my employee debates every assignment

A reader writes:

I have a direct report who argues every change or new task that is assigned, including changes the entire team is being asked to comply with. She frequently argues that she feels some other team should be responsible for the task or complains no other team is having to do it and says that she doesn’t understand why we do.

She will do this in meetings in front of others, and I have had other team members approach me about how it is uncomfortable it is to have to listen to her argue every little thing. What advice do you have on how I can curb the interruptions from these arguments and how I should approach her one-on-one about this issue?

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

{ 126 comments… read them below }

    1. Agnes*

      Yeah – this is one of the areas I find theory vs. practice on childrearing is quite different. Before you have them, you think, “I’ll always take the time to explain when my kids ask ‘Why?’ ” And when you do have them, you realize half the time “Why?” is stalling or the children refuse to accept several good reasons, and you start saying, “Because I said so, and I’m in charge.”

      1. It's Elementary My Dear*

        I’ve had a couple of managers (early on) say this to me when I apparently whined too much. I got the drift pretty quick. One explained after the fact (I assume after she had time to reflect on her tone of voice and possibly calm down) that my job was to do what I was assigned and not to question those who made the decisions because there were things in process I was not privy to, probably never would be, and my thoughts really had no bearing on the decisions. She was right.

        1. Beacon of Nope*

          probably never would be

          Holy mackerel – way to write off employees and stunt their development. Good bosses are supposed to want their employees to learn and grow.

          1. Afterwards*

            The professional world doesn’t work that way. Not everything can be explained for ‘growth’, some things need to be done by specific people or that’s it if someone else screws up. They don’t make people managers so everyone who isn’t one can make decisions!

            1. Beacon of Nope*

              Elementary’s manager said they’d probably never reach a decision making position, not just that they weren’t in one now. That’s an alarming thing to say to someone early on. And this was after the manager had calmed down and had time to reflect on her tone.

              1. Essess*

                I didn’t take it that way. I took it that for that specific decision or other decisions coming up while she is in the current role, that OP might never know the entire history of decision and that it wasn’t required in order to expect her to follow the decision.

          2. Trude*

            Not really, though? If that manager was referring to c suite, then I get what she meant. I personally will never reach that level, supportive bosses or not.

          3. Caroline Bowman*

            Sure, unless every. single. tiny. thing is constantly being queried and then it’s a safe bet that they genuinely never will grow or develop because they will be fired or ignored and never taken seriously.

            1. Beacon of Nope*

              And I’ve seen that happen. Still, a better boss would have given them pointers on how to channel that querying instinct more effectively, rather than just smacking them down and telling them they’ll never get what they want.

          4. Dust Bunny*

            That’s a massive assumption. My supervisor has always been very good about taking input but the fact still is that most of the time, my job is to do as I’m told. Since I know they’re not yahoos who make bad decisions, I do it even though it might not be exactly the way I want to do it.

    2. Moooooom!*

      Mom of a 14 year-old here. Most of the time “Why?” actually means “I don’t want to do this!” It rarely means, “Mother who I love, please tell me more about your parenting philosophy regarding increasing my responsibilities so I go out into the world somewhat prepared to adult.”

  1. SomebodyElse*

    I used to get this over mandated compliance and safety training…

    “I have better things to do”
    “This is such a waste of time”
    “Ugg.. I could be getting X, Y, and Z done”
    “Don’t they know I have a real job to do”

    I did snap after months of hearing the same thing from the same people and finally said “Look I get it, this seems like it gets in the way of you being productive ‘in your real job’. But guess what, this is actually part of your job. It’s no different than our day to day work. It’s no more or less important than our other duties. Somewhere somebody made the decision that they are going to pay us to attend and complete these training sessions. So that’s what we are going to do, just like all of those other things they pay us for”

    1. Jane METZGER*

      That’s a GREAT way of dealing with requirements of a job that are compliance, safety training … and other (perhaps) mundane expectations. It explains that this is part of the job that needs to get done.

      1. Moooooom!*

        Timecards is one of those mundane expectations that seems to meet with an unexpected amount of resistance in places where I work.

    2. James*

      Our safety team has added a section that could honestly be titled “Why You Need This” to our annual safety refreshers. Basically it’s 45 minutes of “And here’s another way our team got injured this past year” (often used as ways to quiz us about how we should handle such events). I can tell you from experience it is NOT fun to have your project up on the screen in front of everyone while the room picks apart everything you did wrong. But it gets the point across: We’re here because obviously we need to be here. Until that portion of the presentation is not possible, you don’t get to say you don’t need the training.

      The safety team also presents the impacts it has on the company. The industry we’re in, the people it attracts, simply saying “You could get hurt” isn’t going to convince us to change our ways–it’s a fairly rough-and-tumble line of work, and it attracts people who don’t necessarily consider a few stitches to be a major issue. (To be clear, the attitude is that ME getting stitches is fine; YOU getting stitches is a catastrophic event.) Explaining that we risked losing a contract, or that a project had negative margins due to medical expenses, or that we blew a regulation-driven deadline grabs their attention. Maybe it shouldn’t be that way, but that’s the way it is, so the safety team uses it to drive the message home.

      1. Environmental Compliance*

        Environmental portion of the HSE team, but all my environmental training is set up this way. I start out with “and here’s why we have environmental regulations…. deadly smog, Cuyahoga river fires, and the Love Canal fiasco. People *died*. People got very sick. We had *huge* loss of environmental quality and of quality of life. This is why companies have people like me here, and why you have requirements in your job to follow our policies. Part of your job is to prevent pollution. And let’s say we didn’t care, and didn’t do any of that? Well, that’s a violation of federal regulation. That means the government can shut us down, can fine us – at $25000 per violation per day, that adds up. People can go to jail. So even if you don’t care about pollution, do you really want to lose your job and potentially go to jail? Because I ain’t going to jail for you.”

        1. James*

          Our company has plenty of those as well. I’m not allowed to say environmental training is a waste of time, not since we sort of mixed waste streams and accidently generated some extra listed hazardous waste. We did what we thought was right, based on our understanding of the regs. We were informed that our understanding was inadequate to the task. Learned to ALWAYS bring the waste management specialists in!

          The Cuyahoga River thing is a bit amusing, in a morbid sort of way. I spoke to some folks that lived there back when that all happened. Apparently the people there considered the burning of the river normal. The newspapers all freaked out; the locals went “Yeah, it’s summer. River’s burning. What’s the problem?”

        2. TardyTardis*

          We’ve gone through something like this in my home town–compliance over restaurant procedures in re covid have been um, BAD. Yes, that’s the word. It took one openly defiant restaurant being fined a Considerable Sum of Money and mentioned on the front page of the newspaper before people decided ‘oh hey not worth it’.

        3. Texan In Exile*

          I was so horrified in that scene in “Chernobyl” where the workers in the control room pointed to the process manual and told their boss, “But – we’re supposed to do this” and the boss told them to ignore the process manual.

          We have processes and procedures for a reason.

      2. Seven If You Count Bad John*

        Somewhere, possibly even on this very site, I saw a remark from a safety professional that said that when they were in training, they got a copy of their regulations that was all marked up and highlighted. The instructor says “Every marked regulation or procedure is there because someone died.” There were no unmarked regs. “Your regulations are written in blood”.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          Graphic alert.

          I worked with a person who had to gather up the parts after one such accident.
          It’s the kind of thing that one never forgets.

          We’ve come so far with safety that a good number of people never realize that they can walk into work and go out in a body bag. We take for granted what our predecessors fought hard for all of us to have.

          1. All the cats 4 me*

            I *am* the person who attended the accident that involved body parts and put those body parts on ice in case they could be reattached.

            I *am* the person who sat with the employee who fell from the roof waiting for the ambulance and holding his hand, trying to keep him warm without moving him, trying to keep him calm.

            I *am* the person who attended the man who had his hand crushed in a front-end loader incident, who unwrapped the bloody paper towel (why is it always a bloody paper towel?) to see the bone coming through the skin.

            I *am* the person who sat in the back seat applying pressure and adding compress after compress as they soaked through with blood while a colleague drove us to the hospital because we couldn’t wait for the ambulance.

            Safety training matters. Good attitude to safety matters.

            1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

              I had a great-grandfather who died as a result of getting crushed between cars in a coal mine. From reading accounts of the few days he lingered, it would have been better if he’d died on the s it. One of his son’s, a great-uncle I never got to meet, died in a mine fire. The owner had them sealed in alive so the fire wouldn’t spread. No safety regulations in the early 20th century, and these were common incidents in many industries.

              1. virago*

                I am sorry. Nobody should die the way these men did. The emotional scars on your family must have been, and still be, intense ones.

                And reading some of the reflections last year, on the 10th anniversary of the 29 deaths in the Upper Big Branch explosion, shows that those responsible for protecting the health and safety of miners – company officials, federal regulators, Congress — still aren’t doing their job.

                1. Self Employed*

                  I am baffled why coal miners want to keep the coal mining industry alive to keep those difficult and dangerous jobs instead of being retrained to install solar panels or wind turbines. Is it the career equivalent of extreme sports, or just a fear of change?

      1. Retail Not Retail*

        In retail land, they were the best. A refresher on alcohol regs before a new law goes into effect? Don’t mind if I do.

        Now my job is outdoors and active and oh when we have some indoor thing in summer – boring?! There are cookies and AC, what more do you want?

      2. James*

        Depends on how it’s done. If I’m in the office and there’s food involved I’m there! If nothing else, it means I can have that quick chat with my colleague that’s been avoiding me because his report is late, that sort of thing. Plus, it’s free food and easy work! I’ve done a LOT worse for a paycheck!

        Or, if it’s a slow day, yeah, I’ll knock out some required training modules. Nothing else going on, and it keeps me billable. May as well, you know?

        But if I’m on a jobsite and need to break away to do some training that doesn’t apply to that job I get annoyed. I mean I do it–part of my job is to be seen doing my job, including having all the training necessary–but I’m not going to be happy about it. It’s time I could put to better use, or at least seems that way in the moment.

      3. starsaphire*

        I’m with you. I am on the clock, drinking my coffee and eating my muffin, and watching a thirty-minute video. It’s actually a nice start to the day.

        Way better than all those bloody meetings, that’s for sure.

    3. Cat Tree*

      A few years ago there was a guy in my department who was furious that he didn’t land in the top bracket during his annual performance review. But, he didn’t get his trainings done on time. This includes safety trainings plus a bunch of other stuff. I guess he felt that he was too important to be bothered with such mundane stuff. Here’s the thing though. The highest level people on our site take the exact same trainings as AND manage to get them done on time. Staying up-to-date on training is something that regulatory agencies always look at, and the expectation to get it done is made extremely clear from all levels of management. Plus, it’s usually quite easy to do in less than an hour a week, probably less than half an hour most weeks. There are occasional longer ones that everyone hates, and even the shorter ones are often tedious. But you know this is a requirement of your job so just … suck it up and do it? And don’t expect to get extra rewards when you can’t manage your basic job functions. His complaints really rubbed me the wrong way, since everyone he complained to had managed to get their trainings done on time.

      1. LizM*

        Yup. I spend so much time bugging my team to complete the required safety and internal compliance trainings. They’re boring. They’re the same every year. But they’re easy to knock out and they’re in our internal training system for months. If I can’t trust you to get them done by the deadline without my micromanagement, how can I be sure you’re doing the other mundane but necessary parts of your job?

    4. Not So NewReader*

      I can offer one thing here. If I actually did all the trainings I was supposed to attend then I would never do any work.

      I think that there has to be a single point of coordination for all these trainings so that management can clearly see just how much time is spent on training.

      I have no beef about any particular training. My concern is that training itself is becoming a 40 hour a week job. No one seems to be keeping an eye on this.

    5. Wenike*

      I work healthcare so a lot of our mandated trainings are federally mandated and the company can and will fire anybody who does not complete it by the due date. And since its annual, you know its going to come back up and its not a surprise.

  2. Keymaster of Gozer*

    I’ve had one particular staff member basically turn every safety briefing into a ‘but whyyyyy do I have to do that?’ whingefest. He didn’t/doesn’t want to wear masks/distance/sanitise equipment because it’s more work for him.

    At first I tried to explain why (even brought in an old virology textbook or two). Then I just tried straight up ignoring him, which didn’t work because he talked over everyone else. I eventually got to ‘I’ve told you 98 times why you have to do this. Either do your job or leave’.

    I’m ashamed to admit the next time he started on the ‘but whyyyyyy me’ stuff I basically shot back that I pay him to work, not make up excuses for NOT working. (I get autocratic when annoyed. Believe me I’m working on it). He’s since shut up but gives me death glares most days. That…I can actually deal with.

    1. Coffee Bean*

      I actually think you gave an appropriate response to your direct report. It is the truth, and he needed to hear it.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        Ish… I know responding in anger, or annoyance isn’t a good managerial trait. Nor is basically saying ‘I have authority over you therefore you have to do everything I say’. It was effective I grant you, but not my best moment.

        Trying to avoid future errors is a large part of why I read this site regularly!

        1. Observer*

          Nor is basically saying ‘I have authority over you therefore you have to do everything I say’.

          If you take out the word “everything”, I think that sometime this actually is a very appropriate response. Sometimes you really DO need to pull rank.

          1. Antilles*

            Especially when it comes to safety, because there’s often no real room for compromise or negotiations; there is a correct answer in order to perform the work safely and that’s that.
            If an employee has questions, suggestions, or wants to have a real discussion about the impact on their job, then absolutely you should explain and discuss. And the first time you lay out a new policy, it’s good to describe what it’s intended to solve and ask for opinions because people who have to do the job on a day to day basis often do have legitimate objections or process improvements.
            But if you’ve already explained it and all he wants to do is whine about it, then sometimes you just have to shut it down hard. “This is not up for debate; safety is a core tenet of our company, you know our protocol requires masks and proper sanitizing of equipment. Can I expect you to follow our requirements going forwards?”

          2. Keymaster of Gozer*

            That’s…a really good point. I used to be extremely authoritarian earlier in my career and maybe I’ve forgotten how useful it can be instead of just a bad trait I had to adapt.

            Going to have a long think.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              There are different management styles of different situations.
              In an extreme example, yelling at your employees- “This way! We can escape the fire THIS WAY!” is 200% appropriate. If you feel bad later, you can say, “Sorry I yelled,” but get them out of the building first so you CAN apologize to them. There are some times when a commanding (take charge) approach is absolutely necessary.

              My wise friend talked about the rule of three. When you see something three times you have a recurring issue. One of the things I like about the rule of three is that my anger/irritation is in check. I can calmly state: We have been over this twice and this is the third time we are going over this. What’s up?” It works like a gauge for me, I no longer have to wait until I am annoyed to point to a difficulty. I know at the third instance of a given issue, I am going in on that for a talk, period.

              I am a big believer in planning out what to say in a quiet moment. I used travel time to and from work to plan what to say to a whining or nagging person. Back to my rule of three; I used the second instance as an alert to myself to line up what I would say if I saw a third instance.

              I remember one time, two very tall employees had their fists in the air, they were about to start hitting each other. I yelled, “That’s enough!” Since I seldom raised my voice, since I seldom even said anything in a stern tone, I absolutely startled the crap out of them and they dropped their fists. There is nothing wrong with using a big voice or giving marching orders when an extreme situation occurs. You don’t have to lose that part of you entirely, you just refine how and when you will use it. That one place I worked, it seemed that maybe once every few years something would cause me to get loud/authoritarian. That was about it. I think realizing I could pull that card out if need be actually helped me to work at finding different ways of handling some of the weird stuff that came up.

              1. RebelwithMouseyHair*

                I like the rule of three. I used it with my children. I would ask them to do something, for example stop running with the lollipop in their mouth. They say OK, but then they forget and I remind them. The third time, I would get angry at them. I would say one reminder should be enough, after that I’ll get angry and it’ll be on you. They always agreed that repeating something three times was too much.

              2. Texan In Exile*

                In an extreme example, yelling at your employees- “This way! We can escape the fire THIS WAY!” is 200% appropriate.

                This makes me think of Ernest Shackleton. I get the impression he was kind of a jerk – but he got every single man home alive. (The pets, including Mrs Chippy, didn’t make it. :( )

                I can take jerkiness in service of saving lives.

          3. Derjungerludendorff*

            Agreed. Safety regulations is one of those things where you can absolutely use your power to make people comply.
            Safety is just too important to be open for negotiation or discussion.

            It’s good to be aware of the power you have, and to try to use that responsibly! But I think being a good manager also means knowing when you need to make a decision that people disagree with, and overrule them if necessary.

            And I do think that any more discussion would have been pointless by the time you overruled that guy. You already showed you were reasonable by hearing complaints, explaining your reasons and backing up your decisions. And since that guy didn’t have any meaningful arguments and wasn’t open to being convinced, there wasn’t anything else you could achieve. So overruling him to prevent any more time-wasting is the right choice at that point.

        2. staceyizme*

          It sounds like constant complainers/ objectors do a “bait and switch”. Their objection or complaint is ostensibly something that you, the manager, have to overcome. I wonder if a “resist the resistance” mindset could be useful in this context? I do this with problem behaviors in some clients, just derail the context that the behavior flourishes in. So, when Objector-Perfecter starts in with some version of “why do we need this…?” or “why do we have to do this?”- just use any suitable version of refusing to justify-argue-defend-explain. They’re baiting a hook. Resisting the bait isn’t unjust or even unkind. It’s setting the expectation that sometimes you just have to get ON with whatever the task at hand is. Used judiciously, this could shut some of the back-and-forth down.

          1. Not So NewReader*

            I like this a lot.

            You can go with, “It’s company mandated. If we don’t do it we can’t keep our jobs.”
            “You are going to go over the rules for this work place. If you are not following the rules, it could mean dismissal in some instances.”

            For repeats, you can always say, “I have already answered that question.”

    2. Esmeralda*

      Is this someone you really have to have working for you? Because I’m sure Mr Whingey is annoying everyone else with how much time he is wasting, even for people who may agree with him.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        The process of getting rid of staff, especially for our company in the UK is really lengthy (unless it involves massive misdemeanour). Believe me if he continues being adversarial there’s a formal talk in the future and possibly a performance review.

        1. Keymaster of Gozer*

          Oops, adding: if however he actually shows up to work without a mask/hovers close to others/sneezes on equipment he is GONE. I believe his whining to be just that and not threats of actual behaviour.

          1. Generic Name*

            But whining is a behavior. Is that a behavior you would like to see continue? I don’t see why you can’t set a boundary and enforce it.

            1. Massmatt*

              Keymaster has just given the reason–it is extremely difficult to get rid of someone there, which is the ultimate means of enforcing a change in behavior. This doesn’t mean Keymaster likes it, or wants it to continue, it means it’s difficult to change.

            2. Keymaster of Gozer*

              Under (UK) employment law I cannot just fire someone for insubordination. There has to be a process. I’m quite prepared to start noting it as a serious performance issue if it keeps up but I cannot threaten someone with losing their job.

              Unless it’s seriously egregious. Whining isn’t.

          2. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

            It’s whining that triggers a bunch of other compensatory behaviours in the form of you having to either tell him to STFU or muster the restraint to ignore him, though. He’s not whining so that nothing will happen in response. Why let someone off the hook for trying to stir the pot?

        2. Batgirl*

          Yeah I’m UK too, and I wouldn’t expect a whingey team member to get their first written warning until they break a direct command (by continuing to whinge after being told not to) and they’ve still got two chances to go after that. Like you say though, if they break safety rules; gross misconduct; immediate tour to the door…

    3. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      I basically shot back that I pay him to work, not make up excuses for NOT working.

      I’m not management, and deo volente never will be. I’ve helped teammates get over such objections with the phrase “if it were fun, they wouldn’t have to pay us to do it.”

      That said, any scheduling flexibility that can be offered can help with some of the “but my real job!” objections.

      1. Retail Not Retail*

        We’re here for 8 hours, let’s do what we’re told, we don’t make the decisions. (I mean I’ll grumble but I’ll do it)

    4. MsChanandlerBong*

      I need you to come to my workplace and tell that (not getting paid to make up excuses) to someone I’m dealing with right now. Our boss sent her some feedback/items for improvement the other day. She sent back a 1,497-word response; the first paragraph was about how she’s not afraid of critical feedback and has a thick skin, and then the other 1,397 words were arguments for why all of the feedback was wrong.

      1. staceyizme*

        Good gravy! In your boss’ shoes, it would be tempting to say that she’d muddled things somewhat… to the point of stating that no critique of the feedback to her was requested and that she’d be better occupied with incorporating it into her work going forward rather than trying to debate its relative merits.

      2. Keymaster of Gozer*

        The I’ve been working IT for too long side of me would more likely reply to her with ‘tldr’.

        Okay, that was humour (although gods I’d be tempted).

      3. Lecturer*

        I have students telling me I’m wrong (not often, pretty rare when you balance the numbers). After a meeting, when I’ve gone through the assessment with them they soon realise the tactic won’t work. Pity those few don’t tackle their assignments with the same gusto!

    5. Cat Tree*

      I agree that it’s better not to lose your cool, but this doesn’t sound that bad to me. It sounds like you weren’t yelling or swearing, just using a stern voice. Honestly the guy sounds like a toddler. Yes, it’s best to explain the reasoning behind something to a toddler. But once you have done that sometimes you just have to say “look, you don’t have to like it but you still have to do this”. And then end the conversation.

      1. Keymaster of Gozer*

        I have no experience with kids at all, so can’t comment on how to treat a toddler! It’s hard to get across in text but when I get majorly annoyed I go really cold, sharp, aloof and rather arrogant combined with a really cold glare.

        I don’t like that side of me.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          I am chuckling. I am not seeing too much wrong with that based on what you are dealing with. However, I understand what you mean. I’ve seen that in myself, that someone’s behavior has brought out what *I feel* is the lesser side of me.

          You have some good scripts here.
          I do think that jumping in sooner would be helpful. “Okay, Bob we can go over that together after the meeting. Does anyone else have questions?”

          You know you best and you know your employee best, so this may or may not work: Sometimes I’d go with humor: “Quick Bob! Think of something negative to say!”

          Or, “Since you seem to be the only person with this question we can talk after the meeting.”
          I am a big fan of removing their stage and their audience. If they cannot have some big drama in front of people that seems to shorten the conversation.

          Interestingly I have also had good results with saying, “We all work under the same rules, Bob. And as long as we remain working here this is what we have to do. It’s part of the job, Bob. We all have found ways to cope, so can you.”

        2. Marillenbaum*

          If Paddington has taught us anything, it is that you sometimes need a hard stare for people who have forgotten their manners! (Also, have a marmalade sandwich for emergencies, but the hard stare is more relevant at the moment)

      2. Sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

        Some parenting books advise that you acknowledge the concerns of the protesting child but stay firm with your no. Kids will dig if they feel they’ve not been heard.

        I had a kid whine at me (at a Cub camp) about how he wanted to toboggan first. I explained why we could not. He actually threw himself in the snow to whine some more. I stayed calm and said, I heard your suggestion, I see your feelings and understand your disappointment but the plan is not changing. He gave up in 30 seconds and moved on.

        Kids who dig in beyond that are jerks (sorry, not sorry) and it’s probably learned behaviour where they’ve learned if they whine long enough, mom and dad will give in.

        Dude in this letter is probably the latter. Not a great behaviour to carry into adulthood.

        1. Dust Bunny*

          Yeah, I used to do Sunday school for kindergartners and I’m apparently really good at it just by virtue of being really stubborn. I am not inherently great with kids but 3-5 -year-olds are developed enough that you can reason with them, so it’s not too bad. Mostly you just don’t lose your cool, don’t cave, and don’t jerk them around.

          I remember one kid who wanted to bring a toy into a quiet activity. I told him fine as long as he didn’t actively play with it. We were sitting about eight feet apart. He played with it a little but it was quiet so I let it go. Then he dropped it on the hard floor. He immediately looked up at me and said, “Uh, oh” . . . and then walked over and gave it to me to keep for the rest of the time. His mom wanted to know my secrets.

      3. Esmeralda*

        I used to say to my son, when he whined about whyyyyyyyyyy… First of all, son, because I said so. Second, because reason … and third because other reason…

        Continued whining after that: This is not up for discussion.

        1. allathian*

          Me too, although usually the other way around. I’ll start with reasons and only if those don’t work, I’ll pull out the dreaded “because I’m your mom and I say so”. To be fair, I haven’t had to do that very often recently, it helps a lot that he’s learned that we won’t give in to his whining. But he gets a lot of agency as well. He has both chores and homework to do, but he gets to choose which he’ll do first, for example. He whined a lot more when he was 5 than he does now at 11. I love the fact that you can reason with a kid his age.

        2. Rebecca Stewart*

          I have looked at Younger Son, who is a bit dramatic and likes to whine (He gets it from his father) and said, with a humorous twist to my mouth, “Is there an actual problem or are you just having fun griping? Cause if you’re just having fun griping, I’m tired of listening to it, but if you’ve got an actual problem I’ll help you with it.”
          He laughs and often admits he’s just having fun.

    6. Mongrel*

      I always wonder at the lack of imagination when people moan about mandatory safety trainings. I mean if you can’t think of a couple of worst-case scenarios when you’re told “Don’t do this, it’s bad…”.

      And yeah, they all appear to be ‘common sense’ approaches, but then again so is not using glue as a hair product or gluing your lips to a cup to show how that story was false.

    7. JelloStapler*

      It’s not like you lead with that response- you tried a variety of other responses first. This person sounds willfully obstinate.

  3. fposte*

    What people who respond like that don’t realize is that they become noise—nobody listens to them anymore because the negative response is kneejerk. With some employees you could even make that point about these responses devaluing their impact.

    1. Myrin*

      Yes exactly!

      Not the same situation, but I recently approached my boss representing my whole team to bring forward a complaint about the assistant manager. She has been a thorn in everyone’s side for fifteen (!) years and I know there have been numerous complaints about her during all of that time so going in, I assumed it would be pretty futile but I simply couldn’t stand how she treats every member of my team except me and my closest coworker any longer, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

      And surprisingly, what really seems to have shocked my boss and stayed with her was something I brought up more as an aside, namely the fact that absolutely no one takes assistant manager seriously. People only hesitantly follow her instructions because she’s been known to lie about them as she sees fit, new coworkers get instructed to just ignore her entirely because she’s just nitpicking anyway, and even valid input is either taken with a huge grain of salt or simply ignored completely so that actual problems take much longer to be addressed than they need to take, all because she has indeed “become noise”.

    2. Sara without an H*

      True. I once had a colleague (NOT a direct report, thanks be to Cthulhu!), who continually predicted disaster from every problem, large or small. Most people just rolled their eyes and tuned him out.

      Problem was, the guy wasn’t stupid, and he would occasionally identify something that really did need attention.

      1. JSPA*

        The “it might be a tumor” dude(ette)? Oooh yeah. Being finely attuned to what might go wrong is a useful skill, but only if you also do some gatekeeping on those perceptions.

    3. Something Something Whomp Whomp*

      Absolutely. One of the challenges with someone who keeps kneejerking despite not being well-received, though, is that there’s a risk that they may not care that they’ve become noise and simply see it as important to speak up. You’re right that for some people, wanting influence is enough to trigger a behavioural change. It’s those other people who think that they’re being tuned out because other people aren’t smart enough, etc. who aren’t coachable; seeing how they respond to the signal-vs-noise point helps identify them pretty easily.

      1. RC Rascal*

        Or they simply see themselves as passionate and they see that as a good thing.

        It doesn’t help that “ passionate “ is a word corporate people throw around in multiple contexts.

        Committed employees are passionate.
        A loud jerk is passionate.
        A manager whose valid point is being dismissed is passionate. (Especially if that person is female. )

  4. Jean*

    At my current company, this is a termination offense for the reason of not being a fit with the job. That’s not to say we’re not allowed to ask questions – we’re actually encouraged to give feedback and asking clarifying questions about new assignments – but management has no patience for this kind of attitude issue. They let someone go over the summer for this very thing (responding to every assignment with negative pushback, even after repeated coaching and even a PIP).

    I would just start cutting them off and saying “If you need additional clarification on something, I’d be glad to discuss it further, but our team’s schedule doesn’t allow time for debate on whether this is or isn’t part of our duties. It is, and we all need to be on board. Going forward, do you feel like you are going to be able to do that?”

    1. EPLawyer*

      This is the response. Cut it off in the moment. Then talking to the person later in the 1:1. If they still don’t stop, make it a condition of continued employment. Put in their evaluations. Make it clear that they will not be considered for bonsues/promotions/cool projects until it stops for good.

      Other team members are already being affected by it. Do not let this one naysayer turn your whole team toxic. Placating this person at the expense of the rest of the team will not achieve what you want. The naysayer will still naysay and the rest of the team will look elsewhere to work.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        If a boss can’t threaten to fire then a boss can say things such as, “This line of questioning has me concerned that you may not understand basic parts of your job.”

        Questions do telegraph a lot about the one who is asking.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      All of this. I am more than happy to answer clarifying questions or to help people get started on a task assigned to them, and we provide regular feedback, both positive and constructive. We don’t have time to do most things twice, so it’s better to encourage questions up front. I’m also open to suggestion on doing something differently.

      I am not going to deal with people who routinely question why they have to do something or push back on work. If I’m assigning a project, either a client or someone higher up the food chain asked for it. We are certainly not going to waste the time of the team (or make them uncomfortable witnessing frequent squabbles) over work assignments. I don’t care how good your quality of work is, if it’s a hassle to get you do do anything, you’re not good at your job.

  5. blackcatlady*

    LOL! I worked in a federal government lab and we had all kinds of mandatory training. We all allowed ourselves one whine then did the training. BTW in some cases if you didn’t do the training you got locked out of your computer – very strong motivating force!

    But it sounds like this employee is complaining about everything, and taking up team meeting time to have her personal whine fest. Please don’t underestimate the impact this has on other team members. It becomes the slow drip of water torture and will eventually cause irreversible rot in the team.

    You need to take control and stop the chronic grousing. Try talking to her one on one. If she keeps side tracking group meetings you are going to have to find a spine and shut her down.

    1. Batgirl*

      I think there’s also a significant difference between grumbling about tick box training and grunt tasks to peers and doing so to the boss. Especially if former attempts didn’t hear fruit with the boss. Clearly, this is the job. In OPs shoes I’d be tempted to ask if they were even happy in the role.

    2. Artemesia*

      The world ‘whine’ also has power. You don’t want to lead with that but in one on one after much if it, discussing that ‘whining’ is destructive to the team may bring her up short. No one likes to think of their good points as ‘whining’.

      1. blackcatlady*

        Yes, if the employee is taking up meeting time with whining, the other team members have a right to be upset. None of us appreciate meetings going extra long for needless complaining. I hope the supervisor can stop it. Don’t let it get to a “would you like some cheese to go with that whine?” situation.

        We all have to do our job tasks. We all have to attend meetings. We all have to take training. We get paid to do our jobs.

  6. ABI*

    It may be worth considering whether your employee is under the mistaken or delusional impression that you’re making suggestions rather than laying down the law.

    Some people – the mistaken group – are just sensitive to particular language. They may respond to “Does that sound like a good idea?” with ‘no’, “We think doing it x way will have better outcomes for y” with ‘I’ve seen evidence it won’t effect y but have worse outcomes on z’, and interpret “Please try doing a instead of b” with ‘doing a instead of b isn’t a requirement, just a suggestion’.
    Stronger language when instructing, and/or a “meta-conversation” about how you notice this pattern of conversation and it isn’t helpful, may help.

    The delusional group thinks that “I prefer not to” is a reason to refuse to do as their employer dictates and that “I’m used to the old way” is an excuse not to change, and that they’re somehow entitled to only doing things they like the way they like and getting paid for it.
    I don’t know what the cure for that is.

    Third group: the think-out-louds. Some people feel the need to share their opinion on everything but don’t actually intend not to comply – they may not even realize they are coming across as combative.
    I was prone to doing that until I trained myself out of it – I’ll make up an example. Someone would say, “We’re going to standardize lunch times to always be at 12.00” and I’d reply with “Oh, I like eating at 13.00” which is short for This is going to take some getting used to, I may have to take my mid-morning snack earlier, but I’ll figure it out. I don’t like it though. but the other person hears, ABI doesn’t want to take their lunch at 12.00, isn’t going to take their lunch at 12.00, I now have to convince them to take their lunch at 12.00
    (Fictional example.)
    Pointing out that’s happening may help there, as well.

    1. JSPA*

      A person from group three can be well served and well-guided by,

      “I appreciate that it could take some people some internal adjustment to get used to the new process. I’m asking you to keep your adjustments fully internal until you’ve had at least two weeks [or whatever the reasonable period is] to acclimate. At that point, if there are one or two things that you’re still finding particularly distracting or counterproductive, drop me a short email touching only on those specific items. I’ll also accept suggestions for improvement if they’re similarly specific, not a request to go back to the old process.”

      Sometimes all people need is acknowledgement that change, in itself, can be hard, and that nobody has a crystal ball, so some issues may turn out to need tweaking.

    2. Batgirl*

      It’s a good idea to fine tune the language and I think I’d do two things before opening it up to the floor: 1) If it’s something that’s going to be unpopular, acknowledge that in advance. Perhaps also pay tribute to the professionalism you expect: “I know it’s an extra challenge, but I know how well you can all deal with this as professionals.”
      2) Specify what you want from the floor and refer back to it. I’d be surprised if OP is saying: “Any complaints?” But they might be saying something vague like “What does everyone think?” Instead I’d say: “Do we have any ideas on how to implement that?” If chronic complainer pipes up, I’d reply with: “I really need ideas rather than complaints right now. If you have any serious objections, come speak to me but I don’t want to tie up everyone’s time right now when we’re brainstorming.”
      A softer version might be to let her speak one or two sentences and then say “Can I stop you there and just check if anyone else feels that way?” If not, go straight to the ‘lets not waste other people’s time’ script

      1. Six Feet Under Par: A Chip Driver Mystery*

        I wondered if it was how they process information as well. Not that it’s appropriate to do this in a meeting environment, but at least knowing that it’s not an outright objection might mean it bugs you less. You can then do a “let’s take this offline” and get on with your meeting. I’ve got a teenage daughter and we’ve had to deal with a few issues so sometimes tend to view her vocalising something as a crisis she’s expecting us to solve. But sometimes she’s complaining that her stomach hurts because it hurts and she wants a hug, she’s not asking us to take another day off school and I start arguing that she needs to go to school, when that actually wasn’t the issue and I recently has a “oh, I am the problem in this conversation” epiphany.
        Maybe all this person needs is for you to say “Ok we’re going to comb the llamas from head to tail and if that doesnt work we’ll go back to combing them hoof to ears” because they’re resistant to change and might just need an escape route.

  7. Andrea*

    A step further down the line is pathological demand avoidance. I learned this term sitting on the other side of a cube from a guy who loses his sh*t whenever anyone asks him to do anything (his job is essentially to be on call for help others need, so this happens all the time). I never interact with this nut case, but did have to ask him to wear headphones instead of blasting his music. He then unloaded on me. I emailed his grand boss about it.

  8. PT*

    I had lots of employees who behaved like this…when I managed teenagers.

    High school and college students are still learning about work and they often need to learn why Boring Webinar That’s Not About Their Job is actually about their job.

    If you’re still acting like this with your teen years far in the rearview mirror? That’s not good.

  9. Miss Muffet*

    Since management often has to also do the webinars, I would do mine right away and time how long they ACTUALLY took, instead of the really long estimates that were provided. That way, in my next team meeting, I’d be able to say, ok guys, we have this training and it’s due by the end of the month. It only takes 20 mins, so please schedule that time and get it done. It helped them to know it wasn’t a bear of a project, and it was usually one of those things you can do while you’re winding down on a Friday, or when you’re waiting for someone to get back to you on something.
    Also, sometimes a small reward for the whole team getting it done early (if it’s something they can self-schedule) can be good incentive. Like, I’ll bring in donuts next Friday if we can wrap this up this week as a team.

    1. Gumby*

      The most annoying annual training I have to take is supposed to last 1 hour (say). The web site that offers it is bound and determined that it will take 1 hour! The videos take up maybe 45 minutes. Then there are several multiple choice quizzes sprinkled throughout the training. If you finish those before the hour is up (which everyone does), you have to go read the transcripts of the videos until the hour is up. Oh, you think, I will just go do something in another window. Nope. If you change focus the clock stops. If you are idle for any appreciable amount of time, the clock stops. It is truly annoying. Still. Do I complain to my manager when I have to do the training? No. (Adding to the annoyance factor? This type of training does not *have* to be as unbearable as this site makes it. I’ve had similar training elsewhere that was engaging and informative.)

      1. allathian*

        Oh yikes. I hate that. I’m also a fast reader and I’m firmly of the belief that visual media are purely or at least mainly entertainment. I simply cannot retain any information that way. Or I might just long enough to pass a quiz at the end of the video, but it’s exhausting and I’ll never be able to implement anything I’ve learned without written notes. On some trainings, I’ve been able to skip the videos entirely and just read the scripts, which close when I open the quizzes to make cheating harder, and I do the course in half the time with a better score than when I have to watch the useless video.

        We’re always asked to rate the trainings we do, and I always give one or two stars to a course requiring videos and four or five stars (out of five) to a course that doesn’t, pretty much regardless of the subject matter or how useful it actually is to my job. If there’s an opportunity to provide feedback in writing, I’ll tell them how much I appreciate the opportunity to skip the video, or how the course would have been more useful to me if I’d been able to do so.

        It helps that currently accessibility is a big thing in the EU in general, and in the public sector in particular. The person who’s responsible for planning and building our online trainings told me that she had an epiphany when I told her how much I dislike the video format for learning because she’s been used to thinking of accessibility as providing video and/or audio for people who have dyslexia or another cognitive disability that makes it hard to learn and retain information in writing.

        Even at college I’d much rather read a 2,000 page textbook if it got me out of a set of totally useless lectures. Some lectures I mainly attended for the Q&A sessions.

        If I had to do online trainings on a system like you’re describing, I’d start looking for a new job. In this case, I wouldn’t hesitate to state the reason for leaving in an exit interview. I hate busywork like this.

        1. Gumby*

          I am with you on a strong preference for reading. I really hate the current trend towards videos for everything – if I am looking for a recipe give me something written! Not a video to watch!!!! (I did like in person lectures in college but most of those supplemented the reading, they did not duplicate it.)

          Sadly, in this case it is federal/state mandated sexual harassment training. The training topic *is* important! The videos that most companies, in my experience, use to fulfill the requirement are – ugh.

          The best training for this that I have had was when the company I worked for at the time had an employment lawyer come in and talk to us. He was informative, interesting, and it was not entirely stuff we had heard multiple times before. I would much rather spend another 4 hours in that meeting than 1 hour re-watching the same poorly-acted, really obvious videos.

  10. Observer*

    To the OP and any other manager out there. PLEASE take note of the fact that people have actually complained about this! This is not just about a manager pulling rank or exerting authority, but about someone being actively disruptive and making life difficult for other team members. That is NOT ok, and it’s your responsibility as a manager to put a stop to it.

    Keep in mind that very often people will NOT approach you about it, but you can be sure that it’s a problem. Do NOT wait till it gets SO bad that people feel the need to approach you about it. And if they DO approach you about it, then you need to take this VERY seriously indeed.

  11. twocents*

    If this wasn’t revisiting an old letter, it could easily be about one of my coworkers/friends. I obviously like her — she’s my friend! — but she seems to think she can change the leaders’ minds to match hers, if only she was asked. A new policy rolled out last week, and her first reaction was to flat out refuse to do it. I had to tell her that the grandboss had basically said “get on board or leave.” The economy’s still not great folks; don’t be a jerk about reasonable policies.

  12. staceyizme*

    Complaints that are part of a constant stream can be exhausting! People who do this are mindful of their own right to an opinion or to expressing their views, but aren’t as mindful of the rights of other people to a reasonably peaceful work environment. If you’ve let it get past a few instances of venting inappropriately, it’s already gone farther than is ideal. After she makes her next public complaint, have her justify it. “Why would you want another team to handle that?” or “What is it that you really want here… tell me what that is and why it’s reasonable…?”. Really, any phrasing that makes her fully engage her brain will move her out of being able to treat your team meeting like some sort of an emotional dumping ground and require better solutions. Every time that she tries to demur, deflect or derail the next directive, do a logic based colonoscopy on her thinking and its impact on the team’s work, morale etc… She’ll either “get it” and quit dumping so much negativity or she’ll have put enough into the space that’s inappropriate and you’ll be able to coach her. And, because she’s probably a bit intransigent about change, you’ll be able to correct her. And if she doesn’t improve, you’ll have other options to emphasize the need for professionalism in communication.

  13. designbot*

    I’d also approach it with a little curiosity and framing… are they trying to reject everything because they are stretched too thin and are genuinely at the “I just can’t even” phase of things with their whole job? Do they have competing directions/interests they are trying to serve that seem impossible? I’m saying this as someone that is aware that I can sometimes come off this way, knowing that it tends to be because the person asking for a small thing has no idea of 10% of the context for their small change, because I’m serving 15 different projects and 8 different bosses, and their “little thing” throws that whole very delicate system off balance. Giving them a chance to discuss their situation overall is the chance for them to discuss how to handle these things in a more appropriate format that doesn’t derail the whole team, if there’s something like this going on.

  14. Office Rat*

    I can say from a worker perspective, having a teammate that does this, is aggravating. We have a very aggressive young woman on my team that will argue with literally any changes, and take up whole team meetings to complain. I have watched her alienate people across the team one by one. I keep my distance because I don’t want to be involved.

    I wish my management team was shut it down.

    1. Carol*

      Me, too. Both my coworkers (and the larger team I’m on, to an extent) are like this right now. It’s really negative and exhausting and demoralizing. My manager has a very indirect communication style and these coworkers are taking advantage of it. I wish he would just shut it down.

      It’s especially exhausting because these coworkers go on about not getting promoted/recognized for their work…but they want to pick and choose and reject anything that comes from outside the team (hmm, wonder if there’s a connection…). 100% is making me see if I can transfer to a different team and/or leave altogether.

    2. Amaranth*

      These complainers also drag down morale in general. The other employees have stated it has become a problem for them, so LW needs to address it more directly. If she is complaining in meetings, she probably complains during team projects, at her desk, when providing deliverables to other staff, etc.
      This might be a case where it is necessary to squash it in the next meeting, so the rest of the team sees that they are being taken seriously.

  15. MassMatt*

    At an old job my team had Bob, the Endless Asker of Stupid Questions. Those that think “there’s no such thing as stupid questions” despair, for ye have clearly never met the all-powerful BOB, The EASQ. He once asked why the meeting didn’t have an agenda while holding the printed agenda in his hand. Alas, most of his questions took far longer to answer. Many were the Hours of productivity lost to Bob because the manager wanted to be “nice”. Both Bob (because of course he was) and the manager were oblivious to the fact that everyone in the room would audibly sigh, roll their eyes, shake their heads, and pantomime suicide when he spoke. The chorus of “Bob, stop it” had no power over Bob either. The power of stupid was indeed strong with him.

    He eventually was fired for a completely different reason, and is undoubtedly exercising his powers on new victims. Speak not his name aloud 3 times lest he manifest and regale you with his stupidity.

    1. Sleeping Late Every Day*

      That’s hilarious! We had Bob’s cousin, Dreaded Don, where I worked. Every topic in every staff meeting would bring forth at least one completely irrelevant question from Dreaded Don, accompanied by murmurs of “Shutup, shutup, shutup” from the rest of the room. Finally a brave soul, Fearless Frank, decided to sit next to Dreaded Don in these meetings, and as soon as DD would start to raise his hand, FF would elbow him in the gut. DD would try to lean away to get his question in, but FF was relentless and flexible in his elbow-jabbing skills. Some of us discussed nominating Fearless Frank for a Good Job Award (yes, the same name used when training a dog to poo in the correct spot), but decided it would ruin his technique if it were to be officially acknowledged.

  16. M. Albertine*

    My boss does this on an annoyingly frequent basis. One of our department’s duties is a sort of internal help desk function, and we are evaluated on our customer service. Often, they go on rants about how the other department should know how to do something, they have their own people for this and shouldn’t be using our resources, or some other such complaint. I have not yet asked, “Are we trying to figure out how to help, or are we trying to figure out how NOT to help?” because I don’t have the capital for that question yet.

  17. Itsy Bitsy Spider*

    I think that in this situation I might also ask the manager to consider the culture of the workplace. Seeing “this isn’t our job” and “other teams don’t have to do it” kind of give me a clue about what’s going on (as I work in a similarly dysfunctional place).
    At my workplace, everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) is overcommitted. All of our teams are overworked. Work that shouldn’t fall onto my team by any stretch of the imagination, we are pushed to pick up and hammer out, even if we have to work 70 hours a week to do it. a lot of required processes aren’t widely or consistently followed, and that also ends up causing more work for others.

    It’s certainly an issue that this worker complains about EVERYTHING. Allison often speaks about “saving your capital”. But just based on my own experience, I wonder if this is really her personal issues or if shes the only one daring to speak up about a dysfunctional work environment.

  18. germank106*

    An employee like that can get very toxic to the rest of the team. I would lay out very clear expectations about her behavior. Don’t sugarcoat it, don’t be “nice”, don’t explain it. Just tell her that behavior like that is not acceptable and that she is required to do the parts of her job even if she doesn’t like them. Explain that a consequence of her continuing this behavior is being put on a PIP and that you might have to part ways if it doesn’t stop.

  19. LGC*

    This letter activated my fight or flight response.

    I’ve had a couple of employees like that. They’re…really difficult! (I may have also been this employee earlier in my life, so this is karmic payback.) I’ve found that separating out the disruptiveness from the questioning helps – that is, it’s not a problem that you’re asking me questions (and even that you’re arguing in opposition to things), but it is a problem that you’re doing it in front of everyone because 1) that embarrasses both of us and 2) more importantly, you’re prolonging the meeting more than it needs to be.

    I don’t think they’re universally bad – honestly, some of the employees who’ve challenged me the most have really known their stuff, and I’ve needed to listen to them. But…it’s really a question of whether they’re doing so effectively.

  20. Jojojo*

    So, a few years ago, this could have been my manager writing about me. BUT, I was (and still am) a qualified, regulated professional who had a code of ethics and code of practice I was required to follow. I had been shifted from one high performing, well utilised team to another team who appeared to be constantly busy – but they weren’t. They spent hours of each day gossiping, discussing their work and not actually doing it. They would pick up the easy tasks, which were actually meant to be completed by another team, and refuse to do the complex, high risk activities which were what we were qualified and regulated to do. Team members would regularly ask me to speak up – and then not back me what I did. I was not prepared to do work that I wasn’t employed to do, and that was outside of my scope of practice. So I spoke up. Again, and again, and again. Manager would agree with me that we shouldn’t be doing this, but then go on asking us to do it. Manager had no backbone and no professional knowledge. She had no skills to describe the work that we were employed to do or to push back to her managers or others requesting this work of us. So, instead of learning those skills, she complained about me. Strong employment laws meant she couldn’t fire me (because, actually, when it came down to it, I was doing my job, correctly, within the requirements of my profession and employer) so she just made my life horrendous. She made up complaints, dragged me through HR processes, refused to meet with me or missed meetings I was required to attend. Each time we had meetings with HR, the HT representative shut the process down because I had done nothing wrong, there was no real complaint to answer to, or she had failed to follow process. Not surprisingly, I left!!
    My advice is always – find out what the fundamental issue is. Why does this employee keep complaining? Sometimes it can appear that they are simply complaining, but why don’t you get to the bottom of it? Maybe there are bigger issues and if the employee is heard and listened to, a whole lot of dysfunctional processes or behaviours can be rectified.

    1. Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Pickled Peppers*

      Yeah. I might be this person right now because my work environment is a little dysfunctional and I’m struggling to just accept the nonsensical processes and unrealistic expectations. I’m probably speaking up about things more than I should be. Good thing I’m LEAVING soon :)

  21. Afterwards*

    You need to nip this in the bud because one bad apple and all of a sudden other people think they can do the same. I would be pretty blunt. Invite her into your office, explain you didn’t employ her for her to question her employment and unless she nips it in the bud it is straight on to a performance plan. Millions of people are desperate for employment. Let the idiots learn the hard way.

  22. Waving not Drowning (not Drowning not Waving)*

    I had a former manager who would (literally) come bouncing into my office asking me what I thought of a new process that she was thinking of implementing. I learned WAAAAAAAY too late, that “what do you think about” was actually her way of saying “this is what we’re going to do”.

    So, if she came in to the office saying “what do you think about putting the stamps on the top left of an envelope instead of the right” and I’d give a considered and polite thoughts, that it sounds great, and would initially save us some time, but, it might cause issues with the post office, and the mail will come back to us to then put the stamps on the top left, I was seen as being Argumentative and Not A Team Player. So, we’d put the stamps on the top left, not the right, and, they would come back to us, and we’d have to fix it up, so she would then come bouncing into our office saying “I’ve had a great idea! All of these envelopes coming back because you are putting the stamps on the left side. How about we put the stamps on the top RIGHT side!!” At which point my brain would explode. Then she would move to the next process she wanted to revamp. (not an actual actual example, but, pretty close!). It drove me to a breakdown. I DO NOT RECOMMEND IT!

    So, if you have staff who aren’t listening, think about how you are conveying the message. Are you asking, or telling. And is there any way staff can give feedback and suggestions if they genuinely have concerns with new process rollouts.

  23. Caroline Bowman*

    It’s possible the manager is being too polite and euphemistic in giving instructions, as in, making it sound like a dialogue or a debate of some kind, collegial, when in fact, it’s a set of instructions.

    Of course a good manager or team member or anyone really must sometimes be open to conversation or questions or feedback on something, we can all learn and maybe do things differently, but when it’s relentless, it’s just time-wasting and the solution is to put up a hand and say ”Ingrid. I apologise if I haven’t been clear. These are your instructions. When you have completed them, please revert, this is the projected timeline” very officiously, then ideally continue talking about something else.

  24. ellex42*

    I got “But why do we do it this way/what is the process that led to this?” a lot from the people I trained last year. I’ve trained a lot of people in several different industries, in several different positions, over the last 15 years, and this is the first time I got that kind of query.

    The answer is generally “I don’t know. The decisions that led to this are way above our heads, involve multiple departments doing lots of things that aren’t strictly relevant to our department but which we have to account for, and may involve legacy issues that no longer occur but also have to be accounted for. Basically, this is the way we do it because this is the way we’ve been told to do it. The ‘why’ is not really relevant to our ability to perform these tasks.”

    When I started at my current employer I was lucky enough to get to sit in on several of a long series of meetings for a project to streamline and condense one small part of my job, and it was astounding how many different departments were involved. The project had already been going on for nearly a year, and it took at least another 6 months to complete it. I suspect it could have been accomplished faster, but the sheer number of potential issues was astounding, and involved a lot of things I was completely ignorant of – simply because those were not my field of expertise, or because they were unique to that company’s processes.

    A while back I worked as an office manager at a small research law firm working in a very niche field, and at that time the answer was “Because this is what the client requested.”

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