“Do You Want To Be Here?” and Other Loaded Questions Heard From Managers of People


There’s a list of questions somewhere. When your manager fires one of these questions at you, it’s a signal of the following:

You’re not as special to the organization as you thought you were.

Your focus on “relationships” might be giving way to the lack of results you’ve provided over the last year.

Your baggage has grown to the point where people mumble about you in the same way the Pakistani secret police mumbled about Bin Laden in the year leading up to Obama putting on the members-only POTUS jacket and watching the raid via satellite feed in the situation room. You try finding Bin Laden’s copy of Cosmo and Variety in that area of Pakistan.

Your manager is tired of your s###.  And everyone else is as well, to the point where he/she can actually do something about it.

Why is this on my mind? Because sports, that’s why.

Sports gives us visible reminders of countless workplace issues. Last week, future pro basketball coach Phil Jackson (now leading the management team of the New York Knicks, which is like leading the cable company ranked 5th in customer satisfaction), asked his malcontented star Carmelo Anthony an important questions with six words.

“Do You Want To Be Here?”

Here’s the tweet that reported it (email subs enable images or click through for tweet):

No one – in sports or in life – gets asked that question when things are going well.

Here’s some other loaded questions that managers of people ask when things are going poorly for you:

–Did you understand the goal?

–How do you think your teammates feel about you?

–Do you think you’re giving a fair trade for the compensation you receive?

–Are you familiar with the values we’ve created as a company that employees should follow?

–Did you know our founder’s wife follows you on Twitter?

If you hear one of these questions – and many like them – you’re in a world of hurt and may not make it to Friday.

Now let’s take a look at these types of questions – from the manager of people’s point of view.  Using these type of nuclear questions can be to your advantage if:

1.  You need Herculean effort from the person in question short-term and don’t care if they stay long-term.

2.  You don’t want them on the team and want to send a clear message that there’s a lack of confidence in whether they can turn it around or not.  You’re looking for them to jump before the posse gets to town.

3.  They’ve traditionally been a high performer and been treated as such, but performance has slipped. You need to interrupt the pattern and send the clear message they are at-risk. 

Out of those three scenarios, the only one that isn’t cringeworthy is #3 – you’re interrupting the pattern of the good life and sending a signal with an abrupt question.  If that’s the case, coaching on how they could turn it around would make sense to be follow that statement, right?

And that’s the point.  If you use these types of questions for their shock and awe value, there’s one thing that determines whether you’re trying to be Machiavellian or a human being.

That one thing is what do you say – after you ask the loaded question and get an answer.

If you ask the loaded brush-back question and fail to offer help, you’re a headhunter and have already made up your mind.

If you ask the loaded question and then go into strategies your direct report could use to survive, you’re a coach.

Which one are you?

FOT Note: This Rant is brought to you by the good folks at Halogen Software, who like us enough to be an annual sponsor at FOT for all content in our performance management track (and don’t expect that we run any of this by them ahead of time).  Check them out, friends.

FOT Background Check

Kris Dunn
 Kris Dunn is Chief Human Resources Officer at Kinetix and a blogger at The HR Capitalist and the Founder and Executive Editor of Fistful of Talent. That makes him a career VP of HR, a blogger, a dad and a hoops junkie, the order of which changes based on his mood. Tweet him @kris_dunn. Oh, and in case you hadn't heard the good word, he's also jumped into the RPO game as part owner of a rising shop out of ATL, Kinetix. Not your mama's recruiting process outsourcing, that's for sure... check 'em out.


  1. Branigan Robertson says:

    I literally LOL’d when I read this article’s title. I’ve talked to thousands of upset people (recently fired folks) who say their boss asked them similar questions. I totally agree that employees should pay close attention to these questions. But I think it would be wise to note that the relationship matters here. Most of the time, if the employee believes the manager genuinely cares about them, they will adjust their behavior. But if the employee believes the manager is being a pompous/snarky jerk, then it leads to all sorts of yuckyness (i.e. lawsuits).

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