8 things your boss won’t tell you … but wishes you knew

Have you ever noticed that when people are promoted to management roles, their perspective on workplaces issues often changes? That’s because, as managers, they see things that they might not have been exposed to as employees — and as a result, they view workplace questions through a different lens than the one they used before.

Understanding that shift in perspective can help you get along better with your boss, have more insight into her actions and decisions, and even perform your job better. But most managers won’t give their staff a crash course in how they think, so you’re often stuck having to figure it out for yourself.

Want to speed up that process? Here are eight things your manager probably wishes you knew, but might never think to directly tell you.

Your attitude matters almost as much as your work.

You might think that if you do great work, that’s all that matters – but attitude and interpersonal skills can matter a great deal. Healthy organizations have low tolerances for difficult personalities, in part because managing a team can be exhausting, and it gets significantly harder when a team member is resistant to feedback, difficult to work with, or just plain unpleasant. If you complain frequently, regularly shoot down ideas, or act like the office prima donna, your boss probably considers you a pain to deal with. That could result in you getting less interesting work assignments, less flexibility, lower raises, and a higher chance of ending up at the top of the list if cuts ever need to be made – yes, even if your work product is stellar.

You can disagree with me or tell me I’m doing something wrong, as long as you go about it in the right way.

Good bosses want to hear when you have a different take on a project, or how realistic a deadline is, or the best way to deal with a difficult client– but you need to be emotionally intelligent about how you present your input. In fact, when I’ve heard people complain that their managers don’t welcome dissent or feedback, it’s nearly always been because they’ve been offering that dissent or feedback in the wrong way.

The key is to present your stance calmly and unemotionally – similarly to how you might if you were a consultant observing a situation, rather than like someone with a strong emotional stake in the outcome. Tone is really crucial here; it can be the difference between sounding like a collaborative partner in solving a business problem and sounding like a frustrated adversary. And you’ll get the best results if you frame the conversation in a way that demonstrates that you understand that in the end, your boss will make the final call – and that you’re willing to go along with it even if it’s different from yours.

Feeling micromanaged? There might be a reason.

Before you get defensive, hear me out. There absolutely are chronic, incorrigible micromanagers out there who will micromanage employees no matter how competent they are. But it’s also true that some managers kick into micromanaging gear when you’ve given them reason to doubt if they can trust you and your work otherwise. If you’ve been dropping balls, forgetting details of projects, not following up on things, miss deadlines, or producing work that requires a lot of changes from others, a good manager would get more closely involved –  because ultimately her job is to ensure that the work is done well.

But when people are being micromanaged, they rarely ask, “What have I done that might be inspiring this scrutiny from my boss?” Instead, they just get annoyed by it, which prevents them from being able to take the actions that could change it.

We don’t remember everything you’re doing, and that’s okay.

Have you ever gotten annoyed when your manager appears to have forgotten details of your work that you explicitly discussed with her earlier? Ever wondered why she can’t seem to keep track of important work you’re involved in?

The reality is that managers have to remember all the details of their own work, plus the basics of what a whole team of people are doing, so it doesn’t make sense to get irked if they need you to remind them of context or a key detail. It doesn’t mean that your manager doesn’t care about your work; rather, the reality is it’s not practical or even possible to keep tabs on what every employee is doing every day. (That also means that you shouldn’t resent it if you need to remind your boss before your December performance review of what you achieved back in February – you’re generally going to know more about the details of your performance than she does.)

Feedback is meant to help you, even when it’s hard to hear.Really.

It can sting to hear what you’re not doing well enough, but imagine if your manager never bothered to tell you: You wouldn’t progress in your career or get merit raises, and you might wonder why others were getting better assignments and promotions while you were passed over. Managers (most of them, anyway) don’t give feedback to make you feel bad or put you down; they do it because they want you to do well at your work – both for the company’s sake and your own.

That’s why it’s especially tough as a manager to encounter a staff member who becomes defensive or closed-off in response to feedback. It’s like watching someone deliberately cut off her own opportunities to become better at what she does and to get rewarded for it.

You’re too emotional.

When your emotions color your judgment, it makes you less credible.Everyone gets frustrated at work at times, but your boss will love you if you stay calm, rational, and objective, even under stress. You’ll have more credibility if you assess people and ideas honestly, even if you have a personal dislike for them. As a result, you’ll find that your opinion will be taken more seriously, you’ll get the benefit of the doubt in he-said/she-said situations, and, often, potentially contentious situations will go more smoothly.

Moreover, if you get upset or offended when getting feedback on your work, you’ll be making it hard (and painful) for your boss to do her job. Even worse, she might start avoiding giving you important feedback that you need to hear. You need to know what your boss thinks you could be doing better, and you’re more likely to hear it if you make it easy for her to tell you.

Sometimes other people get special treatment for a reason.

If you’ve ever found yourself wondering why Jane gets to work from home on Fridays but your boss won’t consider telecommuting for you, or why  Bob doesn’t have to turn in the onerous weekly reports your boss requires for you, consider that it might be for good reason. Maybe Jane has a standing medical appointment on Fridays and your boss isn’t going to discuss her confidential medical situation with others. Maybe Bob’s work is so stellar that your manager decided she didn’t need the same level of reporting from him as from others. It’s often quite reasonable for mangers to treat different employees differently – because of medical or family care situations, because of performance, or because of other issues that might never show up on your radar.

And while a good manager will explain it if the disparity is linked to performance, you’re probably not going to hear the reason if it’s something private, like a medical situation. If you want to ask for a perk, you’re better off basing the argument on your own merits and leaving comparisons to colleagues out of it.

We want you to ask for help when you need it.

Most managers want to hear when you’re struggling, whether it’s with a particular problem on a project, a difficult client, or an overwhelming workload. Some of my most frustrating moments as a manager have come when I’ve learned that someone was struggling and didn’t think they should come to me for help, and instead just suffered silently – or even let problems worsen because they didn’t speak up.

Don’t hide your problems in the hopes that they won’t be noticed – speak up when you’re struggling and ask for advice. Good managers will welcome it.

{ 25 comments… read them below }

  1. Hanna R.*

    There were a lot of things that came as a surprise when I went from a regular employee to a manager, some one the list, but I want to disagree with the fifth point about not being able to remember what our employees are doing. I was called to the carpet over this one early on in my managing and I agreed with that because I should have done better. When a job wants you to be detail oriented it means you have to keep track of the little stuff. When I started I thought evaluations would be easy because I was making it too general and assuming I’d remember the “important” things. After I’d done a few-and this was months later-my own boss sat me down and said that she’d gotten complaints that I hadn’t mentioned certain things my people had done that should have been on the reports. At first I thought well how can I remember everything from six months or a year ago, but then I realized my employees shouldn’t have to fear speaking up because I couldn’t keep track. I started keeping a running Word doc of everyone’s accomplishments and foul-ups and then evaluations were much easier, plus I got a fast promotion and the new manager got to use the files so everything wasn’t lost. Not saying managers don’t forget, just that “and that’s okay” isn’t really true. We need to keep on top of this because that’s what managing is.

    1. LD*

      You make a good point, and you can always ask employees to submit information on their accomplishments or provide regular reports on the status of their work. It helps both the employee and the manager.

      1. sunny-dee*

        Meh, this depends. I had weekly conference calls with my (remote) manager, plus emails and instant messaging. He never remembered what projects I was assigned to, what issues I was encountering, nothing. He made me submit written status reports that repeated everything that I said in our meetings and emails — and then still never had any clue what I was doing. The written status report didn’t make me feel like he was trying to stay on top of things; it made me feel like I was wasting hours a week in mandatory communication that meant nothing.

        1. Soon*

          I launched a project last year that the new senior director wasn’t involved in at all. Before launch his solution to something he knew nothing of was to make me communicate more. So I was answering IMs of the same questions for three different people and sending out daily email updates. No one else bothered to communicated amongst each other and somehow other people’s lack of communication became my problem. My performance review this year dinged me on “no project updates/lack of communication”. I have emails and chats from that period and in one month alone, there was 40 hours of communication alone. So yeah, if no one’s bother to read or pay attention, it makes all that work and effort futile.

    2. Dan*

      My absolute favorite was my second review, with a manager who had been in the position for a month. Previous manager (still with the company) wrote the reviews. It was obvious.

      There was a bunch of nitpicky stuff on there. I asked, “can we talk about it?” “Sure, but I didn’t write the content.” Great.

  2. GrumpyBoss*

    I loved this article. I agree with every single point. Especially #4.

    You don’t want to be micromanaged? Great, I have a full time job that I was hired to do that involves responsibilities that are NOT babysitting you full time. If you’re getting micromanaged by me, its because you have repeatedly dropped the ball, didn’t finish work to my expectations, and have rejected all feedback.

    There is nothing that makes me happier as a manager when I have an employee who I can use my interactions with them just to see how things are going, and trust that they will carry out work to my expectations without regular checkpoints.

    1. Vicki*

      “If you’re getting micromanaged by me, its because you have repeatedly dropped the ball, didn’t finish work to my expectations, and have rejected all feedback.”…

      Or, there’s something wrong with you (the manager).

  3. Totally Anonymous*

    Any suggestions for how to send this to all of my staff without insinuating — “you all do all of these all the time and it’s driving me batty!”?

    1. JMegan*

      “Here’s an interesting article on management. Not to insinuate anything about anyone in particular, just thought you might like some insight into what things look like from my side of the desk.”

      Do you have an intranet, or a group discussion board, or some place where stuff like this is routinely shared? If not, then just put everybody’s name in the email (visibly, not in the BC field) so they can see that it really is meant for everybody. Assuming you don’t routinely use group emails as a passive aggressive way of correcting one person’s behaviour, people will likely take it at face value.

    2. LQ*

      It depends, do you often send things out to your team?

      If not it’s kind of a good thing to do occasionally but I wouldn’t start the practice with this one. That said you could find other things and put this into your rotation of valuable articles that your staff could benefit from reading.

      If you do this occasionally already I think it would be totally in keeping with current practices. If my boss sent this out I wouldn’t think anything of it. “I ran across this interesting article and I certainly feel as both a boss and as someone who has a boss that these ring true.”

  4. MR*

    The comments on the article that were posted below the article certainly were interesting to read.

    1. BRR*

      I’m always fascinated by the difference in comments between the other websites and here for the same article. The most stark contrast is when a US News one appears on Yahoo. The people on yahoo are a real pessimistic bunch.

      1. Dan*

        Honestly, the more mainstream the website, the worse the comments are.

        I read an industry blog written by a guy who really knows his stuff. Reasonable minds can sometimes disagree (and we do from time to time) but when he was writing for mainstream sites (CNN in particular) he’d get a thousand comments all pretty much saying “f’ing moron, doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”

        Um, the guy writes an airline blog, and “f’ing moron” worked for two airlines and is now an independent consultant. The haterz (for no particular reason, the guy isn’t high profile) need to try a little harder if they want people to believe that the guy has no clue.

        Point being, the more mainstream the website, the worse the commentors are.

        1. A.*

          The internet is full of miserable, bitter people who have nothing better to do than be miserable and bitter in comment sections. These types flock to mainstream sites.

    2. Anonymous*

      What makes you say that? There were only fifteen comments and maybe three pointed out that the article could make good employees second-guess themselves and assume bad management is their fault. If that’s an unacceptable ratio…Well, when something is posted on a different site without the usual yes-men commentators or the ability to delete comments, 1:5 isn’t so bad.

  5. Suzanne*

    I’d agree with the micromanaging to a point. Often this happens because the manager is simply unwilling or unable to communicate what is expected of the employee. Remember, a new person doesn’t know what he or she doesn’t know, so probably won’t ask. This happened to me once when I found out 9 months into the job that I was supposed to have been keeping statistics for the annual report, except the manager neglected to tell me. Or even tell me there was an annual report. He may have considered me someone he needed to micromanage but I simply was not given the information I needed to do that part of the job.

    The last point about managers wanting you to ask questions is a mixed bag in my mind, too. One manager I approached about a problem I was struggling with being able to accomplish got me a response of “What do you want me to do about it??” At another position, I asked repeatedly for two years for a vendor list to know where to order supplies, etc. Did I ever get it? Nope! So, only ordered from the two vendors I knew were authorized although I could have done my job much better with more choices.

    There are some great managers out there, but a lot of bad ones, too, as I think the comments to the article conveys.

    1. Felicia*

      I’ve had a manager like that….it was always “why didn’t you do x?” and then I’d say “Because you never told me I needed to do x”, and then he’d respond “well you should come to me if you have questions.” Well if you never mention something, how am I supposed to know it exists and ask questions about it?

      1. Jessa*

        Yeh you can’t ask a question if you have no idea the concept surrounding the question exists.

  6. YALM*

    These are all great points. 2 and 8 require a high level of trust between manager and employee.

    # 2: I want my employees to let me know what they see differently than I do. I know I only have part of the picture. I know that my employees only have part of the picture. I have to lead the vision, but if I’m too deeply involved in the implementation, or if the vision I present really makes no sense, say so. We succeed as a team or fail as a team.

    # 8: This is part of the welcome I give to every new employee I have. I need to know where you are struggling. I need to know when you have too much work. In most cases, you will feel it before I see it. Tell me. I’ll up the training, help you re-prioritize work, move some of your tasks, or manage expectations. And I’ll show you how to do some of these things for yourself for the next time it happens (because it will). Just keep me in the loop. I’d rather fix it before it’s really broken. Hiding problems from me is the one thing guaranteed to annoy me as a manager. If you do this repeatedly, I will have to become the micro manager from hell until I get you gone.

    I know a lot of people have worked with managers who responded terribly to news that a project is going off track or that the project as conceived by management is flawed. In that situation, the reflexive response by employees is to bury the news. I get it. I’ve lived it and seen it, and I’m patient with new employees because they’ve probably lived it, too. If I can’t build a trust relationship with my employee, 2 and 8 will never happen.

    1. Dan*


      Along the same lines, from my peon point of view, I need you (the manager) to tell me when a process or procedure is broken even if we still have to follow it. To me, there’s nothing worse than being told something is “good for me” when it feels like a complete waste of time and I see no value. Tell me it’s broken and I have to follow it anyway, that I can live with.

      1. YALM*

        Dan, first, if you work for me, you are not a peon.

        But to your point, yes, absolutely. Those conversations go this way:

        Yes, I know this looks wonky. I’m pushing back/asking for clarification. If you have questions that I haven’t answered, send them to me and I will push them up.

        You have the rest of the day to snark.

        Starting tomorrow, and going forward until we get clarification, a belay order, or a cease and desist order, we do it because we’re accountable for it. And if it costs you measurable time, send me your metrics. I want to know, and be able to show, the cost of this wonky thing.

  7. Dan*


    I disagree with my boss all the time, and AAM is right, tone is everything. It’s not that she’s “wrong” (we work in R&D, in an area that has few “right” answers) but yeah, walking in and saying “this is terrible and sucks bad” isn’t going to go over well.

    I usually say something like, “I realize I don’t understand the big picture with client interaction, but when I see X, it really bothers me because… and here’s what I think we can do about it.” With that approach, I get “my way” (or parts of my ideas implemented in some fashion) about 75% of the time.

  8. Jamie*

    All of these things are unquestionably true. On an off day I wish #1 wasn’t – but understanding that was a huge key for me early in my career.

    I don’t understand the picture in that one, though. At first I didn’t know why they were in a gym and now I can’t figure out why some people are running in an office.

    All excellent points though – this link should be sent to every employee.

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