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How should you handle another executive’s questions about your boss’s dealings?

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Question: "I've noticed recently that one of the managers here seems to be trying to use me as a window into my boss's habits and decisions. He's always politely prying for a little more information about what she's thinking than I'm comfortable giving, but at the same time, he's even higher up the ladder than my boss is, so I don't want to offend him. What should I do about this?" - Caitlyn, Events Assistant


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{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

Judy October 3, 2014 at 10:48 am

I’ve found using humor usually gets the message across without sounding snotty. I have said something along the lines of “If I told you I’d have to kill you”, then laugh and smile. If they persist then a simple “I really don’t know” does the trick.

No reason to create friction with someone in a higher position than your own boss when you can find more amusing ways to shut down their inquiry.


Lisa (there are lots of us here!) September 25, 2014 at 7:17 pm

Been there. I always used the phrase “I really can’t say.” It was the truth, but also implied that I didn’t know the answer. I agree with offering to ask the boss or set up a meeting. Works like a charm. The response was usually along the lines of “Never mind.” I usually told my boss that the person was asking about whatever, just to save him from any surprises.


Joyce September 25, 2014 at 6:00 pm

I had the same experience as Valarie. He should have the conversation directly with the source — I wouldn’t want to second guess my boss. Should I check the calendar for time of availability, or will you be discussing at your standard meeting? I didn’t hear anything more of it after that and since it didn’t happen again, I didn’t bother telling my boss. If it were a reoccurring thing, then I’d probably give my boss a heads up.


Lisa - !! September 25, 2014 at 4:54 pm

I’m sure you would want to say that “it’s none of your __ business,” but you might be fired. Instead, tell Ms. Busybody you don’t have an answer but you will e-mail your boss if it’s an emergency or ask him when he returns to the office. And then ask Ms .Busybody what’s the best way to get back to her once you have have an answer from your boss. In time, Ms. Busybody will start minding her own business.

Personally, I think she has a thing for your boss and is trying to find out more information from you before making a move to romance him in a secluded parking lot.


Theresa Kasel September 25, 2014 at 5:00 pm

Well, since you have genders wrong (the LW’s boss is female — the higher up is male) your romance scenario is unlikely.

Personally, I agree that this higher up is up to no good.


Lisa - !! September 25, 2014 at 5:06 pm

I change my answer to Mr. Busybody.


T. Christian September 25, 2014 at 4:47 pm

I totally agree with Valarie. The next time this person asks information regarding your Boss, calmly look him in the eye, get a note pad and let him see that you are writing down word for word exactly the information he is asking. Afterward, read it back to him; then tear the note off of the pad, fold it in half and let him know you will hand deliver the note to your Boss just in case she has any questions. Then ask him would he prefer if your Boss’ responded in person or via email. Trust me, that will shut him down.


Me September 25, 2014 at 4:29 pm

I would politely tell him that you’re not exactly sure what’s he’s asking about, but you will check with your boss and have her get back to him right away with an answer. You could also suggest that he consult with your boss directly and offer to set something up. Or just be honest and tell him that you’re not comfortable sharing such details about your boss and, again, politely refer him to speak to her.

This guy knows exactly the spot he’s putting you on. Don’t let him ruin your reputation by turning you into someone who is indiscreet while eroding the trust between you and your boss.


Theresa Kasel September 25, 2014 at 4:23 pm

I think Lisa, Valarie and Mary have given you the best advice for how to handle this higher-up manager.

I would also talk to your manager about this. Not in a tattle-tale manner, but more of a general, “I sometimes get questions about your work and I offer to set up time for them to discuss this with you. Sometimes they agree other times the don’t. Would you prefer I handle this in a different manner?”

Your first loyalty as an employee is to the company and your next is to your boss. If this manager is not your boss’ boss, it really doesn’t matter how high up the chain he is — he should be discussing his concerns with her not you.


Lisa September 25, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Look the person straight in the eyes and tell them that you’re not authorized to discuss your boss’ habits and decisions; but if they want, you will be happy to set up a meeting between Mr./Ms. Nosey and your boss so they can go over the boss’ business or whatever they were asking about. If they’re an real Nosey-Body, they’ll back away real fast. This has happened to me and this works. If the person asking is someone superior to your boss, I always tell them that you don’t feel comfortable giving them information of which you may not be 100% certain. Then tell them that you will let your boss know Mr./Ms. Important was inquiring and your boss will call their office to set up a 1:1 to go over whatever his/her boss was inquiring about. This works too. Also, playing “dumb” sometimes works when random nosey people try to get you to spill the beans and give away confidential information.


Valarie September 25, 2014 at 4:06 pm

I have that problem as we speak. I find the professional way to solve it is to say, “I am sorry I really don’t know, however; would you like for me to schedule time with you and him to speak to discuss”? Shuts the other party down so quick you see smoke. (SMILE)


Mary September 25, 2014 at 4:02 pm

I have no problem telling anyone that I don’t feel comfortable divulging that (whatever they are asking) information. Or sometimes I say that I don’t know all of the details, so they should ask my boss for more information.

If the manager is offended, speak with your boss about the situation and how he/she wants you to handle it.


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