weekend free-for-all – July 21-22, 2018

This comment section is open for any non-work-related discussion you’d like to have with other readers, by popular demand. (This one is truly no work and no school.)

Book recommendation of the week: I’m reading My Year of Rest and Relaxation, by Ottessa Moshfegh, about a woman who decides she’s going to quit her life and sleep for a year. It’s making me feel a little gross so I don’t know that I recommend it exactly, but it’s funny and getting lots of acclaim and I haven’t been able to put it down.

open thread – July 20-21, 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.

I’m being thanked way too much, I get mis-gendered on the phone, and more

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

1. I’m being thanked way too much

I work an admin job for a department that requires a lot of specialization for non-admin employees; it’s not necessarily uncommon for my coworkers to be in situations that could become dangerous. I think I’m decent at my job and I’m definitely efficient, but I don’t feel like anything I do is all that special.

I know there are much worse problems to have, but when I complete relatively minor tasks for my coworkers, many of them go way over the top with effusive praise to the point that it sometimes feels infantilizing. I obviously don’t mind the occasional “this looks great, thanks” or “thanks for getting that taken care of,” but long rambling thank-you’s that don’t fit into a single sentence really get my hackles up. I know that objectively their work is at a higher level than mine, I don’t need to be thanked “for everything that [I] do” and told that my work is “soooooo important;” it makes me feel coddled, or makes me think that they think I’m fragile and/or insecure. I have tried casually and cordially responding in the moment with something along the lines of “That’s really not necessary, it’s part of my job,” but it persists. Is this just my problem to get over, or is there something I can say or do that would encourage them to tone it down?

Do you see them doing it to non-admin staff too? If so, it’s just the culture of this workplace. But if it seems to be targeted to you because you’re an admin, I suspect you’re seeing people over-correcting for the idea that admins aren’t sufficiently appreciated … but you’re right than when it’s done to this extreme (especially with the “soooooo important” comments), it will start to feel condescending. (And before anyone questions why you’d object to people expressing gratitude, that’s the answer. When it comes across as patronizing, it’s a problem.)

The other possibility is that you replaced someone incompetent, and your colleagues are genuinely overwhelmed with pleasure and gratitude at the contrast of your work with hers.

Either way, you can try a no-nonsense “Truly, this is just part of the job” or “Oh my goodness, save the effusive thanks for a time I really deserve it!” Or the next time someone is really over the top in a particularly patronizing way, you could cut them off and say, “Please believe me when I tell you that all this is really not necessary. A simple ‘thank-you’ is fine.”

And if there’s someone you have particularly good rapport with, especially if that person is your boss, you could tell them how this is coming across: “It’s not that I don’t appreciate being thanked — of course I do — but the way it’s playing out, especially since no one else seems to be on the receiving end of it, makes me feel like I’m being talked down to. I’d like to see myself as a peer, not ‘the help.’”

But beyond that, there may not be a ton you can do here.

2. Is there a diplomatic way to correct people when I’m mis-gendered over the phone?

I recently moved from a northern state to a southern state to work as a doctor in a hospital setting. I frequently call (and rarely email) patients, their families, and other hospital staff. As a result of the sir/ma’am culture here, I have realized that my phone voice must be much higher than I previously thought. I’m a cis-gender man who presents as male and would obviously be recognized that way in person … but I’m mistaken for a woman on nearly every phone call I make. While I’m not offended, it is a little annoying (and slightly alarming that I’ve never known this about myself!).

Is there a way to diplomatically correct people in the moment here? I feel it’s complicated by the fact that people taking my calls are often responding deferentially, as patients often do for physicians here, and it almost feels pedantic or condescending to respond to deference with “thanks, but you were respectful to me in the wrong way.” Many times, the calls are one-offs such as a patient’s family member who I will never speak to again. Other times it’s a hospital staff person I may or may not communicate with again in the future, given shift times and high turnover. So I also wonder, is it worth the awkward hemming and hawing I know some people are likely to respond with when being corrected? Or should I just suck it up and accept that I’m going to be mistaken for a woman?

I think it depends on how much you care about correcting their mistaken impression! If you’re bothered by it, I’d go with a quick and cheerful “Oh, I’m a sir!” If you want to help them save face — because most people will indeed be mortified — you can laugh and say, “Don’t worry, I get that a lot!” But it’s also okay to decide that you don’t really care if someone you’re never going to talk to again mistakes your gender, and in that case you could simply develop selective deafness (or turn it into your own private drinking game or so forth).

3. I interviewed for a job that didn’t match the job posting — and other things seemed off

I had a first interview for a job last week and am a little perplexed. 1) There was no phone screen and the first interview included all the higher-ups (it is a small organization), 2) the different interviewers seemed to be on somewhat different pages about the job requirements, and 3) the job duties described were VERY different from what was listed in the announcement. Now I’ve heard that they’re checking my references. I’m confused! I was under the impression reference checks were for the end of an interview process and I’ve only had one interview.

If they do come back to me about the job, how can I ask for greater detail/explanation about the position without sounding defensive? Frankly, the duties they described are not things I’m interested in AT ALL (and I told them that I don’t have much experience with the specific responsibilities they highlighted), but I am somewhat desperate.

Some places do hire after a single interview, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the interview you had is the entire process.

But everything else here is a danger sign. Including all the higher-ups in a first-round interview says they’re not good at thinking about and effectively using people’s time. The interviewers being on different pages about the role tells you there’s serious communication problems, and probably a lack of clarity about what this person needs to achieve. Job duties being dramatically different from what was in the job posting (and with no acknowledgement to you of that) tells you, especially when taken with the rest of this, that they’re a disorganized mess. Now throw in that they’re a small organization (which are often breeding grounds for dysfunction), and this is not a job you want.

I know you said you’re desperate, so it might be that you need to take the job regardless, but if you do have other options, I’d be very, very wary of this one. If you have no choice but to take it, go in with your eyes wide open about what you’re likely getting into. (And frankly, being in a dysfunctional organization isn’t the worst thing that can befall you, especially if you’re desperate — plenty of people have dysfunctional jobs. The key is just not to let it warp your norms, and maybe to continue searching for something better. That said, unless you’re in truly dire straits, I wouldn’t take a job you think you’ll be bad at. That can actually put you in a worse position, if you get fired from it and/or it keeps you from continuing an active search for a better fit.)

But it’s totally okay to say in your next interaction, “It sounded from our last conversation like there are a few different visions for the job. Could we talk in a little more detail about exactly what this role will be responsible for and how its success will be measured?” It’s also okay to ask, “When we talked, it seemed like Jane and Bob had different perspectives on how they each saw the role. Is there more internal alignment about that now?”

4. Asking a former manager to be your reference when they’re trying to hire you

I’m starting a job search and have encountered an admittedly fortunate quandary: a former boss has an opening in her company that she’s interested in having me fill. While I am interested in the role, her timeline for filling the role is a bit nebulous right now and I want to keep job hunting in the meantime. Should I be lucky enough to get to the reference check stage with another company before I get an offer from my former boss, who should I offer up as my reference? Can I ask the former boss? Given that she’s trying to poach me from my current organization, I’m confident that she would have given me a glowing recommendation otherwise. I do have other folks I can ask, but I also don’t quite know how to say that I can’t provide my former boss as a reference — it feels a bit like I’m coming up with a fake excuse if I try to explain that she can’t be my reference … but for positive reasons!

A few friends suggested that I ask the former boss for a reference anyway in hopes of both nudging forward her timeline a bit and also strengthening my negotiating power later, but that seems underhanded. What say you?

You can use your former boss even though she also hopes to hire you. (There’s a certain type of person who would downplay the reference in the hopes that no one else would hire you, but that type of person is rare. Hopefully you know that your old boss isn’t one of them.) You’re not asking her as a way of nudging her timeline; you’re asking her because she’s a logical person to give a reference. When you ask her, you can say something like, “I’m really interested in the role with you, but since it’s not a definite at this point, I’m of course talking to other companies too.” She should understand that.

my coworker keeps interrupting me in person rather than emailing, despite my many requests

A reader writes:

I was promoted to a lead position within my company earlier this year, which means that I am not a manager but I am responsible for delegating tasks and overseeing projects. A slightly more junior person was recently assigned to assist me on a project. His manager insists that his work is high-quality, and I trust that. But instead of sending questions via email or instant messenger, this person likes to drop by my desk unnannounced to ask me questions.

I am very uncomfortable with this for three reasons:

1. I have ADHD. Being interrupted in the middle of a task makes it very hard for me to get back on track. If someone contacts me via email or IM, I can finish what I’m doing and then reorient my brain to focus on what they need me to do.

2. When he does this, he likes to get very much in my personal space, and because of the shape of my cubicle I can’t back away. Other women I work with have also expressed that this is a concern for them.

3. He can’t show me what document he’s asking about when he comes to see me in person. It would be much more efficient to screen-share or take a screenshot so I can see what the specific situation is. It’s much harder to answer his question without being able to see the item in question. I often have to follow him back to his desk to see what’s happening, because he hasn’t remembered to bring his laptop.

I have asked him if he can screen-share or email his questions, but instead he has been emailing me to tell me he has a question, and then coming by my desk anyway. How can I express to him that I think digital interaction would be better for all involved?

The nice thing about being senior to him is that you can stop asking or trying to convince him, and instead can just tell him how you want to work together, and then stick to that. Seriously, this is totally fine to do. He’s assigned to assist you! You’re allowed to do this.

For example: “I can’t be interrupted right now, so please email this to me.”

Or: “For things like this, please send me an email.”

Or: “I’m focused on something I can’t pull away from right now. In general, send things like this to me in email to start, and I’ll let you know if we need to talk in person.”

Frankly, you could also do this if he were a peer, but the fact that he’s junior to you and the fact that he’s supposed to be assisting you both make it even more okay to do.

Also, notice that in these examples, you’re not telling him that you “think digital interaction would be better for all involved” (your language in your letter). You’re telling him how he needs to work with you, period. You’re not looking to convince him; you’re giving him direction on a work-related process.

The trick is, though, you’ll have to actually stick to it. If you tell him the sorts of things above but then let him interrupt you anyway, he’s going to learn that you don’t really mean it. So you actually have to be firm about it. Not a jerk, just firm — “I’m busy, but send me an email and I’ll take a look.”

Say it, mean it, and stick to it. Truly, that’s it.

By the way, it also sounds like you’d be doing everyone in your office a favor if you also addressed the personal space thing. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, just something like, “Whoa, you’re crowding me — can you step back a little?” Be matter of fact about it, but do say it. It’s actually a favor to him too because if he’s putting people off by invading their space, it’s better for him to know he needs to stop.

will my employee be demoralized by a coworker’s promotion?

A reader writes:

I’m newly the manager of a small group of three people. One of my first acts will be to promote someone in our group-let’s call her Sarah- who is overdue for recognition of the truly outstanding work she does for our organization. One of my other reports, Dian, currently shares the same title as Sarah, and has been at the company far longer, but won’t be receiving a promotion now (or at any point, unless her contributions change considerably.) Diane does a lot that’s great but only in particular areas-she is inconsistent and at times incompetent at others. Nonetheless, she is valued for the number of things she does do very well.

What is the proper etiquette in this situation? Should managers tell other reports that one of their colleagues will be receiving a promotion before the announcement goes out company-wide? I anticipate that Diane will feel demoralized at this news, something that I’d like to address if I can because one of the things that hinders her work is a recurring sense of discouragement and disengagement when things don’t go well. Should I tell her in a matter-of-fact way about Sarah before she hears along with everyone else? If I think she has mixed feelings about it, should I find a tactful way to raise that with her? Or should I just be business-as-usual and stop trying to anticipate possible reactions?

I answer this question — and three 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:

  • Will connecting on LinkedIn make my staff realize how young I am?
  • Applications that want me to share something unique about myself
  • Our intern sounds unprofessional

ask the readers: how do I get people to remember me?

Per Thursday tradition, I’m throwing this letter out to readers to weigh in on. This is an interesting one:

How do I get people to remember me?

Today, my colleague and I attended a meeting to finalize a work program we had negotiated with an external organization. The meeting followed six months on from an initial two-hour face-to-face meeting that both my colleague and I attended and contributed to, and multiple email exchanges in which my colleague and I participated. There were two people from the contracting organization, both of whom I had met at the initial meeting. One could not remember my name, and one did not remember meeting me at all. Both remembered my colleague, who is more well known than me in this sub-field.

This is regular experience for me. People often forget meeting me, or are not sure if they have or not, and often forget my (run of the mill) name. Name forgetting I can live with, but having people forget they ever met me is disheartening. More than that, it feels humiliating. As importantly, work in my industry flows through networks, and I think my “forgettability” hurts me professionally.

I am a quietly spoken but confident (although perhaps increasingly less so) white woman in my mid-40s. I contribute thoughtfully in meetings, am very good at my work, and have a great reputation amongst people who know (and remember!) me. In professional contexts outside of meetings, I am friendly and feel socially confident, although I am perhaps a little quiet when I first meet someone. If it’s relevant, I physically look and dress like many, many women in my field.

My field is dominated by women at the lower levels of staffing, and by men in senior positions — but the forgetting seems to be gender neutral.

I need to change this, for my professional trajectory and sense of self, but I am at a loss as to what to do. Do you have advice?

organizing an all-men beach weekend for coworkers, is gossip beneficial at work, and more

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

1. Should I organize an all-men beach weekend for my coworkers?

I work at a bank branch of about 17 people, nine of whom are male. I’m considering inviting all the guys in the office for a weekend at the beach. We all get along and enjoy golfing, and think it could be a fun weekend. I wouldn’t be advertising it around the office because this would be a “guys weekend,” but since all the guys in the office are being invited, I’m anticipating the women in the office hearing about it and causing some drama.

Am I overthinking this because of the office culture we live in today, or is there a specific way that I should approach this? No work is going on during the trip, so no “deals” are being made. We are simply hanging out. The simple fact is that us guys are all pretty friendly towards one another and enjoy each other’s company. We’re all on the same career path and no one officially answers to or manages the other. Thoughts?

Yeah, it’s likely to be a problem. There’s a long history of women being excluded professionally through informal all-male social networks, where men are included in networking and business conversations in off-hours social settings without women. You have to understand that history to understand why, even if you 100% don’t intend this that way, it’s likely to have echoes of that to people. (Especially with the golf, by the way, as that was a traditional way women were excluded. Golf and strip clubs.)

Don’t be part of that, and definitely don’t be the person who organizes it. At a minimum it’s going to look really bad, and you may end up causing real issues in your office, as well as making people above you question your judgment.

And if you’re really friends with all the men in the office and none of the women, it’s worth thinking about why that is, since in a group of 17 people, that’s not likely to be a random quirk of statistics.

2. Do I need to gossip in order to hear insider info about my job?

I’ve always felt strongly about not gossiping at work, but I’ve noticed recently that the people who gossip know much more about what is going on with the company than I do. They knew ahead of time about the state of the company, possible layoffs, and upcoming changes when I was blindsided. Is it possible that engaging in gossiping is a social investment to open you up to being told more insider information?

There are different types of gossip, and I wonder if you’re grouping all in together when you shouldn’t. The bad kind of gossip is when gossip about other people that’s unkind and/or no one else’s business (like gossiping about someone’s sex life) or that’s based on nothing more than idle speculation (“Jane has been out a lot lately, I bet she’s job searching”). But there’s also good gossip — positive thoughts that you wouldn’t mind getting back to the person you’re talking about (like how much you like working with Jane or what impressive feedback you’ve heard about Bob). And then there’s sharing work-related information, which seems to be the type of thing you’re talking about. That’s not usually gossip — that’s talking about what’s going on with your company and in your industry.

It’s true that people who engage in bad gossip are often going to hear the work-related info too, because they’re talking to people a lot and having free-floating conversations and it’s more likely to come up for them than for someone who limits how much they talk to others. But you don’t need to engage in bad gossip to hear this kind of thing — you just need to build relationships with people and make a point of talking to them informally and being open to tangents. I would focus there and see if it changes the type and amount of information that flows your way.

3. Awkward text exchange with a boss-turned-friend-turned-boss

I work in higher education, and I have a situation with my boss I would love some help with. I worked for “Amanda” for a few years, and while she was my supervisor, we had a friendly but professional relationship. Our team was only part-time student workers and us, and we worked together very closely. After I left to complete my PhD, she and I became good friends, regularly meeting for brunches and happy hours, along with a few other former employees. We also texted/emailed regularly. A year and a half later, the person who took on my old position resigned, and Amanda hired me back. At the same time, our team of two became a team of three with the addition of a new full-time staff member, “Gina.”

In the year since my return to work, I felt like Amanda and I were balancing friendship and the supervisor/employee relationship well, though I will admit I did impart a little more distance given her status as my boss and the addition of Gina to our team. My return to the office also coincided with Amanda falling out with one member of our brunch group, so our out-of-office hangouts also largely died out (though we do sometimes get a drink or dinner with Gina after work events). I still see her former friend regularly on my own (which she knows about), but she and I talk about work and our personal lives every day and spend a great deal of time together, so I haven’t really made an effort to schedule alone time outside of work with her.

Last week, she and I had a late-night text conversation that started about a work-related thing, but then devolved into her telling me how much it hurt her that we are no longer friends. She had clearly been drinking, and tone of her texts was rather inappropriate (a close friend who read the texts described them as “insecure high school mean girl”). I was very taken aback by them, and tried to explain that I still thought of her as a friend but that I was trying to navigate a rather muddled personal/professional relationship. I also said I didn’t want to create an environment where Gina might feel excluded. She replied by saying that it made her very sad, but I made it clear how I felt and she’d “just deal with it.” I said I was going to bed but that we should talk about this in person at some point, and she stopped replying.

The next day I just opted to pretend it never happened unless she brought it up, which she didn’t. Her behavior in the office has been more or less as usual, though she has been a bit more distant and on occasion snippy with me. Other than her boundary issues, she is a really great boss and we work well together. I’m not sure if I should bring this up with her, or let it lie unless she brings it up herself. Do you have any advice?

I wouldn’t bring it up. It’s possible that she’s embarrassed by the conversation (or even that she doesn’t remember the details, depending on how much she’d been drinking). As long as she’s treating you more or less the same, I wouldn’t bring it back up again and risk further awkwardness with little gain.

If she does start treating you oddly though, or if you see additional signs that the (necessary) change in your relationship is causing issues, then you might be stuck having to discuss it. I’d approach that as “hey, I’ve tried to be really thoughtful about how we navigate social boundaries now that you’re my boss, and I know that’s inherently weird since the nature of our relationship has changed a couple of time now, but I feel like we’re doing a pretty good job of it.” If you model an approach that’s pretty matter-of-fact that of course things had to change, she might take her cues from you, even if she does feel weird about it. (And it’s pretty normal for either of you to feel weird about it at times! It is weird. That’s okay.)

4. Asking about raises when you’re being hired

I’ve been in my current position (as a librarian at a university) for almost five years. I’ve had one performance-based raise (which are an exception at my institution) and no adjustments for cost-of-living increases. No one on staff has gotten a cost-of-living raise in many years. Thanks to the fact that I’m about to be getting paid effectively *less* than when I started, I’ve started applying for new jobs. When should I ask about the frequency of cost-of-living raises in the hiring process? Or is that something I should assume will happen and it would be weird to ask about it?

You can ask once you have a job offer and are negotiating salary. In that context, you can say, “So that I know what to expect in the future, can you tell me how you typically handle salary increases? Do you have set periods for offering merit raises or cost-of-living adjustments?”

5. Explaining company acquisition on a resume

How does one handle a company acquisition on a resume? I worked at Company A for three years until September 2017, at which point they were acquired by Company B. I immediately began looking for a new job and did not include Company B on my resume, but would explain the situation during a phone interview. I was employed with Company B through January 2018. When my new job did a background check, I had to disclose the information anyway, and felt like I was lying since I didn’t expressly include it on my resume.

What’s the best way to handle this? Should the new company become its own line item, or can I keep the job as one entry, and note that Company A was acquired by Company B in Sept 2017?

It doesn’t need to become its own line item. You can do it this way:

Company A, September 2015 – January 2018 (acquired by Company B in fall 2017)

my employee works late every night, but it seems to be her fault

A reader writes:

Recently I’ve encountered a tricky work issue, and I’m struggling to come up with a solution. I’m a new manager with one direct report. I’m also a recent addition to this team, which I’ve since learned has had a lot of turnover and inconsistent leadership in the past year. My direct report is one of the few people with over a year’s experience working in this group.

So here is the problem: I noticed right away that deadlines are regularly missed and frantic late nights are the norm. The more involved I’ve gotten, the less this has been the case. Not having to stay late personally, however, hasn’t stopped me from occasionally pulling late nights for what I consider “symbolic” reasons. I feel guilty leaving at 5 when my direct report is staring down easily another four hours of work.

At first I tried resolving this problem by taking over part of her workload. This worked for a while, but I was soon fielding angry emails from finance, telling me projects weren’t scoped for this degree of involvement from me. I can only participate in a review capacity. So now I just regularly check in, and I do a lot of “backseat work” over her shoulder. I parse through her work and provide detailed feedback. We’ve avoided coming hard against any deadlines this way, but to be honest, the late nights have not stopped. The more closely I’ve worked with her, the more I feel like it can be attributed to a lack of proactivity and independent problem-solving on her part. It’s like she’ll wait all day for feedback (in the form of very prescriptive instructions), and then spend all night incorporating it.

My perspective on the situation has changed. I now feel like, as long as we aren’t missing deadlines, it’s no longer a problem if she’s regularly working late nights. She may just need more time to complete her work, so that’s going to translate into longer work hours. But I still feel guilty about the situation—particularly when she gives me a report every morning of just how late she stayed the night before. Sometimes she does this in a way that I can tell is more like, “Look how hard I’m working.” But other times, I wonder if she’s framing her frequent late nights as a problem for me to solve. When I head out at normal working hours, she also sometimes makes comments like, “That must be nice.” I suspect she thinks she is working much harder than I am.

The frustrating part is that I don’t know how to say to someone pulling 12-hour days that I think she needs to apply herself more — that, in fact, working harder, instead of just pushing paper around waiting to go home, would allow her finish work and go home much sooner. She also has more experience on this team than I do. I don’t want to undervalue her work or dedication, but I also don’t want to feel guilty every day I leave at a normal time.

What would you do in this situation?

Talk to her! As a general rule, if you as a manager have concerns about an employee that you haven’t shared with the employee, that’s a sign that you need to have a conversation.

I’d frame it this way: “I know you’ve been working long hours and I’ve been trying to work closely with you so I can figure out solutions to that. In doing that, I’ve noticed that the most intensive parts of your work often get done in the evenings rather than during the day. I’d like to shift that. I think if you were doing things like X and Y during the day, there would be far less need for you to work into the evenings. Can we talk about what’s getting in the way of you being able to do that?”

Also: “My sense is that often you’re not moving work forward as quickly during the day because you’re waiting for more detailed instructions from me. I’d like you to be solving problems like X and Y yourself, both because that makes sense for your role and because that will let you keep work moving without having to wait for me.”

You may then need to do some coaching with her about how to problem-solve on her own. (There’s some advice on how to do that here.) But if that’s a reasonable expectation for her job, you do need to explain to her that you expect that and hold her accountable for doing that.

I would not, however, decide that you’re fine with her regularly working late nights as long as she’s not missing deadlines. It’s not really okay for someone to do that as a regular thing, for a whole bunch of reasons. First, it’s not great for her (for obvious reasons). Second, it’s not great for you as her manager — it’s not going to reflect well on you to people who notice it, because it’ll look like you either overwork her or aren’t addressing a problem. Third, it’s not great for others who see this happening and may think regular late nights are part of your office’s culture. If the work should take eight hours a day and it’s taking her 12, that’s something you have to address.

And you need her to know that that shouldn’t be happening, and that the two of you will need to actively work together to stop that need. That’ll also hopefully curtail those “must be nice” comments about your own hours, which are particularly inappropriate given the context.

Also … how’s her work in general? I’m asking because what you’re describing often goes hand-in-hand with lower work quality in general, especially given the lack of independent decision-making. And if that’s the case here, this is just one part of a larger issue that you’ll have to address.

how to manage an overly talkative intern

This week on the Ask a Manager podcast, I talk to a manager whose intern is way too talkative — and who has some boundary problems too.

The show is 23 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:

Here’s the letter that kicks off the discussion:

I could really use some advice on managing an inexperienced person. I have an intern this summer who is a loud, nervous talker and who occasionally slips into inappropriate topics of conversation. When discussing her work, she goes on and on, reiterating a question three or four times and explaining why she’s asking … all without taking a break to let me answer, even the most basic questions. For example, I manage our social media for the company, when she asked what our Twitter handle was, she asked “what was the Twitter handle? I just want to write it down so I don’t forget, or I guess I could just look it up. Like, duh, that wouldn’t be that hard. I should probably already know this, but I just haven’t been on twitter much. I mean, I posted those things you asked me about, but I wasn’t like ON Twitter to do it, so I didn’t notice what the company twitter handle was.”

Once or twice I have interrupted her by saying “ok,” and holding up a hand (like a “slow down” gesture), and answered her question. That went fine, but didn’t change anything. She shows no sign of getting comfortable, and I don’t know that she’s aware she’s doing it.

I know it is because she’s nervous. This is her first office job, and she’s pretty young, even for an intern. Other people have noticed and started avoiding her a little bit, and it has only been three weeks. 

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

update: my intern is refusing assignments because of her politics

Remember last week’s letter about the intern who was refusing tasks because of political objections? Here’s the (very interesting!) update.

I apologise for being so late in getting back to you. I had a family emergency and missed seeing that you had posted my question until after you had closed comments. Then I wanted to take the time to read through all the comments (1300+!) before replying. Please feel free to post as much – or as little – of this as you would like.

If I could clarify a few things: the politician in question is not a Nazi, literal or otherwise. He is a dyed-in-the-wool right-wing conservative with whom I disagree on virtually every issue. He is controversial in part because of his private life, which he has made part of his public persona – otherwise, I would believe that his private life is no one’s business but his. To avoid starting another firestorm, I want to make it clear that as far as I know, he has not been implicated in the #MeToo movement. He has, however, been repeatedly accused of cronyism and nepotism, and embodies the cliche of the “family values” politician who regularly trades in his wife for a younger model.

I find myself in the strange position of sounding like I am defending him, which I certainly am not – as I said, I have protested outside his offices before. But I feel compelled to point out that the wilder speculations about his identity and politics were incorrect, if understandable, given that I was reluctant to give any more details about him.

In part, that’s what surprised me so much about my intern’s response. I’m not trying to police anyone’s feelings, but her vehemence seemed disproportionate. What she actually said to me (as close as I can remember) is “I hate that guy so much. If you forced me to have anything to do with him I would keep punching him and punching him and punching him until he fell over on his stupid smug face.’” So, like many of your commenters imagined, it was a hyperbolic – and inappropriate – comment, but not one I viewed as a serious threat to anyone’s safety.

I also want to point out that there is a difference in our institution between a “private tour’”and a “VIP tour.” Again, a number of your commenters were correct when they suggested that the private tour was done for the convenience of everyone, and not as a statement of support for this politician. It is our policy to try and arrange these private tours (with no press or PR attention) for anyone who is in the public eye. And we do this not because it’s a special treat for them – although you could argue that it is – but because it minimises the disruption to everyone else. As much as it seems reasonable to suggest that this man buy a ticket and wait in line like other visitors, that would actually be a disaster. Having someone at his level of national prominence walking openly around with the public would be an enormous security threat (for which we would be responsible). Not to mention, it would completely destroy the chance for anyone else to enjoy the exhibition.

His office approached us to request the private tour. We would – and have – granted the same to anyone at a similar level, on either side of the political spectrum. We have also done this for local and national celebrities and well-known sports figures who want to see the exhibition. Again, I want to emphasise that these are NOT press or PR events; in this particular case, no one was aware of the visit outside of museum staff and this politician’s employees.

Several of your commenters suggested that I was interested in maintaining appearances over morality. I know those comments were intended as criticisms, but I was grateful for them because they prodded me to think more clearly about a point that I think I articulated very poorly before. Namely, that for me, it is very important to think of a museum as an institution that is open for everyone, even those I strongly disagree with. Being welcoming to everyone *is* a moral standard for me. We are a public institution, funded by the public, and should be open to the public. I’m not naive enough to think that museums will fix the world or that my work will transform every bigot who sees it, but I wouldn’t be doing what I do if I didn’t believe in the potential of art and history to change ideas and minds.

That said, I agree with you that there is a place where everyone must draw a line. I don’t know what I would do if I was asked to give a private tour to someone like David Duke or Nick Griffin. I can’t imagine that my museum would put me into such a situation, honestly. But if something like that were to happen, I would almost certainly politely step aside, and be willing to accept any consequences for doing so.

So here’s what happened with the actual situation I wrote in to you about. In my initial surprise at her response, I told my intern that she could bow out. As I said, the offer to be included in such a tour would be considered a perk by a lot of people starting out – not because of the person being given the tour, but because the interns get a chance to see more behind-the-scenes aspects of museum work. As such, I had a number of volunteers from the intern pool eager to step in and do the logistics work. I did the tour solo (with the exception of security people, of course) and it went smoothly.

But I did speak to my intern about her response and the “punching and punching” comment. I told her that that kind of comment was totally inappropriate in any work context, but especially in ours. She seemed surprised, and responded that she thought I was “cool,” which was why she felt free to say what she did. I told her that it had nothing to do with being cool, but with what is appropriate in a workplace, and that a comment like hers – along with her refusal to do the logistics work – could have ended in her termination. Again, she seemed surprised at this, but also seemed to take it in, and she thanked me for my input. Honestly, *I’m* not surprised at her. I have a lot of experience dealing with interns, and often they reach us at the ages of 27 or 28 towards the end of their graduate studies. Many times these interns have literally never had a job before, and they find it hard to adjust to an actual working environment, where they have to show up on time and do things they don’t want to. I’m not denigrating them at all, please understand that. It’s just that they are learning the “soft skills” of working far later than most people do, and I’m usually pretty patient with that while also setting firm expectations.

Anyway, I wanted to thank you very much for running my question, and for moderating the firestorm that it apparently ignited. I appreciated many of your commenters ideas and opinions, and apologise for missing the post on the day, and not foreseeing that this would be such a loaded question. Thanks again!