I have been working at my job for over a year now and I have some minor but extremely annoying interpersonal issues with my boss. He's British and I'm Canadian but we are living in Ireland. I'm a software developer. I think it comes down to having different temperaments and lifestyles.

For example, I am 28 weeks pregnant. During this pregnancy I have been really struggling with sleep disturbances. I tend to wake up at 2AM or 4AM and cannot get back to sleep. I am also a little overweight so the extra weight is really wearing on me now. I'm also hormonal and more irritable than usual and a little stressed about this big life-changing event that will happen in 12 weeks.

My boss likes to do some 'niceties' before diving into talking about work. I don't really enjoy this because I have to lie to him to have a smooth conversation. For example, he asks me how I am. I tell him the truth: I am struggling or I am really tired. He doesn't respond well to this or he said things that I consider to be kind of sexist such as 'oh, it's normally not a problem.' A man telling a woman how pregnancy normally feels doesn't sit well with me or else he doesn't like to hear that I am tired etc.

I have to lie to him to get through these conversations. If I say 'fine/good, how are you?' it gets this conversation over with but it's incredibly boring and repetitive to have to do this everyday for 5 days a week. I'd rather just jump into saying stuff like 'hey, did you see that email?' or 'hey, did you see that new ticket? What's the priority for the day?'

I also get sick of the routine of a 9-5 job + 1hr 15 mins commute at times and I'm not always thrilled about coming into work but I don't hate my job. My boss has repeatedly said that his children drive him insane and he'd rather be at work than at home. I don't always find my work to be interesting.

Other people don't seem to have an issue with me being honest about being tired. Do you have any suggestions about this situation?

  • 4
    Is it just a problem with pleasantries? I mean, many times, people asking are not expecting the truth in return, they're just polite (or think they are - culture differences). Maybe I'm missing something, but could you clarify please?
    – OldPadawan
    Jul 8, 2018 at 8:59
  • Couldn't it be that "it's normally not a problem" meant it's a normal part of pregnancy (maybe his wife already had children?) and that he was trying to confort you a little? Or did he say that with a condescending and "know it all" tone?
    – Cris
    Oct 23, 2018 at 8:49

4 Answers 4


You sound like a good analytical person. Your supervisor is asking how you are, to be polite. They are asking you in effect, are you coping with the level of work and problems you are facing today? They are not actually asking how you are or to have a heart-to-heart about where your life is going. So though you may say fine and there are feeling issues etc. unless they affect your work, they are not relevant.

I managed a developer who was pregnant, who did not want to say she might faint, because as a contractor she thought that would not look good. In this case she needed to tell her colleagues, because we needed to know this might happen, and then we could do something about it. So there are exceptions to knowing how things are going, but it is a personal thing.

Your supervisor does not cope well with dealing with you in your actual state, so all you need to do is push him away a bit, and give him the summary he needs, and leave it at that. You will then get on fine.


It might be useful to acknowledge your exasperation, but at the same time, step back and examine the possibility that his intentions might be misunderstood. Your emotions and reactions are completely valid! He might be just trying to make you more comfortable. Are you in a position to clarify communication preferences with him, or is it not comfortable for you to ask? (Not sure on the full social dynamic here.) Maybe something like, "I'd prefer to keep the subject on the task at hand, please."

Being in a supervisor position seems like a difficult thing. Intentions can be misrepresented for anyone, but I feel that a supervisor has an extra layer of social magnifying going on. I'm wondering if he might be checking in with you to see how to better handle giving assignments and expectations, provided that you are going to have a quality of life change soon.

When he says it's normally not a problem, maybe he is trying to reassure you that your work quality has not suffered as a result of the sleep schedule interruptions. That's my intuition, though. I have no idea what the tone of voice was, or the sentences before this phrase were, or what the body language was like. Trust your gut here, I'm just going by what I hope is a useful alternative view and have no idea if I read your paragraph correctly.

I feel like he is trying to share about his kids to make you feel more at ease. However, his desire to share with you about being a parent who escapes back to work and avoids his kids might be also seen as a way to dismiss your desire to be with your child. I hope I'm reading that correctly? I'm wondering if you might feel he is also expressing some kind of standard about the workplace/parent environment there?

I also hate small talk with a burning passion.


OP, from what you're describing, it sounds like your boss is looking very hard for a very specific level of "pleasentries" that he considers polite. Skipping over them feels too rude to him -- but also, going into detail about personal problems might feel to him like oversharing; he might even be interpeting you as saying "Listen I've got a MAJOR problem you need to know about," when he wasn't expecting anything more than a quick "Good morning."

I think I can help you navigate these more smoothly. At the same time, do bear in mind:

Your boss is a lot of the problem

Are you the best, most social, most eloquent small-talker and pleasentry-dispenser in the world? No. But this problem isn't you being bad at socializing -- it's at least as much your boss's fault.

He's ignoring your discomfort. He's insisting on pleasentries that you don't want. He's interpreting you as being rude, oversharing, or both. He seems to have a lot of trouble with anything a bit different than the conversation he was expecting -- and communicating well with others is all about adapting to them, not forcing them into your own patterns.

There's not much you can do about this -- you can't fix somebody else's problems. But it's worth pointing out that you're not the problem here, and it's a major bummer that it's falling to you to put in the effort to improve things and make conversations smoother. That shouldn't be solely your responsibility. Sorry about that :-/

That being said, you can probably solve the bulk of this by just playing along with him, in a way that works for both of you. Let's call it:

Casual Status Reports

All you're really looking for is some middle ground between "I'm fine" and "Here is a detailed explanation of how I am." The middle ground is this: sum up how you are, very very briefly, and also be clear that your answer is no big deal.

For example:

  • "The pregnancy is really messing my sleep up, but otherwise I'm fine."
  • "Aggh, I'm kind of stressed about how much I need to finish today. How are you?"

That's it. Just a quick description, a "no big deal" if you don't want it to be one. That's it.

Here's the thing: If he wants to go deeper, ask you details, then he will -- and that'll be the both of you choosing to shift the conversation to that kind of topic. But if he just wants to (a) be polite, (b) know that everything is OK (for his definition of OK, which is basically "do I need to do anything?"), then you've given him that, and you won't have "pressed" him (in his interpretation) into a more personal, more difficult conversation.

Best of luck!


As I'm seeing your problem, you're not eager to discuss your issues, get sympathy, or anything of that sort--you'd like to get the conversation out of the way.

But nevertheless, you're uncomfortable with social lying. Me, I'd just go with the convenient social lie, but if you were happy with that, you wouldn't have asked the question.

That suggests that a solution that's not a lie, but gets the conversation over with quickly, would be useful.

So: Have you considered an honest but much, much shorter, conversation-ender response?

When I'm in this sort of mood, the conversation is often:

"How are you?"

"Adequate. You?"

or if you think that you can get away without mirroring the inquiry:

"Adequate. How'd the install go last night?"

With me, "adequate" gets a minor laugh, that minor laugh seems to "fill" the space that might be needed by conversation and consolation, and we move on.

Other possible not-lying-but-brief responses:

"How are you?"

  • "Same as yesterday. How'd the install go last night?"
  • "Eager to hear how the install went."
  • "Ready to work. How'd the install go last night?"

Or if you are OK with conversation, just not the same old conversation and not a lie:

"How are you?"

  • "Excited about the Game of Thrones season premiere. You gonna watch?"
  • "Obsessed with finding a new car. How do you like your Camry?"
  • "Hungry. Want to grab a bagel while we discuss the install?"
  • 1
    Hey, thanks for the answer! Could you please elaborate on why you think this is a good idea? We require answers not only to say "try this!" but also explain why and how it would help OP. Thanks in advance!
    – avazula
    Oct 23, 2018 at 6:40

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