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Decoding Dilbert

Decoding Dilbert (Part 6)

Employee relations with management at Dilbert’s office are often less-than-ideal. The PHB rarely listens to anyone, and often seems to have no idea what’s going on around the office. In this strip, he takes it one step further, by explaining to Dilbert how he is responsible for the PHB’s success and behavior. How does that work, exactly? Let’s find out in another installment of Decoding Dilbert.

Decoding Dilbert

The PHB begins by approaching Dilbert when he is clearly in the middle of something. In fact, Dilbert never looks up from his computer screen the entire time (points for multitasking, I suppose?). This sets the tone for a typical set of employee relations with management around Dilbert’s office. They literally are not seeing eye-to-eye as they talk at each other, instead of to each other.

But, what’s new about that? Isn’t that how employee relations always go in Dilbert-land? They certainly do, but this strip shows how poor communication between employees and management can lead to mutual blame and avoidance of accountability.

The poor communication in this strip begins with PHB talking to Dilbert’s back. They aren’t facing each other, because PHB has made Dilbert “work harder” and is now providing an unwelcome interruption to that work: not good employee relations. The two basic lessons here are a matter of common sense: look at someone when you talk to them, and don’t drag someone into conversations when they’re busy.

Simple as they are, these lessons are important, because at first glance this conversation seems to be a casual chat between management and an employee. However, Dilbert doesn’t respond in a casual way. Dilbert clearly has PHB’s employee relations skills on his mind when he responds to his boss. Dilbert responds to PHB’s poorly timed and poorly executed attempt at conversation with irritation and insults.

Dilbert points out that PHB needs to solve his “character flaws.” Dilbert isn’t necessarily wrong, but this is a poor way to approach a conversation with management. It avoids any kind of accountability by blaming the other party. Dilbert’s poor communication immediately puts PHB on the defensive:

“No, I’m fairly sure the problem with my charisma is on your end.”

The great part about this line is that it picks up on the power of perception and attitude in employee relations. Ever worked at an office where some employees love the boss and others can’t stand him/her? The relationship between employees and management does vary from employee to employee, and does have to do with 2-way communication between employees and management. PHB is correct in that Dilbert’s perception of PHB has partly to do with Dilbert!

That doesn’t excuse PHB’s role in the relationship, however. It just underscores the importance of being accountable for every interaction when it comes to employee relations. Dilbert and PHB both get some blame in this scenario—but they should have been assigning it to themselves, not to each other.

Decoding Dilbert unravels the real-world HR problems in the cartoon world of Dilbert comics. The series focuses on a different strip every week, with an eye toward improving employee-management relations. Suggest a strip by leaving a comment below, or send Kristin a tweet: @ithinkther4iamb #DecodingDilbert

Decoding Dilbert: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

IMAGE: Courtesy of

Kristin Anderson

Kristin has a B.A. in English from the University of Iowa, with an emphasis in creative writing. In her free time she enjoys long walks, kitchen adventures, and making puns.

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