I should also note. If you're a manager, your job is to do things that make you uncomfortable. If you can't handle sitting there and telling them you're letting them go in person, it's probably not the path for you. Have the decency to look someone in the eye. Don't pass it off to HR, because that's more convenient.
Instead, I find it's better to be kind, take things seriously and treat people with respect.
Yes, the power dynamic exists. Yes, I believe it's somewhat unfair and I wish society wasn't structured that way. But make up for it by being kind, being direct and treating people fairly.
Otherwise, it just comes across as an inability to accept responsibility, and if someone with power over you doesn't seem predictable it just feels scary and unstable. Or worse, you'll give people the impression that you're actively taking pleasure in toying with them.
There’s an old saying, if your boss if your friend, he’s either a bad boss or a bad friend.
That being said, there is no doubt the dynamic changes but that does not mean you have to give up your friends. It means you have to be more transparent with them, it means an absolute commitment to honesty so that you remove the feeling that you may be "managing" behind their back.
Jumping back to my friend, I was candid with him that he would leave me no choice, that it was completely unacceptable and that most of all I was concerned about him as a friend. He understood and understood my actions and that it was he who left me no choice.
I had another friend who battled depression, she was a rock star for years and then just hit a wall, due to a life event. I took off my CTO hat, put on my friend hat and worked with her thru it. Helped her build a path to put her life together and helped her get her career back on track. She had some extremely self destructive behavior in the throws of depression and I resisted outside pressure to fire her, due to knowing the sensitive nature of her medical condition, that knowledge came from being her friend not her manager. In the end what I gained was a loyal employee and a rockstar again. What I also gained is a group of people that any time I have an endeavor, I can pick up the phone, make a call and they will quit their job on the spot to join me. Have an unwavering commitment to your people and they will have an unwavering commitment to you, when they know that you are honest to them.
Point being take conventional wisdom with a grain of salt. Don't be jerk and don't manage behind peoples back and you will be fine. But the original point of the article is spot on, never, ever, even jokingly, joke about someones employment if you have a position of power or a decision in that continued employment. It's off limits, but if they are not meeting a standard be honest with them and be honest with them in the short run. Be a friend and put a plan together to get them back on track. Help them be successful, part of being a good manager is being a people builder.
There will come a time when you will know something he can't know, such as layoffs are coming. Or maybe he deserves that promotion/raise but you can't give it to him because everyone knows you're friends and you open yourself to accusations of favoritism (or worse). If you really want to square this circle the only way to to get yourself moved to a different reporting line.
Cue the inevitable Ribbonfarm link in 3... 2... 1...
Higher level performers tend to disproportionately believe then need to improve so they tend to take group jokes or threats of termination much more seriously than underperformers.
Be very very careful making groups statements and jokes about performance and firings. It’s a fast track to losing high performers who leave because they start to believe they are not wanted and not doing a good job.
"... five subgroups this syndrome often falls into.
- The perfectionist
- The superwoman/man
- The natural genius
- The soloist
- The expert"
"The researchers concluded that the women who participated in this study experienced impostor phenomenon more so than the men who participated."
am I misparsing this sentence? how can both be true?
Men and women could be equally likely to develop some form of imposter syndrome (thus, equal prevalence), but the women could be more severely affected (scores of, say, 5 vs. 3 on some kind of test or questionnaire).
but it's the other way around. Men and women are affected with the same severity but women are more likely to develop it. ( or at least that's what I understood from bradjohnson's comment).
I can only see two ways to make both statements consistent:
- Men and women are both likely to have an general 'diagnosis' of imposter syndrome, but women experience more 'acute attacks' of it per unit time. Half of of men and women feel like imposters during a year, but the affected women feel that way twice a week, while the affected men feel it once/week.
- Women experience it more severely than men: a male colonel feels like a lt. colonel, but a female colonel feels like a major)
Could be some combination of the two...or the writing is just a mess!
Severity is the same for both genders (those that have it, feel it with similar enough degree and frequency), but in equal sized groups of men and women, there are more women who exhibit it.
From Wikipedia's ref #1 (Langford and Clance, 1993)
"Studies of college students (Harvey, 1981; Bussotti, 1990; Langford, 1990), college professors (Topping, 1983), and successful professionals (Dingman, 1987) have all failed, however, to reveal any sex differences in impostor feelings, suggesting that males in these populations are just as likely as females to have low expectations of success and to make attributions to non-ability related factors."
And Ref #9 (Kumar and Jagacinski, 2006)
"Women expressed greater imposter fears than men and were also higher on ability-avoid goals."
The writing in the Wikipedia article is not great though, so it could have gone either way...
I understood the first sentence to be saying that the proportion of men experiencing "imposter's syndrome" is the equal to the proportion of woman experiencing it.
I understood The second sentence to say that a higher proportion of women experience it.
To my understanding, it's not possible for these two statements to be true at the same time. So one must be wrong.
"This foo is bar."
Both statements can be true simultaneously.
I understood it to be:
P(W) == P(M)
and P(W) > P(M)
either the sample was too small, they got unlucky or the result is stated too generally.
Not necessarily. Maybe the replications were flawed. Characteristics of a population can change over time. Blah, blah, blah. It's incredibly hard to say something is flat wrong or absolutely correct. A good scientist uses what others might call "weasel" words (I hate that term), like, "The data is (in)consistent with the hypothesis."
The more evidence that mounts for or against a hypothesis, well, it's up to you to decide how to act.
I’ve experienced the feeling the grandparent post shared.
Under that condition it is anticipated these people will take criticism and risks with a greater degree of personal sensitivity.
people who take the risks seriously will try harder, thus become higher performers
Yep, one thing I noticed when I moved into a management role, was that the things that would make you move along as an employee, are the things it's now your job to fix or deal with. Maybe this is obvious, but there's kind of a visceral shift in perception that goes along with it.
If you as my manager are not able to do anything either, we're part of a sick organization, and the only thing to do is leave.
Often, it takes both employees and managers to really make the shifts, over many many years. By the time it happens, the individual contributions are mostly forgotten or employee left long ago.
Fast forward a couple of years, I'm a manager in a different company, the company wants to move everyone over to a different legal entity by firing and then rehiring them. Totally innocuous. Remembering the above conversation and self-promise, I planned very carefully how to tell my team and in which order to say the words, and... someone interrupted with a question and I managed to cause exactly that moment of panic I'd been trying to avoid. You win some, you lose some...but at least I wasn't doing it as a joke.
The company I worked for in 2011 was acquired for its customers. We all knew that we were going to be let go as soon as the acquisition happened. Most of us had other jobs lined up and we were sticking around for the severance.
In my case, not only did I have a contract lined up with one of our customers, I knew I was going to start working the following Monday and getting paid more, and my termination letter had a special provision that gave me access to all of my former company’s intellectual property and software that I needed to work with the customer. I still felt bad for getting let go.
After we all “got fired” we ate lunch, had a few drinks, and came back to the office and just hung out.
I had a great relationship with my team and no-one held it against me, it's just that moment of emotional response that gives a shock until the rational mind kicks in.
My work cut our hours by 20%, and we were given notice about the meeting only a couple of hours beforehand. It would be cruel to schedule that kind of meeting for several days in time, leaving your staff in purgatory, wondering if they should get a head start on looking for a new job.
We had to lay off a new hire and reduce hours across the board due to Covid-19, and once again they did a great job at reassuring us they had every intention of keeping (the rest of) us employed as much as possible.
It is awkward for people to go from not being a manager to being a manager among their peers. In new social situations I think that 'awkwardness' is actually uncertainty about how to behave because you haven't been in that position before. A lot of social skills seem to be based on accurate models/predictions of what to do in certain situations in order to bond with people.
When you're suddenly a manager the old tools don't work as well and people try to generate that camaraderie with humor, but for the reasons listed in the article this can be particularly bad if done poorly.
Other jokes I've noticed in addition to the firing thing, are annoying humble brag comments like, "Can you believe X important person wanted to talk to me about this thing?". I think they're trying to signal that they don't think they're important, but the obvious context just comes across as bragging. I think people get more respect when they just recognize the role they're in and are more confident about it (but that probably comes with experience of navigating that social situation).
A good lead will explain these things directly to a new manager because the social bits are not obvious and are uncomfortable. This is even more important in fields where the baseline social skills may be not quite at par anyway.
One advantage is that if you have knowledge of this, and you can model the way others think about it - you can actually be a force to make people more comfortable than they'd otherwise be. Encouraging them to ask questions by asking yourself in front of them when you don't know something. Suggesting they go home early if something is bothering them and that you do it too. Reassuring them if they're doing a good job or if something they're working on is particularly tricky etc.
A good manager can do a lot to make someone feel safe/secure and make them happy, which is often a prerequisite for them to be a strong member of the team and stay for a long time.
This is true even if you're not firing somebody. In my first "real" job, I didn't report directly to the guy who negotiated pay. Maybe that was a little weird, but it could have worked. Except, the way he would discuss raises was to wait until some afternoon I was really busy with actual work, and then sneak into my office and blurt "your-raise-this-year-is-$10-congratulations-it-was-good-to-talk-with-you-I'll-be-pretty-busy-for-the-next-few-weeks-ok-bye!" He was literally gone before I had the presence of mind to greet him. This is the same guy who would insist on all sorts of procedures if anyone (e.g. my manager's manager) wanted to meet with him. Geoff, wow, what a tool.
I do think this is something you can learn. Having a good mentor/coach helps. I had a hard time with this personally, but after all these years I've seen almost every seat be replaced (more than once, too) and I've gotten used to it. You have to become more consciously aware that a business relationship is a separate thing from a friendly/family relationship.
> If you're a manager, part of your job is to do things that make you uncomfortable
He also loved bad jokes, but he was smart enough not to joke about firing people.
I mean, I don't know what your interpersonal relationships in life have given you to consider a normal and healthy way for people to interact for one another. But I can absolutely tell you that what we're talking about here is neither of those.
I was trying to make a clear contrast with behavior that is much worse, which I have experienced a lot.
If you're having such a hostile reaction, should I suspect you think the "much worse" behavior is normal and healthy?
Nope. 100% passive aggressive, toxic behavior.
If someone is reliable and trustworthy in their communication, then calling them "toxic" because you don't like the style is just wrong.
Conversely, someone can tell you all day every day how honest and straightforward they are, but if they aren't consistent or trustworthy, then their communication style is irrelevant.
Such behavior fails to offer the report a fair chance to know what's expected of them and, presumably, how they're not meeting those expectations. It has much more in common with the kind of dysfunctional communication you see in unhappy marriages, than with anything I require of a manager - or, should I eventually join management myself, with anything I'll provide my own reports.
That's what "toxic" is a shorthand for. Yeah, I'll grant it might be consistent. But to be consistently bad isn't, you know, not bad. Being able to predict the bullshit that is going to happen doesn't make the bullshit not happen. It just means you can see it coming. I'll concede there may be reasons to tolerate it, if the benefits of the job outweigh the bullshit. But that doesn't make it not bullshit.
(And, as a side note, anyone who talks about how honest or straightforward they are - that's a big yikes from me, chief. People who are legitimately honest and straightforward don't need to talk about having those traits, because their behavior reflects them. People who do need to talk about having those traits are, in my experience, very likely to be trying to cover their lack.)
At best, it is someone who is scared to have difficult conversations. At worst, who knows.. I've slowly learned not to try and rationalize what makes people like that tick. It's their issue, not mine.
Doing things like that is kind of shady, but there are often times when you cannot straight up tell people things but still need or want to send signals.
I always had to document and explain why I thought an employee deserved a raise, or should not get a bonus, etc. Even as a director with ~20 reports I don't have unlimited firing power and I still need to regroup with HR when it comes to that.
Yes, of course you have some control, but it's not unchecked.
Having that system in place isn't enough. You need that system to have teeth, and you need to have someone with as much power as you who will review your decisions and play devil's advocate.
In many teams I've seen with documentation and HR hurdles, they're not real hurdles, they're just there so that there's a paper trail at all. That's because:
1. Most people in the company including the manager's boss and possibly even most teammates of the employee don't see enough of the employee's work, so it's often the manager's word vs. employee's. A bad manager will exploit that, intentionally or unintentionally.
2. When in doubt, the management hierarchy tends to side with the manager on things, because they by default trust the manager more than the employee and their view of the facts of the situation usually comes from the manager. A bad manager will intentionally or unintentionally editorialize the facts on their way up the hierarchy.
3. HR tends to avoid making waves. The only time I've seen HR (excuse the metaphor) plant the flag on the hill they intend to die on, it's because the person being fired or managed out was a protected class of worker. I have never seen HR push back just because the manager had insufficient reasons or suspect reasoning. A bad manager will just shove decisions through HR, intentionally or unintentionally.
In all of those places, there were systems in place where managers had to document those decisions, but there wasn't real accountability, so the systems were nominal at best.
Second guessing management hiring/firing decisions that don't expose the company to unacceptable risk of liability for labor law violations generally isn't HR’s function.
When I think back to some of the most egregious workplace culture issues in recent memory, such as Uber (Susan Fowler) or Riot Games, HR was, by the most charitable interpretation, unable to stop obviously bad things from happening. By a more literal read of the news at the time, HR was complicit.
And sometimes / often there are real and accurate reviews of termination reasons
(From your perspective)?
I'm aware of 'protected characteristics', but they cut both ways, not something you can be or not be.
> I'm aware of 'protected characteristics', but they cut both ways, not something you can be or not be.
The legal term of art is “protected class” and not all of them cut both ways (age over 40, disability, and veteran status are all one-sided protected classes.)
In mine, it is indeed 'characteristics', and it is 'age', not 'over 40'.
Specifically, I meant that when you're firing someone who falls into those categories, HR will often require you to document extra well why it's not employment discrimination, in case there's a lawsuit.
E.g., I know somebody whose manager was pushed out for political reasons. Their first meeting with their new boss, the one who did the pushing, was a 90-minute series of accusations and critiques. In the second meeting, they were presented with a letter documenting the critiques and their poor response. Their third meeting was a no-notice, no-severance layoff and a security escort to the door. It turned out the people "laid off" were all the ones hired by the old boss, even though the company was hiring for the same roles at the same time. So the new boss was just cleaning house, making sure the people in key positions were loyal to him.
But it was all documented and justified.
I think a lot of the impression people have of unions is from places with really hostile labor/manager relationships. Under those conditions, it's easy to treat the workplace as a zero-sum battleground. But especially in tech, where we have a culture of shared gain and literal shared ownership, it's possible for workers to advocate for things like improved efficiency.
The main thing is, there is a power differential, and "firing" jokes are, at their core, saying "I have power over you". It's just not that funny. And for new managers who feel compelled to make them, "why does my power make me giddy" is a good introspective question to ask.
No, that doesn't imply they are bad people. New power does things to everybody's mood. But asking the question helps remind yourself. (For an entire framework to keep that impulse in check, servant leadership works pretty well, IME)
I have had this bite me a couple of times with people for whom I felt I knew really well and was really comfortable with joking about pretty much anything. Only to find out later that the joke was anything but.
The hard and fast rule has to be both don't joke about firing and don't talk to someone else's direct reports about the performance of their manager.
X was referring to a technical implementation detail that he had zero understanding of. He read something in a blog post I guess.
My reaction was to act like it was a fun joke or something. But inside, I absolutely loathed him every second of every day until I quit, and now I take great satisfaction knowing that I’ve surpassed him and would never do a thing to help his stagnating career. (In other words, I’m holding an extremely petty and lasting grudge.)
But my point is, he probably thought I was fine with all his joking. I always laughed.
To expand on the article’s point, I think the biggest thing young managers don’t understand is that people are going to be insincere to you as a basic showing of respect and a basic desire for career preservation. They’re going to smile and appear to enjoy you and laugh at your jokes and seem ok with everything, much moreso than they otherwise would. So don’t make the mistake of using their reactions to define your boundaries of what’s acceptable or what’s funny, because it’s not a typical relationship, and you will invariably believe that you are funnier than you are and that a wider range of unacceptable behaviors are acceptable.
I know it's hard and it took me until my 30s with a long career behind me but I really wish people would be more vocal about their issues to their managers, even if it's about their management style or them burning people out, etc. There is a huge chance that you're not the only one with those feelings and there might be people newer to the team or career that are afraid of speaking up for things that they really truly disagree with, or just the people who get anxious with confrontation.
When you’re young, and especially if you come from a lower income background (where authority is treated as an absolute, and abuse of authority is generally more common and accepted), it can seem very risky and feel very unacceptable to give this kind of feedback to your manager.
It’s easy for me to agree with you now, but there are very different feelings about this across different backgrounds and cultures, and there are plenty of managers who would react harshly to this.
There's a huge chance that, if you are actually working in a toxic environment, complaining about it will result in blowback directly targeted at you.
As a manager, it's on ME to setup the environment for candid feedback. It's something I have to emphasize over and over again and demonstrate very clearly and publicly to everyone that it's ok and it's what I expect.
If the boss isn't creating that environment, then it's a risky, uphill battle for any subordinate to create change. Not impossible, but it's difficult to recommend it.
This technique is called mirroring.
It's a tacit reminder to the other person that what they're saying is outside the boundary of your immediate comprehension - forcing them to be more conscious of their behavior.
If you live in a city you can probably get an interview the day after you get fired. Sooner if you're willing to use a recruiter.
And now that I think about it, one trait that I’ve witnessed in CEOs and successful entrepreneurs again and again is an almost inhuman ease with initiating and engaging in uncomfortable conversations. They don’t hesitate with them either.
I always assumed it was just something they all naturally develop as a consequence of being bombarded and put upon constantly, but maybe there’s more to it than that.
You are voluntarily & temporarily handing over that power to someone else in exchange for money.
The moment you renounce your desire for money from that company, you get back that power you handed over.
And that was, is, and will, always be your decision. Thus, the power never left your hands.
The thing you're missing is that money is required to live. If I "voluntarily" decide to stop earning it, or if I end up in a job where I earn substantially less, a state employee with a gun will eventually show up to my house and evict me from it. If I am hungry and take some food from a store, a state employee with a gun will put me in a cage. The idea that there's no power dynamic at play here is absurd.
There is always a power dynamic as long as you have desires.
Even the state employee with a gun has someone else he needs to answer to, or that someone else with a bigger gun will show up at his house.
To the saint/monk/yogi who needs nothing but a fruit a day from a nearby tree, no power on earth has a "power-dynamic" over him.
All well and good if you can afford it. If you can not, then the existential wisdom is a lot less useful than, say, worker's rights.
There might be some truth in that in a purely psychological sense, but it also is a massive legal issue. Do you really have agency as an employee, and what are those limits?
Say a manager gets into a relationship with a subordinate. Yes, it's a bad idea, of course, but both of your emotions get away from you and you say you love each other. If things go south, could the subordinate say he or she didn't feel like they had a choice?
Heidi Matthews is a Canadian law professor who asked this in relation to the metoo movement and Monica Lewinsky. During the 90s, the debate was over Clinton lying, but no one ever challenged that Lewinsky consented. But today, people retroactively look back at that time and ask if she had the ability to consent.
Maybe if US unemployment was setup like other countries where you could leave a job and still get on the dole, there's less of a dynamic because you could "just leave" (even though it makes it more difficult to get hired later).
I dunno; there are a whole lot of deep factors here. Life is about learning from doing things that are uncomfortable and asserting agency when you feel like you have none.
Also, many people would be terrible managers and avoid that career path, so it's kind of weird to expect them to "manage up".
I suspect the manager would interpret that sort of feedback as #2 as well
I get that it's tempting to make jokes when you start managing for your old team members. Just accept the fact that you've switched positions and that your relationship will change. It will only make it more awkward if you don't.
The key here, I think, is the relationship aspect.
I've seen and had so many terrible managers that had no idea how to create and maintain relationships with their subordinates. Every person responds to leadership differently, and needs different things from their immediate managers. A lot of people get into a management position and immediately try to bend people to their will.
The best manager I ever had was very hands-off from a day-to-day perspective, but knew every single one of his direct reports and how to manage them individually. Some people needed more frequent check ins and a stricter set of deadlines and expectations. Others needed the space and freedom to set their own schedule and have bigger picture goals. His ability to organize and assign the expectations and needs of the business to work for the person (rather than the other way around) is something I've always admired and look for in management.
Edit: for addressing burnout, overwork, etc., for me personally I would start with bringing up the issue in team meetings.
Do we have enough resources, does anyone feel they’ve got too many tasks; remind everyone (no singling out) that we’re not here to be superheroes, we’re here to work in exchange for compensation and that you need a good work-life balance in order to perform well at work. If it continues to be an issue after several proclamations, then I could address individuals one on one.
This is also why I actively encourage taking time as needed and being flexible when it comes to taking time off to take care of things during the day. It's a non-issue. Finally, it's why I pay attention to taking vacations. I actively encourage it. Often people feel the pressure of deadlines which are always looming. Through my actions, they don't feel as if they can never take time off.
Yes, I can see how you might feel if someone is watching your work hours. But it's not a single thing. It's a continuous effort and comes from a relationship you develop with the people you manage.
When I ask people why they are still working at a certain time, they know why I'm asking. The net result has been really positive for my team.
Ignoring my personal feelings of how unhealthy I think this is for them in the long run, I just simply don't want to feel like I'm competing with them. And yeah not all workplaces feel like a competition, but in my experience the places where you constantly hear "I was up until 10 fixing that bug, but I finally solved it." "Nice work, rockstar!" do feel very competitive internally.
Also as someone with lots of anxiety (which I feel is somewhat common among developers) it really helps to hear that taking reasonable hours or a vacation is not only allowed, but encouraged. I worked at a place that switched to "unlimited vacation", but the process for getting it approved was so stressful that the majority of the developers didn't take a vacation that year.
But I don't see anything wrong with praising more output under the right circumstances. Everything ebbs and flows. As an IC there are times I go 3-4 days without a single commit. And there are times I have commits for 12 days straight because I'm on a roll.
I've been fighting for an "unlimited with minimum" vacation policy for the developers at my current job for a while now. It was fight to get the base increased from 2 weeks to 3, and the system doesn't allow negative PTO balances, which seems kind of draconian to me. But I'd love to see my coworkers taking 4-5 weeks a year.
Likewise with vacations.
I really do appreciate being given enough work to keep me busy, it's better than being laid off. But I really hate being given all the extra junk that no one else wants to do simply because I'm not 100% full time on that project.
"I'm just about to head out", "okay, good", or "Just finishing up (ticket)", "How long will that takes?", "Maybe thirty minutes", "Okay; finish it up but then get outta here", or "Kid's in daycare; it's on the way home, figured I'd take this as a breather", "Okay, fair enough. As a reminder, there are phone booths, quiet rooms, and break rooms if you want to get out of your desk." Etc.
However, the context was that I was walking towards the parking lot at 14:00. And so was he.
Did you stay until after 5 pm usually thereafter
As an example, when you are deciding whether to promote someone, you can't do it on tasks completed alone, because some of that decision has to be about (1) how well the person works with teammates, and (2) whether the person's peers believe this person is competent enough for their promotion. If you don't get those two considerations right, you compromise people's trust in your competence and the fairness of the promotion system. They're fundamentally relationship and skill development issues and not deliverables.
If you want to be a good manager, you have be fluent in both approaches, and you have to learn when to use a task oriented approach vs. a relationship oriented approach.
And then you have to figure out if they need help, if they're over their head, if they're being lazy, if they're getting interrupted by stuff that's not on your radar, or WTF is really going on, and if (a) they're not telling you and (b) you have no visibility into their day (say they're remote), then it gets really hard fast.
And the more insecure they feel, the less likely they are to directly tell you they need help.
So as manager: don't joke about firing, don't joke about time at desk, don't joke about performance.
But as employee: if you get your shit down, and have talked to your manager about it, and you're both good with the amount of stuff getting done, you shouldn't be concerned with taking a day off here or there, or leaving early, or working from home. But be aware that a lot of performance monitoring stuff isn't for you, and not everyone is doing as well as you are.
This is pretty much the definition of an estimate in software.
How many managers are competent enough to judge that kind of stuff, and whether or not any excuses produced are reasonable? Even in the technical manager cases I've seen, maybe 1%. The people who constantly bs excuses are often the ones rewarded, as opposed to the people who actually focus on the work and take a little longer to get it done properly.
You say this as if technical managers are better managers? In my experience the opposite is almost always true.
Surely, as one gets more skilled, their estimates will tend to zero in on accuracy more
Skills tend to increase in nonlinear jumps, so I’m not looking for a targeted increase. I’m looking for someone to discover what they are actually capable of which is often more than they anticipate.
A great way to get there is to immerse yourself.
Same reason why parents (should) never joke about punishment or disciplinary action with their kids - when you have power and authority you also have a responsibility not to belittle it. People will take your power over them only as seriously as you take your responsibility towards them.
"Comedy is subjective, and it's offensive, it really is. And people are making these imaginary rules, like, 'Comedy can punch up, but it can't punch down.' No, comedy punches down too sometimes, sorry. You don't make up the rules for my business without consulting a few of us. This is just people deciding these random rules about my business, and they're not even the funny people at their office, probably." - Jerry Seinfeld
"Who decides what’s punching up and punching down? I have a routine about these comedians writing articles in the Guardian, trying to set the rules of comedy, insisting that we should never punch down. And I say sometimes you’ve got to punch down." - Ricky Gervais
Also, it's important to understand what the actual target of the joke is. Chris Rock sums it up as, "Talk about what they do, not what they are". I think that's a useful rule of thumb.
The problem is only when someone with power punches down, unlike a professional comedian (who has no power over the group s/he's punching at). That's fine, we can all laugh at ourselves.
There's also a problem with punching down when you're not a professional comedian, because now nobody knows you're joking. If you try this, you'll sound racist/classist/sexist/elitist.
The rules about comedy don't apply to professional comedians, because you know if they break them they're still trying to funny. Just like if a beginner plays a bad note on a piano, it's a novice mistake, but if a master does it it's dissonance that shakes your soul.
I don't think this is true in the modern age. Countless non-established or up and coming comedians and adjacents have gotten fired for one-off remarks in old material or social media posts. If there's a constantly evolving list (which no one person on Earth is completely aware of in its entirety because of constant evolution) of "problematic" topics that will get you fired, all you will end up with is bad comedy.
More than 30 years after its release, Eddie Murphy was basically forced to apologize for Raw; undisputed one of the greatest standup specials by one of the greatest comedians of all-time. People were calling for a boycott of Netflix because of Chappelle and Seinfeld gets shit for his remarks all the time. If these were up-and-coming comedians, they would not have a career.
Google "comedians fired social media" or "comedians fired old material". If not one-off remarks then a tiny percentage of overall material.
> Older work getting re-evaluated, viewed from a different angle, etc, is more or less how culture works.
I have no problem with anyone taking a nuanced look through an entire piece while also considering the time and place when it was published. What I do have a problem with is cherry-picking through an hour plus of material and branding an entire work "problematic" or worse for a handful of jokes that were mainstream funny at the time and clearly jokes; the whole point of the profession. Most of this is amplified by social media and its ability to share short, out of context clips of anything but unfortunately there are real consequences that arise from that.
> Murphy or Seinfeld don't seem to be any worse for the wear at all.
Both of those guys are some of the greatest to ever do it. They also both have a lot of money. They're well-insulated from the consequences that others may face for similar actions; whether they be too big to blacklist or not suffering the loss of income that may devastate others.
This was the original notion that I was disagreeing with. If you can't think of a single comedian fired for social media posts or previous material then you really aren't educated on the topic that you are arguing about.
Also, complete exaggerations like:
> dreadful modern scourge
> not some important social ill
are not conducive to conversation. I never once claimed that changes in societal norms are negative so please don't put words in my mouth. What I'm saying is that there is a complete lack of nuance or context with many of the modern forms of evaluation and nuance and context are kinda important for appreciating any artform. Some of that evaluation takes place on social media and ends up having outsized real-life effects.
He got fired and rehired. Wasn't a comedian. Wasn't for 'one off remarks'. And the whole thing was a deliberate, targeted troll campaign. It's hardly an example of countless people being fired for one off remarks.
While a professional comedian doesn't have any power de jure like you mention, I always wonder if their words carry weight in a more implicit way. Society has ultimately put them on a stage in front of an audience, after all. That's not to say that the comedian is responsible for other people's behaviour or thinking, but I can't help but think that the remarks of a comedian are less toothless than your idea might suggest. When someone suggests a comedian look punch up, I wonder if they're engaging with the implicit effect of comedy.
But people remember, and talk among themselves, and your name becomes known, and maybe one day there's a huge backlash. And the backlash looks disproportionate, but should really be considered in proportion to the decades of incidents it's in response to.
(You can see this happening in real time with statues of racists, especially in the UK)
I think Ricky Gervais's last special had an extended bit about how Asian people sometimes mix up their L's and R's.
Seinfeld seemed flabbergasted that college students didn't think that "kids be texting and that's bad" was a good routine a couple years back.
They're just bad comedians relying on material that's decades out of date, and blaming their inability to remain relevant to the youth on "anti-PC" culture.
Most modern successful comedians are not known for one-liners. Selectively quoting through text/audio/video effectively reduces all comedians' material to one-liners and completely eliminates all the nuance and context of the original performance piece.
The joke isn't funny if the only reason its a joke is because you haven't done it yet.
As for when they're appropriate, it's about A) the potential damage that can come from it being misconstrued or B) the potential damage that can come from you doing part of it wrong. It's more common for there to be potential harm when "punching" down than up (hence the rule of thumb), but there are situations where it's fine or bad in either direction. But a lot of those situations are only in a context of real trust, for example with friends you don't have power over who know you well already, or a comedy club where it's understood that it's all for laughs.
Wayne Brady and Aisha Taylor handled this extremely well, but I'm glad he stood his ground and didn't smile and laugh along, despite the situational pressure to.
I get that it's not appropriate to punch down (especially in the work place). It is always riskier to punch down with comedy but it is 100% not a rule of comedy not to punch down.
(Not singling out that President, but the incident was shocking.)
The actually shocking part is that the president views drone stricks, which is to say extrajudicial murders in foreign countries, so casually he thinks it's appropriate to make jokes about them.
I'm generally a strong Obama supporter, but this is one area that I feel like his actions were totally indefensible. I'm not surprised by his callous attitude on the subject.
I am pretty sure it is not a new technique - it was famously featured in the 2010 children's book Mockingjay, and I am sure Suzanne Collins didn't make it up either.
Double-tap bombing are a staple of the asymmetric warfare arsenals of spec-ops forces/guerilla/terrorists since at least the second world war, probably much longer.
(Also, it is rather unlikely that Obama ordered the airforce to start double-tapping, or even that he knew ahead of the fact, given the amount of extrajudicial killing/assassination the US forces do every month...)
If he wanted to make a dad joke he could have said he had a shotgun or would box them or challenge them to a duel or something. That implication of superiority with balance can be funny, like Mike Tyson joking that he was going to kick your ass if dated his kids. Enough of a flex, but the balance is maintained because if you train hard enough or knew enough kung fu maybe you could take him.
Joking about firing people and calling a drone strike on them are not funny if you can actually do it but they can't do it back to you.
Think of holocaust jokes.
Edit: would you please stop posting unsubstantive and/or flamebait comments to HN? It looks like you've done it repeatedly, and it's really not what this site is for. If you'd review the guidelines and take the intended spirit more to heart here, we'd be grateful.
The author did a good job expanding on situations that are now not funny, but here’s another one that I see all the time:
Butts in seats. As a manager, anything you say about the clock, the vacancy ratio of an employees chair, anything about time management really is not a joke. It is making the employee feel as though the work they do is not valued and that you expect them to be meat decorations prettying up an office chair.
I used to think that when I was promoted I could still be “one of the guys” - and I try hard to get quality time with the team, joke around, etc - but over time it’s become clear that I can never escape the new context in which my words and actions are perceived.
I can no longer shit on bad code like I used to - I now need to discover how we ended up with the deficiency, plan to correct it, and assure the rest of the engineers that we do have high quality standards we need to live up to.
There comes a point where you'll say something like "Huh, that looks interesting, I wonder what would happen if X", just because you still have some engineering thinking left in you, and three weeks later you'll get word that somebody spun up a working group to investigate X.
If you ever wondered why manager emails to a large team always look super-formal? We've touched that particular live wire, and would rather not do that again.
Twitter had to scrap their entire rewrite that took one year, because the dev manager told the team HOW to do it, triggering a death march project.
Bottom line: if you don't trust the people who are down in the trenches to make technical decisions, be a manager at Chipotle. But probably goes for Chipotle as well.
I've made it clear in the previous post that there's no intent to direct the team anywhere, and yet your ideas about management led you to interpret it as somehow ordering the team to do things. As not trusting them to make technical decisions. As triggering a death march project, for crying out loud. (fwiw, the project got stopped the moment I realized what had happened, with apologies on my part. We're not all monsters :)
I don't fault you for it. Your past experience shapes you, and heaven knows we have enough bad managers in this industry to trigger severe PTSD in many of us.
But that's the reason to word things extremely carefully, depending on audience. There's a good contingent of people who give management words a lot of weight, and so we need to be very cautious what we say when it affects a wide audience, especially if it includes people we haven't built deep trust with.
And while I don't know about Chipotle, I can confirm that all my managers in food places had a tendency to micromanage ;)
This is somewhat avoidable. You can communicate this to your team. You can make it clear you invite feedback and corrections, and demonstrating that in practice by responding well when people take you up on that. You can ask questions in a way that invites answers. You can make your relative level of expertise clear in an area when you ask questions.
And on the occasions when this still happens, sometimes it'll be because your musings sparked an idea in someone, and they thought it was a good idea to investigate X.
Which means musings, mumblings, funny remarks, sarcasm, and snarkiness are right out. All of those require shared context, and the bigger the audience, the less shared context there is.
I had to guess at what he meant by it. Did he think I didn't already know about what he sent? Did he want me to take a specific action about the situation?
It was super annoying, and of course I usually had to ask point-blank: "Did you want me to take a specific action about XYZ?"
Heaven forbid he actually ask me "Can you do XYZ?" or "Do you think XYZ would be helpful in our organization?"
That "somebody" is often one of the yes-men of the manager, these are the types of people that management usually rewards so of course they are going to take your suggestion as gospel. Upper management often does not appreciate when you point out they have no idea what they are talking about, even if you try and be polite about it.
As a survivor after a series of lay-offs, I took over a project from someone who was recently laid off (let's call him Joe), got asked a really vague question about it and responded, IMO reasonably, that clarification was needed. All I got back was "That's a Joe-type of answer" (emphasis theirs).
I don't think it was funny, and it certainly didn't help my understanding of the problem. I brought this up in a meeting and was accused of being "too snippy lately" shortly after. It's the type of thing where if didn't already have 5 years of enjoying my role, I'd probably be looking for a new one.
This was from my first year of managing when I had one screw-up that led people who overheard the interaction to report it. The joke was something like, "Oh hey, the start time for our meeting has already passed, and here we are still working. Why do you hate meeting with me?" In hindsight, it's now obvious to me that when there's a power differential, the other person can easily be left wondering, "Does my boss really think I don't like him? Oh my god, I can't ever be late to another meeting with him again!"
I'm now years down the road from that, and I cringe at some of the things I said when I was new to the role. I'm glad I've had time to learn some lessons in communication as a manager before COVID-19, because now that interactions have been scoped down to text chats, emails, and occasional video calls, people have to make inferences from a much smaller set of signals. I'm having to work twice as hard to be very direct and clear about what I want people to understand, and I have to go out of my way to deliberately ensure that interactions, both one-on-one and as a group, happen as frequently as is necessary to maintain the health of the individuals and of the team.
This was one of the biggest adjustments to working remote for me. When I started my first remote job I was a little insecure about my technical skills and it stressed me out not having those soft signals to gauge how well I was performing and what managers and coworkers thought of me.
For any managers of remote teams reading this, I recommend making a point of giving regular feedback to new team members. When working in-person it's much easier for people to pick up a general sense of what others think they are doing well or poorly at.
And it's really, really hard to learn from your mistakes unless someone calls you out on your shit, which almost never happens to these people.
I mean, it's the exact same with engineers. They get paid hundreds of thousands of dollars because they're "top talent", but experience and resume does not necessarily a good engineer make. You interview and make a guess, but it's not like the best engineers always get paid the most and the worst get paid the least. They all get paid roughly the same.
The only difference is that bad engineers generally don't get fired at the rate that bad CEOs do. But I guess that's because the scale of impact is a lot less, and they're not so easy to identify and blame.
First, power. Managers have explicit and implicit power, and you should understand both. Joking about firing someone is an abuse of your explicit power, but you should also be careful about excessive use of your ability to issue direct orders. Similarly, be aware how the implicit power of a manager affects conversations, and do little things like vote last to give others a chance to speak before they know where you’ve landed.
Secondly, good management is a lot of emotional labor. A portion of the emotional well being of your team is your problem, especially around things related to work itself. If managing is emotional labor, then do try to not make your job harder by freaking your directs out.
I am not a manager, but here is a question for managers, have you or anyone you know, joked about firing someone?
In my opinion, that would be incredibly cruel and stupid.
Usually, it's more ignorance rather than (intentional) cruelty. If your office has a relaxed atmosphere, as a manager, it is very easy to make the mistake of thinking that you are just a regular part of the gang. But of course, you're not, and everyone (except you) is aware of your status and the fact that you control their continual employment, bonuses/raises and career advancement.
This view is reinforced in modern tech culture which is deeply uncomfortable with power and status hierarchies without realizing that a proper hierarchy with defined roles and responsibilities actually makes everyone more comfortable because everyone knows where they stand. The Valve case study of a fully horizontal organization is complete bullcrap because they replaced defined roles and responsibilities and chain of command with an ambiguous and implicit set of roles, responsibilities and chain of command. Nobody there believes that Gabe Newell is just a regular joe, regardless of what his title says.
Yes, and that ignorance is a _privelege_ of power. Most employees don't think they can risk-free joke about firing their boss.
No it's not.
There we go. My statement has as much evidentiary support as yours.
Have you ever thought about the usefulness and evidentiary support of using this weird leftist nomenclature to reframe traditionally understood concepts? Like what value did you bring by reframing 'ignorance' as 'privilege' - but 'privilege' not in the sense of the dictionary definition but as a loaded concept that came out of dark recesses of some leftist writings that has no actual backing and does not actually lead to a better understanding of the world.
Who has more reason to worry, a manager making a joke about firing someone, or an employee making a joke about forming a union with their coworkers? There's a reason that one of these two groups needed to be given legal protection for their joke.
I'm sure it does, but it's not.
>Powerful people are punished less for their lack of understanding of less powerful
That's not true. Or it's true in some situations and not in others. It is also true in some situations of subordinates.
>Who has more reason to worry, a manager making a joke about firing someone, or an employee making a joke about forming a union with their coworkers?
There are occasions where an employee can make a joke that would get a manager into trouble or into MORE trouble if they made that joke. There are behaviours that would get a manager into trouble and not the employee. The managerial and subordinate positions each come with their own set of rights, responsibilities, and privileges. My good friend, for example, declined a managerial 'promotion' because he was happy doing what he was doing and didn't want the extra stress and pressure. Back in uni when I worked as a part-timer at Staples, my manager was the hardest worker I've ever seen. She pulled crazy hours while some of us messed around and did as little as we could to get through the shift. To top it all off, she is the one that got yelled at by difficult customers, and not us - even if we screwed up. You can come up with alternative examples where the manager was a lazy bum and employees were super hard workers ... why? Because human organizations are complex and each one has different dynamics at play and different cultures. So thinking about it terms of the idiotic and shallow 'privilege' idea misses all those dynamics and complexity. So no, 'privilege' is not the right metaphor for the discussion at hand, and it isn't straightforward.
More powerful people are more insulated from the consequences of their ignorance.
The response to you did not contradict your statement. It added important context to it.
 Two people can have more, or less power, relative to eachother, depending on the social context they are in.
Yes it is.
>it's a well-documented fact about how the world works
Maybe in marxist writings, but it isn't a 'well-documented fact'.
>More powerful people are more insulated from the consequences of their ignorance.
And that statement is factually wrong in the general case. I made this argument to another poster: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23479872
>Some people receive less blow-back for their misbehavior than others, because of their position in society.
Talk about a truism. Yes, some people receive less blow-back for their misbehavior due to their position in society.
It could be the case that one individual receives blow-back for this misbehaviour because, for example, they are in a position of responsibility whereas someone who isn't, wouldn't. That happens all the time. How about this, in my city, vagrancy is completely unpunished, even though it's illegal, but you're going to get tagged if you let your chihuahua off-leash in an empty park. Are homeless people privileged? Under a colloquial reading of definition, they sure are. But we know you don't mean that because you're importing extreme Leftist ideas into this definition and being dishonest that you are doing that.
> a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group.
Back to the topic at hand, another way to look at a position of 'manager', that actually matches reality, is to admit that it is a necessary role in any sized organization of people focusing on completing a common task. This is true if the organization is a club, or a sports team or a corporation because there will always be a need, to manage and organize groups of people. This position comes with its own set of responsibilities and accountability and as such frequently the punishments and repercussions for 'misbehaviour' are greater than what a subordinate employee would receive for the same action. It's not an intrinsically 'privileged' position. I made this argument to another poster: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=23479872
I grew up on the other side of that power dynamic and it still affects me in a number of unpleasant and sometimes crippling ways.
I've heard and seen way worse than jokes about being fired. I started out in the web hosting industry, it was insanely toxic, unless that's just how jobs were during the 08 recession. I was pretty much a kid and had no experience back then, so I had no frame of reference.
The whole point however is that in the moment, in the context, with familiar people, as a new manager, there will be part of your brain that says "Do this". The advice is not even targeting the jerk-manager, who is ignorant and boisterous and does this consistently. It is targeting a manager in transition who may do this accidentally, as a misfiring instinct. It's the stereotypical best man / maid of honours making an inappropriate joke at a wedding with best intentions... but consequences.
To your question therefore:
Yes, there frequently is that part of one's brain for new team leads in some situations.
No, don't do it.
FWIW: To those taking a cynical view on such articles - There are any number of things, managementy or technical, that seem obvious when written down... but still get done wrong any day of the week :). In related but different context: my previous transition from hands-on to architect was similarly enlightening - all the designs and solutions that seemed so obvious and easy when presented with finished document; were so much more intimidating when faced with a blank slate, an empty sheer where any design pattern, infrastructure architecture can go :O.
It's scary to be a new architect, it's scary to be a new manager, and simple, actionable, clearly-good advice can be a good way to gain comfort and confidence, and provide a starting point to build on.
The reason the blog post was written is that jokes that would usually be fine among friends can take on a different tune as soon as the power dynamic changes, and that's not always obvious to the person with the upper hand.
In general, though, never a good joke. And even with friends, be careful.
But yeah, it's basic professionalism -- don't joke about firing people, quitting, pay cuts/raises, etc.
As a counter to this, I have seen multiple managers make jokes like this and they all came from nontechnical backgrounds and had 20+ years of experience. I literally had a (nontechnical) manager say in a supposedly joking manner once about going to some meeting “Well you want to put food on the table for your family don't you? So remember that you have to be there for <some not-that-important meeting> Ha ha ha”.
So the whole “it's just coders learning basic professionalism” narrative might not be as cut-and-dried as you think it is. One (unproven) hypothesis I have is that it's possible that people who went to college and had their first decade's worth of jobs in a comfortable economic climate are more comfortable making these kind of jokes than others who were not so fortunate.
It's probably both that and how financially secure they are in general, whether that be via grunt work, inheritance, safety net, whatever.
I spent the first 5 years of my career spending the equivalent of minimum wage or less. Now I don't need to give a fuck. Realistically, on a starter dev salary, you can save >50% if that's your target.
As a result, it's a manual process for me to empathise with people who actually _need_ their job.
Don't get me wrong - I understand their predicament - it's just not an automatic impulse, because for me, work is like a side quest I do to keep myself ticking over in the long term, a bit like regular exercise or a good diet, it's never present constantly in my mind like I imagine it must be for a wage slave.
True. Privilege, and assumptions of “But of course you can find another job” probably play a huge part too. I've never had a manager belonging to an underrepresented community in tech, but I imagine they would be far less likely to say something like that.
I've sort of become inoculated to it though. Was tough at first though, especially since I have some (undiagnosed) manner of anxiety disorder. So the joke would happen and I would think about it for the rest of the day, if not longer.
In some places you can ask "Are you smoking crack?" when someone suggests something silly or wrong. In other places that would be very wrong.
In some places certain words are insults and other places they're euphemisms.
Some places tolerate or encourage "harmless" sexual innuendo, others do not.
I have had employees that would appreciate a joke about performance or firing so long as it was obvious that it wasn't a veiled threat. I've had employees who that would probably have them working on finding another job. I'm not the type to joke about that, but I know who would appreciate it and who wouldn't.
It can be a good joke if it is immediately obvious that it is a joke.
I would rather work with alright people that make stupid jokes than some of the more formally correct ones who'd mess up my salary month after month, drag me through stupid American-style personal-improvement-programs in hope of finding a firable offense etc. (And no, they didn't find anything, and I had my job until I was ready for something else ;-)
That said I certainly wouldn't recommend that sort of jokes and my guess is the people who come up with those kinds of jokes are mostly exactly the same people who shouldn't try them as it really isn't obvious at all.
Or if you're in line and the cashier can't ring up your stuff for some technical reason, and you blurt out "well, I guess it must be free, huh?" But they have heard that one ever single day since they started.
Even I, paragon of ...uh... stuff... I once cracked a joke in the TSA line.
I would just imagine that most of this is human nature and I expect graduating to a higher level of power and responsibility has the same sort of well-traveled detours.
So I saw situations where it was said as a joke and taken as one, I wouldn't describe it as cruel or stupid.
And this is not the worst that has come out of his mouth.
Refuse to sing, from then on they can't fire you without a strong possibility you'll win an unfair dismissal suit. YMMV.
Many think that leadership IQ is something innate, but some aspects definitely either have to be explained, or learned the hard way. That's totally ok though - it means most of us have what it takes to manage if we're willing to learn.
So to your first point, I think the managerial relationship is complicated enough that it warrants thinking about it, anyway.
But it still shouldn't be done.
Cases, where it's used as a tiny micro-aggression or kind of with a dark undertone, are especially bad.
New managers may not quite comprehend the existential nature of the comment.
There are a ton of worse things that new managers do, usually, things need to be spelled out clearly.