"Can we ... ?" "Did we ...?" "Could we ... ?" In short, I believe this phrase is habitually used to make directives sounds less ... directive, and to sidestep the discomfort a command giver may feel in being direct. While I can appreciate their not wanting to come off as too harsh, at the end of the day it feels consistently demeaning to have your person effectively removed from the conversation, and at times it is used in a bluntly passive aggressive manner. What are your thoughts?
This is a phrase that I have heard since I was a little girl, when my mother would ask me, " [name], can we wash our hands? " "Can we say we're sorry?". What it clearly meant was 'YOU need to wash your hands 'YOU need to apologize'. The phrase bugged me then, and it bugs me now. When my mother would use this, it could not have been clearer that WE (meaning she and I) were not going to wash our hands, nor that she and I would say we were sorry. When I was little, it felt implicitly true that my mom just was not comfortable telling me what to do. So she phrased things as questions. I noticed that more than the 'we' factor back then.
The phrase went away as far as I can recall while I was in college, but having since entered the professional world and reflecting on this — I can think of 2 bosses who have used this phase, and 2 bosses I have had who haven't. I had the better relationship with the two bosses that haven't.
I think the reason why this phrase bugs me is because it makes me feel invisible. When my boss asks, in a team meeting, 'did we send them a calendar invite', what he means is '[Name] did you send a calendar invite'? When my boss asks 'Can we make sure we gather all that data and summarize it' is '[Name], please gather all that data and summarize it'.
This not only reflects questionably on the manager's willingness to be direct rather than rely on more passive aggressive management tendencies — but it also means that when a task is fulfilled, then who is the owner of it? We the company? We the entire organization? Or me, the agent of this company who fulfilled the needs of the business? Why does it feel like saying my name is now to be avoided?
I imagine this is particularly true for folks working in administration, operations, and even PM, owing to the nature of those workers' responsibilities to create the structures and processes for the SMEs to (hopefully) engage in.
The reason I think this is important to share is because I have noticed myself using this phrase when addressing my direct reports and I want to ask if they did something I asked them to do, and I want to avoid being too direct. I'm sure it patronizes them just as poorly and I'd rather nip it in the bud.
Again, I appreciate that a manager (myself included) is likely trying to avoid sounding too harsh, and we are often taught to use inclusive words when trying to build relationships and rapport, so using 'we' to describe something that 'you' mostly did yourself as an owner of a project makes more sense to me and echoes this team spirit sentiment. My problem is when commands (and sometimes challenges) are phrased as questions, and when they furthermore are phrased as the work of multiple people, when it couldn't be more clear that there is only one person to whom the question / command / directive is being given to.
Suggestions for alternatives:
'Name, did you ... ?'
'Name, I would like you to consider ...'
'Name, please get in touch with them and ...'
When addressing a group with a genuine question —
"Has anyone ... ?"
"[Name], could you ..."
"Has anyone in this team .... ?"
It may be more direct, but you are also less invisible.
What are your thoughts?
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My manager, the second one I’ve had in my 2 years in this position, is leaving.
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My manager is leaving in a few weeks and is invested in making sure there’s a plan in place for who i report to when they’re gone. I guess my question is what would you ask them/consider during this transition phase? I was hoping to start the “it’s been 2 years, I’d like a raise or at least something to help with inflation” conversation but I hate doing this, it’s always so awkward. At the same time, it may be best to get the ball rolling on that to see what can be done prior to my manager leaving?
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Hi all - ok this is a first.
The new boss, promoted from within, and I are a bad fit, to put it mildly. I put in my two weeks’ notice, and she replied that I could leave tomorrow.
Here’s the twist: I WANT to stay for two weeks, to put files in order, to coordinate with co-workers the processes for future events, and to finish setting up a Dropbox account for my department. Most of all, I work in a retirement community, and want to ease these beloved residents into the knowledge that their trusted friend is leaving them in good hands. They just lost the last ED without notice and took it badly.
This new boss rules with a cudgel. She starts all discussions with No you can’t do that. She changes my plans on ginned-up reasons (e.g. she canceled my bus trip due to “insurance changes” which had nothing to do with the trip). She lays down the law, and when advised of an error, she doubles down and tries to blame the victim of her error. She refers to staff members as “bodies,” and cares for the residents based on the level of their rent checks. I can’t get away from her fast enough.
Still, I have a good plan for leaving, and as you can tell from the above description of her, any discussion is going to go badly.
any and all advice is much appreciated!
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