how should I respond when my boss coaches me on something basic and obvious?

A reader writes:

I’m not infallible, but I am a high performer, and my manager has always marked me as exceptional during performance reviews with an above average raise.

My question: I have been working under the same manager for just over 10 years and yesterday I was coached via email on something so basic it was downright offensive. All I could think was, “No shit, Sherlock.” Clearly I would never say that, but geez. Is there a way to respond such that my overall shock is conveyed along with a professional response?

Context really matters here.

If your manager generally respects your skills and doesn’t condescend to you, this could have just been a weird fluke that you don’t need to read much into — they weren’t thinking clearly, or they got oddly micromanagey because they’re feeling anxious about something else, or so forth. Sometimes it’s the better part of grace to let a generally good manager have that moment, figure it’s about them rather than you, and not worry much about it.

But if you find yourself really bothered by it or if you’re wondering if there’s been a serious miscommunication somewhere, it’s fine to ask about it. You could say, “The other day you sent me detailed instructions on how to close out the llama file. I’ve been closing out llama files for a couple of years — I thought successfully! — and so I wondered if you had a concern about how I’ve been doing that or if there was other context that I didn’t realize.”

Note that with this language, you’re not approaching it with shock or offense. Your framework is, “This seemed weird so I wondered if there’s something one of us didn’t realize — and if so, let’s solve that.” That should be your real framing in your head too, not just externally — because if your manager generally treats you respectfully, that really is the place your thinking should start. It’s “hmmm, weird miscommunication?” rather than “how dare you.”

On the other hand, if your manager regularly condescends to you or micromanages, then this is in character and your problem is the pattern, not the one incident. In that case, you’d need to figure out if the pattern is worth addressing or not (here’s some advice on how to do that).

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 135 comments… read them below }

  1. KR*

    Hi OP, another possibility is that your manager just got done writing a similar email to someone else (who isn’t a high performer) and they just copy/pasted to save time. Or their management sent out a blanket – “clarify this process with everyone” and they’re just sending to you so they can say they have told everyone on their team but know you don’t need that instruction.

    1. Threeve*

      I got a scary email from my finance manager once that basically went:

      “Threeve: It’s extremely important to remember that our practice for processing invoices includes Important Detail. There are Dire Consequences to missing Important Detail. Please make sure you are being careful in the future, as it is unacceptable to overlook this.”

      What? I’ve been doing Important Detail, I swear. Haven’t I? I submit invoices all the time–how long have I been doing something wrong? How serious a mistake was it? Should I go apologize in person? Horrified panic spiral.

      And then it turned out they sent the same sternly worded email to everyone in the office, even those of us who have absolutely never missed Important Detail, but for some reason personalized the messages.

      1. fposte*

        Ha, I just got one of those too. I was reassured when I saw the cc: list and realized it had several known offenders on there.

      2. ThatGirl*

        Yeah, I’ve gotten a few of those. If it’s something I’m *sure* I’m doing right, I say “oh, that’s what I’ve been doing, but thanks for the reminder!” and if there’s a small chance I’ve screwed up, I just say “thanks for the reminder, I’ll make sure to double check!”

      3. Close Bracket*

        I got something like that (not stern) from someone recently, and it *was* addressed to me and only me, and my response was, “Thanks! Did not just fall off the turnip truck yesterday.”

      4. Richard Hershberger*

        At least it was just a sternly worded email. They could have instituted mandatory retraining for the entire office because one person screwed up.

        1. XXX*

          All us underlings used to have to go to day long ethics retraining whenever the CEO or other high ups got caught misbehaving ;)

          1. Curmudgeon in California*

            Yep. Plus some places fire low level people in departments that didn’t screw up because they found where someone else screwed up.

        2. EmKay*

          That seems like it would be a giant waste of time and resources, and also a surefire way to create resentment in *everyone*, except maybe the screw up.

          1. ampersand*

            I get the sense that the people screwing up don’t even realize they’re screwing up…and everyone else (who did not screw up) fears they did.

            1. He Said, She Said*

              I have a situation with one of my employees where I need to talk to him about a problem, but I know he’s going to feel attacked, so I asked a trusted deputy who knows that employee better for his recommendation(s) on how to approach the conversation. Trusted Deputy said “you should just bring the issue up with everyone.” Um, that is a perfect way for the relevant employee not to realize that he’s the one who needs the lesson. Group directions intended for a single individual just don’t have the effect they are supposed to have.

              1. Jennifer Juniper*

                And a perfect recipe for someone to start apologizing all over the place and anxiously asking her boss how she should do the thing differently when she is already doing the thing correctly.

      5. NotAnotherManager!*

        My spouse’s supervisor manages their team like this, and (as another manager) it drives me bananas. Sending the Generic Group Email to every person one at a time doesn’t make it any better than sending it to everyone and has the same effect – freaking out the people you’re not addressing it to and having the people to whom it is addressed assume it’s not them. Just talk to directly to the people with the actual problem, managers!

      6. Glitsy Gus*

        I’ve actually sent a few of those. There are certain things in my job I catch so frequently that I have an email template for when I find it. It saves time and my own sanity. Sometimes I do get a person who’s really concerned by the formal tone and the “this is very important” part of the email when this is the one time out of 1000 that they forgot.

        I feel a little bad about it, but really it’s just something that has to be all or nothing to be effective. I tell those individuals that they are fine, it’s just the template.

        1. Fikly*

          If it’s happening so frequently you have an email template for it, I’d hesitate to say that your response is effective.

        2. Not So Super-visor*

          I send these types of emails frequently too. On my end, it’s partially because prior to taking this position 5 years ago, there were no written SOPs for our job. I’ve worked hard to change this, but I still find a lot of veteran employees doing things their own way or clinging to an email that someone wrote 7 years about how to process something. When I find that people have gone into a general pattern of disregarding an SOP or hear from newer reps that the veteran reps are encouraging them to follow old practices, I resend out the SOP to everyone.
          Also, if I’m hearing from a customer who can’t recall who they were working with or are saying something like “well, I was talking to Jane today, but this happens every time that I call you,” I may address the issue specifically with Jane, but I also send something out to the group. I don’t have time to try to track down every call that the customer may have made to us to try to address each individual rep.

      7. londonedit*

        Yeah, we occasionally get blanket emails from the legal department saying ‘It is important for everyone to remember Important Legal Thing. There are Dire Consequences if you ignore Important Legal Thing’. Everyone’s immediate response is ‘Ooooooh, what did someone dooooooo??’

      8. J*

        I have recieved something like that too. I got slightly defensive and let the supervisor know that I didn’t think it applied to me, and he called me on the phone to let me know that it wasn’t actually meant for me, but for multiple others not properly doing the thing.

        The problem with those types of emails is that those (like me, and sounds like you) will take note and take it to heart and search our memories frantically for when we messed up the thing. Meanwhile, the people it was intended for aren’t having a similar reaction and it is likely to go right over their heads.

        Tbh, I hate it. I think coaching should be direct to those who need it so that they KNOW that their work is the problem, and those who’s work isn’t a problem aren’t left second guessing themselves.

        1. Kuddel Daddeldu*

          The to-all email is reasonable when you change a process, or maybe to summarize (“We have developed this process over years and documented it in several emails addressing different details. Here is a concise write-up putting it all together”) aka establishing a standard procedure.
          We get such a beast from our finance manager about quarterly, establishing the current state of the art on project and time sheet management. One of the very few emails I actually print out and keep in a reference binder on my desk.

    2. !*

      Yup, I hate it when my manager sends out an email to her staff with a reminder about a process or policy even though there is only one (same) offender. Great way to piss off your staff and not get the message through to one who needs to hear it.

    3. SDSmith82*

      Yep- my boss calls them CYA emails- and I get looped in as per procedure. When I first joined her team, I got something like this and it concerned me, but asked her about it and she said something to the effect of “oh, you don’t need to worry about that- I know you do it correctly, but I had to send it to everyone.”

      I’d bet this was something like that.

    4. Autumnheart*

      I was thinking that the manager was told to be “more hands-on” by someone higher up, and encouraged to demonstrate their manager-ness by telling people how to do the jobs they already know how to do. So perhaps this email is a paper trail “proving” that they’re doing More Managing(tm).

  2. Bananika*

    Interested in learning more from the last link. It currently sends to an error page. Where could we see more advice on this? Thanks for sharing!

    1. Rabbit Rabbit*

      The title of that post is:
      can my micromanaging boss be rehabilitated? she makes me take all calls on speaker phone…
      The link worked for me but if it still does not work for you maybe you can search for it.

      1. junipergreen*

        Was there ever an update from the OP at that linked post? Very curious how that situation turned out for them.

  3. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    It’s been 10 years and I’m reading this as this thing just “started” happening, it’s not on going?

    Do you have a new colleague who does need coaching and the boss may have mistaken who they were speaking to? If it’s a weird one off, I’d assume that they weren’t thinking clearly or they’ve gotten into the habit of coaching that new person and it bled over to speaking to you.

    Did you recently make a mistake that was just a brain-fart kind of thing? That could also be their passive aggressive way of reminding you the next time you were to complete the standard task. I’d shrug it off the first time as well.

    Also it’s been ten years, so I don’t want to jump too far into it but it could be a sign of aging. When my boss was developing his cognitive impairment he’d do this kind of thing but that’s very much an outlier. I’d only take note of that if you see other signs of them changing behaviors, it’s probably just a brain-fart though and they forgot who they were speaking to in the moment!

    I agree that unless it’s a new habit they’re forming, it’s really not something to dwell on and address. If it is, I would approach it with the idea of “You’ve been giving me these micro details of how to do my job that I’ve been doing well for the last decade, what’s up with that?”

    1. Antilles*

      Do you have a new colleague who does need coaching and the boss may have mistaken who they were speaking to?
      Or, maybe the boss was teaching the new colleague something and wondered “wait, does OP know this? maybe I better mention it just to make sure”. Given that a huge proportion of jobs don’t do formal training and instead just rely on generic osmosis, you’d be amazed at how often it happens that someone has been working there for years and has a weird gap in their knowledge or doing things in a quirky inefficient way or etc.
      Or heck, maybe the boss himself learned something new while training your colleague and just couldn’t wait to share the hot ‘new’ tech of how to use Ctrl+X or whatever.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        That’s a good point too.

        As someone who has not been formally trained since my very first job and even then…I was handed files and told “put these in the file cabinet…” [No instruction how things were filed, nah figure it out, scared fresh high school grad!]

        And I find myself doing the same thing with “Here put these away…” “But…where…do…they…even…go…” SIGH. Some people just figure it out, which is possibly the OP so yeah, it gets funky like that.

        People don’t even know where sh*t was kept years ago before I started here. So I have ordered stuff that I find digging around for something else. “We’ve had this all along…oh but it wasn’t in the spot the person was used to looking so they flagged it for purchase.”

      2. LQ*

        This! I’ve done this. I just walked through this with New Person, …did I ever actually tell Current Person about this? I will about a third of the time catch myself half way through and go, wait, did we talk about this already? About a third catch myself later and stop by and say, “Hey you know I’m just making sure I’m saying the right things to everyone it doesn’t mean you’re wrong, I just want to be clear right?” and then I think a third but really an unknown amount of time never remember to catch myself and go, wait I should say WHY I’m saying this because I said it to the two other people and forgot by the time I got to the third (or 12th), or I’m just trying to get through this thing I know I have to do but really my brain is already 3/4 of the way to the next thing and doesn’t have enough left on this thing to catch that I forgot to say that or I’m tired or whatever other human thing happens.

    2. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      I read it as the first time the OP has encountered something like that from their boss.

      Generally (and I think it’s a good approach here) I approach odd things like this with the framework: the first time is a potential pattern and should be kept in mind, the second time is a definite pattern and you could bring it up, and the third time (if it gets to that) if proof positive you need to address it.

      1. Amy Sly*

        I believe the military variant is “Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.”

    3. SomebodyElse*

      I had a boss who would do this kind of thing to me from time to time but verbally. I finally asked him one day about it… in the “Hey, so am I not doing something right?” kind of way. He kind of sputtered and said something like “No, sorry you’re fine. I’ve been having to remind others and I must have gotten into a groove”

      It became a bit of an inside joke on the occasions he would do it again… and I’d ask “Are you managing me or your other employees right now?” Let’s just say I had some interesting coworkers/team members at the time that required a bit more hands on managing than I did.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        Me about 15 years ago, would have taken it personally for sure. But then I started working with more people as I progressed [duh lol], so yesssssssssss, I completely understand that whole “Are you managing me or Stanley?” kind of thing…

        My partner has to stop me sometimes from how I explain things because I’m used to very detailed stuff because I have people who need that from me. “I just need to be asked to put the groceries away, you don’t need to tell me why or where.” *face desk*

      2. Annony*

        Yeah, I was wondering if someone else recently did something wrong that the boss though was obvious and now wants to make sure that everyone knows not to do that thing.

    4. OP's Spouse*

      Hi – OP is travelling in a totally different time zone, so when they heard the response was being posted today, they asked if I would keep an eye on the comments. Alison (as usual) was very perceptive here – since writing this, we learned that OP’s manager is dealing with some issues outside of work that probably caused anxiety-induced micromanagement. Always a good idea to give people the benefit of the doubt when they behave oddly.

  4. Triumphant Fox*

    Does your boss have a new boss or has there been another person who is not performing as well? I’ve found when these things get mentioned, it’s often because a higher up took the manager aside and was like “Do you see this? You need to address how to close out these files with your team. This cannot happen.” The manager may not be communicating that context and instead just reviewing basics.

    1. Federal Middle Manager*

      This. If my direct reports get an “obvious” email from me, you can bet money that this conversation happened:

      Me: We missed a day on that because Direct Report forgot that Coworker was out for the day.
      Big Boss: Oh, does Direct Report not check the calendar of who is in and out?
      Me: Absolutely, she does. It’s not a regular problem. It must have just slipped her mind.
      Big Boss: Please remind Direct Report to check the calendar.
      Me: I assure you she does! I’m just mentioned that for context about the next step…
      Big Boss: Please remind Direct Report to check the calendar.
      Me: Okay.

      1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

        Would you mention to them that it had come from Big Boss rather than yourself? (Not in a “borrowing power from someone more senior” sort of way, but more of a “You know, and I know that you know, that this was just a one-off mistake but Big Boss has asked for us to reiterate about calendar checking, so here we are”.)

        1. ThinMint*

          When I have to do something like this, I wait until we are all in person and say “Jane has asked me to mention…” because I have the gift of time. My direct reports also respect Jane and appreciate her thoroughness in general, thus are ok with these happening. But it happens rarely.

        2. Triumphant Fox*

          I think sometimes that can come off as even more serious and managers don’t communicate the context because they don’t want to give the impression that this is a BIG DEAL. I agree, though, I try to provide context so that my report takes it seriously and knows to double check whatever process for a while so it doesn’t come up again. It can be important information to my report that Big Boss is paying attention to calendar checking, or being on time, or having a clean desk, or whatever and it could really hurt them if they make another understandable error and Big Boss is now like “What are we doing about report? This is serious.” I will go to bat for them in the moment, but sometimes big bosses get fixated and I want my team aware.

        3. LQ*

          I have this come up occasionally. I don’t say it came from Big Boss because I don’t want to borrow the power, but also it can create a lot of noise of OH NO BIG BOSS IS MAD AT ME. No…calm down. That’s not what this is, I just need you to understand that this matters and is serious. There’s a weirdly large amount of emotion invested so I’m trying to shut some of that down with owning it myself rather than passing the buck to big boss.

  5. London Calling*

    My manager does that occasionally, points out that I should be doing a really obvious part of my job. I think it’s to demonstrate that yup, despite being hands off she is managing me REALLY. I just smile and agree, and say yes I will/have/am about to.

  6. KHB*

    My boss, who is usually great, does something like this every so often. In dealing with it, I’ve found some value in the “yes, and…” approach from improv. The first step is to twist it around in your head: Rather than worrying why he thinks you might not know that you need to be doing (really basic thing), you’re agreeing with him (really basic thing) is something you need to be doing (and in fact already are). The “yes, and…” allows you to subtly add a little more to show that your skills and knowledge extend far beyond the basic level. So we might have something like:

    Boss: Hey KHB, don’t forget to tie your shoes so you don’t trip over the laces.
    KHB: Yes, and I’ve invented this new knot that is aesthetically pleasing and stays tied more reliably. What do you think?

    1. Captain dddd-cccc-ddWdd (ENTP)*

      This sounds interesting and I haven’t heard of this- can you elaborate on what the “yes and” might look like in improv?

      Sometimes I get these ‘obvious’ sort of statements from my own boss (like if I’m the time-honoured ‘llama groomer’ and my boss says something like “they need to be groomed regularly otherwise they will get too matted” (duh!)) and I’m curious how I could apply this ‘yes and’ approach?

      1. Triumphant Fox*

        In improv, you never want to shoot down someone else’s idea because that’s not the point. The point is to affirm whatever new ideas come up and add to them and make them into something interesting, not debate the merit of an idea or show that you have a better idea for a scene. Half the battle in improv is having the courage to present an idea at all.
        A scene will instantly die if you get the word “Fire” from the audience and Jane turns to Jack to say “OMG Grab the children!!! There’s a fire!” and Jack is like “What are you talking about? I’m your brother. There are no children.” Even if Jack doesn’t like the idea of children in a fire and instead wanted to talk about West Coast Boutique’s Fire Sale, he shouldn’t kill the scene and kill Jane’s confidence by just saying what feels like “No, you’re stupid.”

        “Yes, and” is the principle that you will always embrace the idea of the other performer and try to make it better. Jack could have said any number of things, as long as he accepts Jane’s premise that there are children and a fire and keeps the scene going.

        1. CJ*

          That’s hilarious, but didn’t Jack deny the existence of children rather than accept the idea? Or am I misunderstanding the concept or your example?

          1. JB (not in Houston)*

            Triumphant Fox was saying Jack should *not* deny the children because the “scene will die instantly” if he does so. That would violate the “Yes, and” tenet of improv. Jack should instead accept the idea and respond with, i don’t know, grabbing an imaginary bowl of goldfish, or something else he thinks will be funny that shows he has accepted the idea of fine + children who need to be grabbed + a new thing to add to the story

          2. Reliquary*

            Triumphant Fox is illustrating what will kill the scene. Jack just killed it by saying that instead of “YOU grab the children, I’m getting my X Box!” (or whatever else says “yes, and” to what Jane just said).

          3. Joielle*

            Yeah, Fox is saying Jack did it wrong. He should have said “Yes, the children! And grab the dog too!” You agree with the premise and then add something on.

          4. JSPA*

            “Sister, our children are an incontinent talking chihuahua and a dying phoenix. You grab Mr Dribbles; I’ll give Splendor the good news.”

            Point is, if the hook you’re given is boring or misplaced, you accept it; you make a super fast pivot to something with many more hooks and possibilities, keeping an eye both on short-term entertainment, story flexibility, and a set-up that will allow you to go to any of several satisfying endings.

            [Mr. Dribbles puts out the fire? Mr. Dribbles heroically sacrifices herself (long story here…) dragging a flightless Splendor into the pyre, where Splendor and Mr. Dribbles are both reborn in the flames? Your erstwhile sister yells, “Snap out of it Daryl! You’re not Lord Dingamayne, I’m not your sister, we’re not playing World of Wombats, and your candle just set the drapes on fire”?]

      2. KHB*

        So I should first make clear that I should not be regarded as any kind of expert on improv.

        But as I understand it, it’s about accepting the premise that your acting partner gives you, and adding to it. Both parts – the “yes” and the “and” – are important. So if your partner says “Hey, look at that big green alien over there,” you don’t want to say “What alien? I don’t see it,” but you also don’t want to say “OK, I see it, what about it?” Rather, you say something like “Oh my god, it has three heads! And big teeth!”

        In your case, with the llama grooming, you could add something about how you remember to groom the llamas on schedule, maybe – “yes, I always groom them as soon as I arrive in the morning” or “yes, I’ve set up XYZ automatic reminder system.” Or something you’ve noticed about what grooming schedule is necessary – “yes, I find that the baby llamas look best when groomed every day, but the adults chafe when they’re overgroomed, so every other day works best for them.” Or just some little detail to reassure whoever’s asking that yes, you’re totally on top of this.

      3. Rabbit Rabbit*

        The idea is you accept whatever the other person says or does. It shows you just how much you push back! I find it really hard to say “yes and” during improv; I plan to but when the other person misses my cues, my brain is slow to get to “yes and.”

        For example, if I just introduced a ball and the other person says, I love your frisbee. Instead of going, no no, it is a ball, you say, Yes, it is a frisbee and I am throwing it to you.

        1. RabbitRabbit*

          This username confused me greatly at first, to the point where I had to double-check the year and whether or not this was an old or new thread!

          1. Rabbit Rabbit*

            Oh nooo! I use that name for anonymity at work and a different user name at home.
            I never noticed yours, sorry!
            I love rabbits and am a rabbit in the Chinese zodiac.

            1. RUKiddingMe*

              Greetings fellow Chinese zodiac rabbit.

              My son was also a rabbit though in the standard (?) zodiac I am an Aquarius (the best sign!) and he was a Gemini…

  7. DGP*

    Eek! My Boss does this annoying thing to me, often. He spells out words. He writes something and shows it to me while reading it and pointing at each word. My Goodness! I have a Master’s degree! I had to tell myself it is just a quirk…

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      Sadly, having a Master’s doesn’t mean one can spell! But I’m assuming you don’t have a habit of misspelling words, in which case I would also be quite irritated by that. It’s weird for a boss to start with an assumption that an employee can’t spell absent any data to support that assumption. I wonder if these are words that he has had trouble with in the past? I have noticed that there is a certain type of person who assumes that if they did not learn something until sometime in adulthood, nobody else in their lives has learned it yet and needs to be told.

      1. JB (not in Houston)*

        Just to clarify, I have no doubt that you don’t have a spelling problem. I just meant that I don’t blame your boss for not assuming a Master’s degree=the ability to spell. But in this case he doesn’t need to, he has all the work you’ve done for him to go by.

      1. LQ*

        I think that things that happen frequently are a quirk. They aren’t a one off, but they are a habit that is a little odd, but still a habit. Referring to them (in your head or aloud) as a quirk is a good way to not be annoyed if this is just a habit the person has and not a personal attack on your spelling skills. It could just be that he always does this with everyone. That’s quirky.

      2. chronicallyIllin*

        Are you confusing “fluke” with “quirk”? A quirk is a weird habit a person does regularly. A fluke is something out of the norm.

    2. I Bet My Inferiority Complex Isn't As Well-developed As Yours*

      Ah, reading out what’s written for everyone to see. That heart-sinking feeling in a presentation where the first slide appears, you speed-read the bullet points and wait for amplification, only to realise the presenter is going to read through the entire thing with excruciating slowness first. Meaning everyone then switches off and doesn’t notice when presenter actually starts with something useful.

  8. I'mBackAfterALongBreak*

    I am a big believer in giving grace and assuming the best intentions. Believe it or not, most managers are not out to get you or insult you. And just because you give grace doesn’t mean you can’t be direct and seek clarification.

    1. XXX*

      I like Hanlon’s Razor which says “Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.”

      But for years, this kept me from owning up to the fact my sister in law was both stupid and malicious. I could have been more understanding to the people she hurt if I had realized that the things she did were intentional, and not because she didn’t know better.

  9. NoLongerStuckInRetailHell*

    I wonder if it is something his boss made him do. Something along the lines of “make sure this process is spelled out for everyone on your team”.

  10. Kelly L.*

    Sometimes when this happens, it’s the boss who didn’t know the thing until just now. I’ve had a few bosses do the “OMG, did you know that you can do xyz in Outlook?” type thing, and it turns out that it was a revelation to them so they just want to share the good news with everyone.

    1. Marny*

      I can absolutely see myself doing that. I’m not a tech wiz, so when I realize some sort of shortcut that makes my life easier, I’m always excited it with people. And when I do, they all look at me like I’m a caveman who suddenly became unfrozen and just learned about the world because they’ve known about that shortcut for ages.

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      Also a good thing to mention!

      Yes, I have some bosses say things like “Did you know you can do it this way?” “Yes, I did…I’ve been using this software extensively for almost twenty years. But it’s a darn cool thing that makes life easier, right?”

      And at the same time, maybe someone is doing things the long way so it’s nice that they drop the knowledge just in case. It’s not because they think you’re inept or dumb, they just think it’s a cool secret-menu style trick.

    3. Sled dog mana*

      Yeah I recently left a position with a boss who didn’t know that excel can do math for you. He’d type in all the numbers and do the sums on a calculator then type those in (always interesting because he’d occasionally do them wrong). It was the first position he’d ever had where he needed to use excel so I can forgive part of it but it really blew my mind and set me on a long path of what can I not assume about someone? He was also a great example of failing forward.

    4. hbc*

      Yeah, as a one-off, I’d assume that it comes from that spirit of discovery, unless there was a scolding, how-do-you-not-know-this element to the instruction.

      If it’s regular and there’s a good rapport, I might do is a joking nudge. “If I didn’t know to take into account lead time, you’d have seen a heck of a lot more part shortages under my watch.” Or, “What kind of terrible purchasers did you have before me that needed that reminder?” But that’s hard to pull off through email.

  11. NeonFireworks*

    This has happened to me, but I think it’s because my boss learned the skills for my line of work in a VERY different order from how I learned them. By analogy, I might get an email urging everyone to take note of the screenshot button and begin using it (I always thought I got to screenshots late – that was nineteen years ago).

  12. Liberry Pie*

    I am curious what kind of obvious thing the boss was coaching you on. I’m imagining if it was a technology skill that the boss may find this task much harder than you do. Like if the boss was saying “Did you know you can hit reply all on an email?” or something elementary like that, maybe HE just learned how to do it? Just a guess. It depends a lot on what kind of skill he was explaining to you.

  13. Sharkie*

    My Boss has been doing this to me lately -This morning he felt the need to demonstrate how to use a paper cutter becasue I was doing it “wrong” (I wasn’t the blade is just dull) – Thanks for the advice Alison!

  14. Lily Rowan*

    Oh man, “they got oddly micromanagey because they’re feeling anxious about something else” is such an important/exciting thing to learn! Like, early in my career I definitely thought that everything was about me all the time (now I only think that some of the time…..), but honestly, so much of a boss’s behavior can be explained by stuff going on ABOVE (or around) them.

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      Yep, my friend’s boss is like this. She can always tell when her boss is stressed about something at work or in her personal life because she was become micromanager-y and start telling my friend how to do very basic parts of her job that my friend has done unsupervised for years with no problems. There’s nothing she can do about it except hope whatever the stressor is goes away, but at least she knows not to take it personally.

      Understanding the cause doesn’t make it rankle any less, though.

  15. AvonLady Barksdale*

    My boss does this occasionally, and I’m afraid I’m not that charitable about it because he’s generally a mansplainer and he does things like this to put me in my place. It ramps up after I accomplish something, especially if it’s something he wasn’t part of.

    This is not to say that’s what’s going on here, of course. If I were in LW’s situation, I would let this one slide with Alison’s language, but I would be on guard in case it happens again.

    1. Erstewhile lurker*

      This guy sounds like an ass! Really? Ramps it up after you accomplish something he wasn’t part of?! That is a serious character flaw.

  16. Kate*

    I would just ignore it. If it comes up again, then you can address it, but it’s going to look weird to push back on a one-off.

  17. ThinMint*

    I have a WONDERFUL boss. I learn so much from her and it’s been the best decision of my career to work under her. And *very* occasionally, she will do this too. Part of me recoils because I’m like yes, duh, I know. The other part of me smiles because it shows that even absolutely wonderful bosses don’t have to be perfect. I can shrug, move on, and know that I still value her and she values me and no offense was meant.

  18. Anon for this*

    Just be careful how frequently you “yes and” at people. I have a colleague who does this constantly, and it’s so over the top that we’re all rolling our eyes internally.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      To be fair, any kind of excessive use of any phrase/wording can be viewed as something that eventually leads to these internal eyerolls!

      But humans are creatures of habits and often like parrots, we just repeat the same crap all the time LOL.

      1. Kelly L.*

        Yep. Pretty much anything can start feeling really “techniquey” if you use it as an all-purpose bludgeon.

    2. KHB*

      If someone’s micromanaging me so frequently that my “yes ands” are annoying them, they really have only themselves to blame for that.

      But it also doesn’t have to be about the specific phrase, if you don’t want it to be. Rather, it’s about the mindset: Instead of jumping straight to feeling defensive about why they think they need to explain such a basic thing to you, you’re recognizing that you’re all on the same team, so you all benefit when everyone knows what they’re supposed to be doing, and when everyone is confident that everyone else knows what they’re supposed to be doing.

      1. Close Bracket*

        If someone’s micromanaging me so frequently that my “yes ands” are annoying them, they really have only themselves to blame for that.

        My takeaway from this is a way of malicious compliancing people who are condescending to me.

  19. Orange You Glad*

    I’m coming up on 11 years under the same Director and he does something similar. He doesn’t do it everyday but it’s frequent enough to irk me. I think for him, it comes from either a) Someone, somewhere messed up something incredibly basic and he wants to make sure no one else makes that error or b) I’m really not trying to be ageist, but he’s older and frequently forgets basic stuff (like my name, who he had a convo with about this topic, etc). While I’m seething that I’ve been doing this for a long time and don’t need this type of direction, he’s coming from a perspective that he’s just trying to be helpful.

    I usually respond with a variation of “Ok thanks, I’ll keep that in mind” or “Yes this is the process I always follow”. Occasionally if his explanation is holding up the discussion about a larger issue, I’ll move him along by saying something like “Yes, we are aware that’s how X works but the real issue is how Y is treated after processing X”. There’s no need to really respond in the moment that you’re offended. If it’s becoming a major issue, then sit down and address it with your boss and understand where he is coming from.

  20. Junior Assistant Peon*

    I see the opposite problem a lot – someone assumes that what’s obvious to them should be obvious to everyone, and skips over important details.

    1. JB (not in Houston)*

      I work with *several* people like that. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to speak up in a meeting with one of these people and a new employee and explain to the new employee what the person just said.

  21. Chronic Overthinker*

    LW: It’s because somewhere somebody screwed up and the higher ups send across a blanket statement to make sure everyone is doing the process the exact same way. Not only is it a “cya” maneuver, but it’s also to ensure standard operating procedures. I ran into an issue just a few weeks ago where the rest of the staff was doing a procedure one way and I was trained to do it a different way. Grand-boss sent out a blanket email letting everyone know the proper procedure, even though some staff have been doing it for years. Turns out I was doing it the right way as the process had been revamped and everyone else needed the update. Don’t let it bug you too much, unless the boss starts truly micromanaging everything you’re doing.

  22. SheLooksFamiliar*

    I think we all have one of those ‘brain fart’ moments when we coach a team member in something so incredibly basic as to be common knowledge. because we forget who we’re talking to, or because we just coached someone else, or we just plain goofed.

    When I was part of building our new applicant tracking system, I told my IT project partner about the email formats we could expect to see, and spelled it out – firstname.lastname at, firstinitiallastname at, etc. She just laughed and said, ‘Oh, is that how it works? I always wondered…’ Yep. I schooled an actual IT person on email formating. I have no idea why I did that, except maybe that project was my entire world for about 3 months.

    OP, if your boss makes a habit of this, maybe then you can talk to her. This seems like a one-off, and I’d try not to assume anything here.

  23. CML*

    I’m curious what your boss was coaching you on. As Alison pointed out, context is everything here. Is it possible there is something the boss needed to coach you on and you’re not seeing it? No one is perfect – you or your boss – and if you haven’t already done so, do a self-check to make sure you didn’t misstep, resulting in a correction from your boss. If that’s not the case, then Alison’s second suggestion is a good way to dig in.

  24. CupcakeCounter*

    My first professional job out of college, by boss would highlight the difference between hourly and salary expectations at every one on one (every month or two) and that as a salaried employee it was expected that I would base my hours around what needed to get the job done and not the clock. For a while I simply let it go – his team was usually made up of fresh grads or people moving into the office from shift based work so the conversation made sense. After a while it started getting on my nerves so I added a line in our meeting notes about thoroughly understanding the concept. He stopped for a bit but them started up again but by this time I got seriously pissed as I was working more hours than he was in the office plus doing more at home in the evenings (it should have been pretty obvious at that point since I sat right behind him and was there when he arrived and still there when he left). I flat out told him “don’t you ever fucking say that to me again – you know the hours I am working trying to deal with the bullshit this company created by not backfilling X position since it all fell on me – so it is downright insulting that you would say something like that.” I did not get in trouble and I did get an apology but I was still over the whole situation and left within a year of that conversation.

  25. M*

    My old manager used to do this when she had too much caffeine. After two incredibly picky emails I would just ignore her and chalk it up to too much coffee. I would wait from a few hours to a day for her to de-caffeinate and reply to one of the ten annoying micromanaging messages so it didn’t seem like I was ignoring her. One time was so bad, I scheduled a meeting with her and blatantly said, so you basically have a problem with how I do my job,and she completely back tracked from her email. Very annoying.

    1. Erstewhile lurker*

      I’m getting the exact same treatment from my new boss and am reacting in a similar manner. It’s extremely annoying, especially when I read a few messages of this nature first thing in the morning. I may have to say something though because the problem isn’t going away.

  26. Hei Hei the Chicken from Moana*

    My boss is the second banana in the organization and has does stuff like this for the last 10 years I’ve worked with her. She’s a generally anxious person, an incredibly high performer, and thinks she’s being helpful. She just does it; I’ve learned to just nod and say “okay, great!” and get on with it. That’s my experience, YMMV of course. But for me, I used to take her being helpful super personally until I asked about it and learned it’s just a thing she does.

  27. The Great Octopus*

    Sometimes there are managers who feel like they must correct everything even if you’ve already fixed it. My work load has been outrageous lately, the level that mistakes are happening but it can’t be helped from the sheer volume passing across my desk daily.

    I recently made a mistake with a set of files, realized my mistake about an hour later and fixed it. But because I had to make some entries in our system I knew my boss would see all of them and ask about it. So I told her “Hey, I accidentally did X with the files not Y realized what I did and fixed it, so you’ll see a few entries but I made sure to put in the memo line why these duplicates exist” and she proceeded to tell me that what I need to do “is Y not X, and to correct it I need to change the entries and document it in the memo line”. You mean like exactly what I just told you I did with significantly less words?

    This is a reoccurring thing with her. She will tell you in great detail how to do the most basic things (like 20+ minute explanations on how to do very basic tasks). It’s just a quirk of hers on not reflective on my actual work. She just thinks everything needs to be corrected, even when it’s clearly a one off or already corrected mistake. (while annoying, doesn’t make me that crazy it’s a quirk I can live with)

  28. Skeetpea*

    Oh, lord. Last week, my boss chided me for asking a question, saying that I should be able to figure it out for myself. The next day, she instructed me on the phone that before planning a trip, I should make sure that the people I want to see will be in the office that day, by checking their online calendars.

    I’ve worked in this group for more than fifteen years. My previous bosses all rated me highly and rewarded me appropriately. This one is evaluating me based on some abstract description of my “level” and saying I don’t meet expectations, while treating me as though I should already know everything and also as though I know nothing. Argh.

  29. CatCat*

    It’s just we’re putting new cover sheets on all the TPS reports before they go out now. Did you get that memo?

    1. Amethystmoon*

      Just don’t steal my stapler. Yes, IRL I have a red stapler at my desk, because of that movie. :)

  30. Phillip*

    I occasionally have clients ask me to make sure I do (incredibly basic aspect of my job). Something roughly equivalent to reminding a cook to prepare food to a safe temperature. Some even send me grade 1 level blog posts to help me learn how to do it. I often just figure it’s a case of some folks figuring, this info is new to me, so it must be new to you too. Maybe that’s the case here—manager has what they think is an a-ha moment, and thought to turn it into a lesson without slowing down to wonder if it was necessary.

    1. JSPA*

      And yet, people fall ill and restaurants are shut down daily because some cooks / food handlers fail to learn, retain and apply the most basic information about food safety.

      Get really sick once, check the temperatures forevermore.

      Alternatively: Climbers, skydivers, scuba divers, cavers, test pilots all know not to skip the basics of equipment check, and to take it personally in only the best of ways (someone cares!) if someone runs down the basic checklist with them. People used to formal “state and confirm” job culture do it as one of those six-sigma things. (Yes, everyone makes an occasional typo; no, it’s not always OK for mistakes to occasionally sneak through to the final version.)

      1. Phillip*

        Not what I’m talking about. These are laypeople specifically asking me to perform assumed tasks of my low-stakes job. A better example: don’t forget to arrive as scheduled for work tomorrow.

  31. Amethystmoon*

    The only way I know this is because I once had a manager at work who would do things simply because he was asked to by others and not question. Sitting in the cubicle next to him, I overheard some of them. One time, someone wanted him to lecture us on a typo, despite the number of times we put things in correctly. Yes, we’ll have an error rate of .03% or so, but we are still human and will still make errors. Trying to get us to promise never to make a typo again would result in that promise being broken fairly quickly. Sometimes, managers have to realize that they won’t be able to make everyone happy.

  32. pleaset AKA cheap rolls*

    “How should I respond when my boss coaches me on something basic and obvious?”

    Mutter under your breath “Not this sh&t again” and punch a wall. Hard.

  33. JSPA*

    Dear Phillifer,
    I’m perplexed to have received, ‘formatting margins on Word documents’ from you. Was this intended for someone new? Was there a different attachment intended for me? If I have made so grave an error in formatting that you feel I’d benefit from remedial instruction on a program that I’ve used daily for 30 years, please let me know the specifics, so that I can apologize, fix it, and make sure it never happens again.”

  34. agnes*

    I wish we could bottle and distribute Allison’s approach to difficult situations. If we approached them more with curiosity or a desire for clarification, we would have a lot less discord in the workplace and in our personal relationships too. Focusing on the issue and avoiding making assumptions about what other people are thinking has saved my neck more than once. (when I can remember to do it!).

  35. Lorac*

    I’ve actually run into this situation a few times at work, and generally I roll my eye and ignore it. However, there have been a few times when my boss does this in an email with several coworkers CCed. In those cases, I don’t really know how to reply without coming off as insubordinate while trying to protect my professional reputation.

    For an example, something like my boss replying all in an email telling me how to convert a Word document to PDF…like something THAT basic.

    1. Mockingjay*

      I’m in a team meeting with junior members who need this stuff, but I don’t. When I get this kind of group email, I just acknowledge it and move on.

      Boss: Did you see my email on basic skill?
      Me: Yes, thanks. Good info!

  36. Secretary*

    Thank you for this question! I have the same issue that’s ongoing with my boss, I just wasn’t sure how to word a question. Very helpful!

  37. JoAnna*

    I wonder if someone else did thing X wrong, and manager wrote back to the client to say, “I’ll be sure to reiterate how thing X should be done with all employees,” and he’s just following through.

  38. lilsheba*

    I’m really starting to hate the word “coach” We aren’t a sports team for gods sake. I am a grown woman, I don’t need to be “coached” on anything.

  39. Lily in NYC*

    I have a coworker who does this to me all the time but she’s not my boss so I just ignore it. She’s actually lower level than I am but she is so hilariously condescending. She cannot communicate and her emails make no sense – last week, she wrote her usual word salad and I wrote back asking if i was interpreting something correctly. She wrote back “Oh, Lily, you are such a smart cookie; you are really starting to understand this!” – about a job I’ve been doing well for 5 years and train other people to do. It was so difficult not to reply: Thanks! You are right; I think I’m really getting good at deciphering your incoherent emails.

  40. WhoKnows*

    I had a very similar incident recently with my boss, and I ended up asking if for some reason they thought I would ever do “X” thing that they were warning me against doing. They said of course that was not the case but “over-communicated” as they were kind of paranoid about the issue in general.

    I think the biggest thing to take into account is the personality of your manager. Do they tend to micromanage? Do they tend to have anxiety about communicating both internally and externally? Because in those cases, it doesn’t matter how good your work is and always is. It’s about them.

  41. theelephantintheroom*

    My manager is typically not micromanage-y, but she does sometimes explain things to me like this because she can’t remember if I know it or not. With her, I find it’s OK to say something like, “Oh good, I’m glad we’re on the same page about how to handle the llama grooming.” (Or even, “Oh, you’ll be happy to learn that’s how I’ve been doing it!”) She actually seems relieved when I respond this way, because then she gets some reassurance that I am, in fact, the person to trust with this task (sometimes she forgets what tasks I do regularly, so it’s nbd).

    If it’s not a regular occurrence, try not to take it personally.

  42. jesus cat*

    i bet someone else said something and he felt compelled to do something without really investing any energy in it.

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