my employee is strangely encouraging toward me

A reader writes:

I have a newish direct report. He’s generally pretty good and is always supportive and encouraging towards his team, which is great.

He’s also always encouraging and supportive towards people more senior to him, including me, which is getting less great. I hear a lot of, “That’s a really good idea, [myname]” or “‘that’s a great suggestion, thank you,” in an encouraging tone of voice, or “that’s a really good point” when actually it is not a particularly good point, all I said was x is unclear and he needs to rewrite it.

Yes, I did make a good suggestion! It is my job as manager to make good suggestions! I actually phrased it as an instruction!

It’s nothing that I would object to at all if it were occasional, but it’s so consistent. Sometimes I just want an “OK, will do” and don’t need to be reassured every time that I have his full approval for my steer.

He does it to pretty much everyone, but I’m not sure other senior people interact with him frequently enough to really register it in the same way. I feel I should say something but I’m not sure how to start — “we’re all human, praise is nice, but maybe not quite so much”?

For what it’s worth, we’re similar ages though he’s been at the company longer, and I’m female but he does it to men too.

I wrote back to this letter-writer and asked, “Is he condescending in other ways, or is it just this?” The response:

I was about to say no, but he does have a tendency to explain things I already know. But I find that easy enough to deal with in the moment, so it hadn’t really registered. Again, not in an egregious way — he’s not explaining things everyone should learn as children. But he is definitely explaining things I know quite well. For example:

Me: “You need to groom the llamas systematically, and use the checklist so you don’t miss any.”
Him: “What we do is always start from the head so that…”
Me, interrupting: “You’ve missed the tail on that one.”
Him: Pause. “Thank you, excellent spot, [myname].”

I’ve had this letter sitting in my inbox while I go back and forth on it and I still haven’t worked out exactly where I land, so this response is going to be more stream-of-consciousness than usual.

On one hand, this stuff doesn’t seem that bad. On the other hand, I can totally imagine how hearing it with frequency — and especially delivered in a patronizing tone, if it is — would start to grate over time.

And it sounds like part of it is that he’s using a compliment to you (“excellent spot!”) to avoid fully acknowledging that he’s getting things wrong. Instead of acknowledging that he missed something and will fix it, he’s shifting the focus to you having an amazing insight.

If he then goes on to fix his mistakes and learn from them … well, I think it’s not that bad. Annoying, yes, but more in the category of “everyone has annoying quirks” and less “this must be addressed.” (Especially because every time I tried to write a script for addressing it, it sounded overly heavy-handed.)

Alternately, though, is it possible that he’s just interacting with you (and others senior to him) in the same way he interacts with the team he manages? You said he’s supportive and encouraging towards them, and maybe he’s just in that mode with everyone. If he’s responding to you with “excellent spot” and “great suggestion” because his general approach is collaborative — and he’s just interacting with you more like a collaborating peer than a boss — I think that’s okay (as long as he’s ultimately accepting your feedback and direction, and it sounds like he is).

Does this get any less annoying if you see it through that lens?

To be clear, if he were only doing this to women, or was being argumentative, or generally seemed like a patronizing dude, I’d tell you to address it (as with this letter) — for his good as well the good of everyone he works with. But if he’s just Very! Supportive!, I’m leaning toward leaving it alone. Maybe at most giving him a wry look in the moment if something feels especially off-key, but mostly leaving it alone.

And I’m someone who normally comes down on the side of “have a direct conversation,” probably to a fault, so the fact that I’m landing here (combined with the fact that I cannot for the life of me come up with a script I like) makes me think either it’s the right answer or I have pandemic brain.

What do others think?

{ 323 comments… read them below }

  1. INeedANap*

    I think there may be a need to bring the conversation back to the original point – I agree completely that this is a (probably inadvertent!) deflection from the original critique, so I would want to be clear that the point had been heard. For example:

    Me: “You need to groom the llamas systematically, and use the checklist so you don’t miss any.”
    Him: “What we do is always start from the head so that…”
    Me, interrupting: “You’ve missed the tail on that one.”
    Him: Pause. “Thank you, excellent spot, [myname].”
    Me: “No problem – this is why the checklist is important. So going forward, you’ll need to use the checklist when you groom the llamas.”

    After that I would move on, there is no need to harp on the point, but I would want to be verbally very clear that it had been made and not glossed over.

    1. Quill*

      Yes, he may also be processing out loud: perhaps he’s trying to discover how he managed to use the checklist and skip the tail.

      1. Foxing*

        This is me – I work in an incredibly detail oriented field that has a lot of checklists. The details we’re checking, however, are often subjective in nature (whats good to us locally and good on the field at large can be different and in conflict while still both reading correct to our automated system as well as correct to different people in the department – its layered) More than once I know when my supervisor has brought something to me, I reflexively say something like ‘Ooh, good catch, I know we just changed setting Y in automatic checklist Z – maybe its not catching these anymore? I’ll double check moving forward, thanks for bringing it to my attention.” Now I’m hesitating that I’m inadvertently offending my supervisor. I don’t mean “Good catch” as in “Good job at doing your job” I mean it in as a genuine “I’m glad someone on the team caught this even if it wasn’t me so we can make sure it doesn’t happen again”

        1. Lime green Pacer*

          My stock phrase (which I used just this morning) is “Thanks for spotting that, I wouldn’t like [consequences of missed detail]”.

        2. Chili*

          Yeah, I feel like this sort of phrasing is also frequently supplied as an alternative for people who apologize or say sorry too often. I don’t think it’s meant to sound patronizing or avoid blame, but a more positive option than “sorry!” or just “okay.” I can see how this could get annoying over time, especially if the person saying this is having performance issues, but it seems like in this scenario it’s more of a habitual response that is intended to be neutral.

          1. CoffeeColl*

            This is it for me, combined with a generally collaborative approach, means this is how I talk with pretty much everyone at work, and it genuinely hadn’t occurred to me it could come off as condescending or annoying.

            1. Lurker*

              @CoffeeColl Yeah I feel that I’m with you. I felt a sense of dread reading this as of course I’ve been this person, the so sorry person, and overly assertive person throughout my career.

            2. matcha123*

              Same here. I’m looking to acknowledge that I’ve heard the person who is speaking to me and that I accept what they are saying.
              It does get frustrating when you’re told you messed up by someone higher up who also forgets that they decided something was okay earlier. Then you risk looking insubordinate when you try to politely remind or explain that they themselves had decided something…or when they assume that you are wrong because they have more experience.

            3. CrabbyCrafty*

              Same….I have been told in previous incarnations of jobs to be less direct (that people find it offensive) and so I have gotten in the habit of trying to acknowledge other points of view and trying to be more collaborative.

              …before reading the OP, it hadn’t occurred to me that a response such as that could be considered condescending to people.

              Maybe it is just considered condescending to the OP? Or to some people and not other people? Surely we all have a way of communicating to others that at least one person is bound to find annoying and offensive, regardless of how well-intended or neutral the comments are.

              …..maybe it’s a question that should also be posed to the OP? Sometimes, when innocuous comments are perceived by us (as humans) as a threat, it can be more a state of our own perception of ourselves in reaction to the comment, and not the comment itself, much less its intent.

          1. MtnLaurel*

            I do that too. I’ll also say something like “glad you caught that!” as both acknowledgement and gratitude.

        3. Sparrow*

          Personally, I think this is fine, and I know I’ve responded in an almost identical way at times. But I think a lot of this comes down to tone. It probably wouldn’t be as irritating if the employee’s tone came across less like, “good job; you get a gold star!”

          I also think that kind of response has worked well with my coworkers/bosses because it swiftly becomes solution oriented. That may be what OP is looking for here, though I have to agree with others that it’s possible he’s headed that same direction but gets there in a different way. I know I had that disconnect with an old boss (he needed to systematically process everything aloud while I would mentally skip ahead), but I’ll give OP the benefit of the doubt that she’s considered that possibility!

      2. Newt*

        THIS

        I do exactly what OP’s employee does.

        I’m autistic, and have often been treated by people as though I lack the intelligence or knowledge I need to perform basic tasks by people. It’s been a really common thing for me that I will make a mistake, and someone will use that to try and explain the most absolute basics of my role to me when, very often, the root of the mistake was down to me misunderstanding a complexity that I wasn’t trained in. And in addition, I often find is that people will tell me how to do my job without telling me *what it is they actually saw me do wrong that I need to correct*.

        (See the exact example used in this letter – the employee is told to use the checklist but the mistake they made was not failing to use the checklist, but missing a step in the task. The assumption is the step was missed due to not using the checklist, but the mistake could equally have been caused by an incorrect or outdated checklist, or by the employee being pulled off the llama task before finishing the tail and not getting a chance to get back to it, or something else. The actual mistake they make isn’t communicated to them until they start trying to troubleshoot the advice being given, so the first sentence reads as instruction or a test of their knowledge, not correction.)

        So for me, processing like this is a way for me to try and get confirmation on *how and why the mistake occurred* so I can make sure it doesn’t happen again. At the same time, I know from experience that if I try and do this too much it gets interpreted as me being argumentative, so I won’t keep trying to follow that thread when someone makes it clear they aren’t interested in going through that process with me, even if that means I don’t actually get to find out what the problem is. I have also specifically been given advice that says that apologising for an error is less useful to people than thanking them for bringing it to your attention, at least if you’re someone who’s natural speaking tone is flat and can read as unfriendly to someone who doesn’t know what Heavily Masked Autism can look like.

        The example llama scenario looks exactly like so many interactions I’ve had.

        My boss is good at working with me through the thought processes I have so the llama conversation tends to look more like:

        Them: “You need to groom the llamas systematically, and use the checklist so you don’t miss any.”
        Me: “What we do is always start from the head so that we can look them in the eye when we start, and we do the body using the larger brush. We do the tail last, but we don’t do the tail if it’s tied in a green bow because green bows mean the llama is going to have the tail fur trimmed that day anyway.”
        Them: “That’s not correct, the green bow means the tail fur is going to be dyed today, which means it needs to be groomed. Blue bows are for a trim. Llama Betty’s tail still needs to be groomed today.”
        Me: “Thank you! I’ll make sure I correct my notes and I’ll get Betty’s tail done right away.”

        What I WISH is that the conversation would go more like:

        Them, being direct and to-the-point: “You missed the tail when grooming Llama Betty.”
        Me: “Can I check with you? I have on my checklist that green tail bows mean we don’t groom the tail.”
        Them: “No, that’s blue tail bows. Green means the tail will be dyed today.”
        Me: “Thank you! I’ll make sure I correct my notes and I’ll get Betty’s tail done right away.”

        Obviously we cannot know if this is why OP’s employee is doing this. But the example they give just reads so very, very much to me like someone who, like me, has learned a small set of very specific scripts to follow to avoid giving the wrong impression when receiving feedback. And doesn’t quite have the social skills to be able to be very flexible in how they apply said script.

        1. Camellia*

          This. Is. Awesome. I agree that so few people get to the point of what they are trying to say. It may be an effort to not seem too harsh, but it’s effect is to muddy the waters.

        2. Evelyn Wood*

          This is a great response. I don’t know if this is the issue in this situation, but your really thoughtful explanation has helped me think about my interactions in a different way. It’s much quicker and easier to be annoyed or offended, but it makes sense to think about whether or not there are other factors at play here. Thank you!

        3. boo bot*

          This is a really useful insight! I sometimes get frustrated with this kind of correction as well; I feel like it’s similar to a manager sending out an email to the whole team when they really just need to address one person’s behavior.

          1. Safe manager*

            He may be managing up. Encouragement and praise usually gets a repeat of the behavior. He wants you to catch his mistakes and give useful guidance, so he gives you verbal rewards for doing it. Some people appreciate and take advantage of having good supervision.
            It may seem a little annoying to you, but next year’s review will undoubtedly show high marks for him in the areas of :
            Responds well to suggestions and criticism
            And
            Completes assigned work with minimum rework and few mistakes.
            I’ll take that person on my team over the ass kisser who avoids work and blames his coworkers and direct reports for all problems.
            The next time he explains to you how something is done, you might try to actually listen. He may reveal to you a flaw in the process that he isn’t aware of or perhaps any misunderstanding he has about it. That’s your opportunity to make improvements.

        4. Jules the 3rd*

          This is a great description / example of how some people process stuff – people who are very literal and direct, which has significant overlap with neuro-atypical people. (I’m not diagnosed autistic, but my kid is, and I am *very* literal and direct.)

          This is very consistent with using stock phrases in slightly unexpected places or ways. There are a lot of things I’ve learned by rote that I figured out later were not quite the right scripts for new situations. This is why I love AAM / CA’s suggested scripts so much.

          If he takes the feedback and acts on it, please don’t focus on his mannerisms too much.

        5. Quill*

          Yes, I do this during high anxiety a lot. Can’t listen and order my defense at the same time!

          (And the problem is that it has to feel like a defense in the first place, but that’s ex gifted kid problems…)

        6. KoiFeeder*

          Oh no. Am I not supposed to reply to “You need to groom the llamas systematically, and use the checklist so you don’t miss any.” with “Well, that’s what I thought I was doing, but it sounds like I’ve misunderstood something. What part of the checklist did I miss?”

          1. WS*

            That would also be fine to me, and I work in a job with a lot of detailed, important checklists! The idea is to find out what went wrong and make sure it doesn’t happen again. One person might focus on the checklist first (and then they may find out it was wrong OR that they missed something) whereas you are focusing on the error first (and then you may find out it was wrong OR that you missed something).

          2. CircleBack*

            This totally depends on tone – if you said “That’s what I thought I was doing” with a friendly “huh, I wonder what went wrong” tone, I wouldn’t bat an eye. If you said it with sarcasm or bite, I’d be taken aback.

            1. KoiFeeder*

              Unfortunately, I don’t have a tone of voice. It’s just the same bland affect all the way around.

        7. Len F*

          It’s not entirely to your point, but: I’m not autistic, and I also find it very helpful to check that I understand instructions or procedures, and to be explicit that that’s what I’m doing.

          In our llama example:

          Them: “You need to groom the llamas systematically, and use the checklist so you don’t miss any.”
          Me: “I have been using the checklist. Can I check with you that I’ve got it down correctly? What I have is…”

          A number of times, I’ve been able to correct a misunderstanding about some technical point with my boss by breaking down step by step what the underlying assumptions and steps are, and it’s really useful. I think the key, though, is to be clear that that’s why I’m doing it. I think that kind of meta-conversation is really important, because it makes it clear that you’re going through the list with them to solve the problem, rather than because you think they don’t know the list (for example).

          1. Newt*

            Yes! Recently I’ve started saying “Can I quickly review the checklist with you? I thought I was following it, but if I’ve made mistakes I’m worried I’ve misunderstood it”. That’s been working well at getting to the useful part of the feedback quickly, but without somehow causing… tension? Misunderstandings of intent? I’ve only been able to do it because I have a manager who I feel I can trust to recognise my good intent though. It feels like a risky request somehow.

        8. Rocky*

          Thanks for explaining this! I have a staff member, Chauncey, who’s exactly like the one OP describes (and like you I think!). It definitely sounds like stock phrases that he’s learned to sound like he’s understood, or like he’s happy to hear feedback. And my team have hit many snags with him along the green bow vs blue bow lines; we can’t understand why Chauncey doesn’t look at the total problem and find a total solution, rather than approaching it in tiny bite-sized iterations. It doesn’t help that Chauncey’s tone does come across as condescending. Chauncey also has a habit of thanking any visiting higher-ranked person on behalf of the team (rather than allowing the manager or another higher-ranked person to do the honours). Now that I can see this as a way of Chauncey double-checking that he’s understood, I feel a lot less frustration.

        9. Jess*

          I’m autistic and do this exact thing, and also struggle with interactions in general (I can more or less ‘mask’ but it’s really difficult and I have no idea how I’m coming across most of the time… and this post is making me realize I’m probably about 200% more annoying than I think I am, whoops).

          1. Newt*

            It’s taken for me to find a friend’s group that is 90% comprised of neurodiverse folks before I even realised just how *much* I mask. And also, just how *bad a job* I must actually be doing of it.

            I mean… in my experience people who don’t already know an autistic person don’t tend to ID me as autistic, but they definitely ID me as weird, off-putting, strange, quirky…

            It is so, so wonderful when I’m hanging out with people I can drop the mask with. And so very illuminating when I introduce an also-neurodiverse friend to the group and see them start masking and then… slowly… drop that when they realise they can.

            When I’m with my autistic friends we all seem to have far less difficulty understanding each other and reading each other’s emotional states and needs, and navigating each other’s boundaries. It feels like we’re communicating so clearly! The body language makes sense! I can tell the difference between a friend’s happy-stim and their stressed-stim even if I’ve never seen either before! But I’m very aware that I don’t read that way with other people, and nor do they read that way with me.

            I read a summary of a study recently that linked neurodivergence with higher proportions of neanderthal DNA, and it started me wondering how much our social differences are not a *lack of social skill* but an instinctive-level difference in communication styles. Like when dogs interact with cats and both misunderstand each other.

    2. NotMonkeyNotMyCircus*

      I agree with seeing the good in people’s behaviour is so important. At the heart of the issue from my perspective is having someone who either intentionally or unconsciously does not seem to take ownership for a mistake or show remorse. Given the examples are trivial, and I know we Canadians love to apologize, but it’s not necessary that someone has to say “oops sorry I missed that”, but I am curious if he has ever taken responsibility for a mistake or his negative actions.

    3. AngryAngryAlice*

      Ooh I really like this suggestion. It reaffirms that LW is the one who knows how these systems work so *of course* she made an excellent point, but also brings it back to the initial topic at hand and gives him an action item (“moving forward, follow the list”), which is just being an effective manager.

    4. Quinalla*

      Something like that or instead of telling him what he should do in the future to avoid the problem, say something like, “So what are you going to do going forward to not repeat this mistake?” or if it is something he may need to think about “Send me an email/Catch up with me tomorrow on how to avoid this going forward.” I think the bigger problem here is the interaction is ending with him doing this compliment/thanking for your feedback (which personally would not bother me as culturally where I am – Midwest – this is kind of how everyone talks, but I get why it could be annoying, also he may just be trying to encourage feedback from you/others) he should be saying what he is going to do to either (1) avoid it in the future and (2) acknowledging that he will fix it now/whenever. That to me is what would bother me the most about these interactions. Because to me “Thank you, excellent spot, I’ll get that taken care of today!” or “Thank you, excellent spot, I’ll fix it now and will make sure to double check the checklist after I am done to make sure I got everything going forward.” would be what I would want to hear.

      1. Hey Karma, Over Here*

        I think this is great, because what OP is really taking issue with here (and rightly so) is how employee is redirecting the conversation, talking control of the dialogue. As a supervisor, OP should state her comment and employee should respond to it. Instead, he is essentially answering the question he wants to asked… bring it back around to him. “Thank you, but it’s my job to review your work. Now that I have, I would like to know what you think you need to do in the future to avoid this.”

      2. Root beer float*

        Yes! Is this a cultural/regional thing? I grew up in the Midwest and unless someone’s tone is condescending, saying thank you for feedback would be considered polite. Less annoying than constantly apologizing which also happens a lot in the Midwest.

      3. Birch*

        I thought the annoying part is the compliment on spotting his mistakes. OP says:

        “Yes, I did make a good suggestion! It is my job as manager to make good suggestions! I actually phrased it as an instruction!….. Sometimes I just want an “OK, will do” and don’t need to be reassured every time that I have his full approval for my steer.”

        Honestly, I get this. For me there’s a huge difference between “thanks for catching that” and “excellent spot”–as OP pointed out, it’s her job to spot his mistakes and correct them. What does that “compliment” even mean? That his mistakes were so well hidden that she had to work hard or be a genius to find them? Moreover, it’s not up to him to decide what consists of an “excellent spot”–it’s up to the manager. That’s what makes it feel condescending.

        I don’t think, however, that this comes off bad in a more discussion/brainstorming oriented situation… I’ve often told a superior “thanks, that’s a great point I haven’t considered,” but I think the difference is that OP’s example situation is one where there are clear instructions to follow and obvious mistakes that can be made.

        That being said, I also think OP could come straight out and say what the problem is to head off the initial unnecessary explanation. You can always go back and find a chain of issues, but you should point out the actual problem first. He may be feeling like it was an “excellent spot” because his train of thought was full of everything else as he tried to figure out what the problem was. If you point out the problem clearly first, he may feel more like “oh of course–I’ll fix that” than “wow, of the 99 things I did, she found the one mistake.” He may be more likely to remember the problem area, too, if you directly point it out instead of allowing him to derail the conversation through the whole checklist first.

        1. JSPA*

          That’s the thing. I’d be tempted to say,

          “No, actually, just a basic spot of a common [name the type of error]. Your quality control is usually pretty decent [if that’s the case; modify as needed]. You’ll want to catch this sort of thing yourself. Thanks for the otherwise nice work.”

          Basically, end with you thanking him, not him thanking you. And a reasonable (as opposed to uncalibratedly-enthusiastic) level of praise.

      4. George Kittle*

        Yes, when the situation calls for real words and only vague pleasantries are being spoken, you get the feeling you aren’t really being heard.

    5. Legal Beagle*

      I like that. OP could give a quick nod, or try ignoring his compliment and just moving right on to the instruction. (If she thinks she can do it subtly enough that he won’t be offended. Anticipate it and be ready to brush it off and move on.)

  2. Kettricken Farseer*

    Without evidence to the contrary, why not assume positive intent on his part? Like Alison said, many people are ‘supporters’ who like to give praise this way as it fosters collaboration and trust.

    1. STONKS*

      I think ultimately that is the question the OP is asking — can she treat this as a harmless quirk that is perhaps mildly annoying, or is it a problem?

    2. Gingerblue*

      Because positive intent and condescension are not mutually exclusive. The guy who patiently, kindly, helpfully explains to his coworker how to tie their shoelaces may genuinely feel he’s being helpful, but that feeling is in and of itself offensive and he needs to knock it off.

      1. Amaranth*

        Sometimes I can brush this sort of overt helpfulness off, but when it becomes a pattern then its easy to start wondering if this guy thinks I’m clueless, or is it reflecting on me negatively that he does this in front of other people.

        1. A Penny for Your Idea!*

          I used to wonder that (does he think I’m clueless? is it reflecting negatively on me?) with the person in my life who does it to me (and everyone else). Example:
          ME: I’m weighing my options for which word might be best to use in the book title.
          HIM: Something that might help you is a “dictionary”.
          ME: Thanks Dad! (He really is my dad.)

      2. JJJJBBB*

        I believe he’s trying to manage up. He talks to her like one of his employees and it is not appropriate for feedback on mistakes. He deflects, rephrases and comes back with a compliment meant to disarm. I believe he isn’t taking responsibility for his mistakes and uses this method to sooth her as if she’s the one who made the mistake. I would find it extremely annoying and condescending. It doesn’t matter that he treats others the same way. The are not his boss and he needs to learn the proper tone for receiving criticism rather than try to turn it back on his boss as an excellent observation rather than a mistake he made.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          I think that speaks to Alison’s point about letting it go IF he’s actually internalizing the feedback and fixing his mistakes. If he’s only deflecting, that’s a different story.

          “Ooh, good catch, Boss!” might become, “Only someone as amazing as you would have caught this tiny detail that really doesn’t matter, so I don’t actually have to fix anything.”

        2. Just J.*

          He may indeed be doing this. Or he may be not. We cannot know tone really from the OP.

          I say this as I respond this way A LOT. I am definitely not managing up. I am trying to be collaborative and polite. I respond this way because 1) it’s a thank you to my superior for being invested and checking my work, 2) me repeating the steps I did is either nervous habit or a confirmation of “have our checklists / procedures changed?”, and 3) it’s a genuine thank you for catching an error earlier rather than later.

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            I still think there are ways to do it without inadvertently sounding like I (think I)’m the one with authority in the conversation. More…neutral, somehow. Like “Thanks for letting me know! I’ll change [X] to [Y].” Or “I see that now! I’ll do [Z] to correct it.”

        3. Susie Q*

          I don’t think this is the case at all. I think you are assuming malice where there is very little indication of any.

      3. JSPA*

        People can absolutely undermine or condescend to others with the best of intentions. In fact, intentionality is essentially irrelevant. The question isn’t, “Is he a good person,” it’s, “is this something that should be tolerated.”

        In ways large and small, if you’re driving on the wrong side of the street, it’s going to make problems for someone, regardless of why you’re doing it.

    3. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Because providing praise to people every single time reduces the sincerity of it. Unless you go above and beyond, nothing more than a simple thank you is sufficient. If you act like everyone is super awesome all the time, it’s going to come across as fake and (IMO) annoying.

      1. Gamymede*

        Also, professional praise is really only meaningful when it comes from someone equal or senior. He really shouldn’t be presuming to praise his boss like this. It has a tang of self-aggrandisment about it, even if it comes from a place of wanting to be a good employee.

        And possibly the reason LW feels weird about it is that its the sort of thing that narcissists and dictators enjoy hearing: “Dear Leader, you are always right, and so clever!” – whereas LW hasn’t solicited this kind of approval because she isn’t insecure and power-crazed.

        1. Peggy*

          “Also, professional praise is really only meaningful when it comes from someone equal or senior.”

          Really? I think genuine compliments/acknowledgements should be and often are appreciated no matter the relative positions on the corporate ladder of the people involved.

          360 degree feedback is there because it actually does matter what those below you think about you.

          (Not saying, that in this particular case, the frequency does not also make it sound a bit off to me. Just your generalized statement does not seem right, either.)

          1. Birch*

            I think it depends on the situation. Is praise meaningful or helpful in that particular situation? Most of the time, praise is only meaningful from people who know more than you in the area they’re praising you in, or have some other emotional value. At work, someone in a different department might praise your work, but if they don’t know what it takes to do that work then… ok, it’s sort of like giving a compliment as a member of the public–it feels nice, but you can’t really take their word that you did well (unless they are an end user, etc.). 360 degree feedback is useful because people who are being managed know more about what works on them than the manager. So it’s not necessarily about corporate hierarchy, but about who holds the important knowledge or experience. Thanking is (almost) always fine, but meaningful praise depends on the praiser’s ability to evaluate the praisee’s work.

            1. The Rural Juror*

              That’s a good explanation. Gratitude shouldn’t be withheld or masked if showing that appreciation means people in the hierarchy are shown that their decisions are working out well. It doesn’t have to be, “Thank you thank you thank you!” It could just mean letting them know, “X has really made a big difference for our team, thanks for implementing it.” You don’t have to massage their ego to let them know something is appreciated, just be genuine.

        2. JB (not in Houston)*

          What do you mean when you say praise is meaningful? Because if my assistant praises something I’ve done, it’s meaningful to me; we were closely together and she certainly knows what it looks like when my job is not done well. Certainly praise from a subordinate can be condescending or self-aggrandizing, but it doesn’t have to be. That’s why Alison was saying that tone matters.

        3. D3*

          Gosh, I hope that’s not true!
          I don’t do it ad nauseum, but when I see my boss rise to meet and handle tough situations with a lot of grace, I tell her!
          Most recently, the way she managed to rearrange/redistribute/modify our processes so that our department can continue to function from home instead of being laid off/furloughed. She was amazing, went to bat for us, and I told her I saw her hard work and really appreciated it.
          I’ve also seen her handle really aggressive customers and diffuse some pretty scary, volatile situations in a way that kept everyone safe and restore the peace. So yeah, I said “great job calming him down and clearing the room.”
          It’s not about self aggrandizement, it’s about recognizing that someone worked their butt off and did a great job in tough circumstances. And I hope that’s meaningful.

        4. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          I disagree that praise is only meaningful if it comes from someone senior to you. As long as it’s sincere and warranted, the hierarchy shouldn’t matter.

        5. knead me seymour*

          Sometimes questions like this make me wonder if my approach to work is overly obsequious, because I too would feel really weird about praising my manager for catching a mistake that I made. Actually, I find it feels a little condescending to overtly praise anyone at work unless I’m explicitly training them. Instead, I would probably be inclined to thank them for noticing the issue. But I think a lot of this is just down to my personal hang-ups.

        6. Shirley Keeldar*

          It is true that professional praise about basic job functions should flow down rather than up, though. If my assistant says, “Cool presentation, boss, I learned so much about how to align the bows on the llamas’ necks,” that’s praise I’d appreciate. If she says, “Nice job on formatting that memo, boss, it was so clear and easy to read,” that’s…really weird. Because I’m the boss and surely I know how to format a memo.

          (I also kind of wish I had an assistant who called me “boss.” And a fedora or two, since I’m apparently in a Humphrey Bogart movie.)

            1. Peggy*

              But is this not true for all praise no matter where it comes from? It also feels wrong to me if my boss compliments me on basic parts of my job — like, thanks, but did you not notice that I have already been doing this repeatedly and successfully in the past? Do you not know anything about my background? Did you not notice the other amazing things I did?

              1. Spencer Hastings*

                I’ve been thinking about this question for a while, and here’s where I come down on it: I agree that these are both weird, but they’re weird for different reasons.

                There’s a framework for analyzing conversations developed by Herbert Paul Grice, which describes several “maxims” that are generally followed by cooperative participants in a conversation (and, if they aren’t followed, either the person isn’t being cooperative, or they’re achieving some special contextual effect).

                One of these is the maxim of relevance: if you are being a cooperative conversational partner, your contributions to the conversation are actually on-topic. For instance, in a conversation about the weather, if I said “Wow, it’s above freezing today!”, this would be pretty normal if the conversation were taking place in the dead of winter, but not in summertime. Obviously it’s above freezing in the summer (at least here in the temperate zone), so why would I say that?

                I think it’s the same principle that makes obvious praise in the boss-to-subordinate direction seem odd. If your boss says to you, when you’ve been in your position for three years: “You did X! Good job!” when X is something that you’ve been doing since your first weeks on the job, your reaction is probably to wonder “uh, why is this even a question under discussion?”, just like the question of whether it’s above freezing in the middle of the summer.

                Praise in the subordinate-to-boss direction is weird for a different reason: a different conversational maxim is being violated here. In the previous cases, the weirdness came from people making true statements that weren’t relevant to the situation. But in this case, I think the problem is that the speaker isn’t sufficiently able to back up what they say.

                According to Grice’s Maxim of Quality, cooperative conversational participants are striving not to say false things, or things for which they don’t have sufficient evidence. This is where I think the problem lies: in the context of a conversation between me and my boss, the evidence that pertains to whether some work product of hers was good or not isn’t available to me. I don’t know the full context and nuances of her job, so I don’t have the ability to make those judgments. Thus, if I say “that teapot is of high quality”, I’m saying something that I don’t actually have the evidence for.

                This tracks with my earlier intuition that telling my boss about the specific effect on me (“I got a lot out of that presentation”) seems more appropriate. This time, I’m talking about my own experience or mental state, which is something I *do* have authority on. Similarly, I can give her feedback of a sort about things she did in her position as my boss: e.g. “thanks for doing Y — that really helped me with Z.” And in the context of a 360 review, say, it’s not that the subordinates are judging the boss; the subordinates are reporting the effects that the boss has on them, which is data that the boss’s superiors can use to evaluate her.

                In addition, changing the context of the conversation can change what statements are appropriate to make. If I’m talking to someone at my own level, now I can say “Jane’s teapots are of high quality” — the level of evidence I need for my statement to be informative when talking to a fellow lower-level observer is less than the level of evidence I need when I’m talking to Jane herself.

          1. Spencer Hastings*

            This! This is the heart of the distinction.

            Even there, I’d be more comfortable giving praise to a higher-up the more focused it was on the benefit I got — more towards the “*I* really got a lot out of that presentation” end of the scale than the “The presentation was objectively good” (which I’m not really qualified to judge) end.

          2. allathian*

            Sadly, I’ve worked for some who don’t!
            But even then, the most I’d say is “thanks for the memo, it really clarified some things for me” or something like that.

        7. WhatAMaroon*

          Some of the most meaningful praise I’ve gotten has been from people reporting to me. It’s helped me grow and also helped me build confidence that I was developing into a good and respected leader. One of my reports once shared that she wished before we started working on deliverables I asked more often if people understood the intent of the work/document because it helped her understand how to approach to problem and not get lost in the weeds. I don’t think I could have gotten that same type of discrete feedback from someone higher than me because to us having done these tasks a million times the intent was obvious. To someone learning it was a moment to train and support learning I was missing out on. The feedback I’ve gotten from the people I manage when they say “I know you went to bat for us and I appreciate that you do x as a leader” has helped reinforce good behaviors that make good people want to work for me. I value knowing that because while I want to work for someone good and who thinks I’m good I also want people to work for me who are good!!

          1. Birch*

            Yes definitely, but it depends on what the praise is for. Your examples are all things that directly affect your reports, in ways that you might not know if they hadn’t told you–they are experts in that situation. You would probably not react the same way if your reports were praising you on aspects of your job that were beyond their capabilities. That’s the point being made here–that praise is meaningful if the person giving it reasonably understands enough of the task at hand to know whether praise is warranted or not. That’s why it’s condescending to praise someone who is checking your work.

            1. WhatAMaroon*

              Yes but in responding to Gamymede’s (sp?) i was responding to the blanket statement that professional praise only matters from people above you or peers. I agree with your distinction.

    4. Not a Girl Boss*

      My team actually had a whole training on acknowledging others’ contributions using “yes, and” and “to ___’s point” etc (Omg, “To __ point” is now said 100 times a meeting and drives me bonkers). Maybe he received this type of advice once and is just poorly applying it?

      He seems to be pretty junior / new to the working world, so I feel like its at least worth having a conversation about how his feedback comes across before jumping to the condescension conclusion.

    5. Moth*

      I think that it can be one of those traits that really goes two ways

      1. I’ve encountered some people who respond this way to feedback who tend to come off as a little socially awkward or neurodiverse. It’s not a bad intent at all, that’s just a way that they’ve learned to respond positively to feedback. It can be really helpful to coach them through responses that might be more well received socially. Because this type of thing can come off as condescending and that can hold someone back.

      2. I’ve also encountered it in people who want to make it clear to everyone how amazing of a team player they are and how they are supremely loyal to everyone above them. And it’s the worst. Generally, this seems to go along with other red flags about their behaviors. For example, they may be supremely excited about every project even mentioned at all to them. They’ll go out of their way to get that done faster and better than everyone else. Even when it wasn’t their project and you didn’t actually want them to start on it. They are brown-nosers to a fault, yet at the same time aren’t actually registering what you say because their only focus is on how they’re seen. I honestly don’t think there is a way to coach this out of people. If it were just the complimenting, that would be one thing, but the other behaviors that tend to go along with it will eventually be a major problem.

      I get how on face value the idea of someone complimenting your feedback every time seems like it could just be a positive thing (and in #1 I think that it is), but if you’ve dealt with people like #2, you’ll know that it can actually be exhausting and it does them no favors. I am not at all saying that OP is dealing with a #2, just that’s why it’s not always a positive thing.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        As a follow-up to #1, another dimension to this is that sometimes, managers who are very literal people (for whatever reason) encourage their direct reports to be very explicit about responding positively to feedback. A few of the people I know who tend to respond in an over-the-top way got their entry-level experience on teams where being like this was necessary for communicating effectively with their manager.

    6. Ugh*

      because every condescending jerk I’ve inadvertently hired behaved in this manner. I’m a small business owner, and would have mentioned it once, and fired the second time it happened.

      1. Silly Goose*

        That’s probably a bit over the top. For some people, that’s just how they’re used to communicating, with no I’ll intent behind it. I feel like reacting strongly to this speaks to an authority/power issue, and this kind of communication is rubbing your ego the wrong way.

      2. Susie Q*

        I’m surprised that you’ve managed to maintain any employees. Firing someone for giving you a compliment. Sounds like you have an inferiority complex if you constantly think everyone is condescending.

  3. Putting the "pro" in "procrastinate"*

    One of my reports frequently (not every time) says something like “I was thinking I should do that” when I give him feedback on his work. I interpret it as a little embarrassment that he’s had to have something pointed out to him, and I let it go. His work is good and he’s been making an effort to improve (not as a performance problem, but as a matter of growth) — so I don’t have a reason to make a Thing out of this habit of his.

    OP, I really liked the insight that your report’s crediting you with a great catch is a face-saving way to avoid saying “oops, I screwed that up, didn’t I?” If he learns from your “great catches” and doesn’t repeat the same mistakes, it might be worth trying to let go. It can be tough to acknowledge mistakes in the moment, but if he is internalizing the feedback and learning from the mistakes, maybe that matters more.

    1. Bella*

      I also read it as maybe trying to be pro-actively receptive. Maybe he’s been on the receiving end of uncomfortable exchanges, where he gives feedback and the person is sullen – and being hyperaware, he wants to reassure the person giving the feedback that it is “welcome.” But i might be over-thinking this ha

      1. Dumpster Fire*

        He may also have been on the receiving end of criticism/feedback and NOT responded well; and then been told that he needs to handle feedback better – which he is now doing by being complimentary toward the person providing the feedback.

        1. Just J.*

          I agree with both Bella and Dumpster Fire. I posted above that I respond to feedback similar to OP’s staffer.
          It is because I know I take criticism very poorly. Therefore being complimentary about receiving feedback is a way to remind myself that feedback is necessary, and to fix the mistake, and not beat myself up over it.

          1. Alex*

            Personally, I work in a field where every single thing that gets released needs to be checked, usually by independent recreation. It’s just a reflex to compliment my checkers now, partly because I often work with newer staff members who come from more hierarchical organisations and are shy about telling seniors they’ve made an error, and partly because checking is just as important as creation but only gets about a tenth of the credit. As a result, I’ve trained myself to be positive about their ability to catch mistakes as a way of highlighting that this is a Good Thing to do and speak up about.

          2. Goliath Corp.*

            This makes a lot of sense to me. As a fellow person-who-is-bad-with-criticism, I think I do this in part to remind myself that a mistake is a mistake, and not a reflection of my overall capabilities. So I do prefer to thank my manager for the correction. But my team is also very collaborative and I think my manager sets that tone/expectation, since we all catch things for each other.

        2. old curmudgeon*

          I wondered about that as well. The fact that the report is male and the supervisor is female, plus I get the sense that both are more likely in their 20s/30s than in their 40s/50s, makes me wonder if the report is trying to be “woke” in how he responds to her.

    2. GrumbleBunny*

      I have a report that does this too. If I correct him he’ll immediately come back with “I thought so, that’s what I was planning to do.” It makes me crazy, but he does learn from these corrections so I’ve mostly let it go since he’s brand new – both as a report and to the workforce in general.

      Eventually I will need to address it though, because gracefully admitting you were wrong is an important skill too. If he can’t learn to do that when it matters, it’s going to hold him back professionally.

      1. hamsterpants*

        For the sake of everyone he works with in the future, please get on top of this issue. Maybe it’s just a quirk to you, but to me it comes across as defensive (I already knew what to do) and dismissive (so your input wasn’t needed). Please coach him on how to gracefully accept feedback and acknowledge when someone had a better idea than he did.

      2. allathian*

        Please talk to him about this soon rather than eventually. He’s still new enough to the workforce to need coaching and maybe you can make sure he doesn’t develop a bad habit that’ll hold him back with a less understanding boss in the future.
        My boss doesn’t directly supervise my work, but I have a coworker that does the same job I do, and we check each other’s work and give feedback on them to each other. Not every task, but critical ones. We also have a lot of control of workflow, but sometimes our supervisor needs to step in to reprioritize some tasks.

    3. Mill Miker*

      I have a project manager I’ve been, to some degree, doing this too all week. It’s mostly because he’s checking in with me every 5 minutes and the second I say I’m done one task, is recommending the next obvious task, even though it actually is more my job than his to know what the next task is. Oh well.

  4. STONKS*

    And it sounds like part of it is that he’s using a compliment to you (“excellent spot!”) to avoid fully acknowledging that he’s getting things wrong. Instead of acknowledging that he missed something and will fix it, he’s shifting the focus to you having an amazing insight.

    If he then goes on to fix his mistakes and learn from them … well, I think it’s not that bad.

    This seems like the core of it, and what separates a weird quirk from an actionable problem. Regardless of the words he says in the moment, is he accepting your corrections and looking at them in the wider scope of his performance? If yes, you don’t really have a problem here, just a quirky report. If no, and Alison is right that he’s using these compliments to avoid feeling that you are managing him (which is your job!) then you potentially have a problem, and should have a discussion with him about it.

    And when it comes to what that discussion looks like — I think you actually have the core of it right there in your letter. “Sometimes I just want an “OK, will do” and don’t need to be reassured every time that I have his full approval for my steer.” This sums it up pretty neatly. You need him to be focusing on the behavior that he will change, not on your perspicacity in pointing it out.

    1. Shirley Keeldar*

      Right, this makes me think that there’s a real difference between “Thanks, boss, good catch; I’ll make sure I don’t make that mistake going forward” and “Thanks, boss, good catch; you’re so clever.” Does he say “good catch” and then bring the focus back to himself and how he’ll adjust his behavior going forward? Or does he leave that focus on you and the compliment he just paid you? If it’s the second, maybe you can start saying something like, “No problem. Are you sure you can avoid that mistake in the future? Do you need a checklist/additional level of approval/just to slow down and doublecheck your own work /whatever?”

    2. Grey Coder*

      I work in a team where I am senior (by a long way) to everyone else — I’m a subject matter lead without being a line manager. I have two junior team members who occasionally say “good catch” or similar when I point out issues with their work. One will take that feedback on board and use it in the future; the other will not, and will treat further corrections as surprise revelations every single time.
      It took me a while to be able to distinguish these two patterns! Initially I was a bit irritated by the first but it comes from the collaborative approach which I’m generally all in favour of. (The second person is, I believe, on their way out.)

      1. allathian*

        Yeah, making mistakes is human. Continuing to make the same mistakes over and over, in spite of constructive feedback, is annoying and unprofessional.

  5. What Day Is It?*

    He’s just perky?
    That can be grating. But I guess it’s preferable to an employee who sulks about everything.

    1. Washi*

      You’re right that having an Eeyore isn’t much better than having a Pollyanna on the team, and it’s all relative anyway. I went from being the curmudgeon at one job to That Perky Person at another one just because the culture was so different.

      Since he’s new, if he has pretty good social skills/awareness, he may gradually tone it down as I did.

    2. Spencer Hastings*

      Por que no ninguno de los dos? (with apologies to that Old El Paso commercial)

      It’s not a binary. An alternative to “overly perky” could just be “calm and even-keeled” (which, yeah, some people might label as “being a grump”, but that’s more likely to happen in environments of toxic positivity).

  6. lazy intellectual*

    It seems like he is awkwardly trying to be supportive to your suggestions. Like, his intent is good, but his wording is bad because it comes off patronizing and a bit over the top.

    1. juliebulie*

      I think all he needs to do is add, “…I’ll fix it” and it doesn’t sound patronizing.

  7. juliebulie*

    In an episode of The Office I saw within the last week or so, Ryan Howard did this a lot (I don’t remember to whom – probably Jim?). And it was obnoxious.

    But of course that was supposed to be obnoxious. It’s just really hard to know, without seeing exactly what OP is describing, whether this direct report is really being collaborative or if he’s just being condescending. (Or, perhaps, intending to be collaborative but coming off as condescending nevertheless.)

    He doesn’t sound like a jerk otherwise, so this might be one of those cases where if he could see his behavior through someone else’s eyes he would stop it. But I’m not sure how you accomplish that.

    1. M_Lynn*

      Ha-I heard it in a Christ Traeger from Parks and Rec voice. Someone unendingly enthusiastic and supportive!

        1. Amy Sly*

          A former pastor produced a newsletter that included when that month’s birthdays and anniversaries would happen. He made that same mistake for mine, and I joked that he had a much higher opinion of my husband than I did!

          I love my husband dearly, but he’s not the son of God …

    2. Jdc*

      To some extent i see it as he is trying to manage people he isn’t in charge or. It could be other things but i got the impression LW feels this way and I know I would.

      We need to be understanding of how people express themselves but also understanding of how we express ourselves and in turn how others take it. I could see this being an issue in his career if people are taking it that way. It goes both ways.

  8. Lady Heather*

    Is there a way to respond to ‘Great suggestion!’ in a humorous-but-poignant I thought so myself, thank you – please do treat it as an order?

    I think – with the right tone, expression, and phrasing – it might work, but I wouldn’t know how to go about tone and expression (and phrasing).

    1. juliebulie*

      I think if you just say it in a cheerful tone, “I agree, so please take care of that.”

    2. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I lean towards “Yep, sure is and that’s why they pay me the big bucks!”

      1. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

        Eh, I don’t really want my manager bragging on their salary at me, even jokingly.

    3. AngryAngryAlice*

      Yeah I was thinking along these lines. Maybe just an upbeat “yup, that’s my job!” (like, REALLY pleasant so it isn’t mistaken for sarcasm or dismissiveness) every time he does this might work? At the very least, he’s catch on at some point and maybe start doing it less?

      Idk, I’d be really irked if someone did this, but if he’s always in collaboration mode like Alison hypothesized, then I’d probably be able to shrug it off without much of a second thought.

    4. hamsterpants*

      I like “indeed” or even “that’s correct” if you want to re-establish that someone is in fact not coming up with a new idea but just saying something that you already said.

      1. MayLou*

        I briefly had a mentor who got really angry with me for saying “that makes sense” when she explained things to me. She shouted that of course it makes sense, she wouldn’t have said it if it didn’t. I genuinely didn’t know what she wanted me to do/say instead. I only worked with her for two weeks and she reached BEC with me pretty fast – I cries every day, couldn’t do anything right for her and hated the entire placement. Another trainee found me crying in a store cupboard and reported it to the university because she said it sounded like bullying, and with hindsight I now agree. My point is, if you are going to correct the way someone responds to feedback/training, it can help a lot to suggest what the person should say instead. If they, like me, genuinely are well-intentioned and want to learn, they’ll take it on board. If they’re being patronising and trying to look superior, they won’t and you’ll have more information to work with.

  9. Roscoe*

    I swear, people can find anything to be annoyed about lol. Everyone has quirks that are annoying to someone. But this just seems so… odd (not even the right word) to be upset by. You say he is like this toward everyone, and nothing about it even seems condescending. Even your example of explaining things you already know seems just like a super positive/nice person.

    It seems like you want him to be more deferential to you, but I’m not seeing why you need that except because “heirarchy”.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’ve worked with some people who are so pollyanna-ish that I roll my eyes at times. But I couldn’t see actually being mad and wanting to talk to them about it.

        1. Eeek*

          I posted below about like having aspergers and wanting really badly to be communicating “properly” – I’m totally a pollyanna but I do fill a good little thoughtful spot on our team and my managers like that about me (and I am good at my job) – but truly cut this guy some slack hes probably just nervous as hell and likes everyone a lot.

    1. Grits McGee*

      I can see where the OP might have concerns that the report’s responses are indicating that there is a mismatch between what OP is saying and what her report is hearing. Her report’s responses give the impression that he’s treating her instructions/corrections as suggestions (which by implication can be taken or ignored), rather than the mandates that they are. I think it’s less the cherry-ness that’s the problem, than the wording.

      1. Rectilinear Propagation*

        I agree. If he was only responding this way to things that were genuine suggestions, that’d be one thing, but thanking her for instructions muddies this. I think that’s why Alison said, “If he learns from his mistakes and learns from them”.

    2. SomebodyElse*

      I think that this type of thing can be very off putting without it being a power play or being something to be mad about. And it’s one of those things that can set a person on edge.

      I think for me (and I’ve this employee once or twice) is that you leave conversations wondering if they actually registered what you were saying and the importance of it. It’s hard to describe really. The worse thing is there really isn’t anything that can be done. I’ve just put them into the ‘ughh I dislike talking to this person’ category but otherwise ignored my irritation at it and move on.

      1. Roscoe*

        I guess I’d agree if OP had indicated that he keeps making the same mistakes over and over. But if he takes the feedback, and learns from it, it just doesn’t seem like a big deal.

    3. An Nonnie Nonnie non*

      I sort of agree with this. I have a friend that is like a lot what LW describes. Even though I don’t work with her we have a lot of conversations that sound like what OP is describing.

      Her: Man I just don’t know what to about XYZ, I am just so confused.
      Me: Well, why don’t you try ABC, it might help.
      Her: Oh wow! An Nonnie, I never thought of that, that’s so great. Thank you!

      She truly is not being patronizing its just her personality. I will say the first couple times I interacted with her, I thought she was kind of strange, but I got to her and her quirks. Personally I would just let it go, and realize it just maybe his personality.

    4. Kali*

      This letter made me laugh a bit, because when I was training in my job, I was one-on-one with a known grump. I tried to hear what he was saying and give “active listening” cues, such as “okay” and “I hear you”. On day 3, he exploded at me – what I thought were indications that I was actively listening were, to him, dismissive. (I promise I wasn’t – I was terrified of him, since he could have literally gotten me fired. I don’t even think I made the same mistake twice, so I was taking in the training.) I just apologized, and he got over it. He’s very nice to me now. So *weird* what annoys people.

      I think that if this report absorbs what OP is telling him and applies it, and he’s not saying these things with any malice or condescension, this is just a quirk. OP could maybe cheerfully say, “You know, I love feeling supported and affirmed, but it’s really not necessary here! Let me know when that’s fixed.”

      1. Roscoe*

        Your last sentence is so much better than what a lot of people are suggesting. So man people are like “Of course I’m good, but you are the problem”.

      2. Uranus Wars*

        I really like this last sentence. To the point and doesn’t come across as a corrective, just a preference. And it might be enough to work, or at least point the employee in the right direction.

      3. allathian*

        Ugh, I would hate to have to apologize to anyone who’d exploded at me. He should really have given you some feedback that your active listening comments were annoying him before it got to the point that he could no longer control his emotions and he exploded.

      4. matcha123*

        The interaction you had with your coworker reminds me of the interactions I’ve been having with a senior coworker. I got the feeling that my active listening and responses might have made her think I thought I was stuck up? But, like your coworker, she probably could have gotten me fired.
        People can be so weird, they will assume things and create a whole persona in their minds.

    5. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      That was my read on it too – that the employee is, for lack of a better word, forgetting his place. It was a puzzling problem to me. This subordinate’s reactions would’ve been normal anywhere I worked. I admit that, while I’m mildly puzzled by OP’s complaint, I am straight up shocked by how many commenters are trying to guess at why this person is responding the way he is (“is he on the spectrum? did he read this in a book?”) when to me his responses would be nothing out of the ordinary. But I guess my workplaces have been less hierarchical, with respect and collaboration flowing both ways. One positive takeaway from this discussion for me is that it made me appreciate my work environment more. Great catch, everyone (heh heh)!

      1. Roscoe*

        Yep. I mean, I guess I can see how it would depend on the environment. Maybe my jobs have been less hierarchical than I believed lol. Because I can’t see this ever being a thing anywhere I’ve worked

      2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Y’know, I wonder if it’s just about differences in hierarchy rather than that plus perceived competence.

        Flat works really well when everyone’s good at their job and you can trust in each other’s abilities and willingness to internalize feedback. When you have to start being concerned that someone isn’t taking ownership, flat falls flat really quickly.

      3. Spencer Hastings*

        Being aware of a hierarchy that exists* doesn’t mean that bosses don’t respect subordinates, though.

        (*and even if an organization calls itself non-hierarchical, that doesn’t necessarily mean it is — it could just mean that the hierarchy is unspoken rather than explicit)

    6. Senor Montoya*

      I don’t see it as wanting Mr Peppy to be deferential. There’s a difference between wanting deference and not being condescended to. It feels like condescension to the OP. Not clear that it *is*, but that’s how it feels.

      OP can want not to be condescended to without being all “hierarchy is soooo important.” And frankly, the hierarchy may be important: OP is managing Mr Peppy, not the other way round. The question is, is Mr Peppy actually being condescending, or just coming off that way?

      If I were OP, I’d just pause a beat, raise an eyebrow, and say, “OK then…Getting back to the llamas…” unless there’s other evidence that he’s being condescending. I dunno, at some point maybe have a discussion with him if you think the tone is annoying other managers or holding him back in some way.

    7. A*

      Ya, I personally don’t get what the big deal is. I’d be nervous working in an environment where my word choice would be scrutinized to this extent, it would require more of a filter than I’m prepared to put up for 40+ hours a week.

      1. Look Left*

        I agree with you and Roscoe. I don’t even understand why it’s necessary to bring word choice up as a criticism in this scenario. If the employee is turning in subpar work, the takeaway should be, “You need to focus on meeting deadlines for X and Y,” not “How dare you tell me I’m doing a good job!” There are many people mentioned on this site who need lessons in workplace norms and etiquette, but this employee doesn’t sound like one of them.

        If you sweat small stuff like this, OP, get ready for your 360 feedback. Petty power trips are a great way to sour someone who might otherwise be friendly and collaborative against you. I have a great relationship with my current manager, but if she’s hooking me up to a metaphorical polygraph every time I praise her, I’d be eying the door fast.

      2. allathian*

        Agreed. I work for a pretty flat organization, as a subject matter specialist I’m 4 levels down from the very top (2,000 employees). We have annual 360 reviews and feedback flows both ways. We also do both internal and external customer satisfaction surveys.

    8. Bergen*

      I completely agree.

      This seems like just a personality mismatch, but to me it’s landing more at the OP’s feet. It should be in her skill set to accommodate some human difference in communication styles, without taking offense where there seems to be none. And I’m always on the lookout for examples of sexism or employees trying to steamroll female bosses.

      I agree with others on the “assume good intentions”, which is part of collaborative professional training in some areas of education. His communication style strikes me as ideal, personally (also midwestern).

      Looking to verbally swat him down would be a mistake, but OP could model being more direct as a commenter said above about just directly pointing out the mistake vs discussing procedure, which is indirectly related to the mistake.

      Like maybe both, but actual mistake first. Then it’s also a little less like a “gotcha”, which may even be what is eliciting the “good catch” response.

    9. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      I see where you’re coming from, but I wonder what’s really triggering this is that the LW has trouble believing that their direct report is taking ownership of their mistakes because they keep happening. It’s a play on the BEC issue, and to some degree LW wouldn’t be coming into contact with their direct report’s quirks as often if they were a more consistent performer.

      That LW’s direct report is a positive and nice person makes the situation somewhat more difficult to deal with (and in turn more annoying) because pushing back towards good-intentioned behaviour just feels crappy for both parties involved; if the direct report was being a rear end-wearing top hat there’d be zero cognitive dissonance at play.

    10. Silly Goose*

      Yes! Being upset by this comes across to me as OPs ego being a little bruised because they feel this person is being properly deferential. What should matter are his results and his actions. If he takes your correction and suggestions to heart and fixed the mistake going forward, that is what matters, not that he kissed the ring before doing so.

    11. Susie Q*

      “I swear, people can find anything to be annoyed about lol.”

      100000000000000000%

      Makes me think these people don’t have anything going on in their lives.

    12. Happy*

      I agree.

      In particular, I found this response odd: “…is not a particularly good point, all I said was x is unclear and he needs to rewrite it.”

      Why wouldn’t it be a good point that a draft is unclear? That is very useful, actionable feedback! It probably was a good point, and it’s certainly good that OP’s subordinate sees it as such.

      1. Jennifer Thneed*

        Because “good point” is something you say in a discussion about a topic. Being told that you’ve done something wrong isn’t a discussion, and saying “good point” does not in any way promise that the wrong thing will be fixed. (If I got that kind of conversational mismatch in my private life, I’d be wondering if someone in the conversation had a hearing deficit – maybe me, maybe them). I think that OP’s subordinate needs to be explicitly saying “I’ll get that fixed”.

        1. Happy*

          I think “I’ll get that fixed” is implied, and I’m not sure why the OP would need to have that it explicitly spelled out (though of course they can always request it if they want).

          If you tell me that my writing is unclear and needs to be revised, and I say “good point”, then I’m clearly agreeing that the wording was unclear. So of course I’ll be fixing it! I agree that it wasn’t worded well!

  10. Treebeardette*

    This sounds like more of a personality difference than anything. I get encouraging like that because I’m a pretty positive and happy person. I’m also a stickler for good work and well thought ideas, so when someone catches something that I missed or has a great idea, I’ll praise it. It’s a quirk of mine.

    If my supervisor didn’t like it, I would hope she would say something. However, I don’t do it to show I approve of you or to give reassurance. I think you may be looking to deeply in his behavior since he supposedly treats everyone that way. They seem like throw away phrases to me. Maybe it’s time to reflect why this bothers you and if it’s tied to something unrelated to him?

    1. Dust Bunny*

      I feel like this is a weird thing to do to your *supervisor*, though. I would say, “Oops, I missed that! Thank you!”, but I can’t see myself . . . praising my supervisor. I already know that he’s good at his job and am happy to demonstrate it by being an obliging and effective subordinate. Neither he nor I need that much attention, thanks.

      1. Uranus Wars*

        But he might not see it as praising a supervisor. It can just be his normal collaborative reaction, not mean to be praise at all but a “thanks for pointing that out “

      2. Treebeardette*

        Except op says that he’s pretty good. It’s not like he’s ignoring her and refusing to work. That’s why I say it’s a personality difference because he’s being perky. Not everyone likes that.

    2. SomebodyElse*

      I think the ‘good catch’ is the least of the worries by the OP. I’ll get that from employees and have used it myself with various bosses. That doesn’t sound like the real problem.
      ___
      Me: “You need to groom the llamas systematically, and use the checklist so you don’t miss any.”
      Him: “What we do is always start from the head so that…”
      Me, interrupting: “You’ve missed the tail on that one.”
      Him: Pause. “Thank you, excellent spot, [myname].”
      ___

      This exchange is pretty telling… it’s like he’s so quick to show off what he knows that he’s totally missed the fact that he’s made a mistake. The last line is a cover up to that fact. I think that’s the irritation point.

      1. Mill Miker*

        That last line of dialog, especially the pause, is giving me flashbacks to ending conversations with an old boss who was not interested in explanations for why something could not be done, but merely insistent that it must be done. We all learned pretty fast that if he starts cutting you off it’s time to just agree with him, acknowledge his superior knowledge, and move on.

        I’m not saying OP is that kind of boss, but I am curious if the employee may have picked up that habit somewhere.

      2. Blueberry*

        Hmm. It might be that he starts with “What we do is always start from the head…” as a way of determining what precisely was the part of the llama he missed. After all, it might not be that he’s not using the checklist, but that just before he got to the tail another llama ran in and he had to corral it, and before he could return to the tail his supervisor came across the llama with the ungroomed tail. (Things that could be analogized thusly used to happen all the time in my hospital job, which is part of what made me think of it.) The difference between “let me show off what I know” and “let me double-check what I think I know” could be in tone, posture, and other aspects that are difficult to describe but totally obvious IRL.

        Elsethread a couple of neuroatypical commenters have described how they could be seen as doing this and what they mean by it, and that got me thinking about how maybe it’s not that this employee is trying to blow his supervisor off, but instead to convey how much he is listening to her.

      3. Treebeardette*

        I don’t think it’s telling at all. Sounds like he’s trying to explain or figure out where he went wrong. The op even said he wasn’t being condescending. We really don’t have enough info to make a call one way or another.

      4. Scarletb*

        I’m not clear on how this *is* telling, to be honest. The OP hasn’t expressed any clear issue in that first line, and doesn’t tell the guy what’s wrong until the next part, so I’m not sure what he’s actually supposed to do with a sentence like the first one or what kind of response he *should* give until a problem is actually expressed.

        Were it me, my pause there would probably be me taking a second to tamp down a “well, why didn’t you lead with that?” moment.

      5. Alternative Person*

        Yeah I’ve had variations on this discussion where people are agreeing with me verbally, but not necessarily acknowledging the issue or taking the feedback on board. I think in this case the LW is looking for a ‘I’ll be more careful next time’ or a ‘can you show me how to integrate this?’ rather than a ‘this is how this works’.

        Sure, it could be the case that this is the employee acknowledging feedback in their way, but I think it would be worth a conversation because this kind of phrasing could come off the wrong way.

      6. allathian*

        I was wondering if he always processes things out loud (hopefully under his breath in a shared space). I know some people like that, and you’ll have to let them get to the end of their verbal processing. If you interrupt, they’ll be completely discombobulated. If you’d let them complete the process mentally, they might catch on that they missed the groomed tail themselves and said, “I’m sorry I missed that, I’ll fix it.”

      7. Susie Q*

        Or he’s explaining what he thinks he needs to do in order to get feedback.

        Plenty of people do this.

  11. Jam Today*

    I have worked at multiple companies where the culture is relentlessly negative, filled with blame, finger pointing, deflection, general disrespect, and an out-of-the-gate assumption of bad intent or incompetence from everyone, all the time. My current company is like this also, and its so draining and morale crushing. To counter it, I make a point of thanking people and acknowledging when their ideas are better than mine or the point out holes in something I was planning or working on, because that allows me to re-orient or fix things before they break. Without making too many assumptions about the background, or his work background specifically, maybe he just holds some internal values that he is trying very hard to live out, without being crushed by corporate BS.

  12. SaffyTaffy*

    I do this sometimes with my higher-ups because, similar to what Alison said, I’m in collaborative/encouraging mood most of the day. I also just believe in giving support. At my school, there is one teacher who has repeatedly taken offense and told me “don’t blow smoke up my butt,” but it’s vocally and enthusiastically appreciated by dozens of other staff. So I just nod at him instead, and he goes back to baseline sourpuss, and it’s fine.

  13. Eukomos*

    My guess would be that he’s naturally shy or defensive, and has developed this “great suggestion, thanks!” thing as a script to avoid defaulting to a more natural but less professional response. If he’s younger then it might be worth nudging him towards scripts that sound more like something a normal human being would say, but if he’s older I’d suspect that he’s profoundly awkward and this is the best he can manage.

    1. The Rat-Catcher*

      This is what I immediately thought. I do this although I try to say “Thanks for pointing that out.” I do it because my instinct is to be defensive (and I’m working through that issue and its causes in therapy) and even if I give a neutral “okay” or “I will fix that” it’s still sometimes perceived as me reacting negatively to feedback. It’s one of the things I use to try to combat that.

    2. Anon3456*

      I wonder if there is something deeper at play.
      This could be an ingrained « Fawning » response. It’s a stress response – you become ingratiating to escape danger.
      Unfortunately, many people use the response a lot because of a childhood in which there was huge tension and this is a way of diffusing problems.
      The reason why it feels ‘off’ to the OP is because it’s underneath the niceness of the words there is fear. It makes for an uncomfortable dialogue.
      I know this because I grew up in a household where fawning was my stress response. I’ve only just realized it doesn’t make me seem friendly, it confuses people. I’m working on this. Being criticized at work is exactly when it comes out the worst.

  14. Mrs_helm*

    I am like this report. I am a collaborative-y person with people at all levels, and do say things like “good catch” to my direct manager. But also, there are some times and some people where it is clear that this are not being viewed in that way, and my answer is more “I’ll get that fixed right away, sorry”. So, as a manager, I would want to see that your report recognizes gravity and responds with gravity when warranted. But otherwise, yeah, just a quirk.

  15. Collarbone High*

    I’m going to admit that I sometimes use phrasing like this, especially “good point,” in two scenarios:

    1) As Alison said, I’m mortified that I overlooked something and am trying to end the conversation quickly and positively before I start babbling apologies.

    2) “I actually don’t agree with you, but this isn’t worth pushing back on and just saying ‘OK’ sounds like I’m sulking, which I internally am but anyway, ‘good point’ sounds less terse to me than ‘point taken,’ so let’s go with that.”

  16. Lucia Pacciola*

    What about,

    “At the moment I’d like to keep this conversation focused on how you’re doing your job, rather than about how I’m doing mine. I’m always open to feedback about my performance, but right now what I need to hear from you is how you understand what was missed, and how you plan to avoid missing it in the future.”

    1. Roscoe*

      That seems like a lot, especially if its a fairly minor mistake and he has a history of fixing them and not repeating them. It just comes off as a power trip

    2. somebody blonde*

      Yeah, I think this response is probably too much if he’s actually taking the feedback as well as complimenting you for it.

    3. PollyQ*

      I think it’s maybe too much of a speech for the issue, but I do think you’ve put your finger on why the habit is problematic. If you take out all the details, this is the substance of what’s happening.

      LW: “You are doing your job incorrectly in this way, please fix it.”
      Emp: “You’re doing your job well!”

      A compliment is almost a derail in this situation. I’m not saying that the employee needs to grovel or rend their garments, but his focus in that moment shouldn’t be on what LW is doing, it should be on his own issue.

    4. Jam Today*

      This is a totally unnecessary and over-the-top response to someone literally thanking you for pointing out a mistake they made. If I ever had a manager say this to me, after I thanked them for feedback, I would immediately look for a new job.

      1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        +1. Something about that response suggests a complete lack of seeing good intent, and it’d be difficult to continue working for someone primed to see interactions that way.

        1. LJay*

          This.

          This is the type of response I might use if, say, I was disciplining an employee for spending too much work time on personal calls and they brought up that one time they came to my office and I was on the phone, so as to not allow them to derail the entire conversation and put me in the defensive position. (I shouldn’t have to explain to them that that was a work call, or that there is a difference between taking a 15 minute personal call every once in awhile and spending 6 hours on personal calls every day, etc).

          Using it in response to a short phrase like, “Good catch” and especially a short compliment is bizarre to me and would make me view all my interactions with that person as potentially adversarial.

    5. Malarkey01*

      This feels so heavy handed. Saying “great suggestion” or “I really like that” to a correction is not taking the focus off his work or providing performance feedback to the boss. I think great suggestion or nice catch is exactly how he’s communicating that he understands what was missed and agrees (and not agrees as in I need to agree with an error but agree like I understand why it’s an error or why we are doing it this way).

      1. fhqwhgads*

        But part of the issue is OP indicates he’s saying “great suggestion” to things that were direct requests or instructions. So to reply indicating it was a suggestion shows either some misunderstanding or some deflection, neither of which is great.
        “Next time, I need you to do A, not B.”
        “Great suggestion!”
        or
        “Please make sure the Jones report is complete by Thursday.”
        “Great suggestion!”
        Both of those read tone deaf and weird.

        1. LJay*

          I think my response to those would be more direct.

          “That’s not a suggestion, actually, it’s the [procedure I need you to follow going forward]/[firm deadline].”

          I’d probably say it in an upbeat way. But I’d want to be clear that this isn’t a suggestion but a requirement and that viewing it as optional isn’t going to go well.

    6. Susie Q*

      “At the moment I’d like to keep this conversation focused on how you’re doing your job, rather than about how I’m doing mine. I’m always open to feedback about my performance, but right now what I need to hear from you is how you understand what was missed, and how you plan to avoid missing it in the future.”

      This is really really really over the top. Everyone needs to chill out.

  17. Youth*

    I wonder if he’s just trying to create a good rapport. Maybe in the past, he struggled forming bonds with colleagues, and now he’s swinging too far the other way.

  18. NOK*

    Assuming this is a relatively recent letter, I do wonder if this quirk is coming out stronger during Universal WFH. I hear a lot more supportive/collaborative language from my coworkers as we all make an effort to be a united front, which is awesome, but I’ve found myself gritting my teeth occasionally as it can feel cloying.

    1. SaffyTaffy*

      Good point! I’ve gotten so many more quick “thank you” and “you’re the best” and “good idea” emails since WFH.

  19. Lionheart26*

    Wow I’m finding these comments fascinating because I am 100% with the OP: this is SO obnoxious and irritating! Turning a correction into a compliment for the manager? Even if not intentional, that’s missing the point at best.
    I would probably say something like “well yes, it’s my job to spot things like that. What I need you to do is to use the checklist, especially when you’re looking at the tail area”

    1. Rachel in NYC*

      My problem is that this sounds really obnoxious but I admit I feel this could be really situational and maybe it just needs a conversation the next time it happens- hey, I notice that when I give you a correction/point out a mistake- you turn it into a compliment. My pointing out mistakes is my job. If you are making so many mistakes that its a problem, I’ll let you know but you aren’t doing that. However, you do have a habit of [and discussing what the guy’s been doing.]

    2. Susie Q*

      Why do you seek malice in innocuous words?

      Sounds like you are very defensive of your work and looking at any comment as an attack.

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        Being “obnoxious” and “irritating” does not entail “malice”. Something can be a problem without coming from a place of malice, so I think that all the comments that are going “gee, why are you jumping to MALICE, get a life” are kind of missing the point.

        For instance, think of microaggressions. Sometimes people are deliberately trying to insult you; other times, they said something without thinking and it exposed some bias they had. Saying “hey, there’s a problem with what that person just said” does not presuppose that the person had malicious intent.

  20. somebody blonde*

    I think this is one where you can let your natural reaction to the oddness be your entire response. When he says “that’s a great spot”, you can just give him a bit of a quizzical look and move on. If he asks about the funny looks, you can just express your confusion with this response: “I never quite know how to take it when you compliment me for giving you feedback.” I don’t think it’s a major problem or anything, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with letting him know you find it odd.

  21. Workerbee*

    I’m torn, too.

    I’ve had the type of colleague who genuinely wanted you to feel good about your decisions, to the point of reassuring you when you 100% don’t need reassurance, which then deflected from the point or instruction you were trying to make. But again, genuinely nice people.

    I’ve also had the type who made sure to employ these reassurances to show whoever else was listening what a great leader they were and how the person they were reassuring had needed their guiding hand. This led to “Thank you for helping out by doing X!” in meetings that made it sound as if they had not only suggested X to the person whose actual job it was, but that it wouldn’t have gotten done without their suggestion.

    It’s hard to convey all this without tone.

  22. That Girl from Quinn's House*

    So I agree this behavior is obnoxious, but I’m wondering if this is a bit of a tell.

    Manager: You missed the llama’s tail.
    Employee: Well we start with the head…

    I’m just wondering if there’s something in the company’s processes or instructions that doesn’t work well for the front line staff doing it, and this is a tactful way of pointing that out without disagreeing or seeming insubordinate. “Well we start with the head because if we start with the tail like the checklist said, we will be getting crud on the parts of the llama we’ve already cleaned causing us to have to brush twice, and this is especially unsafe because of manure germs around the tail.”

    1. fhqwhgads*

      That’s interesting. How I took the exchange was that OP wa starting with the checklist business in order to point out the missing of the tail (implied, it’s on the list and one following the list shouldn’t have missed it) but before OP got to that, the employee jumped in with the business about the starting at the head, which was beside the point, which is why OP interrupted to finish the original thought: you missed the tail. Thus preventing a derail in the middle about heads, and getting back to the issue at hand: the mistake. That combined with the “good catch” makes it feel like more like a deflection from the employee, but I can see how it could go the other way. It just depends on the context.

    2. LJay*

      Yeah, I was wondering this myself.

      Though I would hope that then the exchange would go with:
      “Well when we groom the llamas we always start with the head…”
      “But the checklist specifically indicates that you should start with the tail. Why do you start with the head?”

      Not just cutting off and ignoring that the stated bit of the checklist is different than what is indicated. (Though maybe the difference is further on in the part that the employee doesn’t get to because he’s been cut off.)

  23. Drtheliz*

    I wonder if he’s actually trying to take criticism well, oddly. “That’s a great idea” = “ok, I have buy in and will do as you say”. “I groom the llamas from the head” = “I knew that, please don’t think I’m an idiot”. Over-explaining may also fall into “please think we’ll of me” category. One of the hardest lessons I have learned about professional behaviour is that sometimes your boss tells you to paint the teapot spout red, and sitting in the workshop is a teapot with the red primer on it, and you just have to say “Yes Boss” because they do not care (and don’t think less of you for not having done it already, they’re just saying it to be certain it’s done). I know a lot of people who haven’t learned it.

    1. Blueberry*

      Yes, this. This very much. And yet all the things one says circle around rather than clearly stating the one thing the boss wants to hear, which is “I’m listening, I heard, I will do it right from now on.”

    2. LJay*

      Yeah, this is hard for me sometimes because I’ve always been the high performer and the goody goody teachers pet in school and a lot of my self esteem is tied up in being smart and right.

      So imagining my boss thinking that I am an idiot and need to be told, “Llama grooming includes the whole llama, including the tail” is demoralizing. Because of course I know that grooming the whole llama includes the tail. That’s llama 101.

      So of course I want to go into the whole explanation that Of course I always follow the checklist to a T. But this one time the llama spit on me in the middle of the grooming. So I told Joe I would be right back and then went to follow the llama decontamination procedure as outlined in the checklist. But the decontamination soap was out. So I had to refill the decontamination soap which took me longer than expected. And by then Joe and his llama were done and left the barn. And that’s when you came by and saw the half finished llama. But I was following the procedures and definitely was going to come back to finish the llama including the tail because I always do the tail.

      But I’ve learned over time that nobody wants to hear all that and that’s it’s best in the moment to go, “I’m sorry about that, I’ll make sure all tails are groomed going forward”.

      And then if there is anything actionable, to bring it up in an appropriate context later like in a check in or process meeting. That’s the time to say, “The last time I went to do the llama decontamination procedure we were out of soap and the process of locating and filling the soap took a lot longer than expected. Can we keep extra soap in the cabinet in the decontamination room rather than the supply closet?” or “Hey, the llama buddy notification system doesn’t always work because we’re always at different steps in the grooming process. One time I told my llama buddy that I needed to step out for a moment. But the message didn’t get passed along because my llama buddy was already out of the building when someone came looking for me. Maybe we can do a white board or something instead?” But don’t bring these things up when you’re getting the feedback because if you do it then it looks like you’re trying to escape criticism rather than fix a problem.

  24. 3DogNight*

    Just came here to say that I love “pandemic brain”. This states everything that is wrong with me in one small phrase.

  25. Mary Lyn Clements*

    Sounds to me as if he has been a teacher at some point! I have a friend who is an elementary teacher and she ALWAYS speaks in a slow, concise manner and uses phrases you can imagine her using with her students. It’s just who she is.

    1. old curmudgeon*

      Oh, that is an excellent point. I work occasionally with a manager in a different area who would just absolutely make me roll my eyes out loud sometimes the way she’d phrase things. Then I found out she had been a kindergarten teacher early in her career, and it all made sense – she had never gotten away from that communication style. She’s brilliant at what she does, which is a highly technical combination of IT and budgeting, but her interpersonal skills are more reminiscent of Romper Room than of a typical business environment.

    2. Batgirl*

      I’m a teacher. Today my partner asked why I was speaking ‘so clearly and slowly’. Ouch. I haven’t seen the kids in weeks either!
      Still can’t see me saying ‘good job boss!’ when my mistake is being discussed.

  26. STL-HOU*

    It sounds to me like he is just showing his agreement and not necessarily saying it to praise her. He doesn’t want to seem like he is not taking the direction is what I thought when I read the letter. OP sounds like she is more on a power trip.

    1. How I Rose From The Dead And You Can, Too*

      100% agree. Maybe he’s annoying, but at the core of the given examples, he’s agreeing with his boss. A lot of people *like* being agreed with.

    2. Susie Q*

      100% agree. People are really looking to be offended.

      My subordinate complimented me…how rude.

  27. memyselfandi*

    To me this sounds like advice he read in a book and is overdoing it or applying it in the wrong context.

  28. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

    I don’t think it warrants a conversation unless this behavior is negatively affecting their actual work or team morale. If he’s doing this all the time, I can understand it being annoying. I can’t stand fake people, and if someone was constantly praising me for every little thing I accomplished, it would quickly lose it’s sincerity, and I would question how they really feel. Encouragement & praise is great when its deserved, but if someone is just doing the basics of their job, they don’t need to be praised 10 times a day.

  29. WantonSeedStitch*

    I can see being a little dry about this in response, without actually treating it as a problem:

    “Great job, Wanton!”
    “Well, I mean, I HAVE been doing this for ten years at this point, so…kind of second nature by now.”

    “Good catch, boss!”
    “That’s why I review your work, after all. Everyone misses things occasionally.”

    1. voyager1*

      I like the second response a lot. It is corrective and lets him know you do check his work, but still shares a more collaborative tone.

  30. Eeek*

    Any chance this guy just has a tiny wisp of what I call “aspie”? I have a twinge of aspergers I cannot keep out of my dialogue and sometimes I come across too dear- it doesnt impede my work and the people who understand my way of speaking are “used to me” and I am blessed to have them in my life. It’s possible he is high functioning and just a little different. Maybe he really admires OP but it comes out wrong?

    1. Eeek*

      Just going to add that I do regular weekly therapy and that having a condition i know can alienate people is something i work on every day. Love to other “aspies” out there who communicate wrong!

      1. Newt*

        Hey fellow ASD person! I also commented that the examples OP uses feel a lot like some of the ways I’ve learned to compensate for my communication issues.

  31. PTSD Pro*

    I started a new job last year. One of the things I tried to implement from Day One was saying “Thank you” instead of “I’m sorry.” I spent a decade early in my career in a really toxic workplace and I had fallen into the habit of over-apologizing, which didn’t serve me well when I left.

    While I agree that patronizing and mansplaining are statistically more likely, I wonder if this employee is saying “Thank you” because he’s trying to correct another impulse, and it’s coming off as really weird because there’s a mismatch between his brain and his mouth. I know sometimes my own “Thank you” in place of my reflexive apologizing can come off as forced or oddly timed, but I’m working to smooth out the lumps.

    1. AnonMurphy*

      So I both concur that this might be a reframing exercise, and also I thank you for the idea to sub ‘thank you’ for ‘I’m sorry’. I live only two hours away from Ontario, and I have picked up on over-apologizing.

    2. PollyQ*

      If it were just “thank you” by itself, I don’t think LW would be complaining. To me, it’s the “good job/point/idea” part of the phrasing that’s the issue, and the “encouraging” tone of voice that goes with it.

    3. Rachel in NYC*

      I’m working on removing “I think”- or other equal caveat-ee phrases from my emails. I know what I’m talking about- I’m perfectly capable. But still I write emails as if I’m afraid of hurting someone’s feelings.

    4. Allonge*

      The thing is, when an employee makes an actual mistake, I’m sorry can be a more appropriate response than thank you. That is not so say that you need to apologise or overapologise, but it can come off weird already.

      And the thank you part of LW’s report’s response is not even the problem. Saying thank you would be appropriate. Saying well done for correcting my mistake is just weird and can be annoying.

      1. Northerner*

        Yes! I feel like I’ve noticed this overcorrection more generally in the past few years, where some people (and even some companies, in a customer service context) seem to have a blanket policy against admitting they’re sorry for *anything.* No one should feel like they have to apologize for asking a question or voicing an opinion, but when you actually drop the ball? No need for dramatic apologies, but a simple “Oh no, sorry!” helps make it clear that you’ve actually registered what happened and how it affects other people.

  32. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    Ugh, no, this is something I can’t stand. This strikes me as sucking-up of the highest order. And he lays the false compliments on you to avoid any chance he’s going to be criticized or corrected.

    Not to mention that by expressing everything in this manner, he’s left himself no space for expressing the full range of things like approval/disapproval, pride/disappointment, etc. How can he manage his team well if everything is sugar-coated like this?

    1. Courageous cat*

      Yeah agreed, particularly with the first part. I’m surprised so many people aren’t bother by this. Especially coming from a man, it just feels patronizing.

      1. Susie Q*

        Because not everything is patronizing just because you are so sensitive.

        Has this world really come to a point where we are insulted by compliments and different ways of expressing ourselves? Honestly, I would spend some time reflecting on my world view and personal reactions if I considered this behavior patronizing.

    2. Susie Q*

      How do you know it’s false compliments? Maybe he’s genuinely appreciative of his manager’s feedback. There are plenty of managers who don’t give feedback, etc. So he could appreciate the response and conciseness of the feedback.

      1. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

        For any given statement, taken in isolation, you might be right.

        But it’s the entire pattern that strikes me as insincere and motived by office politics, currying favor, etc.

        OP gave an example of:
        “that’s a really good point” when actually it is not a particularly good point, all I said was x is unclear and he needs to rewrite it.

        That’s the kind of thing I was pointing out.

  33. HailRobonia*

    I wonder if he had, in a previous position, been reprimanded for not being positive enough or something like that and is now overcompensating.

    1. Roller*

      Exactly what happened to me, and why I use similar phrases! I just naturally sound miserable, and my voice played back to me is nothing like the cheerful tone I think I am speaking with. The easiest way to get around this is with positive words.

    2. VentiGradStudent*

      Yes. I’m coming out of a professional grad program, and we are continually coached to be overwhelmingly “upbeat,” “enthusiastic,” and “energized.” I’ve been chastised for just being direct, and told that direct statements like, “I did not do x because the instructions provided in y email said not to do x” were argumentative and negative. I’m honestly confused, because it sounds like OP is bothered by literally all of the things a lot of professional program students are explicitly coached to do.

      1. allathian*

        Oh yikes. I love direct, as long as it isn’t patronizing or condescending. I read that quote as factual, not argumentative and certainly not negative.
        My management pet peeve is a manager who has such a fragile ego that it has to be stroked all the time. I don’t have the emotional bandwidth to do that. If I’m honest, I don’t want to waste time doing it either because I don’t see the point.

      2. Allonge*

        To be fair, this professional program is advising people to do things in a way that will not work for a lot of people!

  34. revueller*

    My partner defaults to affirmative phrases like “You’re not wrong,” “That’s fair,” and “That’s valid” when he’s listening to someone. He does it to absolutely everyone. When he met my parents, my mother had a strong visceral reaction to that. To her, it came across as a 20-something dude telling a woman much his senior that her words were valid because he said so. Of course, that’s not what he meant. It truly was a filler phrase that didn’t mean much besides “I hear what you’re saying.” But I still let him know (gently) how it can come across, and he’s been more careful with those phrases around her ever since.

    Are the phrases sexist in themselves? I don’t think so. Did they still annoy my mom? Yes. And I’m glad I told him that so he could adjust to his audience. Obviously, you can’t do this to everyone or with every verbal habit. But if this employee’s habit is straining your relationship with him, OP, I’d say something. If anything, I’d ask him what he means when he says those affirmative phrases (later, of course, in a one-on-one setting). If the explanation helps settle your annoyance, great! If not, you can then explain in turn, “I appreciate your intentions for XYZ, but to me, it sometimes comes across like you’re approving my actions as a manager, almost as if you’re my manager. It means more to me that you do what I ask you to do than hearing whether or not you approve of it.”

    It’ll probably feel awkward or heavy-handed in the moment, but if his intent is positivity and good communication, then he’ll adjust to his audience. Again, a personal thought, but I’m early enough in my career that I’d really want to know if I’m annoying my manager with a habit like this.

    1. New Jack Karyn*

      Yeah, a long long time ago, I was really mad at my best friend and roommate, and he said, “That’s valid,” in the same way your husband does. I hit the roof, retorting that I didn’t need his ^(*$# ing validation, I needed him to pay the phone bill.

      The conversation actually improved a little from there.

  35. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    For your own sanity, I encourage you to take these kinds of quirks at face value. Assume no malice and that he’s just like a puppy, every one of you is the Goodest Boy, frolicking free without worry.

    It’s hard to retain someone’s personality in the end.

    For every boss who says “uh it’s just my job, just fix it”, there is a boss who says “where’s my recognition and praise for catching your mix up, hmmm??” It’s a frustrating balancing act for everyone involved. And in this case, I tend to say it’s something reasonable to just compromise on and not take seriously enough to addess it.

  36. CH*

    I never realized this could come across as annoying… I say things like this to my boss all the time (“Thank you for catching that, I’ll make sure to change it in the final proposal” or “That’s a great point, I’ll bring it up in my next meeting with XYZ team”) but it’s more to acknowledge that I am accepting the criticism in a positive way, versus trying to “praise my boss.” Is it possible this guy is just trying to accept the redirection with a good attitude?

    1. SomebodyElse*

      I think you’re ok. I posted above to this affect… but it sounds like it’s less about the ‘good catch’ than it is about some of the other things that are said. Your phrases are pretty common place and I wouldn’t bat an eye at you using them.

    2. revueller*

      I feel like “thank you, I’ll do that” is different in tone from “thank you, that’s a great suggestion,” especially when it comes to something that you should be doing in your job.

      If I ask an employee to lock up the office when they leave, I definitely don’t want to hear that they think it’s a suggestion lol

    3. PollyQ*

      This is not quite the same thing, and I think what you’re doing is fine. “Thank you” is always good, and you’re focusing on what you’re going to be doing with the info, not on what a good job your boss is doing by giving you feedback. I suspect that your tone is very different as well.

    4. Mallory Janis Ian*

      I think these phrases are fine because they acknowledge to the boss that you will take action on what they said. The way the OP’s employee phrases things don’t give her any inkling that he is taking her advice on board; he is just reciting a deflective phrase and not acknowledging anything.

    5. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      You have actions involved. That’s crucial. I think that’s the part that’s grinding the OPs gears, he’s not adding the “I’ll fix it.” Or “and I’ll get that done!”

      I just said “thank you, I’ll fix it! I’m glad you caught that, I totally glossed over it, I’ll pay better attention.”

    6. allathian*

      You’re also saying what you intend to do to correct whatever it was you got feedback on. I think that’s probably why it feels so strange to the OP. Even if her report takes the feedback to heart and acts accordingly, the praise may irritate her because she’d rather he’d just fix it.

  37. AnonMurphy*

    I came here to say that I (a female) might possibly sound like this. I have a tendency to be unconsciously defensive when receiving criticism, so framing something as ‘thank goodness you have eagle eyes’ to someone checking my work so that I don’t create a narrative in my head that makes it into a negative, gotcha-style iteraction.

    That said, I feel like I would use it sparingly with executive management.

  38. Delta Delta*

    Eh. Things like “good catch” can mean “I missed that and thank you for catching it” which is far better than “I know what I’m doing, you dumb jerk.” Maybe this person is too chipper. And I get it, that can be grating. On the other hand, if he’s genuinely nice and collaborative, let him be that way.

  39. Sheila E.*

    Following, because I am in the same boat. I believe the person I manage does not like to admit he’s made a mistake, so he tends to be overly positive and superficially accept my advice or correction but not really acknowledge the reason for said guidance or he will tell me why he did something a certain way to validate the work he did and it seems nullify some of the correction I’ve given. I honestly can’t tell if he’s a little bit chauvinist, a little bit egotistical, or a little … dumb? Maybe it’s all three. I do think he has some difficulty distilling information… and while I can help him with his work, if he refuses to admit he doesn’t understand something or is reluctant to ask for help, it’s difficult to help him be successful.

    So, we’re now at the stage where I repeat my advice in various ways hoping one of them will stick. I would argue half the time he either misinterprets it or misses half of the advice I’ve given and then I have to go back and remind him of what I said or wrote. (I am now documenting everything just for my own sanity) Only when I’ve reminded him of what I said will he admit he made mistake, which for me is half the battle as I think if he recognizes that mistakes aren’t inherently bad that will help him avoid similar issues in the future. It’s an exhausting process for me and unfortunately, I can’t tell if he’s any better for it. But, I don’t see another way to help him with his work. He needs to take ownership of his responsibility, whether he’s doing something well or not. And until then, we’ll probably keep riding this magical seesaw.

    1. matcha123*

      Why do you need him to “admit” he made a mistake?
      If you’re pointing out a mistake, then point it out. I would feel like a child being scolded by her mom if my boss or supervisor wanted me to “admit” that I was wrong, and then when I tried to explain my thought process, accused me of trying to validate my mistake. In fact, that’s what my mom did do when I was growing up. And the result was that things she didn’t explain clearly were made to be my fault.
      If you’re frustrated when talking with him, I bet he’s picking up on that. On the other hand, if he is forgetting key steps, maybe it’s better to have him write things down and go through the processes with you.

  40. KD*

    I’m sort of on team “this is fine”. I’m a woman and I say “good catch, thank you” sometimes, so I’m very interested others’ take on it to see if I need to modify my own approach.

    I do this because I think a) I’m acknowledging that they are correct that I made a mistake, and that I’m admitting that and b) genuinely thankful that they caught something before it got out into the wild

    I realize OP’s report is not a woman, but I myself as a woman am trying to get out of saying “Sorry” for everything, and this is one of the things I’ve landed on saying instead.

    My only caveat is I tend to do this more toward peers not my direct manager, however.

  41. Mill Miker*

    I’m someone who uses “good catch” or “nice catch” a lot, but I’ve always thought of it as more appreciative that complimentary. If I’ve been working all day making a bunch of small changes to something, I’m bound to miss something, which is why my boss is checking it over in the first place. “I’m sorry I missed that” feels overly apologetic for what’s essentially an expected mistake. And “Thank you for finding that small mistake, I knew it was there somewhere, but could not see it myself” feels overly… something. Especially if the error is something small but critical, “good catch, thanks” has always felt like the right level of appreciative.

    For the people who think that’s overly complimentary, what would the appropriate response be in that situation?

    1. PollyQ*

      I think a simple “thanks” is slightly better than “good catch”, but also the way you deliver the phrase is hugely important. I suspect if LW’s employee were using a self-deprecating tone rather than an encouraging one, there’d be no issue with the language.

      1. Thankful for AAM*

        Exactly what PollyQ said. It is not the words as much as it is the tone and context.

        In this context, he is deflecting his mistake and he is constantly praising and deflecting.

        1. allathian*

          Yes. To be fair, for some people it’s really tough to acknowledge out loud that they’ve made a mistake and they’ll rather do anything other than that, including effusively thanking their manager for catching that mistake. However, I’d let it go if the report will fix their mistakes once they receive the feedback, even if they don’t own their mistakes out loud. For some people it may be too much to ask, especially if they’ve been raised in an environment that expects perfection.

    2. Double A*

      I mentioned this a couple of comments down, but I think “Good catch” or “Thanks!” is probably fine most of the time, but if it’s an error, you could always append your follow up action:

      “Oh, good catch! I’m realizing I got interrupted in the middle of this and forgot to double check the checklist before I submitted. Lesson learned!”

    3. Lorax*

      I think “ok, thanks” or “ah, I see that, yes” or “got it, I’ll fix that” or “hmm, yeah, we’ll get it corrected” or “oops! Yep, looks like I forgot that” would all be ok. I don’t think anyone is asking this guy be overly apologetic or to demonstrate unnecessary deference for the sake of hierarchy. But there’s a big difference between the phrases above and just saying “good catch, Cheryl!” The first set of phrases convey that the feedback is heard and accepted. I think a quick acknowledgement is all that’s needed here, but the “praise”-type response really runs the risk of coming across as a patronizing deflection.

      Tone matters of course, but I’d also say what really threw me on the example above was the use of the supervisor’s first name. I’m on first-name basis with everyone in our organization, but culturally, in a hierarchical setting (like a business) we tend to use first names more when we’re talking “down” to someone than when we’re talking “up” or “horizontally” to people. Like many cultural practices, there’s no rhyme or reason to it, it can’t be defended rationally, and it isn’t a hard or fast rule, but it exists, and that’s part of why this read as really condescending to me. As someone else noted above, his speech pattern ends up sounding like speech patterns used by kindergarten teachers… which when used with adults would definitely come across as condescending! Everything about this is so subtle and context-dependent, but really, the lack of admission of error combined with the “praise” combined with use of the first name all comes together in a perfect storm to create a cultural signal that this guy is talking down to his boss. Remove the first name OR add an apology/quick admission of error and I think it’s basically fine, unless there’s an additional issue with tone.

  42. Roller*

    This sounds like me! I have been told I don’t sound enthusiastic at work before, so I try and inject positivity into my interactions. ‘Ok, will do’ would likely get me accused of being unenthusiastic, and I don’t want to apologize for something minor, so ‘thanks, good catch’ is what I default to when given (mild) criticism.

  43. Tanya Myers*

    If it’s just ‘good point” or something, I think that is just a nice thing to say. Sometimes when my boss tells me a suggestion or something, I’ll say “oh yeah, good idea, I didn’t think of that”. Never “good job using “I” statements with that exec from CSR” or something.

  44. Hopping to it*

    I use language like this to signal that I’m open to the feedback and eager to hear it, especially if I’m worried about being perceived as defensive. For senior colleagues, I sometimes use it if the exchange feels contentious or tense. I read the conversation above as a little terse (not bad, but it would make me a little uncomfortable, especially if I hadn’t worked much with you before). I’d be curious as to whether you’d see his response change with an approach that doesn’t put him on the spot (we=same team, in it together and not calling him out personally on a mistake, i.e., you missed it):
    Me: “We need to groom the llamas more systematically, and use the checklist so we don’t miss any.”
    Him: “What we do is always start from the head so that…”
    Me, interrupting: “Yep, I appreciate that process is designed for systematic grooming, but the checklist should prevent mistakes like this missed tail, so let’s use it moving forward.”

    This also emphasizes the checklist rather than the mistake, and it directs his response to the process rather than your role in it. He might respond it’s a great idea, but that seems less patronizing/less defensively positive to me than congratulating you for catching his mistake.

  45. NotClaire*

    LW here. Thank you Alison and commenters! I’m feeling better about not being sure whether/how to address it at least :)
    It’s really interesting to see the spread of views and I’ll be musing over some of the lower key/in the moment response ideas, in case it starts grating a bit too much.

  46. AndersonDarling*

    I work in a support department that frequently has a negative appearance and can be overwhelming, like an IT Department. So when I’m assigned to a new department and start training, I’m super-D-duper enthusiastic. Everything is a “Great Idea!” or a “Wonderful Suggestion!” because I want to get everyone engaged in the process and feeling comfortable. I’m darn sure it grates on some people, but I’m spewing the cotton candy for the greater good.

    1. Ron Q. Drye, the Pseudonymous Docketing Guy*

      Yah, this right here – when I’ve noticed this sort of behavior from my reports in the past, it’s been in offices where, like, 93% of the staff are Debbie Downers (Debbies Downer?), and the other 7% would adopt a Super! Up! Beat! Attitude! as a coping strategy…

  47. Thankful for AAM*

    Praise is actually an evaluation. So while it seems positive (as opposed to a negative evaluation), it is really saying, “I evaluated you.”

    The OP is reacting to the constant sense of “I evaluated you.” This is just not the correct way to interact with your supervisor.

    The end is, “I found your performance to be praiseworthy,” but the start is, “I evaluated you.” We would all understand if the end was, “I found your performance to be lacking.” We would know that is not how to respond to a supervisor. You can address it, just not by dropping an eval into a convo.

    I think my script might be to point out the employee is constantly evaluating others.

    “Direct report, I notice that you frequently drop evaluations into conversations, even with me. Can you tell me what your thinking is there?”

    He might offer something the OP had not thought of or it might be enough to get him to alter his approach.

    There is a lot of research about the damage of praise done a certain way. Punished by Rewards by Alfie Kohn is a place to start.

    1. Jam Today*

      Maybe he really likes his boss and sees her as a mentor. I mean, its possible that this guy is 100% on the level.

    2. Northerner*

      Yes! Your first three paragraphs exactly capture what I was struggling to articulate to myself.

  48. Not All*

    I think it might be worth a relaxed conversation with him in order to point out that you see him do it with everyone so you know he’s just trying to be collaborative & friendly (even if you’re not entirely sure that is the case) but that women and POC often receive those types of comments from people who look down on them. For his own professional reputation, he might want to tone them down so people who don’t work with him often enough to know he treats everyone this way don’t assume he only condescends to women/POC/religion XYZ, etc.

    As a woman, I’ve encountered this SO much because I’m a woman, I would have to see someone do it to an awful lot of higher ranked men before I assumed it wasn’t gender related. That would not bode well for that individual’s odds at promotions, raises, etc.

    1. Blueberry*

      *nod* This is a really good point as well. I admit when I read the original letter I breathed a sigh of relief that the employee doesn’t disproportionately treat women this way.

  49. Jedi Squirrel*

    Eh, I kind of went all Jayne Cobb explains the chain of command thing because I would find this highly annoying and somewhat disrespectful.

    1) If you can, let this go, for a lot of the reasons stated above.

    2) If you can’t let this go, there are some really great phrases to use in Alison’s response and in the comment section.

    But I would really try to let this go. As long as the work is getting done and and done well, with minimal errors, I would really try to let this go. It may just be his personality. (On the other hand, if he were always making errors, that would be another case, because you shouldn’t be so damn sunny when you’re always screwing up. But it doesn’t sound like that’s the case here.)

  50. Me*

    I work with a guy like this and he is just unfailingly absurdly positive. It’s like nails on a chalk board it’s so constant, but ultimately it’s harmless and he just makes himself look a little silly. Fortunately I don’t manage him so it goes in the not my monkeys cart.

  51. Double A*

    Someone mentioned this in a comment thread, but it’s such a good point… this sounds like it could be replacement language for “I’m sorry.” “Good catch!” rather than, “I’m sorry I missed that!” But what is missing from either statement is the follow up — what will happen next time. If, “Next time, I will X” was appended to either of those statements, I don’t think this habit would bother you.

    So OP, you could explicitly prompt that next step.

    “Ooh, good catch!”
    “Happy to help — so next time, how can you make sure you catch it?”

    1. Roscoe*

      To me this really depends on the mistake. It sounds very juvenile to everytime someone makes a mistake to try to ask them “how will you be sure you don’t do this again”. If it was one thing happening repeatedly, that would be one thing, but none of this sounds that major, nor does it sound like things are happening over and over.

  52. SongbirdT*

    I think I do this to a certain extent…

    I tend to express appreciation / admiration / other positive feelings when they occur anywhere in my life – at work with colleagues, customers, and managers or at home with my spouse and kid.

    When I respond to a manager with a “great catch, thank you!” or something similar, what I’m trying to express is “this is an enthusiastic and appreciative acceptance of your feedback!”.

    I try not to ever be too OTT, but I am genuinely enthused about life in general, and that’s just how it comes out. Maybe your employee is the same?

  53. Ms. Green Jeans*

    This seems like a communication style that stems from general good will to all people. I would completely leave it alone unless there are other issues. Let the guy have his supportive attitude to everyone. I wouldn’t mind working for a company where this is the default.

  54. Raising an otter villiage*

    Ooooooooof. I’m so glad the LW wrote in, though it’s really making me reconsider my communication style with my boss. I definitely say things like, “Good point,” and “good catch,” more often than just saying “you’re right, I’ll fix it.” I could spend paragraphs justifying that (I genuinely think it’s often the right strategy) but instead I’ll just give one example and say that generally I’ll be more mindful that my boss could be hearing it this way. I never would have ever intended it as condescending.

    (But then, it would take more effort for me to come across as patronizing to my boss, as we are both women and she has decades more experience than I do, so any attempt I could make to inflate my own importance would be laughably pathetic.)

    My example: I do this so much more in group settings than in one-on-one. Lately I have been leading sections of our teams Zoom meetings and reviewing a document or plan I’ve created, and everyone will give feedback. I respond basically the same way to my peers as I do to my boss, which is mostly the Very! Helpful! phrases listed in the letter. I stand by that choice.

  55. Exponential Vee*

    Hmm, I would read it as a bit of a power play/ playing ‘high status’ or trying to lower the LW’s status.

  56. Lorax*

    I’ve run into this behavior before, and I have to say, regardless of the intent, I agree with the OP that this is obnoxious. But it’s complicated! First, yes, I think it’s a deflection, and regardless of whether he’s just embarrassed or actively distancing himself from responsibility for errors or omissions, his response doesn’t give the supervisor any information about whether he actually understands and acknowledges his own role in the issue. It actually makes it harder to have that kind of conversation. If he were to just own the mistake, he would be actively demonstrating good self-awareness and integrity, but by deflecting with praise, the question remains of whether the feedback has been taken to heart. In fact, it brings up broader questions about his judgement! Does he *really* think this is a “good catch” when it’s something standard? Does he really think basic concepts and processes need explaining in detail? Because that might mean he has low expectations for his team or that he himself has a weak grasp on the skills and knowledge for this job. (And, honestly, if I was this guy’s direct report, I would be driven to distraction by his impulse to compliment constantly and explain minutiae, so I’d check in with his team to see how they’re faring under his management style. Maybe they’re fine and this is just a one-on-one personality conflict, but I do think it’s worth taking the temperature of the team more broadly.)

    Second, in my experience, unless this kind of compliment is being delivered with an extremely nuanced tone, it almost always comes across as condescending or patronizing, because it’s just so odd to compliment people on things that aren’t particularly profound or insightful or that don’t actually require a lot of skill or effort or sacrifice to accomplish. Maybe it’s a personality thing, but I even hate getting compliments from my *supervisors* on things that aren’t above the normal course of business, because it seems to suggest that they have very low baseline expectations for my capabilities. I ran into this a lot when I was an admin: people would try to be encouraging or complementary, but it wouldn’t land well because they were thanking me for doing the most basic parts of my job, which… just weren’t that hard… like pointing out how well I could file alphabetically… so it came across as condescending. They were the kind of compliments you’d give to a child. Don’t get me wrong! I love being complimented when I put in a lot of effort or have a significant contribution! That’s great! It feels good to be seen and recognized for things you’re proud of! But I think the key to why this is obnoxious is that it’s praise for things that aren’t really praiseworthy. It’s not about the power dynamics of the hierarchy or needing to have your reports treat you with solemn deference — it’s that another human being is treating you like a child. Again, I’d actually look into how his direct reports feel about this constant, knee-jerk praise response to make sure they’re ok with it. Maybe they are, so that’s all fine, but it’s enough of a quirk that I’d hate for others in the company to get demoralized by a constant barrage of inane “affirmation” or to feel like their supervisor is treating them with kid gloves as if they’re fragile or incompetent. As another person in this thread noted, praise looses meaning over time if it’s constant, so I would gently push back against characterizing praise as a universal positive. It takes social awareness and thoughtfulness to deliver praise well, and it just doesn’t sound like this guy has it!

    I think you could address the issue, but gently since I don’t think there’s bad intent. I’d keep it light:
    “You missed the tail on this llama.”
    “That’s a great catch, thanks.”
    *warm smile, raised eyebrows* “Actually it’s pretty standard that we expect our llamas to have tails! In order to ensure we don’t have tail-less llamas running around, I’ll need you to be more rigorous with the final review. Is there anything you need from me to help you out with that?”
    OR *quizzical look* “Well… that’s my job. So can we talk about how to avoid tail-less llamas in the future? Because you’ll need to be a little more rigorous in your review, so I’d like to know if there’s anything I can do to support you in that.”

    Bottom line: I agree he’s probably not acting with ill intent, I agree this may be be a personality trait or vocal tic, but you still need to get better information from him in these conversations. And positive intent doesn’t make his behavior ok if he’s inadvertently coming across as condescending or driving people up with wall with Pollyanna-isms.

    Or maybe I’m just a grump!

  57. Nonprofit Nancy*

    I have had a supervisor tell me directly that I needed to make sure I used a different tone when I spoke to superiors versus my peers or the interns. We talked a little bit about professional respect. It was a little awkward in the moment, I definitely felt there was some kind of odd class dynamics, like I was an under-scullery maid who had been caught talking pertly to the First Butler, but ultimately I’m grateful she said something as the boss was fussy and it would have become a bigger issue if she hadn’t caught it.

    The “good catch” type stuff in the moment I would ignore if he really does absorb the issue – it could even be a practiced technique for not being defensive. It reminds me of the way I trained myself to say thank you, instead of blustering or trying to explain an error when caught.

    1. Jedi Squirrel*

      That was a good supervisor.

      Different workplaces have different cultures, and it’s not always easy to learn the culture in addition to learning your job. Having someone point out workplace norms is a good thing.

  58. Fikly*

    I try to tell my manager when she has done something I find particularly helpful, and my thought process is less to praise her, but more to say, this helped me do my job better, can you do more of this in the future, kind of thing.

    So as an example, during a time with a lot of competing priorities, we spent 15 minutes at the start of my day going down my list of 8-10 things on my desk and ordering them in terms of what was most important, what had to get done that day, etc. I found that incredibly helpful, because while I’m comfortable prioritizing my tasks on regular days, this was an unusual situation, and I wanted to make sure I was prioritizing correctly. While I don’t recall exactly what I said, the next time we had a one-on-one (we have them weekly) I said that I had found that incredibly helpful, explained why, and asked if we could do that the next time something similar happened.

    I’m not trying to be condescending or come across like she’s doing something unusual by doing her job well. I’m trying to express my thanks, sure, but really just reinforce that a particular managing technique? worked well for me, and I’d like to do it again if it works for her as well.

    Would you find this condescending, as a manager? Is there a way I should work to phrase it? She didn’t seem offended, but I’m not sure if I may have misread her.

    1. allathian*

      I do exactly the same kinds of things. You were very specific so unless she’s power mad and doesn’t care a jot what her reports think of her as long as they obey her to the letter, she should be able to accept your appreciation with grace.

    2. Windchime*

      Sounds like you were fine. If you had said, “Good job!”, like one would say to a puppy who just went potty on the grass, then it would be grating. I think that OP is getting more of an encouraging, flattering statement rather than an expression of thanks and understanding.

  59. LW*

    LW here. I wouldn’t find this condescending at all, for all the reasons you say and because it was giving info about what you found helpful. I definitely don’t want to discourage people from giving any sort of praise.

  60. MuiryFromCoderville*

    I believe the “what” of his responses aren’t the problem, but the “how.” Much of Alison’s advise hinges on tone, and I think that’s pertinent here. I suggest the next time it happens you add a mildly put comment about tone that while harshly put comments are very hurtful, an overly sweet and “head pat” tone can come across as condescending. There’s a middle ground between the two and he’s not hitting the target. He needs to aim more matter-of-fact with just a hint of helpful cheer. I don’t think that’s an overly harsh thing to point out especially if you can model that sort of comment yourself during the conversation.

  61. Meg*

    When I read this, I wondered if he had gotten feedback from a previous manager that he needs to work on how he receives/accepts feedback. If he used to take it very negatively/shut down, he could be overcompensating when trying to fix a bad habit. In the letter writer’s shoes, I’d try to take that perspective…while it might be a bit frustrating but better than if he lashed out or shut down. If it’s really bothering you, you could do what I do when someone says something like “That’s not a bad idea!”, which is often a deadpan “gee, thanks.”

    1. Nonprofit Nancy*

      I thought the same thing. But it does seem to connect with the condescension in other areas too.

  62. staceyizme*

    I really don’t think that it be at all out of line to consider this in the same way that softening speech is often considered. You could catalog about 5 or 6 instances of this and let him know that this verbal tic is at best distracting when used with management. At worst, it could be construed as deflecting or softening the guidance being given. He might or might not be aware of this tendency. Once aware, however, it should stop.

  63. Anon today*

    This reminds me of that whole Replace negativity with gratitude thing.

    Instead of saying, “I’m sorry for being late,” say, “thank you for waiting for me.”

  64. Lost academic*

    So much this.

    Early in my career I had a boss who hated so much not having a full explanation for every mistake. Sometimes things are just missed! I noticed all of us there explaining everything at length so that it was clear we understood where the mistake came from and what the right answer/approach/method was. Mere acknowledgement and repair was apparently insulting or insubordinate. And since then I’ve seen plenty of people who consider it making excuses. The real answer is just know your audience and adjust, but it’s hard to unlearn certain behaviors.

  65. Batgirl*

    OP, I’m wondering if the level of mistake is a factor? I can see someone reasonably saying “Oh good catch, eagle eyes” if you’ve discovered something awry which is subtle and not always 100pc obvious.
    However if they’ve just perpetrated a massive balls up, it’s going to compound the ignorance with the apparent arrogance of ‘I am automatically always working at a good level, so you must be superb’.
    I’m a pretty bouncy, take it in my stride to show acceptance of criticism person. I did once have a boss tell me my tone wasn’t really on point after a serious mistake. It was then I realised that there was a place for ‘mortified’ or at least on a scale towards it. That sometimes you have to just be mouth shut and listening.

    1. allathian*

      Yeah, as long as mortified is reserved for very big mistakes. Minor mistakes shouldn’t require being mortified, we all make them. The only people who don’t make mistakes are those who do nothing.

  66. CM*

    I’ve had people do this to me and it’s one of my pet peeves. Relevant context, I am a woman of color, so I’m used to fighting to be taken seriously.

    There is a difference between genuine appreciation — “Thanks for pointing that out,” “I see, I’m glad you caught that!”, “Hey, I got a lot out of your presentation” — and praise like, “Great job!” The former is fine from anybody. The latter is more of an “attaboy” which is only OK from someone who is in a position to evaluate you. In my experience, junior people who give that kind of compliment to people more senior than them have a hefty sense of entitlement. Think of it this way — if you were a junior employee, would you feel it was appropriate to tell your CEO, “Great job!” after they led a routine meeting? You might say something like, “I really appreciated your insights in there,” but you probably wouldn’t feel like they needed or wanted to hear your opinion of their performance.

    It really is about tone, and whether you’re showing appreciation or trying to encourage the person. The OP described these comments as attempts to be encouraging and supportive, which would drive me up a wall. Hey new guy who’s been here for 6 months, I’ve been here for years and I don’t need your encouragement, I need you to listen to me.

    1. allathian*

      I think you really hit the nail on the head on this one. Appreciation, especially for a specific action, should be fine even coming from a subordinate, but encouragement should flow down in an org chart.

  67. designbot*

    I’ve got one like this too. She says “That’s so smart!” to half the instructions I give her. I want to tell her that I don’t care whether she thinks I’m smart or not, that sucking up isn’t paying off, and that that it’s not a matter of being smart it’s a matter of paying attention and learning.
    But then I noticed that not only does she do this to everyone, I seem to be the only woman in our office who does NOT routinely tell other people how smart they all are. So I put it down to a verbal tick and moved on.

  68. Betty (the other betty)*

    I often use “Good catch!” or “Thanks for catching that” when someone points out my errors, followed by “I’ll update and send the new draft.” I don’t mean to be rude or condescending and I never thought someone would think of it that way.

    I think of it as more a team thing: We are all trying to make the best thing possible, so when someone catches my mistake it’s great. Good catch! Yay team!

    1. allathian*

      I don’t think you’re either rude or condescending, because you say what you’re going to do differently based on the feedback. When you’re working collaboratively, it’s up to everyone to help catch each other’s minor mistakes before they become major. At least up to a point.
      I once had a coirker at OldJob who made mistakes all the time. Different mistakes, granted, but it was obvious that they just didn’t have the patience to do a good job and instead relied on their teammates to do their error-checking for them. They were always effusive in thanking the rest of the team for catching their mistakes, but continued doing sloppy work. Until there was a critical deliverable and out of our four-person team, one was on vacation, another was on sick leave, I was drowning in work. The irker begged me to check their work and I just went sorry, nope, I’m drowning here. So they were forced to send their work on and got a ton of complaints about how it didn’t meet our usual quality standards and whatnot. Then it all came out to our manager who mainly wondered why we had put up with it for so long (the irker had been with us for a year and we kept giving them slack for being new). I got assigned as the irker’s mentor and had to check every assignment they made for about six months, but this was official and so I got a lower quota because about a third of my time on the clock went towards mentoring this coworker and we shared the credit for the assignments I checked. Eventually they got a bit better, but I decided on a career change to get away from that environment.

  69. Malarkey01*

    I use “good suggestion”, “that’s a great point”, and “thanks for catching that” too. I work in a collaborative environment with people above and below me. When I’m using it I’m saying I understand and I agree (and not agree as in I must agree or won’t do what a boss tells me but I understand what your saying and why you said it so know how to implement/know for next time) and that I’m cheerfully off to do that.

    I also work at a level where I have some latitude to push back and discuss feedback. So, if my boss said this is unclear say this instead, I could say well I don’t think that’s what we’re trying to say how about this, etc. So in that environment I think it makes more sense to have a more collaborative response like great suggestion. At no point does it mean I won’t do what I’m directed or condescending to the suggestion just my style of saying thanks for the feedback and got it.
    (If it matters I’m a woman and currently work very collaboratively with my older male director).

  70. NewJobSameStuff*

    I’m not sure how to address this either but I’m on almost the opposite side of this issue right now. I started my current job in October and my new boss started in February.
    In our earlier interactions she would have and idea or we’d be discussing process and for things going well I’d say “OK, great” and move on. But if things aren’t flowing or a possible issue had been overlooked and I brought it up?
    All of a sudden she’s telling me I’m “always negative” and “only seeing problems” and that I “undermine any idea she has” This was a SHOCK to me since it was not my intention and I thought we were having a full discussion of how to groom the llamas or whatever.
    I’ve found that if I add in “That’s a great idea, Boss” of “That’s a really good suggestion” to the most basic, obvious things it …seems to balance it out for her. So I wonder if this employee had a similar experience in the past or is trying to expectation-manage in this new position?

  71. Scarletb*

    I have a couple of senior colleagues with this interaction style. They’re relentlessly positive, encouraging, tend to find a way to frame responses to people so that any contribution whether critical or encouraging is responded to in a complimentary style (as a good catch, or a good idea, etc), amplify people in meetings, and are the first to send a reply-all saying “thanks” etc when someone sends something to the team, whether it’s something as standard as minutes or something more involved. They do this no matter the level of the people involved – it’s just their mode.

    It’s not the style of the rest of the team, who tend to be more reserved, and so it took a while to get used to, but it’s actually helped bring a more positive vibe in general and I think it’s been a good thing.

    However, we’re also in a culture where behaving with any obvious observation of hierarchy is more frowned on than encouraged, so treating someone senior differently to someone junior (in terms of interpersonal interaction, rather than in terms of recognition of different responsibilities/time/commitments) would make one much more out of sync with the organisational norms than just being a bit over-positive.

  72. Sara without an H*

    I work in higher ed, which includes a lot of reasonably good employees with, shall we say, interesting quirks. This may just be a quirk and, while annoying, trying to train it out of the employee may be more trouble than it’s worth, unless it morphs into other questionable behaviors.

    OP, stay cool, and keep an eye on this employee. If he performs well, responds appropriately to your feedback, and doesn’t develop any issues with other staff members, I’d chalk it up to a personal idiosyncrasy and leave it be.

  73. Susan*

    This sounds like scripting from someone who is neurodiverse and has put an incredible amount of effort into learning how to be a positive and successful employee.

  74. chickaletta*

    I think if this employee’s behavior was coupled with other condescending actions then it would be cause for a bigger conversation.
    – Giving you direction: (Hey, Boss, I had an idea for another action item to add to the checklist. Can you please add it for me and communicate it out to the team?)
    – Going above your head (Hi Boss’ Boss, Boss is so good at managing checklists, have you considered her for the new project?)
    – Implying that you are doing well because you had lots of room for improvement (Boss has really come a long way on learning how to manage checklists, we should all be proud of her)

    But if them giving you compliments is all it is, then probably it’s best to take it at face value and not think anything more of it.

  75. Professor*

    I’ve seen that kind of behaviour with some of my students, who later on have admitted to feeling ashamed of being corrected, so when I correct their output they just reply with “exactly” or “that’s what I meant, thank you for rephrasing” (we deal with foreign languages, so what they call rephrasing I call “using the right tenses”). Other than it being annoying in my experience it actually means the student is less likely to learn the right answer as they’re more focused on not being seen as mistaken than on actually understanding where they went wrong.

  76. Troi*

    I have worked with people like this. Usually Canadians or formerly worked with elementary-aged kids. Can be a bit grating but I just chalk it up to personal style if it doesn’t feel directed at me. Saying something like “I don’t quite know how to react when you compliment me for giving you routine feedback, but OK thanks!” makes me feel less odd about it but it has never changed anything.

  77. Doctor Schmoctor*

    He just wants you to know that he knows things about the job. Of course it would be better if he just showed you by, you know, doing the work.
    I had a colleague who did that in his first few months. The boss would ask something, and this dude would just start spewing everything he learned in university. Sure, it was annoying. But he quickly realised that the real world wasn’t a big exam, he calmed down, and became really good at his job.
    Be patient

  78. Jennifer Juniper*

    Just brush it off, OP. He could much, much worse. And I think if you were to address this, he’d quickly find a way to make you look like a crazy, hysterical woman (if you’re female).

  79. Allonge*

    Reading the letter, I absolutely emphasize with hte LW, this would be super annoying to me too. It’s good to see so many different views on where it might come from and what it might mean to LW’s report, but I would honestly address it already because it is annoying to me.

    That does not mean it comes from a bad place, or I am assuming bad intentions! It’s just very easy to interpret in a way that is not going to be favorable to the staff member, and so it’s worth a talk.

    After reading all the comments here I would definitely be super careful to phrase this as my preference and not a universal truth though! So I would say – after maybe asking what he means whenhe says that – something like “I would prefer if you just said OK, or I understand and not good catch, as the latter sounds condescending to me, would that be ok with you?”

  80. Phillip*

    This ones tough for me as a solo service provider because I notice that when I apologize or very directly acknowledge an error on my part (it happens!) many folks “shift gears” and start treating me less kindly, whereas when I use language like “thanks for catching that,” this does not happen. It’s interesting because the only time I ever seem to have subtly picked up some annoyance at this was when I was contracted for a small office, whereas usually I work with people one on one.

  81. Sharikacat*

    This guy sounds a little bit like a kiss-a$$. Showing support and encouragement is great, but with this frequency, he may be trying to keep people buttered-up.

    If his work is generally good, then you can let it go and just roll your eyes in privacy. On the other side, if his work isn’t as good, maybe this is him trying to endear himself to people to avoid serious repercussions?

  82. WegMeck*

    To second/third/fourth a LOT of other comments on this thread – I 100% do the thing that the OP’s employee does (re: “Great spot, thank you!”), and it had never, ever occurred to me that it might be interpreted as condescending.

    I think I arrived at that kind of script as a way to accept criticism/correction in order to:
    1. Demonstrate that I am Positive! And! Open! To! Feedback!
    2. Short-circuit my extreme anxiety about all criticism/correction meaning “I am a failure, I fail at everything.” and re-direct myself to a more collaborative feedback cycle.

    I’m going to try to update my own script to be something more like “oh, thanks for catching that – [are you worried about larger issues?]/[I’ll go back through my process to prevent errors like this in the future.]” – to change it into “receipt + check for next steps” when possible, in case my own higher-ups are responding the way OP is!

    I also USED to do a lot of the second behavior OP mentioned her employee demonstrating (listing all the steps of what I “always” do, – for many of the same reasons (to get out ahead of my own racing anxiety brain, asserting my incompetence). I’ve found that a great short-circuit for that behavior in my own life is to say “Oh – yes, I HAVE been using a checklist – do you have concerns about that?/are you finding that I’m still missing things?” etc – to try to get straight to the point instead of spinning out.

  83. not neurotypical*

    This reminded me of the teen-aged community college student who told me, his (then) 47ish year-old psychology instructor, that I had “a good head on your shoulders”

  84. WorkLady*

    Just a thought: Maybe this guy has been criticized in the past for being defensive, and this is his way of accepting correction in a positive manner.
    It would still bug me. :) But maybe it’s a way to frame it so it doesn’t drive you nuts.

  85. Llama Llama*

    Sorry if this was addressed in previous comments, since TLDR. There are two things I notice from the OP:
    1) In your scenario you described you end up cutting this employee off. That to me sounds like there could be possibilities for tension between you and this employee. It seems that maybe what you want is a “yes, ma’am” kind of personality. Which then leads me to wonder about management style and how that affects your direct reports. And I’ve worked under that kind of management before and it was stressful. Anyway, tangent, sorry. My point is that this may be a two way street. Even though they didn’t say “yes, i will use the checklist” right away maybe you need to give them a chance to hear them out on how they actually groom the llamas. Maybe there is insight on why these things are getting missed and maybe changes need to happen to the checklist.

    2) Is it possible to have a conversation that address that you’re not comfortable with how they agree? From a standpoint of you do X which is fine but Y is really better for me, and that’s just how I personally operate. We all have quirks and ways that work for us, I don’t think it’s bad for a manager to ask for accommodations on things that work them. If I knew my manager liked things straight to the point or was just a yes/no kind of person I would tailor my responses accordingly. And if what they want is just a “yes,ma’am” kind of response I would hope we could come to an agreement on when/how to address concerns. Maybe we have a weekly or bi weekly meeting on processes/questions that need work or help on.

    So I would take a look at what you bring to the scenario, and I would consider speaking up for what you need in communication style.

  86. Echo*

    I also managed someone like this! He never did it in response to feedback, but was always complimenting me on my work with things like “Great job!” and “Nice work!” in a way that struck me as a little odd. I think what struck me as odd was the fact that I was still in the process of training and coaching him, so he wouldn’t realistically know *how* to assess the quality of my work. But he was not condescending at all and was indeed just someone who was really upbeat and affable. It was also the first job he’d ever had and I thought maybe he could use the help understanding a workplace norm. I asked my own manager if it was something worth giving feedback on, and he said the same thing as Alison – it’s a little strange, but if he’s not being otherwise condescending, trying to assign me work or coach me, etc., it’s not actionable. I’m always divided on whether to call out behavior that’s harmless but just not quite aligned with workplace norms, and I guess the answer is if it’s just weird but doesn’t harm anyone, then why call it out?

    Re: the neurodiversity angle, I’M neuroatypical. And personally, I do still mess up around workplace norms even 10 years into my career with 3 years of management experience. I can’t read social cues well so I have no idea if I acted inappropriately (including just weirdly enthusiastically) unless my manager explains it to me.

  87. Kisses*

    You know, it’s weird, my mom does the exact same thing and it comes off as phony and insincere. It drives every body crazy but does no good to try to talk to her about it, she seems to not grasp the concept.
    My brother has aspergers and does many of the same things. My mom won’t go to the doctor though for anything, which makes it even more of an issue. Very frustrating.

    I guess I’m a tiny bit sympathetic to the guy even though my family does it and it makes me..very angry a lot of times. It might possibly be an inability to read social cues, and therefore he is saying what he is “supposed” to say.

  88. cheeky*

    I have a direct report who does this kind of thing- she’s on a PIP because her work is consistently bad.

  89. mountainshadows299*

    I’ve been waiting to read something like this… There is a peer on my team who speaks to our supervisor exactly the way that this woman is describing her direct report speaking to her… And you know what? The peer on my team talks so much crap behind our supervisor’s back that I found him excessive and off-putting. Like not the usual amount of complaining about a supervisor- it was truly excessive. He literally told us that he can’t be “himself” around our supervisor, and ok, I get that you have to be more friendly and polished at work and can’t always speak your mind to a supervisor, but… It was just really weird commentary to make.

    He tried to befriend myself and another new coworker that started at the same time, and I realized pretty quickly that he was trying to influence us in order to undercut our supervisor. Because I’m a newer coworker in the company without any social capital and have been in bad spots in past toxic work situations, I simply distanced myself and tried to keep myself out of his gossip pipeline. (TBH, I’m pretty sure he’s talking crap about me too, but since he has “been himself” around me, I don’t think he’ll mess with me too much).

    So all that to say, LW- Keep your ear to the ground. While it very well could be entirely benign and a weird quirk of speech, I think it’s also possible that Allison is right in thinking that he’s not taking responsibility for his own mistakes, and may be simply diverting you in a way that makes you think he’s a great and supportive person when he may actually not be. Trust your gut and if you hear any rumblings from his peers, consider taking them seriously.

  90. Fae Kamen*

    I kind of used to do this with a previous manager, and she responded with friendly (not biting) sarcasm. Think, “Well, this is what I do all day, so I’ve picked up a thing or two.” It worked well; I got the message, with no damage to the relationship. We’re both women. But I’ve taken a similar approach with men, and it seems to work.

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