my coworkers keep complaining about me

A reader writes:

I’m having a hard time fitting into the culture of my new office, and it’s starting to wear on me. I’m kind of unorthodox here for a number of reasons, including that I work later hours than everyone else (which was part of my offer negotiation) and I’m not shy about jumping right in, asking questions, and making changes. I’ve only ever gotten positive feedback on those traits from managers, so I don’t think I’m skirting the line into “pushy” or “rude.”

My manager and her bosses love me and love my work. It’s my coworkers who keep having problems with me: since I’ve been hired four months ago, my boss talked to me five times about complaints or questions others brought to her about my actions. This is about stuff like, “She comes and goes at odd hours,” (yes, which are approved by my manager), “She has visitors to her cubicle,” (yes, which isn’t disallowed and other people have visitors too), “She should run questions like that through the supervisor” (really, asking if you would mind turning off your cell chime is something a manager should have to weigh in on?), and “She’s asking too many questions, who does she think she is?” (I’m doing what I was told to do.) I even got a “warning” note left anonymously in my cubicle telling me to “mind my own business,” which was taken very seriously by admin, but mostly just gossiped about by staff.

My boss has my back, and she’s taken everything very seriously. Every time, she says, “I totally have your back, I don’t think you’re doing anything wrong, but I wanted you to know that this happened, and let’s think of ways of appropriately addressing it if we can.” Sometimes we can’t address it because it’s a problem of someone else’s and I’m just the recipient; sometimes I can make some correction in my behavior to smooth things over.

The problem is: I think “smoothing things over” is actually code for “don’t talk to anyone else about this” or “keep your head down” or “this is just the way things are.” There seem to be a significant number of behavioral problems in this office coming from a number of different people that don’t get dealt with: tantrums/crying in meetings, bullying/sniping comments towards coworkers, disrespectful emails, etc. It seems like the more highly emotional/negative people just get to do what they want and all of us polite folks are expected to just deal with it.

How can I survive in a culture where this happens? Or, better yet, how can I work with my boss to make things better, if possible? My boss thinks that some of our newly-hired higher-ups will start to make changes, and it’s just a matter of time and we should trust them. But how can I make it through the long game if the short game kills me first? I keep bumping into people, being told I’m not wrong, but that I’m the one to have to make adjustments. It’s hard, confusing, and isolating. I don’t want to keep having negative run-ins, but I don’t want to compromise my values (equality, respect, professionalism) either.

I answer this question over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

open thread – August 17-18, 2018

It’s the Friday open thread! The comment section on this post is open for discussion with other readers on anything work-related that you want to talk about. If you want an answer from me, emailing me is still your best bet*, but this is a chance to talk to other readers.

* If you submitted a question to me recently, please don’t repost it here, as it may be in the to-be-answered queue.

coworker trash-talks Millennials, is it better to send a perfect application or apply right away, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My coworker likes to trash-talk Millennials

I’m having difficulties with age gaps in my office. I’m fairly new to this particular office (less than six months) but I’m a mid-30’s woman about 10 years into a professional career. Most of the people on my team, with the exception of one, are about 25 years older than me and have been in their positions in this office for 5+ years.

Most of the time, there isn’t too much of an issue, but one coworker in particular keeps making comments about “Millennials” in ways that put me off. I’ve politely pushed back a few times (example, he referred to manual transmission as being a “Millennial anti-theft device” and I replied by saying I am a Millennial who learned to drive on a stick shift) but I mostly tend to ignore the comments. Just now, he sent a youtube link to me and another coworker (who is probably in his mid 30’s as well) of a baseball announcer mocking a group of “Millennial” young girls taking selfies at a game. I was very tempted to write back that I think the video reflected worse on the announcer than the girls who were having fun and not hurting anyone. He and I are peers with the same title. I do not think he is mocking me directly or feels like I’m doing a bad job, but it’s still frustrating to hear his comments against my generation. Should I continue to ignore or be more direct with him?

This is so tiresome. Your coworker is like someone who learned 10 years too late that people like to hate on Nickelback and is so excited to have a target to kick that he doesn’t realize how uninteresting he’s being.

Some options for responding:

* “You know the oldest Millennials are now approaching 40, right?” (You could add, “Keep it up for a couple more years and age discrimination laws will have kicked in” — because they kick in at 40 — but that’ll probably go over his head.)

* “OMG, are we still talking about Millennials?”

* “Dude, lay off the Millennial comments. It’s rude.” (Or “it’s gotten old” or “it’s so boring.”)

* Ignore him. Delete the emails unread, don’t respond to the comments, and generally mute him in your mind.

2. Is it better to send the perfect application or apply right away?

I’d be very grateful for your take on a recent job application problem I had: I saw a really exciting job opening at my current company, for which you had to apply via the company’s application site. I only saw the opening on Friday afternoon and didn’t have the chance to look at it properly until the weekend. It said the deadline was the Monday and it had the standard application format on this website, which includes the option of uploading a portfolio. It didn’t seem to be compulsory for this job, but it’s the kind of job for which my portfolio would be relevant, and I thought since I was a stretch for the job (they seemed to want more experience than I had), it would be best to do everything I could to help my application.

Unfortunately the best and most recent samples of my work are work I did at my current job, which I didn’t have at home. I decided to write a draft cover letter and CV, bring the samples home from work on Monday so I could scan and upload them in the evening, and gamble that the job opening would still be open. Unfortunately when I got home it had closed. Out of interest, do you think I did the right thing? Is it better to send a weaker application (in this case, without an up-to-date portfolio) while the opening is still there, or only apply if your application is perfect?

There’s no good answer here, other than “send in a good application as soon as you reasonably can” — which is what you tried to do. Sometimes the timing just won’t work in your favor, and it’s impossible to fully guard against that. You could have taken only an hour, and it still could have closed before you applied if you happened to have bad timing. The main thing is not to delay because of obsessive perfectionism or procrastination. In your case, though, you weren’t doing that.

The one thing I would do differently is, if you know you’re job searching or are likely to be job searching reasonably soon, have everything you need ready to go. You never know when something will pop up that you want to apply for, and ideally you wouldn’t be starting from scratch at that point in getting materials together.

3. Should I admit to using internet blocking software?

I recently installed a blocking software on my work computer that allows me limited minutes per day on a custom list of time-wasting websites, a decision which – coupled with a few other changes – has massively upped my work day productivity and organization.

My manager has asked what I’ve done that’s had such a big impact on my organization. I feel a bit conflicted about talking about this software – mostly because I feel I shouldn’t admit that, up until now, I’ve had real problems with procrastinating online! Would you suggest keeping it vague, or should I be honest about a useful tool I’ve found to help me address a problem my boss told me head on I needed to fix?

Ooooh. Yeah, this is likely to come across as “I was wasting so much time before that you were seeing it reflected in my work” and that’s not a great thing to say to your manager, even if it’s now behind you. You mentioned you made a few other changes too, so I might just explain those and not focus on this one.

4. My coworker tells my boyfriend whenever I leave work early

I struggle with a non-substance addiction. While one would hope your friends are there for you, my ex-BFF of 20 years, who is also my coworker, takes pleasure in me failing. She has informed my boyfriend when I leave work early. (It’s always excused and always encouraged by the company when it happens. It’s nothing any of us have to hide. Sometimes we are just overstaffed.) Needless to say it’s absolutely … I don’t know what the word is. Is she invading my implied privacy or breaking a general office rule that doesn’t have to be tolerated beyond the boss saying “You shouldn’t be doing that”?

She’d definitely violating boundaries and invading your privacy and being incredibly inappropriate. But there’s no law you could turn to, if that’s what you mean. The normal recourse here would be for your manager to tell her to cut it out (and sternly enforce that if it continues). Have you talked to your boss and asked her to do that? Also, ideally your boyfriend would tell her to stop contacting him too.

5. My employee is making a big deal of her birthday

I have a younger employee who is making a big deal about wanting to take her birthday off. She has the leave time available and it’s not a problem at all for her to be out that day, but I wanted to get your thoughts (and your readers’ thoughts) about her approach. I’ve overheard her make several comments like “you know I won’t be here next Tuesday, it’s my birthday” and “no one should have to work on their birthday.”  It’s come up more than once over the past week.

I personally think it comes across as immature and unprofessional to draw so much attention to one’s birthday as an adult. I have no problem with her taking the day off and celebrating as much as she wants, but I’m afraid that her focus on it in the workplace will cause her to be taken less seriously. I could be completely off-base (as I am a middle-aged curmudgeon), so I wanted to get a wider perspective before I took her aside and had any kind of “this is a career-limiting behavior” chat with her.

If she were just excited about her birthday, I’d tell you to leave it alone. One thing I’ve learned from writing this site (along with “lots of people hate pranks” and “people have a ton of fart-related questions”) is that a lot of people take their birthdays off.

Comments like “no one should have to work on their birthday” are a bit over the top, but how’s her professionalism and maturity otherwise? If it’s fine and this is just a weird quirk, I’d still leave it alone. It’s okay for people to be quirky. But if she’s already struggling to be taken seriously, I might talk to her about that issue in general — not focusing on the birthday thing, but on whatever’s going on that’s causing those perceptions.

That said, if you can tell that people in your office are rolling their eyes at this, it’d be kind to give her a heads-up along the lines of “I am totally happy to give you your birthday off, but you might be coming across as a little tone-deaf to others with comments like ‘no one should have to work on their birthday’ since most people do work on their birthdays, by choice.” But otherwise, I’d leave it alone and let her be super into her birthday.

should I ask for a pay cut if my work isn’t very good?

A reader writes:

I’ve been working in my current role for eight months. I left a highly dysfunctional job that I felt I was great at, but for a company with too many issues I couldn’t overcome. I received constant praise for my abilities and work.

During the interview process and when asked for my expected salary, I quoted much the same as I was on, except instead of the base ($100k) + at risk ($20k) I was getting, I was hoping for just salary ($120k). When I received the job offer, they met the $120k without question and on top have offered other benefits such as insurance I didn’t have previously.

Eight months in and I’ve yet to receive any direct feedback, as my manager is extremely busy at all times and she doesn’t seem to have any desire to have one-on-one catch-ups. She doesn’t have any sort of performance reviews or catch-ups with any other direct reports.

However, through informal feedback (e.g., projects that should be allocated to me being instead given to my coworker, and client comments made to my manager), I feel that my sense of being great at my previous job was perhaps a symptom of just being on the better end of the spectrum in a terrible company. I seem to mess up a lot and I doubt my abilities daily, and struggle to feel like I’m being successful. I still want this job, but I feel like I was overly confident in my interviews and the reality of my skills are a letdown for my new employer.

I’d like to proactively offer myself up for a pay cut. I don’t feel that I am justified in receiving this paycheck each month. I worry that I’m disappointing my employer and wonder if they would feel more inclined to give me some leeway if I were being paid less. I think this would also alleviate the sense of guilt I carry for not being up to standard.

Is there ever a situation where this would be the right course of action?

I don’t want to say there’s never a situation where it would be the right move, but this isn’t it.

If your employer has concerns about your ability to do the job they need done, those concerns aren’t going to be alleviated by paying you less.

I think you’re thinking of this as “well, if I’m bad at the job, it’ll bother them less if they’re paying me less” … but really, if you’re bad at the job and they want to address that, it’s more likely to be addressed by, well, replacing you. And I know your response to that might be “but maybe the higher pay is tied to higher expectations” and that’s true, but they presumably need the job done at this level regardless, which is why they hired for it that way.

It’s not completely out of the question that in some situations an employer could decide, “Well, we wanted a senior X but we’ll settle for a junior X and lower the person’s pay accordingly.” But that’s not how it would usually be handled — and you definitely don’t want to leap straight there without a conversation about what’s actually going on and how they actually feel about your work.

Plus, proactively suggesting a pay cut would be you saying “I can’t do this job and you should no longer expect me to be capable of doing this job.” And that might be exactly what you want to say — but if that’s the case, it’s better to have a straightforward conversation about that, rather than using pay as a proxy for talking about it openly.

So, all roads here lead to a straightforward conversation with your boss as the immediate next step.

Yes, she’s busy, and yes, she doesn’t have regularly scheduled check-ins, but that doesn’t mean you can literally never talk to her, especially about something this important. Say this to her: “Could we schedule some time to sit down and talk about how things are going?” If she seems reluctant to make the time, add this: “I have some concerns about my work that I want to check in with you about.”

And then, ask. Say, “Can we talk about how my work is going overall? I’ve gotten the sense that I might not be where you need me to be.”

It’s possible that you’ll hear that actually, things are just fine and that the signs you thought indicated disaster aren’t actually that alarming. Maybe those client comments came from notoriously unreasonable clients. Maybe projects were given to your coworker instead of you because she had a lull in her workload or a history with that particular client. Who knows.

Or maybe you’ll hear that yes, there are some things you need to work on, but it’s nothing serious and your manager is confident that you’re on the right trajectory.

Or sure, maybe you’ll hear that things are as dire as you fear. If that happens, then you can talk about what you might be able to do to improve, or whether that’s even possible.

But you won’t know until you have the conversation. Start there.

is a really fast interview invitation a danger sign?

A reader writes:

I’m wondering about really quick interview invitations. I just got one today which was less than 15 minutes (!) from the time I submitted my application. Am I correct in being put off? I’m increasingly desperate for work but I have to have standards too.

I answer this question — and four others — over at Inc. today, where I’m revisiting letters that have been buried in the archives here from years ago (and sometimes updating/expanding my answers to them). You can read it here.

Other questions I’m answering there today include:

  • I’ve contacted a company three times and haven’t heard back
  • Employee gave four days notice and wanted to use vacation for part of it
  • Employees who constantly say, “On my old team, we did it this way”
  • Should I give feedback to an unprofessional job candidate?

ask the readers: what have you liked and disliked about belonging to a union?

It’s the Thursday “ask the readers” question. A reader writes:

I have a question that I’d love hearing from your other readers about. Growing up, most of my exposure to unions was through pop culture, which usually portrays them as either corrupt and full of lazy thugs, or a great thing that we don’t need anymore because employers aren’t like the robber barons of yesteryear, and don’t we have it so much better now? I recently realized I don’t know a whole lot about these organizations that have been (and are) powerful economic and political forces.

I’m interested to hear from readers who actually are/were in unions – what do they like and dislike about it? What’s the day-to-day effect on their lives? How did it come about (unionization at an existing job, required to join in order to get a job, etc.)?

Readers who are in unions or have been in the past, will you share your experiences?

my screen share showed an inappropriate tab during a meeting, my boss’s son is a reckless driver, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. My screen share showed an inappropriate browser tab during a meeting

In my role as project manager for my company, I frequently lead status or check-in meetings. We do these over video conference, and lately I’ve been sharing my screen to review the to-do list and ensure the notes that I capture are accurate. I have dual monitors so I normally pull whatever I need to share over to one side and show just that monitor.

Today I was sharing my screen during a weekly meeting with a large group (nine people). I’m working remotely so I just shared my whole screen (with the focus on a Confluence page in my browser). I realized about 20 minutes into the meeting that I had a few other tabs in the given window, one of which had the headline “What to do with nudes…” (the other tab open was AAM, lol). The site was actually an advice column, but obviously my coworkers have no idea of knowing that. As soon as I realized, I seamlessly moved the tab I needed to share into a new window (at least I think I was pretty smooth).

How bad is this? I feel like the best route may have been to make a quick comment/joke as I noticed it, but the moment has passed. My coworkers are not great about actually looking at my screen share, and often when they ask questions I have to ask them to look at what I’m sharing. Should I mention it in my follow-up email with meeting notes? Should I say something to my manager in case someone says something to her? I have pretty good relationships with most of the people on the call and I’d like to think one of them would have pointed it out to me if they noticed before I did. But I’m feeling pretty embarrassed right now so not sure the right way to handle this.

Oh noooooo. I would be mortified by this too. Personally, when I’m embarrassed by something like this, I find I feel much better if I just plunge in and address whatever the awkward thing was, even if doing that means a second potentially awkward moment. So in your shoes, when I sent out those notes, I’d just include a jokey mention of it at the start of the email — like “I realized after our call that one of the tabs on my screen during my screen-sharing seemed potentially risque; let me assure you it was just an advice column!” (Was it by chance last week’s Dear Prudence, which would fit your description? In that case, I might even just call it “an article in Slate,” thus emphasizing its mainstreaminess even more.) Nine people isn’t a huge group to say that to, and I think you can get away with it in a way that would be harder if the group was hundreds.

There are a lot of people, though, who would say to just ignore the whole thing, arguing that addressing it this way would make too big a deal of it. And they may well be right — but personally I’d still rather address it so I didn’t have it sitting around in my head embarrassing me.

2. How can I tell my team that now that we’re fully staffed, I’m not going to be as relaxed about errors?

My team has been understaffed for quite some time (six months-ish), and everyone has been carrying more than their fair share of the burden during that time. I am extremely appreciative of my team and regularly tell them how grateful I am that they’ve all stepped up to help out.

During this time of overburden, there have been errors and things have slipped through the cracks. I’ve been extremely lenient because of the volume of work the team is handling, and figured errors are to be expected. However, workload aside, I also know that some of these errors could have been avoided with more careful attention to detail and better organization/planning on their part. I have addressed these issues as they have come up, but no more than bringing to their attention and then essentially letting it slide because of their stress levels; I have felt that it’s not reasonable to expect near-perfection when they’re overall being so helpful. I’m still debating with myself about whether or not this was the right approach.

Regardless, we are now FINALLY fully staffed which is absolutely glorious, and within a couple of weeks the orientation of new staff members will be complete and we’ll be able to move forward with reasonable workloads. I want to make my team aware that I’ve been understanding about errors in the past and still very much appreciate the work they put in to tide us over when we were down headcount, but now that we’re fully staffed, we need to make improvements going forward and I won’t be as lenient with the same types of errors. In the future, when issues do come up, I’ll also need to be more firm with them than I have been to ensure corrections are put into place.

Do you have any recommendations on how to communicate this without making them feel underappreciated or seeming like chill manager turned Jekyll and Hyde?

Be straightforward about it, but also don’t expect them to be able to flip the switch into this new mode overnight. Stress is cumulative, and there probably needs to be a buffer period where they can decompress from the past six months of stress. In fact, I’d explicitly say that so they know you get it and also, if you can, encourage them to take some vacation time soon to assist that decompression.

You could thank people for going above and beyond for the past six months and then say something like, “In recognition of how much everyone was shouldering in the last few months, I relaxed our standards a bit on things like X and Y. Now that we’re fully staffed, I want us to return to our previous standards — meaning (insert details here). But before that happens, I think we all need a period to decompress! So let’s take the next few weeks to try to do that first. If your plate still seems very full, come talk to me and we’ll figure out how to redistribute things. And I hope you’ll consider talking some vacation days soon, even if it’s just a few long weekends. If there’s something else you need to help you move out of stressed, overworked mode, let’s talk about it!”

That’s enough to start. And then, after this period of a few weeks, if you do still see someone making too many errors, you can address that with them one-on-one.

3. My boss’s son is a reckless driver and I don’t want to hear about it anymore

My boss’s adult son has wrecked his car three times in the last year. His first accident, he hit a public bus that contained a lady on the way to the hospital! He just recently had his third accident (backed out really fast in a suburban neighborhood without looking and totalled his car). My boss whined about the expense of fixing the car but is giving it back to his adult son anyway.

I just started this job, but I am losing my composure over this situation. It’s only a matter of time before his adult son kills someone and I’m pretty sure my boss will just blame them for dying.

My boss already knows how I feel about his adult son’s driving. At this point, I just don’t want to hear about it anymore. Is there a way I can get my boss to stop telling me about his horrible, no-good, legally-culpable brat? You know, tactfully?

“Can I ask you a favor? It stresses me out to hear about Fergus’s driving — it really sounds like something serious could happen. There’s obviously nothing I can do about it, but would you mind not telling me about it? It really upsets me to hear.”

4. I had to cancel an interview because of illness–will they ask me back?

Early this morning I had to cancel an interview for a job I really want because (please excuse the TMI) overnight the excessive uterine bleeding that began last week and I am trying to control with medication reasserted itself vigorously at 3 a.m. Not only was I unable to sleep the rest of the night, but I became afraid for my immediate health and knew that there was no way I could show up for an interview where I would be meeting with six different people and be at my best mentally or physically. Just to get to the interview would have entailed a long commute by train.

I sent an early morning email to the contact person and said I needed to postpone due to a medical issue that cropped up overnight, could I please reschedule, and to please give my apologies to the people I was to meet. I received a reply thanking me for letting her know and that she would check with the search committee and their schedules.

Should I follow up in a day or so to ask if there is another interview time available? Have I seriously damaged my chances at an interview even though the circumstances were not under my control? How might I repair the situation? I also want to add that the night before the interview I sent another, prior email regarding clarification about the commute time and where I was to meet the contact person, so they would know I had every intent to keep the appointment.

Yes, follow up in a day or so to make sure this stays on their radar and see if you can get a new time nailed down.

As for how it might affect your chances … People get sick and have medical emergencies! Interviewers know that. If these are people you want to work for, they’re not going to decide you’re a flake and thus not interview you. But it is possible that this could mess with their interviewing timeline enough that it’s legitimately hard to reschedule. Ideally that wouldn’t happen, but if, for example, some of their interviewers are in from out of town for this or otherwise have difficult schedules, and if they have other strong candidates, it’s possible that they might end up concluding it can’t easily work out this time. That obviously sucks because this is in no way your fault, but sometimes the timing just ends up not working. Hopefully that won’t be how it plays out though! It’s more likely that they’ll be able to get you rescheduled.

5. Should I tell my manager about my bulimia?

I’m currently a manager with about 20 people as reports across two different teams. I’ve had a quick rise through my organization and am in line to take on another eight reports on yet another team.

I’m also bulimic. I have been for a very long time, and I have gone through periods of recovery and relapse. I have been having a hard time for a few years now. Not only is it a terrible strain mentally, physically I am suffering terribly and am in almost constant pain. Last year I took medical leave to attend treatment. I also have had to spend a week in a hospital two years ago. Now it looks like I will have to take medical leave again.

I am contemplating talking to my boss, and telling her what the problem is. One of the reasons is that I really don’t know how long I will be out of the office, and that’s hard for someone who doesn’t know the details to understand. I guess a part of me too would just be relieved to have the truth out so that things (appointments, the day I passed out in my office) make more sense. I am very sick, but I rarely miss work, get everything done, and have great performance reviews. I seem happy, relate well to my team and others and am well respected for my skills. I actually could be doing a MUCH better job without this problem, but because I’m above average, I don’t think it’s noticeable. My fear though is that any issues I have will be attributed to my bulimia, and it will hurt me professionally. It might put doubts into my boss’s head that I can’t handle my position. Or, she will just think I am a disgusting person. I have a good relationship with her, but sometimes she is really hard to read and a bit unpredictable, and I have no idea how she feels about mental illness. I’m certain that she would keep this a secret, but I am just torn. I dread telling her I have to be out again on leave. I really want to clear the air with her, but I have so many fears about the consequences. Any thoughts on how I should approach this?

I’ve love to live in a society where you could be completely open about this without worrying about repercussions, but the reality is that we don’t — and that you’re right that she may begin seeing everything you do through that lens or holding you back in ways that she wouldn’t otherwise. (Also, even if your boss is great and this doesn’t happen, there’s a risk that she’ll share the info with someone else who will handle it in ways you don’t want — not because she’d deliberately seek to violate your privacy, but because she could think it’s relevant info to, say, HR or another manager.)

But it’s also true that feeling like you have to keep quiet about what’s going on can contribute to feelings of shame or stigma that you shouldn’t have to struggle with. So I’d try reframing it in your mind to this: Ultimately no one at your company needs the details of any medical conditions, and there are lots that people prefer to keep private. You’re keeping this private not out of shame, but because medical details in general are private, and you’re sharing what they need to know, which is what kind of leave or other accommodations you need from them. Good luck!

how can I write warmer emails without resorting to emojis?

A reader writes:

What tips can you offer to “soften” the tone of business emails without the use of emojis?

I tend to be direct in real life interactions, possibly erring on the side of blunt. Putting niceties in emails to others feels like a waste of their time, but some feedback I’m getting across multiple facets of professional interaction is that I can come off as terse or scolding. Yes, I am female, and this may be a factor in the critique. Since I function mostly as a consultant in a couple different professional spheres, I don’t have a manager to ask about this.

In person, I’m able to offset the directness with humor and smiling pretty successfully. I may be overreacting to people who don’t share my affinity for efficient point-making, and I can write a long and explanatory email as well as the next person (so it’s not length that’s the issue), but this is still a skill I’d like to develop.

Is my only recourse smiley faces? That feels so unprofessional in non-personal communication.

You need not resort to smiley faces!

Honestly, most emails that land with (some) people as overly brusque would land completely differently with just these additions:

1. A warm opening — like “Hey!” or “Hi there!” or so forth.

2. A warm sign-off — like “Thanks so much!”

Seriously, that’s it. That will warm up the vast majority of emails you send, and it’s incredibly easy.

Note, by the way, that there are exclamation marks there. I know those aren’t everyone’s bag, but if you’re looking for a quick and easy way to warm up your emails, those will do it. (Some people hate exclamation remarks and think they’re unprofessional, but in the vast majority of offices and in the vast majority of circumstances, they’re not at all unprofessional, particularly in the kind of usage above.)

Sometimes, too, you can warm up an otherwise brusque-sounding email by including a sentence of explanation, if you’re not already. It’s the difference between these:

Version 1: “Could you please send me the report on tacos by 12:00 today?”

Version 2: “Could you please send me the report on tacos by 12:00 today? I’ve got a client who’s coming by then and wants to see it.”

Version 2 makes it seem less like you’re just barking an order. (And sure, in Version 1 you said please and it’s not a command. But giving the little bit of context in Version 2 sounds warmer.)

Also, you said you’ve been told you sometimes come across as scolding. I don’t know exactly what kind of emails that refers to, but here’s an example of something that might sound scolding and an easy way to remedy it:

Version 1: “This isn’t the document I asked for. Can you please send me the correct file?”

Version 2: “Ah, this is actually the burrito report, but I need the taco write-up. Can you grab that one instead? Thank you!”

You wrote that putting niceties like that in email feels like a waste of the other person’s time — but while there are more words in the “nicer” versions of all of these, they only take about one second longer to read. And actually, they probably save time in the long-run, because you won’t have people feeling stung or put-off. Plus, relationships matter — so even if it did take slightly longer, it would still be worth it because people aren’t robots and the way they feel about you and about their work is actually important!

This might not be immediately intuitive to you if you don’t value work relationships in that way, but you may just need to take it on faith that other people do, and that showing them warmth and respect in ways they recognize actually gets better work results in the long-run … and having to type out “Hi!” and “Thanks so much!” isn’t so hard.

my assistant keeps mothering me — and calls us “her kids”

This week on the Ask a Manager podcast, I talked to a guest whose assistant mothers her in a way she’s uncomfortable with — and some gender dynamics are making it weirder. Here’s the letter:

I am a young(ish) female who works in a department with two slightly older men and one female administrative assistant. The “boss” is younger than the administrative assistant by approximately 25 years. The next “highest” up the chain of command is a few years younger than the boss. I am the youngest and approximately 10 years younger than second in command (This becomes relevant, I promise.)

Our administrative assistant (let’s call her Betty) has two sons of her own who are actually a little younger than me. Our office is relaxed and we all (the men included) talk about her families and our children. Betty is definitely a “mother hen” type and constantly calls myself and the two men we work with “her kids.” (She even goes as far as to call us her “oldest, middle, and youngest” when talking about us with other people in our company or to compare us with her actual children.) I find this a little odd, but honestly, I don’t care about it too much. As I said, she has a very mothering personality and I’ve just come to expect it I suppose. I don’t think she means any harm by it. Moreover, it doesn’t seem to bother either of the men I work with at all. In fact, they joke about Betty’s overly motherly tendencies quite frequently — sometimes even to her face which she takes as good-natured teasing by “her children.”

That said, Betty is driving me crazy with her constant “mothering requests” and check-ins. For instance, each time she gets up from her desk to go to the break room or restroom, she’ll come around and ask all of us if we need anything while she is up. And if you decline, she’ll just keep asking: “Coffee? Water? Tea? A snack?” To which, I’ll just politely say “No thank you” once again. I think this persists, in part, because the men I work with do have her get them coffee or perform other personal tasks fairly regularly. I’m not sure if they do because she just keeps asking them or if perhaps, they are just men from a different generation than I. Either way, they do use play into her mothering nature.

I however, have never had Betty do the same for me. In fact, I’ve specifically told her (on numerous occasions) that I particularly enjoy getting up myself and going to the break room for my own refreshments because it allows me an opportunity to get out from behind my desk. She’ll acknowledge this every time I say it to her (Usually by saying, “That’s good! Stretch your legs!”), but then the next time she gets up, she asks again. She’ll even go as far as to knock on my glass wall when my door is shut and mouth her inquiries while pointing to an empty coffee cup or bottle of water. Also, more than once, I’ve said: “Betty, you don’t have to ask me about that. I’ve told you before that I enjoy a chance to get up and stretch my legs. I appreciate it but you can stop.” Spoiler: She doesn’t.

Additionally, if Betty leaves the office mid-day for say, a doctor’s appointment, she always texts while she is out to inquire if she needs to pick up food for anyone despite usually being told before she leaves that we are all covered for lunch. Most of the time, these group texts from Betty just go completely unanswered by all three of her “kids.”

I know she doesn’t mean any harm by all of it and even that the men I work with enjoy (or expect) this kind of mothering from an administrative assistant. I however, do not. I hate having to look up from my work multiple times a day to tell her for the millionth time that I can get my own water or coffee. Is there anyway to cut out this behavior without coming across as a horribly unappreciative person? Or do I just need to suck it up and keep telling her “No thank you.”

The show is 24 minutes long, and you can listen on Apple Podcasts, Google Play, Spotify, Stitcher, or wherever else you get your podcasts (or here’s the direct RSS feed). Or you can listen right here:

If you’d like to come on the show yourself, email your question to podcast@askamanager.org … or if you don’t want to be on the show but want to hear me answer your question, record it on the show voicemail at 855-426-WORK (855-426-9675).

And if you like the show, please subscribe and leave a review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you listen.

You can get a transcript of last week’s episode here.

my boss talks about her kids non-stop

A reader writes:

I love my boss, Lizzie; she’s creative, cheerful, smart and a good manager. She helps me develop (I’m one of two second-in-commands) and manages problem staff effectively. She’s also very self-aware and always open to feedback.

She has one tiny thing that I think holds her back: she talks about her children A LOT. Like, when she had to be out of the office, she sent an email to the whole group saying “I have to attend my child’s Playcenter today. It’s not like other child care. Parents have to be involved and commit to the Playcenter Way. We explore children’s abilities through play and teach how to uphold core values. I’ll be back in the office on Monday.” This got my eyebrows raised. I heard someone in another team joking about Lizzie’s email – about how earnest and self-important it sounded and how she might have been better to simply say “I’m out of the office and will be back on Monday.”

Another example: all three of her children are “gifted.” She manages to work it into conversation often enough that our team has a good-natured bingo about it. Like rather than saying “I need to leave by 2:30 to get the kids from school,” she will say “I need to leave by 2:30 to get the kids from Mind Plus. They love the extra extension it gives them beyond the normal curriculum.” BINGO!. She’s also a very doctrinaire parent — no screens ever, no sugar, only wooden toys, and her children have a full-time nanny. In Lizzie’s view, childcare centers are a distant second-best. But she and her husband are both on hefty salaries. Most of us can’t afford a nanny even if we preferred it.

At least one of our team is dealing with infertility. Those of us who have kids are a bit weary of having our parenting choices disapproved of.

About two months ago, her performance review came due. Her manager, Beatrice, asked our team for confidential feedback about Lizzie.

After talking with my colleague (the other second-in-command), I had a quick chat with Beatrice. I stressed how great Lizzie is as a manager and all her good points. I said there was one tiny thing she could change, and that I wouldn’t bother raising it with any other manager, but since I know Lizzie genuinely wants to improve her soft skills and really welcomes insights, I thought it is worth it. I said that we all love our own kids and think they are beautiful and talented — and that Lizzie mentioning her children so much can be a bit tough on staff managing infertility. I said that I’d love Lizzie to be aware that people choose different kinds of care for different reasons and it’s good to respect those choices. Beatrice “got” it. She said it’s no different than if you’re a senior manager with a car package, you don’t go complaining to junior staff about the size of your private carpark. Beatrice said she agreed this was worth mentioning at performance review. She said “I agree, Lizzie would want to know this.”

Fast forward to now, it’s been a month, and Lizzie is still bringing her children into every conversation. We had a team training and Lizzie talked about her kids’ growth as her “fun fact about me.” Then she jumped up to show the presenter photos of the children on her phone. It honestly felt quite awkward.

Given what I know about Lizzie (very diligent about self-improvement), I think if it had been mentioned, she would have made an effort to change. I know that Beatrice has a history of being rather shy, and shy of conflict. She’s extremely self-effacing. So I suspect that she chickened out of saying anything.

What do I do? Do I ask Beatrice if she managed to raise that issue? Do I approach Lizzie myself as though I never spoke to Beatrice, and raise it proactively (we have a high level of trust and a lot of respect for each other)? Do I walk away on the grounds that I tried my best through the proper channels?

This sounds … really off-putting. On top of the fact that it would be tiresome if she were talking about any topic this much, it also sounds like she’s coming across as sanctimonious even if she doesn’t mean to.

It would have been great if Beatrice had passed along the feedback, but since it sounds like she didn’t — and, importantly, like she’s so conflict-averse that she might water it down even if she did deliver the message — you might be better off raising it on your own.

To be clear, if you didn’t have a strong relationship with Lizzie, I wouldn’t suggest this.

You also have additional standing to mention it because you’re her second-in-command and are aware that this is frustrating your team and (based on the bingo thing) harming her credibility and the amount of respect she commands. Part of being second-in-command is that you have a higher level of obligation to flag things that are impacting your team in ways your boss might not spot on her own.

You could say something like this: “Can I talk to you about something interpersonal that I’ve been noticing on the team that I think you might not be aware of? I’ll warn you from the start, it’s a little awkward, but I know you well enough to know you’d want to hear it. I’ve been hearing lately that there’s some frustration about how often you bring up your kids and your parenting choices. The way it’s landing with people is making them feel like you’re implicitly criticizing their own parenting choices, some of which are dictated by what they can afford on their salaries. And this much kid talk can be especially tough for people who are dealing with infertility. I don’t think anyone wants you to stop mentioning your kids altogether — obviously they’re a big part of any parent’s life. I think people would just prefer you tone it down. I know you’re someone who tries to be really aware of how you’re affecting people and that you’d want to take this into consideration if you knew — and I figured it’s something other people might never feel comfortable bringing to you.”

Also — speaking of being second-in-command, you probably shouldn’t be part of that bingo joke, no matter how tempting the provocation. That’s the kind of thing that would sound tremendously undermining if Lizzie ever heard you were participating in it, and you’re in a position where it’s extra important to keep her trust.

That’s not to say that this behavior doesn’t warrant a bingo game. It’s obnoxious and tone-deaf and it’s inviting mockery —but given your position and your relationship with her, you’re better off speaking with her directly rather than privately mocking her.