When one of your managers says something stupid

ManagementSo what would you do?

Here’s a real-life situation: An upper level manager is running a cross-training session for off-site employees. One of the folks being trained is a woman in her late 50s. She’s extraordinarily talented at her job with great performance reviews and highly recognized in the industry, but she’s a bit overwhelmed with the new training requiring her to learn new and unfamiliar equipment. And the training is being crammed into a 2-hour session.

I Dare You
The upper-level manager doing the training clearly is miffed and chastises her, saying, “C’mon, I’ve got 22-year olds back in the main office doing this.” Startled by his comment, she gives him a cold stare and replies: “This isn’t about age.”

The upper-level manager makes no further comment.

Should he have said anything else? Should she report him to HR? What should happen, if anything?


  1. It’s hard to continue talking with a foot in your mouth. He should have apologized and then moved on. I don’t think people should get reported every single time we goof up. Happens to the best of us. However, a good trainer just wouldn’t get upset about the occasional needy student.

  2. As an HR Professional that would be a red flag to me. If he says this kind of thing when doing something as seemingly innocent as exercise, I would cringe to think what else may come out of his mouth during employment. I would remain very aware.

    • Typical HR response. Always assume and seek out the worst.

      • If the foot fits………….May have been innocent — may not! I didn’t say write him up. Just said I would be on guard, because if it is a re-occurring thing with him – it is a problem especially as he is an “upper level manager”. If it is a foot in the mouth mistake he needs to apologize. There is nothing TYPICAL about HR.

  3. Hank Birtcher says:

    I agree with Mike on both counts I do not think that this is a reportable incident and I too have suffered from foot in mouth syndrome on more that one occasion. As far as the “needy” student, I actually like training employees like this. Once the scales finally fall from their eyes and they “get it”, it is very rewarding.

  4. Why assume it was meant derrogatoryily. He did need a follow up response such as:
    No, it isn’t about age it is about experience. You are an expert in just about everything. You will eventually excel in this too. I know this because of who you are and the fact that those new 22year old inexperienced people have attained proficiency in this without having your knowledge of what we do. I apoligize that my comment came accross poorly.

    • I totally agree with Linda. He absolutely should have followed this with an affirmation of her abilities and experience – building the self-confidence she needed to learn about the new equipment. Although I do think she should watch her step with this guy – It became derogatory when he did not respond to her come back. I’ve seen too many people of this age group lose their jobs (especially in the field), because their young “office worker” staff does not know or appreciate their experience.

  5. Terry Bolan says:

    There wasn’t enough information given to really have an opinion. How many trainees, how much trainingis being tought in the 2 hours? If the employee is that special at the job then, allowances could be made for a little extra time for her with out the group atmosphere. Experience is always better than book smart 22 year olds and no application experience in the field. Only way this is HR is if she was too sensitive, no one is exempt from foot in mouth syndrome.

  6. I’m amazed how many people assume this was a simple “foot in mouth” issue and that the employee might be “too sensitive.” It may be just that. I intentionally held back some of the details when I wrote this post. But if I’m that late 50s employee, I’d be pretty sensitive, too. We’re all kinda nervous these days. And if I were to get axed in the next round of downsizing, I’d be having a long conversation with an attorney. In any event, the wise thing for the manager to do was to immediately make sure the employee knew he simply misspoke. And if I were the manager’s boss – and had heard later what he said – he and I (and probably HR) would have a long chat and educate him on what is and isn’t appropriate. Bringing up what could be construed as possible age discrimination was definitely a no-no. And he should (or needs) to know better.

  7. Richard Anaya says:

    Had the trainer responded appropriatly and apologized, no action would be necessary. But in his silence and ignoring her remarks, she would be well within her rights to report the incident to HR. As the senerio states, she is a extraordinarily talented at her job with great performance reviews and highly recognized in the industry and to loose her as an employee or for the incident to degrade her job perfcormance is harmful to both her and her employer. By pointing out the incident to the trainer and him apologizing for his comment will be in the best interst of all concerned. If additional training for the employee is needed, then it could be scheduled with a different trainer.

  8. Sheila Hillis says:

    I agree with John and could possibly construed as age discrimination. Indeed we all make mistakes, but I would think a good trainer would encourage and not decharacterize a person. I would definitly meet and educate the trainer.

  9. What’s interesting to me is that there is nothing saying that the upper-level manager trainer even KNOWS anything about the older employee’s work history or performance. In fact, why should he? Those commenting are assuming that he knows how wonderful she is. But, that’s besides the point in the whole situation. Whether she’s been great at her job or not is irrelevant to what he said and what happened. As an upper-level manager, he should have known better than to say something like that and I, too, would have been offended, no matter WHAT my age, job-skill level, or even my sex. In addition, just because he’s an upper-level manager doesn’t mean he knows HOW to train, or, as far as that goes, how to even manage! How many times do we all see people in managerial positions that have no management experience, nor does the company give them the appropriate training to handle employees. Bottom line and cutting to the chase, he was in the wrong to say something like that…no matter who he was talking to. The fact that he didn’t respond to her comment in any way, shape, or form confirms that he was out of line and that he knew it once she called him out on it. If the situation had happend TO ME, depending on how he continued to treat me throughout the rest of the training would depend on whether I took it any further or not. And in all honesty, it would also depend on his standing in the company. You’ve heard the old saying, “Is this a hill I want to die on today?” I’ve learned to pick and choose my battles wisely.

  10. Excellent dialogue. Unfortunately, even the use of the word overwhelmed can be considered derogatory both age and sex related. How would this discussion be going if it was a man in his late 50’s. How did she indicate she was overwhelmed? Of course not enough information was given. Evaluations of training would indicate whether the trainer accomplished his goals or whether other it needed to be tweaked. No one should be put in an embarassing situation during training.

  11. Inappropriate or foot-in-mouth, it’s not the way a good trainer would motivate!

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