I started a new job where the main person I interact with is my manager. Sometimes I can't tell if he's mad, joking or asking a rhetorical question. For example he was showing me how to do something with the database and when I clicked on the table it said "permission denied". He always says things like "Tim, why is it doing that?". Does he actually think it's my fault, in the sense I have been missing instructions? English isn't his first language and there is a bit of a cultural barrier. In the example, as far as I'm aware, I can't just give myself permissions. I could see it being possibly my fault if he had expected me to try this table and if there were any problems contact the db admin, though this expectation certainly wasn't made clear to me.

I think sometimes he's joking around - for example the computer I work at has 3 monitors but I usually keep the 2 smaller ones off and today he came up and asked me why the other two monitors aren't working. I just pressed the power button and turned them on.

  • Could you provide more context and more examples?
    – llrs
    May 12, 2015 at 10:31
  • "Tim, why is it doing that?" If I were your manager, it'd be only a matter of time before I fire you if you can't answer questions that are this basic. You obviously don't have the permissions. If performing your tasks require that you have these permissions, what's the action that you must take ASAP? May 12, 2015 at 17:31
  • The answers here adequately explain the situation, but to give a little extra detail: it sounds like you have a good manager (congratulations) they want you to understand why things are working as well as how. Pay attention and you'll learn a lot quicker than you will elsewhere. By asking you that question he's trying to get you to say, or work out for yourself, exactly what is going on. I'll contact the DB admin is a cop out at that point - what you think is happening is far more important to your own growth that what they do.
    – Ben
    May 12, 2015 at 21:47

3 Answers 3


He always says things like "Tim, why is it doing that?"

Likely he's trying to get you to think about it. It seems like he doesn't want to just tell you how to do every single thing - he wants you to talk through the problem with him, and what you think might solve it - sometimes we can figure out the solution to our own problem just by talking it through with someone and I think that's what he wants. He wants to know you understand the system and aren't just constantly asking what to do next without thinking about it yourself.

Instead of just saying "Boss X doesn't work" he probably wants you to call him over, explain the problem and why you think it's happening, and talk about how you think it can be solved.

The final example you give doesn't seem like a joke - he might genuinely be thinking that the 2 monitors need replaced, because it's uncommon in tech for people to use just 1 monitor when 2 are available.

Edit to add an example, for clarity:

"Boss, I'm getting this error when trying to do the task you set"

"Okay, what is the error?"

"It says permission denied"

"Right, why might it do that?"

"Because I don't have access to modify that?"

"Why do you think that's the case?"

"Because.... [insert thinking here]"

"Okay, so how would we solve that, do you think?"

"I need to alter the permissions? Or someone else has to?"

"Exactly! Go ahead and ask Sharon to do that now"

This way, instead of just "I have an error" "Ok I'l fix it", he can see that you understand why the problem is happening and that you do know what you're doing, you aren't just giving up every time you struggle.


Does he actually think it's my fault, in the sense I have been missing instructions?

There's no way for folks here to know what your boss is thinking. But the good news is that you can easily do that for yourself - ask your boss.

Next time, try something like "Boss, I don't think I know what you are looking for here. Can you help me understand, so that I can better give you what you need?"

Managers aren't trying to trick you. There's something your boss wants. And if you aren't sure what it is, your chances of delivering it to his satisfaction are significantly diminished.

Just ask for clarification.


It's impossible to give you the exact answer in this case. Perhaps he told you what would cause this problem and you have indeed missed it. Perhaps he is looking for an answer from you on how you would solve this problem so that he may see how your thinking process works. Perhaps he doesn't know the answer himself and he's looking for suggestions on how to approach solving the problem. In any case, what I think you should do here is to tell him your thinking process and see what happens from there. If your response isn't what he expected, you should be able to read this from his reaction.

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