How Not To Be An Asshole At Work #4: Don’t Ask Questions That Aren’t Questions

Did You Really Think This Would Work? And Other Bad Questions

The Scene: a Conference Room Somewhere.

Five people (the GROUP) are sitting around the table. The BOSS sits at the head (this is a traditional group). The situation: the GROUP has delivered something the BOSS doesn’t like.

BOSS: “does anybody here think this is quality work?”

OK, let’s hold it right there. BOSS has just pulled an asshole move. He (or she) has asked a question to which there are no useful answers. The GROUP is pinned, feeling bad, having to answer “no, it isn’t quality work”, which just feels awful.

In fact, the point of the question is to make the group feel bad, to have them admit their badness, to make them look at the table and feel shitty. Hence, the BOSS is being an asshole.

What the BOSS Maybe Wanted to Say

Now, the BOSS did have a point to this meeting, although it’s likely that their grasp of the point is murky and unconscious at the moment — because they are being an asshole, and who wants to consciously be an asshole?

Probably, BOSS wants to communicate:

  • some emotion: anger perhaps, or frustration
  • a standard of execution of the work

But what he (or she) has done is to get caught up in her emotion, and use the form of a question as a tool to punish the GROUP. Her desire to have the GROUP feel bad about their work has overtaken any sense of how to get the GROUP to do the work better.

Apply a Golden Rule

What would have been better here? Well, we could go back to one of the golden rules of Not Being An Asshole: Say What You Mean (But Don’t Be a Dick About It).

She could try this:

BOSS: “I have to say I’m feeling pretty frustrated about the result of the project here. It was late, and the level of quality was far below what we’ve discussed as an acceptable target”

Clear. Direct. OK, so the GROUP still might feel bad, but not because they are being attacked.

The BOSS is being a boss, not an asshole.

And how much better would it be if BOSS followed this up with: “I’d like to known from you what worked here, what didn’t and what you guys need to get it absolutely right next time”?

If you find yourself asking questions that aren’t really questions, back it off. You’re being an asshole.

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