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July 20, 2011 2:31 PM   Subscribe

My boss never says "please" or "thank you."

Full story: I work in a technical capacity (think: repairing things) with my boss. He is a brilliant technician, and/but also has some "non-neurotypical" issues with language, both written and verbal.

From all the years I've worked for him, I'm pretty sure that he sincerely does not understand the purpose of words like "please" and "thank you." He talks to customers in a similarly matter-of-fact way that borders on curt. He isn't too concerned if customers leave because they don't like his tone, because he doesn't want to deal with people who don't get along with him the way he is. He's an older guy, and he's been doing what he does for almost 40 years.

When it comes to me working with him, I need to make it possible for him to do his job, and it's very time-sensitive and detail-oriented work. So he says "out of the way," or "give me that," or "over there" (to tell me to move) or just makes hand gestures.

It's starting to drive me nuts, but I don't know what to do. Does anyone have experience resolving issues like this with people who aren't quite wired for social graces?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (36 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry but you being paid is your "Thank you."
You don't get paid to receive "thank yous" or hear someone say "please."

You get pai to do your job - end of.

If you don't like his manners, then change jobs.

You're not being paid to worry about his manners or even care about them.

I know this sounds mean - but I am not a mean person, honest (and I am very polite to boot!)!

You just have to toughen up and realise that this is your boss, not your friend - and even though politeness is always best practise, it is not a requirement for you to do your job.
posted by efrog at 2:37 PM on July 20, 2011 [11 favorites]

In these situations, if you can stress that it's YOUR FEELINGS that are the issue, not anything the person is necessarily DOING, you can sometimes encourage a change--though it's usually only temporary. Is it politeness you want, or positive reinforcement? Because you seem to know that the former isn't something he's interested in. The latter might be.

A script sort of like this worked for me once:

"I know that you really value efficiency and economy and I've learned a lot from working with you about how to get things done with great attention to detail--and I also know that a little more positive feedback really helps me do my job well, so I'm wondering if you wouldn't mind just letting me know when you notice that I've done something well or been a big help." Saying AND instead of BUT can really help--BUT is a red flag for a lot of people that criticism is coming.

But again--it generated only a temporary change for me.
posted by liketitanic at 2:39 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Frankly, I wouldn't do anything. Like it or not, people in authority often don't add "please" to their orders. And as the first comment suggests, he probably feels that giving you money is plenty of thanks.

He may not have the best business strategy, but if he doesn't mind losing customers over this, well, that's that. He doesn't need to want their business, and they don't need to buy from him. If people have enough of a distaste for each other, they will not keep doing business together. So it goes.

For you to say anything to him about this would probably have no effect on his behavior and would definitely make him annoyed with you, so I don't see what would be the point. You can either keep working for him and accept this drawback of the job, or you can decide it's a big enough deal for you to quit. But whatever you do, you can assume he's going to keep acting the way he does.
posted by John Cohen at 2:41 PM on July 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

He has been this way for 40 years? I figure he is around 60 years old. Ain't gonna teach an old dog new tricks.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 2:42 PM on July 20, 2011 [8 favorites]

It seems he has given you a pretty good idea of the kind of person he is. You have two choices: try to change him, or try to live with it. (Or choice three, quit.) The first is probably doomed because your happiness becomes tied to his desire to change, which is probably zero, especially after years and years of the same behavior. Fortunately you can achieve the second yourself, though it may take some work. You have to consciously choose not to get bothered by it, the same way you can choose not to let your day be ruined by a bad driver or a squawking bird or anything else you have no control over. When you feel frustration appear, pause internally and imagine it rolling off you. Hopefully over time this will become easier.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:42 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think a lot of people have experience with this. It happens in the army, in technical professions, among doctors in an operating room. It's not easy. If you can get used, that's a valuable achievement--you'll be able to look back and say you managed in that difficult environment (and of course you make money). It's helpful to always remind yourself that you're doing what you're doing for work, that your goal is to perform in a way you can be proud of, and that your boss's rudeness is just his problem. In the long term, it's probably an open question whether you should try to move towards work in another field where the work culture is more compatible with your sensibilities.
posted by Paquda at 2:42 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

Let it go. His quirks are not under your control. You know he treats everyone this way, so you know that it's nothing personal.
posted by Sticherbeast at 2:47 PM on July 20, 2011 [5 favorites]

He's the boss. He can do whatever the fuck he wants. You do not have the social power to scold and shame him into having manners.
posted by jenfullmoon at 2:48 PM on July 20, 2011

If your job is otherwise okay, I would overlook the boss' appalling manners. If the lack of manners is the outward manifestation of the boss being a jerk, then look for a new job.
posted by theora55 at 2:50 PM on July 20, 2011 [6 favorites]

There's nothing you can do about it I'm afraid. Bosses often have annoying mannerisms.
posted by tel3path at 2:57 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

My current manager is very similar -- not to the extent of being rude, but very, very low on the warm and fuzzy scale. It has always bugged me, to the point of driving me crazy at times.

As a team, we recently took a Meyers-Briggs assessment, and hey, guess what? According to the assessment, my manager pretty much pegged the "thinking" end of the Thinking<>Feeling continuum, while I am squarely in the "feeling" column. He was a bit sheepish about that in the workshop, but it clarified a lot of things for me and has made it easier for me to have realistic expectations about just how much verbal appreciation is going to come my way. Yeah, it's something my personality type really craves, but it's simply not in his nature to give that sort of feedback. That realization has eased my stress level a bit, and made it easier for me to roll with his curt replies and missing social cues.
posted by plowhand at 3:03 PM on July 20, 2011

Does he bully, belittle, intimidate, manipulate, yell or try to control you in any way?

Your boss's lack of pleasantries are not really a problem you should concern yourself with unless you're also experiencing the above.

You say please and thank you when you wish to and leave it at that.
posted by mleigh at 3:06 PM on July 20, 2011

Sorry but you being paid is your "Thank you."
You don't get paid to receive "thank yous" or hear someone say "please."

This isn't only about the OP being thanked. It's also about the way the boss treats customers, which affects business, which affects the OP being paid.

Anonymous, I don't know what your role is there, but can you possibly be proactive in dealing with customers yourself? Is there any way you can offer to deal with the people your boss doesn't feel like talking to? Because that's just about the only thing you can do to improve that particular situation.

If you can't/aren't allowed to take on a customer service role in his stead, then you're probably stuck. And as for how he talks to you, you're definitely stuck there, too. He is your boss, after all, and he's old enough to be set in his ways.
posted by katillathehun at 3:07 PM on July 20, 2011

It's been years? You aren't likely going to change him, but hopefully you can change the way you feel - if you want to. Why do you want to change him? That's so much more work.

You can remind yourself that "please" and "thank you" and gentle requests are niceties, but aren't really necessary for getting the job done. Your skin is already probably pretty thick if you've been dealing with this for a while, but a little mantra or something to wind you back down might help.

And, if, as you said, he's "wired" differently, you can say something to yourself that reminds you that yes, people are wired differently (Maybe he's on the spectrum!) and yeah, whatever his unawareness about social graces is, it may not even be deliberate on his part. It's not malice, just ignorance, right?

But, if it's wearing on you now, after years of your tolerance, it's possible that you've changed or there's something that's making you more sensitive to it. Are you hot/hungry/tired/healthy/kind of done with this job?
posted by peagood at 3:07 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Sorry but you're gonna have to deal with his curtness. A lot of bosses are like this because they need to get work done and in their experience "please" "thank you" doesn't seem to garner respect for the position they're in.
posted by InterestedInKnowing at 3:08 PM on July 20, 2011

Do you think this mindset goes both ways? If so, you can surely tell him to get you fucking specs already, or chop-chop with the data you asked him for two days ago (for example). A person can't be an asshole and then expect that people will be prissy-polite to them. Show up expecting that you'll need to push back, or you'll end up getting shoved around the whole time.
posted by Gilbert at 3:09 PM on July 20, 2011

Do you ever speak with the customers? I mean, can you, does your job allow for interaction with them? You're not going to change your boss, and you might just piss him off if you try. But if you could talk to the people you're doing the repairs for, that might provide some of the daily friendliness and approval that you feel is missing. And it's possible that your boss might like it if you dealt with that aspect more, freeing him up from having to talk to them, which he obviously doesn't love to do. That might not apply to your situation, but just a thought.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 3:09 PM on July 20, 2011

A person can't be an asshole and then expect that people will be prissy-polite to them.

No, but it is sometimes amazing what happens when you are polite to them.
People like this often have been mistreated, and have built up defensive mechanisms.
Imagine him being yelled at as a kid. Be polite to him. Take the high road.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 3:24 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think that if you expect different treatment from a superior you should be prepared to give up some of your pay for that treatment, because - as someone noted above - your pay IS the thankyou.
posted by luriete at 3:31 PM on July 20, 2011

This isn't only about the OP being thanked. It's also about the way the boss treats customers, which affects business, which affects the OP being paid.

Says who?

I didn't see anything in the OP which mentions the OPs pay being affected by her boss's demeanor.

I am not trying to stir the pot, but I also don't think it's wise to form a hypothesis based on conjecture.

Anyway, to each his/her own - but the fact remains the same: We are paid to do our jobs, not to be polite - unless our job descriptions contain politeness as a factor to do our jobs satisfactorily.
posted by efrog at 3:36 PM on July 20, 2011

I know a lot of people like this...they don't mean to be rude or exploitative. That's just their way - very matter-of-fact. You just need to grow a thicker skin I think (and I mean that in the nicest way possible). I understand that it might come off as tyrannical and might bruise your ego/feelings at first. I felt the same way sometimes when I first got into the workforce because I grew up a little coddled frankly.

You just have to realize it's all business and nothing personal. Like other people have said, his thanks is your salary. Although graciousness does make for a more pleasant and healthy working environment, it's not something you should expect from most workplaces!
posted by WhitenoisE at 3:38 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Take a deep breath, and realize it's much better to have a matter-of-fact, sincere and honest boss who doesn't use pleasantries than it is to have a boss who showers you with pleasantries but does things in sneaky and manipulative ways. At least in my experience.
posted by davejay at 3:55 PM on July 20, 2011 [10 favorites]

I've seen this as a regional/cultural difference sometimes too. I've definitely had workplace issues with people for whom brusqueness was just how things are done. Frankly, it ticked me off and made me less likely to go out of my way for them. You're in a tough position, but I'm quite surprised by how many people think it's normal.

I think there are two issues. One is during the work which is "time-sensitive" and "detail-oriented". I can definitely see dispensing with pleasantries during such work. In the broader context however, we work better and are happier when our work is recognized and appreciated. Perhaps you can focus on strategies to elicit performance feedback from him after the work is done. It's not unusual to do assessments of projects and jobs as a close-out kind of activity.
posted by idb at 4:04 PM on July 20, 2011

Blech. How annoying. This would frustrate me, too! I totally notice when people don't have (my standard of) social manners and it gets to me. I guess my advice would be that if you are satisfied with your job, this is just something you have to deal with (unfortunately). I wish everyone around me would be super polite all the time but the hard truth is that people are different, and they communicate differently. Which may be seen as rude by others, but that's life. Sooooo just try to tune it out and accept that this guy has his own special was of communicating. I don't think bringing it up with him will do any good.

Good luck. I feel your pain.
posted by sucre at 4:13 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Non-neurotypical... seriously? Get off your high horse. You are the employee and it is his business/his customers- so his choice to deal with you/them how he pleases.

It is also your choice to stay at the job. If you don't like it, get another job and leave.
posted by TheBones at 4:55 PM on July 20, 2011

You can try jokingly saying "You're welcome" in a pointed way after he does something like that, to see if he gets the hint, but otherwise I agree with others saying that it's just business as usual (unfortunately) for some people.
posted by hermitosis at 5:14 PM on July 20, 2011

From the OP:
I'm not sure I got it across well enough with the way I phrased it -- I don't expect to change my boss, specifically because he's both set in his ways and also just plain "different." I know that he doesn't mean to hurt anyone's feelings (mine or others'). If he were really a jerk or a mean person I wouldn't stay at the job.

Can people give some advice about how they have handled situations with boss' quirks, not in terms of making the other person change, but mental strategies that have helped them keep up a good attitude?
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:37 PM on July 20, 2011

Oh, I see. Just tell yourself he has his own language and it's different from yours. Even if it sounds like he's speaking English, it's a little different, like someone who has a foreign accent. You can usually communicate fine with them, but sometimes you have to stop and think, "Whoa, did you really mean ___? No, you must have meant ____." He didn't really mean "get out of my way"; that's just how he says "excuse me!"

Another thought: "Don't let people live in your head, rent-free." In other words, you're wasting energy thinking about this, for nothing. He doesn't care; you aren't going to change him; why should you let him affect you? You're not getting any benefit from all this energy you're expending. Your time is more valuable than that. Spend your time thinking about something more interesting.
posted by John Cohen at 5:47 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Says who? I didn't see anything in the OP which mentions the OPs pay being affected by her boss's demeanor.

The OP did mention customers being or possibly being affected by the boss's attitude. That is something that, in a way, affects the OP (I assume so, seeing as it was mentioned in the post). So, my suggestion is that taking that responsibility out of said boss's hands (if the boss would be up for that) may alleviate some of the stress here.

From the original post:

"He talks to customers in a similarly matter-of-fact way that borders on curt. He isn't too concerned if customers leave because they don't like his tone, because he doesn't want to deal with people who don't get along with him the way he is. He's an older guy, and he's been doing what he does for almost 40 years."

posted by katillathehun at 6:00 PM on July 20, 2011

I think that the "pay is thank you enough" is completely bogus. This would would mean, for example, that I would never have to thank someone providing me with a service, since I pay for it. That would be a fucking sad world.

That said, there's obviously nothing personal about the way this guy is treating you. That's just the just the way he is (since he treats everybody the same). Just go along with it. Adding a "my pleasure" to an absent "thank you" might be a way for you to relieve some of your frustration.
posted by bluefrog at 6:05 PM on July 20, 2011 [3 favorites]

I had a boss like this, and came to find her rudeness delightful. It was never mean or mean-spirited. It was simply that she was a kind of aggressive person, and "get out of my way" was her version of polite. Because when she was being impolite, those pleasantries went out the window. I looked at it as being brought into her confidence, in a way. We were close enough that both of us knew that using "please" and "thank you" were for dinner parties and grandparent, and we were beyond that. I came to realize it was a sign of *real* respect, as she was giving me a connection directly to her state of mind. There was not a passive-aggressive bone in her body.

(I could have done without the Glare of Doom, but that was just her way. When I quit, I went to the business owner (her boss) and told him my "time to move on, got a great opportunity, you guys are awesome" story. His response: "Well, that's how it goes. But YOU have to tell her, because I don't want to be around for that.")

So, maybe it's like that for him? Another tack to take would be to simply say "you be nice!" or "who pissed in your cornflakes?" when he is at his absolute worst. It has to be a very rare thing, and it has to come from a place of concern or at least genuine "you are testing my limits of patience". Someone like that is going to be instantly exasperated with "I hear that you are upset, and I am trying to understand, but when you speak ...." kinds of things. They thrive on directness, and probably don't even understand how little things can build up in someone because they are constantly letting off steam. Little sarcastic and passive "you're WELLcome" barbs will not be noticed, or will just add to the tension.
posted by gjc at 6:12 PM on July 20, 2011

Lots of people will come into this thread and say LOL DUDE YOU GET PAID WHAT MORE DO U WANT WHAT A n00b. I don't buy it.

Yeah, okay, we get paid. On a purely business, capitalistic level: Great! Mission Accomplished! But as basic human beings we also need reassurance and motivation and all kinds of things you don't get from a paycheck.

Anecdote: I once worked at a small start-up company. Because we were short on cash, a co-worker and I came in on a Saturday and hand-packed some 300 gift sets. I came in on Monday to find an e-mail with the subject: "Thank you" and the text "to whoever tangled up the cords for the blinds. I had a great time untangling them". I nearly quit that day. Of the 12 people I worked with, 11 of them have left in the last 18 months. When I finally left I brought it up with my boss and his response was that he was just too busy to be nice. Which is half-true, he was incredibly busy, but we're talking about a pat on the back once a month.

My point is this: Maybe it's not a healthy work environment for you. I don't think this guys is going to change and I think if you showed him this thread he'd laugh in your face and tell you LOL DUDE YOU GET PAID. The best thing to do would be to adjust your expectations and maybe look for something new if that's an option. Just know that I very, truly don't think this is an okay thing, but it might be a thing you have to learn to live with.
posted by GilloD at 7:35 PM on July 20, 2011 [2 favorites]

I kind of have grown up in a family of people like this, and am one myself, although I've taken large steps to change myself and become a pleasantries-person when dealing with acquaintances. I understand that words like please and thank you have a huge amount of power and are tools, in a way, to accomplish various goals, but I only use them when I really mean them, for the most part.

Your boss may have a whole wordless vocabulary for expressing sentiments of gratitude that you aren't yet attuned to. If you like your work and are paid well enough to stick with it, pay close attention to your boss at times when you know you've done a good job. Does he smile? Does he act differently - more relaxed or maybe with a different posture? Once you've figured this out, you can take those sorts of changes as nonverbals "thank yous".

And he did employ you for a reason, I assume. So although even though it is very unlikely that you'll be able to change his behavior for other people, if he wants to keep you around as a productive employee, I certainly don't think you would be remiss in telling him that you respond really well to please and thank you. It's kind of like how you might prefer having one brand of coffee in stock in the breakroom over another; it'll help you do your job in a better mood. If you present it to him like a tool to utilize, he very well might keep it in mind for you. It's not that he wouldn't mean it, it's just that he wouldn't think of it, otherwise.
posted by Mizu at 8:51 PM on July 20, 2011 [1 favorite]

Yeah, this is annoying, and I would be annoyed. I usually deal with it by slightly exaggerating my own good manners, both when talking to the rude person or when talking to others within earshot of the rude person. I should stress I don't do this in a way calculated to try to shame the person, or make my feelings incredibly obvious, but more as a sort of "There's how you act, and here's how I act" thing. I do find it to be somewhat empowering, because you're reinforcing your own preferred mode of interaction in the face of his rudeness, rather than simply being bludgeoned by it. You're demonstrating your civility without directly attacking his lack of the same.

On one occasion I did this and it actually resulted in the rude person gradually becoming noticeably less rude when talking to me. You can't expect that, of course, but it was nice when it happened and hey, you never know.
posted by Decani at 1:09 AM on July 21, 2011

Near the end of this thread I am compelled to make a comment. I have dealt with a similar situation for 14 years, slightly different than the op's in that my boss is pleasant to customers but not to us. I on the verge of leaving because of one quality not previously discussed. The question I would have for the op is "does your boss support and listen to you when you both need him too?"

In my case, I recently decided the answer was no and that he was incapable of supporting me at the level I needed to survive and thrive in a stressful workplace, so I am leaving the money and moving on.
posted by Xurando at 4:30 AM on July 21, 2011

Seconding what Decani said.

And I would add to that, if the rude person feels shame as a result of a slight exaggeration of my own good manners......that feeling of shame is on the rude person. The person with the good manners should feel no culpability in that person's shame.

Oh, and being the boss is crappy excuse for not having common manners. You can't change or control the boss, but you can control yourself and how you act.
posted by PsuDab93 at 6:48 AM on July 21, 2011

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