I can’t get my boss to give me feedback or solve problems

A reader writes:

I have been with my current company for about four years, as a software developer. A year ago, a new manager was hired for my team. He seemed pretty good at first, but lately I’ve been disappointed.

We have a bi-weekly one-on-one, and if I bring up an issue, he’ll just nod sympathetically while I’m talking, then do nothing about it. Sometimes he’ll say something like, “Well, in the grand scheme of things, you’re not important, so that’s not worth addressing” … like that’s supposed to make me feel better.

I don’t need to vent! I need him to fix the problem! Or at least try. But he doesn’t seem to care if I’m happy I’m my job, or concerned that I might leave. (Which is weird, because our team lost two of its most senior members recently, so it would be in a bad place if I left. Maybe he doesn’t care about the performance of the team.)

I’ve asked about my performance, in case that’s the issue. He says it’s “fine.” I’ve asked, “What could I do to impress you?” but he brushed that off. One of the issues I’ve brought up is that good performance isn’t recognized or rewarded, he nodded sympathetically and changed nothing.

It sounds like your manager might just … suck? Or the management above him does and he knows that. But if that were the case, he should be explaining to you what constraints he’s operating under, not just giving you non-answers, so either way it seems safe to conclude that he does in fact suck.

You could try more clearly spelling out what you want and see if that works. For example, when you bring up an issue that needs to be addressed, you could propose a specific action you’d like him to take — like, “Would you be able to talk to Jane and ask if her team can do X instead of Y?” Or even, “I’d like to set up a meeting for you, me, and Jane to talk about changing the process for X. Okay with you?” That will at least require him to take some sort of stand, even if it’s just saying no.

You can also try asking for feedback in more specific ways. Instead of asking about your performance generally, ask about particular projects. For example:

* “Can you take a look at pages 3-4 in my draft and tell me your main takeaways? I’m not sure I’m conveying it as well as I need to.”

* “Can we go over my plan for the launch? I’d like your feedback on where we’re in good shape and what needs more attention.”

* “I’d like to debrief that presentation with you. Based on some of the questions from the clients, I’m not sure I got my point across on X — what was your take? … Would you have gone about it a different way?”

* “Could we brainstorm ways to get better results with X? I’d like to talk you through what I’ve tried so far and get your thoughts on what else I could do.”

You still might not get useful feedback. But if it’s possible to get concrete input out of this guy, framing your questions this way is more likely to elicit it.

You can also name the issue itself. As in, “I’d like to get more concrete feedback from you about where things are going well and where I should focus on improving. It would be really helpful to me if I could bring a project to each of our one-on-ones and do a deeper dive into it with you.”

But it’s very possible that he’s just bad at managing, and the reason you’re not seeing any real management from him is because he’s simply uninterested or incapable. If that’s the case, you could consider whether there are avenues for providing that feedback to someone above him (like if your company solicits employees’ input about their managers when doing performance reviews, or if you have good rapport with his boss and feel you could safely talk to her). But it also might be a case of simply needing to accept that your boss sucks and isn’t likely to change.

{ 122 comments… read them below }

  1. Mid*

    I’m a big fan of being as direct and specific as possible, and saying “can you review XYZ document and let me know what changes I need” or other very specific requests from my managers has been very helpful for getting actually helpful feedback from them.

  2. Nanani*

    It sounds like he thinks you’re having a friendly conversation (venting is a thing friends can do) and not really registering that he’s the one who can and should fix these things. Providing a friendly ear is fine if you’re buddies who can’t fix each other’s problems, it’s not even in the same ballpark as what managers are supposed to do.

    1. Grace Poole*

      My current manager says supportive things, but when it comes to actually managing issues, he’d prefer that we work things out amongst ourselves. Which is fine, to an extent, but things often get to a point where we’ve tried X, Y, and Z to no avail, and we need him to step up and manage.

    2. Anonymous4*

      “Well, in the grand scheme of things, you’re not important, so that’s not worth addressing”

      Manager says WHAT??

        1. JESUS IS THE MAN!*

          Seriously, if I wanted discount philosophy, I’d go to Bill and Ted.

          “Dust…wind. DUDE.”

  3. Anonym*


    I’m sorry, I cannot get past that to process the rest of the letter or advice. Shocked if that attitude isn’t why your colleagues have left, OP. Best of luck with this situation, and I hope it improves, but I more hope a nice, juicy opportunity to leave gets dropped in your lap and you take it.

    That is one of the most dismissive, possibly gaslight-y things I’ve ever heard from a manager. Guess solving problems or doing anything at all isn’t necessary, since his employees and their work isn’t important.

    1. The Original K.*

      My eyes bugged out. How insulting! And why should OP bother putting forth any effort if they’re not important?

      1. Sloan Kittering*

        Yeah WHAT was the context of this comment, and does it relate to why OP feels like the boss wouldn’t care if she left? At first read, I thought the boss was just too hands-off, which is annoying but manageable for some people either short or long term (I don’t mind that myself). If there’s actually a chance the boss dislikes OP and actively wants to get rid of them, and that’s why they’re not being helpful, my advice would be different (job search!). A bad boss may decline to offer negative feedback but still be planning to offload an employee.

        1. Van Wilder*

          Yeah, I don’t get it. Did he literally say “you’re not important”? And did that not seem weird to you (OP)? If it’s joking and that’s his sense of humor, then infuriating but ok. If he’s dead serious and that’s not the typical jargon for your company, I would take that as a pretty clear indication that he just doesn’t like you and doesn’t want to encourage you to stick around.

          1. Anonymous4*

            Yeah, I don’t get it. Did he literally say “you’re not important”?

            Yes, he did. That’s exactly what he said. “[I]n the grand scheme of things, you’re not important, so that’s not worth addressing.”

            My blood pressure spiked from just READING that phrase —

      2. Marco Diaz's Red Hoodie*

        I absolutely boggled at this as well. Like… a manager really just said that to an employee’s face?? Uh, I think you accidentally said the quiet thing out loud…

        1. machinedreams*

          It reminds me of one time when I was working retail. My roommate actually HEARD the assistant manager tell a customer “I’m sorry you can’t find what you want, our employees are morons.”

          (He got his in the end, though — there was a management restructuring and because we weren’t a big enough store to require even ONE co-manager, let alone the two or three we had, I forget how many, and he wound up getting let go from our store and sent off to another. Nobody was sad to see him go.)

          1. Meep*

            I have been bad and thought it a couple of times. Most recently this morning when we went over a document for how to set up something and one of them asked “do we have a document to set up x” about five times in a row. I didn’t realize how many different meanings “yes, we are discussing it right now.” has until then.

            1. Marco Diaz's Red Hoodie*

              Listen, that’s fair — we all know sometimes employees / coworkers can be incredibly dense. (See also, “everyone is freaking out over speed dial buttons” from Monday lmao.) That’s not the same as an employee coming to you looking for meaningful feedback and you completely giving them the brush-off. Plus, you’re allowed the privacy of your own thoughts!

            2. Alternative Person*

              Gosh, I hate that. I had a manager ask me the same question several times about a set of materials I was putting together, I mean ‘We need to account for variance in client qualification levels’ is a pretty clear answer to ‘Why do we need to care about the higher (relative to our remit) level tests?’

        2. Aggretsuko*

          Yeah, I mean like, I’m well aware that I’m not important and am complete shit here, but at least nobody SAYS THAT TO MY FACE.

      3. Cold Fish*

        Totally agree, I would be beyond insulted if a manager said that to me. It would be great if OP could just not do any work for a week or two and when manager says something respond with “well, I figured since I’m not important in the grand scheme of things, it wouldn’t matter.”

        Your manager is horrible!

    2. River Otter*

      Yeah. Wow. I have certainly picked up the message at different workplaces that I am not important, but nobody has actually had the chutzpah to say it straight out (although I did have a manager flat out say he didn’t like me). At least OP knows? I have picked up that I am in a minority on this, but as shocking as it is to get that message, I like to know so I can make my own decisions based on an understanding of where I stand.

      1. TechWorker*

        Right – there might be cases where an employee complains about something that in the bigger picture is not such a big deal… in which case it’s the managers job to explain that and/or try to work out why the employee is feeling so affected by it. But ‘*you’re* not that important’ is so so weird and rude.

        1. New Jack Karyn*

          Yes! There’s certainly language he could have used. “This issue is pretty isolated to our team, so it’s just not a priority for the company to address.” or “I understand that we used to do something like that, but there wasn’t a lot of participation, so it was dropped.” or “I know it’s frustrating, but the company is about to do a full-court press on this new initiative, so a lot of other things are falling by the wayside.”

          I’m not a manager, and I’ve never worked a corporate job. But I can come up with three things he could have said instead of THAT.

        2. Working Hypothesis*

          I might even vaguely be able to understand “In the grand scheme of things, none of us is that important.” It would still be an incredible cop-out for not addressing LW’s problem, but at least it wouldn’t be a direct insult as well. But YOU’RE not important would have me just sitting there going, “I’m sorry; WHAT did you just say to me?!?”

          1. JustaTech*

            That line makes me think of the Total Perspective Vortex from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or the Galaxy Song from Monty Python, but in neither of those cases is it a *good* thing to actually consider yourself in the “grand scheme of things”!

            “You’re right boss, in the grand scheme of things I am just a bit of dust in a vast and uncaring universe, but that doesn’t get the Jefferson project finished any sooner, so could you please talk to Brent in Finance about approving that server purchase?”

    3. Lab Boss*

      The rest of the letter suggests it, but that line really solidified it: I think OP’s boss is thinking of himself as a peer rather than a boss. This is the kind of thing a friend and equal would say in a mutual venting session. “Yeah, it sucks that you got a cube when other people got offices, but it’s not like you’re important enough for the company to care” hits different from a colleague sharing your frustrations than it does from a boss who *should* have some ability to fix problems.

      OP, you said he was only hired a year ago- do you have any idea if he was a manager before this? And was he an internal hire? This seems especially likely if he’s spent a career being an individual contributor at this company and is just now in management. I struggled with making that change when I became a manager after 8 years at my company.

    4. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      I think Nanani has a good take on this. “It sounds like he thinks you’re having a friendly conversation (venting is a thing friends can do) and not really registering that he’s the one who can and should fix these things.”
      Like boss is trying to empathize with a friend, “eh, not your problem,” instead of managing, “oh, you have a problem.”
      Either unintentionally or on purpose. The show where the boss sneaks out of the office before anyone can see him? I’m remembering Arthur Carlson walking past Jennifer as she tells a client that he just left. And maybe one where the boss actually hides? Anyone remember?

      1. Cj*

        Fine, maybe he thinks it’s a friendly conversation and doesn’t think about the fact that he is the one that should fix it.. But saying “you’re not that important?” WTF?

        1. Gothic Bee*

          Yeah, even if it’s a friendly conversation, I can’t really fathom saying “well in the grand scheme of things, you’re not important” to a friend? I mean, I’m having a really hard time reading that as anything but dismissive and rude. Like, even as someone who can be pretty nihilistic at times, I still just can’t imagine flat out saying “you’re not important” to anyone, much less an employee or even a coworker.

          1. Anonymous4*

            If a friend told me that, in the grand scheme of things, I’m not important so [the issue] wasn’t worth addressing, that friendship would have just run its course.

            If a supervisor ever told me that, I’d be out the door. I’m not important? Then you won’t miss me when I’m gone. And an issue I’ve been having isn’t worth addressing? Good luck in the future, mofe!

    5. Karo*

      I had a *coworker* that said that kind of thing all the time about our work and it was one of the main reasons I started job searching. A supervisor saying that is mind-boggling.

    6. Jacey*

      Yeah, that’s where I got stuck too. It could be a moment of bad phrasing… but after I got over my initial shock, I read the whole letter and I’m pretty sure he just means exactly what he’s saying. LW, your boss thinks you don’t matter and sucks at his job. I think your two options are to stay and know that’s part of the deal with your job now, or leave.

  4. CH*

    “Sometimes he’ll say something like, “Well, in the grand scheme of things, you’re not important, so that’s not worth addressing” … like that’s supposed to make me feel better.”

    Wow that is some seriously bad management! While I second the recommendation to be direct, it seems like he is being direct about not caring about your problems. I don’t know that you’re going to solve this, OP. I’m sorry!

    1. Amy Farrah Fowler*

      I would definitely address that in the moment. Like if/when he says something like that again to respond with, “That’s not a helpful comment and I came to you because you are my manager and I need you to manage this situation. I need XYZ in order for the ABC project to get off the ground”.

      Also, does he have a manager you could potentially talk to? Because if I was his manager, I’d be pissed to find out that he said that to an employee.

    2. Goldenrod*

      “Sometimes he’ll say something like, “Well, in the grand scheme of things, you’re not important, so that’s not worth addressing” … like that’s supposed to make me feel better.”

      Yep, agree with all the commenters saying how seriously bad this is!

      I don’t think this manager will get better. I had a manager who basically told me all the time how unimportant I was too…she suggested that I was replaceable and that my work should be perfect because it’s so easy (I do complex calendaring for executives – she said “it’s just putting things on a calendar.”).

      The solution? Don’t work for people who don’t value you. This guy meant exactly what he said – he thinks you are unimportant. He stinks!!

      1. Anonymous4*

        When I was working my way through college, I spent a few years waiting tables at a place where the drunk boss’s gold-digging ex-wife used to snipe at me about how bad all the employees were, and declare that she could get better employees by going out and hiring the next ten people to walk down the sidewalk.

        The daytime shift there was hideously toxic but the evening crew was really quite good, and I made good money. But if I’d had to deal with the drunk boss, the gold-digging ex-wife, or the strident bully of a bar manager more than once a week, I’d have walked.

        I got a lotta stories about that place . . .

  5. irene adler*

    ” you’re not important” -??????
    Full stop.

    This manager DOES suck.
    No one -at any time- needs to make this statement. Especially a manager.

    Everyone is aware they are merely cogs in the system. The good manager treats their reports with deference so that they don’t see themselves as merely cogs.

  6. Cobol*

    Was your last manager like this too? I assume not, but it could be a culture thing. If it’s just this manager, how long do people tend to have the same manager? I tend to agree with Alison. It may be more productive to become zen with having a poor manager if feedback doesn’t work.

    1. OP*

      No – my last manager cared, but had zero institutional clout. For reasons I’ve never really understood, certain other teams in the company have always walked all over mine (breaking our tools, making last-minute interface changes that we have to scramble to incorporate, blaming us for their problems, etc.). My old manager was half a developer and was just as frustrated as me with them, but they always got their way because they were “more important”.
      My new manager has tons of clout – a few months after he started, he convinced the owner to convert the company to this new Results-Oriented-Agile-Buzzword methodology, it was a big deal. So I was really disappointed that he wasn’t willing to stick up for us – other managers have no problem being preferential to their own teams. I know what we’re working on isn’t the sexiest or most important part of the product, but it’s non-optional, complex, and has very little room for error, and our time definitely has non-zero value.

      1. NeedsMoreCookies*

        This makes me wonder if the reason he’s being so lackadaisical about managing you, and about losing senior members of your department, is that he has plans to ultimately replace you (with outsourced labour, or some buzzword-heavy software package, or underpants gnomes).

  7. Hills to Die On*

    As an aside, I love the question “What would I need to do to impress you?” – making a note of that one. Good spinoff of “What makes a person great at their job versus simply good?”

    1. Kay*

      You may want to do a really good read of the room before you use this one. That sentence, behind the “you’re not important” comment, was the second red flag I saw. If an employee said this to me I would do a seriously hard cringe. It feels way too brown nosey and insecure for my taste. Now hearing “what are some stretch goals you would like to see accomplished this year” on the other hand, I would be open to.

      1. Rocket*

        Seems like a natural progression after being told over and over that your performance was “fine.”

    2. Commenter*

      I actually don’t love that – it reads to me like maybe a good job interview question along the lines of ‘what does success look like in this role?’ but I don’t think an actual helpful feedback-soliciting question in the context of being managed. I’m a manager and wouldn’t know how to answer this, versus ‘What are my areas of improvement?’ or even ‘What could I do better?’ Those are both similarly general (although with lots of people especially people like this manager, I agree that way more targeted questions would probably get better feedback), but ‘impress you’ is weird, to me.

    3. Purple Cat*

      I don’t love the question, but I read it as LW is really frustrated at only being told his performance is “fine” and it could have been asked in an aggravated “WHAT do I need to do to impress you?!?” kind of way.
      And if the manager was a good manager, that question would never need to be asked because benchmarks would be clear with appropriate feedback provided…

      1. Cj*

        I don’ love this question either. But I agree that in this case it sounds like it did came out of frustration. Like the manager is saying “you don’t impress me”, and the OP is saying “what WOULD I need to do to impress you?”

      2. Lenora Rose*

        This is my read, too, that this was blurted in frustration the 20th or more time the LW tried to extract information and got nothing.

    4. Mr. Shark*

      Yeah, sorry, I don’t like the “What would I need to do to impress you?” at all. Not as someone talking to my manager, or if I were a manager.
      I think you should already know the requirements of your job, and what it takes to meet and exceed those requirements. And it’s not a matter of impressing anyone. You can impress someone by doing things outside your job description, but that doesn’t help at work.
      I think I’d reply as a manager, “do your job.”

      1. Lenora Rose*

        The whole point of this is he *isn’t* getting any information. He knows the requirements of his job but he’s effectively in a black box as far as knowing what his manager thinks. Presumably when you manage you let people know how they’re doing in your eyes?

        1. Kay*

          I really hesitate to bring this up, mostly due to the “you’re not important” comment from the manager because that right there puts this in the “your manager sucks” category and without concrete examples of the issues raised it makes saying this doubly hard. But.. I think it is worth reflecting on any possible behaviors that might be making these interactions with the manager less productive. The comment of “what can I do to impress you” coupled with “good work is not recognized or rewarded” open the possibility that this LW may be looking for more affirmation than their manager’s style has to offer.

          Even if there is a style difference it doesn’t make the manager’s comments okay, but if there is any hint of excessive neediness or pushing on a path that your manager has signaled is a no go it may help to recognize that and adjust your behavior accordingly. I say targeted asks are the route to go no matter what, but if your manager is feeling like you are too needy it may help make your time under them more bearable if you can find a better way to communicate. If this is the case then it should be on the boss to better manage of course, but sometimes it is easier to just do their job for them..

  8. KWu*

    Your former colleagues have the right idea; there doesn’t seem to be any reason to stick around when you are likely to get a huge pay bump if you change jobs in the current market.

  9. OrdinaryJoe*

    I could have written this letter about our Executive Director (and basically all our boss – small nonprofit, team of 7). They were checking out pre-pandemic but has completely bailed on all but the most serious of management duties since 2020 … except for collecting their very nice paycheck, of course! It’s highly frustrating and we’ve all accepted that Our Boss Just Sucks.

    We’ve found sanity by just working around them, maybe you can do the same? You expect nothing from them except the bare minimum and decide if you can live with it. The up side is they’re not micromanaging at least and it does seem to have made a more unified team that works well together …

  10. Count Basic*

    OP: Is there a way you can provide more information about the type of issues your manager is dismissing and that makes you unhappy?

    On the surface, your manager does sound terrible. OTOH, it would be useful to know what sort of issues you’re raising to him and that he’s being dismissive about. I doubt this is the case, if if the issue that yields the “you’re not important” response is, “Why I can’t take the company jet instead of Frontier?” then “you’re not important enough” may, unfortunately, be the right answer.

    1. JelloStapler*

      Good point about how “not important” may come in. I’d also like to know what kind of issues we are talking about. I can think of some instances where a person wanted something that just would never happen or was unrealistic.

      1. Spencer Hastings*

        I could also imagine someone telling me I’m not that important as a way of reassuring me that I wouldn’t be blamed for something. But yeah, the situations where saying that kind of thing would be more helpful than insulting are pretty rare, I think.

    2. tessa*

      OP mentions problems that need fixing. Doesn’t sound like jet preference-type or other insignificant stuff.

      1. MEH Squared*

        Agreed. And even if they were more minor issues, there is no excuse to tell someone that they are not important.

    3. OP*

      It’s a workflow thing, think like “the new TPS report format is taking me twice as long to fill out as the old one.” I can totally imagine that there might be legit reasons to keep it anyway – maybe there are new regulations, or a client requested it specifically – but I would feel better if he told me that.

      1. Not An Expert*

        I’m like you and prefer to understand the reasons behind system changes, especially as it often means you can then make better suggestions for improvements yourself in future.

        One thing which might be worth trying (if you haven’t already), is to always mention the knock-on effect of what is troubling you. So in the case of the report taking twice as long to fill out, you’d then say ‘which means we’re getting less done on X and Y important things’. That way it doesn’t seem like it’s only a problem for you personally (or even just for your department), but for the company as a whole.

  11. JelloStapler*

    Okay, so sitting in the manager’s shoes- I have been in a rough spot where what the person needed (and needs were valid) was something that I knew our leadership dismissed or would not act on. Or that there was nothing I could actually do to change the situation. It was frustrating as hell… BUT I never said the employee was not important!! I would say that I heard them and we’d talk about other ways we could get a problem resolved or make it more tolerable.

    But are these things that won’t ever happen or low-hanging fruit that the manager just cannot seem muster energy over?

    Ugh I am sorry.

    1. Aggretsuko*

      Yeah, we have a ton of situations where we just can’t get leadership to do anything about it. Like they literally ignore my boss when she tries (and frankly, they ignore everybody). But this guy probably can’t even be arsed to go that far as to ask.

    2. NeutralJanet*

      Yeah, the manager might not be able to act on OP’s concerns, but there’s a world of difference between, “I understand, but quite frankly, Department X is not Company’s highest priority, so I’m not sure that we’ll be able to make that change any time soon,” and, “You’re not important.” I’m generally a very direct person, but that’s moving way past “direct”.

      1. TechWorker*

        Right and there the reason is ‘the issue you raise is not that important’ not ‘you personally are not that important’ – VERY different!

      2. Cj*

        Exactly. Even if the manager doesn’t see the issue as being that important, that doesn’t mean he should tell the OP that *they* aren’t important.

      3. Alternative Person*

        So much this.

        I have a lot of patience for ‘We have to deal with this edict, here’s how we’re going to make the best of it (or, ‘please consider how to make the best of it and get back to me’)’ and very little for ‘We have to deal with this edict, so suck it up’.

  12. angrytreespirit*

    I have a manager like this. I’ve been reporting to him for five years. He is 15+ years senior management. He just cannot seem to make things happen, he is overwhelmed and has too many direct reports. He once slept through our weekly 1-1 (the only time I get with him – I lead a major organizational program) and said “I’m glad it was just you” which I generously took to mean “you’ll forgive me for this, unlike some people”. Honestly, I learned early on that there are very few things I actually need from him. I keep him updated on my work and only come to him with emergencies. He is no longer involved with most of the programmatic decisions. I just make them and move on.
    In general, with managers like this, just do your best work and try to rely on them as little as possible. At the point which having this manager starts to affect your career development, move on.

    1. Grace Poole*

      My ineffective manager just sent me an email informing me that he’ll be out for two weeks next month. I don’t think I’ll notice the difference.

    2. Alternative Person*

      Yeah, my company has kind of eroded its middle management to the point there’s a fair amount of dilbert principle/dunning kreuger going on in whats left and making the best of it is pretty much all I can do.

  13. tessa*

    You won’t grow professionally under a manager like this. “You’re not important” is as cynical as it gets.

    Also: “our team lost two of its most senior members recently, so it would be in a bad place if I left.” NOT YOUR PROBLEM.

    I’d polish your resume’ and keep a lookout for a better situation, if you’re able to do so.

      1. Where’s the Orchestra?*

        Agreed. Please let yourself follow them out the door. Don’t sacrifice yourself to keep the team afloat, as the manager already said they don’t care when they told you that “you’re not important.”

  14. Lexie*

    OP, I empathize with you. I used to have a manager that when I would ask him for input on how to handle a situation the response was “be flexible”. He then called me into a meeting with his manager because they didn’t like the way I solved a problem. I pointed out I was told to “be flexible” and apparently I don’t know what that means since my way of being flexible was clearly unacceptable.

    1. Nanani*

      I hate that thing where they don’t give you a specific answer then ding you for not solving it the way they would have – which they didn’t tell you what it was.

      1. JustaTech*

        I had professors like that in undergrad and grad school and they were far and away the least liked people. Even the professors who regularly assigned work beyond what had been taught in class were better liked than the ones who had very specific metrics that they graded against, but refused to tell you what those metrics were.

        I always hoped that those people would go away outside of school, and thankfully in my experience they’re rare, but no one likes being set up for failure.

  15. sssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss*

    I had a manager like this. He was also not organized. Nothing got done until it was critical. Or he kept bringing in his buddy/favourite contractor to our province (minimum two hour drive each way, each time) when it could have been done by someone locally. It would have been helpful if he gave us a bit more responsibility and purchasing power and decision making capacity. He would frequently skip, miss or forget our one on ones. I was a distraction but from what, I still don’t know.

    The day I was laid off, my silver lining was that I would no longer have to work with this useless man.

    You can work around him, ask above him…or find a new job. When I was laid off, I had already started my job search.

  16. AvidReaderFirsttimeCommenter*

    My understanding is that engineers specifically are notorious for not wanting/being able to engage in people management, such that many tech companies have additional, parallel management structures to support engineering teams. Is that an option for you to seek out here? Are there other resources for you to seek out, as Alison suggested?

    1. Sea Anemone*

      That was true in the past, but the field has changed a lot to place more value on soft skills and building relationships. That’s not to say that every engineer is equally skilled at building relationships, but the assumption of engineer = bad at people is not true any longer.

      1. Environmental Compliance*


        It’s not wrong necessarily – a lot of very smart technical people may not have been pushed to also develop the soft skills previously, which IME has very much changed- but it’s also really not a helpful thing to say.

  17. anonymous73*

    You could try Alison’s suggestions about asking more concrete questions and see how they respond, but I’d go above their head. Assuming that your previous manager was providing feedback since you’ve been there for 4 years, they need to know this is happening and remedy the situation. Telling you you’re not important is unacceptable.

    1. Cj*

      I generally love Alison’s advice, but with this manager I don’t think I would say you’re not sure if you are conveying the information as well as you need to or getting your point across, which are in two of her scripts.

      That would probably be fine to ask of a relatively decent manager, but I think it might give this manager ammunition to say you’re not good at your job. Because if you were, you would obviously be able to get your point across or convey the information well without any from input him (in his mind, I mean).

  18. RetailInducedTrauma*

    This reminds me of a manager I worked for many years ago in the wonderful world of retail. If you came to him with a problem, he would say, “I’m responsible for a store that does X million dollars of sales every year. I don’t have time for this!” or “When you’re running a store that does X million dollars a year, I’ll listen to you.”

    He also said to me once, “I don’t understand why no one seems to like me.”

    1. Nanani*

      Does he not realize that running this Xmilliondollar Store includes things like answering employee questions? What does he think running the store entails? Sitting on a throne of cash registers?
      What a silly person.

  19. MEH Squared*

    OP, I’m also stuck on the fact that your manager told you that you weren’t important. I can’t think of a situation where that is appropriate to say to an employee. This issue is not a priority? Sure. We have other things to consider? Yes. But to flat-out tell an employee they aren’t important? It doesn’t bode well for you being able to get what you need from your manager if he is that dismissive of you as a person.

    Ultimately, I think Alison is right when she says your boss sucks and isn’t going to change.

  20. Anony*

    It might be a good idea to ask him for clarity on his expectations for the one on ones. Maybe you two are not aligned. Do you have a specific agenda for each meeting? If not, propose one in advance with the points you want to cover. If you know he isn’t good at giving feedback, a broad question like “What could I do to impress you?” will likely be hard for him to answer.

  21. Let me clear my schedule for you*

    Could it be that your manager doesn’t know what you do? I’m a data analyst, heavy on the database work and less on reports/visuals, with a direct supervisor who is a project manager. I have no idea who came up with my structure, but maybe it’s because we’re all paid through the IT department? I could have written this about my manager, so maybe the manager has no clue?

    1. irene adler*

      Said manager may not have a clue. But said manager SHOULD recognize a report with a problem or issue that needs resolution. So maybe scout out resources for the report which will help with resolving the problem or issue. Or allow report wider latitude to seek resources to remedy things.

    2. Jennifer C.*

      I had the same thought – OP is a software developer, and the manager may not be, and may not understand exactly what the problems are and/or just not know how to fix them. I’ve been in that position (as a software developer) and a manager in that position does need to make an effort to ask questions to understand the problems and to solicit proposals for solutions.

      1. TheSheriff*

        Pretty sure it’s the opposite. Seen this scenario before – this manager is an ex-Software Developer with no other career path but management so he ended up there, despite having little to no people skills.

  22. The Crowening*

    My manager at my previous job was like this, almost exactly. Sympathetic but totally disinterested in the performance of my department, and by extension, me. If we made a mistake, suddenly he would care, but I could never get him to pay attention to anything else – he wasn’t interested in dealing with discipline issues on the team, wasn’t interested in helping us avoid scheduling issues even if I warned him in advance, etc. He just did not care; it didn’t interest him. (Unless we made a mistake, though, like I said.) I was in that job for 20 years with various managers during that time, but the manager before him had been so attentive and helpful that I never adjusted to having an absent, disinterested manager. I jumped ship about a year ago.

    1. Bluebonnet*

      I feel you! Your manager sounds a lot like mine. I am hoping for a new job soon. It is easy to feel unseen and not valuable.

  23. Lab Boss*

    My manager can be guilty of responding to my requests for feedback with a generic “you’re doing so well! I have no complaints!”

    OP, a script you might consider is what I ended up using: “I’m glad to hear I’m not doing anything so poorly you think it needs immediate correction, but I’m sure I’m not perfect at everything! For our next check-in could we talk about some areas where I could best improve, even if that’s just improving from ‘good’ to ‘very good?'”

    1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

      And then I think OP will end up having to put the manager on the spot. “No, everything is fine.”
      What about X?

    2. Jacey*

      I like the first part of that phrasing a lot! But I agree with Not Tom, Just Petty that the second part might not be specific enough for this joke of a manager. Maybe the LW could try something like “For our next check-in, can we talk about how I can improve in specific area X?”

      1. Lab Boss*

        True- my phrasing worked for a basically good manager who needed a nudge to realize that I wanted to improve even if I didn’t have any areas where I was falling short. OP’s manager probably needs more- and that can make it tough if OP isn’t sure what areas she has the most room/potential to improve.

  24. Ann Onymous*

    Letter Writer, if I didn’t know my former boss wasn’t in a management role any more, I’d think you were working for him. I ended up transferring to a different department within my company and I’m much happier now. It’s amazing how much difference a manager can make to your morale.

  25. Bluebonnet*

    Ugh, your manager reminds me of my passive manager. I am definitely in the market for another job. Mine doesn’t even do regular meetings or initiate meetings at all.

    1. starsaphire*

      I had a manager like that at Toxic ExJob. She never even spoke to most of us unless she was required to – if you said hello or good morning or merry Christmas to her, she’d startle and stare at you like a wild deer on a freeway, then basically run away. She pretty much only communicated via email or Slack.

      And anything you brought to her that a normal manager would handle, she’d shove off by saying, “That’s an HR problem” or “That’s something you’ll need to figure out for yourself” or “Well, I can’t do anything about that” rather than, you know, MANAGE.

      I never saw her do anything but duck her head behind her monitor and pretend the rest of the room wasn’t there – although a co-worker swears that she went to beers one night in the same pub as her and her coterie of besties, aka the supervisors that worked under her, and overheard her say that she had no idea what she was doing as a manager, and they were all just faking it.

      So yeah. YMSAIGTC, get out as soon as you feasibly can.

  26. Hosta*

    I’m an engineering manager and I agree with Alison’s advice. Its pretty likely that your boss just sucks and either didn’t get taught how to manage or doesn’t care to learn.

    That said, with my senior folks I don’t do as much direct feedback and direct coaching as I do with my junior folks. I’ll read a plan from a junior engineer carefully and give both word choice suggestions and also feedback on the technical components and frequently I point out things like edge cases that they didn’t cover.

    I don’t do that with my senior folks by default. I trust their technical judgement, they usually know their areas of expertise better than me. I also trust them to be seeking out feedback from appropriate experts outside our team. And I trust that if they are uncertain about something or need guidance they’ll ask me explicitly for what they need. If they ask me to review a design doc I’ll read it and generally say something like “looks good.” I try to leave a couple other supportive comments or ask a few questions so they know I did more than skim, but they’re senior members of the team and I trust them so I don’t see a reason to dig in like I would with a junior person.

    1. Jacey*

      I’d bet big money on “doesn’t care to learn.”

      And Hosta, your comment is really helpful to me as someone in the beginning of her career! I sort of knew instinctively that my being less experienced was why my boss manages me more closely than others, but it helps to see a manager lay out their thought process like this.

  27. Queen of Lemons*

    One tool that some managers at my company use is asking people who come to them with a problem if they want to Fix, Vent, Explain, or Ideate (come up with ideas).

    Sounds like the OP’s manager is defaulting to “vent,” and ignoring or not realizing that there are other options. It might be worth naming the issue explicitly: “Thanks for letting me vent, but I’m really hoping you can fix the problem/help me come up with ideas about how to improve things.”

    Won’t fix it if the manager actually does suck, but it would clarify mismatched expectations, which can be useful by itself.

  28. Calamity Janine*

    sometimes i read about a manager on here and i go, “wow, what professional prowess i could never hope to achieve!”. sometimes i read about a manager on here and i go, “wow. i’m suddenly feeling good about my qualifications for spontaneously becoming a manager through some cruel twist of fate.”

    i’m just sayin’, i appear to have more professional chops from managing a – let me look at my notes here – open-world roleplaying event in the mmorpg final fantasy fourteen, than a guy who will just say “well you’re not important” to one of the employees. he gets paid actual money dollars to go and do that as part of his real life job. i managed to deal with an entirely frivolous hobby event, where i was paid only in people giving me attention and having fun, with greater skill. because i didn’t tell the person wanting to sell ceruleum-powered jet-engine toasters that they were not important. even when they were. because they weren’t running the event, nor were they one of the main ‘vendors’ of people selling entirely imaginary objects to each other in improv writing. because it’s silly hobby times and not ‘important’ nearly by definition. and i somehow managed to stumble backwards into doing better than this guy.

    it’s comforting to know that i recognize i’m a mess who does not know anything at all, and is not ready nor capable of handling anything near this level of professional responsibility, and yet, at my absolute hypothetical nadir… there will be somebody out there doing it worse.

    1. Lucien Nova*

      ceruleum-powered jet-engine toasters

      This actually sounds amazing and I’d have loved to be part of that event.

  29. Second Identity*

    I am rather puzzled as to why the manager is bothering with these 1-to-1 meetings if there are no goals and no intention of addressing any issues

    I have to say, I kind of liked having managers like this as I could just do what I thought best, document it, and present it to the manager as a done deal. I’d only be concerned about compensation but I’d make a strong case for a raise and it usually worked out OK.

  30. Sucksville*

    No advice, just sympathy for the letter writer. My manager also is just a bad (not malicious, just,…….bad) manager. Although a bi-weekly check-in is a lot more than I get, so I’m a bit envious in that regard!

  31. Marnix*

    Is he not a software developer, like you? He may have other skills and was just put in this position to “manage”, as in just make sure work is complete without chaos. He may not know how/when/why to help you.
    Perhaps there’s a mentor-type person you could go to with the technical questions?

    1. Calamity Janine*

      if he IS a software developer, then clearly, that must be the route to fix it.

      don’t worry, letter writer. you just need to solemnly tell your boss that he is executing in a loop. if ‘complaint’ then ‘acknowledgement statement’. the other part of the program has gone faulty, creating the loop of only one sort of output given for variable input instead of the planned range of responses. hopefully it all works and just got commented out, but otherwise, well, it’s time for him to bring out the rubber ducky and begin solemnly telling it every line of code with particular emphasis on the punctuation… never know when you’ll drop a blasted semicolon, really…

      just hope he doesn’t reply with ‘it’s not a bug, it’s a feature’.

  32. Emotional Support Care’n*

    “You’re not important”… to that manager. It’s time to brush off your resume and discuss EVERYTHING with HR or the next level while job hunting. This person has already made it clear he doesn’t value you or your position and he never will, now you need to find out if this is company-wide or just him. Act accordingly.

  33. lucky-star*

    Your boss may be useless, but at least he isn’t vindictive or cruel enough to blame his incompetence on you, and then put you on a completely ridiculous and unfair PIP or other such garbage. I understand your frustrations, but unless it’s causing you enough grief that you need to get another job, don’t sweat it.

  34. Safely Retired*

    It sounds like the manager has just given up. It could be because of their boss, Or because of their home life, or a hundred other things having nothing to do with you or the work. I’d be tempted to say something along the lines of
    “You seem to have lost all interest in things. That’s your business, except that you are taking me down with you. How about you wake up and start doing your job!” Of course the consequences might not be so great, but then again with such a apathetic person there might be none at all.

  35. Stantheman*

    Next one on one pull out your phone. Say you don’t mind if I record this. Before he can respond start recording. Ask questions . Ask for feedback. Then go to HR with the recording.

  36. Sleeping Late Every Day*

    As awful as the “you’re not important” comment sounded, I wonder if that manager had been told that his group didn’t count by upper management, and that the comment was more of a jaded, generic collective “you.”

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