That way you’re not also disrupting the presenter by walking in after it starts. Effective for 1 person, though not for fixing the overall problem of the talkers disrupting the whole group. 2. (this is something true for me, maybe not for everyone) My hearing is declining as I get older. I increasingly find I can’t listen to 2 different things at once (hard to listen to the radio and talk to someone at the same time). I tell people I can’t pay attention to 2 conversations because it makes me miss both of them. If I were in this situation, I’d tell the others that I really can’t pay attention to the presentation because of my hearing issue. That makes it about my ears and not about their rudeness. Even though it is totally about their rudeness.

    Reply
  27. CMDRBNA

    #1 – I’m sorry about this, I had a similar experience at my previous office, where my manager was so deathly afraid of what she perceived as “confrontation” (to her, anything that required her to actually manage an issue was confrontation, not, you know, actually managing people) that if you came to her with an issue, she would twist herself into these truly remarkable semantic knots to try to convince you the problem either wasn’t serious or that it was magically no one’s fault (if I had a nickel for every time she said something like “well it must have fallen through the cracks” I would be a rich person) and therefore nothing could be done about it.

    In short, she was a shit manager. This may be a case of you always being the one to raise issues, in which case, your coworkers also need to be okay with bringing issues to your manager’s attention. It can’t always be you or you’ll get unfairly pegged as a complainer.

    But, if there are legitimate problems and your manager is just refusing to deal with them, I’m sorry. You’ve got a bad manager.

    Reply
    1. OP #1

      Thanks for responding!
      I can definitely relate to him not wanting to take responsibility for mistakes
      but I don’t think of him as non confrontational. Actually, I think he creates
      confrontation when it is unnecessary. But I think you’re right I am becoming
      “the complainer” so I will be taking a big step back from bringing things up
      during our meetings.

      Reply
  28. Bea W

    #1 reminds me of my boss. She repeatedly said the same thing about bringing things up in our meetings, and when I did I’d get the same response. Then she would tell me to bring them up one on one, then turn around in the next meeting and tell people to speak up in the meeting. It was crazy making. What she wanted was feedback which agreed with her worldview, while wanting to put on an appearance that her worldview was fostering open discussion. :/

    Reply
    1. OP #1

      haha! Yes it often seems like this is what is going on.
      I am going to take a step back and not bring things up as much
      from now on. Thanks for your response

      Reply
  29. Amber Rose

    OP #1: Start-ups are busy and stressful, as far as I can tell. I don’t know how much of the inner workings of the company you’re involved in, but if there’s some difficulty going on behind the scenes that your boss is handling, then you bringing up issues might feel like just, an overwhelming number of problems. Or an ambush. The “I can see you feel strongly about that” strikes me as the kind of phrase one memorizes in response to a certain kind of stress. Kinda like the scripts Alison and Captain Awkward give people to use every time Fergus does an Annoying Thing.

    I wonder if you couldn’t suggest you set up like, a bi-weekly or monthly meeting where you have your boss for a couple hours and can bring up a list of operations related things you want to talk about.

    Reply
    1. OP #1

      Thanks for your response!
      I brought up the issue during our weekly meeting that was meant for talking about what we are working on, what work we have ahead, and questions we have and he has made it known he wants us to come to him with concerns/questions. What I said was related to work we had to do that week so I thought it would be okay.

      I think you’re spot on that he fells ambushed and so going forward I am not going to bring things up in our
      meeting and/or I am going to hold back and encourage others to raise issues.

      Reply
      1. Amber Rose

        Oh, I don’t think you did anything wrong. Bringing up issues in a meeting is sort of the point of meetings. But if your boss is stressed or reacting poorly, pulling back on the amount of “I want to change this thing” discussions just helps everyone get along. :)

        Reply
  30. Mike C.

    But this is a big thing when you’re working on process improvement; it’s not uncommon to get a lot of push-back. Sometimes that’s based on general dislike of change, but sometimes it’s based on legitimate and important concerns.

    As someone that’s involved with a great deal of process improvement, I wanted to pull this point out and give it some additional attention. For every “folks are stuck int heir ruts and refuse to change” there’s a “this is nothing more than the latest flavor of the month and the folks who came up with this clearly don’t understand what we do or why we do it”.

    Reply
    1. Snark

      Eh, in my experience, it’s probably a 1:2 ratio. “They don’t understand what we do or why we do it” is an insular, defensive response.

      Reply
      1. Mike C.

        I think it depends on how specialized the procedures are to begin with. It’s really galling when some MBA consultant comes in and thinks they can change a procedure that required multiple fields of engineering, regulatory and health/safety to create without consulting them. Then they come up with something completely different two months down the line.

        There’s insular and there’s “I took an exam to be certified by the state to sign off on this paperwork and assume legal responsibility”.

        Reply
        1. Artemesia

          I agree. We had a big management consulting firm come in with their boilerplate recommendations and to save money they suggesting eliminating a position that dealt with our most important client base and issues since it was not already in their boilerplate recs I would guess. Their recs did not fit the business we were in and since the big consulting firms basically recycle the same old codswollop filling in the blanks with the name of the particular organization they are billing for this ‘personalized service’ they didn’t have canned advice related to this function. It was really laughable. It was like recommending the day care save money by not buying diapers or toys or the medical clinic could save money by get rid of unnecessary personnel like nurses. If you live long enough you also see the same gimmicks renamed an recycled about every 15 years. So yeah all resistance is not irrational or wrong, although it may be futile.

          Reply
    2. Essie

      Agreed! My last job was a company that loved to chase the latest business trends and kept moving people around based on whatever the latest initiative was (first we were re-seated into scrums, then they dumped that and moved everyone into a product-driven seating chart, then they whittled us down and played musical chairs again for a lean/6 sigma initiative). People got nothing done because they spent so much time changing desks and lugging their belongings around–which included a lot of heavy prototypes and delicate instruments.

      Reply
    3. OP #4

      There is also “I’m too busy to learn / use this new system” when the system is created to make their job more efficient (and thus save time); but they do have to put in the effort to learn the new system and get over the initial bumps before they’ll feel the time savings.

      Reply
      1. Observer

        But for that to work, you need to give people some space. If getting to the point where they even break even is going to take x hours, and they still need to do all of their regular work, that’s a problem that management needs to solve. If you are talking about exempt staff who need to put in a couple of hours a week extra for 3 weeks, that’s one thing. But if this is going to add 10 hours a week for 6 weeks, or 3 hours a week for 3 weeks for non-exempt staff who are not allowed to work past their normal hours, you ARE going to get push back and deservedly.

        Reply
  31. Emma

    OP #1 I’m definitely reading into your letter as if you were me, I’ll just say that upfront. I’m the sole full-time designer under our creative director and what you describe has been a constant issue for me the last couple of years despite her always saying she wants to know as soon as something becomes an issue. In my case I eventually came to the conclusion that my boss just really does not want to be bothered with anything, ever, despite what she says. I’ve learned to approach her about fewer things and just take action on other things at the risk of angering her, which happens from time to time but largely without consequence since her anger tends to be fleeting. I’ve tried everything– I gently suggest multiple solutions so it doesn’t seem that I’ve already decided, I document my concerns and present only the most pressing during our weekly meetings…

    You mentioned earlier in the comments that he admitted to being stressed out– my boss often says the same thing. She’ll express concern about me, I’ll explain that I’m fine, and then she’ll admit she’s having a hard time. She’s also repeatedly admitted to me in my annual evaluations that she knows that she snaps at me too often and “needs to work on it.”

    I sincerely hope it’s just temporary stress causing the issue but your letter really stood out to me as something I have lived! I very much have a “your boss isn’t going to change situation” and I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

    Reply
  32. Stellaaaaa

    OP3: I’ve used fake names in email and phone calls before. It has only ever been in jobs where there was something iffy going on. At one, we were covering up the company’s huge rate of turnover, which would have made clients nervous. We were using the name and email signature of the first person who held that role. She had certifications and qualifications that her successors didn’t have. We were basically lying to clients and customers about being licensed whenever we used her old email address. At another job, we used fake names because we knew we were selling a scammy product and we didn’t want our real information to get out to customers who would inevitably get angry with us.

    Your employer might not be as bad as what I’ve just described, but I’d guess that you’re in a field that tends to make people angry when you call them, or the company has its own reasons for obscuring the high turnover.

    Reply
    1. #3 Was Me

      Those are very eye-opening scenarios, and gives me something to keep watch for. So far, this company looks completely legit (as far as I know! :). I am told that there was never anyone named “Sally Smith”. I recently found out I am the 5th person in 2 years to have this role so I really think the manager is horribly embarrassed at the rate of turnover, and is trying to make it look more stable. And I think she would fill in herself while the job was vacant.

      Now that I’ve been here a year, I can guess why there was so much turnover but it has a tremendous amount of flexibility which is what’s most important to me right now.

      Reply
  33. Anion

    OP #2, I commend you for keeping your temper with the talkers. That kind of thing drives me nuts; my husband still teases me about the time I whisper-shouted, “Shut the f*** up!” at a chit-chatter in a movie theater, and threw popcorn at him.

    (FTR, he did in fact shut the f*** up after that.)

    I second trying to sit elsewhere. I also wonder if there isn’t someone else in a higher-up position that you can speak to about this, because your managers are clearly not taking into account that in a group presentation–like the one you described where people from another group asked them to be quiet–this kind of thing is making your entire company look bad. If I was at such an event, and another group was talking during the presentation like that, I’d be making a mental note not to do business with them or recommend that anyone else do so.

    Reply
  34. Anne Gris

    I am an boss who gets increasingly annoyed with a jerk on my team and his recurring issues. Here’s why. We already solved most of them. However, he seems to forget when he didn’t like the solution (because it considered organizational needs and not just his own.) He has also tried claiming the decision was overturned in a meeting I didn’t attend or by a manager outside our group to gain more air time for his inferior and increasingly irritating issues. His anxiety is high, his ego is large, he is highest paid in our little team, he can’t stand reporting to a women, and the majority of my email comes from him. He is afraid of being let go because he is not busy enough, so tries to “make work”, and gets himself so frenzied that I can’t free him up for more meaningful, satisfying work while he continues to re-invent the wheel. Your letter writer might want to check their ego and their agenda.

    Reply
      1. Anne Gris

        Inferior was an unfortunate auto-correct, but delete the post if it violates posting guidelines. The story sounded very close to home to me. With apologie. I have not commented before.

        Reply
        1. The Supreme Troll

          “Your letter writer might want to check their ego and their agenda.” I’m not sure if you were referring to OP#1, Anne Gris, but Observer is correct above: I did not see any of that in OP#1’s letter nor her follow-up responses. And also, we have to assume good faith on behalf of those who are writing to Alison for advice.

          Reply
          1. Jim Earwenger

            You are right in referring back to the letter. OP#1 is articulate and brave. With so much happening, her manager should be around more and act on everything that she raised so that she is reaching her full potential. A daily call with the manager, one on one, would empower her and even maybe help bring the list down for her.

            Reply
  35. OP #4

    OP #4 here — thanks Alison and everyone for the wonderful feedback and advice! I am excited to take the advice to use these kinds of conversations as an opportunity to get more constructive feedback from users. Sometimes it’s people who are just opposed to change *at all* and that will continue to be a challenge, but hopefully trying to be more transparent and involve people in the process more will slowly melt their hearts, haha.

    Also the advice to focus on showing how a specific change fits into the bigger picture for the company is great — a lot of our change management involves automating (or at least digitizing) processes that have been done by hand, on paper, for decades. Some resistance is from people who just aren’t comfortable with computers and would be happy if they never had to turn theirs on, but some resistance is from us saying “we’re automating this one very manual data entry task that takes up way too much of your time, and you’re always complaining how busy you are anyway so it’s a win-win” and people hearing “we’re automating your job and will probably fire you soon and just have a company staffed by actual robots.” That’s a tough one because I personally do believe that while there are huge efficiency gains to be made from automation, in our (creative) industry, there are some tasks that can’t be automated and will require a human to do them (or at least, once we have computers able to produce original, creative work, we’ll have bigger problems than one person’s job). So when someone is worried that “a computer will take my job,” I’m comfortable explaining that computers are just tools, if you learn how to use a tool correctly if can *help* you do your job, and you’ll actually become more useful to the company because you’ll be using your brain instead of just performing rote taks. But if someone sees their job as just specifically entering this piece of data manually on a piece of paper, then yes a computer is going to take *that specific task* away from them. So I can explain the big picture all I want, but if all the person wants is a job where they can clock in, do some manual labor that doesn’t require much thought, and clock out, there isn’t much I can do to help them with job security in this or any industry.

    The most helpful part of this discussion is from multiple people who pivoted to say that the larger source of this conversation is from the change management process in general: how early are people involved in the planning stages, how well do we get buy-in to our projects, etc. That is 100% on the mark, but unfortunately those questions are above my level — I mostly handle training and support, which means that I am the first line getting user feedback, but the actual decisions about how to run the overall project are made a couple of levels up from me. And they aren’t … great at this. I do my best to push that feedback up the chain and explain how putting in extra time early will pay off with a smoother rollout later on, but to be honest this really is the biggest blocker to successful change at my organization. I’m not 100% sure what I’m going to do with this realization right now, but overall I think it means that I need to make more of a concerted effort to have an effect on the change management team, not just on users.

    Reply
  36. Noobtastic

    #2 – Can you ask for subtitles, on such things a video presentations, at least, there might be a possibility of subtitles. Deaf people need accommodation, as do those with partial hearing loss.

    You have, effectively, partial hearing loss whenever these twits are in the room, so maybe you could take advantage of any accommodation for the hard-of-hearing, and start requesting it IN ADVANCE, every time such a meeting is scheduled.

    You don’t have to lie and claim that you are hard of hearing, but you can, truthfully, say that you have been having trouble hearing the presentations clearly, and would like accommodation.

    Video conferencing might allow it. Anything pre-scripted should allow it. But Q&A sessions might be problematic.

    Perhaps your HR department might be able to tell you what sort of accommodations they are prepared to make, in the case of hard of hearing employees, and see it they will go ahead with that.

    Too bad they can’t discipline the twits, though. Sheesh.

    Reply
  37. Isaac

    To OP with the shirtless boss, depending on your browser and IT policies, you may be able to download an ad blocker and block the specific photo of shirtless boss. Fixes the issue for you at least :)

    Reply

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