I've had problems in my last jobs with things like the following:

My boss tells me something and I understand to do it in some way, I do it but this thing ends up causing a problem. Then there's an argument with "Why have you done that?" And my point is "but you told me so..." And the boss, "I didn't tell you so!..." Maybe some of those things have been my misunderstanding, but I consider my memory to be good, so it's more likely than it's been my bosses faults rather than mine... But I have to bear the guilt as there's no way to prove what was said exactly as it was told.

On other occasions I've had problems with things like "Why have you done something like that?" And my point is... "Well I wasn't told that I couldn't do that, and from the previous experience I have I considered it to be fine." But from boss point of view it's not... It looks like I have to be some type of mind reader... I also cannot ask every little thing of the project because it would slow it down a lot.

So I've thought that for future occasions I could do something like this:

1) From the first day of work ask for an email with good defined guidelines to work which can be extended in any moment in future emails.

2) If I feel something might cause important future problems asking him to send an email with a detailed description of what to be done, I think I could ask for it about once a week.

In this way if something is in the guidelines or was sent as a request to one of my questions about something that might give problems then OK, shame on me, and if I get enough of those no problem in being fired, but if it was reflected on the emails to be done that thing, then shame on my boss, I should be asked for forgiveness, and if next time it's my fault we're equal.

Do you think it's a good idea to ask for something like that?

I'm not asking for a detailed description of everything once per week, I'm asking for a detailed description of something that I feel might give serious problems on the future.

It hasn't happened to me in every job, it has happened on my last 2 ones specially on the last one, on the other 2 ones I had a general good opinion from my bosses and even in the third one I had it until those things started happening (not that I were the best one, but that I were a competent employee), I even got some recomendation letters from my first 2 jobs, defining me as a competent employee.

  • There is a saying "Dance like no one is watching, love like you have never been hurt...". There is nothing wrong with clarifying that you understand the requirements of a task to be performed but be very careful not to blame your new boss for the sins of the former. Making demands of a superior is never a good idea.
    – user48276
    Apr 12, 2016 at 15:52
  • 3
    Don't demand extra work from your boss. If you want to cover yourself a little bit more and at the same time try to reduce the number of misunderstandings, you've got to put things down in writing yourself. This way you have a written record of what you understood (not just heard), and at the end of each meeting, you can either quickly rattle off the tasks he has asked of you for him to confirm (or clarify), or simply type up that condensed paraphrased summary in a quick email, or write that down in a shared spreadsheet where you can mark your progress on and that he can follow. Apr 13, 2016 at 3:38
  • Why don't you write it down?
    – user8365
    Apr 13, 2016 at 21:23

4 Answers 4


Do you think it's a good idea to ask for something like that?

No I don't.

If you have had this issue multiple times in the past with multiple bosses as your question implies, then you are probably not getting clarification on your tasks when you need it.

Asking your boss to put everything in writing is not a good look, especially just after you get there. I guess you could do it, but you're basically telling your boss that you can't understand verbal orders. And you're also asking them to change their normal procedures to fit your wants.

It's far better and normal enough, to email your boss for clarification on any points you're unsure of. Or email him/her progress reports in which case if you have gone down the wrong track they should be able to see it in earlier stages. These are things you should be doing anyway as well as a tracking system if there is one.

But asking for detailed written instructions of your tasks every week is going a bit too far.


I personally prefer writing/reading rather than speaking, but it's unrealistic to expect your boss to do everything in writing. Instead, I would:

  • Ask questions for clarification at the moment if you have any

    Something like "Hey Boss, so you want me to __________" would do.

  • Send an email after getting verbal orders

    With this, you can:

    • Repeat back what he/she told you with something like:

      Hey Boss,

      As we discussed [this morning/afternoon/yesterday], you'd like me to _______

    • ask for clarifications if any new questions arise in your head (happens to me all the time)

    This way you can go back and reference it in case you forgot something (something I personally do). Also, you'll have a paper trail, which defends you if he/she's a bad boss (though hopefully not) and you can use it a guide or template on how to proceed with similar orders/tasks in the future.

Your boss may be busy, or have a lot of tasks on his/her mind, so try your hardest to not add to that while doing your work or clarifying your orders.


what you are suggesting, i.e. written clarification of tasks you are expected to perform, is a fine and dandy idea but if you overdo it, just to prove your point, you will be perceived as an order taker and not a take charge of type of guy. And believe me, it is not good for your long term career.

If the task in question can really go in two totally different ways, depending on what you understood and what you think it might mean otherwise, by all means ask for clarification. But if the outcome of those two paths are generating a nuance of a difference, be prepared for both. And present them both at the end of the project, explaining your thought process and why you thought it might be interpreted as one or the other way. Hence the two different products of your efforts, despite how minute the difference is. I am pretty sure, minute differences will not make you work the double. The time you invest in such a scenario, will make you a take charge kind of guy/gal and open doors for you in the future.

On the flip side, if your boss is one of those teflon people, who finds a scapegoat for every mistake he or she does, by telling "I did not tell you to do so", it might be an indication of a more severe management problem. And probably you are not the only one facing this. Voicing a unified opinion with others in the same situation to HR, would be a good idea. A bad, but sometimes effective idea was carrying an always on voice recording app on your smartphone and carrying it with you while you go talk to this manager person. Even though, legality of such a setup is questionable at best, I am quite sure, if confronted with evidence, your boss may change the tune of the accusation. Although this will be a proverbial death knell for your career under that boss. So, use the method very sparingly.

  • +1 for the first part but -1 for the voice recording / HR part. IMO that would only make things worse! Apr 12, 2016 at 15:36
  • As I said recording is a bad idea and a last resort before you leave the company for good. Recording a supervisor and confronting him/her with this blackmail item never ends well. But for the brave, it is always an option
    – MelBurslan
    Apr 12, 2016 at 16:02

It's not quite clear from your plurals, but has this been a consistent problem with every boss you've had?

If that's the case, I'm sorry to be blunt, but you are the problem. We've all misunderstood instructions occasionally, but if it happens enough that you're thinking seriously about pre-emptively addressing it on your first day at a new job, it's a major issue.

Either you don't listen, or you have remarkably poor judgement coupled with a remarkably high degree of confidence in your own badly flawed judgement. Either way, you're making the situation worse for yourself (not for anybody else) if you dig in and insist on blaming others.

I recommend humility. Accept that you don't yet know as much as you'd like to think you do, and that you've got a lot to learn from the more experienced guys. Objectively, that's a fact. And you'll only ever get where you want to be if you start by admitting that you are not there yet. That's not alwaysalways not comfortable, but it beats BSing yourself and wasting years making no progress at all while you make a fool of yourself. I've learned several musical instruments, motorcycle racing (in progress), competitive marksmanship, and a fistful of programming languages and paradigms, and believe me: the learning starts when you take a deep breath, release your ego, and embrace the fact that you don't know s*** -- in fact what you think you know has negative worth -- and the best thing you can bring to the table is a willingness to shut up and listen.

Also possibly consider a change or redirection of career to an area where your judgement is more in tune with your colleagues. My judgement is poor in some respects; I've been able to (mostly) focus my career on areas where it's sound, and in those areas humility has helped me improve it. This may not be possible but consider it.

Also, maintain warm, positive personal relationships with superiors as a top priority. They'll be much more understanding of these problems, and you'll probably find communication will flow much better in both directions.

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