Bossplaining

Building on the brilliant insight of the woman who coined the now-popular word, mansplaining, I offer a parallel concept, bossplaining. 

Bossplaining comes in many forms:

  • Annual Reviews
  • Employee Development Plans
  • Coaching
  • Performance Management
  • Feedback
  • Corrective Action Plans
  • Mentoring
  • Advice
  • …and the ever-popular “Teachable Moment”

All of these mechanisms provide the perfect opportunity for supervisors to bossplain what employees are supposed to do and how they are supposed to do it in a way that is both condescending and absurd. Bossplaining reinforces the superiority of the “superior” and the inferiority of the “subordinate.” It feeds the boss’s ego and demoralizes the people who work for him/her/them.

This is not to say that all of these feedback mechanisms are inherently condescending or even unnecessary. In and of themselves, they are neutral. The problem is that they generally are used only one-way—top-down. They assume the person advising is wiser, smarter and more knowledgeable than the receiver of the advice. Feedback that goes up the chain of command is often not welcomed, and is sometimes referred to by another name—“insubordination.”

Clearly, there is an art to offering advice, feedback and perspective based on experience, position, and even age, in a manner that is neither condescending nor absurd. There is also an art to listening to voices that are fresh, less tainted, more diverse, even younger.  It is called inclusive leadership.

For more radical ideas on leadership, check our my book, “Management Culture: Innovative & Bold Strategies to Engage Employees,” at mgmtculture.com or amazon.com.

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About Denise Moreland

The dynamics between employees and managers are fascinating, and often dysfunctional. I have spent my career trying to create healthy and engaging relationships. My book, Management Culture (Two Harbors Press, 2012), identifies outdated rules and patterns, and offers fresh ideas on how we can all improve our work places. Learn more and purchase Management Culture at mgmtculture.com. Through my business, LifeGuides, I provide life coaching, facilitation and public speaking services. Please follow me on: Facebook Linkedin Twitter
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