Bosses Are From Mars, Employees Are From Venus: The Wide Gap Between What Is Said and What Is Heard

A few years ago, a CEO told me that whenever someone came to him to ask for a raise, he needed to find a replacement for the person as soon as possible.

I was taken aback. After all, employees—particularly women—are often told that they should demand pay commensurate with the quality of their work, and that the worst thing that can happen if they ask for a raise is that their employer will say “no.”

The CEO explained that whenever someone approached him to ask for a raise, it meant that the employee was unhappy with his or her status in the company. And that meant that he or she could leave at any moment.

“Once that person entertains leaving the company, they’re just occupying a seat at a desk,” he said. “Their mind is not really there anymore.”

He was probably right to some extent. However, his interpretation of a raise request and an employee’s interpretation of a raise request were likely very different. It’s the workplace equivalent of Mars versus Venus: what is heard is so different from what is meant.

That conversation got me thinking of other instances of miscommunication between bosses and employees. Below are a few of my favorites:

Boss Says: “We should try that out.”

Employee Hears: This is a directive that must be executed at all costs.


Boss Says: “That was good.”

Employee Hears: That was sub-par.


Boss Says: “That was great.”

Employee Hears: That was expected.


Boss Says: Nothing-no reply to a request for approval.

Employee Hears: Approved.


Boss Says: “I’ll need the report by Tuesday.”

Employee Hears: Wednesday at 12:01 am.


Boss Says: “Can I talk to you for a second?”

Employee Hears: I’m fired.


Boss Says: “Anything else you want to ask me?”

Employee Hears: Don’t ask me anything else.


And for good measure, let’s flip this around:

Employee Says: “I’ve got a doctor’s appointment tomorrow.”

Boss Hears: I’m going to a job interview.

Perhaps the most important interaction to get right is the dreaded “you’re fired.” In this Radiate videoJack Welch and other top-tier business leaders weigh in on how to deliver this message as clearly and compassionately as possible.


Betty Liu
About the author: 

Based in New York, NY, Betty Liu is the Founder and Chief Executive Officer at Radiate, Inc., a management and leadership media production company.  Additionally she has been a business anchor with Bloomberg Television for the past nine years.  Follow her on Twitter and on LinkedIn, where she is an “Influencer”.