my employee is patronizing when I correct his work

A reader asks:

My employee, who is fresh out of college, is often not very thorough or good at his job. He’ll submit work that clearly lacked any attention to detail. And 90% of the time, there are errors that I end up pointing out. I am fair, factual, and give context to why the error is important to avoid. I never reprimand, just state the facts and move on.

He always responds with an excuse like “oh, I thought you said it was this” (even though I clearly wrote the answer out in the email to him) and then he follows up with a “good job” or “cool, great catch.” It’s always in a tone that feels condescending and patronizing. I’ve been in my industry for years. I don’t really need to hear compliments on how great I was at catching that 1 + 1 isn’t = 40. To me, it’s 100% not the same as saying “oh, thanks for catching that!” It’s like instead of appreciating that I was there to help him fix something, he pats me on the back for doing my job?

It’s really weird and I’m not sure how to address it. Another observation is that he is not like this with my colleagues, most of whom are male, and I’m a smaller Asian woman.

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.

{ 243 comments… read them below }

  1. Condescending?*

    I’m a writer who does a lot of reviewing/editing. I say stuff – and am told – and say – stuff like great catch or similar all the time and it’s not coming across as condescending (to me, or to at least one other person who would have said something about it because we do discuss other stuff that comes across as condescending).

    I get the good job if it’s repeated a lot, but even that seems fine every do often.

    I do think a lot of it could be tone if done verbally. That would make a big difference

    I’m a writer used to getting a lot if feedback so maybe I just have a thicker skin than most, but having a bunch of innocuous “thanks” responses is part of the job so this post/response concerns me.

    1. Condescending?*

      And edited twice to make sure I was clear it was both sent and received feedback. Sigh.

    2. Orv*

      I had the same thought about “great catch,” but I’ll definitely stop using it now.

      I do wonder if the fact that it’s coming from someone much younger is affecting how it’s interpreted.

      1. Orv*

        I wonder if “good point” should be similarly avoided. Should I just not compliment people when they spot a mistake I made?

        1. Some Words*

          I would not. I thank the person for pointing out the error, apologize for it and take steps to avoid the error in the future.

          Complimenting the person pointing out the error seems to be an effort to misdirect the focus of the conversation. This might appear that the person receiving the correction isn’t focusing on the error.

          1. Orv*

            I see. I grew up in the Midwest so I tend to sprinkle friendly “thank you” types of remarks liberally throughout my correspondence. I should probably rein it in and be more strictly formal.

            1. Frank Doyle*

              Saying “thank you” isn’t quite a compliment, though. Those are two different things. You can thank them for catching an error without complimenting them on finding it, which is the condescending part.

              1. Orv*

                I think where I struggle is with trying to seem gracious when I’m being criticized without just apologizing constantly, which is my natural instinct.

                1. Not Tom, Just Petty*

                  Being gracious. That statement struck me years ago reading about how to accept a compliment. Instead of making the giver feel awkward, be gracious.
                  And it works in this situation, too. I’ve thanked people for the heads up. I’ve thanked them for letting me know. Typically get a “sure thing!” or “no problem!” so I think it’s pretty successful.

              2. Admin 22*

                Did the OP say something about them patting them? The pat wouldn’t be appreciated by me at all.

            2. Dasein9 (he/him)*

              “Thank you” or “done” work fine when you need to just acknowledge that you received and incorporated the feedback.

              Every once in a while, I’ll give an “Oof, that’s embarrassing; thanks for catching it!” when the feedback catches a brain leak.

              1. Some Words*

                That’s it. The “Thank you” in this instance is that they’re doing me the courtesy of letting me research/correct my own error so I can take steps to improve my performance. It’s not a compliment.

            3. Festively Dressed Earl*

              I think it may be a Midwest regional thing. I’m in Florida, and when I was in the Midwest helping my aunt relocate down here, I got annoyed about people telling me “good job” all the time. It came off as sarcastic and condescending, but to my aunt’s Midwestern community it was the equivalent of waving when a person lets you in front of them in traffic.

            4. Bananapantsfeelings*

              You’re presumably not giving one response to the little Asian lady, and a totally different response to all the fellow dudes.

              And you’re not rules-lawyering your own mistakes.

              I’m guessing this same manager would have a very different reaction to you saying the exact same thing, because the specific words are conveying a lot more of his thoughts than this employee realizes.

          2. AF Vet*

            I think this might be a case similar to when someone compliments a minority by saying they’re eloquent or speak so clearly. I’m white, so sincere apologies if I’m way off base here, but could part of the reaction be because it feels like a microaggression? Like, OF COURSE the sweet subservient little Asian lady is there to catch all of my mistakes. Hyuck hyuck hyuck. (Gag)

            Again, if I’m off base, I sincerely apologize.

        2. Pippa K*

          Seems like an obvious big difference between “oh hey good catch” or “good point” among peers, for example, and a not-very-skilled new hire speaking patronisingly to his boss.

          I hope Alison’s suggestions work on this guy, but I’d drop the “I know that’s not your intent” when noting the patronising remarks. Just name it straightforwardly – “this comes off as patronising and that’s not a good look” – without preemptively comforting him about it. I’ve encountered a number of young men like this over the years, and the condescension is always intentional and they never think the target can spot it. Direct professional feedback from their (woman) boss is something best encountered early.

          1. Hannah Lee*

            Since he’s responding differently to LW vs other (mostly male) colleagues, I agree LW should drop the “I know that’s not your intent”. Because frankly, it’s not clear that it isn’t his intent.

            In this case, him feeling a bit of discomfort, even just momentarily, over how he’s coming across to his boss can be useful. LW doesn’t need to preemptively soften that. The combination of “your response to me pointing out the error was not appropriate and when you do that it doesn’t make you come off well” and “let’s see where the disconnect in communication was so you don’t make a similar mistake again” is a good way to push back on his inappropriate response and then immediately focus on “Expectations are that you will not make this mistake again”

            I’m also trying to think of any of my experiences in male dominated workplaces where a male manager would ever be expected to preface negative feedback with “I know you didn’t intend …” or would ever think to do it, and … nope, I got nothing.

            1. Bananapantsfeelings*

              Agree. Male managers just say stuff and expect us women to manage our own feelings.

            2. Reader*

              I’ve definitely seen people who softened every criticism, and expected their teams to follow that example.

              When one of those guys dropped the niceties and gave abrupt instructions, people glanced over discreetly to see what happened.

              This velvet glove was fairly common in consultants, people who were proud of their coaching skills, executive customer care, and I also saw it in managers of highly trained knowledge workers (who were easy to lose and hard to replace).

            3. I&I*

              ‘I’d like to assume this isn’t your intent’ can give credit to the well-meaning while firing a shot across the bow of the rude.

          2. goddessoftransitory*

            I agree; in the scenario described the problem is less regional/personal linguistic quirks and far more “kid young enough to be my son acting like I’m a trained dog.”

        3. Irish Teacher.*

          I think context matters too. If the person is your boss and their job involves checking your work for mistakes, then complimenting them could come across like you are trying to change the tone of the conversation from your boss letting you know of a concern about your work to your boss doing you a favour. If the person is just a colleague who happens to have noticed a mistake and is letting you know to be helpful, then complimenting them is more likely to be appropriate.

          1. Person from the Resume*

            Absolutely this. A boss is not catching things because they are editing an employee’s work draft, they are finding errors that the employee should not have made in the first place. It’s not their job to edit the employee’s work like is is a person’s job to review/edit a document before release.

            1. Hannah Lee*


              I might occasionally ask my boss to review a critical document I’ve prepared just to make sure I’m clearly communicating the key points. (He is much more concise than I am) Especially one with an external key stakeholder audience, because a 2nd set of eyes on stuff is good.

              But typically, by the time work product is leaving my desk the first time, it should not have errors in it.

              Yes, it happens because I’m only human, but in those cases my response is an immediate “Oh, yeah. I’ll correct that right now” not a “good job catching that!”

            2. Friday Person*

              (Getting a little far afield of the original letter, but just noting re: “A boss is not catching things because they are editing an employee’s work draft” that this is entirely workplace and role dependent! My boss and I frequently proofread or edit each other’s work.)

          2. Catwhisperer*

            +1, the power dynamics are much different, especially if you’re the one paying your editor.

            It also sounds like the mistakes are in a finished product that may or may not have already been shared more widely. There’s a big difference between that and a mistake found as part of the normal revision process. Since there usually isn’t an extensive editing process for regular business documents, it’s reasonable for a manager to expect an employee to do their own review and revisions.

        4. Siege*

          There’s a huge difference, along with all the other points people have raised, between an infrequent error met with a “good catch” (spoken in an enthusiastic tone) and constantly reviewing bad work product and being told “good catch”. The sheer frequency makes a difference.

          1. Hannah Lee*

            I remember I was in a rough patch at Old Job (challenging project + inexperience + overwhelming personal stuff going on meant I wasn’t as on the ball as I had been), and I made an error. Boss caught it and pointed it out to me, I responded something like “oh, good, thanks, I’ll fix that” and he (usually pretty collaborative while also direct) stopped, looked directly at me and said, in a serious tone “No. It’s NOT good”

            It made the point that, no, this wasn’t being seen as a typical error-catch, but that a) the error was seen as an issue in my current overall shaky performance and b) my quick (kind of automatic) response didn’t convey that I *got* that. I quickly shifted tone, apologized, and said something about following up to ensure improvement.

            It stung. But frankly, given how my overall performance was at that time, the sting was appropriate. I think that kind of sting would be appropriate for LW’s employee at this point.

          2. Jaydee*

            Yeah, I feel like “good catch” is for a genuine good catch. Like there was one small but critical error on page 5 of a 12 page report. And the tone of voice should be like “Oh crap! Good catch, I totally missed that. I’m going to fix it right now!” It’s not something you say to your boss when they’re pointing out a bunch of really obvious mistakes in your work.

          3. Chas*

            This is what I was thinking, it sounds like the main problem is that the employee’s work is consistently poor, and the employee is deflecting criticism instead of making an effort to fix the ongoing problems. If it weren’t for the former, OP probably wouldn’t be as annoyed at the latter. (But OP really needs to focus on a serious fix for the ongoing problem rather than surface level annoyance.)

            1. Aww, coffee, no*

              Except the surface level annoyance is happening because the employee is behaving in either (or both) a sexist or racist manner and this also needs to be fixed.

        5. ecnaseener*

          I mean, I think it comes down to whether it really was a good point. Spotting a pitfall in your plan, something that most people might not have thought of? That’s a good point. Spotting that you made a basic factual error that an intern would’ve caught? Just say thanks, not good point.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            Yup. “Two plus two doesn’t equal forty, and you’ve misspelled the name of our company in the title” isn’t your boss demonstrating proofreading genius.

        6. Falling Diphthong*

          It comes down to having enough sense of norms to recognize whether something IS a great catch or a good point.

          “While we treat llamas like alpacas in everything else, if it’s June 7th in Denmark we actually have to express everything in the past tense.”
          “Oh. Wow. Great catch. Thanks.”

          “1 + 1 is not 37.”
          “Oh. Wow. Great catch. Thanks.”
          “Next line, 8 is not a verb.”
          “Good job. Great catch. You’re really doing well.”

        7. another Hero*

          to me “good job” and “good point” are very very different. “good point” indicates “I hadn’t thought of that, and you’re right, thanks.” it wouldn’t make sense to me to use about catching typos or about “we were really looking for you to approach this differently, like x”; it would make sense to me to use about feedback like “considering the audience, you should probably explain this jargon” or “this piece of info is dated” or similar. it probably does indicate a level of shared-endeavor energy that to me makes it more natural to say to a peer, but I can see saying it to my boss, especially if we’re thinking it through together–if she’s like “I wonder if we should account for x,” I’d think “oooh good point” was a perfectly reasonable response.

        8. AngryOctopus*

          I think it’s fine if you’re also not actively trying to say you got different instructions, etc., the way this guy is. I’ve said it to my boss when he finds errors before I give group meeting, because sometimes you just don’t see errors anymore! Or you’re too focused on the data/whatever it is, and you don’t notice that you left the wrong title on a slide, so having someone see it is really helpful.

        9. RedinSC*

          I think “Thank you for catching that” or just “thank you” is appreciation enough. Good point I would only use if there was an explanation on why this isn’t as you thought it would be.

        10. amoeba*

          Hmm, maybe it’s because I’m not a native speaker, but “good point” comes across very differently than “great catch” or “good job”! At least for me, “good point” is more an acknowledgement that the other person is correct (or, well, has a point) than a compliment like “great job”. I use it like “ah, yes, you’re right!”.

          So, tl;dr, “great job” would annoy me, “good point” wouldn’t. “Great catch” would probably be somewhere in the middle and depend on tone/context.

      2. Artemesia*

        Great catch might pass with a peer, but when a subordinate says it repeatedly or worse yet ‘good job’ like a mother to a toddler, it is sexist and condescending. Sexist because no way is this young twerp saying this to a male supervisor.

        1. PineappleColada*

          Yes, I mean let’s call it what it is: he’s trying to assert dominance over her by belittling her in minor ways. It’s not an accident, in my opinion. May not be a conscious thing, but still not an accident.

          1. Justcuz*

            He is likely trying to defer the idea that he is somehow “wrong” or “less than” the person correcting him – some people see corrections as personal slights so they try to depersonalize them using this kind of language. And given the context that he is only this way to women, then it becomes something altogether troubling. Like, he can’t hear criticism. Or even more concerning, the word no.

            1. Shoot another shot, try to stop the feeling*

              It could even be as simple as being overly precious about his ego.

                1. MigraineMonth*

                  “Help, help, my boss is emasculating me by giving feedback on the sub-par quality of my work.”

          2. Bananapantsfeelings*

            It might be an accident… but it’s an accident because his thoughts are sexist.

            We know that because his actions are sexist, and so we can reasonably infer that his words that sound sexist are also sexist.

        2. SnowyRose*

          I wouldn’t take that bet. Without fail, we have to coach almost every single intern or fresh out of college new hire on how to take constructive feedback. Many of them do respond similarly regardless of the gender of either person because they simply haven’t learned that how you respond to your boss (or someone higher in the org chart) isn’t the same as how you respond to a peer or even a professor.

          I’m more inclined to ascribe it to professional immaturity than sexism without more evidence of the latter.

          1. Observer*

            I’m more inclined to ascribe it to professional immaturity than sexism without more evidence of the latter.

            That would be a problem all on its own. But we do actually have evidence for sexism in that this guy does NOT do this to the LW’s *male* colleagues.

            1. constant_craving*

              I am curious about how LW knows this. Is feedback by her and others being given publicly? Or has she asked others who have similar oversight of his work?

              1. Observer*

                Seriously? I think we can take the LW’s word that this is what is happening. And it really makes no difference how she knows.

              2. Jessica*

                Ah, people desperate to believe that a woman is lying about or imagining sexism.

                Must be a day ending in Y.

          2. Jessica*

            “A male employee is being deferent to men who are senior to him and condescending to a woman who’s senior to him.”

            “I don’t know why you’d assume that’s sexism.”

            *internal screaming intensifies*

          3. Kella*

            “he is not like this with my colleagues, most of whom are male, and I’m a smaller Asian woman.”

            Inexperience would lead to him using these phrases with *anyone* who gave him feedback and that is not the case. Is that not sufficient evidence?

        3. Turquoisecow*

          Yeah you’d say “good catch” to a peer or a subordinate, someone who’s just learning or has a similar level of knowledge to you. You don’t say it to your boss or your teacher – it implies that you are on the same level or above the person. Of course your boss/teacher is making a “good catch”, it’s their job to do that, and to be better at it than you are.

          1. littlehope*

            Right, I think OP is right that there’s a difference between, “Thanks for catching that,” and “Good job catching that,” and this is it. “Thanks for catching that,” is just that – oh, thanks for saving me from making a mistake. “Good job” feels like an attempt to reverse the dynamic; no no, it’s not that you’re correcting me from a position of some authority, I’m actually in a position to graciously give you approval and comment on *your* performance.

            1. NotAnotherManager!*

              This is my read as well. If someone I was training/supervising on a task told me “good catch,” I’d be inclined to tell them I needed *them* to catch it next time and talk about some processes/techniques for doing that. “Thanks for catching that” has an entirely different vibe to me.

      3. a clockwork lemon*

        “Good catch” or similar language is something I hear or say almost daily, and it flows up and down. Anyone reviewing my work is doing so because it’s literally their job–I’m not going to thank them for performing their part of our process. If I miss something and the reviewer sees it, it IS a good catch because it means the process is working as intended.

      4. Rainy*

        So I get “great catch” a lot when I’m reviewing people’s work, and there are two main ways people use it, one of which is perfectly fine and one of which is incredibly (and increasingly, because this kind of person does it A LOT) annoying.

        When “great catch” seems completely anodyne to me, the person whose work I’m reviewing clearly respects my input, treats me like a trusted expert, and has a collaborate attitude about working *with* me to make whatever they’re doing the best it can possibly be. When I suggest reworking a paragraph to emphasize a specific point or offer a couple of options to make something flow more smoothly, or a different formatting choice that makes the product easier to read, this kind of client saying “Oh, great idea” or “Good catch” reads as acknowledgement of the suggestion and a willingness to consider/discuss it.

        The other way people commonly use “Great catch” is when the person has made the working relationship unnecessarily adversarial (in working with them, when I make suggestions, they push back on every one; if I convey information that should change how they’re doing something, they question my expertise or intelligence and refuse to make the change), and when I point out something that they can’t reasonably push back on, like “You spelled this word wrong” or “This word doesn’t mean that” etc, they feel the need to push back anyway, and so they’ll say “I agree” or “Great catch!” with a condescending tone, like I am a dog who just balanced a biscuit on her nose.

        If you are not using “great catch” like you’re rewarding someone for putting their shoes on the right feet, you’re probably fine.

          1. Irish Teacher.*

            There has got to be some life rule that when talking about grammar or corrections or anything like that, one will always make a typo.

            1. Falling Diphthong*

              It’s the universe trying to discourage discussion threads from collapsing down this route.

            2. Condescending?*

              Or two. Or three. Sometimes because you edit before posting to avoid doing it.

      5. Crooked Bird*

        Tone matters so much. If you & the other commenter above are directly seeing it not come across as condescending, I would think it would make sense to trust your judgment. That’s just my opinion of course, but the reason for it is that there’s a tone in which “great catch” would *infuriate* me and a tone in which I would appreciate it. The first would be something very affirming and over-positive (esp if I’d caught a very minor mistake) as if implying that I need a ton of praise, and the second would be, honestly, a slightly rueful tone. Like ooh, I did that didn’t I, glad you caught it. That’s the tone I might say it in myself to a colleague I have a good rapport with, where we can laugh at ourselves a bit together.

        Tone communicates so much of most people’s actual attitudes toward each other. (Which is also why I’m always on the side of believing the OP when they say they’re being condescended to or whatever it is, outside of real reasons not to… they heard the tone & saw the nonverbals, we didn’t.)

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Yeah, tone matters *so* much. I managed to completely piss someone off over email the other week because I tried to express appreciation for something she had done and she took it as condescending. She interpreted everything I said afterwards through that lens and then refused to take a call from me to straighten it out.


          1. BubbleTea*

            I had a mentor on a fortunately brief placement who got angry with me for saying “that makes sense” when she explained how I should do things, or why I’d made a mistake by doing X. She shouted that of course it made sense, she wouldn’t say it otherwise.

            I was saying it because the other options were to nod silently and get told I was being cold, or to cry about how much I was being told off (that happened a lot too). A peer who I wasn’t particularly close with witnessed one of these occasions and reported it to our uni because she was worried by how upset I was and how harsh the feedback was.

            I can only conclude, based on some comments the mentor made, that she’d heard my accent (often viewed as “posh”) and assumed I thought I was better than her because I was doing a degree (now mandatory for the field, but not required when she qualified), and interpreted everything I did or said through that lens.

          2. goddessoftransitory*

            Oh, ugh, this reminds me of that famous meme of a mom texting her son “Uncle Steve died, LOL.” He texts back “Laugh out loud? Mom!” “THAT’S what LOL means?? I thought it meant lots of love! I have to make some calls!”

        2. Bananapantsfeelings*

          I used to have a best friend who would deliberately say innocuous words in the most inflammatory way possible. (One of several reasons she’s an ex-BFF.) I finally realized that is a tactic of people who want to undermine your credibility by telling others “all I *said* was … and she reacted like a psycho”.

      6. Venus*

        Context is a lot. Catching a small, routine error shouldn’t be “Great catch!” especially when it is from someone who makes a lot of mistakes. It isn’t a great catch.

        I have used it when I missed something subtle on an important document. I might say it once a year, and not every day.

      7. tree frog*

        Maybe I am overthinking it, but “good catch” feels like something you would say to a peer or someone who reports to you, since the context is that they’re doing their job well or doing you a favour.

        When a boss or higher up tells me about a mistake, I’ll usually say something like “thanks for letting me know” if it’s a minor thing or clearly not my fault. If it’s a more serious problem, I’ll add something to show that I take the issue seriously and have a plan to avoid it happening again.

      8. sneksnek*

        Frankly, I love being told great catch. It’s very validating and now i’m sure they will correct the error. (I’m female mid-level)

        1. sneksnek*

          Also, the only way I ever modify it is to add “thank you” when its my boss. But they say it to me fairly often, so of course it’s relationship/rapport dependent. Idk, I feel for this kid, he probably isn’t trying to be an asshole and just hasn’t been taught how to handle feedback. Growing up, I wasn’t either, didn’t have good role models for that. It’s something i make sure to model with my kid now.

    3. metadata minion*

      I think some of this depends on the relative experience/level of the people involved. It’s going to come across as much more condescending from a very new employee to their supervisor than from a writer to someone editing their work. And I’m guessing that “great catch!” from/to you is often referring to things that really were tricky to catch, or that would have been a big problem if they’d been left in, rather than the LW catching very basic errors.

      1. PineappleColada*

        Agree, if I have years of seniority on someone and they are saying “Great catch” when I am noticing very basic errors in their work (and a lot of them! Which points to a level of sloppiness) that’s going to come across very differently than a peer who gives me a well done piece of work, and I notice something that genuinely snuck by them.

      2. Caramel & Cheddar*

        Yeah “great catch” rubs me the wrong way here for the reasons you outline, but if he had said “Thanks for catching that!” I would have hated it much less. The latter feels much more like “thanks for saving my bacon!” whereas the former feels like something you say but don’t necessarily mean when you’re trying to be nice.

      3. Cyborg Llama Horde*

        When this question was first posted, Aly_b made a really good point about “great catch” being used in two distinct situations, and coming off differently, depending on which it is:

        I think “good catch” can serve two purposes:

        1) it can encourage people to point out mistakes or errors in a positive and collaborative way that helps get the job done and get work product up to snuff.
        2) it can convey genuinely being impressed that someone caught something unusual or tricky that could easily have gone unnoticed.

        I personally think it’s fine for managers to use it for purpose 1, and for everyone to use it for purpose 2 (occasionally and genuinely). If, as in the OP’s case, a subordinate (and not a very strong one) is using it consistently for purpose 1, they come across as either patronizing by trying to encourage their manager to fix their errors, or as if they don’t understand what is an occasional tricky catch to make that would be deserving of comment and thanks.

          1. 40 Years In the Hole*

            Gosh, not only me who thought this sounded familiar.
            But I like to see a manager successfully coach a newbie into understanding that “This is (not) the way” as part of a functioning professional norm.

            1. MigraineMonth*

              AAM’s magazine columns are almost always reprises of material she’s previously posted, so if you’ve read most of the archives you’ll be getting those deja-read feelings several times a week.

    4. Happy meal with extra happy*

      I think it can be different with writing because writing can be more subjective, and there’s not always one right answer on how to phrase something. It allows for more of a discussion and a back and forth compared to “you said 2+2 is 22, but the right answer is 4.”

    5. Irish Teacher.*

      I think it’s the fact that he is straight out of college and is praising his boss for doing her job.

      An inexperienced employee saying “good catch” when their boss corrects them sounds at best a bit defensive, like they are trying to imply it was such a likely mistake that it’s impressive even their boss could catch it so they, being far less experienced and in a lower position could hardly be expected to notice it themselves and at worst, like they were trying to turn things around and put themselves in the “higher” position.

      I think “good job” is a lot better than “thanks.” I would definitely thank my boss for pointing out a mistake, but I wouldn’t say “good job” or “great catch.” And I definitely wouldn’t have done so when I was straight out of college when…to be honest, one doesn’t have the experience to even be able to judge how good a catch something is or whether it’s a boring everyday easy part of the LW’s job.

      1. Observer*

        I think it’s the fact that he is straight out of college and is praising his boss for doing her job.

        Yes. And *also* that he’s using “good job”, as you note. And lastly, that he is NOT doing it to the LW’s male colleagues.

      2. londonedit*

        Yes, exactly. If he was saying it in a tone that conveyed ‘Oh, wow! I hadn’t spotted that – my apologies. Thanks for pointing it out’, then it would be fine. But ‘Great catch’ sounds too much like ‘Good job’ to me, and definitely has the potential to come across as condescending – especially when it’s a young and inexperienced person saying ‘Good job’ to their boss.

    6. Kt*

      I have been a math professor off and on over the years. When an 18-year-old boy says “good job!” when I point out that he wrote 2/2=2…

      … it says something quite explicit that he finds it “impressive” that a woman with an MS, a PhD, postdoctoral work in mathematics, and a number of published papers can catch his arithmetic errors. And it’s saying something about him, not about me.

    7. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      “Good catch,” to me, has an implication that there is some sort of nuanced –something– that the person noticed. Something substantive and not immediately obvious/understandable that it got past the radar in the first place. “Good catch” when someone points out a lack of subject-verb agreement or that they just copied the report from last year without updating the numbers, is a way to deflect responsibility for a basic error. This is very compounded by him saying “good work” for catching errors that he shouldn’t be making in the first place.

    8. Falling Diphthong*

      I am also a writer, and “great catch” (either direction) lands as a sincere compliment if the thing actually was subtle. Like I’m not surprised that Clarice is the one who caught this, because she is so great at carrying a lot of detailed information in her head so she can apply it across multiple contexts.

      But when it’s “1 + 1 is not 40” it sounds like the person saying “great catch” believes that this is a rarefied detail that very few people would understand, when it’s basic math that we expect someone to have caught in their own review before sending it on. And from a junior person who knows less to a senior person who knows more, it would certainly land to me as someone desperately attempting “fake it ’til you make it” in a context where that is not working out for them.

      I think a lot of this comes from “recent student”–he’s lobbying for a higher grade, and thinks that pretending he is extremely confident in everything he does is the way to convince his teacher-boss that he deserves good marks on this.

    9. Antilles*

      I think this is very much context-dependent.

      He does it with a condescending and patronizing tone. He’s not like this with men, just with OP, which makes it even more patronizing and weirdly gendered. He’s doing it in blatantly obvious spots, as though an industry veteran like OP somehow should be congratulated for realizing that 1+1 doesn’t equal 40. Oh, and he also apparently starts these conversations by trying to shift blame to OP and saying it’s what she said.

      Assuming you are not doing any of these, I’m guessing your feedback is both sent and received in a much more positive light.

    10. Charlotte Lucas*

      I think one of the things that is irking the manager is that he’s saying it about things he did wrong after getting clear instructions (including, it sounds like, clarifying follow-up emails). It sounds like, “Good catch noticing that I didn’t do what you asked me to!”

    11. Dust Bunny*

      I could see my boss saying “good catch” to one of us but if I, who am not in charge of anything, said something it would probably be, “Oh, thanks for catching that [thing that I overlooked]”. I’m not quite sure why they feel different, though.

    12. Project Maniac-ger*

      I think writer/editor is a different dynamic than employee/supervisor. In the above example, the person is essentially being coached and to say “good job” in that context as the coachee is weird.

      1. Markie the Editor*

        Eh, plenty of editors are indeed the manager of the writer in question, sometimes a few levels above them, even.

    13. Lizzianna*

      Context really matters here.

      I’m having trouble articulating it in writing, but I can see “Good catch!” making sense when I’m collaboratively working with a peer, but when I’m working with a relatively new employee and I’m pointing out sloppy errors, “Good catch!” seems less collegial. It could be a BEC thing if I’m already annoyed.

    14. MistOrMister*

      I am making some assumptions based on the letter, but it seems to me like the employee is being condescending. He isn’t saying these things to the male colleagues in the same situation so it likely is coming off like a sort of superiority, OP is an inferior woman type thing. Tone especially matters a lot and based on OP’s letter, I don’t think she would be taking offense if the employee was making these comments in an appropriate tone. I have had people point out mistakes and a warm, ‘thank you for catching that’ never goes amiss, but I could see how in certain circumstances a ‘good catch’ might. That being said, I havr had people tell me good catch and not been offended because I was aware how they meant it. I think OP knows this guy is talking down to her and she is rightfully peeved by it.

    15. e271828*

      I don’t think your experience as a writer is relevant to the OP, who was writing about an employee, whom she supervised, praising her for pointing out mistakes he made. It is not the employee’s place to praise his supervisor for correcting his screwups, he should acknowledge his error and correct it and not repeat it.

    16. Markie the Editor*

      Yes, this was my first thought, too, and I agree with you.

      It’s heavily dependent on context, of course, including on if OP is indeed the subject matter expert on the issues that she’s correcting (which the letter seems to indicate she is), and not that the employee has relevant expertise and knowledge that OP doesn’t (which is a different issue entirely). How long OP has been a manager can also be relevant, or if the employee is different to other people she’s managed before.

      As a WOC myself, there have been a couple of times early on my managing days that I assumed someone I was managing was being a condescending jerk due to racial and gender factors…but both these men were just young, socially awkward, new to the workplace, and following bad advice.

      It could be a simple misunderstanding of workplace norms, and/or that the employee is following the oft-stated advice to say things like “great catch” or “thanks, I’ll fix that” instead of apologising all the time.

      If the OP is objectively correct that the employee isn’t like this with male superiors, including when they make corrections or suggestions, this could be a problem. However, he may have also received bad advice as to how to ‘handle’ your direct manager (no matter their gender, race, etc) in comparison to everyone else.

      As a WOC people manager, I don’t blame OP for this raising her hackles, but I wouldn’t assume the worst based on any of this, either. Just hearing “I’m sure you don’t mean it this way, but it can come across as condescending” is pretty effective for most instances, unintentional or not.

    17. Poolgirl*

      This might be a reasonable explanation if not for the fact OP made it a point to say he only does this with her and not male colleagues.

    18. NotYourMom*

      The only thing in the letter that supports this being condescending are the gender/race dynamics. It’s not the greatest phrasing, but reading it as condescending seems to be a jump. The additional details at the end are the key to this though.

    19. PlainJane*

      I also wouldn’t take it so personally–I suspect he just feels like he’s saying, “I’m not hurt that you corrected me” or something like that, thinking that maybe his boss–who he has to see all the time–might think he felt bad about it. It’s a bad idea, and this early in his career, she should definitely tell him how it comes across, but that would be my guess on how he *thinks* it’s coming across, and there is a definite miscommunication.

        1. Dr. Doll*

          I dunno, as a boss I like to know when my team thinks I do a good job. They’re smart and I respect and trust their opinions.

          Of course tone matters a lot. If the young person here is using a punk tone, that’s not good.

          1. Goldenrod*

            In this context, though, “good job” is condescending because it’s a response to being corrected.

        2. Space Needlepoint*

          It is rude behavior. So is saying, “I thought you said X,” because he’s trying to shift responsibility onto the boss.

          The correct response, in my opinion is along the lines of. “I understand, I’ll fix it.”

  2. Texan In Exile*

    I didn’t even have to get to the last line to know the letter writer is a woman.

    1. Czhorat*

      I’m a bit slower on the uptake, but I went from “what oddly defensive behavior” to “oh, OF COURSE. I should have seen that coming”.

    2. Falling Diphthong*

      Yeah, the arguing that teacher-boss needs to give him a good grade I could see going either way. But “Great catch” for understanding kindergarten math, I could guess the gender of the person being addressed.

  3. Pool Noodle Barnacle Pen0s*

    I’m a big fan of naming the pattern in situations like this. “I’ve noticed you tend to have an unusual response when I give you feedback about errors in your work. For example, [name 3 occasions when he said “good job” or similar]. Can you shed some light on this for me?” Silence, sustained eye contact. Return awkward to sender.

    It can also be a good lead-in to a broader discussion about his work quality in general. Which is definitely going to be necessary.

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      “…when I give you feedback about errors in your work. This comes across strangely when those errors are pretty basic, like 1+1 not equaling 40 or that llamas are not alpacas. You are saying it was a great catch, but it’s actually something basic that you should be catching before it ever makes it to me. This response makes me wonder if you and I are on the same page about your performance. I’d prefer that instead of telling me I made a great catch, that you take the fact that you wrote 1+1=40 and identified a better way to track this information and QC your work so you aren’t making this basic level of mistake going forward.”

      Probably too wordy but I’d want to communicate that to him in a convo.

      1. DyneinWalking*

        “When I give you feedback about errors in your work, you tend to say things like “wow, good catch” in response to feedback on very basic errors. This makes it sound as if you are impressed when someone identifies mistakes on the level of “1+1=40”. But in fact it’s concerning that I can find these mistakes in your work at all! Most employees at your level can prevent them quite easily, and if they do, they’d be more likely to say something like “oops, sorry” – something that reflects that the mistake is an oversight, rather than something requiring impressive mental skills. If you keep acting like catching these mistakes is impressive, I’m going to wonder if you’re in the right career. Going forward, your focus needs to be on 1) not making these mistakes at all, and 2) on the rare occasions you do, clearly indicate that you understand that this is something you should have caught yourself.”

        …still wordy, but with more explanations in between.

    2. umami*

      I don’t know if it even warrants making the other person feel awkward (because I don’t actually think they will, they will probably feel defensive or they will double down on pretending they are being complimentary. I just tend to say, ‘these are the types of errors I would expect you to catch before submitting to me in the future.’ I want to make it clear that there needs to be more attention to detail on their end, not that it’s my job to catch their obvious mistakes.

    3. nissan altima*

      “Silence, sustained eye contact. Return awkward to sender.”

      IDK, I can see this going over like a lead balloon, honestly. I think the letter writer is better off just saying to their report that he needs to check his work better.

  4. woops*

    “hey maximillion, when you say things like “good job” in that sort of context it sounds patronizing. particularly when you’re saying it to your manager. it makes you sound like a jacka$$. so dont do that.”

    1. Pippa K*

      There’s a lot to be said for the direct route. It’s faster and clearer. And it’s also more fair in a way, as it gives the person the information they need to meet the expectations in question (“proofread better,” “stop condescending to me,” whatever the issue is).

  5. Hanlon's razor*

    At this moment there are not many comments to this article.

    I gather information about professional interactions, etc. from many places. I’ve seen this response in articles entitled things like “What To Say Instead Sorry” when a mistake is found in your work. I guess no one here has seen those articles.

    I am just saying it is possible he wasn’t intending to be patronizing, only incorrectly responding to critique.

    1. Czhorat*

      With the rest of the context it DOES appear patronizing, especially given what OP said about his tone AND the fact that he’s different with other men.

      You can say “good catch” in a tone that means “thanks for finding the error, I’ll fix that” and you can say it in a way that reads as, “Good JOB! You fount that all by yourself with your little girl brain!”

      There’s nuance here, and I’m trusting the LW is seeing it accurately.

    2. WellRed*

      I’m pretty sure “good job!” Isn’t included as a proper substitute for “I’m sorry” even in those listicles.

    3. ecnaseener*

      We’ve seen the articles lol. As with any advice you find on the internet, you need to apply it critically and consider the context.

      Yes, it’s possible this guy wasn’t intending to be patronizing (though I must admit I’ve never seen any articles advising you use different responses based on race or gender, so it wouldn’t explain why he only says this to LW and no one else!) — hence the advice is to tell him that it’s coming off as patronizing.

      1. Antilles*

        Also as with any advice, you need to think about the purpose behind the article. The point of replacing “sorry” in a work context is to focus on the going-forwards aspect. It’s not about the apology per se, it’s about convincing the other party that you understand the mistake and will learn from it.

        Meanwhile, this guy is making 1+1=40 caliber mistakes on 90% (!) of his reports.

    4. Tisserande d'Encre*

      I’ve seen lots of articles advising people to “say thank you instead of sorry” in response to constructive criticism. I haven’t seen any giving the advice to “compliment your boss on noticing your own mistake”.

    5. Michelle Smith*

      Sorry is absolutely an appropriate response to making a silly error that your boss had to point out to you to correct. Alternatives aren’t really necessary unless you’re apologizing when you shouldn’t be.

      1. Czhorat*

        Yes. Depending on context, I’ve said:

        “so noted”
        “my bad; I’ll fix that right away”
        “sorry – I shouldnt’ have let that slip”
        “Ouch. Can’t believe I missed that. Thanks”.

        The first ones can sound stiff and formal, but I have weird speech patterns which can make them feel natural from me in the right contexts (like a group page-turn). The latter include an acknowledgement that I was wrong; I think part of the pushback against “good catch” is that it’s deflecting from the fact that you made a mistake. There’s value in owning up to it.

        1. Pita Chips*

          As a manager, I’d be fine with any of these, though the first two would be better from an employee I’ve had for a while.

        2. DyneinWalking*

          Yeah, especially for “1+1=40”-caliber mistakes I’d go for one of the last two examples. Something that reflects that I know that it’s an embarrassingly basic mistake. Once people know me better I might act more casual about it, but until then…

        3. Frankie*

          I use “noted” a lot usually in a structure like “thank you that is noted for my reference for next time”

          Or just said warmly so we can move on to the next point

          1. Czhorat*

            Yes, tone is ABSOLUTELY key here.

            “noted” with a smile and a nod is “I got this, I agree, let’s continue”.

            “Noted” through clenched teeth is, “yes, I have to concede this point BTU I DON’T LIKE IT”.

    6. Falling Diphthong*

      Interesting take, as “I’m sorry…. I’m sorry… I’m sorry” is also not the right response at work, where you’re supposed to take in the correction (which might be for a thing you wouldn’t be expected to know, or might as here be basic math) and then not make the same mistake again, and I could see someone asking AAM how to acknowledge such corrections without falling into their default of apologizing.

      However, to execute “Good catch” you need to know enough to correctly judge that this correction is in fact a good catch about something subtle and nuanced. It’s not going to land well for most flat out errors of facts that are considered common knowledge in this workplace.

      1. Orv*

        Yeah, my natural instinct is to apologize profusely for everything…sometimes even preemptively when I submit something that I’m afraid won’t be received well. What I’m realizing from this discussion is some of the vocal habits I’ve used to try to avoid that probably aren’t well received either.

        You’d think after 20 years in the workforce I’d maybe be good at this. Sigh.

        1. Pizza Rat*

          It took me a while to get out of the habit of apologizing AND to stop taking critique of my work as an attack on my worth as an employee and a human being. It’s a struggle, but it’s worth it. Saying things like, “I understand, I’ll fix that right away,” shows you are still confident in your abilities and are taking responsibility without wasting the time and effort of blaming anyone else.

          1. Orv*

            It’s just rough because I know 99% of my standing is based on my reputation for being competent. Any time I make a mistake and someone else catches it, that’s a chink in that armor.

      2. Czhorat*

        Yeah. If you find yourself apologizing too frequently the solution might be to be more careful and try to make fewer mistakes; the problem isn’t the repeated SAYING “I’m sorry”, it’s always having something about which to BE sorry.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          I see you are not familiar with chronic apologizers! There’s a reason the exchange “Stop saying sorry!” “Sorry!” is a classic. Some people get stuck in shame spirals when they make errors that inconvenience others, which ironically tends to inconvenience others even more.

          Unless it seriously inconvenienced someone else, you don’t usually need to apologize for mistakes at work. It’s more important to own it, correct it, and make a plan to prevent similar errors going forward than to get forgiveness.

          1. Orv*

            Yeah, that’s me. I feel shame not just for wasting someone else’s time, but also for undermining their view of me as someone worthwhile and competent.

    7. Observer*

      I am just saying it is possible he wasn’t intending to be patronizing, only incorrectly responding to critique.

      Nope to the nth degree. There are a lot of places where not apologizing is the way to go. This is not one of them. But also, if this were what this guy were going after, there would be a bazillion other things he could say that would not be apology. “Good job” is the *worst* way possible to handle it.

      When it’s coming on top of trying to claim that you were not given the correct information / you were given other instructions / other ridiculous or untrue excuses, it’s even worse.

      Lastly, even if he were stupid enough to miss both of those things, you would see him doing that with *everyone* at the LW’s level. But in fact, he’s only doing this the *HER* and not to any of her *male* colleagues.

      Please stop trying to find any and all excuses to avoid the obvious conclusion. If it walks, talks, quacks and waddles like a duck, it’s almost certainly no a cygnet. Acting like everyone else is over-reacting for not considering the highly unlikely scenario doesn’t really work.

      Hanlon’s Raxoz is a useful rule of thumb, but in this case sheer stupidity does not come close to “adequately explaining” this person’s behavior.

      1. Reebee*

        This is so harsh and unnecessary. Looks like this is a good learning opportunity for the guy. I sure am glad that I, a woman, had people take me aside when I was younger to say “Hey, that’s not cool and here’s why,” and not lambast me as the worst person who ever walked the planet.

        OP, set the guy straight as you would anyone else. Also, I’m curious how you know that he isn’t that way with males. I’m not doubting you, since we are supposed to take LWs at their word; just wondering what your process was to reach that conclusion, e.g. have you spoken with your male colleagues about the situation?

        1. Elbe*

          I agree that the LW should talk to him about this. The guy is young and likely capable of change. Setting him straight would be a kindness.

          But that doesn’t make anything that Observer said incorrect. Based on the letter, it does seem very likely that some (potentially unconscious) bias is in play here. That doesn’t mean that this guy is “the worst person who ever walked the planet,” but it should be incorporated into how the LW approaches it.

          Acknowledging how badly someone is behaving is not mutually exclusive with giving them some grace and guidance. In fact, I think that they are very much related.

        2. Observer*

          and not lambast me as the worst person who ever walked the planet.

          No one is doing that. But the idea that sexism is not in play here is simply untenable. And if we are going talk about “harsh and unnecessary” I’d say that it applies to attempts to justify poor behavior and sexism in the work place, and attempts to get the LW to doubt the evidence in front of her.

          Also, I’m curious how you know that he isn’t that way with males. I’m not doubting you,

          Then why have you repeatedly brought it up? What difference does it make. The LW knows that this is happening. Is there a limit on the permissibility of using information one has base on getting it in the “approved” manner (outside of things like legal proceedings and illegal behavior)?

          PS This is a reprint, so it’s unlikely that the Original LW will see or respond to this.

        3. MigraineMonth*

          I assume LW has noticed that their report acts differently with other people through observation. Does it matter? We don’t need to prove different treatment by sex (and possibly by race) to a court; he’s not good at his job in either case.

      2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

        “he is not like this with my colleagues, most of whom are male, and I’m a smaller Asian woman”

        That’s a big dollop of sexism and/or racism coming from this guy.
        The OP should not be advised to ignore this

    8. Elbe*

      There’s a ton of bad work advice floating around out there. Shutting this down would be a great way for him to understand that his current sources aren’t the best. The advice here holds up either way.

  6. My Old Name is in the Shop*

    Him: Great catch!

    You: This is pretty basic. I would like to see you making more of these ‘great catches’ yourself.

    1. umami*

      Heh, yes, this! I said as much above, but I like your wording. I would just say ‘I expect to see you’, vs. ‘would like’, but yeah.

    2. Uranus Wars*

      This is the answer the OP needs for things that aren’t nuanced or truly something that they are proofing for.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      I completely agree with this: accepting the patronising compliment that it’s a “good catch” is undermining OP’s intended message that they’re basic mistakes anyone should be able to spot. Whether they’re doing this intentionally to subvert the message or not, the record needs to be set straight: “Actually it wasn’t hard to catch at all; it’s very basic proofreading that you should have done before submitting this.”

      1. BikeWalkBarb*

        …and for you to succeed in this role in the long run you need to be catching these yourself so I don’t see them at all.

    4. Elbe*

      This is great.

      If he is saying this to try to make his errors seem less severe (I’m not bad at my job! You’re just really good at it!) then this would address that directly.

      If he is racist/sexist and is genuinely surprised that she noticed the issue, then this would address that, too, by putting the focus back on him.

    5. tree frog*

      I think this gets at why this response is so grating to receive. It feels like he thinks he can con his boss into not realizing he’s bad at his job by complimenting her on recognizing basic mistakes. It’s a double insult to her intelligence.

  7. HonorBox*

    I think the larger point is that there are numerous errors in this employee’s work. Errors happen (other than for the LW last week) and while that is to be expected, it is also important that errors become less frequent.

    I think it would be best for the LW to name that problem first. I’ve told people that it is really helpful to think about what we need to do to help ourselves, then determine how to not create more work for others. This employee isn’t doing what he needs to do to help himself because he’s not putting out quality work. And then someone has to spend the time to correct mistakes. So he’s costing the company more because his work quality isn’t what it should be.

    Point out that while occasional errors are to be expected because we’re human, the number is concerning. Then point out where information is located (in an email) so he can see more clearly. And then it could be pointed out that his response comes across poorly when someone else is regularly finding errors in his work. While it might not rub some people as wrong as it is for this LW, it is something he should be made aware of because coupled with the regularity of errors that need to be fixed, he’s creating an issue that may be much larger for himself.

  8. Sunny*

    Part of the issue here also seems to be that he’s not acknowledging his errors – “great catch” is a deflection, and doesn’t take on any responsibility. It works when you’re on even footing, and you’re making a normal level of typos/errors. I’m in communications, so it’s expected that someone will come along and catch some phrasing or a typo that you missed – and we usually reply with something like ‘thanks, good catch.’ And an apology when needed (ie. it’s my boss or it would have caused major issues.) And if I was making errors/typos daily, that would speak to my ability to do my core job.

    I don’t see anywhere that says he’s taking in the feedback, acknowledging these are things he should have caught/corrected himself, or what he’s doing to stop making mistakes. I sense OP is also reacting to that part, as well as the general condescending tone and gender dynamics.

    1. Dust Bunny*

      Augh, thank you for articulating this. I was trying to pin down why it bugged me so much but, yes, I think it’s because it doesn’t take any responsibility.

    2. umami*

      Yes, exactly! That’s why I would focus way less on how he is responding to feedback and way more on the expected outcome. It’s not ‘great’ that I have to catch simple mistakes, so I would explicitly state that they need to do a better job of catching their own errors because while I am happy to review and provide guidance, I expect work to be as error-free as possible when it gests to me. I wouldn’t even bother addressing how the ‘great catch’ comes across since it is secondary to the real issue.

    3. Drowning in Spreadsheets*

      He’s also saying things like, “I thought you said in your email…” which reads to me like he’s trying to shift blame.

      1. Elbe*

        Yes, and the blame shifting and condescension could be related.

        If he just thinks less of the LW for racist/sexist reasons, it could be that he feels more comfortable trying to get away with mistakes with her than with his male coworkers. If he underestimates her abilities, he may feel more able to try his little reframing trick on her.

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Or he might be the type of racist-sexist who thinks it’s humiliating for his mistakes to be pointed out by someone of LW’s demographics (like the men who accept getting corrected by another man, but when they’re corrected by a woman it’s “emasculating”). So he leans into pretending the instructions were unclear and tries to reframe any mistakes as rare and hard to catch.

  9. GreenShoes*

    I remember this one when it first posted. Not sure if I commented then but I’d be very tempted to respond to “Good Catch” with “Yes it was, please make sure you catch it next time”

    As others have said there’s a time and place for “good catch” from a subordinate to boss. I’ve used it. It’s generally followed with a quick “sorry for missing that” or “Oh minor expletive I can’t believe I missed that, thanks”

  10. Anna*

    A small critique… LW said she is an Asian female, but the answer only addresses the sexism component of how her coworker is treating her and not the racism component. Just wanted to point that out as something that someone who is not a person of color might have overlooked, but is actually really important to address.

    1. Observer*

      I was thinking about that. And I have mixed feelings about it. In general, I think that you are completely correct, as I’d be willing to bet that racism is at play here. On the other hand, especially given that the LW doesn’t specify the race of her male colleagues it’s (barely) possible that that’s not coming into play. And also, the sexism is *SO* blatant (despite some attempts here to downplay it), that it might not we worth giving this guy a chance to deflect by claiming that “he never even realized.”

      Of course, if he has shown *any* other sign of racism, or there is no way he could have “not noticed”, that would not be something to consider.

      Of course, he’s going to claim that he’s not racist, but he’s also going to claim that he’s not sexist, so I would not worry about that piece of it, if you have something pretty clear. And I don’t mean “100% absolute certainty that would hold up in a court of law under hostile cross examination”. (I can say that there are a number of people whose ethnicity / country of origin I would never have known if they had not said something or something had not been said about it in my presence. So while I think that he’s probably being racist, it might be a good idea to avoid the issue if he can muster up plausible deniability.)

      And I feel gross saying this. Trying to game out the best way to call out bigoted people is really uchy.

    2. Pita Chips*

      That’s a great point. Racism could definitely be a component of the employee’s behavior.

    3. Ellis Bell*

      Yeah, absolutely not okay. I think the most maddening thing about it is how very subtle the employee is about making OP feel less than. His errors and incompetence are not subtle though.

    4. MigraineMonth*

      I’m not sure it’s possible to separate the sexism and racism components; Asian female is an identity with so many stereotypes (in the US context, at least) that I assumed it was an intersectional issue.

      1. Anna*

        This is exactly what I meant. Asian women are sexualized and stereotyped in a way that is tied to both attributes.

        I was nervous to write more in my first comment because I didn’t want people to think I was attacking Alison. I understand that it must be difficult for her to see the impacts of racism as clearly, even though I consider her an ally.

  11. Managing While Female*

    A big part of the response seems to be focused on an in-office environment where you can pull up an email together or look visibly confused, etc. in the moment. How would the advice change when working remotely/over email and IM instead?

      1. Managing While Female*

        Right, of course, but you would either need to jump on a call or already be on a call. I can see any of these situations also happening over email in a remote environment, which is why I was curious as to whether the advice would change in those circumstances.

        Typically, if someone emails me that I told them X instead of Y, I’ll attach the email where I definitely said Y to my response, rather than take the time to jump on a call.

        1. Pizza Rat*

          I don’t see where jumping on a call or setting aside time to review together is a problem. The corrections would be the same. The manager and employee can share screens easily. More easily, in fact, than both trying to read on the same monitor in person.

          1. Managing While Female*

            So my emphasis was intended to be more on “how would the advice change when you say ‘make this facial expression in the moment’ when you are not, in fact, in person”. I do actually know how to screen share and have done it many times, but thank you for your insight into managing remotely.

        2. Tio*

          If it were the first or second time, yeah, attach the email. When someone is making these comments a lot, then it’s time to schedule a call. It might not be immediate, like, I’m calling you right now, but this is definitely at a point where there should be face to face time scheduled for talking through a pattern like this.

          1. Managing While Female*

            My original comment was more based on how advice like this would change when someone is not in-person to receive kinds of social cues like facial expressions. I appreciate that everyone jumped on “just screen share” for the emails but that is the easy response and I do know how to do that.

            I actually asked my question for general conversation regarding the differences between managing remotely vs in person but, yes, I do call people and screen share when there is a pattern of behavior. Thanks.

  12. LadybuggingLB*

    I’ve certainly said, “Thank you for catching that” but never “Good job at catching my error”. I mean….the audacity to praise your boss for having to point out your own mistake. I can’t even….

    1. M2RB*

      Yes, I have definitely said, “Oh, thank you for catching that. I have added this scenario to my notes so I know to watch for it in the future.” This is especially relevant to me since I started a new position about three months ago and am learning so many new things!

  13. B*

    I know it’s not always this simple and the LW may not be in a position to make this happen but… this does not sound like someone who needs to remain employed. Fresh out of college, sloppy, patronizing, rude, and maybe sexist and/or racist? I dunno man, seems like a problem with an obvious solution. Life’s too short to entertain this kind of nonsense.

    1. Drowning in Spreadsheets*

      At the very least he needs a firm talking to that the errors and his attitude will not be tolerated. LW really should have addressed this the second time it happened.

  14. Roles*

    After reading some of the other comments, I wonder if there’s a context I apply that others don’t.

    Within the writing/review process boss/subordinate roles are secondary to writer/reviewer/editor roles. I don’t mean that if the boss declaratively says what I say goes we disregard that or we don’t treat him (and everyone else) respectfully and professionally, but if he sends us comments/suggestions/feedback they’re evaluated like everyone else’s are, and if he writes something we edit it like we edit everything else. We may go out of our way to explain choices a little more or ask if he’s okay with the way we handled it after we make the edits or accept/reject/modify the suggested changes, but during the process we evaluate the merits independently and, if multiple people send feedback, collectively. I don’t fundamentally respond to him differently than anyone else within the writing process.

    So I’m not necessarily in direct boss/subordinate mode in this process, although of course I’m still respectful of our relative positions generally. My brain is responding in writer/reviewer mode, not I’m having a specific conversation with my boss mode (that part does lurk in the background).

    That’s been my experience to some degree or another at every company I’ve worked save one, and that one had a non-functional review process.

    If other people don’t have a role/function based lens, that could color the interactions and make them come across in a different light.

    I’ll have to think about this some more.

    1. Jennifer Strange*

      You seem to be approaching this as the LW is making suggestions to the content or voice, but it sounds like she is pointing out factual errors. That’s a very different thing.

      1. Falling Diphthong*

        This. I am a writer currently working on a math textbook, where “this is factually wrong” is a thing that arises and needs to be corrected, and it can be the most junior person on the team pointing out the error.

        There’s also plenty of style stuff, which can range from “This style for the Check In is consistent and you really should have picked it up by now” to “Hmmm. You’re right, the thing we did in the first seventeen chapters won’t work with the topics in 18, and so we need to figure out how to address this and whether it’s a one-off.” The latter is “great catch” territory; the former you just look clueless for telling your PM “Great job” for catching an error you should have caught.

    2. Pummeled by PowerPoint*

      Reviewers are often approvers though. I don’t think you can ignore the boss/employee roles here.

    3. Observer*

      I don’t think that there is anything in what the LW describes that matches what you are describing.

      Emp doesn’t follow instructions then says that he wasn’t given those instructions. When the LW shows him the email chain he says “Good job” or “good catch”. That’s not even close to being an editorial review process.

      Emp makes factual errors and then claims that he’s right. When the LW shows him black and white why he’s wrong he responds with “good catch” or “good job”. That’s not how reasonable editorial review processes work. Especially when the errors are literally elementary school level. In a normal review process if someone makes a mistake like 1+1=40 and someone catches it, the person who made the mistake does not argue. And they also don’t say anything resembling “good catch”. It they say anything other than “I’ll fix it right away!” it might be something like “I seem to be having a bit of a bad day here.”

      And that’s in an editorial review process where it makes sense to have the kind of back and forth you are describing. In a more typical environment, where the manager reviews their employee’s work, primarily for completeness and accuracy, it’s even more ridiculous.

    4. David*

      Coming from the world of software engineering, I have the same context you do. Software is another one of those fields where, within the scope of a project, people can act in roles that are very different from their roles in the organization’s hierarchy, so that the usual power dynamic between manager and employee could be reversed. (I’m sure it’s not extremely common, but it happens – in fact I’m just now wrapping up a major project where I was designated as the “lead” for the project and my manager was one of the non-lead participants, so it’s on my mind.)

      I’m getting the impression that in many other fields of work, that sort of thing just isn’t done, and in particular there doesn’t seem to be anything in the letter to suggest that this is the sort of thing going on there. So I guess we just have to be careful not to project our context on the letter-writer’s situation.

      1. MigraineMonth*

        I think if I was a manager reviewing code by a new hire with zero professional experience and had to point out really basic errors 90% of the time (e.g. “This code doesn’t compile” or “This crashes if you enter the number zero”), I would be concerned if the comments I was getting back were “Good job!” and “Great catch!”

        No, it’s not. They’re doing a really sloppy job, and the fact that they’re pretending these bugs are difficult to find rather than acknowledging that they absolutely should have found them themselves makes me concerned they don’t understand the standards and aren’t taking steps to meet them.

        Look, I’ve told peers and those with more experience “great catch” when it really was a great catch. I’ve written emails praising the QA team for doing a great job when they uncovered a subtle and long-running bug that had significant customer impact. Those are infrequent and meaningful compliments, though, not just chaff thrown out there to deflect responsibility.

    5. Friday Person*

      This is useful — I agree that the “good catch” seems totally inappropriate in the LW’s context but it would be totally normal in many situations in my workplace*, and it helps me understand a bit better why others are reacting so strongly.

      *Catching each other’s mistakes is an extremely normal part of our workflow, and sometimes it really is just a good catch!

      1. Markie the Editor*

        Agree with you and Roles.

        A lot of this is dependent on context, and it’s hard to know whether OP’s employee is someone who’s utilising the oft-repeated advice (mentioned by other commenters) to say things like “nice catch” or “thank you”, rather than just continuously saying “sorry”…or if there’s a bigger problem.

  15. Forrest Rhodes*

    I agree with other commenters that it makes a difference hearing “good catch” from a subordinate or a superior. When my superiors review my work, I’m really pleased when I hear them say, “Oh, yeah—good catch, we missed that!”

    If I’m hearing it—and often—from someone who is in a lower position than I am and is actually reporting to me, along with the condescension and the fact that I’m the only one he’s doing it to, I’m going to point out (politely and supportively, at least at first) that Junior (a) needs to acknowledge the error and the learning, and (b) definitely doesn’t have the standing to cop that attitude.

    1. Ellis Bell*

      I’m kind of astonished people see themselves in this narrative just because they’ve said “good catch” or thanked someone for spotting an error. If the rest of the context doesn’t apply, it’s probably not comparable! This is someone patting their boss on the head for spotting multiple and basic factual errors; foreseeable errors that their boss already had to remind them once about in an email. If you’re not making “oh, I thought you said it was this” excuses about the errors, it’s not the same context.

  16. EC*

    I would think seriously about firing him. He consistently makes lots of basic errors even after they’ve been pointed out multiple times. Instead of improving he makes snide comments. Not being able to do the work is a perfectly valid reason for firing someone.

    1. Markie the Editor*

      You actually need to give people the support and time required to improve before you even think about cutting their livelihood off.

      1. Orv*

        If people are correct that this is sexism, he may not be prepared to accept that support from a woman.

  17. A long time big boy*

    I don’t know if it’s condescending so much as trying to save face and being defensive. Either way though, you can address it if you feel it’s affecting performance.

    Also, does he understand and then implement the corrections you’re making? That’s a pretty big part of it too regardless of the wording

    1. Observer*

      I don’t know if it’s condescending so much as trying to save face and being defensive.

      Because the only one he needs to save face with is his Female boss, not his Male higher ups?

      <i.Either way though, you can address it if you feel it’s affecting performance.

      Not *can*, absolutely SHOULD. Because it’s a problem all on it’s own, aside from performance. *Even* if it were only defensiveness, it’s unacceptable. And given that it is 100% clear that it *is* affecting his performance – the LW says that 95% of his work has ridiculous errors in it and she needs to waste time with getting him to even accept that he’s wrong. That’s a pair of *major* performance issues right there.

    2. Sleve*

      He’s trying to save face by being condescending. He’s attempting to pull himself back up into a position of power in the conversation by pushing her down, in order to make himself look better by comparison. Manipulative behaviour isn’t magically more acceptable just because this lad might have hurt feelings.

  18. not nice, don't care*

    Sad that so many people are still so willing to pretzel themselves rather than call out mean boy behavior. No wonder younger folk still do this kind of nonsense. Too many adults just give it a pass.

    1. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      Yep, so many excuses. So many people just ignoring that the OP is an Asian woman and that he doesn’t do this to most of her male colleagues (the white ones?)

  19. 653-CXK*

    “Thanks for letting me know” has been my neutral phrase of acknowledgement after I’ve forgotten something or made an error.

  20. Goody*

    “Good catch” does feel wrong in this scenario. Maybe not condescending, but definitely not an appropriate response when your boss calls out an error you made. Given that he’s young and new, maybe he just hasn’t learned how a minor word change can greatly affect meaning.

    “Thank you for catching my error” is more in line with what I would expect to hear, along with an improvement in his review before submission in the future so these errors don’t keep happening.

    1. DyneinWalking*

      “Given that he’s young and new, maybe he just hasn’t learned how a minor word change can greatly affect meaning.”

      Wait, what? Most people start to pick up on those subtle differences as children! And the majority of teens are definitely have the social skills to tell the differences, even if they may not be able to explain their gut feeling.

      Besides, this employee is only doing it to the female boss, not to other people…
      The truly clueless aren’t that selective. People either make a blunder all the time with all kinds of people, or not at all. A “blunder” that only happens in very specific contexts is just a poor excuse for sexism/racism/whatever-ism.

      1. Elbe*

        The truly clueless aren’t that selective.

        100% agreed. If he was doing this with everyone, cluelessness would be a more likely cause. Clearly even he knows enough not to say it to the men.

    2. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      ” maybe he just hasn’t learned how a minor word change can greatly affect meaning.”

      He’s learned it for the most of the OP’s male colleagues, who may also be mostly white, whereas the OP is an Asian woman.

  21. Honey Badger*

    I think one aspect of what makes “great catch” or “good job” come across as patronizing in this context is that it suggests that the employee (thinks he has) the expertise to evaluate the supervisor’s work. I’ve had junior employees do this sort of thing with me and I find it very aggravating. I think in this case I’d want to say something like “I’m not asking you to evaluate whether or not I’m doing a good job….”

    1. Paint N Drip*

      Another commenter mentions the employee is doubly-slimy by insinuating they have the expertise to judge a good job BUT ALSO doling out head-pats (to a superior!!) as a ploy to cover up their own incompetence (and assuming that ploy is successfully fleecing OP)
      To me the second bit is way more of an issue – it really speaks to the employee’s duplicity and interest in deception rather than improvement

  22. Ashley Armbruster*

    Kinda OT, but in the “YOU MAY ALSO LIKE:” section, was there ever an update to ‘I saw my employee’s X-rated chat’?

    Re-reading now – juicy!

  23. HowDoesSheDoItAll?*

    I have this happen to me a lot. I’m a copy editor, have worked at my job for 25 years, and the new staff keep telling me “good catch” or “Thanks for catching that.” And I’m like, yeah, that’s literally my job. Also, I suspect they turn in their work a little sloppy, or quickly finished, because they know I will polish it for them. Which, yeah, again, that’s my job. But it’s only one aspect of my job. I shouldn’t have to spend so much time fixing their work. It’s disrepectful of my time.

    1. Pizza Rat*

      It most definitely is. You’re supposed to receive things that need minimal changes.

      Question that’s off-topic: do you find that business writing as a skill has deteriorated over the last few years?

  24. Orange You Glad*

    Next time he says “good job!” I would be so tempted to turn it around on him. “No, not a good job. If you had done a good job, I wouldn’t have to fix your mistakes”

  25. Jiminy Cricket*

    “Good catch” is appropriate with a peer when they find a small error in otherwise excellent work.

    And in this case, the junior employee is using it (even subconsciously) to make it seem like a peer found a small error in otherwise excellent work. And that is definitely not what is happening.

  26. Elbe*

    I think “nice catch” and “good job” can be fine in certain contexts, but this particular guy is missing the mark by quite a lot.

    If the mistake that she corrected was truly difficult to spot, or something that this employee would not usually be expected to know, “nice catch” or “good job” could come off as an acknowledgement of her abilities. Using it for something mundane (such as him just misreading an email) seems condescending because it indicates that he thinks that her abilities are very low. I think that this is why the phrases are mostly used by more senior people to more junior people, when it’s not insulting for expectations to generally be lower. Or, it indicates that he’s so far off the mark that he thinks very basic things are difficult and not to be expected of him.

    Those two phrases can come across as appreciation when they’re directly followed up with an acknowledgement of his mistake. “Nice catch! I will be more careful about these type of details in the future.” Acknowledging and taking ownership of the mistake makes it clear that he knows that this is something that is his problem to fix.

    It seems like he thinks that if he frames it as her just being very good at the job, it will make him look less bad. But it’s doing the exact opposite. Not only is he making mistakes in his tasks, he’s now also making interpersonal mistakes.

  27. Just Thinkin' Here*

    “My employee, who is fresh out of college, is often not very thorough or good at his job”

    So… why is he still around? I know this is an older letter, but if someone isn’t good at his job, and you’re not coaching him, what is your expectation for improvement? Especially when most of his classmates are probably still job hunting after graduation?

  28. kiki*

    I think this is an issue with decent-ish advice getting applied to broadly or beyond the original group of recipients it was crafted for. A few years ago the advice to say “good catch” instead of “sorry” was going around in a lot of online work-advice circles. I think the original intention was to help women in leadership to apologize less for small things that don’t really merit an apology.

    But then everyone and their brother read the tip, didn’t note the nuance and context, then started applying it. And now we have a situation where junior employees are telling their bosses “great catch” about error-ridden work.

    I feel like something similar happened when folks said, “never accept the first offer from a job!” And like, it’s important to negotiate! But that same advice also meant some new grads were trying to negotiate for $20k pay bumps based on experience they had from a part-time internship.

    Basically, the internet has a tendency to flatten things

    1. Elbe*

      Bad advice certainly could come into play here, but the fact that he’s not saying these things to the men makes me think that there is a lot more going on.

      If he genuinely thought framing his mistakes in this way was a good thing to do, he would presumably also be doing it with his male coworkers.

  29. cosmicgorilla*

    I think the LW is ignoring the elephant in the room. Yes, his comments do seem patronizing and misogynistic. But before addressing his comments and tone (or seeming tone, for written comments), why is LW not sitting him down and pointing out that most of what he submits is riddled with errors? Why are they not having a performance management conversation? He’s not performing up to par, and rather than continually sending back “fair and factual” feedback, she needs to be shifting the onus of proofreading his own stuff back to him. She’s not holding him accountable, and he’s not magically going to start treating her with respect if she doesn’t start holding him accountable.

  30. Admin 22*

    This is what bothers me along with the verbiage and tone of his response:

    “It’s like instead of appreciating that I was there to help him fix something, he pats me on the back for doing my job?”

    The patting on the back makes it more concerning. I feel like he’s attempting to gaslight her.

  31. Jessica*

    I was so relieved when I realized this was a repost to Inc, because i remember this letter vividly and my initial reaction was “Oh no, not ANOTHER one of these jerkbros!”

  32. I'm here for the cats*

    In this highly specific situation, I have every reason to suspect this young man is behaving in sexist and racist ways, and is not willing to take his own responsibility regarding to his own short comings, and is indeed patronising with such intend.

    Something that I found is interesting, is people are more fixiated on the phrasing than the pattern of behaviour, the specific targets, and the alleged tone. For people who are of cultural and linguistic diversed background, phrasing errors like this can be extremely common and benign, to the point that we once workshopped on how certain phrasing from a clearly South Asian colleague is likely to mean something very different to someone with local (Australian) upbringing, and how interacting with USAsians can frequently feel like we are being attacked without the other party meaning to do so.

    I think it’s worthwhile to not be fixiated to the phrasing here, and hit the real issue: this man do not behave this way toward anyone except the OP, so he knew exactly what he’s doing.

    1. Observer*

      I think it’s worthwhile to not be fixiated to the phrasing here, and hit the real issue: this man do not behave this way toward anyone except the OP, so he knew exactly what he’s doing.

      Exactly! This is at the heart of the situation.

  33. Penelope*

    Curious how AMA would respond to a co-worker doing the same thing this employee is while you’re training them.

  34. Sunrise*

    OMG are you talking about my new fresh from college coworker?

    He’s the exact same. Doesn’t read and always deflects then once you make it crystal clear responds with a “You’re the boss”, “Roger”, or something similarly glib. Half his deflections don’t make sense, and usually they are him taking more credit than he actually contributed.

    It’s gotten back to me that he goes around telling people he can do my job. Sexism is a huge part of it in my opinion.

    1. Elbe*

      In general, I think that people should cut some slack to young people who are new to the job market. Direct feedback and guidance is a gift. Even seemingly simple things can be confusing to someone without a work history, and who potentially doesn’t have parents who have set them up for success.

      It’s gotten back to me that he goes around telling people he can do my job.
      But this BS? I would give him a stern talking-to and, if it continued, I’d be pushing to let him go. 1) This is a huge indicator that he is not someone who is receptive to change and any time spent on guidance would likely just be wasted and 2) often the best lesson is just to let them experience the natural consequences of their behavior.

      Sometimes the issue is that the person has gotten TOO MUCH slack in their lives and they don’t associate their behavior with an outcome.

  35. Marzipan Shepherdess*

    If 90% (!) of his work contains errors then this may not be the job for him and the sooner he learns this, the better. Is he still on probation? Then he needs to know that his work improves or his job will end on or before the end of his probationary period. Is he “off” probation? Then that’s what PIPs are for!

    As to his reflexive arguing about workplace correction – that may very well be a major part of why his work is so poor. If he’s not open to correction and open to learning then OF COURSE he’ll keep making the same mistakes, time after time! This may go deeper than an arrogant attitude; that’s bad enough, but the refusal to learn will mean that he’ll sabotage himself out of every job he has until he grows into a more mature approach to learning on the job.

  36. Jo Mitch*

    I experienced this with a young, newly qualified and over confident, but not as good as he thought he was colleague. As I explained the situation to him, he (25M) started to explain to me (50F) how I should handle it. I quickly and directly told him I wasn’t looking for advice but explaining what he should do when the patient can back for more treatment. My direct approach worked and he treated me with more respect. Don’t tread on eggshells but tell your younger colleague what they need to do. Rebut any disrespect.

  37. Slightly Less Evil Bunny*

    Ugh, this reminds me so much of my former team lead, who *did* have more experience than me, but only a few years’ worth.

    It’s one thing to get a “good job” for finding some obscure bug in decades-old spaghetti code. It’s entirely another thing to hear that for doing something that anyone who’s barely competent should be able to do.

  38. Agnes Grey*

    Give this discussion I was amused to see “nice catch” as an answer in today’s NYT crossword!

  39. Freya*

    … I have nothing to add to all the comments, except to say that y’all have explained why a particular phrasing from a particular client was getting my back up unnecessarily. Thank you!

    (in my case, it’s more of a peer dynamic, so I don’t feel it’s actually an inappropriate phrasing, but it’s the same phrasing that has been used in condescending ways with me in the past, so I have a bit of baggage with it that I think is better for me to work on with my therapist than approach the client representative about using the loaded (to me) phrase)

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