my employee tells me “good job” when I correct his work

A reader writes:

My direct report, who is fresh out of college, is often not very thorough or good at his job. He’ll submit work that clearly lacked any attention to detail. And 90% of the time, there are errors that I end up pointing out or discussing with him. I am fair, factual, and give context to why the error is important to avoid. I never reprimand, just state the facts and move on.

He always responds with some excuse like “oh, I thought you said it was this” (even though I clearly wrote the answer out in the email to him) and then he follows up with a “good job” or “cool, great catch.” It’s always in a tone that feels condescending and patronizing. I’ve been in my industry for five years. I don’t really need to hear compliments from my subordinates on how great I was at catching that 1 + 1 isn’t = 40. To me, it’s 100% not the same as saying “oh, thanks for catching that!” It’s like instead of being grateful I was there to help him fix something, he pats me on the back for doing my job?

It’s really weird and I’m not sure how to address it. Another observation is that he is not like this with my colleagues, most of whom are male, and I’m a smaller Asian woman in the workplace.

Eeew, yeah, that’s coming across as patronizing — and doubly so if he’s not doing it with anyone else.

I would do two things.

First, when he says “oh, I thought you said it was X” when you had sent him an email that clearly said Y: Treat it like a problem that needs to be solved. Either he really thinks you said X, in which case you want to figure out where the miscommunications are coming from (is he not reading carefully / are you not being as clear as you think / etc.) or he’s saying it to save face, in which case you want to call that out so he realizes it’s doing the opposite of what he intends (it’s making him look worse, not better).

So the next time it happens, say this: “I want to make sure we’re communicating well, so what made you think I’d said X? I’d intended to communicate Y — let’s pull up the email and see if we can figure out where we miscommunicated.” This would be overbearing if you did it after just one instance of this — but when there’s a pattern, you want to figure out what’s causing it. So let’s take him at his word that he misunderstood and see what’s going on. Assuming he does end up agreeing that your email was clear, your point might be made — but if it happens again after that, you’d say something like, “This has come up a few times now, and it sounds like you need to be more careful about reading emails” (or “have a better system for capturing info from emails” or whatever the solution is).

Second, with the patronizing “good job” comments: Again, if it were once or twice, I’d let it go. But when it’s a pattern, it’s worth talking to him about it. He needs to know that he’s doing something a lot of people will read as condescending — and if it’s rooted in sexism, he’s really going to benefit by having it called out early in his career.

As for how to do it … Sometimes you can stop this kind of remark just by letting yourself have a visible natural reaction to it in the moment. In other words, he says “good job” after you correct him, and you look visibly surprised/confused — do a one-second confused frown, let there be a slightly awkward pause, and then move on. Sometimes that will be enough to get the message across. But if that doesn’t work — and this has gone on long enough that I’d only give that one shot — then you should say something directly, like: “When someone points out in an error in your work, ideally you’d just say you’ll make the correction — or, of course, it’s fine to ask questions if you’re unclear. But responding with ‘good job’ can come across as patronizing, and I know that’s not your intent. This might seem small, but it’s the kind of thing that can affect how you come across.” (I’m focusing just on “good job” here because “great catch” isn’t as problematic. It’s made problematic by the bigger picture with him, but in general it wouldn’t be such a big deal.)

If he seems receptive to this and if he were better at his job generally, you could even go a little further and say, “Apologies in advance if I’m wrong, but I get the sense that you feel you need to save face when I point out errors in your work, like telling me you thought the instruction was different. I don’t want you to feel you need to save face — and in a work context it’s nearly always going to come across better if we can just be matter-of-fact about the errors and get them fixed. It’s fine to just say ‘ah, I missed that’ or ‘got it, I’ll make that change.’ I hope that’s helpful to hear, and I know it’s the kind of thing no one really teaches you in school, and you just have to figure it out as you go at work.”

But because he’s making a lot of errors and isn’t very good at his job, it likely makes sense to skip that part — because you’re presumably going to need to have a more serious conversation with him soon about his overall work quality (and maybe his fit for the role?) and it won’t help to muddy the waters with this meanwhile. (You don’t want it to come across like “hey, errors are natural, just deal with them well” and then next day be saying “your performance isn’t up to par.”)

But do call the rest of this stuff out. You can do it matter-of-factly; it doesn’t need to be a big lecture. But you should address it, both because it’s legitimately aggravating to you as his manager and because it’ll help him professionally to get the feedback.

{ 289 comments… read them below }

  1. k8isgreat

    Oh crap! I’ve definitely said “good catch” or “great job” when someone has caught a mistake I made. Now I know that the “thanks,” is veeeery important. Good to know!

    1. Heidi

      I don’t think it’s that bad if the person is junior or even equal to you in rank (tone plays a big role in this too). The problem here is that the employee is definitely junior to the OP and acting like she needs HIS approval on correcting his mistakes.

      All that being said, I think that the OP wouldn’t have this problem if her report didn’t give her so many mistakes to notice. The lack of attention to detail would be more frustrating to me because it creates work for others.

      1. k8isgreat

        Nope, it was said to my very nice boss at my old job, to my chagrin. The good news is – I didn’t make many mistakes and when I did I always took ownership of them, corrected them without argument, and never made the same mistake twice. So, not a huge deal, but a good thing to know going forward.

        1. The Man, Becky Lynch

          In that case, it’s good that you know better now. However in your case, given it was a rare mistake of yours that was caught and you followed up with owning it, it’s way less egregious.

          I’m all for casual speak between manager/report but only when it’s not something like constant errors and constant brush off remarks with a “oh good job doing your job, too bad I can’t do mine very well.” background to it, you know ;)

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Although it’s generally not a great response, I do think tone matters. It sounds like OP’s report is saying this in a nonchalant, bro-y way to save face. That’s different than a sincere, somewhat “wow”-toned “omg, good catch!” I think Lisa and Hey Karma’s posts provide helpful guidance.

      2. A Half Decade!

        Yeah, but she’s been in her job five whole years! Come on, she’s being way too sensitive here and no Alison is buying into/ affirming this absurdity.

        1. FairPayFullBenefits

          What? I don’t think she’s being sensitive at all! Her employee’s behavior is patronizing and unprofessional, and likely sexist. I don’t think it matters that she’s been there for 5 years either.

          1. A Half Decade!

            The guy is being cooperative and giving her a compliment. But because she’s so proud of her whopping five years’ experience, she’s lording her “superiority” over him. The way I read this, she’s really insecure. If she were truly confident in her supervisory capacity, she wouldn’t react this way. There is nothing wrong with saying “good job.” He’s saying “hey, you did a good job! thanks for helping.” Her whole issue is ridiculous and is a function of her issues, not the employee’s.

            1. AnotherKate

              Her job isn’t to “help” him. It’s to manage him. She isn’t doing him a favor by correcting him; she’s doing her job. Subordinates don’t need to compliment superiors for doing their job. It’s weird.

            2. FairPayFullBenefits

              Honestly, the employee probably feels the same way you do. But the many thoughtful comments already posted on here explain really well why that’s not the case!

    2. CupcakeCounter

      I think if the person who caught the mistake is a subordinate its a more normal turn of phrase – especially the great catch. My boss’ (male) have said that to me (female) a few times when I’ve pointed something out and its never felt off. Me saying it to them just feels wrong though even without the gender dynamic. I usually respond with something along the lines of “Sorry I missed that – I’ll make a note to watch for those/I’ll update the process docs”.

      1. OrangeHat

        I’d agree with that – ‘good question’ or ‘good flag!’ are my go to responses when people more junior than me point things out. It’s normally oversights rather than errors – I send out a lot of processes that they have to implement and the frontline staff will ask questions that wouldn’t necessarily occur to somebody a few steps removed. I don’t think I’d ever say ‘good job’ to my boss, although we do have a very informal relationship – I could see a ‘Very good point, don’t know how I missed X, will fix now’ message happening pretty easily.

        The nature of our work is very reactive and doesn’t allow masses of time for ironing out bugs before we do stuff, so I guess minor issues are looked at fairly leniently which will make a difference to what’s appropriate too.

        1. RUKiddingMe

          Yeah “good job” comes off sounding like the speaker is talking to someone lower on the totem pole. It’s what one says to their child when they’ve…IDK, vacuumed the living room…or something. Add in the gender dynamic and it’s just gross.

      2. Antilles

        Not only is it “more normal”, I think it’s good practice to do.
        It acknowledges their contributions. More importantly, it subtly highlights that you actually *do* listen to feedback and admit mistakes, which helps foster an environment where subordinates are willing to come to you with concerns rather than worrying about your reaction or writing it off as “he won’t do anything about it anyways”.

    3. Lisa

      I’d go a step further and say “good catch” can be fine, but can also be incredibly condescending and/or defensive, depending on the context. “Good catch” is great when someone spots an error that was somewhat obscure, such as a problem that only occurs with the red teapots, but everyone else was testing on only the white or black teapots. But if someone catches a typo or a simple math error, that’s not a “good catch” that’s something the error-maker should have seen themselves, and the error-spotter was simply paying attention. A more appropriate response to that would be “Oh wow! I should have caught that, thank you.”

      Saying “Great job” to your manager in this context is so patronizing, I can’t even.

      1. boo bot

        Yes, I agree with this. I was going to defend the use of “good catch” because I do see it as benign, but thinking about it, I do use it as a subtle way to reinforce a power dynamic.

        I do very specialized work for clients, but I am an imperfect bot and sometimes make errors that non-specialists can see, like from/form typos. These aren’t a big deal in the context of what I do (unless they’re constant) and it’s helpful if a client sees something like that and points it out. But, it’s also important on my end to signal that a minor typo isn’t an indication that I’m doing a bad job (which it’s not) so I want to respond in a way that indicates: (1) good that you caught that, thanks! (2) this isn’t something that should make you question my competence.

        “Thanks, good catch!” is a way to do that – it acknowledges the correction, but it also sort of *sets me up as the person with the power to approve or disapprove of the correction.*

        That’s why it’s not appropriate for the employee in this case to be saying it to his boss. And, more importantly, there’s no universe in which it’s appropriate to be saying “good job.”

        I’d be about ready to fire this guy. Out of a rocket. Into the sun.

        1. Salymander

          Yes, “good job” is pretty condescending, and sounds like a way for the employee being corrected to make himself appear more important, more of an authority.

          I haven’t said “good job” to anyone in years. Not since my child was in 1st grade. Because you just don’t talk that way to adults.

      2. hbc

        Yeah, I think that’s the key: “good job” is to be used for an impressive performance, for doing better than the collective norm or the recipient’s norm. It’s cute when my five year old tells me I did a good job catching a mistake in his math (because it’s outside *his* norm), but an adult saying the same thing is basically saying, “Huh, I pegged you at kindergarten-level math skills.”

      3. smoke tree

        I agree–in this context, it sounds like the employee is using it as a power play, to turn the tables on the LW. Coupled with his lack of attention to detail, this is not a good look. I’m not sure if it comes from defensiveness or entitlement, but either way, if he’s not able to turn his performance and attitude around, I imagine the LW will be seriously considering letting him go.

    4. Hey Karma, Over here.

      My go to is “Thanks for the heads up” when I get a message from someone saying I missed a correction I was supposed to make. Nobody has ever contacted me or my manager about it. It may because I follow it up with, “I missed that. I’ll fix it now.” Or somebody out there may think it has a tone and is thinking, what an ass. But I think it’s safe enough. The sender knows it’s just an opening statement. I do appreciate the message and I will fix it. I also use it when I get a message that something is delayed/off schedule or no longer my task.

      1. Mongrel

        We tend to go with “Thanks for bringing that to our attention, we’ll make sure that’s corrected\amended* and you’ll see the change in the next monthly release”

        * Some items are obviously wrong and are corrected, some things are professional judgement so may be open to interpretation

    5. LizB

      I say “good catch” sometimes as well and now I’m worried! Context: I’m a manager of about 25 part-time staff who work across two locations that are open seven days a week and have various coverage requirements. Usually if I say good catch it’s because someone spotted an error with the schedule in time for me to fix it and I am genuinely glad they caught it. Yes, I should have spotted it myself, but scheduling my team is a four-dimensional jigsaw puzzle from hell and I don’t always get it right! I don’t want to be condescending, and I always include a “thank you” of some kind, but maybe I should take “good catch” out of my vocab?

      1. Lisa

        I think this is a great example of where it makes such a difference that you are the manager and not the subordinate. You could add some “I should have caught that myself” verbiage if you want to set a strong example of owning one’s own mistakes. But, in the manager-employee dynamic it is much more acceptable for a manager to make a simple mistake that an employee caught – because managers are busy and employees are there to back them up! – than the other way around.

        1. StaceyIzMe

          This phrase is fine to use as a manager, especially if it’s occasional and it’s clear that it serves your convenience (the error was caught and saved you some headache, so it doesn’t feel condescending or “off” here). You can add a nice “thanks!” too, if you’d like but I wouldn’t overthink or overgeneralize this. Subordinate to manager is more context specific and shouldn’t be a default response to “this is an error and I need you to catch your errors… speaking of which… there are a couple of patterns related to this issue that you need to manage- so that I don’t have to…”.

      2. Aly_b

        I think “good catch” can serve two purposes:

        1) it can encourage people to point out mistakes or errors in a positive and collaborative way that helps get the job done and get work product up to snuff.
        2) it can convey genuinely being impressed that someone caught something unusual or tricky that could easily have gone unnoticed.

        I personally think it’s fine for managers to use it for purpose 1, and for everyone to use it for purpose 2 (occasionally and genuinely). If, as in the OP’s case, a subordinate (and not a very strong one) is using it consistently for purpose 1, they come across as either patronizing by trying to encourage their manager to fix their errors, or as if they don’t understand what is an occasional tricky catch to make that would be deserving of comment and thanks.

        1. Lisa

          I really like this breakdown between purpose 1 and purpose 2! That’s exactly what’s been bugging me so much about people using it for purpose 1 without having the seniority to do so.

      3. Jasnah

        That’s exactly the situation where “good catch” is appropriate, because you are senior to them. If they said it to you, it’s kind of patronizing.

    6. Ask a Manager Post author

      I talk about this in the post: “good catch” isn’t inherently problematic; it’s the bigger picture here that’s making it so.

      1. Kate the Great

        Yes let’s take it on faith that whoever’s on the receiving end of the comment can tell by context and history whether or not the person means it in a condescending way. I think usually the answer to that will be “no”.

    7. Zip Silver

      I don’t know, I think OP is reading more into it than is really there. It’s entirely possible that he just means “acknowledged”, but doesn’t want to come off that cold. It’s tough to read sarcasm over text, especially when it’s only 2 or 3 words, unless he’s doing “gOoD cAtCh”

      1. Lance

        The way I’m reading it, I think these things are being said in direct, face-to-face conversation (with the e-mail being referenced in the moment)? Though if they’re not, it may be a bit harder to say (though either way, I’d still agree with others that ‘good job’ isn’t really something one would generally want to say to their manager).

      2. R.D

        Condescension and sarcasm aren’t the same.

        Pats on the back from a subordinate to their manager, even when sincere can be very condescending if not phrased carefully, due to the power disparity.

        1. LSP

          Not to mention the gendered issues here, given the subordinate isn’t acting this way towards OP’s (mostly male) colleagues.

          I tend to thank my managers/superiors for their feedback, say something about keeping an eye out for things like that in the future, and then leave it there. The only time I’ve given feedback that can be seen as a “pat on the back” is when highlighting some aspect of their managerial style that I particularly appreciate, and even then it’s in the form of, “Hey, thank you for being so clear in your expectations. It’s really appreciated and helps me be better at my job.”

          1. Zip Silver

            You’re seeing “mostly male”, but I’m seeing “colleagues”. It makes perfect sense, in a non-sexist way, to want to save face with your boss (OP) and less so with your coworkers.

            1. Observer

              Except that it’s not his coworkers, it’s hers – ie these are people who are most definitely higher up in the hierarchy than he is.

              One of the reasons it’s so frustrating for people who report bigoted behavior and it’s so hard to get people to take appropriate action is this exact kind of nonsensical attempt to dismiss what the recipient is experiencing and justifying it by eking out some far fetched possible non-bigoted reason for the behavior, no matter how unlikely and insist that THAT must be the REAL reason that person is acting in this inappropriate way.

              Please don’t do that.

              1. RUKiddingMe

                Exactly. The report is treating his female manager as if she is either his equal or subordinate to him but not her equal level male colleagues. There is obvious sexism here…even if it’s subconscious.

            2. Myrin

              The way OP specifically says “my colleagues” makes me think these are people of her rank. That probably still doesn’t make them the report’s boss, but they likely aren’t just some random coworkers, either, but guys in supervisory positions.

            3. smoke tree

              I’m sure the LW has a good read on the condescending tone of his responses, as well as the gender dynamics at play. If he really thinks that it’s appropriate to compliment her on catching his (many, obvious) mistakes, he’s assuming that she has no real authority over him, she can be easily manipulated by a ridiculous compliment, or more alarmingly, that he should really be the one evaluating her work. It sounds incredibly entitled, and does not sound like the response of someone who’s actually accepting the feedback, which he should be seriously concerned about.

      3. Observer

        I think that absent specific reasons not to, we take to OPs at their word.

        In this case, we know that the employee is not just saying “good catch” but also “good job” which is not something employees generally say to their managers; he’s making excuses and trying to lay the blame for his shortcomings on the OP; AND he does NOT do this to white male supervisors.

        In other words, not only do we not have cause to doubt the OP, we have information that strongly supports her conclusion.

      4. BethDH

        I would also add that it’s important to address it with him even if he is just intending “acknowledged” — he should know that many people, including his current boss, will hear something different than he intends. This is doubly true since he’s relatively young and may not have a good handle on workplace norms yet, so it could really make a difference before he’s too set in his ways.

      5. fhqwhgads

        On my team we actually pretty regularly say “acknowledged”. The Star Trek gif is implied (at least one time I did it, someone said “I’m picturing Jonathan Frakes” and I replied “that was the intention!”)

      6. Susie Q

        I agree. I think the junior employee is young and awkward. I think OP would be best to respond with empathy and give the employee a lesson in professionalism not a scolding.

    8. an infinite number of monkeys

      As others have commented, the tone makes a big difference. I’ve also said that (or something similar), but the full message I’m trying to convey is “oh jeez, good job, thanks so much for saving my dumb ass by catching that.” Which – assuming we aren’t making these mistakes frequently – I think is fine!

    9. Artemesia

      When a boss says ‘great catch’ or even ‘good job’ to a subordinate, they are thanking them for attention to detail and not letting the boss slip up in their public facing role. When a subordinate says it — particularly ‘good job’, it is insulting. It sets up a frame that this very junior screw up is somehow the authority and judge over the work his superior does — and if he is a guy and she is the superior, it is also sexist. To say it in the context of being corrected for a stupid mistake and carelessness makes it even more condescending.

    10. Snowy

      I don’t have a problem with “Good catch,” but “Good job” isn’t appropriate. It’s entirely possible it’s just slang to him, and he just needs it pointed out to him so he can adapt.

  2. Just Another Techie

    Oh my god, I almost could have written this letter. In fact, have thought aboutwriting in about a very similar problem in my office many times in the last six months.

    The only difference in my situation from the LW’s is that I am not the problem employee’s line manager. I’m a senior engineer in his group and we “share” “ownership” of a deliverable, although as the senior person it’s ultimately my name on the line signing off on the work. We both report to the same manager. I’ve raised the issues (both the issue with poor work quality and the issue with condescending “thank yous”) with our manager both in person in 1:1s and in writing via email, and nothing has changed.

    Do I have standing to have a similar conversation with my junior engineer?

    1. Angwyshaunce

      I would consider checking with your manager if you have this standing. It would also be good if your manager had your back on this.

      1. cheapeats

        As both a senior engineer and a manager, if you were both my direct reports, I’d encourage you as the senior person to have that conversation. Since you are signing off on the work, you have ownership.

        However, I’d also encourage you to keep sending the OQE I need as a manager to either initiate a PIP or consider termination.

        PS- do you know if the manager has said anything to the junior employee?

    2. Lisa

      I think if you have any kind of seniority, you always have standing for a heart-to-heart “Let me give you some feedback about something that could be affecting how you come across” conversation.

      1. StaceyIzMe

        I’m not even sure the preface is necessary, since it could bring prejudicial defenses online for anything that follows. People who are open? That’s a great way to begin. People who are obdurately and inappropriately difficult? I believe it’s good to directly and plainly deal with these instances in the moment. It’s just good “organizational housekeeping” to deal with things that are a pattern. A one off or two instances? Not worth the bother, unless it’s obvious or egregious. More? Time for some plain speaking.
        I do think that asking about mindset first can allow for some clarity. Sometimes, just going “when you said ‘…’, it struck me as ‘…’. I’m curious, what were you thinking?” Based on that information, you can proceed with either “it comes across as ‘…’, and I need you to ‘…’ (or ‘I need you to refrain from…’) when…”. It’s direct, not adversarial and gets the issue into the space in plain and simple terms, while allowing for a check-in about the thinking/ lack of thinking behind the objectionable thing(s) said or done. After that, it’s a matter of compliance and either good or bad faith.

    3. Hey Karma, Over here.

      I think you can. I’ve been in a situation before where someone said, “good guess!” when I came up with a fix that worked. Um, no, that’s my field and yeah, not letting that slide. A look and “No. Not guessing here.”
      So in the moment can you look and say, “No. Not good job; my job. Thanks.”

      1. Mag Cro

        Maybe I’m too sensitive, but that seems borderline aggressive for someone clueless to how they’re coming across. If the goal is to change their behavior, an explanation might work better.

        1. Just Another Techie

          Given the gender dynamics at play and the general tone of the office, Hey Karma’s suggestion did not strike me as aggressive at all

          1. Hey Karma, Over here.

            the dynamic in the my situation was the same as OP’s. Someone with little standing to judge my work was critiquing it and me. It was a woman and she came in at the same level, not doing the same work, but decided she would take shotgun position next to my boss. She lasted five years.

        2. mamma mia

          “Borderline aggressive”? Really? I’m not seeing that at all. I think this tactic is very sensible. Giving someone a whole explanation of why saying “good job” is inappropriate would come across as more patronizing than a simple, “Not a good job. My job. Thanks” That teaches the lesson and also sounds more off the cuff than a whole lecture about it (or Alison’s script), which will only make the person feel like a misbehaving child. If the “offender” feels momentarily chastened by a somewhat short remark, so be it.

          1. RUKiddingMe

            Exactly.

            When my son was a tiny baby my mom thought she would interfere. I said “You are my mother, I am his mother…” I have taken the same basic idea and adapted it for staff: “You work for me, not the other way around.” Tweaked to whatever a specific circumstance may be, but basically a callout, in the moment, a reminder of who is actually “the boss” seems to do the trick.

      2. Gumby

        I’d be worried that the problem child would then not feel the need to up his game because, after all, it’s his manager’s job to find errors.

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Yes, you definitely have standing to talk about this with your junior engineer with a “concerned, more experienced” tone.

  3. Peloncita

    Very patronizing, I agree. You don’t “good job” your boss or manager for catching YOUR bad jobs.

    1. TootsNYC

      If I weren’t feeling charitable, I might say, “I outrank you; it’s not really your place to compliment me for catching your error.”

      1. StaceyIzMe

        Or even “Catching your errors is YOUR job. Given the number I’ve seen in the work you’ve submitted, it’s clear that change is needed… and we may…”- “reconsider your fit for the role”/ “look at the possibility of retraining…”/ “set specific work quality goals that will have to be met or…”.

      2. smoke tree

        Yeah, or something like “It’s not your job to evaluate my work, it’s your job to catch these mistakes before I see them.”

        1. Seeking Second Childhood

          “It shouldn’t be necessary for me to catch these errors–catching them is YOUR job.”

    2. Autumnheart

      My smart mouth would want to say something like, “Yeah, I know I do a good job. I’m trying to get YOU to do a good job, and that means you need to quit making these mistakes.”

      1. Angus McDonald, Boy Detective

        LOL yes same! As much fun as that would be to say, it’s a shame we can’t get away with it in the work environment!

        In fact I did once get into trouble for my smart mouth, so I’m doubly careful at work now.

      2. Princess PIP

        Mmm this comment is a dollop of warm fuzzy all the way down to my tummy. I too fantasize about saying such a thing!

      3. Tertia

        Yeah, my first thought was “Yes, but I need you to do a good job.” It’s probably good that I’m not in management.

  4. TootsNYC

    One other thing I’ve said to people when they get defensive, or if they were to do this “praising” thing, or they seem to be focused on saving face (which this “good job” thing may be) is this:

    “When you react like this, it makes me think you are more focused on defending yourself and NOT focused on how to prevent the error again. That makes me worry that you aren’t going to invest any energy in getting better, aren’t going to try to teach yourself to avoid the error.
    “That’s a very bad impression to make.
    “You don’t need to grovel, you don’t need to beat yourself up, or feel bad about your self. But it’s important that you not let defensiveness or the desire to save face drive your reaction here. You won’t be able to improve if you do that.”

    I’ve done it about three times (once w/my kid), and every time it’s created a little breakthrough.

    1. knitter

      Wow–great language! I’m going to use this in a very difficult conversation I have to have soon

    2. BethDH

      I need a better way to save these scripts for later. This is perfect for using with my students.

    3. Eukomos

      I really like this, it explains the error the person’s making instead of just beating them down for doing it, so it doesn’t risk them getting even more defensive and not absorbing the message. And it fully explains the logic behind what’s wrong with the behavior, which they probably wouldn’t be able to articulate themselves or they wouldn’t be doing this.

    4. Oh So Anon

      You know, what makes this a really phenomenal script is that you’re not leading with *assuming* that they set out to defend themselves with poor intentions.

      So often when people get defensive, they’re trying to over-explain their thought process in good faith rather than trying to say that they’re above reproach. Responses to this kind of behaviour that don’t take that into consideration risk making the receiver feel as though people around them will assume the worst if they make a communication mistake, and that can really shut down any attempts to improve. Worst case scenario, assuming poor intent leads to the receiver further defending their intent, which just goes down an awkward path.

  5. MuseumChick

    This feels like a “big picture” talk is needed. Also with all the faux pas he’s making typical of a new college grad who’s new to the work force he is also making lots of errors, doesn’t seem to be learning when corrected.

    It would be a kindness to have a sit down with him to lay out 1) why using that particular term of phrase is problematic, how to respond instead, and to make it clear that he is expected to turn in error free work consistently and the eventual consequences if you don’t see improvements.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss

      I was thinking the same thing. This is a pattern and needs to be addressed as big picture, not each time it happens.

    2. RUKiddingMe

      I really don’t think that “good job-ing” his Asian, female boss, when he treats her equal level, white, male colleagues like the professionals who outrank him that they are…is a faux pas. It’s sexism and racism.

      1. MuseumChick

        I missed the part of the letter where us stays he treats others different. That definitely changes how I see this behavior. I was assume it was just “new-to-the-workforce” awkwardness. With the additional information you are right, it’s much more serious.

  6. Alton Brown's Evil Twin

    Yeah, that would irk me.

    I wonder if the “good job” reaction might be due to somebody who’s still in college mode, working with peer students on group projects. Or somebody who drank the koolaid of “flat hierarchy/team culture” a little too much.

    1. Anonybus

      I wonder if it’s a result of some variation of “act like an authority/leader in all situations and people will magically begin to treat you as such and then success will be yours” type of bad advice. I’m personally very tired of being “leadershipped” at by people (usually dudes) who are subordinates or peers, so I would love to know what the deal is.

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Agreed. I truly suspect this is a bad combo of pretending you know what you’re doing (i.e., false confidence) and a bro-y thing to save face. It also sounds like there’s a implicit bias problem happening (i.e., it’s absolutely sexist but he’s completely unaware of his problematically gendered behavior).

        As MuseumChick notes, it would be a kindness to have a global conversation with him about his performance and his deficient approach to feedback. And I wouldn’t use more subtle communication cues, like pulling a face. I would be painfully straight-forward and matter-of-fact with him, the way OP has been to date when identifying significant errors. This is not someone who is adept at catching social cues with OP.

        1. R.D

          He might also be parroting (with a side of subconscious sexism/racism). The smart people in the room say “good job” and “nice catch” . Since he wants to appear smart, he says that too, without examining how it comes across when he says it.

        2. WillowWeep

          Does he have a 3-month or 6-month review coming up? Good time to bring this up

      2. TootsNYC

        But whereas motherhood is a point of stress for her character in the series, it’s grounded the actor in real life.

        it’s not just that people might give that advice.

        It’s also that often, it works! And so in a very organic way, people pick it up and use it.

    2. Hey Karma, Over here.

      This. But also Anonybus. Yes, he’s used to the “good job” in school. But he’s also used to taking over groups and groups projects by taking a leadership tone. And I’m sure there were plenty of students both willing or unable to fight his charisma. But OP can shut this down now. Ask him why he says that. Is it something he’s always done, especially in group projects in school? Did he become de facto project lead? Because that’s not how it works here.

      1. Zip Silver

        “I’m sure there were plenty of students both unwilling or unable to fight his charisma”

        Wow, what an unbelievably sour thing to say. Wanting to shut down somebody who is charismatic, just because?

        1. Observer

          No, because he’s using his charisma to cover for poor performance and he’s being an inappropriate jerk, even without the issue of sexism.

          You do NOT tell your boss “good job”. And you don’t claim you were told X when the record clearly shows you told Y.

        2. Hey Karma, Over here.

          I was using charisma to mean the absence of official leadership role. I think it’s safe to bet that OP’s staffer thinks finessing his way into leadership is no different than working his way into leadership.

        3. Engineer Girl

          Charisma + incompetence = disaster

          It’s not the charisma that’s the issue.

    3. VictorianCowgirl

      In response to the info that he doesn’t speak this way to male colleagues, I fear this is rooted in sexism, and doesn’t have much to do with saving face. I wonder if Alison feels it would ever be appropriate for OP to call that part out directly?

      1. Librarian of SHIELD

        I think with the gendered piece of this, it’s very likely that saving face is part of it. If a male superior finds an error in his work, he has been corrected by a mentor/leader. But when OP does it, it’s likely that a piece of his subconscious reacts with “have been corrected by a female person, cannot admit she is smarter/better at job than me” and so he minimizes. I don’t think he’s purposefully downplaying OP’s abilities to save face, but it would be a pretty common instinct to act on.

        1. Mookie

          This is my read. They are two sides of the same three-faced coin, where racism also dwells.

      2. Valprehension

        To be honest, the probable sexism angle makes it *more* likely this is a saving face reaction – he’s being corrected by a *woman*, shockhorror!!! The instinct to reassert dominance to avoid that particular humiliation here seems strong.

    4. Sleepytime Tea

      Yeah… even college mode wouldn’t explain this. Would you say “good job” to your professor after grading your test and getting a B? No. This is his manager, not a peer in a group project. There is so much ick all over this.

  7. Ann Perkins

    This sounds exactly like a direct report I had last year who we did end up firing. I think there’s an instinctive move to want to save face and shift blame when an error is caught, but it’s a sign of immaturity. The person I managed didn’t seem used to having a manager who would say, “Oh, were those her instructions? Let’s pull up the email she sent you and have a look so we can figure out what went wrong.”

    1. the_scientist

      I also had this issue with a direct report, who I also ended up having to fire! Every error I caught became a “discussion” in which he attempted to try to prove me wrong or explain his logic. He would frequently shift the blame onto other people, and deliberately misrepresent instructions given to him by others. In the end it wasn’t just the quality of his work (which was very poor), it was that plus the total lack of accountability and ownership that never improved despite multiple attempts at coaching.

      1. TootsNYC

        well, the first step to improving is admitting that you were wrong, that you are capable of making mistakes.

        I once told my high-school-age kid that the most important advice I wanted to give to him was to never lie to himself. Especially not about fault or mistakes. He tends to really beat himself up, so I tried to stress that it’s NOT about blame or guilt or shame.
        But that if you lie to yourself about what you did to create the mistake, you will never be able to figure out how to stop doing that thing. Or to spot it early when it tries to arrive the next time.

    2. Cathy Gale

      When I dealt with a young man like this at the beginning (first five years) of my career, I did eventually have to fire him also.

  8. NewHerePleaseBeNice

    I feel like ‘great catch’ seems to have entered the business lexicon very recently and I have noticed it seems to have replaced ‘thanks’. I find it a bit cringey anyway, but would definitely annoy me from a subordinate.

    1. Kiki

      I think it’s one of those phrases that has been suggested to prevent people from apologizing too much, but people who are not apologizing too much have also started using it. I prefer “Thank you for catching this!”

    2. Batgirl

      I think the phrasing is incidental and the real problem is his devil-may-care attitude.
      His boss is pointing out basic mistakes and he’s completely untroubled because he expects her to a) let it fly because women are nice and b) clean up his mess for him. There are more serious employees who could say ‘good catch’ without annoying anyone because the unspoken ‘thanks for mentoring me and catching this so I can fix it and never do it again’ will be inferred from context.

  9. CupcakeCounter

    Since I have a strong asshole gene I would respond with “Yes, I am very good at my job which is why I am the manager. However, right now we need to discuss the errors YOU are making on a regular basis and how to prevent them in the future.”
    If you can combine that with a Rock eyebrow raise you have pure gold.

  10. Teapot Librarian

    I got a “good job” from a subordinate COPIED TO THE ENTIRE OFFICE. Thank you so much?

      1. StaceyIzMe

        My “evil twin” would be tempted to reply all with “thank you for sharing your thanks!”. The slight double entendre is passable, but your point would be made and future repetitions would be doubtful.

  11. The Man, Becky Lynch

    I could have used this a couple of years ago when I was dealing with someone similar. Sadly his problems were much deeper than all that but it would have saved me a lot of internal seething at the time.

    In my case, it was a cover up for insecurities and the fact that the person could not do the job correctly, so being corrected and coached always came back around to really unacceptable responses. It’s a soft response that feels like he’s not accepting accountability for errors. When someone says “this is incorrect” my response isn’t “Wow super job catching that mistake, boss!” it’s “Oh crud, what’d I do and how do I fix it and make sure this doesn’t happen again.” So yeah, extra double rubs the wrong way just in terms of my desire for people to take ownership of their errors and not just shrug them off.

    1. Lance

      That’s… actually a good point, and I think what’s grating me the most about this letter: this ‘good job’ script of his is totally brushing off his own accountability. That, especially, I’d call a pretty big reason to shut this down, especially while he’s still early in his career. In the first place, though, just as Alison says, he needs to do better, because he’s not doing a good job right now.

      1. Mookie

        When I first read the letter, I pictured him using a very performatively bored or flat tone, like he’s (a) being inconvenienced and/or (b) unimpressed. It struck me as a defense mechanism against getting caught out with repeated errors publicly, which, on top of being childish, is incredibly unproductive, keeping him from seeing that this is important and that repeating errors is a big deal, particularly if they’re elementary errors that only require paying attention to instructions to avoid. His sexist, racist pride is killing him here.

    2. WorkIsADarkComedy

      You’re on the right track here. This is indeed failure to own the errors, and the employee has chosen a passive-aggressive way of demonstrating it. The “good catch” and “good job” responses are intentionally demeaning, attempting to bring down the supervisor to the level of the employee.

      Based on that pattern and the pattern of consistently ignoring instructions and feedback, I expect the employee to be put on a PIP and to fail to improve, ultimately leaving the company.

  12. sheworkshardforthemoney

    It’s as bad as the “good for you!” that I used to get from an ex-boss. Said in a very condescending tone. Yes, good for me because I knew how to do my job and could point out mistakes before they escalated into chaos.

  13. Anax

    Ancillary: Alison often mentions how useful a nonverbal “natural reaction” can be. Unfortunately… I will almost always miss cues like this, because I’m autistic and don’t read facial expressions well.

    I’m aware that verbalizing things like this can feel more aggressive because it’s more direct, on both sides.

    Any advice on handling these situations gracefully, without being wildly out of social norms, and without constantly worrying that I’m missing something important?

    (I do disclose the autism thing routinely, and I’m in IT where it’s a little easier – but even so, I’ve found that most allistic folks don’t realize just how much they’re communicating with body language and facial expressions. Even when they’re aware and making an effort, folks often unconsciously expect me to pick up on their cues, or to communicate back nonverbally – and then are confused and frustrated when I don’t. It’s very stressful!)

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.

      1) thank you for teaching me the word allistic.
      2) I find your comment fascinating. Because here’s the other side of that coin.
      Controlling one’s facial and other physical reactions. You wish that you could read people better. I wish that when someone said something to me, like “hey, this is wrong” I didn’t turn red, or gasp or do anything that makes the speaker think I’m upset. Because I’m not upset that someone told me I made a mistake; I’m embarrassed I made a mistake. That type of thing. What I’m showing isn’t what I’m feeling.

      1. JustaTech

        Oh goodness, me too!

        What’s interesting for me is that sometimes I feel like my body language is over-communicating and sometimes it’s under-communicating, so when it’s important I make myself verbalize what I want to say rather than hoping my coworkers will pick up on the right bits.
        For example, last week I was in a super grumpy mood and just wasn’t up for my very outgoing coworker at that moment. So rather than hope she would get my grumpy vibe correctly (I’m grumpy but not at you but I need some space or I will be grumpy at you too) I just said “hey, I’m in a mood, can you give me half an hour by myself?”

        So I think it’s a good thing for everyone to try to use their words more, even if in an ideal situation we would read each other’s body language.

        1. Hey Karma, Over here.

          Yes! It’s so complicated. What expression do you need to explain? What expression makes the interaction progress more quickly? What is just bad and you need to work on? Using words is better for everyone.

    2. Morning Flowers

      As a fellow autistic person — being direct can totally work, so long as you are relentlessly, unfailingly polite.

      First, set up expectations: “Just so you know, I don’t read body language or facial expressions very well because of my autism, so if you’re upset or annoyed about something, please tell me directly. I don’t mind! I may have more questions about why it upset you than you expect, which I know can read as pushback, but really it’s because I often need more information to be able to change what you need me to change.” Do this when nothing is wrong at the time, at the start of a ticket, or whenever else you’re establishing a work relationship, however temporary. Say it cheerfully and matter-of-factly. (If you’re not sure about your affect when saying it, snag a trusted friend and practice the conversation until you’re comfortable with it and your friend tells you your delivery is cheerful, matter-of-fact, and professional.)

      I imagine you’re already doing something like this, since you talk about people being aware and making an effort, but if you *haven’t* spelled out your needs this explicitly, you should. I’ve found neurotypical people often don’t understand what you mean when you say you’re not good at something like reading body language. I think they imagine, “okay, she’s a little worse at it than I am,” not, “I should assume absolutely no information from tone or body language is coming across, just to be on the safe side.” So the key point is to cue them on what they should do to better communicate with you, i.e. the explicit instruction to directly state what’s annoying or upsetting them. They may not realize a shift in their behavior would help you, or how easily they could be doing it. Most people want to help, but don’t know how!

      Second — be ready to follow up. If you see any sign someone’s frustrated or confused, say very politely, “I can see you’re frustrated/confused; I’m sorry! Let’s see if we can clear this up. Is there something I’m doing that I could do differently?” Optionally, add in, “I don’t read nonverbal cues well so it’d help me to have people’s preferences spelled out explicitly.” (This is another great script to practice with that trusted friend if you’re worried about your affect.)

      Resist the urge to laundry-list too many questions as to what the problem is; all you’re trying to do here is provide a polite, gentle reminder that you don’t always catch things and would like to be explicitly told. Most people will respond well to a prompt that it’s safe and appropriate to share their complaint out loud, so that’s what you want to provide. Limit yourself to one follow-up question in the moment, and make it solutions-oriented if you can (ex. “Okay, so I’m hearing that when I use this wording it bothers you because of X. What if I said Y instead?”). Try to avoid asking them to brainstorm instructions on how to handle the situation; this can backfire if people feel like they’re being asked to manage your behavior. Instead, offer a solution yourself.

      Third, if there’s a particular person you have this problem with often, you may want to re-approach them with a variant on your initial explanation designed to reset the relationship and re-cue them about the situation. Do this by email if at all possible so they have time to read and digest before responding. Start with a general apology; apologies are gold for getting people to reset and give things another shot. “Hey, I know we’ve had a hard time communicating about X lately, and I wanted to let you know I’m aware of it and I’m sorry it’s been so stressful. I think a lot of it has been because I have a hard time reading body language and miss a lot of nonverbal cues, but if you let me know directly whenever there’s a problem I’m always happy to address it. I don’t want you to think I don’t care about working together well, and I know not noticing something can read like not caring about it, which isn’t the case at all!” Then, this is a situation where you can often ask for instructions, especially with the time to think using email gives your recipient: “Is there anything I can change habitually that might help us work together better?”

  14. Engineer Girl

    I’m tempted to ask him WHY he’s saying this. Push it back on him and force him to justify/explain his thinking on it. That also allows you to continue the conversation with him.
    Joe: “Good catch!”
    You: “Joe, why did you say good catch to me?”
    Joe: “Uh, because you caught mistake x!”
    You: “Joe, you should have caught mistake X. I shouldn’t be the one catching it. It’s not OK to compliment me for doing something that should be YOUR job”

    1. Hey Karma, Over here.

      I am 100% supporting this. Repeating what I’ve written above, I bet this is how he got into leadership positions in school. Even if each person in his group project chose his/her own section to work on, he would jump in with “good job” when they met a deadline. If someone asked the group a question, he would step in, “great question Myrtle. Can anyone help out Myrtle?” And then people start giving their responses to HIM instead.

      1. boo bot

        AAAAUGH.

        I tried to formulate a more coherent response, but honestly that really sums it up.

    2. VictorianCowgirl

      I like this because I want him to be called out for speaking to her the way he doesn’t speak to the men. This sounds like a good lead-in for that.

    3. dramallama

      People have really been nailing what made my skin crawl over a simple ‘good job’: the implication that cleaning up after him is what OP is there for. It’s always a little annoying when somebody makes a mistake, but just reading about this was infuriating.

      1. AnotherKate

        “the implication that cleaning up after him is what OP is there for”

        YEP.

    4. R.D

      I love this. It’s much less accusatory than my initial reaction would be, but it doesn’t let him off the hook and it opens the door for either giving him enough rope to hang himself, or a collaborative discussion on how to fix the issue. Most likely he’ll take the rope but maybe he will learn something.

  15. Wrong Target

    Oop, I think I might come across like this guy. I usually respond to edits with a “thanks” or “good catch” or whatever.

    I don’t think my editor (who is more senior to me) is doing me a favor by doing her job. I’m glad she told me how to improve. Sometimes I explain why I made an error to show that I am learning how to avoid it.

    This thread’s surprising but pretty informative.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch

      Thanking someone for bringing the error to your attention isn’t a bad thing, that’s completely normal and acceptable.

      For editing, they’re digging deep and often catching things that have gone unseen by you, so even a “good catch” isn’t as bad in that setup. But if someone is just scanning your work to make sure it’s complete and catch glaring errors, then you say “good catch”, it’s like “Dude…it’s a huge blinking sign and you just weren’t paying attention”. Nope nope nope!

      Edits aren’t necessarily corrections on the level of “you goofed this up real bad and didn’t follow instructions” like I’m reading from the OP.

      I honestly only find “good catch” and “good job” an issue when someone is not doing their job well and are acting casual about it. I probably don’t even realize others have done it prior to The One Dude who did it because of how bad he was compared to everyone else, you know?

      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        I agree. The “good catch” is obnoxious only when someone is not improving, has consistently deficient performance, and is saying “good catch” in an inappropriate tone. There’s a way to say “good catch” that will sound like genuine gratitude and won’t chafe.

        But “good job” will almost always come off patronizing, and it will be worse in situations where it’s gendered.

        1. boo bot

          Yeah, it’s really a question of the bigger picture. At this point, this guy could say “thank you for sharing your wisdom,” and it would still sound condescending as heck.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch

            Yes! Exactly. That was my old problem. I had a guy, who I knew wasn’t even being condescending, it wasn’t in him to purposely be a jerk even. I would correct him, coach him and try to work with him to stop making all the errors. He would turn to me and in this totally sincere tone say “I really appreciate how good you are at your job and how you catch all these things.” and I’m like screaming inside saying “But I shouldn’t have to, I need you to sh*t or get off the pot!”

            I wasn’t allowed to let him go but guess who got let go after I was gone and the Big Bosses had to deal with the same thing. Go figure, right.

            1. RUKiddingMe

              “I really appreciate how good you are at your job and how you catch all these things.”

              This has my shoulders up around my ears. This is something a manager says to a report. To have a male saying it to a woman, particularly a woman in a supervisory position…so condescending, so patronizing, so sexist, so gross.

              Male humans….stop this! Do better!

              1. boo bot

                “I really appreciate how good you are at your job and how you catch all these things.”

                I really appreciate how you BURN UNDER THE FIRE OF MY RAGE!

              2. The Man, Becky Lynch

                TBH this guy was…strange AF and was actually fearful of true masculinity. He hated the way other males talked to him because they were straight shooters and just said “Hey this is wrong, I need you to fix it, thanks!”

                It was a bizarre situation to say the least. Those who came across as a typical masculine, “manly” men were bullies and strong women got the sexist “I’m an honorary feminist, woohoo go you!” nonsensical stuff about being so great at their jobs. I hope to never ever encounter this kind of shenanigans again, it nearly killed me the first time, no joke.

                I work with men all the time, go figure that place was the only place I’ve encountered sexism in multiple areas. I legit needed therapy afterwards, despite being a woman who has worked with mostly men my entire career!

    2. Heidi

      “Thanks” is perfectly appropriate. “Good catch” might not be too bad if it’s in an appreciation-of-your-superior-skill tone and not a condescending look-at-you-all-grown-up tone. Hopefully you never said “Good job (at being my boss).”

      1. RUKiddingMe

        “…look-at-you-all-grown-up tone.”

        Yeah, this is how I see this happening with the OP…he’s talking to her as if she is a child/subordinate to him because…penis.

      2. RUKiddingMe

        “…look-at-you-all-grown-up tone.”

        Yeah, this is how I see this happening with the OP…he’s talking to her as if she is a child/subordinate to him because…penis.

    3. londonedit

      Yup, I’m an editor, and things like ‘good catch’ or ‘well spotted’ are really only acceptable for errors that *nearly* made it to print, or a particularly horrendous typo in an author’s name – something that someone’s spotted at the last minute that would have been disastrous. I wouldn’t expect someone to say ‘good catch’ to me in a general review of my work, because in general ‘catching’ errors is part of my job, and it’s patronising to pat me on the head for doing my job correctly.

    4. Me

      Good catch is a danger zone. If it’s a peer or someone doing your a favor reviewing something then it’s probably ok.

      Your boss or someone of a senior level who is correcting something that probably shouldn’t have to be corrected is bad news. It just smacks of lack of ownership for the error. It may very well be something obscure or falling under the we’re all human and make errors umbrella, but still I just wouldn’t tread there at all.

      I’d stick with a neutral thanks.

  16. Lisa

    I’ve worked with people like the LW’s direct report a few times – always young men, and they never lasted long in their jobs, FWIW. The common factors seem to include an overall arrogance, over-confidence in their own abilities, and difficulty admitting fault. Also, struggling to bridge school skills to work skills – not realizing the role of real-world experience, or that they’ve been in a bubble – such as having been trained only in X, when to do the job they also need to know how to use Y and Z. This can lead to what, to me, is a very simple error, completely slipping past them. When they have humility and an eagerness to learn, showing these new tools and methods to entry-level workers can be a joy. And if someone were making a lot of mistakes but had a good attitude, my first step would be to make sure they understand all the available tools (validation software, enhanced spell-check, etc.). But if they already think they know everything, that can be like pulling teeth. They’ll say, “I use X for testing because that’s the industry standard” (translation – that’s the only one they taught me in school). And when I come back with, “Well… X is popular for teacups, although it’s not the only option. However, for teapots Z and Q are usually more effective, and if it’s a custom teapot we also need to use Y.” they look at me with their head cocked, because, how could I know something they don’t?

    1. Auntie Social

      And all that is why I don’t think he’s even reading the instructional emails. It’s the arrogance of “I know what I’m doing, I don’t need directions” or “I don’t take directions from a female”, but it’s arrogance.
      I’d be tempted to tell him in the next email to print his work on purple paper just to see if he’s paying attention, before I had my talk with him.

      1. Camellia

        I had a male coworker that would say he didn’t have time to read the requirements! And when I’d take this to our manager the fault was always mine, I just needed to explain things so he would understand. Then one day he actually said it to the manager! How happy I was to see her face go all red and the steam roll off of her. He was transferred to another group a short while later, doing something different.

    2. Guava

      I had a young male direct report once who, within a few days, demonstrated that he knew nothing about the industry in which we worked. So I set out to train him. When I pointed out mistakes in his work, he’d say: “Obviously,” in this smug tone. It drove me bonkers! He also tried to call me “kiddo,” in spite of the fact that I was several years older than him…and his supervisor.

      After he was fired, I found out he’d fabricated his resume and our company hadn’t checked his references.

      1. Lisa

        Oh jeez, do each of this type have a catch phrase?

        I worked with one in a technical role who did sloppy testing. Then whenever someone reported one of his bugs, he would always – ALWAYS – respond with “That’s SO weird!!!” followed by some variation of “worked on my machine.” Then once he fixed it, he would come to me very smugly proud that he had found and resolved that “weird” bug. (They were not weird bugs, they were very ordinary errors.)

        Another was fresh-out-of-school but already knew everything because, you know, he’d done *internships* so was not “inexperienced.” Whenever I explained something he didn’t know he would respond with “Wow!” In a sense of, “Wow, it is so amazing that there was this obscure knowledge I somehow lacked but you did not.” I had over 15 years experience on him, and a higher-level skill.

  17. Jess

    To me a great catch is noticing a tiny bit significant detail that nobody else has.

    A great catch is not when I ask a staffer for X and notice that he’s handed me Y. That’s just the fact that I have a brain in my head and can plainly see that the work I asked for is not the work he handed in.

    It sounds like he’s not out of college group project mode, where a kid who says, “OMG you guys we misread the directions,” would be a great catch if nobody else in the group had noticed. But if you hand in your group project and the professor says, “This was not the assignment at all!” it would be completely inappropriate and bizarre for the students to say, “Oh, good catch, Professor!” Same situation here.

  18. Manager of Student Workers

    I have a similar-ish issue, which I don’t think is *as* problematic but I wonder about it nonetheless: my student workers often tell me “you’re fine” and “no problem” in response to my telling them something as a matter of course (eg, “I need to leave now, you’re on your own in the office” or “I’m sorry I didn’t get this to you sooner in the day, I was caught up with other tasks”).

    As a snake person millennial myself (managing Gen Z students), a big part of me is disinclined to read anything into it, especially because I myself am a user of the phrase “no problem” in response to “thank you.” But as a manager, and in these contexts, I do find it a bit off-putting (although the “you’re fine” definitely bothers me more). Maybe I need to say “I’m sorry” less and project more authority? I don’t think I overuse it and I do want to acknowledge when something at work is less than ideal. But I also don’t want them to get the impression that I’m asking for their input, because I’m not. I can’t decide if I am, despite my efforts, ending up on the wrong side of the friends/friendly line with them, or if I’m overthinking this and being way too nitpicky about their language.

    1. Jess

      It drives my boomer mother INSANE when I respond to thank you with, “No problem.” I’ve had to consciously use, “You’re welcome,” but it seems…cold somehow. Sometimes I say, “My pleasure,” or, “I’m glad to help,” and that doesn’t bug her.

      1. Heidi

        In multiple languages, the traditional response to “thank you” translates into something like, “It was nothing,” or “It was no trouble at all.” When I think too long about it, “you’re welcome” sounds more strange to me. You’re welcome to what? The world of my assistance? Is that what it means?

        1. RUKiddingMe

          In our house we speak three languages: English, French, and Arabic…generally a combination of all three at once. I tend to say “ce n’est rien” (it’s nothing) a lot. With other non family/non friends, I tend towards “you’re welcome.” Especially to clients.

        2. Koala dreams

          In Swedish, there are both the “you’re welcome” answer as well as the “it’s nothing”, but in many situations the polite answer is “thank you” as a response.

        3. D'Arcy

          In Vietnamese, the traditional response to thank you from a person of equal or lesser social rank would roughly translate to, “It was nothing.”, but there is a different traditional response to thank you from a person of higher rank which is more literally, “I wouldn’t dare.” It still actually works out to the same, but the latter form is more, “I wouldn’t dare presume you owe me social favor for such a small thing.”

      2. The Man, Becky Lynch

        I loath, loath, loath a “you’re welcome” response, so I get your issue with it. It seems overly formal and cold.

        I always respond to “thank you” with “no problem” or my own “thank you” because it’s taught to you in hospitality/customer service situations to push back at the “no, thank YOU for letting me do this for you.” kind of thing.

        My only issue with a response to “thank you” is when someone says “yep”, that’s usually followed by a “bye now” if you’re on the phone. Flames on the side of my face, I hate it that much. “Yep” drives me up the wall.

        1. Gumby

          I know someone who response to thank you with “welks” which I find even more annoying. (Actually, the full written out ‘you’re welcome’ doesn’t bother me at all.) But I think there is a non-zero chance that she’s doing it on purpose to get my goat so I haven’t said anything.

          1. The Man, Becky Lynch

            I hope she also says “okie-doakie” as well, just for good measure. It reminds me of the secretary on AP Bio level of obnoxious way of talking.

            I’m informal but come on now, that’s like baby-talk level.

        2. RUKiddingMe

          I used to think this way, and then I restructured it in my head to “you are welcome to I did for /gave to you” and it stopped feeling so formal. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

      3. JeanB in NC

        I traveled with my friend and her children a couple weeks ago, and her 10-y-o son kept saying “I’m good” when asked if he wanted something. It was extremely difficult after hearing that for a week not to respond “I didn’t ask you how you feel, I asked you if you wanted cake!”.

      4. LQ

        You’re welcome always makes me want to snark back at people. I don’t know what it is but it is a chilling response to me. I go with “no problem” a lot and it feels much warming to me. I’ve been trying to pull back on it but I’m with you on not liking “You’re welcome.”

        (After one really bad day talking with a friend the totally unfiltered response was “Well and f*ck you too.” We both laughed, but I worry about the day at work when I’m out of filter with that one!)

      5. AnotherKate

        I’ve been in an “anytime!” mood at work lately. This seems friendly/appropriately informal, but doesn’t have the “normally your needs are an inconvenience to me, but in this instance, it is no problem at all!” feel that so many people seem to ascribe to “no problem!” (note: personally I don’t think “no problem” reads this way at all, but it certainly seems to be an issue for a lot of people).

    2. Christine

      Hmm, might be a response to the “I’m sorry” part? I tend to knee-jerk respond with “oh no you’re fine” or “no worries” to people apologizing for non-issues or minor inconveniences. For me, it’s not so much that I’m giving input as I’m trying to tell the person that whatever they’re apologizing for isn’t a big deal. But I can definitely see where it might create a weird dynamic in a manager/employee situation.

      1. Lisa

        This is one of those where a subtle wording change can make such a difference. “Oh no, it’s fine” is great – and basically means “don’t be sorry.” But “You’re fine” implies that you are giving your approval so is totally inappropriate to say to someone with seniority over you.

        1. Lucy

          How interesting: I wouldn’t hear that distinction myself. If someone apologised for needing to squeeze by or something similarly unavoidable and unobjectionable then I might well say “you’re fine” to mean “this doesn’t put me out in the slightest, no apology necessary”. But I’ll watch out for how this might sound to others.

          1. Lisa

            Maybe it’s a personal thing. Whenever I hear “you’re fine” I feel like I’m being given permission or approval – “What you’re doing is fine.” It always reads to me as “You’re fine because I said you’re fine and am in a position to be the one to say so.” Whereas if I hear “It’s fine” I hear it as “I’m fine” or “I’m fine with what you’re doing.”

            Could this be regional?

        2. Batman

          Huh. I would use you’re fine and it’s fine interchangeably, especially if the person is apologizing for something that really doesn’t need an apology.

      2. RUKiddingMe

        This is how I’m reading it as well. It’s just a “meh it’s cool” kid if response.

    3. L.S. Cooper

      I generally respond “no problem” to my boss and my senior coworker when they ask me to do things, but that’s because we do the little song and dance where they pretend they’re asking me an optional favor, when they’re giving me tasks to do. It’s… a weird bit of social nonsense, I’ll admit, and I wouldn’t mind a more direct “Hey, Cooper, just do this thing” format, but it feels like the appropriate response.
      (They’re both at the older end of Millennial, I think, and I’m at the veeery young end of Millennial, on the cusp of being Gen Z or whatever they’re calling it now. By birth year, I think I’m Gen Z, but I skipped a grade early on, so I’ve gone through life as if I was born a year earlier than I am. This is a bunch of completely useless information.)

      1. RUKiddingMe

        LOL Your millennial/gen-z thing is the same as my boomer/gen-x thing. Technically I’m a boomer, but in no appreciable way am I one. Those wee my parents. Socially, peer group, experiences, etc., etc., etc. I am a solid gen-xer.

      2. wafflesfriendswork

        Ugh YES the “hey would you mind doing x?” drives me insane. Maybe I do mind?

    4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I say “no problem” all the time—especially in lieu of “you’re welcome.” I say “you’re fine” if someone is apologizing for something they need not apologize for.

      In the contexts you’re describing, I think your reports are acknowledging that they hear you, that you haven’t burdened them in any way, and that they’re ok with your approach/timing. If you’re saying, “I’m sorry I didn’t get this to you sooner,” I suspect they’re saying “you’re fine” as a way of saying, “Oh, don’t worry at all! It wasn’t an inconvenience to me.” They’re assuming that you genuinely feel chagrined, and they’re trying to relieve you of that emotional burden. It’s their way of acknowledging and reaffirming you and your authority.

      I get that the phrasing may come off as off-putting, but it’s a communication style that prioritizes acknowledging the relationship with your coworker, even if that coworker is your boss. I don’t think they’re assuming you’re asking for their input or that you lack command/authority. So I don’t think it’s worth trying to correct unless there’s also behavioral issues that would give you pause.

    5. VictorianCowgirl

      You might consider using wording such as “thank you for waiting for this” instead of “I’m sorry it took so long” – reading this it does sound as though you are apologizing and explaining in a way that doesn’t convey authority, at least in that example.

      1. RUKiddingMe

        I’m usually right on top of whatever I need to be doing. I do occasionally screw up because…not a robot. My default will generally go something like, “hey guys, sorry for the delay, thanks for waiting/doing xyz int he meantime, here you go…” etc. It acknowledges that they had to wait/were inconvenienced unnecessarily and if it’s my fault, even as “the boss” I will acknowledge that. YMMV

      2. Lisa

        Saying “thank you for your patience” instead of “sorry for the delay” is some of the best wording-change advice I ever got. It shifts the tone from apology to gratitude, and maintains some extra dignity in the process.

    6. Heidi

      I think this might be more of a language shift and not intended to be a comment on your leadership style. Like how people never used the word “party” as a verb, but now it seems normal. And how we stopped using “thither.”

    7. Squid

      Fellow Millennial here, and phrases like “No worries!” and “You’re good!” are my unconscious default responses to someone of any rank saying “I’m sorry.” They’re meant to indicate that there’s no need to feel bad about your actions (which is implied by the apology), just as “Oh, it’s fine” or “apology accepted” would be. Similarly, I could imagine saying “No problem” to a departing boss as a way of communicating, “I’ve got this; I’m prepared to hold down the fort in your absence.” So I don’t think these responses necessarily indicate that your reports don’t recognize that you’re the boss;. But if they bug you, apologizing less and being more matter-of-fact may help cut down on these reassurances.

    8. dealing with dragons

      could it be a regional thing? a weird thing in my region is people say “please” instead of “excuse me” if they didn’t hear something. I know in the Midwest in general people say “no worries” and “you’re fine” as a matter of course at all ages.

      “Ope, can I scootch right past ya? Oh no, you’re fine” etc lol

    9. StaceyIzMe

      I agree with your conclusion. Don’t apologize or soften as a matter of course. As a manager, you’re verbally setting the expectation that they respond as if you were their equal or subordinate. Projecting confidence and equanimity through being straightforward will make your apology mean a great deal more on the occasions it’s offered. (I say this as someone who has also struggled with sprinkling “I’m sorry” through my days at work and in social contexts. It’s not a good thing.)

    10. Observer

      No problem is fine, generally speaking. You’re fine could be a bit more iffy, depending on context.

      So, I don’t think it rises to the level of something you need to address, but it is possibly something that you are NOT overthinking.

    11. BethDH

      I can imagine myself answering the second example you gave with “you’re fine” even though I’m not anywhere close to being Gen Z. I work with students a lot so I might have picked that up from them. Despite that I still find it kind of grating to imagine getting it as a response for the same reason.
      Then I started thinking about why they’re saying it. I think I actually say this when I’m a little embarrassed that someone is apologizing to me because it feels inappropriate for them to apologize. I’ll blurt out “you’re fine” because I’m on the spot and I really mean, “I’m not only okay with this, I actually don’t even see why you’re apologizing.” In that situation, saying “It’s okay” or “I’m fine” or even “No problem” feels like I am agreeing that they did something they should apologize for. And I would not feel that in general a manager needed to apologize to me for having something that is higher priority come up, unless that ended up really affecting me a lot. So apologize if your lateness was truly due to your own fault (like you just forgot something) or if what you’re doing is going to make me stay late or something, but maybe not for things that are just part of the job.
      I have no idea whether I’m totally strange in thinking this way, but if your students are doing the same, the issue is definitely not one about authority so I thought it was worth bringing up.

    12. TootsNYC

      I think “no problem” isn’t as problematic as “you’re fine.”

      “No problem” says “no problem for me to do that,” and I guess I take it as ordinary in that, if there had been a problem, I’d have wanted them to tell me.
      And I think for many people it’s link the “OK” button on the computer error pop-up box (that my friend yells at, “acknowledge, acknowledge–it’s NOT ok that you just crashed!”).

      But “you’re fine” would bug me.

    13. sb51

      Every etiquette and linguistics blog I’ve ever read is full of these sort of things; we don’t notice the words of the various formulae in our lives and what they literally mean until someone uses one that is unfamiliar or out of place.

      And then they might sound too casual, too formal, obsequious, condescending, sarcastic, just plain weird. Like, say, “kindly do XYZ” puts my hackles up, while “can you do XYZ?” for something that isn’t really a request at work sounds normal, but that’s entirely cultural; the person using kindly doesn’t mean I have to go be especially kind while doing it, and I’m not actually asking if they can, we’re both just politely letting them know that we need the other person to do XYZ and that we expect it to be a reasonable request/part of their normal job function.

      “You’re fine” is a newer formula but it’s entirely a formula to the people using it; they don’t mean anything other than “I have acknowledged this statement. I might be slightly annoyed at the inconvenience or it may really have not caused any issues for me, but either way there’s nothing worth pushing back. And I am being polite about my acknowledgement using a cultural formula.”

  19. Hey Karma, Over here.

    I am 100% supporting this. Repeating what I’ve written above, I bet this is how he got into leadership positions in school. Even if each person in his group project chose his/her own section to work on, he would jump in with “good job” when they met a deadline. If someone asked the group a question, he would step in, “great question Myrtle. Can anyone help out Myrtle?” And then people start giving their responses to HIM instead.

  20. SheLooksFamiliar

    I’ve had candidates tell me ‘Good job!’ after a phone interview, and the tone was definitely off-putting and patronizing enough for me to comment on it. A ‘Good job!’ be much more so from my subordinate, and I would talk to him/her about it…it’s never okay to figuratively pat someone on the head in the workplace.

    1. Lisa

      Wait… you interviewed a candidate, and after the phone interview, the candidate said “Good job!”??? I’m clarifying because flabbergasted.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar

        Yep, flabbergastery is sometimes appropriate. This is a sample of what I’ve heard just in the past few years:

        SheLooksFamiliar, I think you really did a good job just now.
        You did a really good job telling me about your company and role.
        I can see why they put you in this position, you did a great job.
        Let me tell you, other recruiters don’t impress me like you did.
        You really brought your A-game today.

        I should add that I hold a senior title; the candidates knew and commented on it, and my lengthy experience (they checked my LI profile); and the candidates were junior to me in every way. It’s also worth noting that the senior folks I interviewed never said those things.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar

            Maybe. I mostly chose to take the comments as awkward but sincere compliments.

            Some folks were pointed enough that I said this in response: ‘I did a good job? That’s a strange thing to say to the person who’s still deciding whether or not you’re a fit for her organization. Help me understand why you felt the need to say that to me.’ For the truly clueless, I told them that speaking down to people isn’t a value of our organization, thanks for your interest, best of luck in your search, goodbye.

            1. TootsNYC

              wow!

              I’m trusting your assessment of how they came across, but it’s so weird of someone to use a tone that could trigger that response!

              (I’ve had people say I “did a good job” when I was interviewing them, but it was me saying, “And are there any questions you have?” and they say, “Well, I did, but you did a good job of answering all of them when you were describing the job.” It’s not the same thing at all.)

              1. SheLooksFamiliar

                TootsNYC, I’ve gotten that comment too. I let it slide even though it still comes across as a bit condescending to me: Of COURSE I did a good job, I’ve been doing my job longer than the candidate has been alive. An interview isn’t a customer transaction, it’s a professional business meeting I’m chairing. Instead of verbally patting my head, they could have said, ‘Thank you, you covered everything I wanted to know and I don’t have any questions right now.’ Or words to that effect.

                Again, I will note that senior/executive candidates rarely say things of this nature to me. Draw your own conclusions!

  21. Name Required

    Both of these suggested scripts came across as overly sensitive to me. Is there anything wrong with a shorter statement, like, “I included instructions for this task in the email from xx; can you share how those instructions were unclear?”

    Or two birds, one stone: “I’ve noticed that when I point out corrections needed in your work, you respond with ‘good job’ or ‘great catch.’ Part of success in your role is catching and correcting more of these errors yourself prior to work coming to me. When you say ‘good job’ in response to a correction instead of acknowledging the mistake, it’s not clear that you understand that this is your responsibility. In the future, I need you to focus on communicating that you understand an error was made and how you are working to fix it. I also need you to focus on decreasing the total number of errors made. Do you think you can do that?”

    1. 5 Leaf Clover

      I think what you’re perceiving as sensitivity comes from the fact that when the employee says “good job” to his superior, he’s acting like he is HER superior. This is problematic especially given the genders involved, but would be annoying in any case. I don’t think it’s overly sensitive to want to shut this down. Getting him to take responsibility for his errors is important, but I would argue that it’s less important than nipping this weird self-promotion in the bud.

      1. Lucy

        I read that as being unnecessarily sensitive to the junior’s feelings – as in, “I don’t feel you need to treat him so sensitively”. People should be able to take constructive feedback without too much embellishment.

        1. Name Required

          Yes, this is what I meant. I didn’t think OP was being sensitive, at all. I would have her same reaction. I thought Alison’s suggested responses were treating the junior employee too gingerly.

      2. TootsNYC

        Maybe the next time he says “Good job,” she should say: “That’s MY line; I’m the supervisor here. Unfortunately, I can’t say that, because this simple error shouldn’t have been in this document. Please work on getting better, so I will have a reason to use that line.”

        1. RUKiddingMe

          “I’m sorry, you seem confused. It’s my job to give feedback to you, not the other way around. Clear?”

          1. Pescadero

            Does this still apply if you are in a business/company where employees DO provide managerial feedback?

    2. That_guy

      I so very much like this phrasing. It returns the responsibility of improvement to the person making the errors.

    3. The New Wanderer

      I agree – the suggested phrasing about the instructions in particular makes it sound a little like it could be the manager’s fault that things were unclear, but the LW had said that wasn’t the case. I mean, it’s possible but with the context of the employee’s other deflective responses, it seems more likely that “I thought it was X” is a defensive reaction to not having paid better attention to the instructions, not a legit explanation due to unclear instructions. Name Required’s phrasing is what I would use (with a tone that suggests a neutral curiosity, not accusing, but also not “gosh was it my fault?”).

      I also think the lede is being buried here – this guy is turning in work that is 90% poor quality, which doesn’t really seem salvageable even if his attitude improved. If he was already making a real attempt to improve, that might be something, but this seems like someone who isn’t fit for this role to begin with and probably should be on a PIP immediately. Since his attitude about it is also poor, dismissive, and apparently sexist, that is a problem of its own but I think the overall message should include “Your job is at risk because of your continued poor performance” in addition to “Your responses to feedback are dismissive, apparently gendered, and don’t seem to be leading to improvement.”

      1. RUKiddingMe

        I think you hit the nail on the head here. He’s excusing his poor performance with “I thought….” and being sexist on top of it. With…and here’s the important part, no improvement, or likelihood of any improvement, he needs to be called out, and then he needs to be gone.

      2. Name Required

        “Your responses to feedback are dismissive, apparently gendered, and don’t seem to be leading to improvement.”

        Where my standing ovation gif at?

      3. TootsNYC

        I also think the lede is being buried here – this guy is turning in work that is 90% poor quality,
        I agree.

        I mentioned above that this attitude of his is an indicator that he isn’t interested in getting better, either.

  22. Emi.

    Ooh, this reminds me of a tutoring student who would say “Sure” and “I agree” when I pointed out he needed to add constants to his integrals.

    1. Former Retail Manager

      I would have said the same because I was confused as heck. If you told me to draw tophats over the equation, I might have also said sure.

      Signed,
      A math hater. :)

      1. Gumby

        Pshaw. Everyone knows that you’re supposed to draw fascinators over the equations. Much more room for creativity that way.

    2. Correct

      My brother-in-law – who’s a real know-it-all – likes to reply “correct” when he agrees with something. Not “yeah”, or even “right”, but “correct”, as if he is the authority on all things. He is not.

  23. Sarah N

    I 100% agree that the comments are inappropriate and should be shut down, but I also wonder about putting more of the responsibility back on this employee for finding his own errors. So rather than pointing out “Hey Kyle, it looks like your spreadsheet has 1+1=40. That’s going to be a major issue for our client who ordered 2 birthday cakes, not 40 birthday cakes” maybe try something like “Kyle, there are some pretty significant errors in this spreadsheet. Please take some time to triple check all of the numbers and then I’ll do the final check before we send it out to the client.” If there are common problems, maybe helping him come up with a checklist of reviews for every document he submits to you for review. Etc. I feel like addressing it from a systemic level and forcing HIM to find the errors would sort of head off the “Good job!” because that would just be such a weird response to that sort of comment.

    1. VictorianCowgirl

      This is a good idea. I’m in accounting, and once had to show a direct report how to double check her work. We made checklists, etc. It’s something she’d never done all through school or previous jobs, and she legitimately didn’t know how to do it, and her work was rife with errors which you just can’t have in our field. I had thought we wouldn’t be able to keep her on, then she became on of the most gifted accountant I know.

      1. Former Retail Manager

        Great to hear a positive outcome. I have also encountered more people than I can remember at this point who don’t understand the concept of checking their own work. Even if it’s just taking a break from it and going back with a fresh set of eyes to make sure you’ve followed all required procedures (not always check figures per se). Astonishing to me that people are able to have multiple professional jobs without ever encountering the concept.

    2. Legal Beagle

      This is a great idea. Also, the best way to help him learn will be to have him find and fix the mistakes himself. If you’re fixing all the errors for him, he has no incentive to develop the skills to do better next time.

    3. RUKiddingMe

      “…would sort of head off the “Good job!”… He still needs to be called out/informed/put in his place about the sexism.

  24. CatOwned

    There’s been a couple times when my boss has caught a mistake that I’ve responded with “Thank you for catching that”.

  25. 2 Cents

    Few things piss me off more than a “good job” from someone who sucks at theirs AND has the gall to constantly underestimate me and my abilities. A couple of bros as (thankfully) OldJob did this all.the.time and no amount of “thanks, I’ve been doing this FIVE years, I should know the basics” ever went though their thick Neanderthal skulls. To be clear, one female coworker who did this to me irked me too, but the bros also had other odious habits that she didn’t.

    1. Engineer Girl

      Them: “Good job!”
      Me: “and how would you know?”

      I’d never say it, but I’ve most certainly thought it.

  26. StaceyIzMe

    I don’t know. The “good job” combined with ducking expected standards sound, in combination, like he’s exceeded “plausible deniability”. I’d be more direct. (Your mileage may vary.) Return his work and redirect him to your email each time he fails to meet a standard you’ve communicated. Let him know he’s not performing up to your expected standards. When he says “good job”, don’t have a grimace that’s softened by an apology. Say something more direct like “I do good work, it’s true. But since I’m reviewing YOUR work, I’d like you to focus on…”. It seems to me that there’s far too much softening language in the advice offered. (Again, it’s just my view. I don’t have the managerial experience of many years to add in to the mix, but I think there’s a solid case to be made for being direct, especially when it’s clear that you’re being marginalized by a bad actor, as the case is here.

    1. RUKiddingMe

      I agree with all of this. DudeBro needs to be called out directly. Full stop.

  27. christine c

    Oh my god, OP, do we work together? Because I am an internal client for someone like this and it. is. killing. me. His other specialty is sending me complex reports at the last second before the external deadline, and then when, upon seeing them for the first time and spotting errors I have to request changes, he gets snarky about how the issues I’m raising shouldn’t have been brought up at the last minute. NO KIDDING.

    1. That_guy

      I would be very likely to point out in an email to both of our supervisors what the timestamp of that report is. I think you should definitely be having a conversation with your boss, and maybe his, about his lack of timeliness and how it is interfering with your ability to do your job.

  28. Just Visiting

    I didn’t see that it was this person’s direct report at first, that makes it soooo much worse. Ugh, I would be bananas annoyed by this too. I hope your conversation goes well, OP, or can move forward with a PIP or otherwise get this behavior changed because it’s really totally unacceptable.

  29. Sue3PO

    So I’m reading this as taking place in an American setting, with two speakers of American English – but it occurs to me that if the subordinate in this story is British, I’ve noticed speakers of British English using “good job” in a way that sounds odd to American ears. As in “Good job we finished that project early since we ended up losing power”. So if he’s British it might not seem such a grating thing? But I still agree with everything!

    1. londonedit

      Hmm, it’s possible, but we wouldn’t really just use ‘good job’ as a complete phrase. As you say, it’d be more like ‘Phew! Good job you spotted that!’

      I can picture a conversation where, say, someone comes in and says ‘I’ve just remembered to shut the car windows!’ and the other person looks outside, sees it’s just started raining, and says ‘Oh, good job too!’ As in ‘good job you did that, it’s raining’. ‘Good job’ means ‘it’s good that…’.

      1. TootsNYC

        In all those examples you give, I (an American) would say “good thing.”

        Good thing we finished that job.
        I shut the car windows. Oh, good thing, too!

        1. RUKiddingMe

          Yup. We do use “good job” as a stand alone…just mostly directed at children.

      2. only acting normal

        Also, it it *were* said alone in the way the OP describes, it would still be condescending AF in Britain. (I think we’d maybe phrase it “Well done” rather than “Good Job” in context?)

      3. Sue3PO

        thank you (and Only Acting Normal below) for the additional context, I’ve noticed it but never been able to ask for more details on how it’s used!

    2. TootsNYC

      I think our Letter Writer would absolutely have mentioned if there were a culture difference.

      1. Sue3PO

        Agreed. I’m just really good at looking for a benefit of the doubt (probably to a fault!) lol

  30. whistle

    If these interactions are happening in person, how about a deadpan “Yes, I know” when he says “Good job” ? (As Alison, says, I don’t see the “good catch” as problematic except for the overall patter, but “good job” is just UGH…)

  31. Not A Manager

    Maybe someone said this upthread, but I think the issue here is less about the language of his response, and more about his performance in general and his attitude toward it. I agree that “good job” and its ilk can be very condescending, but that depends so much on nuance that I think it’s too easy to get bogged down in trying to talk about that.

    Instead, I’d have a big picture conversation with him right now. You’re seeing consistent issues with his work product and attention to detail, and his response to those issues is not appropriate. What you need is for him to acknowledge them in the moment, figure out why they occurred (pro-tip: NOT because YOU gave him the wrong info), make a plan on how to avoid that happening again, and then go fix the error. I think you should just tell him that in a straightforward way.

  32. Socks

    Not sure if anyone’s mentioned this yet, I did a quick scan for it but didn’t see anything- I saw a post going around not too long ago, I think on tumblr or facebook, where someone was saying that they almost never apologize in emails, and instead what they will do is say something like “thanks for flagging”, or “good catch”. I wonder if this guy read that, or similar advice, and is just implementing it in the worst and most annoying possible way? That’s what it looked like to me, anyway.

    1. boo bot

      So, I do this, pretty much – not *never* apologize, but only when I’ve genuinely done (or not done) something that will cause a real issue – if I’m going to be late with something, lost something, failed to provide necessary information, offended someone I didn’t want to offend, misunderstood instructions and made the wrong kind of love potion, etc.

      The thing is: the reason I do that is BECAUSE OF GUYS LIKE THIS GUY!!!

      All that to say, you may be right, but it’s annoying because he’s the last person who should be taking that kind of advice. If you already have no problem absolving yourself of responsibility, think about apologizing more, not less.

  33. Semprini!

    Ooops…I’ve been using “good catch” for ages, thinking that it conveys the fact that I appreciate and don’t at all resent that the other person caught my errors!

    I’ll have to rethink that…

    1. Rose by another name

      I’m in the same boat–we had a similar thread here recently, and I mentioned using phrases awfully similar to “good catch, thanks!” for those same reasons. In fact, a mentor outside the office suggested that I should use that exact phrase.)

      Hopefully tone and context makes it a less egregious error in real life.

    2. Name Required

      Totally depends on the context. If my colleague and I are co-writing an internal SOP together, and they notice a minor typo I made … “good catch, thanks for your help” might be an appropriate response. If I bungle an important report going out to external stakeholders on the most important project of the quarter, and I tell my boss “good catch” when they notice I used incorrect figures in half of the tables? That’s a yikes.

    3. BethDH

      I think this is totally different when it’s your boss, and also depends on the nature/regularity of your errors. It’s definitely off in a boss/direct report situation, but I would also be annoyed if you were, say, constantly making a basic procedural error or doing overall sloppy work. In a situation where it’s a one-off error that any competent person in your role could make, it seems like a fine response that would have the effect you intend.
      Adding “thanks” as Rose by another name mentioned makes the intent even clearer to me.

  34. Princess prissypants

    ahhh… I used to be an over-explainer. Here’s the truth: No.One.Cares. It doesn’t matter why you did thing X. It really, truly doesn’t. The only thing that matters is that you do Y instead. Fix it to Y this time, and do Y next time. Don’t apologize, explain, question, or justify. It’s not personal and it doesn’t matter. Really truly. No one cares. Explaining looks like excuses and defensiveness. It doesn’t look like explaining. And even if it did, still no one cares about your explanation. They care about your results. When you go on and on about why you did thing X, not only does no one care, but some people will take it further to think that you don’t care about results, and that you only care about explaining (been there).

    I see comments from many other over-explainers, as well as those who (over)apologize, those who get offended by “weird” responses to/from over-apologizers, those who get embarrassed at mistakes, those who think themselves impostors, all about what the right response should or shouldn’t be. The magic word you’re all looking for is “Thanks!” It can be used genuinely in response to feedback, in response to someone else’s “thank you,” in response to someone’s time meeting you, or basically any workplace interaction in any direction. It doesn’t need a “, but” after it, nor does it need to accompany explanations. Deploy it with frequency.

    1. Name Required

      This is one of the top ten things I’d wished I had learned before starting to work in an office. I’ve gotten better over time, but I used to be a world-class over-explainer. I still have to catch myself now and say, “You know what, none of that’s important. I’ll fix it by [date].”

      1. Oh So Anon

        OMG, yes, this! I’m doing pretty well in my career now, but I feel like my first several years of work would have gone a lot more smoothly if I didn’t over-explain or over-apologize. Being interpreted as defensive when you’re trying to be helpful can really do a number on your self-image.

  35. Sunday Morning Fever

    Wow, this post is timely for me. I just posted about a similar scenario on the open thread last week. (https://www.askamanager.org/2019/05/open-thread-may-31-june-1-2019.html#comment-2497303)

    Short version: Staffer asked for advice. I gave it, he agreed. I followed up with a suggestion, he said he was thinking the same thing. I told him that something should be included in his presentation, he said “good call.” My issue was none of his responses took ownership of his project and if anything he takes ownership of what I tell him.

    Granted my staffer is not that young and not that green and there really isn’t a gendered aspect here (though I felt it was mansplain-y behavior). And I didn’t dive into the other issues I was having with him in the initial post. But the difference in opinion between this post and my thread last week on whether his responses were appropriate is certainly intriguing. There was definitely a lot of pushback on whether my reaction was warranted.

    1. Close Bracket

      Something I am seeing both at the link and here that I think is different is that you are talking about advice and suggestions rather than corrections to mistakes. “Good call” is a good response to a suggestion or to advice, assuming you literally mean suggestions and advice. “Good call” is NOT a good response to “1 + 1 does not = 40.”

      So here’s a question for you to think about: When you tell him something like, to use your examples, “You should use a pen to do this instead of a pencil,” is it really a suggestion? Is part of why his responses to you bother you that what you are calling suggestions are really directions?

      1. Sunday Morning Fever

        Ahhh, perhaps I didn’t word it properly, but the “good call” was in response to a direction, not advice. I said, when X happens, you need to do Y. Because it wasn’t done on his project. I wasn’t suggesting the action, I was teaching him the action. So no, the example of using pen vs. pencil is not a suggestion. I’m telling him he should use a pen instead of pencil. Not that he might want to use a pen or that it’s a good idea to use a pen. But that he should use one. I suppose I could say he must use a pen, but that seems strident both in the example and the actual issue that we were discussing. His response was “good call”, which I gather to mean “good catch.” But, I don’t feel it’s an appropriate response to a direction and also doesn’t take ownership.

        1. Jasnah

          Yeah “good call” = “you made a good judgment call, your decision is correct.” But in this case not only is it not a judgment call (you’re giving him directions, not suggestions), it’s not his place to praise your decisions (you’re his boss, not the other way around).

          I would leave it alone if it were one issue but it definitely sounds like he isn’t taking ownership of the issue and is being condescending.

        2. Close Bracket

          But that he should use one. I suppose I could say he must use a pen,

          But if he must use a pen, then he must use a pen! “Should” is softening language so you don’t sound strident, but the pen is not a should, it’s a must.

          And yeah, you definitely didn’t word it properly, bc your exact words in the thread were,

          “So, if I suggested he use a pen for signing documents instead of pencil,”

          Do you do this when you talk to him, too? I think the first change needs to be with you. Even in your head, don’t use “suggestion” when you mean “direction.” Again, what is different about this post and your comment is that you primarily used language like “suggestion” and “advice.” That’s why you got different responses than this OP. I think your attempts to avoid being strident with your language are bleeding into not being clear that you are correcting, not suggesting. If it bled into a comment on AAM, it probably bleeds into your interaction with your report.

          So maybe choose different softening language, like, “We have to use a pen for this,” where you take the focus off him with the “we” so you sound less blame-y but “have to” is still very clearly a direction, not a “call.” Or say the requirement is to use pen. Or other words that are equally direct. Then if/when he comes back with “Good call,” you can say something like, “Just to be clear, this is a requirement for this situation, and you need to use a pen every time you do this.”

          As to taking ownership, does he use a pen, or whatever, every time after that? Then he has taken ownership. As someone else on that thread said, people are verbal in different ways. My own response to, “TPS reports should always be signed in pen” would be, “ok.” And then I would sign that TPS report and all future TPS reports in pen from then on. Expecting me to answer in a complete sentence like I’m a 5th grader kind of seems like a power play. If he doesn’t take the direction, that’s a whole other kettle of fish. But if he starts doing things right, focus less on his words and more on his actions.

  36. Jessyn

    This might just be a me thing (or a multi tasking while eating before next meeting thing) but I worry that having a young Asian woman mentioning saving face might introduce some weird racial dynamics with this person. I don’t trust him not to attribute the discussion to her being Asian instead of him being an idiot.

  37. Book Badger, Attorney-at-Claw

    There’s a bit of advice going around to specifically say something like “good catch” instead of apologizing, in order for people who over-apologize to snap themselves out of. (Similarly, there is advice to say “thank you” instead of “sorry” – “thank you for waiting” instead of “sorry I’m late,” for example). It’s possible he’s taken this advice too far, and doing it too often. Sometimes apologizing is the right thing!

  38. Crowpocolypse

    “Apologies in advance if I’m wrong, but I get the sense that you feel you need to save face when I point out errors in your work, like telling me you thought the instruction was different. “
    I can’t imagine any man I have ever worked with starting a conversation with an employee who was messing up with the disclaimer “Apologies in advance”…!!!!
    Women, we need to stop apologizing for doing and saying normal things that a man wouldn’t think twice about.
    Alison, I usually agree with your advice but I think you sometimes err on the side of advising people to over-apologize and explain…I’m sure you mean it to be constructive and non-threatening but it comes off to me as gendered-skewed advice.

    1. Maria Lopez

      Agree. Women should never apologize or say sorry unless they are ACTUALLY apologizing for some behavior that they were responsible for. Never preface with a sorry, like “sorry to interrupt”, instead of just, “pardon me, but this needs to be …”.
      Especially in meetings, saying excuse me or pardon me or just talking is always better than saying sorry.

      1. Jasnah

        I think this is really cultural/linguistic. “Pardon me” and “excuse me” are basically apologies, they’re often taught as equivalent to “sorry” to non-native speakers of English.

        There are some places where a higher level of apologies are expected as social buffer, and these aren’t real apologies. But I agree with your point that women should reconsider how socially acquiescent they’re being–how often do they preface their opinions with “I think”, how often do they speak with caveats and disclaimers, how often they downplay their opinions or apologize for speaking.

    2. RUKiddingMe

      See just how deeply ingrained it is in women to “always be nice?” Even Alison does it.

  39. Noah

    On the less important subject of this letter, I don’t think the issue here is that Direct Report was confused by OP’s email. I think the issue is he has a low attention to detail, so he didn’t really retain what she asked him to do. But, of course, it wasn’t like he intentionally isn’t doing what she says. It’s not really an excuse so much as an apology designed to relieve him of the discomfort of his own guilt. It’s probably not conscious.

  40. Flash Bristow

    oh yuk. Depends how it’s said of course, but I’ve been on the receiving end of such – from dentists and all sorts.

    Telling me “Well. Done. You!” with a little pat, is likely to make me angry, not appreciated

  41. Lana Kane

    This headline made me laugh out loud. I’m imagining one of my reports saying that to me and what my face would look like!

    Re: good catch – I much prefer saying “thanks for catching that”. Good catch sounds blasé, whereas “thanks for catching that” indicates that you realize you messed up and are thanking someone for bringing it to your attention. Especially if that someone was your boss, it conveys that you received and appreciate the feedback.

  42. Batgirl

    I think OP should use some of her own points like where she says ” I don’t really need to hear compliments .. at catching that 1 + 1 isn’t = 40″
    That’s legitimate enough to just say in the moment. Something like:
    “Well no, it isn’t a great catch because it’s two very basic and obvious mistakes you’ve made here. One, not adding 1 and 1 correctly and two not reading your emailed instructions.
    “Since I can’t hand-hold you on this long term I need you to come up with a checklist of what to pay attention to so that you start catching these basic mistakes.”

  43. anonaa

    Ugh, I sympathize, OP!

    A while back I had to work closely with a new hire like this – male, right out of school, tons of unearned confidence (I’m a woman with a lot of experience/years in the org). This guy wasn’t great, just okay, and I wasn’t his direct supervisor. He was so condescending like this, made things tough and created a lot of extra work for everyone but him, exploring his new ideas.

    This happened because he was the former intern to my grandboss, and the leadership was mostly male, and tended toward casual misogyny. So it sucked for a while, we placated and humored this dude and his ideas because the big boss liked his fresh, young thinking (he was like a clone of the big boss, so that’s why). Eventually he moved on thank god and leadership ended up getting better.

    Anyway, Alison’s advice is great and I definitely would have called out some of the behaviors with this type of language if I’d been hus supervisor. Good luck!

  44. nodramalama

    If they’re new to the workplace it may not be patronising, it may be based on one of those articles that discourage apologising. There is heaps of stuff out there encouraging people to move away from fault language, and “thanks, that’s a great catch” is a pretty common alternative for “sorry that’s my mistake.” same with “thank you for your patience,” rather than “sorry for the delay.” Not saying they should keep doing it, it might just help for context

    1. Observer

      It would still need to be called out, *if this were the case*. But we know that it’s probably not the case because he is NOT doing this with the men in the office!

  45. AnotherKate

    I’m not sure what the exact nature of the OP’s work is, but at the very least, the subordinate in this scenario is expected to self-edit his work before sending it along to the next person in the process. As an editor, I can tell you that we both need to give edits to others gracefully AND know how to accept them gracefully, ourselves. When your job IS catching mistakes, you should respond with a certain amount of chagrin if someone else catches one you should have seen first. When that someone is your boss, the correct response is “I can’t believe I missed that; I will be sure to [reasonable preventive action] going forward to avoid making that mistake in the future.”

    This is what bosses want from you! They want to know you understand what the error was, why you made it, and what you plan to do to prevent it in the future. I figured out this formula early in my editorial career, and now that I am the supervisor, it’s absolutely what I want from my reports.

    There’s also the question of hierarchy: “Good job” is for subordinates. “Good catch” is for peers and subordinates. “Thanks so much for flagging” is for peers and superiors. All of them are a response to similar behaviors, but what can I tell you, hierarchy matters at work.

  46. techPerson

    As a software engineer, “good catch” is a very common response to comments on code reviews. It’s a simple indication of “oh you’re right, I’ll fix that.”
    But it makes sense in that context because it’s very common for the comments to go further like “Oh, actually I did that bc if I do it the way you said, XYZ happens” or “I thought XYZ would happen if I did that– is there a way to avoid that?” because of the nature of the work. (Or, especially if you’re very new and the other person is much more experienced, you might comment “Wait, how does that pattern fit in here? Can we talk about this in person?”)

    On the other hand, “good job” feels really really weird in any context?

    Obvs the letter writer is probably working in a very different context. I just find it interesting to analyze how different “good catch” feels in a situation where you might expect about 50% of review comments to be a longer discussion.

  47. Lyn

    I’ve been an admin for over 30 years … saying “good job” or “good catch” to a superior is just wrong! It’s like you are commenting on your superior’s job performance and that is just not done.

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