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  • 06.08.17

If Your Boss Says He “Hopes” You’ll Do Something, Here’s What He Really Means

Former FBI Director James Comey testified today that Trump said he “hoped” he’d let the Flynn investigation go. Was that an order?

If Your Boss Says He “Hopes” You’ll Do Something, Here’s What He Really Means
Former FBI Director James Comey is sworn in before testifying about President Trump’s possible campaign ties to Russia during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on June 8, 2017. [Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call/Getty Images]

Today is the biggest news day since November 9, 2016, with most of America glued to the Comey hearings. One of the biggest talking points so far has been the former FBI director’s testimony that President Trump said he hoped that Comey would drop the investigation into Michael Flynn’s involvement with Russia. As he put it this morning:

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Here’s how Comey described an Oval Office meeting with Trump on Valentine’s Day, in a prepared statement ahead of today’s Senate hearing:

The President then returned to the topic of Mike Flynn, saying, “He is a good guy and has been through a lot.” He repeated that Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong on his calls with the Russians, but had misled the Vice President. He then said, “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.” I replied only that “he is a good guy.” (In fact, I had a positive experience dealing with Mike Flynn when he was a colleague as Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency at the beginning of my term at FBI.) I did not say I would “let this go.”

The internet exploded in debate over what exactly it means when your boss expresses their “hope” that you’ll do something.

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U.S. Senators might disagree as to whether a boss who says they “hope” you’ll do something is delivering an order, but most employees feel pretty sure it is. These are a few of the other coded ways managers give directions and express what they really mean.

“I Hope You’ll Do This”

What they really mean is: 

  • “I expect you to know well enough on your own to take care of this. Please don’t make me ask you directly.”
  • “You should really stop doing that other thing and do this instead.”
  • “If you don’t do this, I’m going to be disappointed—and there might be consequences.”

Related: Four Times Your Boss Doesn’t Want Your Input (And How To Get Heard Anyway)


“I’ll See What I Can Do About That”

On a March 30 phone call, Comey claims that Trump asked him what the FBI could do to “lift the cloud” surrounding the White House regarding the Russia investigation. “I told him I would see what we could do,” Comey writes in his statement.” That phrase should sound familiar to pretty much anyone who’s ever had a boss.

What they really mean:

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  • “Yeah, no—never gonna happen.”
  • “This is me politely telling you that’s a terrible idea.”
  • “I’ll do the absolute bare minimum to be able to say I looked into that for you.”

“We’re Going In A Different Direction”

What they really mean:

  • “You messed up with that one, and the grown-ups are taking over from here.”
  • “We’re eliminating your role, sorry. Your last day will be Tuesday.”
  • “Nice work on that pitch—it bombed.”

“I’ll Take That Into Advisement”

What they really mean:

  • “Uh huh, I know—I already considered that.”
  • “I hear you, but I’m still not taking your advice.
  • “I haven’t made up my mind yet, and that idea of yours isn’t helping me.”

“Let’s Table That For Now And Revisit Later”

What they really mean:

  • “I’m done discussing this. Don’t bring it up ever again.”
  • “No hard feelings, but that idea is dumb.”
  • “I’m going to let that proposal die a slow death by ignoring it indefinitely.”

There are a lot of different tones, phrases, and grammatical moods in which bosses deliver orders and express their wishes. As today made clear, one of them is the subjunctive.