A reader writes:
I am writing about a habit of my colleague that really gets on my nerves. When my colleague is speaking, he is prone to prefacing pretty standard words or phrases with expressions like “what I like to call” or “as I like to say.” Although I find this frankly silly when he is speaking aloud, I don’t really mind. However, he also writes professional emails that way. Indeed, pretty standard idiomatic expressions, jargon or even non-jargon words are encased in quotation marks at a rate of at least one word or phrase per paragraph. It’s unprofessional, and it has become a major pet peeve of mine!
I’m much younger than this colleague, but I am soon to receive a promotion to be his manager. What should I do? Should I “ignore” the quotation marks? Should I make a suggestion? If I say something, how do I do so without sounding condescending? Should I wait until I become his boss to “correct” this “faux pas”?
Well, you are about to become what I like to call “in charge of him,” so that will make it much easier to address this — but yes, definitely wait until you’re his boss to do it. Because at that point, you’ll have standing to comment on it, and it will be a directive rather than merely a suggestion.
If you’ll be reviewing any written material from him before it goes out, that will be the easiest way to do it — send back edits that include guidance on this. For instance: “Please remove the two usages of ‘as I like to say’ since they’re unnecessary” and “lots of extraneous quotation marks in here — can you remove other than for actual quotes?” If you see it in his written materials after that, bringing it to his attention again and say, “Could you be vigilant about watching out for these things in the future?”
Of course, if you’re only seeing it in emails, there’s less of a natural opening for the feedback, but you should still just be direct. For instance: “I’ve noticed two things in your emails that I wanted to ask you to watch out for.”
Here’s hoping that he doesn’t replace this habit with random capitalization, which I find Even Worse.