my boss brags about giving “clear, direct” feedback — but really is just mean

A reader writes:

I love how often you mention direct, clear feedback! The best manager I ever had, who thankfully was also my first manager, was such a pro at giving clear feedback on the spot with the most polite and respectful tone. It made me want to perform better, and I became a flourishing, high-performing employee because of it.

A different manager I had after her, though, became known very quickly for making people cry after feedback. I have been trying to figure out how to clearly articulate the difference between the respectful (yet still direct) feedback I received from my first manager, and the demoralizing, degrading feedback my coworkers and I received from the second manager. I think I’m having trouble because the second manager, I’ll call her Jamie, used language so similar to yours that I’m almost positive she was a reader of your site: she’d often say she wanted to give “direct, clear” feedback and that “direct feedback is actually nice, because reasons A, B, C.”

I agree with all of that! Like I said, my first manager’s direct feedback made me into the high-performing employee I am today. Jamie’s feedback, on the other hand, made me feel so unvalued and degraded, that after I had a feedback meeting with her, I cried in the bathroom (I never cry even in public, and was horrified it happened at work!) and quickly began looking for another job. It was definitely not just me, either – my other coworkers reacted even worse to it than I did. One of them took a pay cut to leave, two of them retired early (both explicitly said it was because of Jamie), and two others took other jobs that paid about the same. That’s one-third of the department that she lost in her first year of managing, in a department with historically very low turnover. As a note, we were, as an organization, in the top 1% of all organizations of that type in the US, and our department as a whole was very high-performing with frequent compliments from higher-ups – we certainly were not in need of a revamp at all!

The experience I had with her feedback (this experience closely parallels those of my other coworkers) went like this: about two months into Jamie’s management, we had just switched to a new scheduling process. Since I was part-time, I usually would email my direct supervisor with the weekends during which I was working my other job, and she would let me know if there were any conflicts or if she was able to work around them (this was obviously a wonderful perk, and I never felt as though it was owed to me by any means). I emailed my supervisor with the weekends I would be working my other job, and she emailed back to say we should meet with Jamie and her assistant the next week. The tone was upbeat and I didn’t realize yet that I had made an error by using our old process for scheduling. A simple “hey, I need you to use our new system” would have been more than enough for me to apologize and do it correctly!

Regardless, I walked into the meeting with all three of my supervisors. Jamie immediately began by saying that my email suggested that I was expecting them to defer to my other position, and that she didn’t like the wording. I immediately apologized and said that was not at all my intention, and that I had been accidentally following the old process out of habit (we had only changed this a week or so prior to the email). For the next hour (yes, 60 minutes), Jamie proceeded to berate me for the email, ultimately saying that she needed to do what’s best for the organization and that I may need to consider my ability to do both jobs long-term. I was shocked and completely blindsided. She was speaking so much that I never got a chance to say another word, throughout the whole meeting, even though I did try. I was completely confused, since I recognized my (small, easily fixable) mistake immediately, apologized, and could not understand why I was being reprimanded so intensively.

This is similar to what happened to my other coworkers, many who were well-respected, and even one who had recently gotten a large promotion because of the quality of her work. All of them were called into her office and blindsided, like me, about things that were easily fixable.

I guess it’s just hard for me to describe how disrespectful and downgrading it felt to all of us, when it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, given that she used all the right language in explaining her style of feedback. I’m curious if you could talk a little about exactly what makes direct feedback respectful or not. I hope to be a manager in the future, and I want to be sure that any feedback I’m giving is direct and clear while also respectful.

It sounds like Jamie got the “clear and direct” part right about feedback but failed on every other front!

It’s not enough for feedback to just be clear and direct. Managers also need to:

  • be reasonable
  • consider context (like whether something is part of a pattern or a one-time fluke, or whether a mistake happened during a week where your workload was particularly high or stressful)
  • give any piece of feedback the appropriate weight and level of seriousness (often “can you watch out for X in the future?” is all that’s required; not everything requires a serious meeting)
  • seek to understand the employee’s perspective before drawing conclusions, and be willing to change their perspective if they hear new information
  • assume positive intent unless they have specific reason not to (for example, with your scheduling mistake, why didn’t she just assume you’d forgotten the new policy rather than leaping to “you expect us to defer to your other job”?)

Also, “clear and direct” doesn’t mean pounding someone over the head with it. Much of the time when giving feedback, a few sentences is all that’s necessary! Once it’s clear the message has been received, that’s all that’s required — and you certainly should never berate someone. If a manager is at the point where they’re that frustrated, they need to look at (a) how their own management style might be playing into the problems and (b) whether or not the person is right for the role.

I often tell employees that their tone when raising a problem to their boss should sound like collaborative problem-solving — the same tone you’d use to raise a work problem you weren’t very emotionally invested in. The same is true to some extent when managers are giving critical feedback: it shouldn’t feel personal or adversarial, and they shouldn’t sound angry. The tone should be, “Ahoy! Let’s figure out how to solve this work problem.” If something is serious or could jeopardize someone’s job, managers do need to sound more serious at that point — but it should be on the “deep concern” end of the spectrum, not the “you suck as a person” end. (I demonstrated tone for a bunch of management conversations in this podcast epidode.)

So your boss just gave lip service to doing feedback well. In reality, she was awful at it! Don’t look to her as an example of what giving feedback looks like; take her as example of what not to do.

{ 246 comments… read them below }

  1. AvonLady Barksdale*

    I think this is all wonderful advice for managers! Feedback is so important, and compassionate feedback is critical. So here’s a question: what should you do if you’re in a situation like the LW’s? I know I do not handle that kind of situation well (past experiences lead me to turn into a blubbering mess). I have no problem being criticized, but being berated for an hour without the chance to get a word in is one of my nightmares. Stand up abruptly and leave? Lie back and think of England?

    1. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      If someone is berating you at work, even if it’s your manager, I would interrupt after 10-15 minutes of her beating that dead horse and say, “Excuse me but I’ve apologized for my mistake, explained I will fix it in the future, and I don’t deserve to be spoken to in this manner.” Hopefully that would be enough to stop her make her think, but if it didn’t, I’d get up, say “I’m not going to allow you to continue to speak to me this way” and walk out.

      I had a boss about 15 years ago who was a really great boss, and we were working on a very stressful implementation. I made a mistake once and while I wasn’t berated for an hour, he spoke to me like I was the dirt on the bottom of his shoe. I was in such shock that I didn’t say a word then or after (I honestly regret that I didn’t speak up back then, especially since it was so out of character for him). But now being older, wiser, and giving less Fs these days, I’d definitely say something.

      1. JM in England*

        I have had a couple of bosses who would write you up for insubordination if you responded as you describe

        1. Amethystmoon*

          Right, that doesn’t work for all bosses in all companies, especially if the employee is at support staff level. If you can afford the risk of being fired, I guess that’s your choice, but not everyone can.

          1. Not A Girl Boss*

            Sure, you have to know your boss. But there was one boss I finally said something to this effect to, and he was shocked into silence, came back and apologized the next day, and then made big changes long term. He was long winded in general, rather than someone who got off on tearing people down, so I think it was more a personality carryover with an impact he didn’t fully understand.

            In general, the more direct you are, the less words you should speak.
            People have 60 minute meetings when they’re dancing around a topic, because in that whole 60 minutes there’s only 1 minute of actual feedback. In general, humans can probably only take 1 minute of negative feedback at a time. So if you’re direct, it should be a one minute meeting.

        2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

          Let them write me up. I’m not going to allow someone to speak to me like that.

          1. boop the first*

            Yeah, same here. People love to discourage others from reasonable actions because What If Bad Thing Happens, but also, what if bad thing doesn’t happen?

      2. M*

        A law firm I used to work for has an attorney who is “old-school” (I disagree with this assessment think he’s a rude misogynist), who tends to yell at his assistants whenever something goes wrong. Even if it’s not their fault. One of his past assistants, who no longer works there because she was tired of being mistreated, once turned to him during one of his tirades in his office and said, “I refuse to allow you to yell at me. We can discuss this when you can speak to me professionally”, and walked out of his office. It was incredible.

        1. JessaB*

          I wonder if she worked for the same lawyer I did. He got at me about something that literally had nothing to do with me, I said “I don’t let my father talk to me like that, so you surely aren’t, I quit”

          It was a Thursday and I was registered in the past with a bunch of employment agencies, called Kelly and got a new non-temp job Friday morning – I went in for an interview about 10 am and when they were done talking, asked me if I could start. Right there and then. I told em I had to let my father know so he wouldn’t worry, made the call and started working.

          The thing that really ticked me off though is I had a choice of two places when I went to work for him, and the other place would have been SO much better.

      3. LW*

        I wish I would have had the professional confidence to say something! At the time, I was new-ish in the workforce and had never been in a situation anything like that before. Now I would definitely speak up and say something along those lines.

        1. Rose*

          IMO it’s very unlikely to go over well. It’s not a socially acceptable way to talk to your boss. You can’t tell them how much feedback you want. Someone unreasonable enough to berate you like this seems unlikely to understand that they’ve violated norms, ergo you will now violate norms, and it will be well deserved. You’d probably be written off as having a major attitude problem. To be clear, I agree you SHOULD be able to say that, but given that this woman thinks she’s knocking managing out of the park, she’s not going to understand why it’s justified.

          What you should really do in this type of situation is job hunt, unfortunately.

          1. LW*

            That’s a good point! I did end up job hunting, and pretty quickly got a full time position with a substantial pay increase & title boost, at a great organization with a wonderful new manager :) A few of my old coworkers directly said that they agreed it was the best route out!

          2. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

            It may not go over well, but that doesn’t mean you should sit there and take it.

            1. anon right now*

              I agree, but it’s so hard in the moment. I was there, working for a boss whose version of “telling it like it is” included namecalling and saying that “people are laughing at you behind your back.” Especially when you’re so overworked and beaten down that it’s hard to job hunt. Thank heavens I’m out of there!

            2. Librarian of SHIELD*

              I don’t think anybody here is advocating for employees to allow themselves to be abused. But there are valid reasons employees might have for not saying something in the moment, and it’s worth acknowledging that. I, personally, worked for an abusive boss for two years because there were no job openings in my field in the area where I lived. I never pushed back against the abuse because, as I mentioned, there were no job openings in my field in the area where I lived. I could not get a new job if I was fired from this one by my unreasonable abusive boss.

              So, yeah, if you feel safe enough to push back against an abusive boss, I’d say do it. But I don’t think it helps to act as if no employee ever has valid concerns that would keep them from pushing back. It doesn’t mean we’re doormats, it means we need to be employed, and when your boss is an abuser, that can sometimes mean being on the receiving end of bad treatment until you can get out. That doesn’t make it okay, but sometimes that’s just what is.

              1. Rose*

                Exactly. A lot of people need to sit there and take it. I’ve had a boss like this, but I needed to pay my rent.

                1. boop the first*

                  That doesn’t mean we should tell someone who has decided to politely stand up for themselves to just sit there and take it, though.

        2. anonmuseumworker*

          Me, too. My first boss had the same behavior described, down to me crying in the bathroom afterwards because it was so excessive, personal, and mean. I wish I had been experienced enough to know that was not normal and to stand up for myself or report the behavior. Sadly, I never felt able to bring it up because I felt I– and not her– would face repercussions.

    2. Sharon*

      I’m in a white collar professional career, but my first instinct would be to turn on my best customer service persona (like in retail), let the manager vent and then when she was done I’d try to have my calm, polite (if teary and red-faced) say. But with managers like this, I suspect they’d just tell you to get out and not let you say your side.

    3. Aggretsuko*

      I sit there and take the abuse, because that’s my job and I get paid to take abuse with a smile. These days while on Zoom (I’m refusing to camera up) I just pinch my leg really hard or do something else to take the stress out on something. In person they nitpicked every single tone of my voice or physical action of my body and I was not allowed to be upset.

      My grandboss is like this. Hammers it into you over and over again for the FULL HOUR and then sometimes over time. My boss is gone for the rest of the week and now I am forced to have several private meetings with Grandboss. I’m terrified I’ll just piss her off again. I’m guaranteed to piss her off again because I had to ask her to do things. Whee.

      1. I'm A Little Teapot*

        Honestly, please be looking for another job. I get that it’s crazy, but you’re in a toxic workplace. NO ONE DESERVES TO BE ABUSED.

      2. TootsNYC*

        i wonder sometimes if a person could interrupt and say, “Goodness, look at the time–I need to get some other work done. I want to stress, I definitely heard what you were saying, and I’ll make it happen. You seem to have covered it very thoroughly. Unless there’s some other topic?”
        And then just bustle out of the office or go click on the “Leave Meeting” button.

        1. Dream Jobbed*

          Zoom meeting? I am so sorry my internet stopped working while you were talking to me. I don’t suppose unplugging the router had anything to do with it?

      3. Ashley*

        Unless it’s literally in your job description to take abuse with a smile, it’s not okay and it’s not something you should accept. And if it IS in your job description, get the h-e-double hockey sticks out of that place yesterday. I hope you are able to find somewhere else to work where they treat you better than that.

      4. OhBehave*

        You do not have to take the abuse. You sound like you’ve given up. This is what happens when working in a toxic job for too long. You begin to think this is just how things are and nothing will change. It is very possible to get a job during this pandemic. Please make the effort to leave.

    4. Emilia Bedelia*

      I’ve been in similar situations where it becomes clear that someone is more just venting about the problem and not actually saying anything new or notable.
      So, I say something like “Okay, so the action here is that in the future I am going to do this thing, and I am going to take X steps to fix the issue. is there something else that you want me to do?”
      This helps to short circuit the situation because the complainer realizes that they are just repeating themselves and there isn’t anything else that can be done.

  2. Molly Coddler*

    If I didn’t know for a fact my old boss retired I’d have thought maybe it’s the same person. Mine loved to what I call “hold court” and what better reason than any old little mistake that you may or may not have made. Sometimes you didn’t know it was a mistake until she sat you down for half an hour telling you what a huge mistake it was even though the rules were at her whim and she would change them sometimes for certain people so that she could “hold court”. She retired the day after she found out we had new management. I got lucky. I hope you do too.

    1. Dino*

      I also bristle at court holders, although I’ve only encountered them socially. I think if I were to realize my new boss likes to hold court I would quit on the spot.

        1. Ann O'Nemity*

          I know one of these. They also have the most uncomfortable guest chairs that I’ve literally ever encountered in my entire life. I’m sure it’s deliberate.

    2. LW*

      That’s almost exactly how my coworkers and I referred to Jamie’s feedback meetings! Thankfully, I ended up moving into a much better paying role with a higher title, and I have a wonderful manager now!

    3. YoungTen*

      I know exacly what you mean by hold court. My boss is the same way. She doesn’t like conversation in the office unless shes directing it. I honestly think she loves finding mistakes so she can hold court. It’s not fun being a subject.

    4. Anon-a-souras*

      I had one of these too. She very good at her duties that weren’t management, but was a nightmare to work for. She liked to berate in front of the team – and then she’d switch into attack mode because you weren’t responding the way she wanted. So much turnover in that group. I did speak up on behalf of others, after being there a few months – which just made me more a target. They didn’t return the favor. Terrible job.

      1. Anon-a-souras*

        I should note that I quit the job after the last and largest scolding. I didn’t say anything in the moment because the fury had me and if is said anything it would have been to tell her to f;$:$k off.

      2. nonee*

        Yeah, me and my entire team got “laid off” after finally forcing our grand-manager and HR to address her bullying. They kept her for about another 4 weeks before realising that it wasn’t just the bullying; she was also incompetent and using us to cover for her, so she was fired/”asked to resign”.

    5. nonee*

      I genuinely thought this could be my old boss for a minute, but we’re in another country. She made at least one of her past employees suicidal with constant “feedback”. Luckily she’s never lasted more than two years in a company, but I have no idea why she’s still operating at manager level – surely she should have realised by now that she’s terrible at it!

    6. nevermeant*

      I have a manger like this. I say she likes to teach a lesson. She has a baseline level of condescension I can barely tolerate. She once berated me in front of the entire department about the way I paperclipped a stack of papers. I barely had a reaction because I was seething. She then called me into her office to tell me my reaction was unprofessional.

    7. babblemouth*

      Aside from how abusive this is, I also wonder… who has time for that? Why would anyone take a full hour out of their day to do something so petty? Even if you don’t have any work left to do, who wouldn’t prefer to invent a client meeting to go to, or even some research that involves reading a magazine, or literally just sitting there and starring into space?

      I can think of 50 things I’d rather do just off the top of my head than creating conflict.

      1. AnonAcademic*

        someone with a lot of emotional regulation issues who thinks “venting” like this is helpful. a narcissist who needs supply even if it’s negative supply. you don’t think this way, because you sound normal.

  3. SheLooksFamiliar*

    Jamie sounds like one of those people who thinks, ‘I’m just being clear and direct’ or ‘I’m just being honest’ means ‘anything I say is okay as long as I’m being clear, direct, and/or honest.’

    When people have said that to me, what I hear is: ‘I lack the ability to choose the right words or control my irritation, so I say whatever I’m thinking. If you have a problem with what I say, it’s because you clearly can’t handle honesty and not because I insulted you.’

    People like Jamie are not good leaders, or even good managers.

    1. Ominous Adversary*

      Bingo. You know exactly how Jamie would react if a peer gave her “clear, direct” feedback in the same manner as she’s giving it to her subordinates.

      1. Rayray*

        I worked in an office where many people were like this. It’s toxic and does nothing to get the job done efficiently.

        1. Happy Lurker*

          Exactly! Hiding bad manners behind good phraseology is a terrible way to manage, work or live life!

      2. YoungTen*

        ugh, one of my bosses favorate phrases is “IT’S A YES OR NO ANSWER BOB OR BRITTY!” when they ask a question and the person is trying to formulate an accurate responce. The funny thing is, they no problem over explaning a simple question that could be a simple yes or no answer when its directed at them. You know, cause every word that comes out of their mouth is worth is like valuable gem(sarcasim) that everyoneis just waitng to for. Just onece I’d love to say, “ITS A YES OR NO ANSWER TERRY!” But I have a mortgage and kids so…..

        1. Frenchiest*

          Please do it on your last week on the job, after accepting a much better job. Then post about it. :)

    2. Archaeopteryx*

      Exactly; even outside of work the “ I’m just being honest” folks are toxic. I have never met a lover of that phrase who did not believe that 1) honest was the opposite of polite/respectful, 2) people objecting to meanness are oversensitive or weak, and 3) that everyone else had as nasty, small minds as they do on the inside and were just concealing it. They shielded their vices behind the virtue of honesty.

      1. Dust Bunny*

        I have never in my life met a person who emphasized this phrase who wasn’t a bully. Period. I’ve met people who genuinely are direct and honest without being mean or hurtful but they never make a point of telling me how direct and honest they are.

        1. The Rural Juror*

          This reminds me of Talladega Nights –
          Ricky Bobby: “With all due respect, Mr. Dennit, I had no idea you’d gotten experimental surgery to have your balls removed.”
          Dennit: “What did you just say to me?!”
          Ricky Bobby: “I said with all due respect!”
          Dennit: “Just because you say that doesn’t mean you get to say whatever you want to say to me!”
          Ricky Bobby: “It sure as hell does!”
          Dennit: “No, it doesn’t–”
          Ricky Bobby: “It’s in the Geneva Conventions, look it up!”

              1. knitcrazybooknut*

                Why does the devil need a freakin’ advocate???? He’s the DEVIL.

                Hari Kondabolu has a great sketch about this, really google-able.

        2. HarvestKaleSlaw*

          I feel like there is a thesaurus out there, that everyone eventually learns:
          “Now I’m no racist…” = I’m *unbelievably* racist and about to say something to you that would would make David Duke feel ashamed.
          “I’m just being honest with you.” = I don’t feel like what I said was hurtful enough. Does this help drive the blade in?
          “I pride myself on my honesty.” = I’m trying to sell you the rust coating.
          “I hate fake people.” = Welcome to hell – but with waaaaay more drama.
          “I take people as I find them.” = I’m a small-minded bigot.
          “I would never lie to you.” = I slept with your best friend.
          “I’m a very caring person.” = I’m literally a sociopath.

          1. AnonAcademic*

            I snort laughed at this! very true. makes me think of shakespeare, “the lady doth protest too much”

      2. RC Rascal*

        Same thought here. The folks who value “ honesty “ usually just want a license to be a jerk.

      3. insertusernamehere*

        Agreed. It reminds me of every reality show real housewife who just wants to be mean and obnoxious and self-serving under the guise of “I’m just really honest” and “I tell it like it is.”

      4. Parenthetically*

        Yes! If I’ve said this once, I’ve said it a million times — “Hey, man, sorry you can’t handle my radical truth-telling” is abusive behavior. Gaslighting + DARVO.

      5. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

        Your #3 is the big one here. Someone who’s direct and honest but doesn’t by default assume that the people around them are willfully being ayholes don’t have these kinds of problems. They’re not afraid to tell someone where to go if it’s truly warranted, but because they’re careful in how they get to that assessment they’re not running around being mean all the time.

      6. AnonEMoose*

        This. Several decades ago, I had a “friend” (and roommate for awhile) who was very into the “just being honest” perspective. Nothing I said or did was too minor for this person to criticize, and if I objected, the response was always “I’m just being honest.” The most generous thing I can think is that she was a really unhappy person, and this was her way of dealing with that. It doesn’t make it ok, but it helps me remember that it was about her, not about me. Is it any surprise that we’re no longer in contact?

        I don’t think it’s about honesty, it’s about dominance. I think feedback needs to be clear and direct in the sense of “this happened, and it needs to not happen again,” or “this didn’t happen, and it needs to get done.” Along with “can you help me understand what happened,” and “how can I help deal with this in the future?” No assumptions that the person receiving the feedback did anything wrong on purpose or about their value as a person – if anything, including something supporting the idea that they are a worthwhile person who is valued, who happened to make an error (assuming we’re dealing with a one-time error, not a pattern). Even if it is a pattern, affirming that they are valued as a person and that is why you are addressing this thing that needs to change can be helpful.

        1. HarvestKaleSlaw*

          I think you’ve kind of nailed it. If you take someone’s feelings and their perspective and their experiences into account when you are giving feedback, it’s because you see them as basically, equally human with you, even if they are in a subordinate job at work. If you don’t – you don’t.

      7. CatWoman*

        I once heard it said that, “People who like to say that they are brutally honest seem to focus more on the brutality than the honesty.” and I find that to be entirely true, in my experience.

      8. Frenchiest*

        My favorite, not, is “I am brutally honest” said as if that’s a good thing. You can be kind and honest, doesn’t have to be brutal. Unless, of course, it’s coming from a brute.

      9. babblemouth*

        “I’m just being honest” people are right up there with the “I hate drama” people in that they think saying this sentence absolves them of having to be tactful or mindful of other people.

    3. Renata Ricotta*

      Ugh, yes. I know several people (socially, luckily, so I can avoid them when needed) who walk around with a chip on their shoulder and being rude to people, but proudly proclaim (even when nobody asked) that everybody who thinks they’re an asshole just can’t handle truthtelling, implying that people who aren’t so bristly are being fake or inauthentic. Drives me nuts — one can be *both* a jerk and honest, and you can be authentic without riding roughshod over everybody else.

      1. Ominous Adversary*

        “Friend, you’re a rude asshole with a chip on your shoulder. Hey, I’m just a truthteller! Sorry you can’t handle my radical honesty!”

    4. Not So NewReader*

      s/Hey, Jamie, you and I are going to talk about what happened here for an hour, maybe longer. During that time, I will make sure you cannot fit a word in edgewise. I will try to repeat myself the maximum number of times because adults don’t understand explanations on the first run through. Additionally, I will bring in other random people so they can witness my excellent leadership by humiliation abilities. I will show them how it’s done so they won’t make a misstep with me. I will make sure that I do not acknowledge there is a simple explanation for the problem and I will blow it up into a much larger issue. I know how to do this.”/s

      I had one of these this week. But my person was someone we serve, not an internal cohort. My person called two other people in addition to myself. Her initial explanation (basically too much info and info that is apparent to those in the field) was 20-25 minutes. She did this with each one of us. We were not able to fit a word in sideways. What was unsettling was the way she explained, the time line was out of order to such a degree that it was hard to tell what actually was going on. I got calls from others regarding her phone calls.

      Yeah. Okay. The whole problem boiled down to our letters crossed in the mail. That is all it was. She went on and on about how unfair it all was and people were out to get her, etc. No. Our letters crossed in the mail. That is all that went wrong. Situation resolved and over.

      Punchline: I think I met Jamie this week.
      Very sorry this happened to you, OP.

    5. ThisColumnMakesMeGratefulForMyBoss*

      Not a manager, but I had a co-worker (a supposed friend) that always claimed to be brutally honest. I appreciate honesty, don’t like fake people and can take criticism, but what she didn’t seem to understand was that sometimes she was just being mean, and while being honest is important, it can’t be at the expense of other people’s feelings.

      I was the team baker and brought something in once for everyone to share. She told me they were “not my best”. I don’t expect everyone to love everything I make, but it really hurt my feelings. She could have said (while still being honest) that she didn’t like what I had made and I would have been totally okay with that.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Oh lord, this sounds like several shitty friends of a friend of mine. She bakes them things and they complain it wasn’t like a professional bakery. WTF.

      2. Jean*

        Or she could have some class and keep her opinion to herself. Being critical of things like baked goods that people provide at their own expense and under no obligation to do so is extremely rude, childish, and entitled. It wouldn’t just hurt my feelings, it would completely ruin any positive regard I had for that person.

        1. JustaTech*

          I read something once that said that part of growing up is understanding that you don’t need to voice every observation you have about the world and the people in it.
          Most people learn this around kindergarten.

          1. Jan*

            As my mum always told us “Just because you’ve got an opinion doesn’t mean you have to use it!”

      3. SheLooksFamiliar*

        Is everyone a closeted food critic? That stinks, especially when there are so many things your co-worker could have said instead:
        Thank you for thinking of us!
        You’re so nice to bring in home made goodies.
        This is such a nice treat during a tough day.
        Oooh, that smells wonderful!
        Anything else that acknowledges your gesture.

      4. Parenthetically*


        Like, “not your best” isn’t actionable feedback, lady. I had a coworker and friend with whom I shared a love of cooking, and we often brought dishes in for the other to taste and critique. She never once said something wasn’t my best — if it wasn’t awesome, she’d point out what was good about it and then suggest potential technique changes or additions or omissions or whatever. But only because I ASKED HER TO! People like your coworker are just jackasses who never outgrew their “mommy, why is that lady’s belly so big?” stage, but somehow think you’re to blame because they don’t have a filter between their brains and their mouths.

      5. Asenath*

        Some people never seem to learn that courtesy (and, for that matter, tact) are neither dishonesty nor hypocrisy. I think a lot of these people never grew out of the childhood idea that all honest people say everything that comes into their heads, and anyone who doesn’t do the same must be dishonest or hypocritical.

      6. jenkins*

        Ugh. Not everything needs feedback! Your baking, that you do voluntarily to treat your colleagues, is not a Masterchef entry, or a cafe she’s been to and wants to leave a review for others. It’s not a race where you’re always trying to beat your PB. It’s. Free. Cake. People need to either eat it or not eat it, thank the baker and shut up.

    6. Elbe*

      Yes! If the only virtue you can tout is honestly it’s not a positive. Honesty should be a given.

      Even honest people have to manage their own emotions and regulate their tone and do the work of seeing the issue from others’ point of view.

    7. LW*

      Could not have said it better myself! I love this comment and all the replies to it. So very accurate.

    8. chewingle*

      Yeah, I immediately thought of people who brag about “telling it like it is.” But is it constructive? :/

  4. sacados*

    “given that she used all the right language in explaining her style of feedback.”
    I think this part is key. It sounds like Jamie EXPLAINS her feedback well, using Alison’s wording, but the actual feedback itself is…. not.
    Also, I really really hope some of the higher ups at OP’s company are noticing the sudden mass exodus of good employees from a formerly high-performing, low-turnover department– and doing something about it! Because otherwise, it sounds like there’s a Company Problem in addition to a Manager Problem.

    1. AndersonDarling*

      I’ll add that if someone has to explain their feedback style, then they are simply justifying their bullying as “feedback.” Decent people don’t need to explain how they communicate, they just communicate without problems.

      1. LW*

        This is such a good point. I didn’t realize this until reading it, but Jamie probably explained her feedback style sooo much because so many people had problems with it. By continually saying she was just “clear and direct,” she was almost guarding herself against the (inevitable) upset reactions that her subordinates would have.

        1. londonedit*

          Absolutely. It’s the same as the ‘Can’t you take a joke?’ and ‘You’re just too sensitive’ crap that bullies come out with. She’s saying ‘But I’m just being clear and direct’ to suggest that it’s not her who has the problem, it’s the employees who ‘just can’t take direct feedback’.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      It doesn’t take an hour and two other witnesses to say, “Do B from now on, don’t do A.”

      At some point I grow concerned about how the mind is processing basic problems……when there is a change in systems it is NORMAL for people to forget or have other problems with a new system. And I am sorry, but that is part of managing people. There is nothing unusual here. If Jamie can’t handle this normal problem then management may not be for her.

    3. Rose*

      You hit the nail on the head. She’s expressing an idiotic point (this mistake was a huge deal and deserves an hour of talk) very well.

      Tell you to think about if you’re capable of doing your job, on the other hand, is super passive aggressive bullshit.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I was wondering that too, because they should have stepped up and stopped that. I suspect Jamie had a reputation as a bully with more than just direct reports.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      One of two things:
      They had already experienced the tears in the bathroom so they knew what OP as in for and they did not want to kick that hornet’s nest.
      They were shocked into silence.

      I wonder if they are still at the company.

      1. That Girl from Quinn's House*

        I had a boss like this, she did a similar thing to me in a meeting while Grandboss sat there silently.

        Unbeknownst to me it was because my boss was on a PIP for termination. Grandboss needed to witness Boss managing employees like this, but Boss was really territorial and sneaky and chafed at being caught. So Grandboss found some way to frame it to be palatable to Boss to get herself in the meeting, something like, “Oh you’re having a hard time with some of your staff, I want to make sure you know I’m here to support you all the way!” and then she could write up what happened and toss it in Boss’s employee file for the termination meeting.

        If you were savvy at reading between the lines, you could figure out this is what was happening, but if you weren’t, you’d think Grandboss was endorsing her abuse. It was tricky.

        1. Yorick*

          But Grandboss could still speak up once the abuse began to move the conversation along. You don’t need 55 minutes worth of evidence when the first 5 minutes will do.

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

            eh. That depends on how much rope the Grandboss (GB) or other witnesses want/need to give the Boss to hang herself. GB would definitely want to let the whole dialog play out if, for instance, the Boss routinely works herself up to drop a sexist/racist/homophobic epithet around the 49-minute mark. It would definitely be better though if GB would then privately pull the employee aside and say something to the effect, “I just wanted to let you know that I was sitting in on this meeting specifically to observe and my silence during the meeting does not mean I agree with Boss. I want to assure you that this is not acceptable behavior and steps are being taken.”

        2. Rose*

          This is insane. You can fire someone who’s not effective without directly watching them berate employees. There are plenty of ways to know if someone is a good manager that don’t involve using you as a human sacrifice. I’m sorry this happened to you.

    3. Aggretsuko*

      Nothing, I’m sure they went along with it and everything was fine. It’s the boss’s prerogative to yell at you for an hour with witnesses.

      1. Keyboard Jockey*

        I really hope this is sarcasm, because it absolutely is not the boss’ prerogative to yell at you for an hour, and if you genuinely think that, please get out of whatever toxic situation you’ve been in that makes you think this is acceptable behavior.

    4. LW*

      They basically said nothing. One of them was a very new manager, and I suspect she just had no idea what to do or say. The other one did defend me at one point, when Jamie questioned my dedication to the organization. Other than that, she didn’t say much, and I think that might have been because she was near retirement and didn’t want to “stir the pot” much. Either way, I took it as a clear sign that I should probably start job hunting (I ended up getting a full-time job with a substantial pay increase).

        1. LW*

          I have since left the organization (for a position with a higher title & pay increase!) and that was one of my primary concerns – that the new manager (my direct supervisor) was being groomed to be like Jamie.

    5. Forrest*

      Actually, I’d like to hear feedback on this too. How do you intervene if you are a manager and you hear another manager bullying or abusing their employee? At an old job, one of the managers was horrifically horrible to a good friend of mine. It was some crazy personal thing where the manager was perfectly nice and friendly to my friend 70% of the time, but if she was having a bad day, she’d just find something to criticise in my friend and pick on her for ten to fifteen minutes in the middle of an open an office for something like, “why are you wearing those trousers? Don’t you know they’re not work appropriate? How come you’ve worked here for two years and you STILL don’t know what’s work appropriate?” It was always stuff like that— like she was seeing something in my friend that she took personal offence to, or that my friend was letting her down in some way. It was all a bit weird and Freudian, like a disappointed parent. And it really, really got to my friend, who would just stand there paralysed and humiliated.

      Me and my friend were at the same level, so I didn’t feel I could do anything. A couple of the other managers who were at the same level as the bullying manager would check in with my friend afterwards to say, “are you ok? It wasn’t ok how she spoke to you”, but they never intervened in the moment. Would you? If so, how?

      1. Not So NewReader*

        It’s hard because you are talking to a peer.
        If I could whisper, “Go easy, Sue!” I might try that.
        I have gone behind a cohort’s back and reported the abuse I saw. Of course, no one would know that and I sure wasn’t going to talk about it.
        And if I had a similar pair of pants I might wear them the next day. Because that’s me.

      2. winter*

        I would intervene in the moment, but likely with a deflection (to get the peer away from the employee) or defend the employee light-heartedly if the topic allows and stay until the conversation is over to make sure that peer reigns it in.

        Then I would talk privately to the peer that they can’t do that and (if it was more than basically good-natured teasing) also talk to peer’s boss about what I witnessed.

      3. The Bill Murray Disagreement*

        Just because they’re a peer doesn’t mean they can’t get feedback. “Sue, I’ve noticed you’re very good at giving constructive feedback to people. And I’ve also noticed that if you’re having a bad day, you jump to conclusions about a person’s performance much more than you normally do. Is this something you’ve sensed too?” And then see where the conversation goes…

  5. HailRobonia*

    It’s like people who brag about “telling it like it is” and how honest they are. But it’s just an excuse to be an a-hole… they are never “I like to tell it like it is…. you did a really knocked it out of the park on that finance report!”

    1. limotruck*

      Yep. A lot of people crow that they are “straight shooters” or “have no filter” “just super honest” and in my experience that almost always means 1. I don’t care how my words affect you 2. Every thought I have is worth saying to any audience as long as I think it’s ‘true’.

      A saying I saw a while ago read: “Honesty without tact is cruelty.” Bingo. Not everything needs to be said out loud.

      1. RC Rascal*

        Most of these “ super honest” folks usually load their honesty with their own opinions.

      2. Just J.*

        Yes, missing from all of Jaime’s words and actions is Respect. And it doesn’t matter how subordinate a person is to you, everyone brings something to the job. Always offer respect. Or more simply, treat people how you would like to be treated.

      3. jenkins*

        Bragging about having no filter is peculiar to me. I mean, a filter is a useful thing. It helps you function. Having no filter doesn’t make someone more real, it’s a skill deficiency. We all have unkind thoughts, kneejerk responses and unhelpful biases that aren’t useful or good to share and don’t even represent our core beliefs – we’d be in a right mess if we all blurted out the first thing our brains spat up as a response in any given situation.

        1. Paulina*

          But they do have a filter — a mean one. Somehow these “just telling it like it is” people aren’t throwing out compliments left and right, or commenting on what doesn’t need to be changed.

          “Great work on the Teapots file, Jane! Just telling it like it is, since I’m so radically honest!”

    2. Mama Bear*

      Absolutely. There are many ways to give feedback – being rude should not be one of them. I hope the higher-ups take notice of the turnover.

      I had a manager that was not clear and direct and when I reached out for a meeting to try to find a resolution to our communication issues (to put it nicely) I found myself in a surprise mid-year review (we had never done mid-years before). I felt completely blindsided. I probably would have been written up if it weren’t for the bigger boss saying it wasn’t necessary. I managed not to cry until I was out of the office. I went home and updated my resume and was out of there a few months later.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      But don’t you tell THEM like it is, then you are just plain rude. The look varies by who is wearing it.

  6. Please make it stop*

    “assume positive intent unless they have specific reason not to” I think this piece is so important, not just for the employee, but also for your own mental health. While there are people out there will take any opportunity to abuse a system, most people are not like that. Taking the negative view that everyone is out to screw the rest of the world over can make you, as a boss, frustrated and depressed in ways that you don’t even realize right away. Being seen as a “good” boss coincided with this mental adjustment for me.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      I think this is the huge piece right here.

      The employee is left to think that the boss thinks very little of them. It’s the presumption that the employee was out to screw the boss and/or the company. And it’s the boss’ lack of ability to see differences in individuals that not every individual operates on that plane.

    2. hbc*

      It sounds like an exaggeration, but this approach basically is probably the core reason behind every significant professional success I’ve had. The person who, say, assumes the vendor is a lying jerk just accepts that timelines are going to be off and keeps having stuff come in late, whereas I would go in and have a conversation and find out that their week numbering is different, or they were counting from the time it left their dock, or that we were using the wrong shipping code so it was being held up in customs.

      I remember reading about a debt collection agency that deliberately took the opposite approach of every other agency. Instead of stalking and berating people who owed money, they would call and listen to the story of how the person got into debt, offer sympathy, and mutually figure out a workable plan for repayment. The idea was to be morally better than the browbeaters, but their collections rates were phenomenal.

      1. Insert Clever Name Here*

        That makes sense. Treat me with respect, and I will bend over backwards to help you. Treat me like scum on your shoe and gee, it sure is going to take me some extra time to find that information (that I have right here in front of me), maybe by the end of next week?

  7. Mayflower*

    There is an easy formula for this: how much time would it take to fix the problem vs. how much time was spent talking about the problem. Your scheduling problem could be fixed in a minute but your manager chose to scold you for an hour so clearly it was never about “feedback”. Good luck, OP. She sounds like a nightmare.

    1. Seeking Second Childhood*

      I’m hoping that I’m right in thinking OP was one of the people who left for greener pastures.

      1. LW*

        You are correct! I actually got a full-time position with a substantial increase and a wonderful manager :)

    2. Mockingjay*

      And you just summed up my project. We talk about everything but have accomplished nothing in years. The only good thing is the boss doesn’t yell or berate. Instead we have endless meetings about process.

      Boss: we need a project process to stay on track.
      Me: here’s the overall program process. Part X is what we need.
      Boss: okay, let’s do that. Everyone, follow the process!
      One month later…
      Boss: why aren’t we on track?
      Me: no one [including you] is using the process.
      Boss: well, we need a process that works!

      My work life is Groundhog Day.

      1. All the cats 4 me*

        Ah yes, my absolute favorite thing is expensive process tracking software that AT MOST, gets used 80% of the time by 80% of the team, and 20% of the time by the 20% of the team members who are TOO BUSY to keep the expensive tracking software up to date, and who then lose their minds when things get overlooked and forgotten.

        Good times.

        1. Insert Clever Name Here*

          And then they blame the software for being unreliable, right? I know these people. I despise them.

          1. All the cats 4 me*

            Yes! Or worse, it s not the software, because it was Expensive. And Impressive.

            But because the people (*cough* admin *cough*] who were supposed to execute the Thing don’t sufficiently Realize how Important It Is and choose not to read his mind (definitely Not thinking of a specific offender here) to understand that while the tracking software is screaming ‘I am not ready! Don’t execute this document! Warning!’, it actually means that its ‘ready enough’ and the deadline is minutes away and he can’t be arsed to update the status so you had better be ready to be screamed at because it is The Most Important and Irritable Client in the Universe, and This Cannot Fail to be Done on Time!

            Excellent times.

        2. Mockingjay*

          I stopped using the online tool and dumbed it down to a spreadsheet with colors and very simple organization. Boss and the team still don’t use it.

          I forgot that he did call a meeting to berate me about the swap. Even though I explained to him what I was doing and why several times before I made the switch. Now I just work on my part and send it to him without following up on it. If he reviews it, great. If not, *shrugs.

    3. LW*

      Thank you for articulating that so clearly! That’s such a huge part of why I was so confused – spending 60 minutes of four staff members’ time to scold me for a very minor mistake that would have taken quite literally one minute to fix. I ended up getting a full-time position at another organization with a substantial pay increase and a wonderful new manager :)

      1. All the cats 4 me*

        This reminds me of the type of person who rushes in late to work, totally flustered and apologetic, who then proceeds to waste 10 minutes of my time, and 10 MORE minutes of THEIR time, exhaustively relating all the Reasons why said person is late, and how Frustrating their morning has been.


    4. Paulina*

      Having decided it was a big enough deal to arrange the multi-manager meeting, she was almost sure to ignore information that indicated it wasn’t. She’d scheduled that long scolding, and she was going to give it.

  8. Observer*

    Some rules of thumb for “clear and direct” vs “rude and disrespectful”.

    1. Name calling and comments about the PERSON rather than the behavior are generally the latter.
    2. Repeating the same point multiple times not in response to pushback, especially if the point is repeated with increasingly strong language.
    3. Not giving people a chance to respond.

    Yellow flags when you are giving feedback:
    1. Major meeting for small items
    2. People react with shock
    3. Always / never statements
    4. Jumping to major consequences as a first step.

    1. Renata Ricotta*

      Related to 1, is focusing out outcome. If a problem needs to be solved, do the least amount of intervention to get that done, and stop as soon as that outcome is achieved. OP would have corrected her error if she had received a one-sentence email explaining how to proceed instead, and the correct outcome would have been achieved.

      1. EPLawyer*

        OUTCOME What do you want to have happen:

        1. The mistake corrected.
        2. The employee to grovel and beg for forgiveness.

        If the answer is 2 — you suck as a manager. Also it doesn’t really solve the problem.

  9. Damn it, Hardison!*

    I would love it if my manager started a feedback conversation by actually saying “Ahoy!” I would then be tempted to end the conversation with “Aye aye, Captain!”

    1. Guacamole Bob*

      I really loved the mental image that I got when I read that bit of Alison’s answer. “Ahoy” is a wonderful way to communicate the tone/attitude to be going for here.

      1. WantonSeedStitch*

        “Ahoy!” is going to be my new email-going-out-to-the-whole-team starter. Or maybe, “Ahoy, crew!”

        “Hi everyone/gang/team/folks” is getting boring.

    2. Dumpster Fire*

      I loved that too. I think when school starts this year, I’m going to “Ahoy!” at the beginning of each class. (I’m trying to avoid sink-or-swim metaphors right now…)

    3. Red Reader the Adulting Fairy*

      I (normally a morning bird, like working 6a-2p type) ended up filling an overnight (10p-6a) slot on a one-week hotline when we rolled out a new system a few years back. I don’t *remember* starting an email to my boss with “What ho, comrade captain,” but she was thoroughly entertained by it.

  10. Brooke*

    I think Alison really hit on some important points here that I’d summarize like this: After you’ve presented your clear direct feedback, you have to listen to how your employee responds to that feedback and incorporate that into your solution. Just talking *at* your employee without receiving any of their input is likely to feel berating even if the tone is kind.

    Even if your second manager misjudged the seriousness of the offense, once you said, “Oh, sorry, I understand I made a mistake and I’ll make sure to avoid that in future!” that should’ve resolved the issue. But she didn’t accept that as a resolution. Between ignoring what you said to address it and not letting you speak, there was nothing more *you* could do to resolve things on your end, but by continuing to criticize you, she kept the responsibility on you to fix it. If your apology was’t sufficient to address the issue, she should’ve explained what she needed instead.

    When you repeatedly criticize someone for a problem they have, essentially, already fixed or that they have no power to fix, you’re not addressing a performance issue, you’re just making them feel bad. The employee usually feels like they have to apologize *more* sincerely, or grovel, or prove their emotional investment in improving, or perform how hard this punishment and guilt is hitting them, to try to resolve the conflict, but none of it is enough, because the problem doesn’t lie with the employee anymore.

    1. digitalnative-ish*

      Oof last paragraph hits home. Almost did that recently with toxic boss but resisted the urge to over-apologize for them forgetting something I told them (they took it as a betrayal and evidence I have a problem with them).

      Just forwarded the email proving I did tell them* and asked to be informed if what I’m currently doing is a problem (it’s not).

      *Added benefit of informing toxic boss I have the receipts so don’t make this “a thing.” Unfortunate necessity.

    2. Spencer Hastings*

      When you repeatedly criticize someone for a problem they have, essentially, already fixed or that they have no power to fix, you’re not addressing a performance issue, you’re just making them feel bad. The employee usually feels like they have to apologize *more* sincerely, or grovel, or prove their emotional investment in improving, or perform how hard this punishment and guilt is hitting them, to try to resolve the conflict, but none of it is enough, because the problem doesn’t lie with the employee anymore.

      Quoted for truth! It’s like…okay, I get it, but what do you want me to DO about it?

      1. Jackalope*

        Totally. I’ve had a number of issues like this where I finally just stop the conversation in my mind and ignore anything that isn’t a practical way to fix it.

  11. Artemesia*

    I remember a new boss who did that to me. I was following a procedure we had always used and being careful to do so and got called in an reamed because ONLY HE had the right to allocate budget and I didn’t have the right to recruit and employ my own RA in spite of the fact that this was our procedure. If he had said: we are doing it this way now — I need to assign these positions. I would have said ‘fine — I’ll be sure to coordinate with you in the future.’ But he ranted and yelled and threatened to have me fired so aggressively that I who am usually able to stand up for myself felt physically assaulted — I have never had the physical fear sensations he evoked. And I think if I had not had tons of political capital up above him I might well have been fired for it.

    People like this obviously get satisfaction from hurting people.

  12. Salty*

    I would actually disagree that this type of feedback can even be classified as “clear and direct.” I think that the message and the *point* becomes less and less clear the more the manager harps on some easily-fixable, benign mistake. Honestly, I also wonder if it’s even that direct or 100% on topic when you expand “Please use the new system and don’t do what you did again” into an hour-long tirade.

    1. irene adler*

      I’d be wondering if there were a whole lot more to it-if I were in this situation.

      I think “clear and direct” for this boss means “say it loudly and look them in the eye”.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      I agree with this. The longer you go on about something, the more chances you have to muddle the message. It should really be here’s the issue (and, if needed, the business impact of the issue) and here’s what I’d like you to do next time instead, give the employee time to explain/acknowledge/say their piece, and, absent any of that requiring additional conversation, make sure they agree to use the appropriate method/process/wording/whatever next time and go about your respective days.

      I’ve never really seen a situation in which harping on a mistake or berating someone or reminding someone of a prior misstep resulted in better performance. The point is to improve the next time, not to flog for past mistakes.

      1. OtterB*

        Heh. This reminds me, tangentially, of what my father used to say about long-winded preachers in church. “Nobody is ever saved after the first ten minutes.” Really, don’t keep going.

      2. Jackalope*

        Karen Pryor in her book “Don’t Shoot the Dog” says that punishment is the least effective method of enacting change possible, and puts forth the idea that the actual point is establishing dominance over the other person. Which helped me make a lot more sense out of it.

    3. hbc*

      Yeah, “direct” is not the same as “share every feeling and thought you have on the subject.”

    4. merp*

      This is a really good point! I had a professor who gave feedback like this in grad school, and while individual comments could be construed as “clear and direct,” when you have 200 or more of those comments on a paper, some of which sound actively hostile, you reallllly lose that clarity. I couldn’t look at her feedback all at once – it took me a week to read her comments on a final paper because I would get so upset each time. It was completely demoralizing.

    5. LW*

      This is so true! During that hour, she talked about so many unrelated things that I left confused beyond belief. I replayed the whole meeting in my head countless times, trying to make sense of what happened. She did send a follow-up email that almost exactly said “Please remember to use the new system in the future” and nothing else. Only then was I 100% sure the whole meeting had been about that specific error.

      1. Jan*

        An email she could’ve just sent you in the first place, without the need for an hour-long bollocking! What a self-important idiot.

    6. Koala dreams*

      I was thinking that too. A hour long yelling session about something that could be explained in less than a minute is the opposite of “clear and direct”. Rambling and confusing, I guess are the right words for it.

      I would be tempted to get pen and paper and write down the “feedback” after a few minutes. If it’s something that needs that long to be explained, surely it’s too complicated for me to remember it without writing it down?

  13. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

    Alison hit the nail on the head with her point about assuming positive intent. That’s perhaps one of the biggest differences between truly constructive feedback and what Jamie was doing. First off, if you have good reason to believe that the people you manage are lazy or trying to be malicious towards you and the organization, why are they still working for you? And if they’re neither of those things, what makes you think that contempt is a good motivator?

    So much baggage here. I once had a boss like Jamie and there’s a part of me that still hangs on their the belief that I’m a far better employee for having endured her abusive behaviour. She pretty much never assumed positive intent of anyone on the team (or in the organization, for that matter), and came straight out of the gate with fairly ugly assumptions about people’s motivations. This behaviour wasn’t just about how she provided feedback to us directly, but also came into play as she discussed the actions of one team member with another (much of our work was collaborative). In retrospect, I recognize that this page of the playbook is really about controlling people through drama-mongering. But at the time, what I thought is that everything I did in my work – to the point of perfectionism – to defend myself against her allegations made me disciplined, and better than people who hadn’t dealt with a manager like this.

    The truth is that if you’ve experienced something like this early in your career, it can be difficult to not manage that way yourself. It’s something that even continues to influence my actions as a direct report myself. If you’ve spent a good chunk of time having a manager assume the worst of your actions, it becomes really easy to hold everyone else to the standard of “how dare you expect others’ goodwill if you aren’t perfect?”. That’s a scary thing to admit, but thereeeee you go. I have to actively push against the kneejerk “if I did what you’re doing I’d be told I was a piece of crap and I’d probably deserve it” whenever I have to deal with someone I supervise, because I know that it’s not an effective or kind way of getting the best from people.

    As a manager, there will be occasions where you’ll need to coach your directs on how a particular stakeholder *may* interpret something. But done correctly, that comes across very differently than making assumptions about someone’s motivations. Look, meanness works, as you’ll be able to reflect on in several years or so, but not in the way you want it to.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      ” I have to actively push against the kneejerk “if I did what you’re doing I’d be told I was a piece of crap and I’d probably deserve it” whenever I have to deal with someone I supervise, because I know that it’s not an effective or kind way of getting the best from people.”

      The buck has to stop somewhere. I worked for a place where the bosses were clock watchers. If anyone was even a minute late, I would hear about it. That minute of time was discussed for at least 45 minutes and the irony was totally lost on management.
      Since I knew this was the way the company behaved, I simply told my people, “I assume you guys are adults and you can punch in and out on time. However, if your punches (on the clock) are wrong *I* will be asked to explain why. Let’s avoid these conversations as much as possible.”
      I never once had a problem. Interestingly, I only said it once to them. Amazing things happen when leaders assume that they work with fellow adults.

  14. Fiona the Baby Hippo*

    A former coworker recently have a very bad manager use a minor misunderstanding, similar to what was described above, be the springboard for saying ‘you need to think about whether or not this is the right job for you.’ (not that it matters but I’ve seen her in action- she’s phenomenal *and* we’re in the middle of a global pandemic and my friend thought she was about to lose her job or be put on a PIP). I feel like people can get the ‘clear and direct’ bit but it seems very hard to teach ‘reasonable and to scale with what has just happened.’ I also worry people like her manager will go to management training and just nod along thinking ‘yup i do all this!’

  15. nm*

    Too many people think “being honest” is license to be a jerk. If someone is really being honest and direct they would be dishing out just as much (or MORE) praise and compliments as they do criticism.

  16. voyager1*

    Jaime reminds me of a manager I had that acted like this about accountability. She can from a sales manager position in the bank to a operations manager position. She would try to hold people accountable about mistakes like she would sales employees. In operations mistakes are going to happen, they should be rare of course, but they happen because humans make mistake.

    I remember one time she emailed me that I made a mistake, I apologized and I corrected it. She literally emailed me back her same email and asked me WHY it happened. I responded that it was mistake/error that was an accident and it was not deliberate. She literally emailed me back again her same email again. I didn’t respond after that.

    I know this is getting long with my example, but I think Jaime (like my older manager with accountability) has “direct and clear” in her head like some buzz phrase but really doesn’t understand what it means nor is she being “direct and clear.”

    I really feel for you LW. I think the only alternative is getting a different job.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      Y’know, your experience makes me wonder if some of these messed up behaviours are more of an issue with managers who transition from roles where tasks are more routine to ones where things involve a lot more subjective judgment.

      1. voyager1*

        This is it exactly. Also my role was loss prevention that was heavily regulated. She came from loans and selling of banking services. She was always trying to get us to deny losses by means that were against regulations, she would argue with me (and others). She looked at costs and expenses totally different then the job required her to. It was a horrible experience that luckily I got out of pretty quickly.

    2. LW*

      Thank you! I did end up getting a full-time position with a substantial pay increase and a wonderful new manager!

    3. Cathie from Canada*

      Wouldn’t you love to have responded “Yes, I did have a problem with my TPS reports but it won’t happen again”
      I wonder if she would have gotten the reference?

  17. DCompliance*

    I so wish the me of now could go back in time and tell myself to get up and walk after the 15 minute mark. If the point was made in the first 15 minutes and it lasted for an hour, than that is not direct. It is just abusive.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      Right? She wasted an hour of everyone’s time saying something that 1) would’ve taken 30 seconds to say, 2) should’ve been an email. (“Hey OP, please use our new system, thanks.”)

      I’ve had higher ed calculus lectures that were shorter.

      That’s not “clear and direct” in my book.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I hope you smile knowingly. I have found that once I make decisions like this, I never face that particular situation again. I guess the resolve oozes out our pores or something and they some how know not to mess with us?

  18. GreenDoor*

    I have saved myself from more than one embarassing moment in my time as a manager by assuming good intent. Nine times out of ten, the person has a reasonable (if incorrect) basis for doing the thing they’ve been doing and, truly, just a few sentaces of redirection is all that’s needed.

    1. Not So NewReader*

      Yep. Listen to their “why”. It becomes apparent what they are trying to do and how to help them accomplish it correctly the next time.

      OP’s boss had very little self-confidence. My self-confidence is not always were it should be but I do know that sometimes I can piece together repairs or solutions. It might take a minute but eventually we can land on something. OP’s boss just telegraphed that she thinks she has NO ability to remedy even small problems. That is what meltdowns are, they are the belief that the situation is out of hand and not fixable.

  19. Glacier*

    How have new managers navigated figuring out when something is small enough to let slide and/or just a personal work-style preference, and when it’s Something that needs to be raised?

    I’m a new manager and manage an employee who transitioned from more administrative/clerical work to more analytical work last year. (So we’re both new and figuring things out.)

    I know that I have A Certain Way of doing things, and worry that I’ll be too heavy-handed if I mention *everything* I see, so I do the opposite and raise almost nothing. I don’t know when I should speak up and my boss is not the most nuanced in general so I don’t want to raise it with them.

    Would appreciate hearing from Alison or other managers on how they learned to find that balance. Thanks!

    1. NotAnotherManager!*

      My bar is whether or not their way is getting the job done efficiently and effectively without making more work for other people with a dash of whether or not standardization of process is necessary to allow for transition of work/cross-training/coverage.

      I am an A Certain Way kind of person, and have really had to get over that as my job is to make sure work gets done versus doing the work myself. One thing that really helped conquer this is that I have had some really great people find better ways to do things than I had, and we’re going to go with the best way, even if it not mine. If I forced them into my way, we wouldn’t have found a better way to do it.

      We do have some situation where my way is the right way, even if it seems like more steps or not the best way, and, when we have those, I make sure I can articulate the rationale behind that way (usually, there are extra steps for major risk avoidance that may not be obvious to someone new to the process). When people understand the why behind what they’re doing, they are more effective, too.

    2. WantonSeedStitch*

      It can be tricky! A lot of the work my team does ends up in written product, and drawing the line between “I think it sounds better this way” and “I think it’s clearer/more accurate this way” is difficult. I try to look at work product/work behavior from the point of view of those who will be affected by it, whether that’s a client or co-workers. Will the thing that the person is doing fulfill its function for them? Will it make it harder for them to do their jobs, or will it give them what they need without requiring extra effort on their part? If you’re not sure, one thing you can do is to tell the employee to seek feedback from the recipients of their work, just to make sure they’re getting what they need: “When I was providing the Llama Report to the grooming team, I did it this way. I don’t want to tell you that the changes you made are wrong because it’s different from how I did it, but can you check in with the groomers and ask them if this format works for them? Let me know what they say.”

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I started sorting this one by targeting safety issues. Rules for safety are pretty clear cut. And safety violations are fairly obvious and very easy to explain to explain why something is not safe. (In your case, legal/ethical/policy stuff could be baseline, too.)
      Safety (and other such baselines) is also a very good thing to have under control.

      Then I moved to actual errors, especially recurring errors. Recurring errors involve asking what is happening and why and tracing the problem through. Avoid blaming someone until you can actually see they are to blame. It’s amazing how many errors are in systems and the employee takes the hit for it needlessly. When you do find out they are causing the problem, just explain what they should do instead. Wait for questions or concerns- it’s a conversation not a lecture.

      Some large errors only need to happen once and it’s a disaster. For large errors I thought about prevention. How can I prevent those one time large errors?
      One thing, I could make sure that I was approachable. I made sure that people could come tell me they spotted a problem. EVEN, if they were wrong and it was not a problem, I made sure to thank them for being diligent. And I said any time they had a concern they could check with me (Or other assigned person who I had chosen for practical reasons.)
      I could also encourage the group to think together to solve some of these harder questions. I used their solutions as often as possible. I am a big fan of saying the people who are actually doing the work should be able to a) have say in what tools that are purchased and b) have say in how work flows and SOPs are set up.
      The people doing the work often know how best to handle it for higher accuracy and speed. Listen to their ideas and pick the best of their best.
      There’s also teaching opportunities here. You can add modest tweaks to their ideas where necessary and explain why you are doing this tweak. The next time that person will bring you a much sharper idea because of your inputs this time.

      So start with:
      1) Safety. Physical safety, legal, ethics issues and company policies. While you do this part you will have an opportunity to observe what else is going on.

      2) Recurring mistakes are easy to find.

      3) But along the way you might notice a problem that could become a large mistake. You can build in stop gaps or alter the situation so larger mistakes do not happen.

      Try to keep in mind that most people prefer to hear what not to do, BEFORE they do it. If you wait until after they do it, it’s upsetting for them and you.

      A Certain Way of doing things. Most people do things a certain way so they remember all the steps. As long as she is remembering all the steps then it’s probably not a big deal. It can become a big deal if her work is constantly late and/or error filled. To get out of my own mindset, sometimes I asked myself is their way actually better than what I was doing? This question was helpful. If it doesn’t make a material difference in the end item and the item is on time, then hold off and decide later.

    4. Cedrus Libani*

      My thoughts, as an employee: I don’t mind being told precisely what to do and how to do it. If that’s all you want, frankly you should hire someone cheaper, but I’m willing and able to follow a procedure to the letter. Bonus points if I ask why things should be done A Certain Way, and (within reason) you treat that as me wanting to learn and do a better job for you, rather than insubordination.

      You can also point me at a problem and tell me to fix it. I’m good at that. But I might not fix it precisely as you would have. I really, REALLY hate it when I’m sent off with barely a hand-wave, but the boss expected Their Way and are upset that I did it Other Way. I’m not psychic! If you want me to know what you want, tell me.

  20. The Man, Becky Lynch*

    This is up there with “I’m honest to a fault! I hurt feelings but it’s okay because I’m just being honest!”

    This woman lacks bedside manner, being direct means getting to the point, then dropping the damn bone and getting back to the rest of the day. Never ever is it okay to berate others and keep them held captive audience while you continue to directly tell them that they messed up. She’s just a full grown mean girl at some point.

    1. The Grey Lady*

      Funny how those people who are “honest to a fault” can never be honest about their own mistakes or shortcomings.

      1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

        I love this. I haven’t even thought of it that way before.

        They’re just professional gaslighters, lbr.

    2. PartialToPort*

      “Dropping the damn bone” is a great way to put it. Some folks, finding themselves at any kind of advantage, have to get every single bit of juice out of it before they’ll let it go.

    3. Anon4This*

      Drives me nuts – being honest and being mean are NOT synonymous, and, in managing, being mean undermines any legitimate message you had. (And sure, we’ve all that that employee who thought you were being mean to them any time you asked them to do something differently next time or fix a mistake, but they’re not the norm and should not be used as an excuse to be a jerk to your direct reports.)

  21. Teekanne aus Schokolade*

    Another feedback methodology that works with my professional, adult English students is this:

    I always explain at the start of the course that there are three types of errors:
    1. Slip ups: happen just once, don’t interfere with understanding. I do not correct these.
    2. Local errors: more frequent, but don’t interfere with understanding. I correct these 20-30% of the time only, as having confidence to even speak full sentences is most important. Get the task done and benefit from a sense of achievement!
    3. Global mistakes: meaning is totally lost, always corrected.

    Universally applicable, unless perfect accuracy is absolutely required which it almost never is in most professions.

    1. The Man, Becky Lynch*

      I like this system! As someone who’s come into contact with too many people who take pleasure in correcting people over the most minor bullsh*t, I’m relieved when I see others in teaching/management avoid that kind of behavior. It causes harm and puts people on the defensive in the end, which is the opposite of what you want when you want someone to change their practice

  22. Bunch of violets*

    If you’ve read Kim Scott’s book Radical Candor, it sounds like the boss has slipped into what she calls “obnoxious aggression,” which gets the candor right but fails long-term because it doesn’t balance the candor with empathy.

    (She calls the opposite problem “ruinous empathy,” where there’s no candor.)

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      Seriously, Radical Candor was the book that really got me through working for a Jamie. People talk about how it’s a great book for managers, but it’s also really (indirectly) good for helping direct reports receive feedback from “obnoxious aggression types.

    2. Spencer Hastings*

      I should read this! (Is there a 2×2 matrix? I think I had a teacher once who was “no empathy AND no candor”…*lolsob*)

      1. Bunch of violets*

        It is a quadrant! That corner is “malicious insincerity.” The worst of the quadrants.

  23. Batgirl*

    Jamie is the type who would use a hammer just to crack a nut. That may be a direct approach, but it’s not going to achieve anything but smashed nuts.

  24. HR Ninja*

    It’s like that expression/meme. “I hate the expression, ‘He’s really nice once you get to know him.’ You might as well say, ‘He’s a dick. Get used to it.'”

  25. Tex*

    Op, the meeting wasn’t about feedback, candid or otherwise, at all. It was about Jamie flexing her managerial perogatives and taking the opportunity for a power trip.

    1. Elbe*

      I tend to agree with this. If it was simply about fixing an issue, it would have been over the second that they issue was conveyed and the LW understood.

  26. Elbe*

    Honestly isn’t the only virtue. As others have pointed out, the “brutally honest” types often struggle with all of the OTHER personality traits that make someone a good communicator. A lot of them tend to get opinions and facts confused. And a lot of them don’t seem to understand that something can simply be kept to yourself.

    But what most of them also don’t realize is that the value of “honesty” really hinges on the quality of the thoughts/opinions/ideas that an individual has. Saying what you truly think only benefits people if what you truly think is valuable in some way. If someone is a jerk, sharing their views honestly will just accurately reflect the fact they’re a jerk. If someone is hyper-critical, or lacking empathy, or ill informed, their honest feedback will mirror those qualities.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      +1. The opinions vs. facts thing gets tricky with these types because they will often come back with the idea that the distinction between an opinion versus a fact is, in fact, a matter of opinion.They may also struggle with the idea that someone could have an issue with their conclusions not because they don’t agree, but because of what they have or haven’t taken into account. A big part of what’s going on there is that they don’t weigh their emotional responses against other information available to them, which is a total dead-end when it comes to giving useful feedback.

    2. Scarlet2*

      I read somewhere that before saying something, you should ask yourself if it’s kind, if it’s true and if it’s necessary.

  27. MasterOfBears*

    I find it helps to make it a conversation, rather than a command. “Hey, I see you reticulated your splines that way. I like to reticulate my splines this way, because X,Y,and Z – what do you think?” And then listen to what they say – like NotAnotherManager said, you learn some great new things that way! Or maybe your way is better, and you’re doing them a favor. Or maybe both ways are fine, but it’s no problem to adjust the process so it’s standardized, or you get the output you prefer.

  28. Lady Heather*

    I haven’t had a boss like that, but I’ve had such a parent. What I eventually realized was that everything after “you did x wrong and you need to do it y way in the future” was not feedback, but punishment – trying to make me feel bad/sad/worthless for minor and trivial mistakes – and that realization helped me to basically ignore it and let it slide off.

    I hope other advice here can help you avoid being on the receiving end of a tirade at all, but if you do find yourself in such a position, maybe this will help.

    1. Third or Nothing!*

      Are we siblings? My dad is the same way! I finally got fed up and told him, when I was 25 years old mind you, that he can’t speak to me that way and if he’s going to yell and berate me then I’m going to end the conversation. He still has his tantrums from time to time but they’ve lessened significantly now that I’ve drawn a firm boundary. Reading some other comments, that seems to be a popular suggestion.

      Now I’m wondering how well the tactics I use to calm my toddler’s tantrums would work on an adult tantrum. Someone use the line “You’re upset about X” or “You really wanted me to Y” and report back!

  29. fhgwhgads*

    What this manager did is like…if someone said “really good pitchers can throw 100mph” and she concluded because she can throw 100mph, she must be a great pitcher…ignoring the need to also pitch in the strike zone, have a deceptive delivery, not hit batters, not give up home runs and extra base hits, hold runners on, not balk, field the position…

  30. Office Space*

    well if Jamie does read this site I hope that pitiful excuse for a manager reads this. YOU ARE A JOKE JAMIE AND NOT FIT FOR MANAGEMENT!

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

    Wow! 2 observations:

    1) I inferred (based more on reading between the lines and applying my own experience rather than what was explicitly said in the letter, so I am open to be corrected or shut down for “speculating too much”!) that Jamie is a new manager but probably not new to the company as such. It seems that Jamie has taken on the “clear and direct feedback” (which I agree is a good thing) and just … doesn’t quite know how to apply it, or (OP) do you think there is actual hurtful intent behind it?

    She was speaking so much that I never got a chance to say another word, throughout the whole meeting, even though I did try.

    For a whole hour!!
    I’m a fairly talkative and verbose person myself (I don’t go into ‘rants’ or berate people, but I can get carried away with enthusiasm in talking about a subject that interests me probably more than it interests the other person…) and even I can only manage a max of about 15 minutes continuously talking about “whatever the topic is” before it fizzles out.

    (I’d emphasise, I totally believe you and I’m not doubting you at all, but just trying to understand) — I’m finding it difficult to imagine what a 60-minute “feedback” session, especially if it is actually just being berated about accidentally following an old process, would consist of. What can possibly take up a whole hour, is it just the same thing being reiterated over and over? Asking for more and more explanations of “why oh why you took this disrespectful action” or something?!

    2) I emailed my supervisor with the weekends I would be working my other job, and she emailed back to say we should meet with Jamie and her assistant the next week. The tone was upbeat and I didn’t realize yet that I had made an error by using our old process for scheduling.

    This part is what makes me think there’s more to this story. As presented, if I were the ‘old’ supervisor I’d write back (or call, skype, or whatever) and say something like: oh hey, I noticed you emailed me with this but now Jamie is actually in charge of this so you probably need to liaise with her instead. Not just propose a meeting with Jamie and her assistant!

    3) Yes, I know I said 2 points, but this just occurs to me now I’ve written this out and then re-read the letter to check it makes sense (my response, I mean, not the letter itself, obviously!)…. it seems clear to me that there’s some kind of ‘political’ situation in which people are moved under Jamie’s management for some political reason. What makes me think this, primarily, is that you were “called into a meeting” with “all three of your supervisors” (your previous supervisor, Jamie, and Jamie’s assistant I’m assuming) and then berated like this. Typically in a normal organization (!) once you’re assigned to a different manager, you’d mostly interact with that manager with minimal involvement from the old one.

    I can’t quite put my finger on it as I have had 4 days of hell with various things and just need to rest right now, but I “smell a rat” here. I do feel very strongly though that there is more to unpick here than just “manager taking ‘clear and direct feedback’ to an extreme” as characterized in the official answer. Apologies if I am off-base, maybe it gives something to think about even if I am wrong about that.

    1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      From my reading:
      -This is an organization where someone in OP’s position would typically have their managerial oversight split between their supervisor and manager
      -Jamie is a manager of supervisors, who replaced the first manager OP mentioned
      -OP is two levels away from Jamie

      This sounds like a situation where there was always some confusion over the role of supervisors vs. managers, and that it may have become more unclear once Jamie took over. That speaks more to a political situation that isn’t about OP rather than one that’s about OP being assigned to a bad manager For Reasons, if that’s what you’re getting at.

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

        It very well could be; although that’s not what I read from the OP I am often wrong about things and always open to being corrected! :-)

        It seems to me that there are 3 “management” type people involved here: OPs prior supervisor, Jamie, and Jamie’s assistant. Maybe it’s due to a nuance of the wording and Jamie’s assistant is actually the fabled “Assistant Manager” vs “Assistant to the Manager”, but I think (especially as everyone with any kind of awareness is aware of that ‘meme’ already) that OP made it clear that Jamie’s assistant is a genuine assistant.

        If the “manager of supervisors” is one level removed from OP then why would they be giving direct feedback? I mean, I expect they could (I’ve never been a “manager of managers”, just a “manager of individuals”, and I’d have expected in the usual course of events that any feedback would get passed down the ‘chain of command’) but it seems unusual.

        1. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

          So taking another read, you’re right in that they’re three management-related people involved, yet I’m still not sure that fundamentally changes OP’s reporting relationship to Jamie.

          As for the chain of command issue, what OP is describing wouldn’t be unusual in a dotted line reporting situation – like it’s very possible, given the context of how they described Jamie’s predecessor, that OP has a solid-line relationship with Jamie and is dotted-line with her other supervisors. In that situation it would make sense that Jamie would provide feedback and performance review-type stuff and the dotted-line supervisors handle project/operational stuff. This also makes sense when a “manager of managers” is in fact a “manager of supervisors/team leads/some other people with limited authority”.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      For a boss to go on an hour long rant is not that unusual. I have seen it more than once both with others as well as myself. There’s a lot of toxic bosses out there. I’d seriously recommend rethinking what you have written here. And I am not sure how telling the OP that you smell a rat here helps the OP. I don’t think OP is the rat in this story and I am almost sure that is not where you were going with this. We are supposed to take OPs at their word and read the letter at face value.

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

        I’ve just read your response and I’m sorry if my original reply came off the wrong way!

        I wasn’t saying at all that I smell a rat about the story/OP itself, but rather, “I smell a rat” in the sense that I’ve sort of got this sense that there is maybe something a bit more suspicious going on in the company.. as in, I smell a rat about something that is happening politically within the company (or individual managers maybe), especially as OP stated that this had happened to multiple other people.

        Sorry, I may not have made that clear enough. I didn’t “smell a rat” about the OPs letter, but rather, I think there is something going on in the company that may yield to further investigation.

        …I have however been on the receiving end of various rants from bosses, even about serious mistakes and it may have seemed like an hour but it wasn’t actually, was more like 20 mins.

      2. Koala dreams*

        I doubt the boss is the only bad manager in that place, it seems very odd to me that she can drive away so many people without someone above her taking notice and putting a stop to it. It’s perhaps common with badly managed companies, but that’s more reason to be suspicious of them, not less.

  32. Tangerina Warbleworth*

    Jamie is insecure. I’ll bet money that deep down, Jamie is telling herself that everyone thinks she’s joke, because SHE thinks she’s a joke. If she’s convinced that everyone thinks she’s a joke, she feels compelled to be awful and mean to show how not-a-joke she is.

    If you understand this, it may help you let her tirades roll off you, until you’re either able to take action with HR, or able to leave.

    1. LW*

      I completely agree. I actually did end up leaving the company, for a full-time role with a substantial pay increase and a wonderful new manager :)

  33. JRA*

    It’s so helpful to see a post spelling out the difference like this. I’ve spent the past 7 months in a company that prides itself at giving lots of feedback, and was having a really hard time trying to articulate what felt wrong about it. It’s all been serious feedback meetings and extension of probation period and weekly meetings with my manager and the managing partner – all to fix issues that were largely about adapting my style of work to the corporate style preferred in this company. It would have been so much less burdensome and anxiety-inducing if they had adopted a collaborative tone!

    1. Not So NewReader*

      As I read your post here all I could think of was “brain washing”. ugh.

      It sounds like they should have explained to you want is expected rather than waiting for you to trip up.

  34. LW*

    Thank you Alison! Your reply, as well as all of the comments, all make so much sense, and really help me understand the difference between constructive feedback and the demoralizing meeting I had with Jamie. I hope others can find use in this as well!

    1. Pennyworth*

      I really hope Jamie is a follower of AAM as you suspect and reads and learns from Alison. If you notice an improvement and update would be interesting!

  35. TootsNYC*

    some of it is just how long you keep talking about it.
    It’s not just tone of voice that makes it a lecture. It’s how long you keep at it, as well. And whether you just keep saying the same thing.

    Shorter and concise is far more respectful. It assumes that you are capable of comprehending (that’s respectful) and that you can be trusted to WANT to make the changes (also respectful).

    Going on and on makes it seem as though really your goal is to punish, and to admonish, and not to communicate.

    1. Aggretsuko*


      If you’ve ever seen the movie Click, it makes its point halfway through and then just fucking ANVILS IT INTO THE GROUND. Don’t do that.

  36. Colorado*

    “assume positive intent” is my mantra. It definitely helps in determining f*cks you’re willing to sacrifice.

  37. Sparkles McFadden*

    Decades ago, my father told me that his boss was a yeller. He would scream at everyone, all of the time. My father printed up sign that said “If you don’t know, yell” and put it up in his cubicle. According to my father, the boss asked about the sign and my father told him that, when you yell, you seem defensive so people assume you don’t know what you’re talking about. He told his boss he put it up to remind himself that yelling at his coworkers would be counter productive. The yelling toned down considerably after that.

    I stole that idea years later. It still worked.

  38. Goldenrod*

    Alison’s reply is SPOT ON. I especially love this part:
    “Also, “clear and direct” doesn’t mean pounding someone over the head with it. Much of the time when giving feedback, a few sentences is all that’s necessary!”

    I have a mean boss who really unnecessarily belabors the point, makes up stories about my mindset (always wrong) and intentions (always bad, in her imagination), and tries to shame me about really small, inconsequential things. The last time she shared “feedback,” it was so unnecessarily harsh. And I had already acknowledged the mistake, apologized, explained what had happened and did what I could to fix it.

    Not good enough! She wanted an abject apology. So weird. Managers like this simply have mental disorders (I suspect she has untreated bipolar…..)

  39. 30 Years in the Biz*

    There are two clues that Jamie might be a narcissist. One is that she created a big drama for nothing and roped in three other supervisors to witness her berating you and your ability to work. The fact that she monopolized the whole hour is another clue. Narcissists speak a lot, but don’t listen very well. Doing this same thing to other people is a sign too. Because there weren’t other details about her regular behavior it’s hard to tell 100% that she’s a narcissist – Is she charming and persuasive when she wants to be? Does she sometimes break rules? Does she deflect criticism and place blame on others? These are other signs of a narcissist. I’m hopeful things are better for you now and you’ll never see behavior like this again in your career. If you’re still working for Jamie, there are some articles online about how to cope.

  40. Malty*

    I couldn’t speak for 60 minutes on my favourite subjects. I would physically run out of energy and spiritually yeet from my own body

  41. Fancy Owl*

    The irony is, I don’t even think Jamie is even being direct or honest. I’d bet money that if she really was being honest she would be saying, “I have issues with wanting to feel in control of this group and with your respect and loyalty to your previous supervisor. But I’m handling that by blowing small problems into big ones as a way to exert my authority”. If I were you I probably would keep job hunting and not confront Jaime. She seems like the kind of person who would double down and write you up for insubordination. I’d either talk to a trusted person above Jaime about it or wait until you get another job and mention it in your exit interview or resignation letter if you won’t need a reference from Jamie.

  42. staceyizme*

    There’s an old saying- you can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear: you can’t make something that is attractive or of value of something that is ugly or inferior. It sounds like your manager wants “credit” for being good at giving “clear and direct” feedback completely without regard for the substance of the process. She’s left a lot of destruction in her wake. I don’t work in an environment where it’s even possible to have a one hour meeting about any aspect of my behavior. Well, I guess it IS possible but the likelihood is remote. WHY would you sit through a one hour stream of abuse without advocating for yourself? The fact that your boss did this several times says something about the culture of the organization. Because most managers, evened exacting and hard nosed ones, don’t have the time or energy to spare for something that’s basically an “oops”. And asking others to sit in on a meeting like that is really bizarre, to me. Because about three paragraphs into the diatribe, MAX, most would be wondering what their doing there and why this merited more than a mention. So sorry that happened to you, OP! Best of luck on your new gig! (And if the Bad Pointy Haired Boss Lady does read this site, perhaps she’ll get a clue. Unlikely. But for the sake of other employees, we can at least hope so.)

    1. LW*

      Thank you! I do think it was indicative of a larger company culture problem. And you’re so right that it was bizarre to have both her assistant and my direct supervisor sit in on the meeting; that made it feel so intense for such an easily fixable error. I could not imagine a meeting like that happening with my new manager!

  43. Cathie from Canada*

    The problem with people who boast about “being honest” and “telling you exactly what I think” is that they never seem to think anything positive or pleasant or helpful or nice.
    I saw a good article once titled “An Excessive Need to be Me” which is relevant to this discussion:
    Basically, we need to make sure we are not indulging in “pointless vanity” by adopting a self-limiting definition of who we are, because such definitions can end up preventing us from doing our job.

  44. CommanderBanana*

    Jamie sucks, and if your organization hasn’t noticed that her department is fleeing, they suck too.

  45. EvilLibraryQueen*

    Thank you for this – I had a meeting very much like the LW describes with Jamie yesterday. ( I missed making a requested change in a series of corrections on a publicity piece and my grandboss accused me of insubordination, repeatedly, for an hour)

    I almost burst into tears, and have been stewing ever since, but now I realize that yes, I made a mistake, but I didn’t deserve a 60 minute lecture about it!

  46. RB*

    I had a boss that sounds pretty similar to the manager described here but she only treated her female subordinates badly — she actually was quite deferential to her male staff members. I’m not suggesting anything like that is going on here because those details weren’t provided, but it was such a bad experience that it’s something I’m always on the alert for now.

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