Bottom line up front ---

Open derision of upper management is accepted in my department.

It's difficult _not_ to participate (because, sometimes I agree).
It is even more difficult to rein in and discourage it from my Directs and Peers since my Exec. Director participates.
Environment -- Non-Profit University ---

I've been slowly changing my behavior since I've been listening to MT for the past year.
"Carrying the Water" does not seem to be a company policy here.
Never has... been here for 19 years.
Rolling your eyes and complaining about the VPs and the President being uninformed, greedy, and uncaring is par for the course.
Most of the staff respect our Dept. Exec Director, and even she does it, Often.
I like her, too - Best Boss I've ever had  - and I usually agree with her conclusions - I just think the way that she talks about it is unprofessional.
Yes - in the halls, the lunch room, Exec Director's office, during staff meeting, etc..
Does anyone have any Ideas about how I can address this, without :
Putting my foot in my mouth ?
Looking as those I am in opposition to my Exec Director ?
Being dismissed as drinking the Organization's Kool-Aid ?
Being cast as a ladder climbing butt kisser ?
Should I just do what I'm doing ?
Not participate.
Find something positive I can say about the V.P.s
Lead by example.
I am not allowed to do MT O3's or Feedback.
And even if I was - how could I tell my Directs not to do something that the Boss in the next office does all the time ?
Ideas ?
Uncle Auberon (MT forum regular - under a Faux Account ) 

JMSmithPM's picture

 Personally, I'd try to avoid the conversation as much as possible.  You're caught between trying to fit in and being professional, which can be a no-win situation.  You probably want to have a bland response at the ready if they ask why you don't  join in. "Yeah, what are you gonna do?" tends to work for me..

As for your reports, I would expect them to remain professional. If they bring up the behavior of your peers, remind them that the other managers/directors/employees are in different roles/situations and may be able to get away with things that we shouldn't/can't.

(btw, why can't you do O3/feedback)






GlennR's picture

If I were you, first, and most importantly, I would model the behavior I desired others to adopt. When this gossip comes up in your presence, do not participate. Leave the room if you are able. If I were in the presence of those above my pay grade, I wouldn't participate, I'd just listen. If I were with peers or directs, I would simply say, "I don't waste time on topics like this. They just sap my energy," or something similar.

When I was a field manager, we had monthly staff meetings where whining by a few got out of hand. With input from the non-whiners, we created a norm stating we would not waste time discussing topics we had no control over. We also created a customer service process emphasizing prompt follow up and handling of customer complaints. These two norms really helped to improve our staff meetings which became solution-oriented and not whining sessions. When someone started to complain, one of the non-complainers would remind them of the norm.



uncleauberon's picture


We are all in a pretty small office space.

Everybody shares an office with at least one other person. (except the Exec Director) -

Her office is only 2 doors down from mine and just as close as to my Directs.

She sees and interacts with everybody everyday. She doesn't mind "skipping" me as often as she wants.  

Talks with and gets to know each of my Directs - gets to know them better than me sometimes.

 We have bi-weekly "all staff" meetings. Which includes my department and the others.  About 20 people in total. (I have 4 Directs)


Last year my Boss challenged me to be a better manger.

I found MT and introduced it to her.

She said that the O3's is a style that might sound good to me, but not for my directs.  

That I should modify my style to them - not force them into a formal weekly meeting, just because that's how I want to do it.

She agrees I should build my relationships with them (I'm a High C - and find it difficult) - but she thinks I should just walk a round and get to know them - talk with them --  etc....

I've made a concerted effort to visit with and talk with my Directs more,  but sometimes it feels strained and forced - or I've interrupted them and I'm bothering them.

I've instituted Weekly team meetings (since Feb) with my Directs.  I get mostly compliance energy from that - as they each report to me what I ask for - with various degrees of detail.   Nobody is really convinced that we need weekly team meetings.  Although, I've seen some better team communication.

A little bit more team bonding (probably from this weekly shared ordeal).

It does give me an opportunity to repeat some MT philosophy and ways of thinking that I have adopted as my own.

I do a kind of modified version of the Feedback model as a way to praise or correct my directs.  But, I can't really claim it as MT's Feedback tool.

If I were to start treating them (and expecting ) too differently from the way that my Boss treats the rest of the staff I would stick out like a sore thumb.

She would undermine me and tell me not to do that.

Back on topic

- this is why it is frustrating that I do not feel I can tell my Directs that they must "carry the water" and not say negative things things about upper admin.  The Boss does it in the office, and at meetings. And she doesn't discourage any of the other staff members when they do it.\

Any attempt (other than a light persuading) to set expectations on my Directs to stop this behavior would be perceived as an open criticism of the Boss.



DRD282's picture
Licensee BadgeTraining Badge

I've had similar situations, and have had at least a little bit of success by finding ways to give the complainers some insight in indirect ways. Assuming that you actually believe in a general sense that the upper management does have reasons for doing the things they do, sometimes it helps to make other people aware of some of the constraints and information they may be working with that lower level employees are not aware of.

For Example:


Employee 1: Did you hear that they cut X department from 10 professors to 8? How greedy are they?

Response: I heard that [the state seriously cut our budget / our Board of Directors passed some unfunded mandate / the department enrollment dropped by 20%]. It sucks that they had to do that, but if they hadn't, then [they might have had to cut another department / face sanctions / cut spending in departments where enrollment is increasing].


This type of response may or may not change attitudes, but typically it will quickly deflate the negative tone without making you seem like a "butt kisser" or having drunk the Kool Aid. As often as not, you'll get a "yeah, well...whatever" or similar response. And every once in a while, people actually do start to look at both sides before judging.









farmerf59's picture

 1.  I suggest you revisit the 'i'm not allowed to do o3' conversation to work out the concern/objection.  State that you have tried the informal way and it is not getting the desired results/doesn't feel right/you want to do something different etc.   Then once the concern/objection has been identified, and separated, and you understand her concern, ask, if i can address that concern, would you object to me doing it?  Then address the concern and move forward.  It seems unreasonable that she ask you to be a better manager and then hamstring your efforts.. 

2.  In one of your meetings, perhaps try a ground-rules discussion.. brainstorm it, have them dump on a board behaviours that you and they find frustrating and want to eliminate from the workplace.  Ensure complaining about upper management is amongst them..  make it a behaviour that the team commits to not doing anymore.

3.  Then, when you hear it happening, give feedback in your 03 (after necessary period of time).. hey, can i give you feedback?  when you complain about upper management it's bad for morale, and sends a signal to the rest of the team that you're not committed to our agreed behaviours.  Can you change that for me? Thanks.

good luck


uncleauberon's picture

 Thanks all for the comments and recommendations.

I'll try to put those in practice.

- although the Boss was pretty definitive about the O3's last year - I'll see if I find an opportunity to bring it up again in the near future.

Your help is Much appreciated




dawn_coomer's picture
Training Badge

 Uncle A - I feel your pain. Here's what works for me (not in priority order):

1 - Leave the room when people are derisive (if possible).

2 - If you cannot leave, be sure that your face is neutral or smiling by thinking of something else (detach)

3 - If your staff is involved, address it with them. You CAN hold your staff to a higher standard - even if you agree with the facts (not tone) of the derisive statements.

4 - Remind your staff to make a bucket list of what to do/what not to do when they are in charge. Then they can learn what's effective from this experience, and do it better!

5 - Remind your staff that we learn more from challenging situations than easy situations.

6 - Some of my favorite statements: a) the boss has multiple priorities and is doing her best; and b) that's one way of looking at things and there are others; and c) I really couldn't say;and d) there's lots of say about that;and e) I wish I was able to say more about that and f) JUST SAY NOTHING AND SMILE (but don't snear or smirk). You may have to practice smiling in front a mirror so it looks normal (just sayin'...I'm a high DC)

7 - START BREAKING SOME RULES. Analyze which rules can be broken with minimal consequences to your relationships. Begging for forgiveness later, if needed, may be more effective. And don't assume that just because someone says something it's a rule - not so. Not everyone communicates like a C.

8 - Figure our your boss's DISC profile and adjust your behavior to be more effective.

9 - Do O3s, but call them something different. Remember the purpose: build relationships with each direct. Run them like a MT O3, but call them project updates, or lunch with the boss, or something else. Be creative - schedule a standing meeting with each direct. 

10 - Don't ask your boss for management advice. Don't imply that she doesn't know how to manage by advocating MT principles (save MT for your directs and peers). YOU CANNOT GIVE FEEDBACK/GUIDANCE/ADVICE TO YOUR BOSS. And, doing so implies you know more than she does - which you may, and it's really stupid to say/do things that make others think of you as a know-it-all, smarty-pants, stick-in-the-mud.

11 - Develop better relationships with your peer managers to enhance your ability to get things done. Schedule lunches, coffee, whatever. Learn their DISC profiles. Work across department/division lines to make things better.

About me: mid-level manager in government agency, 7 direct reports, 3 years in the role. Report to a director with no supervisory or management experience; boss has 1 year in the role. Director was appointed to her role during reorg/'merger, and "the other agency" dominates the leadership. My division was the only one held whole during the merger. DISC profile: 7127.

Happy to chat more via private mail.