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Manager (M) of 15 years at Company got promoted the day I started about a year ago. Had I interviewed with M, I would have never taken this job. M is unashamedly curt, abrasive, impatient, and condescending.

To give some insight into their behavior with teammates, M:

  • scoffs or sighs loudly while reading what I assume to be emails or reviewing code. A lot. Constant sighs throughout the day, everyday.
  • will occasionally say out loud, "What the fuck? Why are they doing this?!" while reading what I assume to be emails or reviewing code
  • In public, surrounded by other working colleagues, sometimes when a direct report answers a question M asks, M will respond, "Who cares?.... Who cares?!?!".
  • has no problem sighing at your answers to their questions.
  • is condescending to sister teams/orgs. For example in a code review, once told another developer M was accusing of causing a bug, "Sometimes its difficult to tell you're the one causing the bug when it's your own code."

But then there are my personal grievances, M:

  • lectures. For a long time. You might be lucky to get 3 minutes out of a 30 minute 1:1 to try and get questions or resolutions on things of your concern. I walk out of every meeting with my blood pressure spiked because I just got an earful for 27 minutes.

  • repeats platitudes. Loves to say, "Have you seen the show House? Everybody Lies. You can't trust what other teams tell you or what the documents say. You need to follow the code." I've heard this many times, told to myself or to colleagues at their desk.

  • when I "follow the code", I get a 20 minute lecture about how we shouldn't spend much time reading code. We should "experiment. fail fast. put code in prod"

  • if I "fail fast" I get a 25 minute lecture that I need to dive further into the code before asking for a review, even though I haven't submitted a single bug yet and have been praised by coworkers for my code quality and improvements to our infrastructure

  • Will jump into code reviews other senior devs just started discussing by saying, "We have bigger fish to fry, move on."

  • micromanages. As as example, once was uninvitedly looking over my shoulder while I was drafting a data pipeline with a flexible UI tool to interrupt me with instructs to,"make drafts on whiteboards first."

  • cannot answer, "What is going well that you'd like to see more of?" Will start to, but then gets sidetracked by ranting into a critique.

Now that I am at my one year mark, I am losing my resolve to sit quietly and be finger wagged during every interaction. When I noticed M's toxicity during my first weeks at Company, I promised myself I'd try to just understand M better. Maybe M would come around.

I cannot make the right choice by M. I am so tired and anxiety ridden from lectures over the smallest decisions that I am getting choice paralysis in my day-to-day work. I've been in the industry nearly 10 years and I've never felt this way before. I dread the day of our 1:1s and its gotten to a point where I will submit code that I don't support because I am so tired of conflict with M. I won't even bother discussing or asking M questions because I'm a nervous wreck around M.

How can I put all of this delicately to the Skip manager in our next 1:1?

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    IMHO a lot of the above behaviour, especially the first four points are personal quirks. It's not nice to work with someone who acts that way, but it's a known behaviour you can get accustomed to. This manager has a rather pessimistic personality. Most probably you never get praise from him, so don't expect it. This behaviour may pull down morale, but I wouldn't classify it as damaging the business. So if you skip levels, use some very specific cases where his communication style really caused a loss to the business, not just a "downer" to you.
    – jwsc
    Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 10:06
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    I'd say you haven't met a toxic manager yet.
    – gnasher729
    Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 18:33
  • @gnasher729 agreed. That is mildly abrasive at worst. Besides, 'toxic' has no qualitative description power, it is a nebulous slander that is best avoided, IMHO. Describe the behavior concretely.
    – Stian
    Commented Jan 21, 2023 at 9:22

4 Answers 4

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How can I put all of this delicately to the Skip manager in our next 1:1?

You can't. Or rather, you can, but it won't make any positive difference for you.

This is someone who has been there 15 years, and got promoted a year ago. And you've been there less than a year.

Time to start looking for a new job.

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    Is there really no opportunity for productive discourse? There are a staggering amount of employees at this global tech giant. There is a lot of internal data about promos - for it to have taken M 15 years to make it back to a manager position is interesting, as he was once demoted. Additionally, this is a team that has "doubled" in size 3 times in the last 16 months; there was a manager spot that had to be filled. Lastly, I was able to look at M's history as a Team Lead and M has a significantly low direct-report tenure trend. That is - an above average number of transfers out from M.
    – 8protons
    Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 1:15
  • @8protons I wouldn't be too disheartened by what Joe is saying. At this point, I don't think you have much to lose by having a chat with your skip manager. You have to be prepared that you may need a transfer or a job switch, but it's not a forgone conclusion as the answer suggests. Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 1:22
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    Joe is right. Your manager may need to improve a lot on his management style and professionalism. But, he has been there for 15 years, and somehow gained enough trust from your Skip manager such that he was promoted to manager. He has a network, and knows people in that company well. Just be very careful if you decide to tell your Skip manager about how you want the manager to improve because both the manager and Skip manager may not look at your feedback from the positive angle despite your good intention. Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 2:10
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    Important point: "new job" can be transfer inside the company. Which can be done without having to spell out your manager's flaws; best justification is finding a position that excites you more and offers growth opportunities and that you thing you have something to contribute to. But you can say "personality clash" or something like that if you feel you need to.
    – keshlam
    Commented Jan 16, 2023 at 12:29
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I'd certainly speak to your skip about this, but I wouldn't bother being overly diplomatic.

I'd focus on how the specific behaviour is impacting your work, and stick to facts, as you have done in your question.

I doubt that you'll be able to force a change in your manager's behaviour alone, but there may be multiple people that also feel that way. Hopefully they are able to approach the skip.

There is no need to worry about making the right choice for your manager. They have been at the company for 15 years. They are part of the furniture.

You should give you skip the opportunity to fix things, and before you become so frustrated that you do something stupid. The time to act is now.

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Definitely talk to your "skip boss" about this. While some of the things you describe are just annoyances that you will probably have to put up with (sudden exclamations in the office, rambling platitudes) some of the are significant issues that should be addressed (micromanaging, interfering in code reviews, contradictory advice). It's only irritating that you get lectured in your 1 on 1s, but it is important that you don't get issues addressed.

What you should say to your skip is pretty much what you wrote here. A couple of things I would add:

  • Focus on the things that actually affect productivity, like micromanaging and not giving you an opportunity to bring things up with him. Mention the irritating things but don't focus on them.
  • State the impact these things are having, not just what he is doing.
  • Come with examples of specific things he has done.
  • See if your colleagues agree with you, and if they do get them to talk to your skip as well. Complaints from many people are much less likely to be ignored than from one.

Joe Strazerre says that you aren't going to change anything, because your manager has been there longer than you. However he's only been in management a short time. He may be one of those people that is an excellent developer but a bad manager, and the company may be just finding that out. A possible outcome is that he gets shuffled sideways into an "advanced development" position rather than management.

However don't expect immediate change. In the best case the skip is going to get the boss to change his behaviour, and then give him time to see if he does it. You would expect the same treatment if you were asked to change your behaviour. It may take several months to see anything happen.

Also don't assume nothing will happen. A year or two back I (and several others on the team) complained about a really terrible manager. Nothing changed for some months, and one of my colleagues decided she couldn't take it any more and quit. Weeks later the manager was fired. It turned out that my skip had had the manager on a Performance Improvement Plan for all that time in order to get him to change, but of course couldn't share that with us.

Finally, regarding the 1:1 lectures, you can help this by stating at the start what it is you want addressed in the meeting. If you get to the end of the meeting and it hasn't been addressed, say "I had hoped we could talk about XYZ at this meeting. Could we talk about it now? Or could we set up a separate meeting to talk about it?". You don't hve to wait for a 1:1 to bring up a subject with your manager.

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You've made your bed, now lie in it.

The bottom line is you're put up with this behavior for a year and apparently done little or nothing to address it. You can go to your skip, but you don't really have much of a leg to stand on.

The behavior is toxic, not just a poor management style. You should have addressed these issues as they happened directly with your manager or to his if you didn't get a resolution.

Unfortunately, I doubt your skip will be able to resolve this, and more than likely will view this as a problem of your own making. I can imagine the thought process being: why is this an issue if you waited a whole year to bring it up.

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    Having made a good attempt to tolerate bad behaviour or hope that it will change is NOT a reason to continue to put up with it indefinitely. Commented Jan 18, 2023 at 14:57

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