My Manager Says I’m Too Abrupt With Coworkers

When you are busy, is it acceptable to let the niceties fall by the wayside?

My Manager Says I’m Too Abrupt With Coworkers
[Photo: Flickr user kev-shine]

When you’re busy, the niceties are usually the first thing to go. Who has time to say, “Could you please send me those notes this afternoon?” when, “I need those notes by noon” is so much more direct?


Career expert Alison Green (aka Ask A Manager) helps this reader figure out when she should pause to mind her Ps and Qs.

I am very “to the point” in my communication with my colleagues, as I am always busy. I am constantly being taken aside by my manager and told my communication is too abrupt, abrasive, or assertive, and could be perceived this way by my colleagues. This really upsets me, as it feel that at least once a week I am being taken aside and told that essentially I have an awful personality and that I should be changing it. I am not rude, just to the point, and feel like I am being singled out.

When I say this is obviously an ongoing problem and that we should formalize these issues through performance management, I am told there is no need, which confirms to me that I am being told I’m good at all other aspects of my job, but am a horrible person. I don’t know what to do–this has been going on for 12 months and is sending me home in tears and panic attacks.

It doesn’t sound to me like you’re being told you’re a horrible person or have an awful personality. You’re being given feedback about an element of the way you’re communicating, yes, but this is no more saying that you’re a horrible person than saying that the person who needs to stop missing deadlines or be less verbose in her emails to clients is a horrible person.

You’re personalizing work-related feedback when you shouldn’t be.

And I get that it’s particularly easy to personalize it when the feedback is about how you’re interacting with people, but it’s still feedback about your work, not your character.

It also sounds like you’e not really heeding the feedback, which is the bigger problem here. You say that you’re pretty abrupt with your communications with people because you’re busy, which I get–oh how I get it!–but your manager is telling you clearly and repeatedly that that style doesn’t work well in the particular workplace you’re in.

The response to that can’t be to dig in your heels and keep doing it because you’re busy. That would be like hearing your manager say, “You need to build better relationships with clients,” or “You need to include more detail in your status updates,” and you saying, “No, I’m too busy, so I choose not to.” You don’t really get to choose not to.


If you feel your workload truly makes it impossible to soften your emails to people, you can say that to your manager–that you don’t think you can continue to produce at your current level if you need to put more time into your communication with people. You might hear back that that’s fine–that she’d rather you do, say, 5% less work a day and have stronger relationships with people in your office. But regardless, you need to discuss it if you’re calculating that your workload doesn’t allow you to implement a piece of feedback–you can’t just decide to discard it.

But really, I bet you do have time for what she’s asking you to do. It takes about 15 extra seconds to soften an email with the kind of niceties that will prevent your message from coming across as brusque. It’s the difference between “I need the X report by 5” and “Hey Jane, I need the X report by the end of the day for a project I’m working on. Could you send it to me by then? Thank you!”

It can take a little longer for in-person interactions, but it doesn’t need to mean getting entangled in long, irrelevant social conversations–it can just be about using a nicer tone, taking a minute to talk with the person before getting back to what you were doing . . . and whatever time you lose in doing that, you’ll probably gain back in the productivity increases that usually come with having better working relationships with people.

Your manager is giving you this feedback for a reason. Your style is affecting how people perceive you and how easy they find you to work with–or she’s concerned that it will. Maybe it’s just true in this office and wouldn’t be true somewhere else; for all I know, you could be in a particularly touchy-feely office that has higher needs around this stuff than other places do.

But she’s telling you for a reason, and it sounds like you need to take it more seriously to be successful there. She’s not saying, “Be a different person,” or “You need to be best friends with your coworkers,” or “You suck.” She’s saying, “In this workplace, what feels to-the-point to you feels brusque to others, and so you need to take an extra minute to soften things.”

That’s useful feedback; it’s not an attack.


This article originally appeared on Ask A Manager and is reprinted with permission.

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