By Shana Lebowitz 

  • It can be hard to get used to a new boss’ communication style.
  • To figure out the meaning of their vague comments, you have to consider the context of the conversation and your relationship with them.
  • We asked two workplace experts to decode some common confusing remarks from bosses — from “Not bad” to “Do you have the bandwidth?”

It can take a while to get used to your boss’ communication style. When they call your idea “interesting,” are they saying it’s the stupidest thing they’ve ever heard? Or simply mulling it over for a moment? You can drive yourself crazy trying to figure it out.

According to Michael Kerr, an international business speaker and author of “The Humor Advantage,” understanding your boss’ cryptic comments depends a lot on the context of the conversation and the relationship you have with them. Maybe you should take everything at face value, or maybe you really should read between the lines.

We asked Kerr and Lynn Taylor, a national workplace expert and the author of “Tame Your Terrible Office Tyrant: How to Manage Childish Boss Behavior and Thrive in Your Job,” to parse some common confusing statements from bosses. Read on to learn how to speak manager-ese.

‘I trust you to make the right decision on this one’

On the one hand, this remark could mean your boss is giving you more autonomy and wants to empower you — “which are all good things,” Kerr said.

On the other hand, Kerr added, it could mean they want you to work more independently and take more responsibility for your work than you have in the past.

‘The timing for this just isn’t good right now’

Maybe this really isn’t a great time to put your idea into action — because of financial or logistical constraints.

But, Kerr said, your boss may also be saying there will never be a good time for this idea: “I’m just kicking it down the field because I don’t want to deal with it.”

Alternatively, Kerr said, it might mean you didn’t do a good job presenting the idea and you need to do a little more homework to sell your boss on its importance.

‘Business is really slow this year’

Translation, according to a Psychology Today article Taylor wrote? “You’re not getting a raise.” 

‘You know how much is at stake here’

The underlying sentiment here, according to Kerr, is “don’t make me look bad.” Your boss is probably feeling pressure from their managers — so they want you to be especially cautious on this assignment.

‘Just make this go away’

Again, your boss is probably stressed and overwhelmed with their own work, Kerr said. And they don’t want the hassle of dealing with the situation themselves.

They may also be frustrated that you’re not taking enough responsibility for your own decisions and actions.

‘I need you to be a team player’

Kerr said this comment could be a gentle reminder that collaboration is important. Maybe they’re the kind of person who prioritizes everyone getting along over taking on bold new ideas.

It could also mean they “have reason to believe that perhaps you haven’t been in a team player in the past.”

‘I’m not sure if I’ll be able to sell that upstairs’

“Upstairs” here refers to senior management. Kerr said what your boss probably means here is that they’re not 100% sold on your idea and they’re concerned about looking bad in front of their bosses.

‘Do you have the bandwidth for this project?’

Kerr said it’s possible your boss is expressing concern that you’re not setting your priorities properly. Specifically, “you’re not making their priority your priority” — and you should be.

Alternatively, your boss could simply be checking in to see if you’re overwhelmed with other assignments.

‘Not bad’

In short, if your boss says your assignment is “not bad,” you probably have more work ahead of you, Taylor said.

Taylor said it’s also important to remember that some bosses may deliberately withhold praise because they don’t want you to start expecting something in return, like a raise or a promotion. So don’t take it too personally.

‘I hadn’t thought of that’

“This is VERY positive feedback, meaning you have come up with a virtual epiphany,” Taylor wrote in an email.

‘You did such a good job at X that I …’

You’ve impressed your boss to the point where they feel confident about giving you tougher assignments.

“You’ll soon be working double hours,” Taylor wrote in the Psychology Today article.

‘Where do you see yourself in five years?’

Taylor said this question typically comes up during a performance review — and it can mean a few things. Either you’re doing a great job and your boss wants to know: “Are we doing what we can to help you advance in the career you want?”

Or, if you’ve gotten some negative feedback lately, your boss may be trying to figure out if this role and this organization are the right fits for you. In that case, it’s a “way to really define whether there’s become a severe gap and a mismatch between you and the company.”

‘Do you like working here?’

When your boss asks you this question, Kerr said, they’re either genuinely checking in to make sure you’re happy or they’ve heard about your negative attitude from coworkers. If in fact you don’t like your work, that feeling might be more obvious than you think.

Originally published at

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