my boss’s boss won’t talk to me directly, even when I’m standing right there

A reader writes:

There are times when the manager of my department will ask a question or have a conversation with my supervisor about me while I am standing there instead of speaking directly to me. For instance, my supervisor was standing at my desk going over payroll with me. The manager asked my supervisor if I completed a project I was working on. Instead of asking me directly, she spoke to the supervisor as if I was not there. She does that with others as well. I feel this is very rude and meant to belittle people. Am I being too sensitive? What would be the purpose of doing this?

It sounds more like awkward conversational skills than intentional belittling to me. My bet is that (a) she feels like her relationship is with your manager and doesn’t feel as comfortable with you, (b) she feels like she’s supposed to send everything through your manager rather than sidestepping your manager, in order to keep your boss in the loop and respect that chain of command (and doesn’t realize that it’s totally fine to address her question to you directly and just loop in your boss if that becomes necessary), and/or (c) she’s weirdly hung up on hierarchy and wants to rudely emphasize that she’s not going to bothered talking to you directly.

It could be C, which is rude, but it could just as easily be A and/or B. Your best bet is to decide you don’t care and let her function the way she’s functioning — it’s her weirdness, not yours.

That said, if you wanted to, you could just ask your manager: “When Jane asks you questions about my work and I’m standing right there, is it helpful if I chime in, or should I just stay quiet? I’m not sure what the etiquette is or what would be most helpful to both of you.”

{ 95 comments… read them below }

  1. kdizzle

    This has happened to me before…I think it may be a former military thing. At any rate, I’ve always just responded for myself without giving it a second thought. Sometimes in the third person if I’m feeling cheeky.

    1. Future Analyst

      Ha, the thought of doing that makes me giggle. I wish I had the guts to respond like that.

    2. kdizzle

      At the beginning it was a bit awkward…I’m pretty sure he thought I was an insubordinate wiseass. But ultimately, I think it helped. As time went on, he began to trust my work, and felt comfortable enough to joke and chat. He wound up knowing no one on my team except me.

      1. kdizzle

        No doubt. It’s definitely just about reading the situation and personalities and knowing who you can joke with and who takes it as an inexcusable jab at their authority.

    3. OriginalEmma

      Makes me thankful that the only artifacts in ex-military coworkers I’ve had to deal with were the sirs and ma’ams.

    4. Ann O'Nemity

      Haha I wish I could’ve seen that.

      I’d be tempted to respond to the supervisor like the manager wasn’t there. Okay, I wouldn’t actually do that but it’s fun to imagine.

      Manager to Supervisor: Has Ann finished that report yet?
      Supervisor to Ann: Did you hear that?
      Ann to Supervisor: Tell Manager that the report is done.
      Supervisor to Manager: Did you hear that?

      1. AnonaMoose

        I would have loved to watch that ping pong conversation!

        (otherwise known as Divorced Parents at Their Adult Child’s Thanksgiving Dinner)

      2. Mallory Janis Ian

        Ha, this reminds me of a text conversation that my two bosses once had, with me in the middle. So, we went to an event in an auditorium: me, Boss 1, and Boss 2. I sat in the chair between them.

        Boss 1 sends me a text: Ask Boss 2 if blabbedy-blah.
        I read the text, then show my phone to Boss 2.
        Boss 2 replies via text *to me*: Tell Boss 1 blabbedy-blabbedy-blah.
        I read text and show it to Boss 2.
        Boss 2 replies via text to me: Tell Boss 1 blah blah blah . . .

        And that’s how the conversation went, with me tilting my phone to one side and then the other so that they could see each other’s responses.

    5. Cynthia

      This is one of the best ways of dealing with this. It acknowledges the situation without making it confrontational.

  2. Katie the Fed

    Most likely explanation is (b). She doesn’t want your manager to feel she’s undermining her.

    1. KarenT

      I dunno. My mind went straight to (C), but I am biased because I had a VP who was very much the person described in scenario (C). I can get along with pretty much anyone but that woman was the worst!

  3. Laurel Gray

    I have seen this in a work place before and it has usually been one of the three suggested scenarios Alison mentioned or even worse, a combination of them. In my work place, my manager’s manager would never directly email me about something which creates a chain of forwards, but in person? It would be super awkward if they didn’t speak to me directly. This type of behavior can be a morale sucking device depending on the work environment. The OP acknowledges the manager does it to others as well so my best advice is don’t take it personal.

  4. Annonymouse

    My boss does this often. It drives me batshit, especially because I normally have my hands full (literally) or I’m in the middle of five things, etc. I have to bite my tongue from saying “I don’t know, Bosslady, just ask her!”

  5. YandO

    I would not be able to handle this gracefully. After a few times this happened, I would say something like this “Well, yes, I have finished the teapot remodel. Do you have any questions that I can help you with?”

    1. Laurel Gray

      LMAO!! I would need a bit more context about the BigBoss but I can totally see how someone would not be able to handle this gracefully. When I saw this in a previous workplace it was a woman doing this and there were many factors (judgments?) that the people (women) she did this to reasoned her motivations were. It seemed very catty and high schoolish but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a kick out of seeing 50% of our work group roll their eyes like the wave during a baseball game when BigBoss walked by.

  6. TotesMaGoats

    I could see this going a couple of ways.

    1. If I was really close with my boss, I’d ask about it in a very straightforward way. “Bosslady, why does BigBoss ask about things I’ve done in my presence like I’m not even there? It’s really kind of hurtful. Do you know what’s behind that? Should I ignore it or respond as though she asked me?

    2. If I wasn’t really close, I’d go with AAM’s suggested wording.

    I’d also see how other people respond to this. It’s possible that it’s not meant to be rude but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come across as rude. I would find it to be that.

  7. AnonForThis

    I have a “D”, but only the OP will know if it’s remotely likely. Our old CEO actually had a disorder where they struggled to recognize faces (I understand it’s on the autism spectrum). They often didn’t talk to people they didn’t interact with very frequently because they either didn’t recognise them direct, or were afraid of getting it wrong. Brilliant strategist, terrible people skills, as an individual. I’m sure a few people who were not looped in discreetly got offended though! (Deliberately keeping this vague as poss).

    1. The Cosmic Avenger

      Prosopagnosia. Gene Weingarten, writer for the Washington Post, claims to have it. It can be an associated symptom in those on the autism spectrum, but it’s not always related.

      1. Gandalf the Nude

        If anyone needs an example in media, in Arrested Development’s 4th season, Lindsay’s environmentalist boyfriend , Marky Bark, had prosopagnosia, but with very different results than what we’re seeing here.

    2. Misc

      Prosopagnosia (face blindness). I have it, and it *definitely* causes me to avoid talking to people that I can’t definitely identify. Which is most people. Because I’m not quite sure who they are, and I’ve made enough mistakes in the past to be circumspect about assuming they are so and so. Which leads to a sort of infinite feedback loop of ‘not being sure > avoiding > never being sure’. It ALSO seems to affect my memory for names (at least when spoken – I can remember stuff written down easily, but I can’t link it to the person it belongs to. I just know the NAME).

      (For example: if you’re the only person of your approx. ethnicity/age/body type in my workplace, I’ll guess who you are and be friendly. if there are TWO of you, even if you’re only vaguely similar, I’m going to appear pretty standoffish in case I’ve gone and mixed you up again. I’m also crap at telling ages and vaguely similar ethnicities apart. Don’t even get me started on generic white guys. Or movies. Luckily there’s usually a bunch of very distinct characters, but if there are two generic white guys, I’m going to mix them up for the whole movie).

      I mostly deal with it now by being aware it happens, lots of coping strategies around clothing and ‘the person who has X hair/looks like Aragorn/refers to their kids is This Person’, by being amazingly good at winging it (e.g. asking for so and so instead of going and finding them, playing along when someone talks to me until I pick up enough cues to tie their identity to my history with them, and being *really upfront* about how crap I am at faces – most people can identify with that a bit, so it makes it a lot less awkward).

      1. The IT Manager

        Hmmm … I have a similar problem (I’m not diagnosed with anything) where I don’t notice, can’t remember/describe facial features. Nothing stumps me more than the question “what does he look like?” I have to build descriptions based on skin color (not going to be able distinguish specific races easily), build, hair color, hair style, and what he wore.

        Generic white guy! I am a huge Doctor Who fan, and honestly cannot distinguish between the Tenth and Eleventh Doctor. They’re both young, slender white guys with darkish hair. They have distinctive costumes and different companions which I have to purposefully note to figure out which is which.

        1. Misc

          Mostly I self-diagnosed – there are a couple of good online tests/sites, and most people have never, ever heard of it. It’s not a very well studied subject, because they only recently realised most people just go through life coping – it’s very hard to realise you’re *measurably* bad at recognising people! It was a massive ‘oh, well that makes sense’ moment when I stumbled over it – I assumed I was just Aspergic and didn’t look people in the eye enough of something (I’m a BIT Aspergic, but a lot of the stuff I attributed to that were actually just not recognising people properly).

          It’s genetic – my aunt has it as well (and possibly a grandparent did), but nobody else in my immediate family. It’s a spectrum; some people can’t ever recognise anyone, others just have a bit of trouble linking names to faces. It’s something to do with not being able to look at a face and go ‘that is a face’. Instead, you just see the individual features, and have to memorise the whole thing over time.

          https://www.faceblind.org/research/
          http://prosopagnosiaresearch.org/index/information

          Re: Dr Who. YES. Me too! I can tell them apart now, mostly, but it’s usually costume-based. I remember watching a scifi show which had mindswapping as a plot point, and I never even noticed they’d switched actors (which ruined the whole plot twist). I had no idea which brother died in Pacific Rim. I am completely convinced that the guy who plays Thor is the same guy who plays the hero in Guardians for the Galaxy, and possibly the same guy who plays Captain America. Once I’ve seen and become familiar with an actor, I tend to remember the features well, and then mix people in real life up with them because of the hair or the ears (out of context, anyway – e.g. in a photo).

          Most of my friends tend to be fairly unique looking in some way, I hate it when people get haircuts (including people I’ve flatted with for up to *four years*), and sometimes I’ll be walking down the street trying to figure out if that person walking towards me is one of my family members or friends. Context is my Number One clue to figuring out who someone is, and if you approach me out of context… well, we’re going to have a few moments of ‘how nice to see you too (WHO THE HELL ARE YOU?)’.

          1. Cath in Canada

            I think I have a mild form. I have to meet people several times within a fairly short time frame before I can reliably recognise them again, unless they have any really distinctive facial features. But once I get to know them well, I’m fine. (I’ve asked lots of my friends, and they can all learn to recognise new people much more quickly than I can). I’m also useless with recognising celebrities unless they’re really famous, or play a major character in a show that I watch every single week. My husband will often point out that a new character in a show was also a secondary character in another show that we both watch, and I’ll be astonished every time.

            I once asked a colleague if they knew who the new person was who kept bringing his work down to the lunch room. They hadn’t noticed him doing that, and asked for a description. I said “I dunno, generic white guy?” and they said “oh, that’s [name]”. And they were right!

            1. Ann O'Nemity

              Yeah, I can relate. My experience is the exact opposite of the expression, “I’m bad at names but I never forget a face.”

              1. Elizabeth West

                That’s the way I am. Someone buttonholed me in Ross the other day, and it was a temporary contract worker I had talked to in the break room several times. It took a minute of conversation for me to remember where the hell I knew her from, and then I still couldn’t remember her name.

                1. De Minimis

                  I have it too….it’s especially hard if I see someone out of their “usual” setting.

                  I’m also poor at names, and it generally takes months for me to where I can readily recognize people and place names with faces, unless it’s a smaller workplace with few people.

                  In college I would sometimes run into people who apparently knew me and I never figured out who they were….

          2. Cordelia Longfellow

            It doesn’t help that Thor, Captain America and the guy from Guardians of the Galaxy are all played by white dudes named Chris.

            1. potato battery

              Seriously. I know they’re all different, but I cannot keep straight which surname belongs with which comic-book-action-hero Chris. (Or the Chris who plays Kirk in the new Star Trek movies.)

            2. Elizabeth West

              OMG you’re right–I just realized this.

              Thor–Chris Hemsworth
              Cap–Chris Evans
              Starlord–Chris Pratt
              Kirk (below)–Chris Pine

              Holy crap, that’s weird.

          3. simonthegrey

            For me, the worst was watching The Hunger Games. I had no idea why Peeta was sometimes a huge jerk and sometimes not, until I realized that Cato was NOT the same person.

          4. Check, please

            Waiters! They are often dressed alike, and sometimes even related to each other, at family-run places. I have a horrible time flagging down “my” waiter. The same trouble with actors as well, worse in old black and white films where all the white guys in suits tend to look alike.

          5. Lindsay J

            I just did the test in the first test and I got 18% right. That explains a lot. I’ve always thought that I had trouble recognizing people, and it’s nice to have confirmation that I’m way below average in that regard.

            In real life I’m generally encountering people in the same context, and they keep the same haircut, glasses, etc. But if I encounter someone out of context I have a lot of trouble recognizing them. Same if they usually wear glasses and then don’t one day or something.

            If they’re not someone I see regularly I’m hopeless. Recently I forgot to bring cash to tip my hairdresser, so I ran to the ATM and went back and realized I didn’t know which one she was. I only figured it out because she saw me back there and asked if anything was wrong. Then she wound up grabbing lunch at the restaurant next to the salon at the same time that I did, and I didn’t recognize her again until she approached me.

            I am terrible at identifying people from pictures of them when they were younger/recognizing former classmates.

            And when people post “Look who I ran into at…” celeb pictures on Reddit I never know who is in the picture or even which one is the celeb unless they have very characteristic features (Ben Stiller is one of the people I recognize easily because he has very sharp/distinct features) or they have a recognizable hair style or something.

        2. Delyssia

          Brief threadjack: Ten has readily discernible eyebrows. Eleven doesn’t. /threadjack

          1. Misc

            Ten has floppy hair (I don’t recognise it, but I remember this and look for it). Eleven invokes a massive gut reaction of intense dislike and I can distinguish him from Ten by him NOT having any distinguishing features at all.

      2. Koko

        I have a mild form of prosopagnosia and have the worst time with movies and TV shows full of slender, dark-haired white people! It’s more often a problem with men, as there seems to be much less diversity among leading males in race and hair color, whereas at least with multiple leading ladies they will often throw in a redhead, a blonde, or an Asian or Native American actress leaving me with no more than 2 brunettes to spend the first 30 minutes/3 episodes learning to tell apart. People think I’m being cute or making a social justice point when I complain about the generic white guy problem in movies, but the struggle is real!

        1. Koko

          I can’t even tell you how many times I had to pause and Wikipedia an episode of Pretty Little Liars because almost their entire cast of male minor character is fit white guys with dark hair, and they’re fond of doing these ~shocking scenes where the camera pans to reveal someone who I’m apparently supposed to recognize but be surprised to see in that context/location. I *never* recognize the surprise-reveal characters in those scenes, I’m always like, “OK, so there’s a dude at the coffee shop….”

        2. LBK

          FWIW, I’m usually extremely good at recognizing faces (my friend refers to me as a human IMDb because I can always pick out when I’ve seen an actor in something else, even if it was a non-speaking cameo for 2 seconds) and I still find it really hard to keep track of the generic white dudes on some TV shows. Game of Thrones is a nightmare when it comes to any of the minor characters like the ones on the small council or the Night’s Watch.

        3. Vanishing Girl

          I had the same problem with Once Upon a Time and eventually lost interest in deciphering who was who.

        4. fposte

          For me it’s period dramas, especially wartime British stuff where people will be in uniform. I swear I watched the whole Piece of Cake series without learning to differentiate anybody but the guy with the mustache and the American.

          1. LBK

            I think that was the only reason I latched on to Downton Abbey so readily – it’s the only period piece I’ve ever seen where I could remember who was who.

          2. voyager1

            Piece of Cake series… wow that was like 20 years ago. It was a good series though!

            1. fposte

              That’s my low-water mark for not being able to tell anybody apart. Bunch of twenty-something white guys in forties hair and uniforms–I just call them all Nigel.

        5. Tau

          I hear you so much. My biggest memory in this regard was one movie where one major character was a white slender dark-haired man in a suit amidst a whole legion of white slender dark-haired men in suits. He had a tragic death scene halfway through and my reaction was basically “…I think this movie is expecting me to care about this? Uh, do I know who you are?”

          (Movie in question is probably very obvious but I like avoiding spoilers.)

      3. Helka

        I have the same issue! The most awkward way it bit me was that when I first joined my current department, both my boss and her boss were tall, thin women with brown hair. I could not tell them apart under most circumstances, and had to lean heavily on my general affect of deep reserve and shyness to keep from making a very embarrassing mistake.

      4. simonthegrey

        Yep. I have it, a mild form. It sucks as a teacher because where I teach, almost all of my students are blondish/brunette, the girls all wear their hair long and the boys all have short straight hair. The few different ones – curly hair, red head, dyed hair, stick out, but that’s it. I have to memorize where they sit, require a seating chart, and I explain from the beginning of the year that they may need to remind me of who they are if they come to my office to talk to me outside of class. Most students don’t think it’s rude, because I make it clear that it isn’t me ignoring them. I can tell people apart if I interact with them often, but I won’t lie – I hadn’t seen my sister for a few months, and when I saw her again, while I knew who she was, my brain kept trying to tell me she didn’t “look right.” Mine isn’t related to aspergers, though; it also can be tied to dyslexia/dyscalculia, which does run in my family.

      5. Tau

        I have mild issues with this – I have Asperger’s so it’s par for the course – and ohhh the pain. The worst is when I don’t *realise* there are two people of the same approx. etc.etc.etc. and think they’re the same person. I still wonder how the fact that at one point I had *two* fellow PhD students in a very small department who were tall lanky white guys with red hair, bears and wore square glasses with thick black rims is legal. ;)

        Other people told me they had no idea how I could not have realised there were two of them because they looked *completely different!* My reaction to that ran along the lines of “……..you have got to be kidding me.” But then my ability to recognise faces kicks in after I’ve known someone reasonably well for a few months, which is why I say I have a mild version. So half a year down the line I also thought they looked completely different, how could I have possibly gotten them confused? *shrugs*

        Interestingly enough, I also have difficulty with names which I’d never connected to this.

        1. Tau

          …for “bears” read “beards”. Although two guys with bears would indeed have been surprising.

    3. Brightwanderer

      Doesn’t even need to be a medical thing. OP, has your boss’s boss definitely met you/been introduced to you? Do they know that the name they are asking your boss about is attached to your face?

    4. Ask a Manager Post author

      I usually have no trouble with faces, but I will confess here that for the first few episodes of season 1 of Game of Thrones, I thought that Robb Stark and Jon Snow were the same person and was really confused.

      In Love Actually, I also thought that Liam Neeson and Alan Rickman were the same person — for the entire movie, which made me quite confused.

      1. AnonForThis

        See, now it is apparently waaaaaay more common than I thought, if Overlady Green has blips of it. And the point re the manger even knowing who OP is in the first place seems well made!
        Although even if this were an explanation, my thinking is the advice still makes sense (i.e. asking the supervisor how to handle it…)

      2. voyager1

        There is a flowchart with a the faces and famil connections on Game of Thrones. I have used it a few times with minor characters.

      3. LBK

        Wait, isn’t Alan Rickman married to Liam Neeson’s sister in Love Actually? That’s…awkward.

        I also confused Jon and Robb at first until John went to the Wall so they weren’t in scenes together. And I definitely had issues telling Stannis and Tywin apart – context usually helped but in random still shots of them outside of the show I still struggle to tell which is which.

        1. Lalaith

          Alan Rickman is married to Hugh Grant’s sister in Love Actually. But she is good friends with Liam Neeson, so she has several scenes with him.

      4. a

        I thought that too about Game of Thrones! I also kept getting them mixed up with Theon. And I still can’t tell a lot of the old white men apart.

    5. Ad Astra

      I’m sure I don’t actually have prosopagnosia, but I’m not great at recognizing faces. I have a much easier time recognizing names, especially names that I’ve seen written down. It’s probably an extension of my learning style: reading and writing was always preferable to interpreting charts or diagrams. I rely pretty heavily on our company’s intranet photos to double check a face before I go talk to someone outside my department, and even then I’m praying their desk nameplate will be visible from far away.

  8. Pete

    They go to the person to whom they gave the order, even if they think they know who was ultimately given the task. The boss’ boss doesn’t know if something has changed since the last time this topic was addressed. Maybe your boss knows something that you don’t even know.

    Hierarchy is good. This doesn’t breed familiarity. You don’t ever get the idea that you can go straight to your boss’ boss for ordinary things.

    1. SouthernBelle

      This! I’ve witnessed a lot of inefficiency in businesses and a lot of it has come from people not maintaining clear lines of communication/hierarchy. For example, one executive I know would routinely put people in positions of authority, but if there was a question about the work that was to be done, the exec would either email (or, often, text) the person that it was involving, leaving their immediate supervisor out of the loop. Then, the next time the employee has a question, they’re emailing or texting the exec back, often getting misinformation or irritating the exec by asking questions that are best handled by, oh say, their SUPERVISOR, and being pawned off to receive their answer. Exec then ended up being drawn into all kinds of communications that had nothing to do with the business at hand because they’re now friends. Supervisors were ineffectual since their employees could go right to the exec, regardless of whether or not the exec could give them the answers they’re looking for. And I got to sort out the resulting messes.

      All that to say, I’m a HUGE fan of hierarchy and maintaining those clear lines.

      1. Sadsack

        Yeah, but in person? That’s just weird and rude, no matter how it is intended. Why not address both people in the conversation?

    2. blu

      Yeah I think that is normal, but’s not normal is to be literally standing next to the person you have the question about and still not just asking them or at least acknowledging them.

  9. Retail Lifer

    Sounds familiar. Best example:

    My boss’ boss once needed me to do something. I was sitting at my desk. He walked right past me and emailed my boss, who wasn’t even there yet. So she called me and asked me to do it. I had no problem doing that, but it could have been done 20 minutes sooner had he actually just asked me when he walked by.

  10. Susan

    I don’t know. While I think your answer is thorough, practical and thoughtful; I think this is rude, regardless of the motivation behind it. I have seen so many managers who seemingly surrendered their manners cards when they started supervising people, nothing surprises me at this point. We should still be treating people like humans and acknowledging their presence in a room. Our subordinates aren’t dogs.

    1. EarlGrey

      It’s awkward at least – there are many reasonable explanations for why the big boss does it this way, but I’m surprised she doesn’t pull the manager into a private office (or use phone/email/etc) or invite OP to join the conversation. Or even just acknowledge OP and say “I know that’s your project, I just need a quick update and you can take care of the details with Manager later.”

      Yeah…not surprised the big boss is doing this, but unless she’s just not sure who OP is/what OP’s work is I am surprised she’s not doing anything to offset the potential rudeness/awkwardness.

    2. Laurel Gray

      I am surprised that a majority of the comments seem to see it more as a quirk or harmlessly unintentional instead of what it is: rude. Being unaware of a person’s duties, or not recognizing a face really isn’t an excuse as a Big Boss not to, at the very least, greet people in passing. Even if the Big Boss was going to ask OP’s boss about something the OP handles right in front of OP, the OP probably wouldn’t have written in if this boss greeted them in that setting. It is beyond rude and I think a manager ought to adjust their behavior vs everyone around them adjusting to their quirk (rudeness).

      1. Katie the Fed

        I think it’s just as strange that people assume this is rude, as opposed to being a function of a hierarchical bureaucracy. I don’t know why we need to assume the worst in people’s intentions. What’s rude to one person isn’t to another – there are cultural differences and this may be normal in this organization’s culture.

          1. invisible woman

            I have been thin and no one has a problem remembering my name, details about my life, or where they met me.

            As I grew older (damned PCOS) and gained weight, people I have been introduced to frequently look right through me. They don’t remember my name, even when we have worked together on a significant project. And worse, I will be confused with any 5’5″ larger woman with dark hair above the shoulders whether she wears glasses or not. It has even happened in an interview – which is how I knew who my competition was. The interviewer referred to me by her name. This has happened so regularly in the past 25 years, I am resigned to it. And I am exactly the same person, with the same sense of humor, same advanced knowledge base, and have nothing at all in common with my seeming look-alikes.

            But yes, it hurts. This is a safe place to comment, which may be a reason for the vitriol.

            Yes,

        1. Laurel Gray

          I’m sorry but I do not buy that asking about someone’s work in their presence and not acknowledging them in the conversation is hierarchical bureaucracy. If it is, it sucks and I think it sucks for the overall environment. I do not expect my boss’s boss to email me directly. I do not have an office near my boss so there are times when he passes by my office to go to my boss to ask her something that pertains to my work – and when he walks by, there is some type of greeting. The Big Boss could have acknowledged OP and still asked about her work to her boss in that setting and the hierarchical bureaucracy wouldn’t have been compromised.

            1. Laurel Gray

              There is always an initial greeting whenever he comes to this office suite or whenever I have business in his. I see him a handful or less times a month.

              1. Katie the Fed

                Oh ok – that makes more sense. I was picturing someone you saw multiple times a day.

        2. fposte

          I took me a while to realize that my workplace often does this too, because it’s so not a big deal around here. I guess it is hierarchical, though I didn’t think about it in that sense; it feels more like an etiquette thing wherein a higher-up asking my staff instead of me would be rudely signaling that s/he didn’t expect me to acknowledge my staff and had to go straight to them. It’s sort of like asking “And who are you?” because the person who was supposed to perform introductions didn’t.

          And this isn’t a stern workplace–it’s a crunchy feely (accidental hybrid of crunchy and touchy-feely, which I liked and left in) academic corner, and these are people who freely talk to one another. It’s just that it’s not how you usually ask about your staff’s work around here. Never really thought about it until it got brought up.

  11. Lily in NYC

    The interim head of our budget dept. will not speak to admins (which is not normal here; we are not that type of place and I would feel comfortable talking to anyone of any level here). She is ridiculously bad at her job and I am always being sent downstairs to find something that is hidden in her office (which could be in an episode of Hoarders). I am an assistant but I’m lead on a huge consulting project which takes up 90% of my time and I often need answers from her. She hasn’t figured out that I’m an admin and I’m hoping it stays that way because I don’t know how I will be able to do my job if she won’t deign to speak with me. You’d think she’d be some burnt-out, ready-to-retire curmudgeon, but she’s very young and “hip” and the whole thing is just really weird.

  12. Hermoine Granger

    This situation is weird but it’s possible that boss’s boss is trying to avoid stepping on your manager’s toes and is just being clumsy about it in the process. I’d ask my manager about it if the relationship is comfortable or just try to ignore it.

    I’ve had two experiences with higher ups refusing to speak to “underlings” due to hierarchy. The conversation snubs weren’t related to work so it made it a lot more obvious that they were just being snooty.

    There was an Exec / VP level consultant who wouldn’t speak to anyone below the Exec / VP level unless she absolutely had to work with them. Many people in the office didn’t work with people on other teams but pretty much everyone (including the CEO and other Execs) would say “hello” or “good morning” when passing in the hallway or in the lunchroom. However, this lady would blatantly ignore people saying “hello”. At first we all thought that maybe she had a hearing problem and people would sometimes repeat themselves or speak louder so as not to be rude. But then we realized that she could hear perfectly fine. In a few instances she actually turned around and glared at people after they said “hi” before walking away with a look of disgust. It became a running joke across departments within the company. She was a weirdo for that and a few other reasons.

    In the other situation there was a department director who wouldn’t say any greetings to her staff first. We all sat in the same area and would say good morning, good night, have a good weekend, etc. The manager would reply to these greetings but would never say them first if she arrived after / left before the rest of the team. Yet she’d get upset if she came in, didn’t say anything to anyone, and everyone didn’t make it a point to say hello to her. She rarely interacted with the staff she managed but would go out of her way to chit chat with if some bigwig passed by the area.

  13. blu

    OP, is the boss’s boss actually asking “Did Suzy finish painting the teapots” or is the question “Are the teapots finished” and you just know that is your assigned duty? It could be that the boss’s boss isn’t really aware of how particular tasks are delegated and that’s completely normal. She may not know which tasks are explicitly being completed by you. If that’s the case, then I think your manager can make it less awkward with a quick “Yes, Suzy here completed that.”

  14. Kateyjl

    I’m wondering if the boss’s boss does this with everyone. If so, it’s just a quirk. If not, then I’d be wondering if she has gender issues.

    1. Laurel Gray

      Even as a “quirk” it is one Big Boss really ought to work on. I don’t think it is conducive to a friendly and respectful working environment. Even something as small as a greeting – basic acknowledgement – in a work place makes it a more positive place.

      1. simonthegrey

        Be that as it may, Big Boss didn’t write in, so Allison can’t tell her to work on it. She just has to tell the OP how to think about this.

  15. Mena

    Definitely odd and annoing for the OP.
    In my situation, my boss’s boss insists on copying my boss on every email he sends me, despite by boss not being in any capacity to add value, being unfamiliar with the situation, etc.
    Very bizarre.

    1. hbc

      Really? I would find it odd for Big Boss and Worker to have info that Middle Manager doesn’t. If it’s important enough for my boss’ boss to know, then my boss should probably know, unless there’s some kind of strange setup where the boss is completely administrative and doesn’t have any involvement or interest in projects.

  16. Andy

    this (sort of kind of) just happened to me! I am totally, visibly, present and in my office. I am an assistant. Someone came into the office, completely ignored my presence and asked the front desk student a series of questions about my boss that would have been (drum roll) totally appropriate for the assistant. Who was sitting right there. rolling eyes all the way back.

  17. Zowayix

    I initially interpreted this as the boss’s boss trying to get the boss’s specific opinion on the matter compared to the OP’s opinion. Anyone else?

  18. voyager1

    Count me as a rude vote. Also someone up thread asked if this military, I never saw this when I served.

  19. LaSharron

    Probably because I’m used to it, but I immediately thought B. Every director I’ve had would speak cordially, but always went through the supervisors when it came to work matters. And who knows, maybe your boss asked her to do this. How does your boss feel about not addressing you directly?

  20. Caylatreese

    Hi All. Thanks for the comments and feedback on my question. Out of the three suggested scenarios my manager falls into the last one. She has no problem with communication as she micro manages everything. The example I provided was just the latest occurrence of this type of behavior. I guess I was really more interested in why a manager would think this is appropriate. For the managers on this site, is this some sort of way to keep your people in line? I spoke with my coworkers about this. Most of them expect it from her because really there’s nothing one can do about it. I’ve been working here for a year now and I just can’t get used to it. My coworkers have all told me that it really shows in my face when this happens. I haven’t said anything about though. Anyway, my original question is just one example of how she communicates with her staff. She’s just rude for no reason.

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