Dialog: Manager reprimands employee for being late


Section Head (A) calls in one of the staff (B) to talk over a punctuality problem:

B has been late to work several times this month.

A: Now we’ve known each other for some time now, haven’t we?

B: We certainly have – I seem to think I was the first person you appointed when you became Section Head back in …

A: Yes, well we won’t start on a sentimental journey if you don’t mind.

B: OK. Only, you brought the subject up.

A: True. Well, I expect you’ve got a pretty good idea why I wanted to have a word with you.

B: I’m glad you said a word and not words because I’d hate to fall out with you …

A: Look, don’t make it any more difficult for me than you have to because …

B: That’s what you get paid for.

A: Right I was just trying to break the ice but if you’re just going to mess around and be flippant I’ll come straight to the point.

B: Good. I’m all ears!

A: It’s been brought to my notice that your punctuality record has been pretty bad recently.

B: You mean I’ve been late getting to work?

A: Yes, in a nutshell. Have you got anything to say about it?

B: Not really. Whoever reported me is absolutely right.

A: That’s not really what I wanted you to say.

B: Well what do you want me to say then?

A: You’re not helping with this at all. As usual, you’re treating the whole business in your usual light-hearted way.

B: Sure but then I can’t change my personality.

A: I’m trying to help you. Why have you been late so often these last few weeks?

B: The fact is I just can’t be bothered.

A: Bothered about what?

B: Coming to work. It’s as simple as that.

A: You mean you’re not motivated any longer?

B: You can put it like that. I just can’t summon up the energy any longer.

A: Look, I think we need to have a closer look at the job you’re doing and see if we can work something out.

B: Fine I’d appreciate that.

A: I’ll check in my diary and get back to you. All right?

B: Excellent.

Hello Alan. I like the idea of creating and publishing this type of conversations here and if it’s OK with you I’d like to comment on some of points made by your two characters and I would greatly appreciate it if you could tell me what you had in mind when you wrote this dialogue. In my job I have to assess an employee’s performance or rather their behaviour and this often is rather difficult because there usually are a lot of facts to consider. Thank you in advance.

I think A uses this sentence as some kind of lead in, a way of establishing rapport with his employee and preparing him for more serious issues.

Maybe the employee wants to create a friendly atmosphere for the talk. At this point he might not be aware of the fact that his boss is going to reprimand him. B obviously has a long standing in the company because he was the first person A had appointed when he became Section Head. As a matter of fact B might even have been longer with the company than A.

For some reason A doesn’t seem to want to follow up on B’s response. It is obvious A wants to get down to business but he could have chosen more diplomatic approach. Why use such a harsh and direct phrase like we won’t start on a sentimental journey? Is A trying to say that his past decision to appoint B was wrong? A could have responded in a more positive way while still directing the discussion towards the actual issue. For example he could have said Yes, of course I remember how appointed you and that’s why I’d like to talk to you now.

To me in this context a pretty good idea conveys at least a slightly negative message. It tells B that A is not satisfied with B. This obviously is true and as the conversation shows later B is fully aware of this. Yet, why not try and give B a chance to explain what is on his mind?

Now B is putting on a rather agressive tone. For some reason he is challenging his boss by being witty in a negative way. (I’m sure there is a better way of describing B’s tone?)

Now A is trying to remind B of the purpose of this talk. Again, he could have used a more sophisticated approach. For example, he could have said I’m glad you want our conversation to be successful and because I have the same goal…

B’s reaction shows that he doesn’t think his boss is doing a good job. Also, B doesn’t want to cooperate with his boss. He obviously thinks that his boss is getting paid more than he actually deserves.

Now A is trying to defend himself by giving an explanation as why he said what he said. Again, if he is an executive he should be able to respond in a more sophisticated manner. By using such words like mess around and flippant he inreases the level of tension rather than being more becoming.

OK, I’d like to stop here because I really want to know what you (Alan) as the author of this dialogue and other forum members think of the conversation and my comments. I could imagine that this dialogues triggers and ongoing discussion and it actually could be used as some type of exercise for employees in a company or any members of a team. It could help raise awareness of how important and diverse communication actually is.
At any rate I look forward to hearing your ideas.

Well, as I see it this type of exercise could be the basis for a number of different activities. The dialog is full of idiomatic expressions and phrasal verbs such as:

  • calls in one of the staff
  • to talk over a punctuality problem
  • start on a sentimental journey
  • if you don't mind
  • brought the subject up
  • have a word with you
  • break the ice
  • work something out, etc.

As a matter of fact, I think almost every single line of that dialog contains an idiomatic expression which could be explained or given more information on. Then you could examine the use of the tenses. For example, you could have your participants find sentences in present perfect and have them explain why this particular tense is used. The same could be done with the passive voice constructions and the question tags, etc. So you could create language related exercises for ESL speakers and then move on to the next level which is discussing the actual contents of the dialog.

Hi Raul, if you put something in a nutshell, you say it with just a few words.

If you break the ice you overcome the initial clumsiness you might experience when you meet a new person.

If you start on a sentimental journey you remember events in the past in a nostalgic way.[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, question-response: Could we swing by my house on the way?[YSaerTTEW443543]

This story reminds me of an incident sort of like this in the movie “Office Space” where the Review Board Man says, “I see you’ve been missing a lot of work lately.”

And the employee responds with, “I can’t honestly say I’ve been missing work lately if you know what I mean”.

You have to think about that one…it’s a neat example of how the same phrase can mean something totally different and yet still apply to the conversation at hand.

Hi Oomniguy, you are right. There are a lot of phrases and expressions that can mean different things in different contexts. Can you think of any other examples?[YSaerTTEW443543]

TOEIC listening, photographs: Walking on the street[YSaerTTEW443543]