Correcting without Lecturing
August 21, 2012 7:22 AM   Subscribe

How do indicate your disapproval with a superior's action without lecturing?

I've been at a new job for roughly 2 months now, and while it's mostly good, I'm noticing that my boss tends to make comments about other employees that I don't think are entirely appropriate. For example, we're divided up into 2 groups, both of which she manages. In a meeting with my group she bad-mouthed the other group and said, "every one of them has messed up in the past month" and didn't say in what way. I think that the performance of a different group of employees isn't really an appropriate topic to discuss with me, especially in such a vague manner that doesn't illuminate anything as far as my work goes and really can't accomplish anything other than undermine the sense of comradery between the workers.

It also makes me uncomfortable because I wonder what she says about me when I'm not around.

Being very new, I'm not sure how I can bring this up, but I do think that I should address it personally in some way. If she does it again, it there a "light" way I can indicate that I don't think that it's something I should know about? I want to gently correct her, not lecture or wag my finger, but I can't think of how to do that.
posted by Kurichina to Work & Money (10 answers total)
You are brand-new. She is your superior. You do NOT "gently correct" her on ANYthing, unless it's, like, the pronunciation of your name or something. It is not your role to do so, for one. For another, most people - ESPECIALLY people who commit ethically-questionable acts like badmouthing one group of subordinates to another - do not like to be corrected, especially by their underlings. This sucks, and it's not fair, but it's how it is. If you call her out on this - no matter how gently - I can almost guarantee that YOU'RE gonna be the one she's berating to another group.
posted by julthumbscrew at 7:28 AM on August 21, 2012 [21 favorites]

Maybe something like "I hope their ears aren't burning!" ...

But this is really horrible management technique. Who knows how your boss will react. As julthumbscrew says, she probably won't like it. This is the management technique of an asshole, and you can expect an assholeish reaction.
posted by rocketpup at 7:31 AM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

You're not really in a position to ask her to change. Don't engage, and change the subject when she brings it up. If you want to change it, you'd have to talk to her supervisor, and she won't react kindly to you going over her head. You'll either have to live with it or get the resume out again.
posted by echo target at 7:33 AM on August 21, 2012

It's not your place to correct your boss's behavior (you can sometimes correct factual inaccuracies). Now that you know that she likes to talk about people, remember not to engage in this behavior with her - anyone who will gossip with you will gossip about you. Keep yourself above it and ignore those comments; try not to let what she says about your co-workers influence your opinion of them, and hope that they disregard anything she might say about you as well.
posted by cessair at 7:34 AM on August 21, 2012

Don't react, don't laugh or join in with her criticism of other people. Pretend she never said anything.

Then (if you are alone with her) immediately return to the subject at hand to prevent embarassing silences ("so it sounds like the best way to handle problem is...")

Don't add to the negativity, that is all.
posted by Omnomnom at 7:35 AM on August 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

Best answer: I've been in that situation with a client who badmouthed their own employees.

I politely switched the topic back to the real topic at hand as quickly as I could, and I didn't participate in the bashing. I treated it roughly the same way I'd treat an audible fart.
posted by grudgebgon at 7:39 AM on August 21, 2012 [7 favorites]

Ignoring the badmouthing and changing the subject is an excellent response. You don't want to openly correct her - not just because you are new and she is your boss, but because she has shown you what kind of a person she is, and you don't want to be her next target. What she does to others she will do to you eventually; she has tipped her hand that she is not trustworthy, so you must behave accordingly.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 7:43 AM on August 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

I totally agree with those who have said it is not your place to criticize and all you can do is change the subject when that seems appropriate; I would just like to add that this is not necessarily the result of the boss being an asshole, it could well be that the boss has had that particular management technique (tell each side the other one sucks, it will motivate them) suggested, or even demanded, by higher management (or has learned it elsewhere). My point is not that it's a good technique, just that blaming it on this particular boss is not necessarily accurate and may lead to misunderstanding her character (unless she's an asshole in other ways). I've worked in a number of corporate settings, and there was a lot more assholery (of the inhuman/corporate imposed-from-above kind) than actual assholes (though I could tell you stories...).
posted by languagehat at 8:56 AM on August 21, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for the responses thus far. To clarify, I do not actually think that she's an asshole. One of the reasons why I was asking for a gentle way to indicate that those topics of conversation are unhelpful is because I don't get the impression that she's ever thought about it, or that she's very careful about what she's saying. To illustrate: at one meeting we both attended, she actually started to badmouth some company she'd worked with at a former job, and got just enough into her story to embarrass herself when the VIP from another ministry who had called the meeting let her know that the CEO of the company she was gossiping about what his sister-in-law. He seemed delighted to have caught her gossip and I'm willing to bet he called his sister-in-law the moment he returned to his office.

So yeah, the main reason I was considering that approach is because I think her actions are without thought, so I thought if there was a way to gently indicate the problem, it would probably be well received. But maybe there isn't a gentle way. :-/

I laughed at the metaphor of this talk as an audible fart, grudgebgon, because that's probably closer to reality than you intended.
posted by Kurichina at 7:53 PM on August 21, 2012

There might be a gentle way to bring it up when you've been there for a couple of years, depending on the relationship you develop with your boss. When she says, "Joe messed up the TPS reports - again", ask if Joe's manager told him he messed up because you'd want to be told if you made a mistake like that. "People can't correct their mistakes if they don't know about them. So, about the widgets..."

Until you've gained some serious rapport and time on the job, you should just disengage whenever she starts talking like this. You can't control other people's behavior, just how you react to it. Your best reaction is 'audible-fart-damage-control'.
posted by youngergirl44 at 8:11 PM on August 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

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