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.

giving a coworker a “World’s Greatest Dad” mug, is it rude to answer a voicemail with an email, and more

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

1. Our intern wants us all to give a coworker a “World’s Greatest Dad” mug

A birthday came up for a person in the department named Bob. He is the oldest in the department and has been with the company for over 20 years. He is loved by many and is seen as a welcoming person to the department. He has a particularly jovial relationship with one of the interns I supervise, and they jokingly refer to each other as “dad and son.” The intern showed me the birthday gift he bought for Bob and it was a “World’s Greatest Dad” mug. He said he wanted the entire department to write loving messages to Bob that would go into the mug and be presented to Bob at a later date.

I recognize the intern bought the mug with his own money, but I feel uncomfortable promoting the “Bob is the department Dad” mentality to the entire department. I do not know why exactly, but I do not think it sends the right message. (Also, we already celebrate Bob’s birthday with a happy birthday banner signed by people in the department)

I have no doubt that many in the department will love the intern’s initiative, so I have been thinking about letting it go. However, I am curious if it is more appropriate to redirect the intern to make his gift a personal one for Bob and leave the rest of the department out of it.

Yeah, the “dad” thing is a pretty weird and problematic message to promote as any kind of official department gift. It’s asking people to buy into a label for the relationship that probably won’t resonate with some/most of them, and it’s age-focused in a way you don’t want any even quasi-formal gifts at work to be. If Bob and the intern want to jokingly refer to each other as dad and son, that’s their own (odd) thing, not everyone else’s.

I’d say this to your intern: “That’s your private joke with Bob, so the mug should be your own gift to him. Ultimately, though, these are professional relationships, warm and friendly as they may be, and I don’t want to promote the ‘dad’ thing more broadly.” Frankly, that’s not a bad message for your intern to hear anyway.

(Oooh, and in a convenient tie-in, today’s episode of the AAM podcast takes on a different version of this — an admin who positions herself as everyone’s mom and literally calls them “my kids.” Not everyone is thrilled.)

2. Is it rude to answer a voicemail with an email?

I spend a lot of time on conference calls, so I often can’t answer my phone when people call me directly. More often than not, the voicemails I get are along the lines of, “Do you have any information about the teapot design meeting on September 5?” Is it rude to answer these voicemails with an email, especially when the response is a simple answer? I understand that sometimes a quick call is easier, but what if it’s not?

I think it’s totally fine, but I’d include some context to explain why you’re choosing to do that — like “figured it would be easier to get you this in an email” or “running to a meeting, but here’s the info you wanted.”

Obviously the answer is different when someone is clearly calling because they want a back-and-forth (like “I was hoping we could hash out your concerns about the X project”). But for stuff that you can easily answer in an email, go for it.

3. My manager is denying me a day off because I “might” be needed

My manager is possibly denying me PTO because it lands on the day of a conference that my team “might” need to help with. This manager has historically required weekend travel that was unnecessary because he is anxious and insecure about his place in the org and we all have to suffer for it rather than working for a boss with confidence and boundaries. I suspect this event will be more of the same. In the meantime, the PTO day for me is an opportunity to be part of a huge event at my school (I also work on a master’s in addition to full time work). It is a long-term career growth opportunity to participate, whereas there is little career growth available to me in my current role. Any ideas on navigating the conflict? Or my right to refuse and insist on PTO?

You can’t insist on taking that day off if your manager continues to refuse it; he has the ability to say yes or no to you taking that particular day. But you can certainly try pushing back and that might work. Say something like this: “This event is very important to me, and I don’t want to miss it just because we might need to help with something, when it doesn’t look likely that we’ll be needed. I wouldn’t normally push for this, but this is an unusual circumstance. Can you help me make this work?”

4. My coworker won’t stop talking about my hair

I recently (about a month ago) started a new role, and one of my coworkers (let’s call her Kira) is making comments about my hair that are making me uncomfortable. Some background: I’m Caucasian with a head of wavy/curly hair. I wear it this way because I like it, and I’m proud of it. It’s styled in a professional-looking, below-the-shoulders hairstyle, and even though I have frizz some days, I think it looks fairly good. Kira is from a culture that is different than my own (I’m in the U.S.). She has been coming to my desk almost every morning as soon as I get in to talk about my hair. First, she suggested under the guise of some small talk that I needed to get a product to “deal with my frizz.” I just wrote it off as a weird culture/language barrier issue, and changed the subject.

I didn’t think she had bad intentions, but it has been happening for around three weeks, and today it escalated. I hadn’t even set my stuff down on my desk when she came over and told me something to the effect of “You should go to my stylist, she can show you how to do your hair.” I was speechless. I told her something about liking my current stylist, but I honestly was at a loss for words!

I brought this up with another coworker, who is African American, and she told me that Kira has made comments about her hair before, like asking if it was “real.” Said coworker told Kira that it was rude and wrong to ask people questions like that, and Kira apparently got all upset that someone would be so “touchy.”

What do I do? These comments have been happening nearly every day. I have the ability to be direct with people when needed; I am just having trouble with it in this situation! I don’t want to make Kira hate me, but I also am getting sick of her making comments about my hair.

Be direct: “Please stop commenting on my hair.” Or, “I’m really not interested in discussing my hair anymore.” Or, “I don’t want to talk about my hair with you anymore.” If these feel like slightly rude things to say, they’re really not. They’re just the sort of comments that you’re probably not used to having to make, because most people aren’t commenting on your hair every day. But Kira is the one making the situation weird, not you.

Your measure of success here isn’t “Kira gets the message and doesn’t get upset.” Kira shouldn’t get upset, but who knows, she might. You can’t control that. But if Kira hates you forever afterwards because you made a perfectly reasonable request, that’s on her, not on you (and really, if she’s that unreasonable, you were likely to set her off with something else at some point anyway, and at least this way you get to end the constant commentary on your hair).

5. Our flexible schedules have me staying up too late at night while I wait for work to come to me

I’m a team lead who works on projects for a company that gives its workers the perk of working pretty much anytime they want as long as they are present for meetings, are in for the core hours and meet their goals. All of my teammates come in and go home at different times and the flexibility allows us to take our work home and finish up there.

So, this package is pretty awesome, right? It is! Except when projects are ending. We have a QA process where things are sent back for feedback among members of the team. The team member makes the changes and sends it back for approval. I really like this because high quality content comes out of it so I’m not complaining about that.

The complaint I have is that as projects close, some team members will bring their work home and respond to feedback long after business hours as if that part of the project is not due the next day (but it is!). Which means that the person waiting to check to see if the updates are made also has to be logged on waiting for those to come back in for review. This is stressful for me because I am the last step before the material goes live and that means that I will have to stay up and just wait for things to come in so I can check them. I’m exhausted all the time and nod off on the couch by 9:30 pm and I’m terrified that one day, I’ll sleep through a deadline because someone waited until 10:30 pm to send it to me.

Since I am not the manager, just a team lead and we all report to different managers, how can I approach my team about being considerate of other people’s hours and schedules? How can I say it without sounding bossy or inconsiderate of THEIR time? I’m a little worried about asking my manager about it because this perk may be taken away. I benefit from this perk by being in the office by being in the office at 8 and leaving at around 4. I also bring my work home with me if I need to catch up.

It’s reasonable to lay out your own deadlines, based on when you need to receive work in order to have enough time to finish it. When you know someone is due to send work to you that day, let them know ahead of time that you’ll need to receive it by 6 p.m. (or whatever time you pick) in order to finish your part on time. This is actually a pretty normal thing to do! It’s not overstepping your authority or anything like that; it’s giving them info about how long you’ll need for your piece of things.

can I call an employer back with additional questions about why I was rejected?

A reader writes:

I had a job interview a while ago for a position I did not get (I am a health and safety professional and at the time had been working for an international mining company, for 3.5 years at a field site and 3 years at the corporate office). I was invited to a screening interview which was only 10 minutes in length, where a few HR people sat with me and asked a few very vague questions to “get to know me” without even really telling me much about the job (e.g., tell me a little about yourself, why are you interested in this job, do you have any questions for us, what are your salary expectations). They told me that there had been over 200 applicants for the job and they were only conducting the screening interviews with the top four. When they told me a week later that I was not being invited back for a full interview, I called to inquire why. I was told by the recruiter that they really liked me but they were looking for someone with more “field experience.” I accepted this answer and thanked them for their time.

Almost immediately after hanging up, it hit me that my field experience should have been evident from my resume and known to them prior to the interview (which is why I was four of 200 selected for a screener) — and in fact they didn’t even ask any follow-up or clarification questions about my field experience in the interview. Thus the answer I’d accepted now seemed like BS.

I have two questions now, based on this: First, is there a professional way to call back an interviewer almost immediately after you’ve already accepted their reasons for not hiring you and ask them follow-up questions that you didn’t think to ask?

And second, I suspect the reason they doubted my “field experience” is because of my appearance and demeanor. I know I didn’t shoot too high on salary and I can’t think of anything else that would have been a red flag. I am an extremely petite and fairly soft spoken woman, and I look about 10 years younger than I am (34). However, I am also very tenacious and assertive and have never had trouble dealing with unruly miners or tradesmen (many of whom have told me with the best of intentions that I’m tougher than I look). This is likely not to come across in vague “get to know you” questions, and even may not have a chance to come up in a full interview (nor was I prepared for this to be something I’d have to “prove”).

Can I bring up the fact that I’m “tougher than I look” in an interview, if there is no organic way to work it into the answers to the questions? How is the best way to do it without making it seem like I might be accusing the interviewers of judging me on my appearance?

You can’t really go back and try to reopen this conversation; at their end, it’s already closed.

They’re already rejected you, and they’ve already given you some feedback, even though it wasn’t especially satisfying.

The thing to remember here — frustrating as it is — is that they don’t owe you a satisfying explanation for the rejection, and asking to talk about it some more will come across as if you think they do. (Many employers won’t give you any reason for rejecting you, in fact.)

There are a few different possible explanations for why they told you they’re looking for someone with more field experience, despite your experience: (1) They’re looking for more field experience than what you have. (2) Other candidates ended up having more field experience than you do, so while yours seemed fine initially, now that they’re comparing you to other candidates, they prefer more of it. (3) They rejected you for some other reason, but “field experience” is easier/less awkward to say than the more nuanced reasons why people often get rejected (like “you rambled/creeped out your interviewer/didn’t seem smart enough/seemed fine but not great/didn’t answer questions head-on/seemed difficult/etc.”). (4) The recruiter just got it wrong/confused you with another candidate/reached for the first easy explanation she could think of. (That’s actually way more common for recruiters than people often realize.)

Or, yes, it’s also possible that you’re right that your appearance and demeanor pinged for them as “not right for this job” and they didn’t think you were tough enough. That could actually explain the very short interview and the softball questions; if they had written you off from the moment you walked in, they might not have felt like bothering with a full interview. And it’s definitely weird to make people show up in-person for a 10-minute interview; that’s normally a phone interview, not an in-person interview. (It’s also true, though, that lots of employers just suck at hiring and have bizarre processes that defy understanding.)

There’s just no way to know which of these it is.

I know that might seem unfair. If you’re right about what happened, then why shouldn’t you be able to correct the record? But it’s just not the way interviewing works. You mostly get the chances to talk that they offer you, they make a decision (which may or may not be the right one), and that’s the end of it. (Obviously it’s different if you have strong indicators of illegal discrimination, but that doesn’t sound like that’s the case here.)

But if this has made you conclude that it’s important for you to emphasize to interviewers that you’re tenacious and assertive, that’s definitely something that you can make a point of working into future interviews! One way to do it is to prepare some stories that highlight that — for instance, when you’re asked to talk about work challenges, you could share a story about dealing successfully with unruly miners. Or you can even address it explicitly by saying something like, “I want to note that I don’t often fit people’s profile of who does this work, but in fact my managers have always told me I could hold my own with tradesmen better than anyone on the team” (or whatever).

my boss is having sex in the office

A reader writes:

My first job out of college started as a dream: a hip tech startup in Los Angeles with a majority female team and an express mission of empowering women on social media. Now that I’ve been here almost a year, the cracks are starting to show, specifically with my boss. She’s C-level, and the “female face” of our company to investors, clients, etc., and while she pitches the company as empowerment-based, she’s anything but empowering to her employees and has put us all in a very uncomfortable situation.

She frequently cheats on her live-in boyfriend with other men in the office at night, often leaving evidence for us to discover in the morning. Just last week she started making out with several men in front of my coworker while repping our company at a networking event. Everyone in the office knows, but I feel especially guilty because her boyfriend has my role in another company and has served as a mentor-esque figure for me in the past.

Maybe this is just my Catholic guilt showing, but the whole situation makes me very uncomfortable. I can hardly stand to look at her, let alone her boyfriend. Knowing all of this information about her has made it hard to take her seriously as my boss and be comfortable and successful in the office. She plays it off like this is normal behavior in tech and that I would totally get it if I were older and more experienced, but if that’s the case maybe I need to be in a whole other industry.

Do I need to quit my job? Do I tell her boyfriend? Is this normal and I’m just totally overreacting? Any advice would be greatly appreciated so my sleep schedule can return to semi-normalcy.

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

my employee isn’t doing her job — but I think she’s in an abusive relationship

A reader writes:

I work in a very seasonal business, one where I can really only retain one person in the off-season, as we can’t afford (nor have the work for) anyone else during that time. In the six years I’ve been here, we’ve built up a good core staff that returns most years, and I’ve promoted one person to the full-time, year-round assistant manager position. She’s been with me four years.

The problem is this: in the last year or so, her performance has dropped to the point that her job is in jeopardy. She calls in often to say she’s going to be late, and about half the time that happens, she simply doesn’t show up (to the point where it’s become something of a joke, at least inside my own head). She is entirely non-communicative when she’s out of the office – she doesn’t have her own phone, and so is impossible to get in touch with. To cap it off, she has begun dropping duties entirely, to the point where I have taken over a number of her duties because I can’t count on her to actually take care of things.

Here’s the complicating factor: she’s in what I believe to be an abusive relationship. Many of her call-outs are related to a series of injuries, all of which have fantastical stories explaining them, but … well, let’s just say I’ve never heard of a cat giving someone a black eye before this. Last year, we actually moved her onto the property to give her a few months to get her feet under her (this is hospitality), and at the end of the three months, she went back to him.

I’m at the end of my rope. She and I are going to have to have a serious discussion about the realities of her performance, but at the same time, I don’t want to make her life even worse. I honestly don’t know where to start, but the system can’t continue as-is.

What do I do, and how do I do it compassionately?

Oh, this is so hard.

One one hand, you’ve hired her because you need a job done, and it presumably could have pretty serious effects on your business if that doesn’t happen. That’s especially true because she’s your only employee for much of the year.

On the other hand, the job may be one of her few lifelines, and the thing that may make it possible to leave her abuser at some point (assuming that your suspicions that she’s being abused are correct). And abusers are known to try to get their victims fired in order to be able to exert more control over them. Lots of absences can also themselves be a result of the abuse.

I think you’ve got to tackle this on two different fronts: (1) what you’re in a position to do as the employer of someone you suspect is being abused, and (2) the performance issues.

For the first of those, I’m going to link you to this really excellent advice from a commenter who herself escaped an abusive relationship. There’s lots here that you might be able to put into practice.

To that advice, I’d also add that you could say to her, “If you ever need a safe place to stay again, we can move you back on to the property, no questions asked.”

Also, since she doesn’t have her own phone, could you offer to provide her with a work cell, even if her position wouldn’t normally have one? If she balks at the offer, don’t push it (she may know that it would actually make her situation worse if her abuser learned about it), but it might be helpful to offer and see if she accepts.

For the performance issue, I’d suggest looking at this the way you’d look at it if she were missing work and under-performing due to illness. You’d presumably give her a lot more leeway than if she were just slacking off for the hell of it — but there would also be a limit to how much you were able to accommodate, and at some point you’d need to have an honest conversation with her about what you needed and what she could reasonably commit to. This is different from an illness, but I think that’s closer to the right model to use than any other we have.

So at this point, I’d suggest sitting down with her and having a kind conversation about what you need and what’s going on. You can use language like, “I know that you’ve been having a tough time” and “I want to support you however I can” and even “I get the sense things aren’t okay at home and that’s affecting you at work” and “I really want to work with you however I can to make this work, but I do need you to be here reliably and to let me know when you won’t be” and “are there things I can do on my end that will help?” And because things are at the point where her job is in jeopardy, you’ll need to say something like, “I want to be up-front with you that if things continue as they have been, I wouldn’t be able to keep you on because I need someone here to do this work — but I really want to figure out a way to support you in keeping the job if that’s something you think we can work out.”

Ultimately there might not be anything you can do to make this work, especially as a small business where one person not doing their job will have such a significant impact (and where your resources presumably are more limited, although being able to offer her housing again if she needs/wants it is a huge thing to be able to do).

It’s really hard in situations like this to accept that your options are so limited, and it’s even worse to, as you wrote, feel like you might be making her situation even harder. But you can do what you as her employer are in a position to do: cut her more slack than you would if the circumstances were different (although not infinite slack), and approach her with compassion and empathy and make it clear you’re ready to help if she wants it.

I disagree with my restaurant’s new policies to fight drug use, should we make job offers by email, and more

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

1. I disagree with my restaurant’s new policies to fight drug use on our premises

I work in a restaurant. The restaurant has a new owner and a new manager. The opioid epidemic is strong in my state. The new management has decided to put blue lights in our washrooms. These lights make it impossible to see veins and it means anyone trying to use drugs with a needle can’t see where their veins are. Only staff and customers are allowed to use the washrooms now, no exceptions. This is a new rule; we always allowed anyone who needed to before.

We have all been banned from carrying narcan (which can treat narcotic overdose) and anyone found with it will be terminated. We all used to carry it because we have had lots of people overdose around here or even on the property. We used to call an ambulance and a street outreach program that had experience with addiction. Now we are only allowed to call the cops and by the new rules we must do it. We can’t give narcan. The laws here do not do enough for people with addiction and calling the police leads to arresting and jail instead of rehab and assistance. We are no long allowed to serve anyone who appears to be high and have to call the police on them if they don’t leave. Anyone who overdoses, uses drugs, or is high here gets a ban and can’t come back and the police are always called. The street outreach people have already been banned from the property.

I don’t agree with these new policies or the feelings of the new management about addiction. I think it is a disease and those people need help and support. They think people can stop whenever they want and are drains on society. I can’t quit because I go to school during the day and this is the only place around here where I can make good money (from tips), is flexible enough for my school schedule, and is open late enough for me to get lots of hours. In addition, besides this one issue, the management is not bad and works with the staff on what they need. I have two more years of school left.

How do I deal with it when I don’t agree with my boss? Some of the other staff agree with me and the other half agrees with the boss. They say the new policies are final and anyone who breaks them will get terminated. I need my job here but I don’t agree with these policies.

It sounds like your restaurant worries it has become too attractive to people using drugs on its property, which in turn could make it less attractive to other patrons and raise liability and insurance concerns. It’s not unreasonable for them to want to guard against that. Banning narcan and the street outreach people sounds like punitive overkill, but the rest of this — refusing to serve someone who’s obviously high, calling the police if they refuse to leave, making it harder to shoot up in your bathrooms, and banning people who use drugs or overdose there — doesn’t sound outrageous. It sounds like they’re trying to create an atmosphere that won’t drive away other customers, which is understandable (minus the narcan ban), and I say that as someone who strongly shares your preference for a treatment model over a criminal model.

If you and your coworkers feel strongly about this, you can try pushing back as a group — there is strength and protection in numbers — but ultimately if this is your employer’s decision. If they don’t budge, then at that point it’s like anything else your employer might do that you object to: you have to decide if you’re willing to continue working there knowing that this is part of the package.

2. Should we make job offers by phone or email?

I lead a research team at an academic institute and just sent an email to a candidate making a job offer. He had been through a phone screen and a day of on-site interviews, and then I had followed up with him (by email) to get his references and tell him we would be in touch within a week. At the on-site, we had discussed salary expectations (his) and salary range (ours), should we make an offer, so we knew we had a good fit on that regard. (Our range was slightly above his expectations, which I told him at the time.) I was reasonably confident he would take the job, if offered.

After I sent the email (my typical practice), I was curious, and I googled “email job offers,” which led me to a post of yours from 2009 declaring the practice a “bad idea.”

I was wondering if you still held this same opinion! To me, these days, non-pre-arranged phone calls seem rarer and rarer. I can’t remember the last time I called someone in a professional context without setting up a time to talk first, via email (or Slack). And emailing someone to set up a call to make an offer– well, that just seems like torture to make someone wait to hear what you have to say.

Obviously a form letter from HR out of the blue seems like a bad call. But what do you think of a personal email from the hiring manager, expressing excitement and laying out the basic terms (salary, reporting structure) and offering to chat by phone to follow up if the candidate has questions or wants to talk more?

(FWIW, this particular candidate accepted within the hour, via email.)

Phone calls are still standard for job offers, for the reasons I talked about in the post you mentioned — you want to be able to pitch the job and express your enthusiasm for bringing the person on board, as well as get an initial sense of their response. Plus, if you email it, you have no idea if the email was even received (or if it got lost, or if the person is away and not checking email for several days or so forth).

To be clear, you’d still follow up the phone call with a written offer so that the candidate has all the details in writing.

You’re right that unscheduled phone calls are increasingly rare for a lot of people — but they haven’t disappeared entirely, particularly in business contexts, and this is one situation where they’re still in common use.

3. Can I refuse insincere “appreciation” from my boss?

I was “voluntold” to work on a project two years ago. I have an excellent work ethic and my boss likes to take advantage of that. I have been working well above my pay grade for two years, have repeatedly requested my job fact sheet be reviewed, and asked for responsibility pay (to no avail). I never get any support or acknowledgement at all. The end of the project is in sight, and last week when we were exiting a project meeting the boss said “I know I owe Jane a cheesecake for all she’s done, do you like cheesecake?” I replied “no..” Jane started on the project about two months ago. My team lead has been involved for a year, but just sits silently in meetings and never does any of the tasks assigned (which end up falling to me). I have repeatedly expressed my frustration at the lack of communication and support. The boss nods in agreement but does nothing to help change things. In the meeting last week, I was tasked with creating all of the training materials and training the trainers this week (something I declined to do weeks ago, but my “no” was ignored).

I know when the project ends, the boss is going to bring in cheesecake for Jane and maybe something else as a “thank you to everyone” (even though only three of us were on the project and only 2 of us did any work). I won’t partake in any food on offer, but worry that the boss might try to give me something directly (as he was asking what my favorite chocolate bar was). Is saying “no thank you” to an insincere token of appreciation appropriate? Is there any way I can discourage the boss from doing something insulting (like giving me a chocolate bar)? The minions have told the team lead and boss many times that we don’t like food as a reward but they never listen.

Nope! I definitely understand the urge, but you can’t professionally refuse a thank-you from your boss if it’s clear that you’re doing it to Make A Point. In other words, you can of course say, “Oh, thank you but I actually don’t eat chocolate” (or any other kind of polite decline) but you can’t say, “I don’t want your thank-you for this because it’s insincere/I’ve been treated poorly/this is insulting when what I deserve is a raise” or anything in that neighborhood. That’s going to come across as hostile. (You might be ready for it to come across as hostile! But it’s likely to do you more harm than good, even if it would feel pretty nice in the moment.)

Sometimes in a really crappy situation like this, when people feel like they have little control, they end up focusing on small pieces that don’t really matter — because they’ve given up hope about the pieces that do matter. I suspect that’s what’s happening here. But you actually do have more control than you think, in that you don’t need to stay in this situation long-term if you don’t want to. If you’re as frustrated as you sound and if you’ve tried to fix things without any success, why not start actively looking for a different job? Two years is a long time to feel this way.

4. Name on my diploma is different than the name I use

I earned my undergrad and graduate degrees under my maiden name. I have since married and changed my last name. Additionally, I go by a first name that is different than my legal first name (and is not a common nickname of my legal name). Essentially, my diplomas say “Rachel Green” but at work I am known as “Monica Geller.” I’d like to display my diplomas in my office, but worry this will be confusing. For context, I work in a school and mainly deal with prospective students and their families (so it’s not like I have five coworkers to whom I could explain the discrepancy and leave it at that). It is common in our school for faculty and staff to display their diplomas. Any advice?

Some schools (many? all?) will reissue your diploma with your new name, as long as you can show that you legally changed it. That would take care of your last name, but not your first name — but it might be enough to ward off confusion, since it’s not uncommon to go by a middle name instead of a first. If your school is one that will do it, it’s probably worthwhile. (The other option, of course, is simply not to display your diplomas — which could be easier than displaying ones where both the first and last names are different than the ones you use.)

I saw an email from my boss saying it’s a “relief” I’m quitting

A reader writes:

I started working as a temp-to-perm at an investment bank as an expense coordinator a few months ago. None of this job is within my interest. I took the job because I needed it and because the people I interviewed with seemed kind and respectful. Everyone had amazing things to say about each other.

They threw me into a stressful situation (cleaning up someone else’s mess) and I did a great job. Then all of a sudden I was an executive assistant to two investment bankers. They acted like it was a natural progression and I totally should’ve spoken up. I’m not a highly organized person and I HATE being someone’s assistant (I had done it before and thought I’d grown out of that kind of role). I naturally did a terrible job, waffled a lot, and one of the bankers had a very frank and respectful talk with me about how I need a greater attention to detail, etc. I stepped it up to 150% from then on. I took every word of his advice and worked on his things with the speed of light. I made a few mistakes here and there, but they were genuine and not careless. He was friendly and kind to me.

Cut to a month ago when I got accepted off the waitlist at my dream graduate program. As soon as I got the logistics settled, I gave my notice. My supervisor was kind and congratulatory. She told me she would take care of telling my bankers.

I have access to their inboxes so I can look for whatever info regarding projects that I need. The nicer of the bankers (the one who spoke to me about my performance) said to me at the beginning of my role, “I don’t have secrets, that’s all work stuff in my inbox. Nothing to hide.” So, after I gave notice, I had to look for something in his email. I saw my supervisor’s email telling him I was leaving for grad school. He responded, “That’s a relief.”

I was immediately mortified and embarrassed and then remembered … he knows I have access to his email. Why would he leave that there for me to potentially find? I truly wasn’t snooping. I see previews of emails so I saw his response while scrolling. I’m less offended by his comment and more baffled by his lack of tact. I cannot get over that part of it! I hope he’s not cruel enough to leave it there for me to potentially see, so I’m chalking it up to forgetfulness and tactlessness.

My question is: should I say something to him? He has always acted like such an open book, available and ready for questions and discussion always. I know I’m leaving so it won’t matter, but I want to get to the bottom of this. My thought is to say something along the lines of, “Your constructive criticism has been helpful to me, and it may be that I wasn’t a great fit for you in the end, but I came across this message in your inbox. Whatever the context, it was hurtful to see. I want to remind you that your assistant does have access to your email.”

I don’t care if I have a “place” to say this or not — I’m tired of having to roll over and take crap from senior employees because I’m younger. Mostly, I genuinely do not want him to offend another assistant some day. Should I say something? If so, should it be that?

Nah, let it go.

I’m sure he just didn’t think about the fact that you could see the email. When he told you “I don’t have secrets, that’s all work stuff in my inbox,” he almost certainly meant “you’re not going to find highly personal things in there,” not “there’s zero chance you might ever come across something I hadn’t meant for you to see.” And he was using his email the way people normally use their email — by responding to messages that come to them — without having it in the forefront of his mind that you might go in there and see it.

As for the message itself, I’m sure it stung to read it! But it actually doesn’t sound like a terribly surprising reaction. You note that you were really bad at the job, at least for a while, and even after you improved you continued to make mistakes. And since you didn’t want to be doing the work, it’s pretty likely that that came across. Given that context, most managers would be relieved to have you decide to move on, and that’s okay. You’re probably relieved by it too! It’s not unkind to recognize that someone isn’t the best fit for a position; it’s just honest.

And really, the most important thing here is that he did what a lot of bosses mess up: He had a frank but kind conversation with you when you were messing up. That counts for a ton.

He should be able to have private conversations about business changes without getting chastised for forgetting that you could potentially stumble on a relatively minor three-word email (one that he might have figured wasn’t in the scope of things you’d be looking for in his email anyway). And it’s not like he kept from you something that mattered; this wasn’t a rant full of personal, hurtful criticism. It was his honest reaction — that it’s better for everyone that you’re moving on.

You say that you’re “tired of having to roll over and take crap from senior employees because I’m younger.” But this isn’t taking crap because you’re younger. It’s not really taking crap at all. It’s just something you weren’t meant to see, and it’s understandable that he forgot you could stumble upon it.

Let it go. You’re moving on, you know this wasn’t a great fit, and it’s okay that your manager is being honest about that in an intended-to-be-private discussion.