10 things bad managers say

featured-on-usnManagers’ words carry enormous weight with the people they manage – and the wrong words can destroy employee morale and motivation. Yet bad managers go on saying the wrong things over and over again.

Over at U.S. News & World Report today, I talk about  10 of the most common phrases you’ll hear from bad managers and why they’re wrong — including “You’re lucky to even have a job,” “I received an anonymous report,” and more. You can read it here.

{ 149 comments… read them below }

  1. Joey

    I can’t believe you missed this one “HR said [insert bad news]”.

    Why HR is always the fall guy for every piece of bad news I’ll never know. Managers really need to own bad news even when someone else made the decision.

      1. Jessa

        Yeh. and it gives HR a terribly bad name and makes it harder for people to go to them when they CAN help them.

    1. some1

      Adding to this: if you make a decision, acknowledge the fact that it the exact opposite decision you handed down as Gospel yesterday.

      1. tcookson

        Yes! Our university is adopting some new policies and is also beginning to enforce some existing policies more strictly.

        The deans previous assistant, when a rule would change, would acknowledge that it used to be different, sympathize a little with the affected person, and then uphold the rule.

        The dean’s current assistant, however, seems to think she’s giving up some of her personal power by acknowledging that a rule is, in fact, new (or that it is newly being enforced).

        People trusted the previous assistant to interpret the rules for us, because we knew that she would be honest with us about what was going on. We trusted her to tell us how much leeway we had with the new rules (whether they were open to some interpretation or were of hard-and-fast, toe-the-line variety).

        With the current assistant, we can’t tell if her interpretation is accurate, because she insists that everything is hard-and-fast with no room for interpretation. Her personal credibility is pretty much shot because everyone suspects that her take is just a personal power play.

  2. periwinkle

    Ah yes, #1. Once upon a time I worked in IT, and our big boss would say that in response to any perceived unhappiness in our workgroup. When hiring picked up in our field, about 75% of the techs left within 6 months. She was shocked – shocked, I say – that we would prefer to be lucky somewhere else.

  3. Bobby Digital

    Re: Anonymous reports

    A couple of months ago, my manager pulled me aside to tell me that, though she had “never seen” this problem, a few anonymous staff members had complained that I was “occasionally” too busy to chat with them. She ended by reiterating that she found these comments strange, as she thought I was always friendly and respectful, but she wanted to address it before it became a “bigger problem.”

    I seriously had no idea how to answer. Or even where to begin.

    1. Katie the Fed

      I once got:

      “some people have said that you’re a abrasive on the phone, like hanging up on people” (have NEVER done that, FWIW).

      Um. OK? Thank you, my attention now is on trying to figure out who said such a thing rather than fixing something that actually isn’t a problem.

      1. A Teacher

        I typically respond with, I would need to know who you were talking about in order to put that into context. When I worked in corporate, there was one person that liked to throw people under the bus to get ahead. She would take what was said out of context and take it to higher ups. The rest of us would get yelled at for something we never said or we would have no clue what the issue was, until several of us called management on it.

        Just like when I witness something in class, I never say, well “so and so ratted you out.” I just act like I’m the one that knew what was going on or I bring up general concerns to the class and typically the behavior changes.

        1. Katie the Fed

          I have a very good idea who it was – someone who was gunning for my job. And my manager at the time had factions of people she liked and didn’t – she was a monstrous leader, and she particularly had it out for other women. So I’m sure she lent a sympathetic ear to anyone with trash to talk. She once asked me to “give her the dirt” on a another senior female who was joining our office, and I refused (“I have no idea what you’re looking for”).

          Her sins will catch up with her, I hope.

      2. Frances

        I’m almost certain that a previous boss blamed anonymous reports when SHE was really the one who had a problem with me. It was always “someone has complained” when the problem was pointed out and then “I think you’ve done great fixing this” in the follow up.

        And yeah if she’d just said “I need you to do better with x” I wouldn’t have spent days being paranoid about what I could have done to which coworker to prompt a complaint.

        1. Judy

          I had a manager (offsite) claim that a manager onsite complained about something. Except the manager onsite (1) would have come directly to me about something like that, and (2) the manager onsite had been in Brazil for the previous 2 weeks.

    2. Yup

      Ugh. You have my sympathies. “Mysterious people who shall remain nameless sorta complained about this nonspecific thing that you maybe do sometimes. The alleged thing doesn’t bother me at all but I’m going to lob it in your lap anyway just so you can wonder WTF.” Great, thanks for that. Now I’m trapped inside the movie Inception.

      My only response to irritating vagueness is to ask “What do you need me to do differently?” Unless there’s something specific you need me to do/not do, this conversation is going in the mental Trash file.

      1. Briggs

        Yes, I also respond with “what should I do differently” and I’m always annoyed when they don’t have any response. Um … so you just wanted to report that people are gossiping about me? That’s great. Thanks.

      2. the gold digger

        My former boss told me that I “used big words that make people feel stupid.” I asked him 1. who had said this and 2. what words.

        I didn’t get an answer.

        Although maybe that boss was better than my current boss, whose biggest praise of me, when he was eulogizing everyone in our group, was, “GD is always on the phone! In Spanish!”

        Which is not true – I use the phone (or skype) at work maybe once a week.

      3. Anon

        I’m going to second (or third) this one too. (And I knew who it was because of the way it was worded. It was a co-worker who was trying to get into management by pretending she was everyone’s manager from the moment she was hired.) But yeah, “some mystery person said something bad about you, and I’ve never seen it, but you should fix it” is way too rampant.

      4. Vicki

        Twice (10 years apart, different managers, different companies) I’ve had the “anonymous report” talk. But both times my managers were weak people. So what I got was more along the lines of “Mysterious people who shall remain nameless sorta complained about this nonspecific thing that you maybe do sometimes. The alleged bothers me even though I don’t have hard evidence so you’ll need to stop doing it Right Now! (because complaints of any sort make me nervous and I don’t know how to handle them)”

        1. ThursdaysGeek

          My former boss got that from a (weak) acting manager. Except he went on after the “nameless people say not so nice vague things about you and don’t seem to like you much but I don’t have any specific examples of anyone or anything” to “so I’m going to give you a bad review”.

          She’s much happier in her new job.

    3. Janet

      Ah yes, I once was told that “someone” complained about social media postings of mine being unprofessional. I was confused and shocked since I never posted anything political or scandalous and rarely posted anything at work. I would occasionally (like three times a week) tweet industry articles like “Interesting story about changes to Instagram” but that would be it. And he wouldn’t expand. Just “someone” said I was not being professional. At happy hour he confessed to another employee (after a few drinks) that HE was actually the one who was reprimanded and decided to scare us so we didn’t mess up. So now . . . I just don’t trust him.

        1. Ruffingit

          Reminds me of the story from a poster here about how his manager reprimanded him for coming in late too often, but he was carpooling with the manager and it was the manager being late every morning when she was to be picked up that was causing the problem!

          Some people have serious mental issues, that’s all I can say.

    4. Chinook

      “She ended by reiterating that she found these comments strange, as she thought I was always friendly and respectful, but she wanted to address it before it became a “bigger problem.””

      This is an example of useless criticism. If I am doing something that others think offensive or a problem, please give me a concrete example so I can figure out how to change it. I was once told that I was rude to a colleague (but didn’t tell me which on) but they weren’t able to tell me what I did because it was reported to them by the manager of the colleague. All that did was leave with me the choice to either ignore this feedback completley or become paranoid about every interaction with every colleague (which then causes me to be even more unfriendly).

      1. coconutwater

        It seems a bit like a gaslighting technique. Making a person paranoid about who said what and why. At what point does an employee have the right to call bs? It would surely throw me off from being able to concentrate at work, at least for a while. Not having any idea what I did, who was offended, and not having a clue as to what to do different.

        So I agree, absolutely useless criticism.

    5. kelly

      One supervisor I had was new to direct supervision and didn’t have much experience managing people. It was retail and we had monthly performance reviews after she took over. I don’t know whether it was a new policy or if my previous supervisor didn’t have time to do them as frequently. Some of her comments during these reviews smacked of anonymous complaints. It was frustrating because she didn’t observe me directly as frequently as she should have and relied too much on second hand reports and gossip.

      It took every ounce of self control not to respond with the line “I thought I left all this tattling to the teacher behavior behind in high school and was working with grownups, not overgrown high schoolers”. I don’t think she would have taken that response too well.

  4. Anonymous

    7, 8, 9, and to some extent 10 ring particularly true in my life right now. As well as “you are the worst employee I have ever had”. Words like that sting…badly.

    1. Kit M.

      I’d probably just burst into tears from shock if my manager said something like that to me. Take heart in knowing that the kind of person who would say that is the kind of person whose opinion you don’t have to take seriously.

      1. Ruffingit

        Yeah, I’m working on taking a Doc Martin approach to stupid crap. Just a general stare and “HMMM” then walking away. Seems to be a good way to deal with ridiculous commentary from idiots.

          1. Ruffingit

            Yeah, that was a real shame. But they got back together at the end of the last season and there will be one more season in the fall I understand. Can’t wait!

        1. Claire

          I thought you had misspelled “Doc Marten” and wanted to kick your manager in the face while wearing your 14-eye glossy black boots.

  5. CatK

    My current manager will compliment mine, and others, appearances, and it’s so awkward! Right now he is fixed on my glasses (with comments such as “those look great on you, you look really good in glasses, I love those glasses”), and other times he will compliment my outfit. He does this with other employees, both male and female, and I think he is trying to be friendly, but it’s so weird!

    1. College Career Counselor

      I tend to limit appearance-related comments to “nice shoes!” Which people seem to appreciate, generally.

    2. Elizabeth West

      I wouldn’t say anything about appearance if I were a manager, unless the employee came to work in pajamas or a cocktail dress or something. Regarding coworkers, tt doesn’t bother me if someone says “Ooh, your slacks are pretty; I like that plaid,” or whatever; just don’t say anything about how my butt looks in it.

      One time a coworker told me that Stickler Ex-Boss (female) asked her what underwear she was wearing under her pants!! Apparently she thought they were too tight. But sheesh!

          1. AnonEMoose

            “You’re leaving? How could be you be so disloyal and not appreciate everything I’ve done for you?”

              1. S from CO

                “If you put in for a transfer…I will block it and tell HR that I need you for 6 to 8 weeks.”

                1. AnonEMoose

                  “What do you mean, you’re leaving the company? You HAVE to give me at least six month’s notice!”

        1. dejavu2

          I used to work at a place where the *only* way to get a raise was to threaten to leave. It was mind-boggling.

          1. Ruffingit

            I once worked at a place where, if you asked for a raise at all, they lowered your pay and threatened to fire you and frequently did fire people just for asking. No joke.

          2. Sophia

            That happens in academia. Your strongest position is when they make the offer and I’ve heard many times, of people going on the job market (it’s very season specific) in order to get a competing offer so they can get a raise at their current institution. Academia, like California, has a lot of exceptions!

    1. Vicki

      I have a friend who got this response several times. He finally just quit with no new job in hand.

      I snapped him up as a contractor for the company I was at and he worked there for 5 years.

  6. PJ

    When I started my current job (I’m in HR), there was a long-time manager who often said #1 to his staff, and had for years. He’s been gone a couple of years now, and we’re still trying to heal that department. They’re still afraid to bring issues forward for fear of losing their jobs. If you slap someone often enough (figuratively speaking, in this example) they will always flinch every time you raise your hand.

    1. Sascha

      My last boss, a severe micromanager, did that as well. She started every staff meeting by telling us how lucky we were, and people would kill for our jobs.

      1. quietone

        Our CEO had a more subtle approach.. in the monthly all company meetings he would ask about the current unemployment rate…

      2. A Teacher

        Former CEO at company I worked at did a presentation on all the failing companies near to us at one of our monthly meetings and then told us because others were failing we would be on a 2 year pay freeze as well…it was a great day!

        1. Windchime

          A previous workplace merged with another company, and in the process they did a salary review for everyone in IT. Salary ranges were lowered (so if you were previously in the middle of the range, you were now at the very top), and then frozen–no raises if you are at the top of the range.

          Key people with years of experience immediately went out and found new jobs, and every week or so brought news of another person leaving. So management brought in a consultant ($$$$) to do a survey so they could find out why people were unhappy. No joke.

    2. Elizabeth West

      I worked at a non-profit once and the CEO laid someone off in the company meeting, without telling her beforehand. “Sue has been a great asset to our X department. Unfortunately, her job is being eliminated and she will be leaving us.” We were speechless. Her face got really red, and I felt so bad for her.

      We all knew he was doing it so we would be in fear of the same thing happening to us. He often used departmental meetings to threaten to cut people if we didn’t get more revenue flowing in.

      1. Chinook

        That reminds me of my worst termination ever. It was my second year a tthe school (the one that burned down and hide mind boggling working conditinons while they rebuilt) and I thought it was odd that I wasn’t given a new contract but that nobody talked to me about not coming back either. I got confirmation of my status, though, when, at the end of May (last day is June), I was given a “thanks for volunteering” certificate at the local church where I lived (and connected with the school) and then asked, in front of the entire parish, where I was going next. My only response was “I am not going anywhere – I plan on staying here.”

      2. Ruffingit

        So, so wrong. I cannot even imagine. But then, I’ve worked in places where that kind of thing would be done. It’s usually sadistic, psycho managers who do that.

  7. Anony

    I get #1 from my boss all the time, but in his case I get the impression that he really thinks it’s that bad out there. When I told him I wanted to go to grad school in a few years he asked me if I was sure there were jobs in that (there are, that industry is growing faster than overall employment). And he makes the same comments about himself, e.g. if I’m unhappy with a change that affects me he’ll say “I don’t really understand why they changed that either, but since I want to stay employed here…” He likes me, and I’ve never known anyone in our division to be fired, so I don’t really read it as a threat– just maybe not as comforting or funny as he thinks it is.

  8. MR

    I think we all have heard most of these – or some version of these – at some point in our careers.

    1. Vicki

      I am feeling very happy to realize that I’ve never had #1, 4, 6, 8 or #10.

      But that’s balanced by how often I’ve run into #2m 3, 7, and 9.

  9. Holly

    My favorite story ever… the time my old development director looked at me (I was interning) and said “wow, look at your boobs!”

    …Yeah, that happened.

      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Was it a him? For some reason, I was picturing it being a woman. Sometimes some women think they can say stuff like that to other women (not that they should do that at work, obviously).

        1. Holly

          Yeah, it was a woman; she backed it up with some slight embarrassment and a “I really need to work on my filter!” …it was awkward.

      2. Holly

        I didn’t. Small, small office (it’s a little nonprofit) and I wanted to keep my internship. It was a woman, by the way.

    1. Natalie

      My jaw literally dropped. How did this person make it past middle school without learning to not blurt out every passing thought?

    2. Janet

      Agh! When I was pregnant and finally announced it to my team, a secretary said “I thought your boobs looked bigger.” and when we all turned and stared at her she said “It’s a sign of pregnancy!” like we were the crazy ones.

      1. Elizabeth West

        Gah!

        Once, I could tell a supervisor was pregnant, but even though we often talked about personal stuff, she didn’t mention it. I didn’t ask although I was dying. She finally told me and I said, “I didn’t even notice!” We winked and she explained that she didn’t want to say anything until she was ready to announce it to the managers, in case they overheard us and got all weird about her maternity leave.

      1. Holly

        Nope, haha! They were under a wrap top that ALSO had a tank top under it, thus double covering them. I have a rather large chest but there was no cleavage showing. My boss said she thought the director was just jealous(??) because the director had an almost flat chest. The whole situation was weird.

      2. Trillian

        “Were they on fire?” Borrowing this for future use on people who make intrusive comments!

  10. Katie the Fed

    I’m happy that I’ve never said these things, but I could write a long list of things I’m thinking on any given day (and bite my tongue):

    “No seriously, figure it out.”
    “Get to the point.”
    “What is it you actually want me to do about this thing you’re complaining about?”
    “Don’t think I don’t notice you not doing what I asked you to do. Just because I’m not saying anything at this moment doesn’t mean I haven’t noticed.”
    “I am dealing with that other problem employee, I just can’t give you details.”
    “You’re really starting to annoy me.”

    1. Lily

      I have also thought “Don’t think I don’t notice you not doing what I asked you to do. Just because I’m not saying anything at this moment doesn’t mean I haven’t noticed.” but it seems nitpicky to bring up every single instance immediately – or should I?

      What do you say instead of “I am dealing with that other problem employee, I just can’t give you details.”?

      1. Katie the Fed

        On the first – I try to choose my battles. If it’s a frequent problem or affecting their work, I’ll say something in the context of other work “you’ve been having trouble meeting deadlines. I’ve also noticed you spending a bit of time on personal email and facebook. I need you to make sure you’re completing tasks on time- are there any issues with that?”

        For the second, I might say something like “I need you to trust that I’m addressing it, but it wouldn’t be ethical for me to go into any details.”

  11. Mike C.

    Back in 2009 when the market was around 8000:

    “To help protect you all from the current volatility in the stock market, we’re removing the company 401k match”. Uh, what? As someone in my mid-20s, wouldn’t that be the perfect time to start my 401k?

    But it was cool, he used the money to buy expensive art pieces to display AROUND A LABORATORY. I was lucky enough to sit next to a Dali print, but that was moved out as all the art was changed up every few weeks.

    The best part was when the giant wooden crates would show up we would guess what was inside them. I was especially proud of calling out a particularly large crate which ended up containing an antique harp. No one believed me until it was opened. :D

    1. Katie the Fed

      So patronizing. Like you’re not going to figure out what’s going on. Everytime we roll out a new personnel or retirement system it’s under the auspices of “recognizing superior performance” or “giving you more flexibility” but we’re smart enough to see it’s a money saving measure. That’s cool. But don’t try to blow sunshine about it.

      1. Mike C.

        It’s the patronizing that really, really upsets me. “Flexibility you say? How about the flexibility of not getting our benefits cut while the company stock price is soaring with record profits?”

        For once I want to see an owner say, “Yeah, you’re all getting crap for raises this year because my Ferrari spends more time in my mechanic’s garage than my own.” Be honest, you want to maximize your personal profits and are able to leverage

    2. Ruffingit

      +100 for calling the antique harp! LOL! Seriously, how demoralizing, I can’t even imagine.

  12. ChristineSW

    #3 – What about when your manager actually names the person who complained about you? To me, that’s almost as bad as an anonymous report! It really sours your opinion of that person.

    #10 – I actually remember this happening years ago when I was a receptionist at a doctor’s office. The doctor basically compared my clerical skills with that of the other receptionist, although I don’t think he did it in front of her. It made me view her as somewhat careless and want to correct her mistakes. I’m extremely detail-oriented, so that drove me nuts sometimes!

    1. A Teacher

      I’d rather know who said what than not know. At least then I know who I need to be more careful around.

      1. some1

        Agreed. I was once told about a complaint that was completely valid, but the fact that my then-boss prefaced it as ‘People have complained…’ made it much easier for me to both invalidate the complaint to myself, and focus on who “tattled”, rather than accepting it right away and making changes I needed to do.

        1. Bobby Digital

          Also agreed. I think all criticisms, especially criticisms of subtle or exceptional behaviors, need to be contextualized in order to be effective. In most cases, the original critic is a huge part of the context. It’s the difference between:

          -“People say you are rude.” and
          -“Cliff mentioned you became defensive when he questioned you about the timeline. Any reason why?”

          The more specific the better, within reasonable limits. At least, this works best for me (on both ends).

          1. Bobby Digital

            Also, it occurs to me that naming the critic is probably fairer to both parties, save for really sensitive situations.

            In the above examples, Cliff comes off a lot better (and probably closer to reality) in #2 than in #1. Would anyone really go to their manager and say, “Bobby is like totally rude?” I think most of the time these “anonymous reports” are the manager’s interpretation of complaints.

            1. ChristineSW

              I like the sound of #2. While embarrassing, it’s specific to a situation as opposed to feeling like the report reflects your overall character. Plus, it gives me the opportunity to explain why I was defensive.

              1. Anon

                This is a good point–trying to anonymize the comment also ends up stripping out the context, because putting in the context would make it clear who said it.

      2. ChristineSW

        All good points. I guess in these cases, I would’ve wished the person to come to me directly (I am speaking from experience–I’ve been told of complaints against me by specific people, none of who came to me first). OTOH, as I think I’ve seen here, some people just don’t know how to approach someone directly with a complaint thus going to the manager, then said manager says he’ll take care of it.

        Also, knowing who complained makes interacting with the person awkward. But you all are right.

        1. A Teacher

          Isn’t it just as awkward when you don’t know who said it though? If I don’t know who said it then I am wondering if everyone feels that way or just a select few. It makes it easier to change my behavior (if needed) or be more guarded around that person/people.

        2. Bobby Digital

          No, I think this is a good point, too, FWIW. I’d definitely try to go to the coworker first, especially with personality-ish complaints, unless there was a real reason not to. It’s so hard for me to picture going to my boss and saying, “ChristineSW snapped at me yesterday. This. has. to. change.”

  13. Bea W

    Related to #2, “Just google it.” That was the response to my request for feedback and guidence from a subject matter expert. If I could “just google it”, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

    I have some real stunning example of bad lines from jobs past that I documented just due to the sheer WTF reaction they caused. I’ll need to go dig them up.

    1. ShySue

      Related, that a previous manager said to my co-worker after she asked a legitimate question, “Geez, it’s not brain surgery.”

      I think some lines like this are even worse when says these things in front of peers–and unforgivable when said to you (or behind your back) in front of people you supervise.

  14. some1

    Early in my career I had a first-time manager who had would never reveal the source of a complaint.

    She had been promoted from another dept after my old sup retired, and only knew one person before she interviewed, while I had been there two years and knew everyone well. She wrote down my co-worker’s complaint about me word-for-word, and it was more than obvious who it was by the word choices and turn of phrase.

    She also told me I was lucky to have a job. Her husband had just been laid off, but still.

    And the same boss is 3-for-3…I have always been pretty thin, and am used to people commenting, “OMG, you’re so skinny!” which she would also do, but along with that she’d pick my jacket up, give me a derisive look, and scoff, “This jacket wouldn’t even fit my [teenage] daughter.”

    Nope, don’t miss her.

  15. mel

    Our management has higher turnover than even the low-level staff so we get a lot of… um… gems.
    My current “favourite” is: “no one cares how you feel because you’re so easily replaceable! They’ll just get someone else.”

    Yeah. At the risk of sounding conceited, they’ve been trying to replace me (so that maybe I can try something new) for 4 freaking years now.

  16. Ruffingit

    I had a manager who particularly passive-aggressive because she could never confront issues head on. I once lost my paper paycheck (it fell out of my bag and no, they didn’t have direct deposit) and had to ask that a stop be put on the check and a new one issued. I offered to pay the stop check fee since it was my fault for losing it. The manager declined that, but went on to tell me how they could only do this the one time because if I asked again, I’d have to pay the stop check fee and it would take the accountant’s time to re-print the check, etc. (Seriously, it took the accountant all of 3 minutes to do that).

    I just stared at her because it was so ridiculous. It was an accident, I offered to pay the fee, it was the first time in 5 years with that company that anything like that had happened. I also wondered if she was so concerned about the accountant’s time to print the check why she was taking the time to be sure I knew that this was going to cost me if it happened again. She literally went on for about five minutes with this.

    That was one of many passive-aggressive comments she made. I was never so glad to be laid off.

  17. Londell

    I had one so called leader (will never refer to her as boss) who said too many things to list, but one thing she said when she was interviewing other people “I’m looking to hire people younger than me because they’ll be more inclined to listen “. She was about 25 at the time.

  18. Cody C

    How about this during a performance review.
    “Today is the day raises go into effect so when you see everyone jumping for joy you won’t be because you didn’t get one.” I held my breath waiting for the nanana booboo but he disappointed once again.

  19. Lily

    #1 I am usually trying to tell myself this!

    #2 I haven’t actually said this to anyone, but I am sure that some people really are playing games like “stupid” http://www.ericberne.com/games-people-play/stupid/ and looking for that reaction.

    #9 A good manager will say this to an employee who is resisting her duties and doing her own thing in a final warning before firing her. Or is there a better way to phrase it?

    #10 How do managers both not make comparisons, but still make clear what behavior is good and bad? For example, Susy in another department takes 5 weeks to do a task which Bob needs done in order to serve a customer and the customer complains. Bob defends himself by complaining about Susy. If I tell Bob to concentrate on his own performance, then I think I am leaving him at the mercy of Susy, since Bob is closer to the customer. if I don’t criticize Susy, will Bob conclude that I am holding him unfairly to a higher standard? Is it okay to say to Bob that 5 weeks seems to be a very long time or is that still indirectly and inappropriately criticizing Susy?

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      #9 If you’re saying it as a final warning, I think that’s different — although I’d still word it more as “this is what the job is, and that’s not going to change.”

      #10 I think that’s a different situation. When there’s a performance problem from Susy impeding Bob, you need to be able to acknowledge it. But that’s different than just randomly criticizing someone in front of someone else.

  20. Elizabeth West

    On #3, would a better thing to say be “It has been brought to my attention,” or even better, “I have noticed?” Because well, you did notice–when it was brought to your attention. But you don’t have to say HOW you noticed.

  21. Anonymous

    Ugh the “anonymous” complaints. My old boss once told me I was no longer allowed to leave any task unfinished at the end of the day, and when I asked if people were really complaining, he smiled and nodded. It was an odd thing for any reasonable person to complain about. We had rigid work hours, and most people went home at 5:30 unless there was something they really needed to stay late and work on (like is something was actually urgent or someone had a particularly large workload). Often I felt it helpful to walk away from a difficult task and come back to it in the morning.

    Anyway, I’m still unconvinced anyone really thought it was a problem, and if so, it would have been helpful to me to know if the complainers were my co-workers, their managers, or members of upper management. Not that I wanted him to throw anyone under the bus, but I did want to know where the complaint was coming from.

  22. Erik

    I had this spoken to me before:
    “You’re not cut out for this line of work”.

    To provide some context, this was while working on a train-wreck project that had no chance of success, no matter how heroic my team’s efforts were. We didn’t realize this until towards the last 1/4 of the work. We were set up to fail, and of course my boss was perfect in every way and the rest of us were worthless.

    I resigned shortly afterwards.

  23. Allison

    To me, one of the worst things a manager can be is a coward. It can be difficult to tell someone the truth about their performance, their position, their potential, or give someone a straight answer about your expectations, or say anything else people don’t want to hear. But when someone is purposefully vague, hides behind someone else, or outright lies to avoid having to be the “bad guy,” it’s usually obvious, and the only thing worse than hearing the truth is knowing you’re being lied to.

  24. Lanya

    One time, my boss told me, “a volunteer could do your job”.

    And if I could pinpoint one exact moment that led me to leave that job, it would be the moment that sentence left her lips!

    1. Ruffingit

      Wow. You know, I’m starting to think the best reply to all this kind of stuff is just “OK” followed by sending resumes out as soon as you get home. I mean, really…what are you supposed to say to that? A volunteer could do your job? OK then, get a volunteer. Jerks.

      1. Lanya

        I don’t remember exactly how I responded to her, because you’re right – what are you supposed to say to that? I know I held my tongue. But I do remember seeing red for the rest of that day, and I did start sending out resumes as soon as I got home. That was the day I decided I would never again allow myself to be employed by anyone who did not see the value of my work. The company now employs a graphic designer whose level of “talent” is on par with what my boss deserves to have, while my strengths are being applied much better elsewhere.

        1. Ruffingit

          Right on! Take your talents elsewhere and let your old boss suffer. Glad you did that because you deserve better than to have your skills insulted like that.

  25. Mints

    This article makes me feel really sane!
    Crappy management really is happening, I’m not just being entitled or crazy.
    I got this email recently “I know you’re doing X, but please make sure you’re doing X.”
    I could not (cannot) figure out if this was a reprimand or praise.

    1. Bobby Digital

      Yes! I’m not alone! This is so common at my office, it’s become a running joke outside of work. Last month I got:

      “Bobby, I know you don’t have a home landline. If you get one, please continue to use your cell phone number on the phone tree.”

      Like…this was its own email.

  26. Windchime

    This article makes me want to go and hug my boss. Don’t worry, I won’t–it would be super weird for both of us. But it still makes me want to.

  27. SerfinUSA

    A supervisor repeatedly advised some of us “puff yourselves up” to be noticed by higher-ups in a position to lifeboat the stranded B-teamers.
    Not to improve certain skills, take on certain tasks, and definitely not to count on her for support and advocacy.

    Just “puff yourselves up” and be as much of a nuisance as the couple of people who managed to backstab and brown nose their way on to the A team. Jeebus.

    1. Holly

      I… usually just do whatever I thought was the right thing with the expectation that I’ll either be fine or they’ll correct it later. Because usually those are no-win situations.

  28. Vicki

    #5. “That’s a dumb idea.”

    Worse: the manager who said this to me had initially supported the idea when I brought it up in a 1:1 in his office. Then I raised the idea in a team meeting with other managers. Manager turned to me and said “Where did you get that idea? That will never work.” (Not long after that, I transferred to a different team & manager.)

  29. Vicki

    Add #11: “I have to put something into the “needs Improvement” section on your review. No one ever reads those things”.

    My manager’s comment when I commented that the “needs improvement” item related to something that had never happened and he happily admitted it was entirely made up.

      1. Anon

        My first year during performance evaluations, my boss told me that my work had been excellent, but that he was going to mark me as “satisfactory” because “otherwise there’s nowhere else you can go or show improvement.” Whaat?

  30. Vicki

    #9 describes approximately 1/3 of the managers I’ve had. The job each manager decided he wanted me to change to was so far from my core role (experience, interests, skill set) that, had I applied for it from outside, my resume would never have been considered.

  31. HR Competent

    One bad management statement that drives me nuts is addressing an issue or behavior to a group when it actually involves only one employee.

    1. Andrea

      THIS! So much this. Division wide memos detailing policy changes that are based on one person’s bad behavior. It’s like, just deal with that person and leave the rest of us alone! It’s not like they’re going to actually see themselves in the memo either, the bad behavior will continue!

  32. Maggie

    I once had a manager tell me, in my performance review, that someone had said one time I was on the other side of the balding for too long. Manager refused to name the complainer. And Manager also did not know when this supposedly took place. My response was ” So someone, but you can’t say who, said I was on the other side but you don’t know when? How do I defend myself against that?” Manager then looked embarrassed.

  33. jesicka309

    “Your performance this year has been really great – there’s really nothing I can fault you on. You’ve always been fantastic…however, I can’t give you a top rating of ‘outstanding’ because you’ve been in the role 8 months, and I can’t give you the next level of ‘exceeds expectations’ because I expect you to be awesome…so you will get a ‘successful performance’ rating.”
    Seriously. No useful feedback, no way to get a top mark, and contradictory comments about how great I was, yet undeserving of top marks. I almost had angry scribbles above my head like the Peanuts comics.

  34. office assistant

    Every time my supervisor who never praises anyone for their performance starts a sentence with “you’re going a great job, “it always follows with “but” and a series of complaints and list of things he thinks you’re doing wrong.

    1. Bee

      I too got the “but.” As in, “You’re doing a great job, BUT I really don’t understand what you do.”

      Also uttered by a superior, “I think we need to start checking internet browser histories of our employees so we know who is unhappy and job hunting.” I know this is something they can do, it just came across as somewhat creepy at the time.

  35. Ruby

    Given I am currently kid-rearing & semi-self employed, can I just note that all of these things “bad managers” say are also things “bad parents” say to their kids?

  36. Not So NewReader

    The only good thing about the bad economy is that we can figure that managers are using poor word choice and mean to say “it is tough out there to get a job.”

    I had a boss back in the 80s that would say this. Yeah, he actually meant he was doing me a huge-back-breaking favor by employing me. This went on for sometime, the customers were complaining about how the boss spoke to help. This helped me to recognize that his complaints had very little to do with me. He was always yelling about something.
    One day a minor issue happened and the boss’ temper went through the roof. “Why don’t you just leave?”
    I said “okay.”
    Well, he did not hear me because he was still busy yelling. I got my coat and put it on. “What are you doing?”, he said.
    “I am leaving” When I walked out, so did a few of his customers.

    It was one of those rare moments in life.

    Disclaimer: I do not recommend walking out. But there are times such as endless cussing, endless degrading remarks, throwing things at employees, etc that you just have to leave. That is the only response to that behavior.
    His business did not last much longer.

  37. mirror

    I had a super passive-aggressive boss. She was very friendly with me in the beginning, but turned sour towards me when I got engaged at the same time she was going through a separation and her adult kids were choosing her husband’s side (even though all I did was give her pure sympathy and listen to her problems during my lunch hour! My only guess is that the constant happy little chats I had with patients who asked about my wedding planning grated on her over time). I worked reception and she worked billing right around the corner, so she could hear me talking to customers and would constantly whisper under her breath in an annoyed tone the responses she thought I should be giving to customers. Never talked to me about it. She’d also go into her boss’ office for up to an hour to complain about the work environment and the other employees under her (and we could all hear her through the door).

    In my last week there (getting married and moving!), I decided to unbox the office holiday decor and decorate the waiting area during my lunch hour. I asked for her approval and ideas and she agreed with how I was decorating. I even made some decor from scratch (hey, I like to be crafty!). My last day on the job, and most of the decor is removed, changed, or plain missing. Fine, whatever, she doesnt like the decor after all. So I ask where the stuff is that I handmade since I might as well use it at home. No response. She refused to look at me or answer! I asked the person who was replacing me (and I had been training for 2 months) and she wouldnt tell me, just sheepishly shrug. FINALLY I got a temporary employee to whisper to me in the back office that the decor was in the trash. Such a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but that one act of pure hate really broke my heart. I still cant believe someone can be so cruel. It was a long last day at work.

  38. Annabelle

    My boss comments after I tell him something, anything, “Whatever.” I find it dismissive.

  39. kf

    “You should be happy to get a 3 out of 5 rating. That is satisfactory work. At least you are not getting a 1 or 2 rating.”

    That was my boss’ response when I asked what I could do to get a higher rating in my review.

  40. dck

    I had a manager straight out lie to me. I asked if my performance review was in danger of being in the “really needs improvement” zone and she said no – I was fine. Then 3 months later I was told my performance was in the “really needs improvement” – when it was too late for me to fix things. When that happens you can go to your manager’s manager and ask for a reevaluation. I did that and then discovered that my manager’s manager sat on it for 6 days and then closed it without ever talking to anyone about it.

  41. Anonanon

    Manager (1st occurrence): “You were way too involved with that.”

    Manager (2nd occurrence): “I don’t know what your level of involvement was, but it wasn’t enough.”

    Employee: “How involved would you like me to be?”

    Manager’s response: “I shouldn’t have to tell you that, you should just know.”

  42. Henderson

    I’ve been reading some of your articles, and I’m a sever introvert sometimes at my job. I find that I’m more gregarious when I have a small group of five people, even if they are strangers. But you’re articles really given me more confidence in how I conduct myself in life and how to approach my new role in another position. Thank you!

Comments are closed.