7 ways you’re annoying your manager without realizing it

You are annoying your manager!

At Intuit QuickBase’s Fast Track blog today, I talk about seven work habits that will almost certainly drive your manager insane — including presenting guesses as certainties, taking forever to get to the point, hiding behind email, and more. You can read it here.

{ 85 comments… read them below }

  1. The Other Dawn*

    Taking forever to get to the point: that frustrates fellow coworkers as well. I have a coworker that does this and it’s annoying. Confusing, too, because he gives a lot of extraneous information in the process. I just want to snap, “Bring this one in for a landing already!”

    1. fposte*

      Oh, I hadn’t heard that phrase, and I like it–it seems more conclusive than “cut to the chase.”

      1. De Minimis*

        I’ve heard one I’ve always wanted to use, “Don’t tell me about the labor pains, show me the baby…”

        1. Marlee*

          I had a history teacher in high school who used to say, “Don’t build a clock, just tell me what time it is.”

    2. Allison*

      Yep, I’ve experienced this too. I have to listen to all the noise and try to pick out the important information. I’ve often tried to tell him “look, I understand why you’re telling me all this, but I can’t do anything with that information; all I really want right now is ______, and I’m good to go.” Sometimes people dump every piece of information they can on you because they don’t actually know which parts you need and which parts you don’t. If you don’t feel comfortable being frank and saying “I just need to know ____ right now,” try guiding them with specific questions.

    3. alma*

      I would also add, learn to cut to the chase in e-mails as well. I don’t think of myself as a horribly verbose person, but this was one of my biggest struggles transitioning from university to the working world — in school, it was always show your work and don’t make a conclusion without multiple paragraphs of supporting information first. The day I realized nobody was reading that far into the e-mail, my communication style became much more short and sweet.

      1. Allison*

        Definitely! I got that feedback in my first job, when my boss said it was a professionalism issue. They didn’t want a huge backstory, I needed to get to the point. But I do agree it’s something we pick up in school, where they wanted an explanation for everything.

        1. Shortie*

          Agreed. This really needs to be taught in universities, I think. It’s fine to require a lot of backup, proof, and explanation in term papers–and necessary so that people can hone their critical thinking skills–but universities also need to make it clear to students that such verbosity will not be appreciated in the working world. Perhaps business writing should be a required course toward the end of most degree programs.

      2. Natalie*

        Yes, this definitely doesn’t come easy to me, either, and the bad habit was reinforced by a prior boss who wanted reams of background for even the tiniest issues.

        One strategy I copied from my new boss is to put the most important thing (the question I need answered, for example) at the top, and then I dump all the background underneath that. After I get it all out of my system I cut mercilessly until I have a paragraph or less.

        1. Jazzy Red*

          IMO, putting the question in the subject line is even better, especially if it’s something critical.

          I hate subject lines that don’t really say anything about the message.

          1. EvaR*

            Oh god, I hate them too. My manager does that, actually. The subject of most of her emails is something like “Tomorrow or “Friday.” when the subject is “(x) is happening on friday, so we are asking that all of you do (y),” or “I will be leaving at noon tomorrow, so I won’t be available to help you guys out with questions, please talk to (person) or (person) if you need anything.” So then I end up with 50 emails in my inbox that just say “Tomorrow.” It’s super helpful when I’m trying to remember important things.

      3. Agile Phalanges*

        I’m terrible about being verbose in e-mails, and found it REALLY hard to cut down on words, as I wanted people to be able to have the context and full information, like I would want, but learned to mitigate it by summarizing up front. Sometimes, it was more subtle and just had the main message as the first sentence then continued on to context, and sometimes is was as blatant as, “Here is the point of my message, and a bullet list of action items and/or questions to respond to, then I’ll follow that with more details for those that want them.”

        1. Tax Nerd*

          If I know I have a lot to explain, I will start my email with the conclusion.

          “Dear Sir. You owe the IRS $100K. This is because of all this money you made, and all this withholding you didn’t have, and all these deductions that you can’t take. I probably could have helped if you had talked to me earlier, but that’s water under the bridge. I know that kinda sucks, but you did make a lot of money. So please pay the IRS pretty darn soon. Mail $100K to this address…” (Only a whole lot more professional.)

      4. Artemesia*

        It is also important to work backwards when writing a memo or email where action is expected. The first paragraph is the conclusion or recommendation — the supporting documentation then follows as concisely as possible.

      5. Kyrielle*

        YES! Although I had trouble when I tried to do that – my boss gets upset if I send him wordy emails, but if I don’t give him all the information, he also gets upset.

        What I’ve learned works really well for topics where you really need a full info-dump, and yet you also need a concise email, is to send something in the format:

        Short form: 1-2 sentences, recommendation and/or summary.

        Details/reasoning:
        Info-dump goes here, preferably broken up neatly by sub-topic with clear keywords, for quick skimming if more information on sub-topic X is needed.

        1. Shortie*

          I used to have this problem too, Kyrielle. My boss preferred succinct communications both verbally and in writing, but would then question all of my reasoning and thinking behind the upshot and act like I had come to my conclusions in a vacuum. So now I do something similar to what you do: short form in the e-mail with an attachment as the info dump. It still doesn’t help that much since he only reads the short form and still questions all of my reasoning without looking at the info dump, but at least I can say yes, I already thought of that 6 years ago. It’s in the attachment. :-)

    4. holly*

      ugh, i have this problem sometimes. as in, i am the one who takes forever to get the point and it annoys me as well! most of the time, i’m not sure why was so difficult to get there.

      1. The Other Dawn*

        You know where I got it? From The Golden Girls. Actually the line is, “Let’s bring this baby in for a landing.” Said by Dorothy to Rose during one of her infamous St. Olaf stories.

  2. Larisa*

    How do you escape the negativity loop when you absolutely hate your job and the only reason you’re still there is you can’t find an out? Tips?

    1. Swarley*

      I think the best thing that you can do for yourself is recognize that the situation you’re in sucks, but you’re taking steps to get yourself out as soon as you can. And realize that while you’re waiting, being negative about your circumstances aren’t going to make things go more smoothly. It could also potentially harm your job search if your negative attitude is coming off in a cover letter, interview, etc.

      Good luck!

      1. Jazzy Red*

        Apollo is right. You owe your best for as long as you’re getting paid. Make it a matter of pride or professionalism – something you just do because it’s right.

        Good luck in finding a better job soon! They keep saying that the economy is picking up…

    2. some1*

      Try to focus on the good things, even if it’s just the regular paycheck. Do you have a short commute? Coworkers that you like? Great lunch place close by? The ability to listen to music you like while you work? When I have been stuck at jobs I didn’t like it was really helpful to me to keep the positives in mind, even when they are little things.

    3. danr*

      Don’t bring the negativity home. Give yourself a chance to break the loop and work will be more bearable. Look for some positive aspects of work and dwell on those… I did that when I got a new manager. I couldn’t seem to do anything right and thinking about it at home was worse. When I left it at the office and then looked for one bright spot in the day, my outlook slowly changed. It also improved my relations with my manager. He wasn’t bad, just very different.

    4. JustMe*

      Don’t give away your power. You are not being held a prisoner to anything. What I mean is you have more control than you realize. I have been in your situation and here’s what I did…
      1. Took time off to regroup
      2. Updated my resume and had friends review it
      3. Talked with friends/acquaintances/head hunters for job leads
      4. Wrote down companies I wanted to work with and sent resumes out
      5. Talked to potential references and told them what I was doing so they’d be prepared

      Having the focus put more on my job searches helped a lot. I did my job, but I didn’t go above and beyond on anything. I did my 8 hours and got out of there to job search.

    5. Relosa*

      I’m in a very similar, pretty dire work situation. My problem isn’t that I hate my job as it is I am working under godawful leadership, and poor and illegal business practices which affect my work and make it more difficult.

      I’m a very ambitious person, so a big motivator for me is successful networking. However my job pays me so little that I have to have two and so right now I’m not in a position to really hunker down and go on a major search…so my escape is getting to plan for Nanowrimo while I save up some job-hunting capital (to cover any time off or travel or anything like that)

      1. Waiting Patiently*

        I completely forgot about Nanowritmo (it’s about to start in Nov?) and writers digest. I loved going to Writer Digest and doing writing prompts. I havent logged in a few years. I’m sure my account is deactivated by now though.

      2. Jazzy Red*

        If there are illegal business practices going on, your first priority needs to be finding a new job. You don’t want to wait until the Feds show up and “want to talk to you”. Drop everything else and use your network until you find something better (and safer).

    6. Not So NewReader*

      Tell yourself that you are a really strong person to last as long as you have. And because you have developed this strength the next job will be sooo easy to you.

      And this is true. I have worked in situations where people were complaining and I just keep going. It’s because I could say “Eh, seen worse.” Not that I did not care about the people around me but I wasn’t going to let the situation wear me down. I tried to use that advantage to lighten the load for others in some way.

    7. The Other Dawn*

      I’m in a loop myself. I just keep telling myself that things happen in the order they’re supposed to happen, at the time they’re supposed to happen. Small consolation, but it helps me. I’ve always found it to be true.

  3. Noah*

    The email one drives me nuts. I don’t understand why some colleagues insist on using email over several hours or days to replace what could’ve been a 5 minute conversation. Also, some things are more appropriate for a face-to-face conversation. If an email goes back a forth more than a few times I’m going to just suggest a meeting.

    I hate meetings without any clear reason or agenda, but if they are scheduled about a specific topic they are useful.

    I have one employee who really hides behind email. About the only thing that has placated her is when I suggested she send a follow-up email after a phone call or meeting summarizing what was discussed. I do this myself sometimes, just so there is written records for me to refer back to. She still prefers email over phone or meeting, which I understand, but we’ve been dragging her into the mindset of what things are not appropriate for email-only communication.

    1. Biff*

      Oftentimes, having the complete paper trail in my job is very valuable, and so we’d RATHER use email.

      1. Cautionary tail*

        +1

        We have to prove everything to Big Brother so email and recorded IMs are the preferred avenues of communications. When we talk on the phone we lament that it isn’t recorded so we would have quality auditable evidence of the conversation, something that a follow-up email may or may not cover.

    2. Kelly L.*

      I always end up going to talk to someone verbally if they’re still emailing me about something hours back in the chain. So if I’m getting fresh emails about something that they’d know was resolved if they read the rest of their emails, I’ll just get up and go talk to them.

      But as Biff says, sometimes you want to have writing and a timestamp to verify what was said!

      1. GrumpyBoss*

        Right. Even in a CYA environment, email is not a replacement of all other communications. This is something that irks me as a manager – seeing back and forth in an email when someone should have picked up the phone or walked down the hall.

        I feel like I’m always coaching someone on this. Email is great, but people need to follow up in verbally when things are unclear, when there are disagreements, or when tone is getting terse.

        1. lifes a beach*

          There is definetly something to be said for face to face communication or even a phone conversation. You can pick up non-verbal cues or voice intonations that indicat to you that the other person is not really getting it. I will oft times go over to a persons desk after several back and forth emails, or call them if they are off site. But then for CYA reasons(unfortunately) , I will follow up with an email noting the conversation and any aggreements made.

        2. Greggles*

          I will have face to face conversations in my line but I always then follow then up with an email synopsis. I am not a manager but I do have the authority to request things of different areas and people and I can ask them all day but they require an email before they can do what I need them to do.

    3. Suzanne*

      I like to use email whenever possible for several reasons. 1: Because often, what I am asking is not something I need to know this very second so I don’t need to interrupt you. 2: I like having a paper trail, so to speak, so there isn’t any question about what was or was not said or decided. It also gives me a date & time of when I contacted you, if I need to go back to the conversation.

      1. Jillociraptor*

        I think it’s all about knowing the right medium, though. I also prefer email because I find it much easier to gather my thoughts and be both precise and concise, but I try to be mindful when email is just creating more work. Once we’ve gotten to 2-3 back and forths about the same question, it’s probably time to pick up the phone.

    4. Kyrielle*

      I prefer email for the following reasons, in general:
      * CYA. The number of times my A (and my comfort level / reputation) has been saved by an old e-mail, is sadly non-zero.

      * Actually giving me time to know the answer. A lot of times, people want to walk up and ask me a technical question. If it’s about an area of the code I haven’t just been working in, the odds are about 90% that I have a guess to the answer, and it might even be right and complete. But it may be incomplete or I may just not know. Email gives me time to double-check my gut instinct, quickly search up an old email on the topic, and/or open the old design doc and scan for the relevant section.

      * Same as the last one but for company historical questions. Odds that I remember why we decided to do X are non-zero. Odds that I will get it right, however, go up with research time.

      * Certain co-workers who can’t get to the point. I can read their emails faster than I can listen to them not get to the point.

      * Lack of interruption. Walking over and interrupting someone’s concentration for a face-to-face when email could also do the job is, IMO, not ideal.

      * Lack of availability. My boss spends something like 75% of his day in meetings. I can email him far more easily. If it’s a little more important, I can IM him. If it’s critical, I can, of course, wave my hand from outside his meeting and interrupt it – but that’s pretty much reserved for disasters, so hopefully I don’t have to do that.

      * Conveying complex information. If I need to give the equivalent of a three-page manual, I had better at least email a copy, and not *only* deliver it verbally. Unless I want to make the recipient write it down while I speak, or expect them to ask me for it again the next day.

      That said, there are ABSOLUTELY times things should go verbal, either in-person or on the phone, and do. And other times where dual-channel makes the most sense (especially the last one). I have delivered, “Okay, I’m going to describe this, and as soon as we get off the phone I will write it up and email you a copy for reference, okay?” sorts of training.

      And some things start out as email, then go verbal to sort it out once everyone’s renewed their familiarity with the technical pieces, and then return to email to confirm it.

      But I really dislike being pressured to take something verbal where every exchange requires technical research. Sitting in a meeting room spending five minutes reading code is uncomfortable, and moreso when the other person keeps interrupting you to talk more about the thing you’re still researching.

      (Also, if you do need to talk in person, make sure it’s a good time. We have one person who likes to catch you as you walk by his desk. But if someone is “walking” they are on their way somewhere…. As it happens, his desk is between me and the break room, the restroom, the conference room, and my boss’s office. Oh, and the door out, and yes, for non-critical issues he’ll still try to catch me as I’m heading out with my purse and my laptop bag and everything for the day….)

      1. Kyrielle*

        Oh, and giving me a research medium for when someone asks me why we did X in three years. Even if, in three years, I think today’s decision to do X was *obviously* horrible, at least I can explain how we came to it. Possibly while calling my prior self out for a wrong decision, but so it goes.

    5. Shortie*

      Hmmm, the email/F2F question is an interesting one. (And I’m not even going to give phone the time day because, UGH, no facial cues, no time to think, and audio overlaps.)

      I generally prefer scheduled face to face interactions because I like the facial cues, but I don’t think it’s quicker than email. What is a 5 minute conversation to someone else is 30 minutes of prep for me since I think better when writing. And vice versa–what is an easy email conversation for me is 30 minutes of drafting an e-mail for someone else.

      For me, this isn’t about hiding behind email. It’s just about personality and the ways that people process information differently. I’ll gladly meet face to face, but I will spend a lot of time writing out all my points in advance because I am very visual. I work with a few people who process info like me (like to look at something and react to it, even if it’s very far away from the end goal), and we’ve put together major organization-wide proposals almost entirely by email, even the overall strategy portion. The process was actually lightning fast because we all work best this way and are okay with 50 emails back and forth. Much faster than a process I’m currently going through with a different set of team members who prefer meeting. To them, it’s faster to brainstorm and put together our framework in person, and to me it’s agonizingly slow.

  4. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

    May I please add:

    Answer the question.

    The answer to “Did the Stark teapot shipment go out yesterday?” is not

    a) I am pretty sure it did
    b) I gave that to Gwen to ship out
    c) Stark teapot shipment? How do I look that up? (for anybody who is around long enough that they should know how to check if the shipment they were responsible for went out)

    The answer is either:
    a) yes it did, here’s the tracking number
    or
    b) I’ll check for verification and it get back to you with the tracking number in about an hour

    1. anon o*

      My pet peeve on this one is, “Was the Stark teapot shipment delivered today?” “Oh it went out on Tuesday.” THAT’S NOT WHAT I ASKED!

      1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        That’s actually a better example, because that’s an answer, just not an answer to the question which was asked.

    2. Sunshine*

      Yes! Or… Me: “Did the Stark teapot shipment go out yesterday?”

      Them: “Yes, it should have.”

      Me (calmly but possibly through clenched jaw): “Yes, I know it should have. I need you to confirm it really did.”

      Probably an overreaction, but in my industry, Should Haves that turn into Did Nots are a big deal.

      1. anon o*

        One of my coworker says “I assume so” all the time to questions like that. It’s gotten to the point where I have a Pavlovian blinding rage at the phrase even if it’s reasonable in the context or someone else is saying it.

      2. q*

        I have occasionally started answers with “it should have” – but only in situations where A) I have a good relationship with the person asking and B) they’ve mixed me up with someone else. I finish the answers with who to refer to.

    3. Meg Murry*

      And for the love of all things holy – if its going to take more than a day, answer my email to let me know when you WILL be able to know, or just acknowledge that you got my message and are working on it. So many people I work with I will send an email and get no response. Then, sometimes a month later, I find out they completed my request. Sometimes. And sometimes (like today) I find that nope, still not done. So I email and call again, and include your boss and mine, and maybe if I’m lucky I’ll get a response in 2 weeks.

      I don’t like to be a nag, but if you show me that you are unreliable, I am going to keep bothering you until you at least answer my darn email with a timeline (and then bother you again at that timeline). Arghhh!

  5. Allison*

    Sometimes I wonder if the negativity loop could be remedied by taking time off or working from home for a while. Good PTO/vacation policies and flexible WFH policies are great for this. I have, on occasion, opted to work from home if I think my mood is going to drag others down. Maybe it should be a common practice to “contain the cranky” – then again, that method might not work if you have kids or are living with someone who’d be home during the day.

    1. ExceptionToTheRule*

      I’m a firm believer that getting out of the office for as many days as you can manage can really help readjust your attitude. Unless the actual cause of negative feedback loop as at home and you’re lashing out at work. A vacation isn’t going to help that.

      1. Allison*

        Maybe, but if it’s an issue with your personal life, taking a vacation can give you time to either resolve the problem, or come to terms with it, at least enough to get through a workday without lashing out. Or working from home allows for a little more self-care, and flexibility to deal with things relating to the issue, and still get stuff done without bringing negativity into the office.

        1. BRR*

          It also takes one thing off your plate (or at least it should). You then have a chance to focus on your home issues. A vacation could also help your home issues. If your home issue is noise and you go someplace quiet for a couple days or you don’t like being home because you’re away from your extended family and want to see them.

      2. Suzanne*

        Yes, but unfortunately, being able to take time off to regroup and detox your negativity is not the norm in the workplace. If you have children or elderly parents, much of your PTO will be used up for their doctor, dental, or orthodontist appointments, parent-teacher conferences, rehab visits, etc. I’ve worked places that monitored your time for doctor or dentist visits–at one, you had to pre-plan how much time you thought you’d need and got called under the carpet if you didn’t get back in time and the other made you return with a note that you had actually been there and what time your appointment was. Thus, the negativity loops.

  6. Bizzie Lizzie*

    I don’t see ‘breathing’ on the list. Suspect this annoys my boss – have yet to find a workaround.

      1. Bizzie Lizzie*

        Agree. I am soon (horray!!!) – holding breath for my notice period, as really much prefer not to be cause of annoyance :)

  7. BRR*

    I have a coworker in the negativity loop. I want to ask her if it’s so bad why has she been here for 30 years. I recently overheard her complaining and saying she had an offer for a job in a different state and was thinking about it since it’s unbearable here. I rolled my eyes so hard they still hurt. Obviously if you have been here at the same level for 30 years there is a good chance you aren’t going anywhere.

    PS It’s a great working environment. I’m not sure how she thinks it will be better elsewhere.

  8. On My Phone*

    My golden rules:
    – Don’t let me boss be blindsided by anything. I keep her up to date on at all times and I know the best approach b/c I know her management style.

    – I check in with her to see if there is anything I can take off her plate to free her up.

    – I let her know what my plate looks like for the week so she knows if I have the bandwidth to be added to another assignment.

    We have a pretty good working relationship and the respect goes both ways.

      1. Jazzy Red*

        Never mind that – it was a good post! Three good reasons to work on having a good working relationship with one’s manager.

  9. Anonymous for today*

    What advice can you give if your own manager is the one with the annoying behavior?

    Of the 7 things mentioned on this list, my manager does 4 of them.

    1. Jillociraptor*

      Manage up around those challenges. If you accept that that’s just how your manager is, or at the very least that you’re not going to be the one to change him, you recognize the bounds on how you operate with him. If you know your boss is going to take a really long time to get to the point, you might structure your check ins accordingly (fewer topics, foreground the most important ones), or create a little checklist of questions you always ask whenever your boss gives you an assignment to make sure you get the most important facts down.

      One thing you can do though is make recommendations. For example, if you’ve got a boss who hides behind email, take it upon yourself to jump in with a, “hey, can we hop on the phone about this?”

      What you can’t do is stew about it, or stop trying to work with your boss.

  10. Phideaux*

    As a manager, I deal with all of these issues….sometimes all from the same person! One that I deal with that really irks me is the opposite of the email one, a face-to-face conversation for every little detail, many times when a quick email would suffice. A lot of times, even the smallest interruption knocks me off track from the task at hand and it takes me several minutes to get back to where I was.

    1. Natalie*

      Ugh, we used to have That Guy. Unless you specifically told him to respond by email, he would respond in person for literally everything. Email “did we receive this invoice” and he would find it, print it out, walk over to my desk with it, and talk for a nonzero amount of time about where it was sent or something else not remotely relevant to my job.

      When we worked in a bigger office, I’d wait to send him emails until I needed to use the bathroom or go to lunch, and then run out of the office once I’d pushed send.

    2. Noah*

      Yes, that drives me crazy! We have a few people who work in other departments who do this. One refuses to respond to anything by email. Sometimes all I want to know is if we received a product so I can approve the invoice and accounts payable can send the check. Usually this happens because A/P doesn’t have a packing list. This doesn’t require a phone call explaining why a packing list was never provided. All I need is a yes or a no so I can initial the invoice and push it through the system.

    3. Shortie*

      YES. I am dealing with a colleague right now who does that. Me: Carl, I have searched and searched but can’t find where your document X is stored on our intranet. Please send me the link. Carl: *calls me to tell me where it is instead of just sending link as requested*

      What could have been a quick, easy email turns into a 10, or heaven forbid 30, minute conversation about kids and weather and pets and other things I could give half a damn about. Lest I sound rude, this would be a great catch-up and bonding period if it didn’t happen Every Single Time. I have stopped answering the phone.

      1. Matt*

        This. There are coworkers who don’t write emails. Ever. They have to read them because policy requires it, but they reply by phone. Exclusively. And if you don’t answer their call immediately, they’ll call again. And again. And sometimes they make an exception of their “no email ever” rule, because after three to five unsuccessfull calls, there might be an email saying “call me back”. *sigh*

  11. EM*

    Oh my God, the loud chewing. I’m dealing with the loud chewing right now. And the loud breathing. And the periodic choking sounds that pop up randomly.

  12. Rat Racer*

    I want to add one to the list: If I give you something to do, don’t come back to me 3 days later with “I couldn’t find anything. I couldn’t figure it out.” I mean, get a little creative people! If I ask you to research “Tea Pots” and you’re getting nothing, at least you could try Googling “Tea Kettle”

    It reminds me of my 5-year-old: “Mom, I can’t fiiiiiiiind it….”

  13. can't even*

    6. Getting stuck in a negativity loop.

    Unfortunately, it’s my boss who does this. The man is bitterly angry and it shows every single day as he endlessly complains about things that are not likely to change. There are so many days I want to look at him and say “Do you feel this is the right job for you?” Because seriously…the continuous complaining is bringing us all down. But then again, this is the same man who has now three times threatened us with our jobs in the last two weeks. So…

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