our boss cross-examines us over minor mistakes

A reader writes:

I was wondering if you had any advice for dealing with a boss who really digs in whenever a mistake is made. It’s not enough to acknowledge responsibility and to promise you won’t make the same mistake again; he wants to know “why” you made the mistake in the first place.

Fortunately, this only happened to me personally a few times, but there are members of our team who, by nature of their work, make more mistakes, and it’s painful hearing them get grilled.

An example of this grilling that I experienced:

Boss: There was a typo in the Facebook post today.
Me: Oh no! Let me fix it right now.
Boss: But why was there a typo? I thought that you were an amazing editor.
Me: It IS really important that we not have typos. That post was reviewed by three people and it sounds like we all missed it.
Boss: But you’re not explaining why you missed it.
Me: I will create a proofreading checklist that we will all refer to so it does not happen again!

This is him handling a pretty minor error. Another one I made resulted in a much longer conversation where he kept asking me “why?” I feel like there is no right answer. It makes me fearful of making additional mistakes, which naturally do happen in our industry. I will say that this exchange is pretty gentle compared to mistakes others have made that cost our company money or were more embarrassing than a typo that was edited five minutes after he caught it!

I don’t know that there is a right answer to “why” or a script for handling this that would help, but I figured it wouldn’t hurt to ask!

Your boss is a tool.

It’s absolutely true that when someone makes a substantive mistake, it’s important to ensure that they understand what happened and how to avoid it happening again. If something is important and the person responsible doesn’t seem to be taking it seriously, a manager should indeed say something like, “Let’s figure out what happened here so that we can avoid it in the future.”

But people are human, and humans make mistakes. Sometimes there’s no reason other than “I am human and I missed it.”

Certainly if someone has a pattern of making lots of mistakes, there’s a bigger issue that needs to be addressed. But if you’re talking about an occasional typo or other minor “whoops,” what your boss is doing is overbearing and counterproductive.

I’d have a different take on this if he were framing it differently. “I’m concerned typos are getting through when we have three people proofreading — what do you think we can do to make sure that doesn’t happen?” would be fine.

But “I thought that you were an amazing editor” is obnoxious (and makes me pretty sure this isn’t a manager who’s just trying to address a pattern of repeated problems). And “but you’re not explaining why you missed it” in response to someone who has already shown they’re taking it seriously is overkill.

In theory, you could sit down with your boss and say something like, “I’ve noticed you often want an explanation when a typo or other minor mistake happens. I agree it’s important to take mistakes seriously and make sure we have good systems in place to avoid them. But since we’re human, from time to time a typo will slip through, or someone will just make the wrong call. There’s not always a good answer to why it happened — sometimes it’s just that we’re not perfect and mistakes happen. I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive to understand the roots of problems — I agree we should! And of course if there’s a pattern of mistakes, that’s something we need to address. But I’d really appreciate sometimes being able to just explain that I’m human and I missed something, without being pressed for a deeper cause.” You could add, “I think it makes people fearful of making additional mistakes — and we’ve got to have room for some mistakes in order to try new things.”

Will this have an effect? Maybe, maybe not. With some managers, it would be worth a try. Others might take this as you being too cavalier about mistakes, and it might even get you targeted for additional scrutiny. So you’ve got to know your boss with this one.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 414 comments… read them below }

  1. Moray*

    I’m curious about the boss’s tone of voice when he does this. But really that’s only going to be the difference between “tool” and “huge tool.”

    1. JokeyJules*

      i’m also curious what he is like at other times? is he nice and friendly and fair otherwise? or just also a tool but in a slightly different way

      1. AnnaBananna*

        I doubt someone who slips in a personal attach ‘but I thought you were supposed to be AMAZING’ is really someone who is nice. I really want to junk punch him.

    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

      I had a boss who did this, and his tone was perfectly neutral. But he was still a huge tool—he was the whole toolbox.

      1. Mr. Tyzik*

        I had a boss who did this. He was a huge tool. He used to deliver everything with backhanded compliments and sarcastic insults. It was a looooooooooooooooooong couple years before he was finally managed out.

        I gave good work despite the dickery. He gave me PTSD.

        1. Librarian of SHIELD*

          Yeah, my former boss would deliver her cross examinations with a smile and an olympic level of passive aggressive complisults. She was not just a tool. She was the whole hardware store.

      2. Snark*

        I dunno. “I thought you were a great editor” certainly implies a full set of metric and imperial wrenches in addition to a stud finder and nail gun.

          1. Jadelyn*

            I dunno about that – stud finders pick up on the denser spots in the wall where a stud is behind the drywall, right? And this guy sounds about as dense as they get.

          2. Snark*

            I’ve been trying to figure out a “that’s what she said” joke for like five minutes here, and I really expect the commentariat to tee me up better than this.


    3. Legal Beagle*

      It may be worth trying to have the conversation Alison suggested, but this is probably a case of “your boss sucks [at least in this area] and isn’t going to change.”

      Also, I wonder how he reacts to his own mistakes. That would speak volumes.

      1. Angwyshaunce*

        I was just thinking – I’d hate to catch a boss like this in a mistake, the temptation of returning their behavior would be too great.

        1. esra*

          I had a boss like this. When she made a mistake it was just “Oh ho ho, this could happen to anyone. Moving on.”

          We got to the point where, while she was grilling on minor mistakes people just started saying (after they had answered several “why”s): I’m not sure what you’re looking for here.

          It was extremely dysfunctional.

          1. The New Wanderer*

            “I’m not sure what you’re looking for here” is the perfect response. If they’re looking for groveling, they probably won’t come out and say that but since there’s likely nothing else that would satisfy them, it might be a good way to end the conversation quickly.

            Or go completely literal. “It was a typo. Apparently my finger hit the wrong key at some point and the combined perceptual processing of three individual humans missed the specific content and subconsciously interpreted the text in the manner intended rather than the manner displayed, thereby missing the typo entirely. Since that is a cognitive function that becomes somewhat automatic upon achieving a high degree of literacy, I’m afraid we all run the risk of missing minor typos on occasion. And that is why the typo slipped through.”

              1. TechWorker*

                Different context (college interview) but when I had someone repeatedly say ‘why?’ to a question I’d already answered and said basically this (sorry, I don’t understand what you’re looking for) they turned it round into ‘no no don’t give the answer you think I want to hear, give us the real reason’. It was awful xD

                1. Aleta*

                  Yeah, my parents do this – ask why and why and why and WHY – and that wouldn’t go well either. They just want to Understand! Only they’re not actually good at understanding things outside of their experience, so if you’re doing anything they wouldn’t do or doing something for a reason they wouldn’t use, good fing luck extricating yourself.

            1. Richard Hershberger*

              The literal answer is very good. Another approach is the theological answer:

              “Adam and Eve sinned and were expelled from the Garden of Eden. Sadly, we continue today as fallen humanity, doomed to bear the burden of their original sin. Mea culpa. Mea maxima culpa!”

            2. Abby*

              I just wanted to let you know that this is one of the most glorious things I have ever read. Thank you!

          2. lemon*

            I had two bosses (a brother and sister management pair at a family run business) like this. Whenever they made a mistake, they wouldn’t just gloss over it, they’d outright deny it.

            Tyrant Bosses: “Why did you do that?”
            Employees: “uhhh, because you told me to do it that way…”
            TBs: “No I didn’t.”
            Employees: would forward an email chain where TBs had said incorrect thing
            TBs: “You misunderstood what I meant.”

            It was as toxic and infuriating as it sounds.

            1. Librarian of SHIELD*

              Oh, I hate the “Why did you do that thing I insisted you should do?” and it’s cousin “Why haven’t you done that thing I never told you I thought you should be doing?”

            2. Eukomos*

              My boss is exactly like that, with some bonus memory loss issues so she usually genuinely doesn’t remember giving you the instruction in the first place and gets confused and distressed when you show her the paper trail. I don’t know if it’s good or bad to know this is something multiple people do…

              1. Is it Friday yet?*

                My boss does this! All of this. Look up “toxic boss” in the dictionary and you will see his photo. Ugh. I need a new job. :/

                But yea, you aren’t alone. The interrogations will come in my case NO MATTER WHAT. No matter what you do, it was the wrong thing and he will second-guess you to death. Even if it is what he asked you to do specifically the last time it came up or often, what he told you to do yesterday or an hour ago about the same exact issue.

            3. Gazebo Slayer*

              I had that professor once. She assigned us all a paper on Topic A, then was furious when the whole class turned in papers on Topic A, because we should all have intuited that she REALLY meant Topic B.

              She was a Big Shot International Expert in her field who obviously considered herself too important to be teaching. Since she was well into her 70s at that point, I’m not sure why she felt the need to continue.

          3. TootsNYC*

            this is a great response–I’m a department head who often looks for the underlying reason. Because if it’s solvable, I want to solve it.

            So, a typo may come because someone else made a change late in the process, which meant my team was more relaxed and not expecting changes. It may have come because someone forgot to run the spellcheck at a late stage (or maybe the spellcheck wasn’t part of the official process). It may be because someone (~cough~ me ~cough~) didn’t realize “kernel” wasn’t spelled “kernal,” and it’s sneaky enough that we can all use a refresher.

            Of course, I don’t think I’m a jerk about asking–I tend to try to state “what it is I’m going for here,” which is usually: “Is this error something that points to something we can change?”

            But if I say, “Why did you make this mistake,” I want a “why” answer–I don’t want to hear “it is important that we catch errors.” That comes across as evasive. And it’s fluff; I don’t have time for fluff, I want straightforward communication.
            It’s also stating the obvious–I start any sort of exchange like this with the assumption that my people ALREADY think it’s important to avoid errors–that’s why they’re in this field, and it’s why I hired them. I don’t need to be re-convinced that they take their jobs seriously.

            In fact, if they directly answer the question, honestly, that’s one way they prove that they DO take their jobs seriously.

            I’d rather hear, “I think we must have all had a brain fart.”
            I’m a boss who will accept that, and who has had brain farts of her own. And I don’t need to belabor the point. (a boss who does is, yes, a tool–and I strive to not be one)

            But if I ask “why,” I want to hear a reason why.

            1. Baru Cormorant*

              I think you may need to specify (I’m sure you do normally) what a “why” answer means. Some people want to hear them take responsibility, some want to hear the details of the process that led to the mistake, some want to hear what will be changed in the future. How much blame should they accept–too much and they might be unduly punished, too little and it looks evasive. Then there’s the emotional aspect–it’s pretty terrifying to be asked “Why did you make this mistake”, my blood pressure’s rising just thinking about it!

              1. Isabel Kunkle*

                Yep! I think if “ugh, because brain fart, sorry,” is an okay response, you have to specify that–there are too many bosses out there who won’t accept that.

    4. RemingtonTypeType*

      I hear in my head only a whiny voice. “But whyyyyyyyyy?” “Whyyyyy? Why did this have to haaaaaappen?’


      1. Heidi*

        My nephews do the repeated why interrogation. Their mom theorizes that a lot of tool behavior is toddler behavior that people never outgrew.

        I’m curious as to how these interrogations end. Does he get the bottom of it in any satisfactory way? Does he punish people? Does he develop elaborate prevention plans? Does he yell at everyone?

        Fantasy response: “The magnitude of the error is not proportional to the magnitude of the tantrum you’re throwing over it.”

        1. SheLooksFamiliar*

          ‘Their mom theorizes that a lot of tool behavior is toddler behavior that people never outgrew.’

          OMG, I was just having this conversation with someone! ‘Arrested adolesence’, ‘stunted emotional growth’, and yes, ‘still acting like a damn toddler’ were our theories. Maybe the OP’s boss grew up as in he physically and biologically became an adult, but he didn’t seem to mature.

            1. SheLooksFamiliar*

              That’s a less elegant but very likely reason. Toddlers like it when someone kowtows to them.

              1. Isabel Kunkle*

                The thing I’ve realized as I’ve spent more time around kids is that assholery is a stage as well as an identity: toddlers are assholes who can’t help it and will hopefully get better. (They’re also cute and sometimes sweet, but that’s true of grownup assholes as well.) Grown-up assholes can and won’t.

                See also: cats, except for the bit about “getting better.”

          1. TootsNYC*

            I think there are people who only have one paradigm of “authority,” and that’s the scoldy, punitive treatment they got as a kid.

            it’s one reason why I’ve tried to be very even with my own kids–and not say, “Why did you do that?” (life pro tip: kids often don’t know why; grownups either) especially if all I really mean is, “I’m upset that you did that.”

            1. Marmaduke*

              This is a good approach. Sometimes “Why did you do that?” is a valid question—Why did you BCC our clients on an email about the company dress code?/Why did you put peanut butter on the cat?
              But minor mistakes are different. When a toddler talks too loudly in the library or an adult misses a typo or loses a piece of paper once in a blue moon, just assume it’s basic human error and keep moving forward!

        2. Foreign Octopus*

          “The magnitude of the error is not proportional to the magnitude of the tantrum you’re throwing over it.” I’m keeping this in my back pocket for when family members start to throw tantrums over things that really don’t matter.

          1. Insert witty handle here*

            I’ve called it size of reaction vs. size of problem… works pretty well in my book!

        3. Snark*

          The interrogation is the outcome. He knows what the problem is, he just feels that OP feels insufficiently badly about it and has not fully plumbed the depths of shame over their mistake.

          1. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

            Plus it allows him to save his own pride because he can mentally attribute any negative feelings or blame for the error to the OP. It can also be turned into the narrative that he is developing his employees since he helped them see ways to improve after a mistake. And into the employee’s performance review since now the employee admits to making errors and that means the boss doesn’t have to spend time identifying other ways for them to improve.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I imagine it being like a small child.

      “Why tho?”
      “It was an oversight.”
      “Why tho?”
      “We didn’t catch it.”
      “Why thooooooooo.”

    6. EddieSherbert*

      I’m also kind of curious about the manager’s age/experience. For my current manager, this is her first time managing, she was promoted into it from her first job ever (the one that’s now mine!), and I was her first employee… she would do weird micromanaging “overkill” stuff like this when we first started out.

      It’s mostly stopped now that we’re several years in, but I’m always prepared for an awkward hot mess when we run into something “for the first time” (first time I asked about a raise, first time I needed extended sick leave, etc).

      1. Sun Tzu*

        OMG, I had a manager who was exactly like that. He was not a bad person but was a *horrible* micromanager. Our incidents went like this:

        Me: – OK, the application crashed because of an out of memory error.
        Him: – But why?
        Me: – It means that there was not enough memory to handle all connections to the application.
        Him: – But why?
        Me: – Umm… there were too many clients trying to access the e-commerce website.
        Him: – But why?
        Me: – …

        1. Jasper*

          That’s not micromanaging, it’s just bad. If he was micromanaging he’d be asking you to show him which module or line of code had the memory leak. This is just “not wanting to admit you don’t understand what was just said”.

    7. APosterHasNoName*

      It is possible the OP’s boss looked up root cause problem solving online, and misunderstood how it should work. There is a company that recommends using “5 whys” to determine what the problem actually is, so that a solution can be found. We do this at my company and, depending on the manager, it is either useful or totally pointless.

      1. Jadelyn*

        That would be my guess. Or at least, he read about the 5 whys or something that made him feel justified in indulging his micromanaging tendencies.

      2. Jamie*

        Just searched 5 why here as I knew someone else would have the same thought.

        Shame on him for using such a useful tool recklessly and contrary to it’s purpose. The power of 5 Why must only be used for the greater good.

        There is a reason every error doesn’t result in corrective action. Management 101.

      3. smoke tree*

        I’m not sure I would give him that much credit. My guess is that he just wants to give employees a hard time about minor mistakes and has decided that his “whys” give him enough plausible deniability that he comes across as a solution-oriented problem solver. That “But I thought you were good at your job, tho…” put it over the top for me.

      4. A Bryan*

        Came here to say this. This “but why” immediately sounded like using “five whys,” only totally wrong.

      5. TootsNYC*

        I love the idea of seeking the root cause to its source, but you can really screw up “the 5 whys” depending on how you answer them and how you ask.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I had a boss who asked me why I’d changed the spelling of a word. Very accusingly.

          I said, “Because it was spelled wrong.” (I don’t remember the word, but it wasn’t a tremendously difficult one.)

          She snapped, “Did you look it up?” Fortunately, I’d worked for her for a couple of months, so I had looked it up, defensively. And so I could say “Yes.”

          She snatched up her dictionary and opened it to that word. And of course, I was correct.

          Honestly, I should have walked out in protest.

          1. Jasper*

            I’d be tempted to reply “don’t need to look it up.” In future. Regardless of whether this was, in fact, a word I’d have to look up to be certain of getting it correct.

            No more obsequious deniability of speling competencies!

  2. glitter writer*

    I have been a professional writer for most of a decade, both as a freelancer and also full-time at four different digital publications, and not one — not even the most staid and professional, with a robust editing and copy-editing process ensuring every story goes through at least four sets of eyes — has ever been a 100% typo-free environment. What an annoying manager.

    1. Detective Amy Santiago*

      Books get published every day with typos. It happens. Even with spellcheck and multiple sets of eyes.

      I’m curious about whether this boss exhibits particularly controlling behavior in other areas of the job.

    2. annakarina1*

      I once worked in editorial, and had this smug dick of a manager once who treated me like crap when I made spelling mistakes in some copy as an intern and wrote a curt email saying that nobody else would ever hire me if I continued to make mistakes like this in the industry. It was so unbelievable shitty of him to say that, and only just made me fearful of making mistakes in the future. And it’s annoyed me even further when I’d read later professional blogs that allowed typos and misspelled names to remain even with a masthead of several editors.

      1. Meglet*

        I recently left a boss like this. This kind of behavior is not okay, and it took me about six months to convince myself that I wasn’t a stupid lump who had no business being in my field. Cheers to a new boss who is reasonable and dealt with me shaking when she gave me edits at first.

    3. Phillip*

      This indeed, I’m a book formatter and by the time manuscripts come my way they’ve been through multiple editors, proofreaders and beta readers, and there are always multiple errors that no one notices until they spot em after layout. “Why” they got missed is “because.” Because they got missed. It’s a super silly question.

      1. New Job So Much Better*

        Exactly. Our brains are programmed to see what we believe we should be reading –so the brain may not notice a typo because brain reads it correctly. Like that meme that goes around that’s half jibberish but we can still easily read it.

        1. Phillip*

          Once a book got all the way to production before anyone noticed the author’s name was misspelled on the cover. Which is almost funny due to how unthinkable that is–except for that mental programming you mentioned.

          1. JessaB*

            There’s an author I loved and his editors were so bad that within one book they could not remember the name of one of the characters. His name changed twice before the end of the edition. Obviously it got fixed in the next printing but even professional publishing houses mess up.

            1. Jasper*

              Robert Jordan (PS: spoilers.) had a few instances where a certain female character was using saidin instead of saidar — male magic instead of female — and it led to endless message threads on Usenet about whether that was a typo or he was laying hints as to them being evil or what have you — when you’re writing a 14-doorstop-sized-book series full of intricate foreshadowing and hints and clues, that sort of speculation will happen in the fandom.

              It was, of course, a typo. Until several books later he introduced a character who was in fact a female using male magic because she (he? Not sure we ever got a preferred pronoun decision) was a dead male wizard put by literal Satan into a female body.

          2. Lore*

            We had one of those once–the cover routes on an entirely different cycle than the interior, and the author’s name was misspelled in the reference documentation we use to cross-check the covers, all the way back to the beginning of the production cycle. (And the reason we have a complete set of reference documentation specifically for covers is because of how very high the stakes are of getting something wrong on them!)It was correct in the interior but because it was wrong in the very place that’s supposed to be our backstop against getting things wrong on the cover, it stayed wrong until we were reviewing the epub file–the first place the cover and the text were together at the same time. Fortunately we hadn’t printed the covers yet! But an object lesson in the way even the best processes fail.

              1. Lore*

                Good question! The book was a revised edition of a book already in print, so there weren’t bound galleys.

            1. TootsNYC*

              but this would be a perfect case of why it’s important to ask “why.”

              Because that’s a process that can be fixed (instead of fixing blame).

        2. SusanIvanova*

          Or think it’s a typo because it’s not what the brain expects. A book that should’ve been “Get of the Unicorn” – get meaning offspring in this case – became “Get Off the Unicorn”:

          McCaffrey’s working title had been “Get of the Unicorn” but this was misprinted as “Get Off the Unicorn” in Ballantine’s roster of unfilled contracts. After McCaffrey’s editor, Judy-Lynn del Rey was repeatedly asked what “Get Off the Unicorn” was, del Rey asked McCaffrey what she could do about that theme.

    4. rayray*

      So true. I worked as a legal proofreader, and the process was that everything would go through three sets of eyes – The processor who drafted the doc, The proofreader, and then the attorney. Mistakes still happened occasionally., but MANY were caught after a second or third person looked it over. I personally took the approach that it was important to proofread and catch those errors – it was the very reason why we did so many steps. I would track errors, but if there was a typo or anything else the processors missed, I would correct it. If there were consistent errors, I knew we needed to talk about it to make sure they had the right understanding of what needed to be done. If someone who was normally very good at their job made a simple typo, (for example, “teh” instead of “the”) There was no reason to get hysterical or go have a sit down with them over it. It took half a second to fix and move on. It’s a typo – it happens. I found it, and I fixed it. Management, and the woman who had worked with me in the beginning of that job however would get up in arms about it and waste their time and the processor’s time by going to discuss the simple typo with them. They also made people unnecessarily anxious and worried about it. It’s just ridiculous how people behave. If a mistake is made, just learn from it. If it’s a super minor error that was able to be corrected before it became critical, then great! Move on with your day.

      1. Doot Doot*

        Yup! In my job I spend a lot of time proofing announcements or comments that will be made publicly online, we work a lot in google docs as a team. If I’m making a substantive change or addition to the text I’ll use ‘suggestion mode’ so the author can see my changes and accept or reject as they choose. However, if I notice a small typo (alot v. a lot) or grammar error (a v. an) I’ll switch to edit mode and just fix it quickly. The author doesn’t need to see these little typos in colored text waiting for them to accept the “shame” of having made an error, nor does everyone else that might be viewing the doc need to have their attention called to the typo, the error just needs fixed before going public.

        1. TootsNYC*

          I work similarly (though I fix it in suggestion mode and then just “accept” it–it’s faster for me–unless there’s a keyboard shortcut to change from “suggestion” to “edit” mode?).

          But also part of why I accept piddly stuff like that is that those fixes are distracting. And I get less-good review by the editor, and I open up the convo to why something should or shouldn’t be capitalized (I’m the final call), and it’s work the editor shouldn’t have to do.

      2. RUKiddingMe*

        Especially for *common* typos like “teh.” Everyone dies them. Everyone is acquainted with them. Everyone knows what they are. “Why?” Freaking because Dude…because.

        1. rayray*

          Excuse me, WHY would you say everyone dies them???? ???? Why?? I know you meant “does” but WHY did you type dies? Why? Why? Do we need to make a new checklist for you before you submit a comment on the blog?


          1. Alli525*

            I will say – no sarcasm whatsoever – that sarcastic grammar nerds are my favorite kind of people (possibly because I am one myself). Thank you for this comment, I giggled quietly into my lunch.

          2. willow19*

            I thought RU meant “everyone dies then” – but whyyyyy? I mean, I know everyone dies, but RIGHT THEN?

        2. TootsNYC*

          “teh” is because people are typing fast enough that the left-right rhythm is disrupted.

          So slowing down might eliminate some of those errors. (I typed “elimiante,” which is the same sort of error. And I had to backspace several letters once I spotted it. Fixing the error was more disruptive and slower in the long run than typing more slowly and deliberately would have been. So there’s something to be said for figuring out the “why.” But not for berating people, or acting as though you don’t really want an answer; you just want groveling.)

      3. Philosophia*

        “They also made people unnecessarily anxious and worried about it,” which is counterproductive—assuming of course that the desired product is fewer errors and not anxious and worried employees—because anxiety frequently causes people to make MORE errors.

    5. JessicaR*

      Ask A Manager has typos all the time (in Alison’s text, not just in the letters) and it does bug me, but I try to remember that Alison is *communicating* extremely effectively, and that’s what truly matters. Typos are a natural result of the sheer volume of posts and the conversational communication style, and that’s okay.

      1. deborah*

        Oh, now THAT would be an awesome response!!! “WHYYYYY?????” “Well, here’s a scholarly article that explains why people make these kinds of errors and how often proofreaders miss them. There’s a whole school of research about this.”

    6. londonedit*

      Yup. I would love to see a typo-free book. We have umpteen editorial stages, from copy-editing to typesetting to proofreading, and everything goes past me and the author multiple times along the way as well as being worked on by freelance professionals, and there will still be typos in the end product. It’s nigh-on impossible for absolutely everything to be 100% perfect. We can only do the best we can with the time we have available!

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I catch a lot of them when I print out a manuscript and go over it on paper rather than onscreen, but that’s 350-400 pages. It’s not possible to do it every single time I make an edit. I literally have a giant laser printer just for that purpose and do you know how much those cartridges cost?!?!?

        I don’t know the exact process for a publisher, but I can’t remember the last time I read an error-free book. Though I have read some indies that could have used an additional proofread, ugh.

        1. londonedit*

          In our case, the manuscript is reviewed by the in-house editor and author first off. Then, when they’re happy with it, it’s copy-edited by a freelancer (who tidies up spelling and grammar as well as looking at bigger-picture things like sense and structure) and then the author has time to review the copy-editor’s suggestions and queries. Then, it’s typeset/laid out, and the proofs are sent out to a professional proofreader and to the author, and we also review them in-house. All of those corrections are collated and sent back to the typesetter/designer, they send a corrected set of proofs, and we (I) go through them to make sure the corrections we asked for have been taken in properly. Inevitably things will have been missed, or I’ll spot a few additional things as I’m reviewing the corrections, so we go back-and-forth like that a few times until I’m happy that everything has been corrected properly. Then, the final proofs go back to the author for a read. And yep, you can guarantee *something* will still slip through into the final printed book. Ultimately while we put as much work into the process as we can, we have a finite amount of time for each stage, and at some point we just have to be as happy with it as we can be and it has to go to press.

          1. Oh No She Di'int*

            We’re a packager, so as you know, my business supplies those exact services to publishers. We have all types of clients. Our favorites are the ones that are rigorous and have high standards but also understand that humans are human and will never be 100% perfect.

            I feel like I can tell the younger Production Editors from the older ones. The younger ones freak out over an italicized comma that should have been roman and will treat us as though we don’t understand the rule, even though we caught the other 50 or 60 cases.

            Complaints from the publisher come straight to me, the crew manager. If the feedback is legitimate (e.g., “counterculture was changed to ‘counter-culture’ throughout when house style is clearly that it be left closed.”) that goes to the relevant editor. If, on the other hand, it’s nothing but a bunch of one-off gripes (“You missed the ‘a’ that should have been ‘e’ on page 209”), I simply say “Thank you!” and put it immediately in the trash. My editor never even sees that. They don’t actually need to be reminded that they are human and sometimes make one-off mistakes.

            1. Jasper*

              Curiosity: do you use special fonts/styles to make it easier to catch typos?

              Like, transform the document by making italics open and close places a , to be able to even see whether a comma is italicized without a magnifying glass? Or a special font like DPCustomMono2, which specifically enhances the , and . To make them easier to distinguish, has very very clear differences between lower case L and capital I, and big and small Oo and 0 zero, all that sort of thing?

              Because I find when I’m reading specifically for typos, that really does help. It’d be a shitty way to read books for fun, but that’s a different job to be done.

              1. Jasper*

                Right, of course you can’t type HTML tags and have the show up here. That was supposed to be and , but without the spaces.

          2. smoke tree*

            We have essentially the same process (I’m guessing most book publishers do?) and yeah, in your average 300-page book, there’s always going to be a lingering typo or two. I don’t think you can survive working in publishing if you can’t let that kind of thing go. Also, in my experience, the more time the author has to faff about with the manuscript, the worse the prose gets.

            1. Jasper*

              I start noticing when it’s once per chapter or more. 1 or 2 or 10 in a book don’t bother me.

      2. KimberlyR*

        I’ve bought books or e-books and caught typos as I was reading. I just mentally correct it in my mind and move on. I know these books are edited and sent to beta readers and lots of people have laid eyes on it. But it isn’t a perfect world and we aren’t perfect people. Mistakes happen.

      3. Loren*

        My boss at my first editing job used to get really annoyed when vendors promised us 99.99% accuracy at keyboarding, because that translates to 3-4 errors on the average page of a book. Even at the very tippy-top of our game, so many different people and pieces of technology are out there interacting with the manuscript–not to mention covers. We have something like 17 people review the initial proofs of most book covers, and despite that, there are inevitably errors being caught in the second, third, etc. passes. There are some particularly challenging projects where I’m afraid to open the finished book because I *know* in my heart of hearts that I’m going to find something wrong with it the minute I look with the fresh eyes bought by a month or so away from the project.

        1. smoke tree*

          As an intern, after one of my first-ever proofreading jobs (one that I only had three days to finish, by the way), the author came up to me at the book launch and his first words to me were “I found a typo on page 107.” Fortunately he was just kidding.

          1. TootsNYC*

            ooh, that’s kind of mean.

            I could only see myself doing it if page 107 was a full-page illo, though. But not after–usually I just warn people that page 107 is going to be a bitch to proofread.

            1. smoke tree*

              It probably sounds worse than it was. He was actually a very nice guy and understood that the book was in very rough shape before I had to pull several all-nighters to get it done (homophone errors as far as the eye could see). He was impressed that he only found the one typo.

      4. RUKiddingMe*

        Exactly. I freely admit that I get annoyed and judge-y when seeing typos in a published book…but then I remember that yes they *do* in fact have proofreaders and said proofreaders are human and that as perfect as I may be, even I make them. Frequently.

      5. Crooked Bird*

        As an author, my absolute *best* method towards a typo-free novel is actually reading it aloud while recording. Time-consuming, but since my publisher doesn’t do audiobooks and I’m recording my own to use in promotion, the process kills two birds with one stone. I will pretty much ALWAYS catch a typo in a word I’m reading aloud while recording; I haven’t found any typos in my latest release yet.

    7. JoJo*

      Especially when the typo is something that spellcheck wouldn’t catch — like, it’s a real word, or it’s an accepted spelling of a word but not the one your company’s editing style follows, etc.

      1. Classic Rando*

        OR when your software assumes a typo where there isn’t one. *Love it* when I’m trying to compose an email about an HSA plan and Outlook keeps changing it to “HAS” instead.

        1. Jadelyn*

          Ffffff….*holding in rage-scream*

          I eventually went into the autocorrect dictionaries in every bloody program I use and told them in no uncertain terms STOP “FIXING” HSA.

        2. EmKay*

          Or when you’re writing a paper for your ancient egyptian history course and Word keeps switching “Horus” to “hours”. STAHP.

        3. Nanani*

          And your word processor can’t seem to hold “add to dictionary” for more than a day or two ><

          I don't know what setting causes my dictionary edits to vanish into the ether but it is definitely a thing.

      2. Foreign Octopus*

        Ooo, this has happened to me i.e. peeked instead of piqued. When I catch it in my published writing I want to bang my head against the wall.

        1. Jadelyn*

          It seems to be a universal law of writing that no matter how much you proofread, there will be *something* that you won’t catch until it’s out there in the world and there’s nothing you can do about it.

        2. Alli525*

          And don’t forget about peaked! The English language, man… I’m so glad it’s my native language because I cannot possibly imagine trying to learn it as a foreign language. So much respect for, you know, the vast majority of the world, who do so with an astounding rate of success.

          1. smoke tree*

            Actually my understanding is that English is a relatively easy language to learn. It is certainly an eccentric language, but the verb conjugations are very easy, our declensions are quite simple, we don’t have grammatical gender, and so on. I would imagine the basics are pretty easy to master, although I’m sure some of the finer details can be aggravating.

            1. minuteye*

              While English verbs, cases and gender are relatively easy, there are definitely some doozies hiding away. The rules of word order (especially with adverbs or multi-clausal sentences) can be very hard to master, also definiteness (when do you use ‘the’, ‘a/an’ or nothing?) and our very complex pattern of auxiliary usage (I wish I had had a nickel for every time I’ve heard someone get confused by auxiliaries, and I don’t think it would have been easy to learn).

              All languages have their own very hard-to-master bits, we just tend not to spot them in the languages we speak natively.

            2. Baru Cormorant*

              Ha! Verb conjugations might be easier than Spanish but they’re by no means easy. Try explaining pronouns and in/definite articles to speakers of languages without them! Or explain why English spelling reflects outdated pronunciations. The alphabet seems simple to native speakers but how do you explain the sound the letter “a” makes?

            3. Allonge*

              I am not saying it’s easy but learning spelling v. pronunciation when learning English as a foreign language can actually be easier than for native speakers, under the right conditions.

              If you start late enough in life so that you can already write, and you learn in a school setting, you learn the spelling of the word with the meaning of the word. So you learn peek(ed), peak(ed), pique(d) separately when the meaning comes up but with the respective spellings as a package, and only afterwards you notice that they all kinda sound and look the same. Same with they’re, their and there.

              Again, this is not for all (if you learn just to speak first, it does not apply) but English is actually an easy-ish one to start with. And then!

            4. Jasper*

              English is easy to speak on a pidgin level, very hard to speak and write correctly, let alone to a native speaker level.

          2. londonedit*

            It always seems as if the vast majority of people who are responsible for companies’ social media accounts don’t realise that it’s ‘sneak peek’ and not ‘sneak peak’. I know it’s tempting to make them both look the same, but it’s wrong and it’s one of my annoying pet peeves!

    8. Goldfinch*

      Yup, I worked for a compositor back in the Stone Ages and their policy was to use multiple transcriptionists to type up the manuscript, then use software to cross-reference versions. (These days, you could do that in Adobe.) Even then, heterographs snuck through sometimes.

    9. Pipe Organ Guy*

      The Episcopal Church issued The Hymnal 1982, with 720 hymns and a vast collection of other service music, in the late 1980s. It is still the official hymnal of the church. Every printing has corrected typos, both words and music. Given the size of the project, how could there not have been typos in the first printing?

      Music has always been filled with wrong notes that need correction. That’s why, in classical music at least, performers work from more than one edition, if possible, to get the notes right. And sometimes the errors are so obvious that performers just fix them. Composers themselves miss typos when they’re proofreading their own works. Things can go haywire when orchestral parts are prepared in big symphonic works or operas. (This was especially true before computer software made things much, much easier–parts are generated directly from the full score, rather than being created separately.)

      This manager is indeed a tool, bent on humiliation.

      1. tiasp*

        I think humiliation is the key. He’s addressing the mistake by making the other person feel badly about it and by making them squirm because WHY is often a question you can’t answer. It’s the verbal equivalent of holding something out of someone’s reach and saying “just take it”.

        My husband does this – if something happens, it’s always WHY did it happen, in a way that suggests the person intended the result. DRIVES ME CRAZY! Say a glass of milk falls off the counter. WHY did you spill that? Or I was supposed to email something and I forgot. WHY did you forget? Sometimes I think it’s just an annoying turn of phrase he has picked up, but he definitely sometimes is doing it to be an ass (probably doesn’t think he’s doing it to be an ass but that’s what he’s doing). So I generally either ignore him entirely, tell him straight out THERE IS NO WHY, IT WAS AN ACCIDENT, or I give him really long elaborate and equally annoying answers (e.g. if a kid dropped something, there will be physics and gravity; if I forgot something, there will be a tedious listing of other things I was handling, etc).

        I don’t know if you could get away with it, but I wonder what would happen if you responded to the why about the typo with literally explaining why. “I type at approximately 80 words per minute. This works out to approximately one tenth of a second per character. What must have happened is that my index finger typed this character one tenth of a second before my ring finger typed that character.” But WHY. “According to chaos theory, variances like this are inevitable, given the complexity of the neurons and muscles interacting to achieve that rate of typing.” [I have no idea if chaos theory says that].

        1. Jadelyn*

          A pointed blank stare and a slowly said “Because…I’m…human…?” usually suffices to point out that the person is being ridiculous in demanding “why” for the thing.

        2. TootsNYC*

          I bet if you ask him, you’ll discover tha this mother or his father did exactly this sort of thing to him when he was a kid–using “why did you…” to mean “I’m upset that you did that, and I want you to feel bad.”

          It’s a technique that lots and lots of parents and teachers use to scold people.
          And that paradigm often doesn’t get challenged.

          My husband would use it on the kid (never on me!) for things like dropping something, or throwing a ball indoors, or…. I would land on him for it, right in front of them. First, kids will do stupid stuff and not really be able to articulate why (grownups too!).

          Second, and most important, that’s not what you want to say. So say, “I’m so mad at you that you did that.” Don’t disguise it; by acknowledging it, you’ll be forced to express it properly (i.e., not meanly, because you’re facing what it truly is, so you’ll moderate yourself because you see the danger).

      2. Bostonian*


        Given all the responses here, it seems like the OP’s manager is out of touch with reality. I would also guess a bit of a control/power freak.

        1. Tatiana*

          Reminds me of a former boss who, every time she found a mistake in my documentation, told me that I was putting the entire agency in danger of being shut down (healthcare, Medicare regulations, chart audits, blah blah fishcakes).

          That woman was the reason I sold my house to a guy I met in a bar and moved into a friend’s basement 250 miles away with my three cats.

      3. TootsNYC*

        you know, that explains this one chord in the Lutheran liturgy that I play. It sounds so wrong, even in a body of work that has plenty of unusual harmonies, and I always just slide one note up a half-step.

        It never occurred to me that the NOTE in the musical notation could be a typo,

        1. Watry*

          In my experience, typos in music are less common but have a correspondingly larger effect. In high school we once found a printing error in a march, so you can probably imagine how awful it sounded.

          No one even called up the publisher, because it was probably just a typo. We corrected it on our own copies and went on our merry way.

    10. animaniactoo*

      It happened once. On a book published long long ago. But the information changed the next day and it became outdated immediately.

    11. designbot*

      And not just books—I design signs for a living. I’ve accidentally had typos get *built* before, and had my company’s insurance pay to replace them because the ultimate arbiter of whether it’s okay or not is the client, and they’ll never say it’s okay. You bet that stings, to hear you’ve cost the company hundreds to thousands to correct your mistake. Every designer I’ve mentored beats themselves up the first time it happens. Most cry. They fear their jobs are on the line, they feel like they’ve done something unthinkable. I tell them, remember this feeling. I do not want to diminish this feeling because it’s useful, it’s here to remind you not to make this mistake again. But it’s also completely normal, and I’ve had to fix the exact same sort of mistakes in my career, we all do it at one time or another. Do better tomorrow.

      1. TootsNYC*


        This is such an important point–the emotion of embarrassment or shame is to TEACH us stuff, not to destroy us or humiliate ut.

    12. Harper the Other One*

      I worked at a retail chain which had an infamous story about their first professional flyer… Everyone in the company basically looked it over. They printed 10,000 glossy copies of a 40 page flyer and THEN noticed the chain’s name was misspelled on the big banner on the first page.

      Some mistakes are just mistakes.

    13. Quoth the Raven*

      Translator here. I get texts to translate with typos all the time (and I’m sure that my own translations are not without them, either). Most of the time I just nod, overlook them, and carry on with my work as usual because I understand we’re all human.

  3. merp*

    I had a customer do this to me when I was a barista. “How did this happen? Don’t you want to be good at your job?” From him, I got the sense that what he really wanted was for me to basically grovel until he was satisfied. Obviously it sucked but at least I never had to see him again – I really, really hope your boss isn’t coming from the same place, because I feel like that’s something that won’t change with any amount of conversation.

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      After the third “why?” my answer would be “because I’m not a robot”. Granted you don’t want to be a smartass to your manager, but sometimes a matter of fact answer is what’s needed in a situation like this.

    2. Foreign Octopus*

      I had something similar when I worked at a garden centre. I couldn’t remember the name of a plant and had to describe it to someone. The customer said “why are you even working here if you don’t know plants?”.

      People are just annoying when they don’t get what they want first time and there’s more work involved in it. Thankfully I had a very particular brand of customer service that was welcome in my small community (like Cheers where everyone knows your name, and the name of your family dating back centuries) so I got away with telling the guy “that I have bills to pay and the economy’s messed so here I am”.

    3. boo bot*

      “what he really wanted was for me to basically grovel until he was satisfied”

      Yeah, I’ve worked for this person, and this is exactly what it is. There’s never going to be a right answer to “why?” because he’s not looking for answers, he’s just demonstrating his power.

      1. i_am_eating_cheetos*

        Yes, this is what I came here to say. He know there’s no “why”—but repeating it over and over makes you feel like an idiot, and for some reason he thinks this makes you less likely to do it again, rather than more likely to punch him in the nose!

    4. Blue*

      “Grovel until he is satisfied” is exactly right. As I was reading through the letter, I thought this is just like a guy I work with and what a tool he is. I actually burst out laughing when AAM wrote “Your boss is a tool. “ He was my peer so I didn’t play his game. I basically told him to stop because I wasn’t on the witness stand. His team wasn’t so lucky.

      Really, if he’s your boss, grovelling is the only thing that will work. Other than that, try a blank face and repeating “the problem is fixed” works best. The only way to stop him completely is to leave the team.

  4. Putting Out Fires, Esq.*

    “Why? Why indeed. The fallibility of humanity is our greatest separation from the divine, though perhaps from a different perspective, the fact that we get things wrong is what makes life worth living. After all, if we were perfect and omniscient, we wouldn’t have the joy of not knowing what will happen next. Human life is so bittersweet, don’t you think?”

    1. Gidget*

      OP, I really hope you use the script Putting Out Fires, Esq has provided for future conversations.

    2. JustaTech*

      Oh this is brilliant!
      I really, really, really want to put this in the next report I have to write when someone makes a mistake.

    3. Pay No Attention To The Man Behind The Curtain*

      +1 I was just going to suggest getting really philosophical about it too. “The smallest change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state; When a butterfly flaps it’s wings it can create a hurricane years later somewhere else. Who’s to say what small change upset the sensitive balance setting in motion this destructive force?” But maybe only do this once you have a new job lined up.

    4. AKchic*

      I have flat out told a manager that essentially wanted groveling and mewling apologies that “I am human and humans are fallible. If you want perfection, get a sentient robot.”
      He tried to write me up. I took it to his boss. His complaint? I wasn’t using a comma (one wasn’t needed) and didn’t use enough underlining and highlighting emphasis for an email he wanted to send out to let people know that a meeting was being canceled because he was going on vacation. That idiot *LOVED* to abuse the emphasis tools. He didn’t meet a color, underline, bolding, shading, or font that wasn’t used in an email missive on a daily basis.

        1. AKchic*

          rolled her eyes at him. Write-up didn’t get processed. He was gone a year later, but it wasn’t because of his writing style.

      1. EmKay*

        Once at oldjob, I messed up real bad. REAL bad. I was snail mailing some documentation to an exec in another office, and, stuck to the bottom of the pile, was the sheet that listed all that company’s execs’ yearly bonuses. The exec who received it returned it to my boss, head of HR. She calls me into her office. Slides the sheet over at me. “It appears you sent this to (name) by mistake. He sent it back to me.”

        I know my goose is cooked. I know how bad I messed up. I am speechless, and I am fighting back tears. She asks me what I have to say about the situation. I cannot get a word out to save my life. She asks me if I need some time to process. I nod, she dismisses me, I slink out. That night at home with my husband, I freak the fuck out. Full on meltdown with wailing about how I’m a failure and will be fired and how are we going to pay for the mortgage and what will we do, etc. After I got all that out and my husband reassured me we’d be fine even if I did lose that job, I calmed all the way down.

        Next day, she calls me back into her office to finish the conversation. I look her right in the eye, and say “I know this was a huge, stupid mistake. It’s basically unforgiveable, so I understand if you want to fire me. I won’t beg to keep this job, do what you gotta do.” Calm, cool, collected. She replies “You’re not fired. Make sure something like this never happens again.”

        And that was that.

    5. glitterdome*

      LOL. I had someone who is senior to me (though, as it was emphatically pointed out to me when I was hired, NOT MY BOSS) call me into his office over a minor mistake – I think I used a semi-colon instead of a period or vice-versa- and he proceeded to interrogate me about it for 10 minutes. I finally told him I’m a human being and human beings fail every once in a while, even amazingly awesome ones like me. I then asked him if we were done so I could go back to my office since I told my boss (who was also his boss) that I had been called over for an impromptu meeting on punctuation.

  5. NewHerePleaseBeNice*

    I mean, to be totally fair if three people have proofread something and it still has a mistake, I’d want to know as the boss that this isn’t something that’s going to happen often… but to make a big deal out of it happening ONCE means yeah, your boss is a tool.

    1. Ella*

      Unless it’s happening frequently, it’s still completely normal for mistakes to occasionally get past even multiple editors. I just saw a recent post from Neil Gaiman that the current edition of Good Omens still has at least one typo, and that’s a book that not only has had multiple editors and dozens of editions, but had two writers in the first place, all of whom have missed typos along the way.

      1. Lore*

        We quite recently had two instances where readers alerted us to quite legitimate typos (in one case, several paragraphs dropped) in editions of extremely popular books that have sold untold millions of copies since the 1950s. In the case of the dropped paragraphs, the text made sense without them, but when compared to the correct version a minor plot point had disappeared. (And every book I work on is reviewed by the acquisitions editor, me, a copy editor, the author at least twice, and three to four professional proofreaders. And yet.)

        1. Books4Me*

          Oh yes! I own several copies of Eight Cousins by Louisa May Alcott just for this reason. It’s so much fun to see what has changed between editions.

      2. Atlantis*

        A professor of mine pointed out a typo in a paper I published several months ago. In all the time I wrote it to when it got published, there were a total of 10 reviewers including two from the publisher itself and my three coauthors. No one caught it till now. It happens.

      3. Jasper*

        Some of the typos may have been introduced over time, rather than present since the first edition. In particular, Good Omens is old enough that it will probably have been OCR’d back from a print, rather than being a succession of prints produced from an evolving word processing file.

    2. biobotb*

      In my experience, having multiple reviewers can often increase the chances that mistakes will slip through. Not just because they’re all making changes, but also because they consciously or unconsciously don’t read as carefully because they assume someone else will catch the mistakes, so they don’t need to be as proactive about them.

      1. CMart*

        Yep, this happens with decent frequency in my work.

        Reviewer B just does a cursory glance over what Reviewer A sent over to make sure there are no glaring errors or omissions because they assumed Reviewer A would have caught small things.

        Reviewer A did a pretty thorough job but generally trusted that Submitter, who has been doing this for years, knows what they’re doing and doesn’t check the rote details that rarely change.

        Submitter has indeed been doing this for years and been receiving material from Contributors D, E, and F for a long time as well and generally trusts them to have error free documents, which they usually do.

        Contributor E was kind of tired last Tuesday and accidentally typed 90201 instead of 90210 and didn’t catch it when he sent it off.

        And so this month’s California Report included a line that Beverly Hills 90201 spent a million dollars on rose gold keychains.

        These things happen.

      2. LunaLena*

        So it’s a variation of the Bystander Effect? That’s an interesting thought, and it makes so much sense.

      3. TootsNYC*

        there’s some study done w/ aircraft carriers where they found that if only ONE person swept the landing field for debris, it was clear. But if they sent out a team, there would be something missed.

    3. NothingIsLittle*

      The brain does something fantastic where it’ll transpose letters if they aren’t in the right order as long as the context is clear and the first and last letter of the word are correct. I took copyediting classes in college with a veteran editor (started in copyediting) and he would be the first to admit that sometimes your brain just reads over mistakes like that. You can train yourself to do it less often, but it never goes away entirely.

      If it were getting through three people every other post, it would be a problem, but even every other month wouldn’t be world-shattering, depending on the volume of content and the speed at which they’re expected to edit.

    4. OP of interrogating boss*

      OP here. It was a missed word, not a misspelling. I am not sure why we didn’t see it. I will say we have over a dozen clients and post on social for them every single day, and we don’t have mistakes happen that often.

      1. Paralegal Part Deux*

        Your brain will fill in a word that’s not there which is why you probably missed it. Still, your boss is an overbearing tool, though.

      2. TootsNYC*

        I copyedit for a living, and this is THE ERROR that appears most often. It is way harder to spot than a typo. Your brain will spot a missing letter; it will not always spot a missing word.

        And there are NO tools to assist you.
        Spellcheck can’t catch it. Grammar checkers are crappy, and so they are either not in use, or they don’t catch it.

        At my job, there was one editor for whom the missing word (or a misplaced word, or an extra word) was endemic. So it WAS useful to ask why, and to pay attention. Because other people’s copy didn’t have this problem the way she did.

        Why? it was three-fold. Her pieces were the longer, tricker subjects, so:
        (1) the editor in chief messed around with them more
        (2) this editor “noodled”–she’d try out sentences three ways before she settled on one, which meant she was retyping and moving things around
        (3) because her stories were longer and more narrative, it was easier for everyone (editor, top editor, e-i-c, copyeditors) to fill in the missing word as they were reading, because they were “in the groove.”

        So…knowing that, we:
        (1) alerted her to the problem
        (2) had her pieces read out loud by someone before they went.

        But basically–the missing word is the hardest of all to catch.

    5. smoke tree*

      I would assume that an easily editable post is probably written faster and receives less scrutiny than something more permanent, which seems logical enough to me. I’m sure there are better uses of everyone’s time than poring over every word of a Facebook post to make sure it’s error free.

    6. Allonge*

      That was what I was thinking, more or less. It’s a Facebook post, so the length should allow for reasonably error-free publishing, mostly. It’s not a novel where it is mission impossible.

      If I were the boss, and this were happening regularly I would try to figure it out not by asking Why, but by suggesting potential causes. Do we have too many people involved? Is the approval process clunky? Do we decide to post last minute always? And if none of those apply, then we look at the individual people involved and their performance and if that is satisfactory in general, I can be happy with the “humans are gonna human” explanation. Maybe we make a KPI or something for errors caught after posting but corrected within x hours, if no-mistakes Facebook posts are so very important.

      Just asking why and snidely implying incompetence does not help anyone get to any solutions though.

  6. Phillip*

    My biggest pet peeve is people asking why when they don’t really care why. When they are are using it as a weapon to try and make folks feel foolish. “Why did you (relatively harmless thing that there is no real answer for)?”

    1. KimberlyR*

      Right? If the LW was cavalier about it, that would be different. But it sounds like the LW and her coworkers are conscientious workers who are aware that errors and mistakes are important and should be addressed. Boss needs to make sure he’s absolutely perfect in every way, since obviously mistakes cannot be tolerated in anything. Ever.

    2. hbc*

      Yeah, he’s essentially asking a rhetorical question–he doesn’t really want an answer. At best, it’s just an expression of frustration, but it’s probably more of an accusation. It basically translates as “I’m really angry/frustrated that this happened.”

      1. it's me*

        And in this situation, it’s just a Facebook post that was easily edited. Frankly, I doubt many readers would have noticed, and fewer would care. He just wants to be a dick.

    3. smoke tree*

      As the next level in tool behaviour, I once had a boss lock me in a room with one of his underlings and harangue me for quite a long time about a mistake that I had supposedly made (that he made up). He wouldn’t let me go until I explained the cause of the non-mistake to his satisfaction (note that I was a teenager at the time, and this was a customer service job). So when I read about bosses like this, my mind usually goes back to that guy.

    4. TootsNYC*

      parents are the ones who start this.

      My husband did–it was just an excuse to scold them.

      I’m like, “they don’t KNOW why they rode their tricycle down the slide–it seemed like a good idea at the time.”

      1. Alexandra Lynch*

        I normally avoided asking my sons why (or my husband) because frequently they wouldn’t know. But I did ask once, and the answer I got back was, “I wanted to see what would happen.” (Jumped off the ladder to the loft, cut his mouth on his teeth, scared himself silly and gave me some very worried moments) I was able to say, well, now you know, and it would be worse if you jumped from higher, so don’t do it.” And he nodded, and for all the things he got into, he never climbed on the roof and tried to fly.

  7. rayray*

    I’ve worked with managers who are like this. I’ve even experienced getting the “Why” a mistake was made when it was caught months later. As if I’m supposed to have a clear reason why I made a typo or marked the wrong thing four months ago. I will say that handling errors like this only makes people anxious and nervous, and in the future when they catch their own mistakes, they’re more likely to try to hide it or fix it on their own rather than approaching a manager to own up to it and correct it properly.

    1. MistOrMister*

      I had this exact same thing happen in a previous department. When they found mistakes they would call you into the supervisor’s office, point out the error and ask why you made it. It was absurd to me when this happened over typos. What did they expect? Did they think people would say “ah yes I remember this typo well. I made this typo on a rainy Monday 4 months ago simply to stick it to the big boss.” No one reviewed their work and turned it in for proofing and left typos in purposefully! But then even for something bigger….if it takes you 3-6 months to find it and bring to my attention there is no way I will remember what I was doing that day that led to the mistake.

      People in that department were terrified of making mistakes and we usually thought we would be fired for them. I had such a laugh when the boss pulled us in for a meeting saying she didn’t understand why there was such a culture of fear. Uhhhh, maybe because we get raked over the coals for every little thing, even when they can be easily corrected? I was so glad to get out of that department and under a boss who understands that mistakes happen and doesn’t beat you with a dirty shoe for them!

      That being said, other than using Alison’s script, I really don’t know how one deals with a boss like that. Unless you have enough standing/capital to push back pretty hard when they do that, it doesn’t really seem like you can make them see sense.

  8. GGNJ*

    Is the boss trained as an engineer? They are trained to do a root cause analysis, which requires the answer to why something happened, and why it was missed. He may be following his training, albeit in an obnoxious way.

    1. Just J.*

      I’m an engineer in the building / construction industry. We are liable for our mistakes, as in owners can make us, the engineers, pay to fix our errors. (And yes, for everyone in the construction industry, I am way over simplifying it.) So yes, we need to figure out why a mistake was made. But I agree, it doesn’t mean you get to be a jerk about.

      1. DiscoTechie*

        I’m also in design/construction as an engineer. Most of the time is, “Yes, there’s a mistake, I made it and here’s how we fix it.” Then, how did that happen so we never do it again.

    2. Mangoes do not grow here*

      I was curious about this too. My industry is very lean heavy, so the five whys is commonplace and trying to make tasks foolproof is almost a game.
      But without this context, the boss is a tool.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Even with that context he’s a tool! I’m decidedly not an engineer, but I do like to figure out why mistakes happen – this is no more complicated than “people are human and typos happen”. As Alison pointed out, it might be one thing if it were a repeated problem, but the OP offers to put checklists in place and takes it seriously; it doesn’t need to be beaten into the ground.

      2. NW Mossy*

        Mine is too, but one of the other principles of problem-solving in Lean is prioritizing what problems to solve based on how much effort it will take to solve and how much impact it will have if you improve. Typos are the classical high-effort/low-impact problem, which generally shouldn’t be the priority to fix.

      3. Mr. Shark*

        Yes, and human error is rarely an acceptable answer, unfortunately. In this case, though, a typo certainly is something that can be written off in terms of human error, and so any effort on the OP’s manager’s part is a waste of time.

    3. starsaphire*

      Yeah, but as Alison was pointing out, root cause analysis is for larger issues. Typos are not going to go away no matter how much problem-solving you rub on.

      We do root cause analysis at my work, but so far, no one has ever done it to me when I’ve forgotten to put a footer in italics. They just point it out and we go over it again.

      1. CJS*

        This is the important part, if he’s reacting to every small thing, he’s reacting to the natural variation and trying to find a root cause for something that doesn’t necessarily have a root cause. It’s normal, in fact expected for humans to make mistakes.

        1. Antilles*

          Almost as importantly, if he’s reacting to every small thing, he’s going to quickly make the whole root cause process useless. Basically equivalent to car alarms – the first time he goes off, you listen; the 15th time, you just sigh and roll your eyes.

          1. Observer*

            This is also really important. This is an issue with any set of overly strict set of rules, whether it’s loss, error or fraud prevention.

    4. SheLooksFamiliar*

      Even the most obnoxiously analytical engineers I know understand that ‘Why did this happen?’ is often honestly answered with, ‘Because s*** happens.’

      If the OP’s boss is an engineering-sort looking for a root cause, he’s going about it in ways most engineering curriculums don’t teach.

    5. hbc*

      That is not root cause analysis. If you ask once and get “I dunno” or “Human error,” you just don’t keep pounding on the person to give you a different answer. You’d need to set up studies to see if this is more likely to happen with particular people, or on certain days, or in certain types of workflows. You certainly shouldn’t count on an individual to identify that there needs to be more proofreading in jargon-heavy posts because it’s harder to spot the wrong word in a sea of unfamiliar words.

      Also, a trained engineer should know to do an FMEA and have an idea of the actual risk associated with a particular failure mode. Website typo gets a very, very low rating for Severity, and probably a low rating for Occurrence, provided he’s even tracking this–which he should if its that freaking important to him.

      1. Jedi Squirrel*

        I was thinking of “5 Whys” and FMEA, as well. OP says he’s not an engineer, but he may have picked up this way of thinking from somewhere (a training session, perhaps, or somebody he’s worked with) and is just not aware of the proper use of it.

        Website typo gets a very, very low rating for Severity, and probably a low rating for Occurrence

        Exactly. This is where he’s going off track, because he seems to be prioritizing things wrong. Is he double checking the decimal point on sales quotes, to make sure they are over-bidding or under-bidding? That is something that gets a high rating for Severity, and the kind of place where he should be focusing his attention.

        It the cases OP mentioned, the proper question is not “why did this happen?” (duh, we’re human), but “how easy is this to fix?” Website typo? Very easy. Typo on the front page of our new brochure that we just printed 100,000 copies of? Not easy, and not cheap, either.

        1. Quinalla*

          Nailed it Jedi Squirrel, I do root cause analysis as an engineer all the time, but not for a typo that happens rarely. It is not worth the effort it would take to reduce incidence of typos like this. Typos on something you are printing out, etc. maybe worth looking into how to improve the system to severely reduce, but for this? Nope!

          I always hated when we’d interview recent grads and pull out a random set of drawings to show them what we do and it was a set I worked on because we’d be sitting their talking to them and catch minor errors/typos/etc. on multiple pages. And these are sets that buildings that are built and in use. The big, costly errors, we had a lot of redundancy set up to catch those. Did we try and catch typos and other minor errors, sure, but there are always a few that slip through and likely the contractors looking at the drawings never saw them either.

        2. Mr. Shark*

          Yes, good points hbc and Jedi Squirrel. It’s just not worth the effort due to severity and occurrence to bash someone over the head with 5 Whys for something like a typo. If you already have redundancy with multiple proofreaders, along with your regular spell check, and things still get missed, there’s not much more you can do about it.

      2. JustaTech*

        Yes, thank you!
        I’m amazed how many managers think that you can just assume that every person will do a complex job perfectly every time. (Even when their own e-mails are riddled with typos.)

        The solution to errors is not “expect people to be perfect”. It’s “build systems to make it easier to do it correctly”.

    6. Tinker*

      I mean it could be. Being an engineer, I would say that this person’s behavior as an approach to engineering is one where I can identify potential for improvement — but also, it reflects relatively common pitfalls.

      Common, yes. To be excused? No. I’ve been trained to play the trumpet, but it’s still possible for me to figure out that I shouldn’t just do that in the office regardless of whether it is contextually appropriate or showing signs of being effective.

    7. Ophelia*

      Sure, but in this case, misapplication of root cause analysis/the 5 whys gets you:
      – Why did you make this typo?
      – Well, we simply didn’t see it.
      – Why?
      – Our eyes didn’t catch it.
      – Why?
      – Humans aren’t designed to see all tiny errors
      – Why?
      – Evolution makes us better at seeing things that move, like predators and prey
      – Why?

    8. Observer*

      Please, any competent engineer should understand where root cause analysis makes sense and where is doesn’t. It’s like the old line about everything looking like a nail when you only have a hammer. That’s only true for people who don’t actually know anything about the hammer they are holding.

  9. Mimi Me*

    Why did this mistake happen?
    Well Boss, I missed chatting with you and thought we should use time we could spend working chatting about this instead. @@

  10. Antilles*

    This seems wildly over the top for a one-off typo. Unless the typo is something obvious like the company’s name/address or resulted in something horrific (our sale on “free duck” is a lot different than your typo of…), the proper response is like a one-sentence mention that I found X, let’s fix this.

    1. WellRed*

      Even an obvious typo, though, still isn’t going to have a root cause that can be drilled down to, dissected and prevented from ever happening again. It’s a typo and employees are human (and in many cases doing too much work in too little time and with too little appreciation).

      1. CMart*

        There’s a difference between “why did Fergus make a typo?” (answer: mistakes happen?) and “why did it make it to print?”

        Maybe the answer is still “mistakes happen – the two reviewers both just missed it that day, unfortunately.” Or maybe the answer was “actually, no one is currently reviewing Fergus’s copy before it goes to print” or “Tangerina actually sent it back for correction but the servers went down and her request wasn’t sent – in the absence of her comments it was assumed the copy was fine.”

        At which point there is actually something to be done (make sure someone is reviewing, changing the policy that “no comment” is not the same as “good to print” and they need an affirmative response before printing etc…).

        But you’re right “why did a typo happen?” itself is not really something you can RCA. Why no one noticed could be, though.

        1. meara*

          I think this is a really excellent point. I work in an industry where one of the jobs is a sort of auditor, and they find mistakes. We expect mistakes. They’re human, and if they don’t exist, probably someone is making shit up. BUT, part of my issue is when an auditor finds a bunch of mistakes, and is just like “yep, mistakes, human error”. Because I need them to consider when is it a typo, vs when is it “but why is the typo going to print” kind of thing–yes, sometimes the answer is still “oops, completely skipped that line of instructions while reading, my bad”. But sometimes the answer is “ooh, I re-reviewed the instructions and that line isn’t THERE” or “I didn’t have the instructions and was winging it based on experience and didn’t know there were new instructions for this project”

        2. Observer*

          This is true. The thing is that the boss is asking questions that you can’t really drill down on and ALSO pushing past the point of reasonableness where there is something that should have been looked at.

          So, first the boss asks “Why did the typo happen?” which is a nonsense question in this context. Then the question he SHOULD have asked, ie “How did it slip through? Is anyone proofing the work?” gets answered with a reasonable response, that 3 people actually did look at this, and he’s STILL asking “but why did this happen.”

  11. Stone Cold Bitch*

    I’ve worked for this boss. It sucks.
    My ex-boss also made people apologize to other staff for misstakes that “impacted them”. We’re talking things like someone forgot to do a follow up call after sending a follow up e-mail or sending an item from office A to B (multiple people drive between A and B every day so it was resolved in minutes).

    1. Anon for this one*

      Did you work for our old department director? He pulled this kind of nonsense all the time, including making us apologize and grovel to the people who had been affected by the mistake. (Spoiler: majority of them had not noticed or if they did, did not care.) He was also really inconsistent about how he’d react to mistakes, which made things even worse. Sometimes he’d go into full meltdown, how could you have allowed this to happen mode, sometimes he’d just shrug and move on. No predicting what you’d get, and it kept everyone on eggshells.

    2. One of the Spreadsheet Horde*

      I had one of those.

      My breaking point was sitting in the hospital parking lot getting berated over the phone for forgetting an easily rescheduled informational meeting. Never mind that I had forgotten it because my mother’s discharge from the hospital was a complete surprise to us and ended up more complicated than expected. Never mind that the contact was understanding and happy to reschedule since it worked out better for her. I was wrong and therefore it had to be informed of said egregious error that inconvenienced said boss. I finally said “I can’t handle this right now” and hung up.

      Still burnt out from that one.

    3. SansaStark*

      I see that we all worked for the same boss. I can’t tell you how *validating* it was to read the first line of Alison’s response. After digging into me for about 5 mins on a typo-type mistake, he did not like my answer that I suppose it was just because I am human and therefore made a mistake. I literally couldn’t dig any deeper into why my finger slipped to the m key instead of the n key.

    4. pope suburban*

      Oh god, does it suck. I worked for this boss for three years, and it took at least a year and a half away from him to start feeling normal again. In his case, it wasn’t about actually caring about whatever minor error (He’d never do this to male employees, and in fact picked on the highest performers in the company), it was about making sure that we felt small, incompetent, and powerless. It was a flex, essentially, and he neither knew nor cared that it impaired our morale and efficiency.

      I’ve got one coworker now who’s prone to this kind of thing, and again, it’s about flexing rather than any kind of chronic issue with any of our staff. I understand that she’s frustrated with her own position/circumstances, but this is not the way to handle it. If it doesn’t help anyone, if there’s no benefit, then it’s a workplace behavior that needs to stop. Picking nits this way drives people away, undermines their confidence in their work (and may make them more prone to err because they’re nervous), and only serves to bring down the whole organization. Not worth it, not ever.

      1. JustaTech*

        There are jobs for people who love to find all the tiny errors and little nitpicky things. It’s auditing, or Quality. Granted, those are the things that feel small but actually matter (dates, decimal places, signatures, calculations), and are required by either internal policies or laws.

        As someone who is terrible at that kind of work, I wish there was a way to gather all the detail-oriented people up and put them to good use checking your math and not giving you the nth degree about then vs them.

        1. pope suburban*

          Sometimes it’s detail-orientation, sometimes the real “skill” is finding a problem. Speaking only for myself, the people I’ve run into have been in the latter camp. They’re just bullies, pure and simple. Unfortunate, but not something that can be stopped at the source. If we’re wishing, though, I’d wish that more organizations would be willing to address this kind of behavior as it’s terrible for morale, and not really the mark of excellence/superiority that these bullies like to claim.

          1. Goldenrod*

            I very much agree with this! It’s not really about the “mistake”….The mistake is just the excuse for being abusive which (for some reason) feeds their ego.

            My boss likes to imply that I’m stupid if I can’t instantly read her mind.

          2. Librarian of SHIELD*

            Yeah, I had a boss who wanted to be seen as a problem solver. We didn’t have very many actual problems in our branch, so she would either magnify tiny things like typos or putting the recycling in the wrong place, or she would set a series of events into motion that would create a problem so she could be seen solving it.

  12. Liz*

    ugh. This sounds like my boss on occasion; in my job, I gather documents daily, then distribute them depending on subject matter, for a short summary, which then go back to my boss, who puts it into a small, daily newsletter, relating to our industry.

    Once in a blue moon, despite my best efforts to proof, a small error will occur. usually a typo. Embarrassing and dumb but nothing more. The thing is; HE reviews what I write, as does his boss, and sometimes neither one of them catch it either!

    I’ve found with him, the best way to handle things is acknowledge my error, take responsibility for it, and just say ok, it won’t happen again. it shuts him down from asking “why why why” when really there IS no answer to that, it just happens every now and then.

    1. juliebulie*

      And if the boss is going to grill the writer as to how the typo occurred, he’d better also grill all of the reviewers and editors who missed the typo. (Including himself.)

      Sometimes, while editing, I have inadvertently added typos… so it’s not fair to blame only the writer.

      1. pleaset*

        Well, it depends on what task those people are given. If he’s asked to look at it to OK it for meaning or perhaps tone, that’s not the same as proofreading or editing.

        I do some layout work, and people come to me all the time to point out typos. I’ll look for them if I have time, but that’s not my role even if I’m the last person to deal with the document.

        “just say ok, it won’t happen again.”
        But it will. Unless a new system is put in place with different processes, it will. Not often but it’s inevitable. The only way to reduce typos is to have strong systems with sufficient number of skilled people involved.

  13. Jan*

    Gah! I’m so sorry. I used to have a boss who did this exact same thing over the tiniest things, such as a typo. WHY WHY! Once a mistake happened on a Friday. I got grilled WHY WHY WHY. She actually held onto this anger all weekend and called me in AGAIN on Monday! Fortunately, she only stayed with the firm a few months – and I am still here, eight years later.

  14. T2*

    This is my answer to this kind of questioning. “Because we missed it.” Why? “Because we missed it.” Over and over again. No amount of asking why changes the fact we missed it.

    I look at it like this, he is paying me for my time. I am not concerned with how he chooses to spend that investment. But then again I absolutely refuse to allow people to get under my skin. Especially with tools like this who get off on getting you all bothered.

    1. old foof*

      I don’t understand what they want in this situation. Do they want to hear something like “I missed it because I was thinking about what I was going to have for lunch/the Game of Thrones finale/the horrible state of American politics/global warming/how cute my cat looked this morning”?! How would one even know the exact circumstances of a typo????

      1. EddieSherbert*

        I would be tempted to say that if I knew *what moment exactly* I missed it and what caused that moment… then that means I actually noticed the error… at which point I would have fixed it!

      2. irene adler*

        I’d be inclined to start in with something along the lines of “I’m not understanding why you need to keep asking the same question after I’ve given you my best response. Please explain. “

      3. Librarian of SHIELD*

        I’m guessing the response he’s looking for is something like “I missed it because I’m stupid and bad at my job.” The point of this line of questioning tends to be to really drive home to the employee that there’s no reason they should have done this incorrectly. I mean, if there’s no real answer to “why?” then you shouldn’t have even made the mistake at all. It’s to make people feel bad so the boss can either feel superior or become the kind benefactor who magnanimously forgave his employees for messing up when there was no reason they should have messed up.

  15. annakarina1*

    One of the worst managers I’ve ever had was in a job I was in three years ago, that I only lasted a few months in because I had trouble going from a busy multi-tasking job to a one-task data entry job (not the job I had interviewed for, this was more of a consolation prize that I got offered), and had trouble staying focused and kept making errors. The manager treated me like I was an inexperienced intern, despite me being in my thirties and a having a solid track record of leading successful work projects, and was very condescending, going “Now why did you think that was right?” and trying to make me explain my mistakes like I was a child. I found it incredibly insulting, it only lowered my morale, and I ended up getting fired both for making too many errors and likely for not being a good culture fit. I’ve excelled in my current multi-tasking job for the last two and a half years now, and know better how to stay focused, but that manager who kept acting exasperated and melodramatic over any error (rolling his eyes, big sighs) really made me feel like crap at that job, and getting fired sucked, but was more of a blessing in disguise to be out of there.

  16. Brienne the Blue*

    I had this boss. I made a small data entry error that she berated me for three separate times. (It was literally forgetting to change a number in a date field, which resulted in a 24-hour delay in activating a client’s account. The client didn’t even notice.) I thought I handled it well the first time (“yes, you’re absolutely right, I understand how important this is and I will make sure it doesn’t happen again”), but by the third time she was reiterating the same points to me, I had no idea what to say to her. It was a good indicator that it was time to look for a new job.

    1. Zephy*

      Just to make sure I’m understanding correctly: she berated you on three separate occasions for a mistake that happened once? Was there any context for her bringing it up over and over again??

  17. Anon for now*

    I’ve thankfully never had a boss like this, but got it from several customers. I was a supervisor in a call center and handled lots of irate calls and accounts with issues.

    If we made a mistake we would make the account whole, no problem. Most of the time an apology and fixing the problem was fine, but sometimes a customer would get *really* hung up on why, WHY!? Ummm, the rep does 200 transactions a day, every day. She clicked on “a” instead of “b”. I don’t have a forensic report from a team of cognitive scientists to explain it in any more detail.

    1. Sack of Benevolent Trash Marsupials*

      +1000 to “I don’t have a forensic report from a team of cognitive scientists to explain it in any more detail”

  18. Sunflower*

    I’m not sure how long you’ve been there but how is your boss otherwise? I used to work with a guy like this- wasn’t my boss but we supported him on projects- and he’s still one of the most despised people at Former Company. One minor typo mistake resulted in 3 phone call conversations to discuss how we could prevent this from happening again but he clearly just wanted to make our team feel bad. The person who made the mistake was fired(that typo was the least of her problems and she had far bigger performance issues). He would ask us to have update phone calls every week where he would basically just nit pick out thing or try to catch-us up and embarrass us.

    My boss could see physically see how nervous this person made me- it felt like he was on a mission to get me fired. Multiple other people asked to not work with him. He publicly told people they should take credit for their teammates work- he took credit from one of his direct reports on a huge project and multiple people actually spoke to his manager about it because it was that obnoxious. His direct report before that didn’t have much of a problem with him but now, she won’t even speak to him.

    So I could be off here and MAYBE he just really cares about typocs but it sounds like he REALLY cares about bringing your team members down. And yes, it 100% made me try to cover up errors instead of own up to them. In my case, I think the guy did it as a way to distract from his own performance problems (I often saw him forget to do things or make mistakes). Oh also- he was sweet as pie to your face. I would be very cautious- there is no way I could work for someone like this.

    1. OP of interrogating boss*

      OP here. He’s just extremely, extremely anxious most of the time. I don’t think he’s trying to be an asshole, but he asks a lot of questions, double-checks that everything is done to the point of micromanaging, and also bemoans when newer employees avoid him (this usually happens after a month on the job–they get scared of him.) I just don’t know how to handle him when he gets this way.

      1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

        You would have to have a good idea of how your manager would react to this, but I would consider (after the 3rd why) “Because I’m not a robot”. No you don’t want to back talk your boss, but that is honestly a legitimate reason about why a typo is missed. Unless it’s happening frequently, and your boss is trying to get to the root of the problem, pressuring you to figure out why you made a minor mistake on occasion is obnoxious and accomplishes nothing.

        1. OP of interrogating boss*

          I think I will try that. I don’t think he’d consider it rude or insubordinate. But I also doubt it would stop him from ranting the next time someone else messes up on something.

          1. AnonPi*

            If they are like my previous interim manager that acted like this, unfortunately it won’t stop. When she kept going on and on (and on) about a minor mixup, and kept saying variations of “I just don’t understand how this happened” I finally lost it and said “Sometimes we humans make mistakes”. I think it made her pause for about all of 5 seconds before she continued. And in front of visitor’s too. It was the main reason I didn’t recommend her to our grandboss for permanent hire. I have too much to deal with that I have to worry about managing my manager too.

          2. Yvette*

            “Because I’m not perfect” in the right tone of voice might come across as less sarcastic than “Because I’m not a robot”

      2. Joielle*

        Oh god that sounds so irritating. Maybe a frank conversation will help him connect the dots, but I worry that he’ll just get defensive (“I just want to make sure everything is correct! Why don’t you care about accuracy?!”). This might be a case of your boss sucks (maybe not in every area, but in this area for sure) and isn’t going to change.

      3. Heidi*

        Ah. This is informative. If he were just a jerk, I’d be more on the side of “decide if you want to keep working for this guy or cut your losses.” If this guy truly wants to be good, you might be able to redirect his behavior by politely expressing your concerns that his behavior is scaring the new people and stressing everyone out to the point that it’s affecting their work. He might not be aware of the impact his actions have.

        1. lemon*

          I’m not sure that it being due to anxiety makes it any easier to deal with, though. If anything, I’d say it makes it harder, because anxiety is irrational, and also not the OPs problem to solve.

          I had two bosses like this– a brother-sister pair at a family run business. The brother was like this because he was a jerk and liked being seen as a Big Man. The sister did it out of anxiety and a very obvious case of OCD.

          The brother definitely made me cry a few times, but in some ways, he was easier to deal with because at least there’s a logic to being a jerk. He wants to be seen as powerful and in charge, and as long as I deferred to him and fluffed his ego, I could get through talking to him relatively unscathed.

          But the sister was a different story. She was really nice to me as long as everything was running smoothly. But as soon as someone made a mistake, she’d lose it and go off a “why?” interrogation and there was nothing you could do to stop it. Because she was running totally off of anxiety and fear, there was no way to reason with her. You just had to ride it out. She was, of course, a notorious micromanager, and there were some techniques I used to cope with it– be proactive about giving updates, finish work ahead of deadlines, ask for approval all the time.

          But of course, that gets exhausting after a while, and it teaches you bad work habits that don’t work in functional workplaces. So, yes, try to manage Anxious Boss while you’re there, but also think about if you can be happy working for someone like this long-term.

      4. Bonanza J.*

        My current boss is a bit like this actually. A generally good person but so worried about details that he often becomes overly micromanaging. To the point that before I took this position, we had an overturn of three managers in less than a year because they felt that they were never good enough and being scapegoated for small errors. I have been here a year and at least once during the time when he rolled out his usual “you may not be cut out for this position because of *list of small mistakes that took place over a long period of time and only he noticed* I just replied “By all means if you feel that there is another candidate that can do this job better, go ahead and hire them. I am committed to this department being the best it can be so that everyone trusts that their projects are in good hands, but please take into context that before my time here we lost the whole department to overturn and I’m building it from the ground up. I would appreciate a collaborative approach from all of management rather than a blaming or apocalyptic approach.” It seems to have slowed his roll on that.

      5. PollyQ*

        Ugh, that’s maybe not fixable, because when someone’s got that underlying anxiety, no answer or fact will alleviate it. Perhaps address the emotional side of the question? e.g., “Yes, we made a mistake, but it’s been caught and fixed, so no real harm done, everything’s OK.” I dunno, it sounds kind of condescending as I write it out.

      6. Sunflower*

        Hmm..any clues to where his anxiety comes from? Is it from his boss? If new hires are scared of him/avoiding him, that’s a reallly really big red flag and most likely going to cause turnover. This situation feels really delicate so you could try saying something to him but I also wouldn’t hesitate to run this up the flag pole as a point of concern.

  19. JoJo*

    OMG. And here’s the thing: The majority of bosses DON’T seem to want employees explaining the reasons behind why and how they made a minor mistake — and in fact, can take that as inappropriate defensiveness. Generally, if it’s a minor mistake, they might not want a discussion at all but just a timely correction.

    1. Reed*

      Oh gosh, THIS – one of my direct reports does this. I ask something like ‘did you run the report this morning?’ and instead of saying ‘oh, oops, I forgot, I’ll do it now,’ she goes into a 15-minute apology/explanation/epic lament, by the end of which I know far too much about her home life, her bowel health, and her hobbies, and the report, which takes five minutes, will still not be done.

      1. rayray*

        She probably worked for someone like the OP’s boss. I had management/leads that treated me like that, and it made me put up my defenses when I got approached for things. Once I had moved into the position of my former lead and also realized how ridiculous it was to get so agitated over mistakes that could easily be fixed in less time than it took to have a stupid discussion about, it actually took some time to rewire myself to not get so defensive and worried when I was approached about things. Even at a different company, I still get flustered and worried because I was so used to having people freak out over minor things.

      2. That Girl From Quinn's House*

        Children of abusive parents (and people with abusive partners) also get into this apologize/deflect spiral, because if it was their fault, the consequences were severe.

        “I’m sorry Mom I didn’t mean to get mud on my pants it happened at recess and Timmy spilled his waterbottle and it splashed up on my pants and it’s all Timmy’s fault that there’s mud on my new pants and I didn’t have anything to do with it.” Because the kid’s trying to deflect a beating.

        1. Gazebo Slayer*

          Yup. Also sometimes people who’ve had awful bosses, or a series of jobs where they were highly disposable and one mistake might mean getting fired. It’s behavior learned through fear.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Yeah, usually if it’s a clerical error just saying “I’m sorry! I’ll fix it right away and be more careful going forward.”

      Take ownership, apologize and move the ef on. Grilling someone also wastes GD time, creates stress that creates more errors, etc.

  20. Mill Miker*

    I’ll never understand the people who seem to think everyone else does everything 100% intentionally. Do they do everything intentionally, and I’m just missing something? I’ve lost track of the number of time’s I’ve been asked to apparently think back to when I (apparently) made the conscious decision to be distracted by something, or forget something, or otherwise make a mistake.

    OP, you have my complete sympathy.

    1. OP of interrogating boss*

      Actually, the other, more serious mistake I got in trouble for WAS something he thought I did “subconsciously” because I was annoyed with a colleague. The mistake was not attending a meeting I was expected at. I was overbooked and thought it wasn’t necessary to be there. This resulted in a 45 minute conversation about why I missed it, and one of the things he threw at me was that I might be annoyed at my coworker and I did it on purpose. I realize it was a mistake for me to have not gone to the meeting but it was more of a “I’m stretched thin and can’t do everything” type of thing than sabotage. And it certainly was not “subconscious.”

      1. WoolAnon*

        This just gave me flashbacks to my last boss. His philosophy is that no one ever makes ‘mistakes’ – people are either consciously or subconsciously sabotaging themselves or others. (As a result, he’s gone through about 1 and a half assistants per year his business has been open.)

        I mean, if this is the only red flag, maybe it’s not a problem. You know your own environment better, obviously. Although if he thinks people are making mistakes ‘at’ each other and he responds with a 45 minute meeting, I’d be worried about what the result would be if someone make a mistake ‘at’ him.

      2. SB*

        OP your clarifications here are giving me chills, your boss sounds exactly like a family member of mine. No such thing as mistakes, everything happens for a /reason/ and P.S. that reason is probably subterfuge.

        Yech. Definitely keep your guard up. There’s no reasoning with people who don’t believe in mistakes.

    2. CMart*

      I would occasionally get that when I was serving and bartending. Some people seemed to be unable to cope with the idea that our motivations weren’t fully centered on them.

      Like listen, Dad Jeans, I did not ring in your side incorrectly because I deliberately wanted to annoy you, I was on auto-pilot and most people get fries and not rice with their burgers. Sorry if that makes you feel unimportant? I can pretend I did it in some sort of malicious conspiracy with the kitchen staff if that makes you feel better about your status.

    3. MistOrMister*

      I never understand the bosses that think the mistakes are intentional. The people I’ve worked with who would do stuff like that on purpose are VERY obvious about it. You don’t have to guess, you know they’re disgruntled and causing trouble on purpose. The rest of us are out here either making honest/human mistakes or being incompetent and it’s really frustrating when they don’t see that.

  21. ThatGirl*

    Uggh I’m having flashbacks to a newspaper managing editor I worked under – we had two dailies, I mainly worked on one. He spent half our daily budget* meeting berating the copy editors for missing a newswire story and asking why why why, and I pointed out that only the other (bigger) daily had missed it; I had gotten it onto our nation/world page.

    *budgets in newspaper terminology are to discuss the big and breaking stories of the day, not finances

  22. Mathilde*

    Because our brain corrects mistakes, that’s why it is not that easy to catch typos, especially if you have been through it several times.

    It is the reason we read quickly and not syllabe after syllable : we oversee segments of text and interpret them. Our brains are wonderful this way.

    Your boss is a twat.

  23. Perstephanie*

    My experience with this fun game (/s) is that even on the rare occasions when a person can answer “why” — the boss will reply with “Stop making excuses!”

    1. Jan*

      Ha ha, I had a teacher at high school who did that! No kidding, he’d literally ask “Jan, why did you do this?” “Because…” “No, I don’t want excuses!” or “I’m not looking for an answer!” Then sent me to the headmaster/gave me detention for cheek when I replied “Well, why did you ask then?” Of course, if you took the question as rhetorical and didn’t answer, it was “Don’t ignore me!” What a bell-end.

  24. Tree*

    Flashbacks to my old manager who insisted that she did not believe in human error, and if we just added more process and checklists to everything, we would eliminate all mistakes.

    And lots of times her definition of a mistake was, “that’s not the way I would have done it.” For example, she preferred spaces on either side of an em-dash. I would sometimes forget to leave spaces and she would demand to know how this happened.

    I took to spending excessive amounts of time proofreading internal meeting agendas for meetings with her because if I did something heinous like use a colon after one sub-heading and a dash after another (for an agenda that no one but the two of us would see), she would not talk about the substance until she’d quizzed me on it.

    “I note that you used a colon here but a dash here.”
    “Oh, sorry about that. Anyway, about XYZ …”
    “Is there a reason they are different?”
    “No, just a typo.”
    “When you use two different punctuation marks, it signifies that there’s a difference between the two items. So why did you use different ones?”

    Ad nauseam.

    I feel you, OP. I have no advice for you, because nothing worked with my old manager, but I feel you.

    1. Ginger Baker*

      Ooof. I am a proofreader at heart and by upbringing, and I would definitely catch things like colon vs dash in headings – and so would just fix this if it were going out to a client, for example. But asking “why did you do this?” over and over? So. Damn. Obnoxious. WTF.

    2. Joielle*

      And the thing is, I’d be inclined to genuinely apologize about that – it was a mistake, after all, if only a tiny one – but after the third condescending question about why it happened, I’d get defensive. Get off my back, man! It’s not a big deal!

      It’s just inviting poor communication and hostility all around.

    3. Drew*

      “When you use two different punctuation marks, it signifies that there’s a difference between the two items. So why did you use different ones?”

      “One came up heads and the other came up tails.”

    4. Jaybeetee*

      “she did not believe in human error”


      So I watch way too much Mayday (Air Crash Investigation), wherein human error can and does get people killed. And a) human error is a thing. B) Yes, in aviation they tend to bring in more training and processes and checklists and mechanization and failsafes to *reduce* human error, and have actually been quite successful at it – flying is extremely safe. But the acknowledgment that “human error” is a thing (and it’s a thing that happens to even very smart, competent people), and also looking beyond it to training or systemic issues that could be contributing to human error.

      If you want things to run as smoothly as possible, the first step is acknowledging that you have messy humans leading the charge, and any system you create has to accommodate that.

      1. Observer*

        In fact, one of the most important things that improved aviation safety (and pretty much any industry with a good record) is that acknowledgement that human error IS a thing – a MAJOR thing. And that you put systems in place to minimize those errors and to mitigate them WHEN (not if) they happen anyway.

        Many years ago, Korea Airlines had a major crash. The problem was human error. The reason it was not caught? The error was made by the Captain, and it would have been considered highly disrespectful for the junior pilot to correct his senior. The single most important thing they did to improve safety was to do intensive work to change the culture to allow junior people to correct their seniors.

        PS They have clearly made great strides, but I’d say not enough. A couple of years ago they had a crash landing and even though the plane caught fire the cabin crew did not start evacuating the cabin till ~4.5 minutes after the landing, because they hadn’t gotten instructions / permission from the cockpit. So they sent a message to the Captain noting that there was smoke and asking for permission to evacuate. THIS is what you need root cause analysis. Why did they do this?

  25. Hmm*

    I have a supervisor who will come into my office in a flurry and expect an immediate answer as to why I misspelled a file name on a document 6 months ago. I’m working on training her to anticipate that I’ll need a few minutes to review the error and dredge up the circumstances of that day 6 months ago. Usually the answer I come back to her with is “I made a mistake. Sorry.” It’s exhausting.

  26. voyager1*

    Had a manager who did this. She micromanaged as well. I always assumed the “why”thing came from some management book or seminar about holding people accountable or some pseudoscience management theory.

    I left that job after working for her for 10 weeks.

  27. Amethystmoon*

    Ugh yes, the typo grillers. IMHO if someone has less than a 10% error rate and it’s only cropping up once in a while, it shouldn’t be made out to be a big huge thing. But if it’s happening half the time or more and in a place where that matters (for example, data entry on items for a major company and cost, size, UPCs, etc. have to all be perfect or they might not ring up properly at store level), then it should be addressed. I had the former coworker who made typos on UPCs all the time, even when there were photos of them for him to cross-check. I once had to spend 4 hours fixing a bunch of UPC errors on several mainframe screens and it took overtime to do it. I’m not sure how long it took the team after me to fix them in the other system. So yeah, complete and utter carelessness gets annoying.

    My previous manager would at someone else’s behest grill our team over the slightest of typos, and demand basically that we be perfect, which isn’t going to necessarily happen. People are human. But since we’re still employed, it must be a low enough error rate not to fire us, right?

    If people are actually trying, and it’s a once in a while thing, it shouldn’t be made a big deal of. Typos should only be made a big deal of if they are happening all the time and they affect other people’s work.

  28. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    I wouldn’t be able to handle this because if I kept getting pressed for a “why tho” over a missed type-o that isn’t even my complete fault, having had 3 people proof it. I would snap back with a “The gremlins must have done it, they’re always messing things up around here.” remark, which is my go-to for most unexplained small annoying things. A printer was going bizerk and we couldn’t figure it out “Unplug it, give the gremlins a rest!”

    I guess the real answer is “okay so 3 proofs wasn’t enough, guess we need you to be the 4th set of eyes so that this never ever happens again, my Lord and High Master.”

    Yuck. These people never change and the only way to escape them is to leave, which stinks.

  29. Deja vu*

    +1 Omg this is my last workplace. The director would analyze every error just to be a tool. Of course, he was perfect. (Sarcasm.)

    1. mostlymanaged*

      That’s basically what I was thinking– my last boss did this exact kind of thing. He would actually write down typos and really minor mistakes (including typos in internal note taking!) and put them in a “permanent record.”

      He would then use the “permanent record” to fire people whenever he wanted. One woman got fired for a typo in a Christmas card… 6 months later…

  30. Mannheim Steamroller*

    “Because I had to give you something to complain about.”

    “Because I’m HUMAN and sometimes make mistakes, especially when I’m doing doing someone else’s job in addition to my own.”

    Really, what does he want from you? Should you be suspended? Kneel and say, “I’m not worthy”? Give up your first born? Fall on a sword?

  31. KWu*

    I’m having a hard time picturing the kind of boss that would have this habit but then still actually listen to a lesson like “this mistake happened because humans make mistakes sometimes.” Maaaaybe if this is a somewhat rigid/insecure boss that is applying postmortem analysis/the 5 whys a little too literally but is self-aware about their lack of skill at reading other people’s cues (that this is causing more fear than it is helping anything) and actively trying to improve on that? Otherwise this seems to fall into a “if you were capable of changing your ways to be more reasonable, you would have already realized and done it on your own” category of boss-things for me.

    Also this behavior sounds like that of a toddler to me, so perhaps articles with advice on dealing with obsessive questioning and conversation topic fixation with toddlers would help. Something like, “well why do *you* think this mistake happened?”

    1. juliebulie*

      Good advice… sometimes I think that knowing more about toddlers would help me understand a lot more about some of my coworkers.

  32. Schnapps*

    I had one manager (and really, an entire workgroup) that would do that. The manager once said, “We need to take pride in our work so that mistakes and typos don’t happen.”

    After some dismayed looks from my coworkers, I spoke up and said, “Just because we make a small error doesn’t mean we don’t take pride in our work.” We didn’t get along too great after that.

    I had another, subsequent, manager who kept grilling me about a not-the-end-of-the-world-but-reasonably-serious mistake that had recurred. It involved a lot of duplication of work and I missed a checkpoint. I pointed out to her that the processes and systems were super complex and while I take responsibility for the error, there’s no way I can guarantee it won’t happen again, because I am human.

    She backed off after that, but didn’t offer any help to find a solution.

  33. Footnoter*

    Just remembered a client that needed a few hundred footnotes manually renumbered, and I warned that they should take extra care in reviewing the work due to the risk of human error. They came back and said something like, if I pay you $X more, will that eliminate “human error,” whatever that is?

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Sure, if you pay me two million dollars, I’ll eliminate human error. It’ll finance the amount of people I need to have look at this single document. Since I mean sure, I bet if you had like 100 people proof it…

      That reminds me of the old boss that tried to pay me to stay with his organization and “just find a new boyfriend”, when I gave notice and let him know I was moving to be with my recently relocated partner. I mean sure if you had offered me enough money so that I could have a private jet to go back and forth between locations, I’m all in, bro. Otherwise, no.

  34. AvonLady Barksdale*

    The irony for many of us is that this kind of treatment leads to more typos/mistakes, not fewer. I am a pretty good proofreader and, I think, a decently competent writer, but if I’m berated over a typo or two, my anxiety makes me kind of seize up. I had a situation at my prior, horrible job where I got reprimanded for mistakes– and I mean, sit-me-down-and-lecture-me reprimanded–and I just kept making them because I couldn’t relax enough not to make them. Yes, therapy followed.

    Typos happen. I’ve caught several in other people’s work, people have caught several in mine. Sometimes other mistakes get made in copy, and my feeling about those is similar. My boss once wrote a very important email to someone using that person’s first name and his colleague’s surname, and I didn’t catch it because I didn’t know. It was a bit embarrassing and my boss apologized immediately– but it was a mistake and those things happen, and we didn’t lose the business or anything. Granted, I’m in an industry where that’s usually ok, and that’s what I presume we’re talking about here.

  35. MintLavendar*

    I hate this so much! I had a boss who was a little bit like this (just a little!) and I actively avoided making statements saying we could add a new checklist, or whatever, because the thought of my job becoming 8 hours a day of checking checklists and doing additional process just to try to solve a minor problem that it probably wouldn’t solve anyway was agonizing. There’s a point where “always getting to the bottom of it” has declining marginal returns, and starts making your staff hate their now-extremely-bureaucratic job! (And if you have to have your *Facebook posts* proofread by 3 different people, I assume you’re already approaching that point!)

      1. Beancounter Eric*

        Because if they are properly designed and executed, they reduce errors.

        See “The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right” by Atul Gawande….this book focuses more on checklists in medicine, but I’ve found well drafted & followed checklists are a critical tool in reducing errors and increasing efficiency.

        1. banzo_bean*

          I’m not opposed to checklists overall but I’ve had bosses that insist on checklists for putting postage on envelopes. There is a point when checklists can become excessive, and I don’t believe they’re the end all be all to fixing errors and mistakes.

          1. Beancounter Eric*

            Are we talking about sticking a stamp on an envelope, or are we talking about postage which has to be charged to a project, department, etc?

            Checklist for putting a stamp on an envelope, yeah, a bit much. Checklist for allocating postage to departments……I was Controller for a company where branch managers were super-aware of costs being allocated to their branches. We had to develop & follow a detailed procedure including checklists to satisfy some of the managers they weren’t being charged someone else’s postage.

            1. banzo_bean*

              We are talking about inserting an envelope into a pre-programmed meter. All envelopes are the same cost. If you didn’t count to 3 before you moved the envelope after stamping- it would smudge a little bit. It still worked at the post office, boss just didn’t like the way it looked

  36. banzo_bean*

    I had a boss that did this! I was in charge of sending weekly marketing emails but no one in the company was willing to proof the emails! Additionally, my boss would often request I write new marketing emails with an hour or 2 notice and then become irrationally angry when they contained typos or other mistakes (the offer codes we used could be hard to generate correctly). And yes always “why? How could this happen? Why?!?”
    Finally, I had to push back hard and say “I can write marketing emails, but I can’t write and proof my own work without errors. Sometimes you send out emails with minor typos to clients- so I feel like you might have a sense how/why this happens. Also, I really need a full day to get the email written, proofed, and in the marketing system with the correct offers and codes.”
    This worked for all of 2 months before boss would start to say sarcastic remarks like “We could do a sale this holiday weekend except so and so needs a FULL day so we don’t have time to get the offer ready.”
    Best advice is to get a thick skin and keep repeating the same reasoning for why back to them “I’m human, I make mistakes.”

    1. What She Said*

      I’ve told a boss before, “Here is what I was able to do. I could do more if I had more time but if you need to send this out now here is the best 10 minutes can give you.” I totally put it back on them. Also, I’m the proofreader not the original writer.

      1. banzo_bean*

        That’s a good line. Part of my frustration was that I was hired to be an office manager not a marketing/writing role. I get that jobs often require you to take on responsibilities outside of the scope of your job description, but I *never* would have signed up for a marketing position. I hated having my writing raked over the coals on a daily basis, (she did not think I wrote marketing materials salesy enough) and hated having these mistakes dragged out for the world to see.

    2. Vincaminor*

      “We could do a sale this holiday weekend except so and so needs a FULL day so we don’t have time to get the offer ready.”

      Dang, it’s too bad no one told you thanksgiving was coming up so you’d have time to decide you wanted to have a sale! Good grief.

  37. Lime Lehmer*

    I once had a boss who was a real terror. When I made a fairly serious mistake in a grant, he came into my office all red faced and screaming at the top of his lungs, “Why did you do this?” (ie make a mistake)

    As I sat for a moment, all sorts of answers scrolled through my brain. Finally I just blurted out: “I just f*cked up.”

    Oddly instead of a long loud harangue, he looked at me and simply said “don’t do it again” turned on his heels and left my office.

    Frankly the reasons for our mistakes is often that we are human.

  38. LGC*

    Oh man, I winced when reading this. Because I have a similar tendency as the boss – although nowhere near that bad! (And I’m aware of it and try to rein it in. I’m not perfect, though.)

    Also, Alison, I don’t know if I’d call the letter writer’s boss a tool. Tools are at least useful, which is more than I can say for this guy. (On the other hand, the terms I would use are definitely work-inappropriate, unless you work in the feminine hygiene aisle of a pharmacy or supermarket, so…)

    Anyway. I THINK boss might be trying to troubleshoot by doing a root cause analysis. Which – as noted – can be valid! With the Facebook post, you might have made a typo because you got the prompt five minutes before you left at the end of a hectic day (for example). But – as noted – his tone is extremely antagonistic, and not collaborative. If that’s what he’s trying to do, he is going about it terribly.

    So…LW, you might want to try answering his interrogation that way? But also, your boss sucks.

    1. banzo_bean*

      So…LW, you might want to try answering his interrogation that way? But also, your boss sucks.
      Agreed, is there any part of the company/bosses processes that could be a part of the mistakes? It can be really hard when someone is aggressively questioning you to push back and say “actually you’re not giving me enough time for XYZ” but it could be a good way to get your boss to back off with this type of questioning.

  39. old foof*

    Ugh, something like this happened to me with a client. I will grant that it was a significant mistake and it happened because of a lack of attention to detail, and that’s not great, but human error is a thing that happens and all one can really do is… ya know, make an effort to be more diligent. Instead, we had to painstakingly document every step when we redid it. No amount of taking responsibility and acknowledging that it was a serious error was good enough, it was just why why why why why.

  40. KimberlyR*

    “Fergus, I made an error. I will make sure to double-check my work more thoroughly in the future so that it doesn’t happen again.”
    “But WHY did it happen???”
    “Fergus, I have already said that I made an error. I did not make a conscious decision to make that typo but I did accidentally do it. I have no other explanation.”
    “I just want to know WHY it happened so it doesn’t happen again!”
    “As I said, I am going to check more thoroughly in the future. If you have any suggestions to help with this situation, please feel free to let me know. But there is nothing else that can be said about this.”
    Repeat repeat repeat.

  41. Linzava*

    Been there. In my experience, bosses who are “looking” for intentionalies in mistakes are heavily projecting their own manipulative personalies onto their staff.

    My current boss will alert me to mistakes even after fixing them. He does it to point out the mistake so I will pay attention to it in the future. No punishment, no insults, no issue.

    Compare that to a previous boss who would yell and berate me, even when the mistake was hers and bring up mistakes from months before as an excuse to insult me. She only got to her position by getting someone else fired, I think she is overly paranoid that someone’s going to set her up too.

  42. What She Said*

    “Because I felt like it.”

    I don’t recommend this response but when my boss wouldn’t accept the “I’m human and humans make mistakes sometimes”, response I gave up. She didn’t like my answer but she finally ended the ridiculous conversation.

    1. pamela voorhees*

      There’s a wonderful episode of the BBC radio program Cabin Pressure where a bassoonist believes that an evil cabal is out to get her. She pulls over the sardonic flight attendant Carolyn and starts screaming that the bassoonist’s chair’s armrest has been raised half an inch as part of a plot to kill her. Carolyn points out the absolute absurdity of this – this isn’t exact, but something close – “So a person or persons unknown snuck about this plane, already knew which seat you would take on an unassigned flight, and for reasons that are utterly unfathomable to me, but presumably clear to them, raised your armrest half an inch in an attempt to kill you?” The bassoonist screams some more and then Carolyn neatly says, “Why don’t you just switch seats?” I imagine anyone who gets in a tizzy like this just thinks that the bassoonist cabal is after them.

  43. Catsaber*

    This type of grilling makes me think he is wanting you to explain your thought process and/or the sequence of events that led to the mistake occurring, so he can “correct” your thoughts (or whatever). I have encountered people like this in my life, where saying, “Oh I just missed it” isn’t sufficient – they want to know what you were doing at the time, how many distractions you had, what the weather was, how many stars in the sky, etc etc etc, so they could further micromanage me.

    In the case of more substantial mistakes, you do want to try to understand the processes that caused it to happen, but not in a “complete factual reenactment” sort of way, and especially not for tiny mistakes. Like everyone else has said, it’s embarrassing to be grilled like that and have your every move/thought questioned.

  44. QCI*

    I would answer with a short and sweet “Because I suck at my job, any more questions?” I tend to be passive aggressive though.

  45. S*

    Yep, this is my current boss, who can take a multi layered issue and make 100% our fault without knowing the details. They were mysteriously promoted several career grades and had zero management experience, but somehow got fast tracked into a promotion that would take one of us at least six years to accomplish and multiple promotions. I’ve watched my entire department empty out and coworkers take crappy job to get away from this jackass. I’m looking for another job but I’m pretty much being pushed out after being at my job for only two years. Other people have been in the same position for three or more and get no flack from their boss, but my heinous boss is on a complete power trip and enjoys demeaning people and driving them out.

  46. Ben H*

    I just left a boss like this. Every mistake, no matter how minor, required a thorough investigation and the creation of protocols specifically meant to prevent that particular mistake from occurring again. His practice had an insane turnover rate, with the average employee only staying 6-7 months.

    Every week, he and I would have a 4-hour meeting, which was an improvement from the 2-hour daily meetings he wanted, he’d pull something similar with me. At the end of my agenda I would let him know I was finished, to which he would always respond “anything else?,” always made me feel like I could never be productive enough.

  47. Angwyshaunce*

    I’d be tempted to say, “Let me look into that and get back to you.” Then never get back to them. At least that answer has a chance of getting them off your back.

  48. CommanderBanana*

    Your boss sucks. My boss does this when we make decisions, and usually the answer is “we randomly decided to do this because you wouldn’t give us any oversight or make a decision.”

    1. College Career Counselor*

      I’m assuming that answer is unspoken! (But if it’s not, I want to know what your boss says in response!)

  49. Suzwhat*

    I work in a field where mistakes that cause system outages are reviewed in a meeting. One hero was asked “why did this happen”. He replied “because of a mistake”. The questioner asked “can you be more specific”. He starts going into the very detailed technical aspects of the issue. the questioner said “that is too much detail. Can you give me an overview?”. He replied “someone made a mistake”.
    The conversation ended. Sometimes it is good to dive into the details but the audience has to understand the details and be willing to work on improvements.

  50. dumb dumb*

    Be glad you don’t work in a CGMP facility!! If I make a mistake I have to write a report on why the mistake happened, including root cause with a categorical error code, and then I have to give documentable suggestions for how to avoid the mistake in the future. Everyone has to sign the report and it goes in the permanent record for the facility. Have you ever tried to write out why you made a mistake without sounding like you’re a complete idiot? It is so painful!!!

  51. Kristine*

    Oh, yes, yes! I had a superior like this. I ended up saying, “Well, if I knew how I could miss it I wouldn’t miss it, would I?” and then she went into our mutual supervisor’s office all in crocodile tears and I got issued another ultimatum. It turned out Ms. Crocodile Tears was feeding as least some of them to me, but she was excused for this while I was not allowed to make one mistake. Croc also backstabbed, whined, bragged about her childhood ballet lessons, and insulted co-workers (“You don’t have children!” etc.) without consequences.
    Funny, when I gave notice (more than a month’s notice without another job lined up) they were both shocked and unprepared. I actually gave my superior some language to deal with Croc in her performance review before I left, because my supervisor was frightened of her and had confusing boundary issues. (!)
    Sometimes you have to walk away from a loony bin.

  52. This one here*

    I worked for an optometrist. I improperly completed a form. One coworker had “taught” the rest of us to complete the form; I suspect she purposely did a poor job of teaching so that she could look “good” (there were more occurrences to back this up). So, the doctor says to me “How do we complete the [form]?” I replied “Apparently, I did it incorrectly, so I don’t know.”

  53. AKchic*

    For each interaction, it would be beneficial to consider whether knowing the root of the “why” query. Is it to ultimately streamline the process and avoid future mistakes, or is it to kowtow, grovel or appease a power-tripper?

    If it is a legitimate processing issue that could be changed, then by all means, entertain the conversation and learn from it.

    If it’s a power-tripping boss… well… maybe it’s time to push back. Are you in a position to push back? Can you and your coworkers start documenting the time being wasted on the “inquiries” that don’t go anywhere (hey, that’s wasted productivity). I don’t know if this manager is new to managing, or had a bad manager and “learned” this style of managing from someone else and is continuing the poor style, but it really does need to stop because it’s not beneficial to anyone.

  54. Lana Kane*

    I have a colleague in management who is always, always asking about the “root cause” when something goes wrong (their fancy way of asking “but why did you do this?”). Whenever my team makes a mistake that has to do with their team, no matter how small, “let’s find the root cause” gets busted out. A few weeks ago I replied to them with “well, to be honest, the root cause here is that people sometimes make mistakes.” That ended the conversation pretty effectively.

    Working for someone like that is harder. When I did, I felt very uneasy about saying “I don’t know why I made that mistake” because I had the type of supervisor who was likely to then see me as error-prone. I did, however, finally say it to her while affecting a slightly contrite tone, and that seemed to calm her down. Which sucks because what she was looking for was for me to show her I felt bad. In the end, if you decide you want or need to continue working with people like this, you may need to find what their motivation is behind the questioning and proceed accordingly.

  55. Zombie Unicorn*

    I highly recommend Amy Edmondson’s TED talk on building a psychologically safe workplace, which explains why you need to make it ok for people to disclose that they’ve made mistakes.

  56. CountryLass*

    I have to go to a meeting with a client tomorrow, and explain why I missed something. The honest answer is, I just didn’t see it! They have disagreed with my assessment of a couple of properties, and so we will be creating a process of exactly how things need to be done to try and stop this issue in future.
    But I do have proof that some of the things they are claiming were not noted or done are things I told them about, as I have the emails to prove it.

    Doesn’t mean I’m looking forward to it…

  57. Joielle*

    Once you can tell the conversation is going nowhere, you could try something like “I’m not sure what kind of information you’re looking for here, but I can gather more info if you tell me what you need to know. What kind of details do you need about the typo?” Then take out a notepad and pen and look at him expectantly.

    Maybe he does want something specific (who proofread the document, did they use spell check, whatever), but he probably won’t be able to come up with anything. Then you can just say “Ok, well if you do have questions, I’m here to help!” You look helpful, he looks like a tool, mission accomplished.

  58. Madame X*

    Your boss sounds like he is looking for someone to blame. Mistakes happen, hopefully not too frequently or too egregious.
    Working for someone who doesn’t tolerate any mistakes actually makes your work harder and make it less likely that people will come forward if they do find a mistake.

  59. Just Tired*

    Ex-boss did this when you did something differently than she would have done it. Imagine that you saved a file to the shared drive in a particular folder, and then you get interrogated for 10 minutes about why you chose that folder. “Why did you save “Picture 1” to the “Pictures” folder?” “Because it’s called “Pictures?” “Yeah, but why? Why didn’t you save it to “Llamas” since it’s a picture of a llama?” “It makes sense to find all our pictures in once place?” “Yeah, but it’s a llama, why don’t you just save it to “Llamas?” So after ten minutes of this, I would finally just say, “Hey, I’ve explained why I did it, if you want it done differently, you are the boss, you need to tell us how you want it done. Then we’ll do it that way. But it makes no sense to keep hammering us on our decision-making after we’ve already explained it, it makes sense, and you just want it done differently.” Of course, this was after working with her for a couple of years and I was completely done with her inability to see worth in how anyone else did something if it was different to her method.

    1. Drew*

      I witnessed a conversation like this just today, except the boss was being reasonable and the employee wouldn’t shut up long enough to recognize the lifeline she was being offered.

      Employee: Should I file this contract under Fergus or his Teapot Dome DBA? We’ve contracted with both of them and I don’t know which one he’s using now.
      Boss: We should probably consolidate all of them in one folder and just make the other one a crossreference. We’ve done it before.
      Employee: OK, but which one should I use?
      Boss: Whichever one you want.
      Employee: OK, but WHICH ONE? Because sometimes we refer to Fergus and sometimes Teapot Dome, and I hate to send people to one and then the other.
      Boss: It doesn’t matter. Pick one.
      Employee: BUT WHICH ONE?!?
      Boss: Fergus. Use Fergus.
      Employee: I think it should be Teapot Dome.

      I left before blurting out “Third base!”

  60. Rachel 2: Electric Boogaloo*

    Ugh. At one company, I had a supervisor and manager who not only did the interrogations over small mistakes, but actually _wrote me up_ if they didn’t like the answers. (At my last annual review, when I thought I’d had a good year, they brought up a minor mistake I’d made at the beginning of the year – one I’d forgotten about – and used that to ding me a whole point on that section of the review, thus putting me just under the average I needed to hit in order to be eligible for a raise.) It really sucks and I’m sorry.

    1. Drew*

      That would be my trigger to start looking for something else. Denying you a raise because of a minor error that clearly wasn’t part of a pattern is bullshit.

  61. CbCM*

    I had a boss like this once. Finally I fired back with ‘Do you think I did it on purpose? Does it seem like I am enjoying this right now?’ and it shut her right up. Fortunately I was moved under a different manager who responds to mistakes with ‘Oops. I’ve done that before… do you need my help to fix it?’

  62. Editor Person*

    The thing that drives me nuts about this is that in the time it takes to have this conversation the problem could be fixed.

  63. Acornia*

    I’ve worked for this boss. And gotten this grilling for mistakes *I caught and fixed* that were made by my predecessor.
    She refused to believe I didn’t know why, and accused me of trying to shift blame. That was fun. Wish I had never brought it up.

  64. Jan*

    At least he is talking about your mistakes. A few years ago I had a long talk with my (otherwise very reasonable and competent) manager because a customer had ordered the wrong amount of an item. The amount was perfectly reasonable and nothing about the order was suspicious at all. The customer had confirmed the order. When I told her that these issues cannot be foreseen or prevented (in many cases) she accused me of not taking the problem serious and insisted that I come up with a process that would automatically detect wrong orders (i was a programmer at that time) Spoiler alert: I was not able to do that

  65. CoveredInBees*

    I’m sorry. This is rough.

    I had a boss who was like this and no answer satisfied her, she just wanted to berate. If we responded directly, we were being defensive. If we gave any sort of apology or admission it was a mistake, we were being non-responsive. Since we were all prosecutors, the term cross-examined was *not* hyperbole. Also, some of the things at issue weren’t even mistakes, per se. They were simply different approaches that hadn’t turned out as planned/hoped due to a number of factors, many of which were outside parties. It would have made sense to talk things through to see how we might avoid the mistakes in the future, but that wasn’t actually the tone of the meetings.

  66. Swiss Army Knife*

    I don’t see anything wrong with cross-examining the individual contributors and managers whenever there is a mistake in a business process. If an order gets messed up, if there is a typo, if an extension on a website goes missing, if the sales report is wrong and contains inaccurate information; we need to understand who, what, when, why and how ASAP and what other parts of the system were impacted; otherwise we are setting the dangerous precedent that we will shrug our shoulders whenever there is a mistake; which can lead to a ripple effect causing catastrophic, irreversible damage to the company, the industry, the end consumers; and life on earth as we know it.

    1. Paralegal Part Deux*

      The only people that don’t make mistakes are the ones who aren’t actually doing anything.

    2. Wicked Witch of the Warehouse*

      Swiss Army Knife: THIS. EXACTLY. I’m an inventory analyst at my company and spend WAY more time than I should have to, chasing the sales reps and warehouse guys around to figure out who made which mistakes and how/why they did it. Discrepancies in the inventory can snowball really quickly if they’re not fixed ASAP, affecting everything from accounting to purchasing to distribution.

      I hate that I have to nitpick and be the bad cop all the time, but somebody has to do it, to keep things from going off the rails. I would never use the shitty, condescending tone the OP’s boss does to point out errors, but I admit that I’m not the most popular co-worker because it’s part of my job to tell people they did something wrong, and most people don’t like admitting to making a mistake (or in the case of our sales reps, the mere *suggestion* that they are less than perfect really puts their noses out of joint, LOL).

  67. Purt's Peas*

    I’d be tempted to answer the question he’s really asking, which is: how can this never ever happen again ever? So something like, “Unfortunately we can only ever minimize, not eradicate, errors like this. We have an excellent structure in place for preventing errors and maintain an industry-acceptable rate of typos.”

    1. Noah*

      I think he’s really asking: “Did three people really proofread this? I find that hard to believe because it would be somewhat unusual for three people to miss the same typo.”

      1. TypityTypeType*

        Unusual, but not unheard of at all. Things sometimes just don’t register. Every issue of one of our magazines has hundreds of captions for images of artwork, and we set them up in a particular way — meaning one caption looks pretty much like another. So I try to stare at each one for at least a few seconds to make sure the content has registered in my mind, and not just a caption-shaped object.

        And yet, despite a page being seen by me, a proofreader, and the EIC (who is an expert proofreader himself), in the last issue we got an artist’s lifedates backward: Arthur Artist (1997-1926). It happens (sigh).

  68. Paralegal Part Deux*

    One of the attorneys I work for is like this. Finally, a just get to the point where I say, “I don’t know what else to tell you. I made a mistake, corrected it, and it won’t happen again.” This is despite the attorney, the associate, and me looking at the document, but it’s magically my fault when it happens.

    1. Veryanon*

      Yep. I had that moment with a previous manager (I wrote about her below). I actually used the phrase with her “I don’t know what else to tell you. The mistake happened, we corrected it, and put a process in place to make sure it won’t happen again.”
      I often think back to something a colleague once told me when we worked together for a retailer. She would say “We’re not designing rockets or curing brain cancer here; we’re figuring out faster ways to sell people gum and salty snacks.” It definitely put things in perspective.

      1. Paralegal Part Deux*

        I could understand it if I was the one drafting the document. Nine times out of ten, it’ll be the associate who screws up royally (like putting our client’s as Robert Plant in a pleading instead of the client’s actual name). He’s really bad to screw up names, but it’s my fault if it happens since I didn’t catch it in one place or something. I finally just told them I have zero issues taking responsibility for my mistakes, but they were going to have to go after the associate for his mistakes.

  69. Business Squid*

    I’ve had this boss. He had a form to fill out every time a mistake was made and everything. To this day I get anxiety attacks over making any possible mistake at work because of him, and that was 4 years ago now. You have my sympathy :(

  70. ragazza*

    Ugh, I had a boss who did this about typos. Meanwhile he mangled the English language on a regular basis.

    1. EvilQueenRegina*

      If it wasn’t for the fact you said this was a guy, I’d be wondering if that was my previous boss who did exactly that!

  71. Bend & Snap*

    I actually do this on purpose if I’m not getting a good answer from customer service, and it probably annoys them, but it 100% has no place in an employee/manager relationship.

    Usually it’s DoorDash when they don’t show up with my food. Just for context.

  72. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

    When I was being trained for my new role, my trainer was a 78-year-old man who was….challenged….where interpersonal communication was concerned. He had NO idea how to train someone and even less of an idea how to talk to another human being.

    During my training, I would do the first part and (because I was slow because I was training and didn’t want to make any mistakes) he would do the second part. He kept saying “I’ll do this today and show you how to do it later.” Well, later rolled around on the 5th of this month. We were processing two days of work and he forgot to tell me a major step (this involved exporting my a/r data from the sales program and importing it into Quickbooks) which we didn’t realize until we got to the same spot on the second day of work. He lost his mind! He was hovering over me and yelling at me and wagging his finger in my face. He then yelled at me “Well I guess you’ll never make that mistake again, will you?!” It was unintentional, but he accidentally hit my nose while he was wagging his finger at me and that was the end of that rope. I turned on him and said “It wasn’t MY mistake. It was YOUR mistake because you didn’t tell me I needed to do that step. Remember I’ve never done this before!” And he says, “Well, it wasn’t that big of a mistake anyways.” I informed him that I found it hilarious that, as long as it was my mistake it was worth yelling about but when I pointed out the actual mistake was a deficiency in his training/training methods it was suddenly a non-issue. I also told him I didn’t appreciate having his finger wagged in my face and, to make my point, I wagged my finger in his face which promptly caused his head to asplode. He got all red and I said, “See? It’s not a good feeling to have someone wag their finger in your face, is it?”

    He said, “You’re a stubborn ballbuster.” I said, “And you’re a shi**y trainer and yet here we are!”

    He then ran to the boss and told him I called him a name (but conveniently left out the stubborn ballbuster remark). He came in the next day, did payroll, and told the boss either I go or he goes (I had been on the job about 3 weeks at this point). The boss told him “Don’t let the door hit you where the good Lord split you!” and that was the last we heard of the bookkeeper. The boss was upset, but not with me. He knew this guy was a real….challenge…to work with but he was really surprised when the bookkeeper walked out. We have overcome that, though, and are slowly figuring out WTH this guy did with the books.

    For the record, I do not feel I called him a name; I simply defined the quality of his training. It was shi**y.

      1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

        I guess you’ve missed my other stories, which are how I earned my nickname here on AAM. I’ve had some amazing employment experiences here in Floriduh. I have a “bad job” magnet in my body somewhere. It’s never been found, but I search for it regularly!

      1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

        That name was bestowed upon me by the AAM commentariat last year. Check out last year’s July 4th open thread for the most incredible of my employment stories. The best line? “No Brett. I didn’t say I was going to file complaints with IRS, DOL and SEC. I said that I had *already filed* those complaints.” I still polish my nails on that line.

      1. Destroyer of Worlds, Empress of Awesome*

        Awww thanks, but that term is overused especially where I am concerned! I’m just someone who has had enough. Check out last year’s July 4th open thread for a really awesome read from me! My comment in that thread is what got me my nickname here on AAM. It was really spectacular. Comparatively speaking, what I shared directly above is completely vanilla and nothing. Last year’s was freaking amazing.

  73. Veryanon*

    Ugh, my last boss was like this. She would just freak out about even the tiniest error, even if the error was completely outside of the scope of what our team was responsible for.
    Her: Why did the teapot design get published to the intranet prematurely?
    Me: I’m not responsible for that team, but I’ve spoken to them about following the correct procedure going forward. They will check with me first in the future before publishing anything.
    Her: But why did they dooooo iiiiitttt?
    Me: Apparently they didn’t fully understand the process, but we’ve put this procedure in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
    Her: But wwhhhhyyyyy….[ad infinitum]

  74. JG*

    Oh man I have totally had this boss before. Every minor mistake became a whole ordeal of revisiting our systems, implementing new checklist, etc to make sure it never happened again. Which of course didn’t help the problem and just added administrative burden. Sometimes people just screw up, and I took it as a sign that our systems were working that a) mistakes happened rarely, and b) we caught and fixed them before they caused any serious impacts.

  75. Tinker*

    One thing that might help with this, or at least situations like this, is to render a bit more explicit that the identified corrective action (“we made a checklist”) or the lack of an identified corrective action (“this is human error”) actually does contain an implied answer to “why”.

    Like: Why did this happen? Because there was a miscommunication between reviewers, and each thought it was covered by the other. Hence we have added explicit handoffs to the process. Why did this happen? Because we informally know a list of common errors, but we hold it in memory and there are several items; in this case one of the items was overlooked. Why did this happen? Because this system has an expected error rate, and this is an example of one of the errors that comprise that rate.

    There’s an emotional reassurance thing I’ve noticed a lot with people — even if the data they asked for is contained in the answer they received, if the form of the answer doesn’t contain a direct response to the form of their question (an explicit because following a why, say) then they don’t come away feeling heard about their concern, and they feel a continued internal drive to ask again and again which they then for whatever reason fail to contain. The person hearing that then, because of the superficially rational-aggressive tone of the thing, tries to add more detail to what they were saying rather than change the structure of their statement. I’ve literally gotten to the point of saying things “Typically, I would do this by typing the words ‘git checkout master'” and the person asking me things still wasn’t satisfied by my level of detail.

    It might really be that “Because shit happens”, despite not being particularly rigorous, closes the emotional loop.

    1. Lilysparrow*

      I might buy this if OP were dealing with a child, or an employee, or maybe even an annoying peer.

      This is a boss, berating his subordinates in a completely unnecessary way, over petty issues that have no measurable business impact and are quickly fixed.

      He doesn’t need emotional reassurance. He just enjoys pushing people around.

      1. Tinker*

        I basically agree that, if my theory is correct, OP is dealing with emotional immaturity on the part of their manager. The way they’re acting isn’t desirable, and I prefer to deal with people who do not do this sort of thing. Implementing that, though, is often at least a medium-term project and sometimes stuffing a worm in the baby bird’s mouth stops the racket that is going on right now.

  76. Lilysparrow*

    Oh Lord. I had a boss like this once. It’s just a form of verbal abuse.

    She was harassing me over dialing a wrong number . Nothing embarrassing or untoward happened. I just tried to put a call through for her, transposed two digits, got some random person, apologized, and redialed.

    She went on about why?why? Why? Forever.

    Finally I snapped and said, “Well, it’s not like I decided to dial wrong on purpose. There is no reason why, Jane.”

    Interestingly, instead of pursuing disciplinary action, she backed off. Bullies generally do when their tactic stops working. They get their jollies from seeing people defensive and confused.

    Calling their bullshit spoils the fun.

  77. Pampaloon*

    What about a sincere “I’m not sure how to answer that in the way you may be expecting. From my perspective it was an inadvertent error and it’s also infrequent. If I am not thinking about this correctly please help me with what a reasonable response would be that would help you know that I understand the error, the gravity of it and your expectations going forward.”

  78. StaceyIzMe*

    Many people go their whole lives believing that “why” is actually a good question. Generally, it’s not. It creates a “freeze” in the mind in many contexts, and isn’t helpful in getting at the cause of most things. Obviously, this isn’t applicable in scientific or impersonal queries, but is in human queries. “What happened?” or “How did we get here?” can be useful, when warranted. But not for every minor error! A “gotcha” mentality doesn’t encourage better performance, it just encourages dysfunction. (And I’d be willing to be that this boss learned this “why” gambit at home as a young child and has been misapplying it professionally in the expectation that it would prevent problems from recurring.)

  79. Noah*

    If three people are missing the same typo in a relatively short form piece (such as a Facebook post), that is pretty troubling and I’d want to know how that happened.

    That said, I suspect this was just not a great example and that Boss really is pretty awful.

  80. GreyHighlighter*

    At my old job, I was taught to do task X in a very specific way that made it much more time consuming (it took a few days to complete), and was told we had to do it that way because if we didn’t it could cause major problems in the system. Fast forward 10 months, and I’m asked to do task X again, and I start out doing it the way I was taught (I had taken detailed notes). After a day or two, my supervisor wanted to know why it was taking so long, and I explained why it was time consuming and why doing it that way prevented problems. They said, no, the system had been fixed/upgraded so you could do it a quicker way now. Why would you be doing it the old way? So I explained that’s how I had been taught to do it. I had no idea anything had changed in the 10 months since I’d last done it. And then they kept asking why I would do it that way, and I had to keep repeating myself. I don’t know what other answer I was supposed to give.

    They finally got fed up and said talking to me was like talking to a brick wall.

    Now I get really anxious and angry anytime I hear the phrase “like talking to a brick wall.” :/

    1. Jan*

      “They finally got fed up and said talking to me was like talking to a brick wall.”

      Wow. Pots and kettles or what?

  81. JSPA*

    Some of the more aggressive, cult like “leadership training” and “personal development” courses used to push this. “give me three good reasons why,” and all that. If that’s what’s going on, either get out, or have pre-canned lines to feed him, and let the weirdly personalized “why are you not perfect” roll right off.

    On the other hand, it’s possible you can get some insight.

    “The typo is very near a bold vertical line in the graphics; it could be that it’s a distractor. I’ll keep an eye on whether typos get further in those circumstances, and if so, we can flag that as something to re-check, specifically.”

    “We all proofread from the same tiny, old monitor–maybe it’s the monitor. Is there budget for a new one?”

    “Words with three vertical strokes in a line are known to be problematic for spotting typos. Do we want to flag them up in the spellcheck program?”

    “We got the copy at 3PM Friday and had to put the ad to bed by 5 PM. That’s not something we’re used to doing. We probably have fresher eyes and brains earlier in the day, earlier in the week, and without the extra time pressure.”

    “There are programs to catch exactly these sorts of errors–and the compositors are supposed to use them, leaving us to find purely typographical issues. If they’re not running a spell check, we can do that; do you want it to be our job, or theirs?”

    Basically, if he’s just a bully, he’s just a bully. If he’s inviting you to troubleshoot, take him up on the invitation.

  82. DaniCalifornia*

    There is no way I could work for a person like this. One of my parents was like when we got in trouble as kids. They could yell for hours and would repeatedly ask ‘Why?’ Sometimes there would be an actual answer, but about 95% of the time it was me being a dumb kid or doing what I wanted. Even if I answered truthfully they would still ask ‘Why?!’ incessantly. Reading this gave me flashbacks to those experiences and just shuddering. It was insufferable to be constantly asked that. I doubt the boss would accept any answer, even if you truthfully stated “I am human and make mistakes from time to time as we all do.” or “I was in a hurry and didn’t proofread like I should have.”

    In a more meaner spirit, I wonder if you did this back to your boss when he makes mistakes(given the chance), how he would answer.

  83. Dr. Anonymous*

    I wonder if he read a book on “Lean” and is misapplying the “5 whys”. They’re supposed to be used to help uncover the root cause behind big problems to keep you from taking an expensive wrong step to solve not-really-the-real-problem, not little stuff like why the editor made a typo.

  84. Wandering*

    To quote a former colleague, “It’s called an accident because you didn’t do it on purpose.”

  85. Been Human*

    Tell him you have a DNA Replication Disorder. (Only 1:10 billion, but still). It’s called “Being Human”.
    [And I don’t know what that period placement after the closed quote is called, or the source material for any objection, but I did it on purpose because I prefer it.]

  86. Wafflesforpresident*

    It also possible your boss is attempting to (and grossly misusing) DMAIC for lean six sigma. One of the tools is “the five whys” and instructs users to keep asking why to drill down to the root cause of an issue.

    Used well, it facilitates root cause analysis and uncovers unexpected information.

    Used poorly, the user ends up being either a jerk or a two-year-old or a jerky two-year-old.

  87. Tiara Wearing Princess*

    “ You could add, “I think it makes people fearful of making additional mistakes — and we’ve got to have room for some mistakes in order to try new things.”

    I usually agree with Allison but saying this to a tool is not likely to get the response she’s looking for. Say it to a reasonable, sane person- sure. But to this man-baby? Uh uh

  88. in a fog*

    OMG having flashbacks. When I started standing up to my boss who did this, saying that we were editing so much copy that even a 1% error rate would yield a mistake or two, she called me cocky.

    Get out of there.

  89. EvilQueenRegina*

    This sounds a bit like my previous boss Umbridge, who would use our supervisions to give us all tellings off for minor errors. There was one incident not that long before she left where a coworker Sybill had asked me to send out an information pack to a parent who had enquired about home education. Unfortunately, Sybill had got this parent’s last name wrong in the covering letter, and given that this was a new enquiry from someone previously unknown to us, I would have had no way of knowing it was wrong and sent that pack out with the wrong name on it. The parent didn’t realise what had happened and returned it to sender.

    When it arrived back, Sybill immediately said “Oh, I’m sorry, that was my mistake, her name’s not Warbucks, it’s Weasley!” The pack was reissued using the correct name and I thought that was the end of the matter. A few days later I got the Spanish Inquisition from Umbridge about how this mistake could have happened. This was a typical exchange with Umbridge.

    She went on sick leave a few months later and has since resigned; I had requested to be line managed by someone else if she ever returned (there were a lot of reasons for that; Umbridge is an AAM post all to herself).

  90. DKMA*

    This might be too late to see, but I would frame this as a resource trade-off discussion with your boss. The fact of the matter is that mistakes, particularly simple typo style mistakes, happen and all you can do it set up processes to error-check and minimize them. Those processes have a cost in terms of man hours spent on error checking though.

    In this case you already have THREE people proofreading, that alone sounds like overkill. Adding a fourth proof-reading step, or increasing the time intensity of proof reading will remove time that is now being spent on other priorities. Does he want to make that trade off? If so he should be aware that it will only reduce error rate, not completely eliminate it.

    Particularly if he’s not doing it to intentionally be an ass, framing it this way can shift the conversation from “why did you make this mistake” to “what is the trade-off required to prevent this sort of mistake in the future”.

  91. bluephone*

    Ugh, Boss sounds like a butt-head of the highest degree. I’ve had bosses (3 at once!) AND lateral coworker who were like this (thankfully not all at the same job). Honestly, the best solution is to leave/find a new job because it will never get better; it will actually only get worse. Plan B is to wait for *them* to leave/retire (because they’ll definitely never get fired even if they steal from the CEO in plain sight AND kick his puppy) but usually, they are the type of employees who will NEVER retire/leave voluntarily (and again, magically protected from termination somehow).

  92. Hopefully not a tool*

    What if you have an employee who makes on average at least 3-5 typos & grammatical errors in every email and document they write? This is in addition to some other performance issues. We’ve addressed it with them multiple times and suggested resources. At what point does pointing out and trying to coach out the typos & grammatical errors make you a tool?

    1. Dee*

      It’s not the pointing out the typo that makes this boss a tool! It’s the long-winded, bad-faith cross-examination.

      In your case, it seems like you’re past the point of needing to understand *why* your employee is making these mistakes; it sounds like they’re just ultimately not a good fit for the role on several fronts. The task now is to make clear that these issues are putting their job in jeopardy, and then to follow through if they can’t meet the standards you need to see.

  93. ssnc*

    former boss: there is a typo here.
    me: oops let me fix that and print a clean copy for your review.
    fb: *continues to monologue about how there cant be typos and i shouldnt make that kind of mistake for longer than it takes to fix and print*


  94. Salymander*

    It sounds like Boss is enjoying the chance to lord it over the OP. Boss is feeling superior due to another person’s minor mistake. What a jackass.

    I had a boyfriend do this to me. But not for long.

  95. Former Employee*

    I did not read the comments, but after reading the submission from the OP, all I could think of was “sadistic bully”.

    Unfortunately, when someone like that is put in a position of authority, the only think that might help is if he is given a taste of his own medicine by someone higher up the ladder.

  96. MrGrey*

    This is not my boss. This is my coworker. She uses the endless “why” constantly. I call it the Endless Circle of Confusion Conversation. Bur because she’s not my boss, I’ve learned how to back pedal out of those conversations very quickly as I don’t always have to provide a satisfactory reason. Not that I could anyway. I thing some people just like to run you around in circles.

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