my performance review included an anonymous complaint that I don’t sit up straight

A reader writes:

I just received a favorable performance review (4 out of 5, “highly valued contribution”) from my secretarial supervisor (I am a legal secretary in a large corporate law firm).

In the written report, I received two petty but plausible criticisms — (1) my desk was untidy (it’s not, but if the anonymous complainant wants psychotically clean, I can do that), and (2) I need to “soften my tone” while speaking on the phone (okay, I can lower my voice).

However, I also received a third, anecdotal, “off-the-record” comment from my supervisor after discussion of the written review — someone had anonymously reported that I was not “sitting up straight,” which therefore, according to them, gave an unprofessional appearance. At that point, my supervisor did an impression of me leaning back in my chair like Al Bundy watching tv in a Barcalounger. The next day when she did a walk-around to look at my desk (the tidy appearance of which she nodded at approvingly), she stuck her chest out to show me how I should be sitting, and said in a stage whisper, “Sit up straight!”

My problem is not with the complaint, which is stupid and didn’t affect my evaluation (I think); my problem is that my supervisor thought it was something she should mention in the review. It seems to have been her strategy in performance reviews this year to introduce idiotic complaints off the record after discussion of the written report; a secretarial colleague of mine told me she was anonymously reported for “not saying hello” to two coworkers.

Do I complain about the stupidity of this critical observation re my posture to my supervisor’s manager, or just let it go? I don’t want to be faulted in my review next year because my hair doesn’t smell fresh enough, or something equally ludicrous.

I’m torn between letting it go since it didn’t affect your overall rating but also wanting to address the bigger issue of your manager including petty secondhand stuff without applying her own judgment to it.

It is useful in doing performance evaluations to get input from coworkers who work closely with the person being evaluated. But in doing that, a manager needs to apply her own judgment to the input — who it’s coming from, how much weight their opinion should carry, what might be informing their perspective, and whether the input is worthy of being included at all. A manager’s goal should be to use the input thoughtfully and to the extent that she judges it useful, not just to relay it without any filter. Your manager seems to just be acting as a transcriber, and that’s not how this should work.

That said … it’s possible that “not sitting up straight” is shorthand about how professionally you’re coming across in general. It’s possible that the person gave your manager more input along those lines and she just did a terrible job of conveying that to you. So I’d reflect a bit on whether that could be the case — are you generally coming across as polished and professional, what’s your body language like, etc.?

But if you’re sure that’s not the case — and if you’re scrupulously honest with yourself in evaluating it — then I do think that if this kind of thing comes up again, it’s reasonable to say to your manager, “Is this a concern that you share as well?” and/or “Can you tell me more about why this feels like a concern so that I can better put it in context?” It’s possible that you’ll hear more context that does change your mind (like “when you were unexpectedly out sick for a week, your messy desk meant we couldn’t find important files”). But even if you don’t, it could at least give you a better understanding of why she’s giving this stuff enough weight to mention it.

And if there’s something that you feel strongly about to push back on now, you should. For example, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to say something like, “You know, I make a point of being highly professional in my work and my communication, and I don’t feel comfortable having my posture monitored like this. If you think my posture is regularly coming across as unprofessional, I’d appreciate you raising it with me, but otherwise I’d like to be be given the leeway to manage my posture on my own.”

{ 272 comments… read them below }

  1. Bend & Snap

    It sounds like these may be actually coming from the boss but she thinks coming from a 3rd party may give them more weight.

    My old boss used to do that. “PEOPLE have said X” and I finally cottoned on that PEOPLE really meant him.

    1. Baskin

      That was the first thing I thought of… especially when the boss makes a show of sticking out her chest and exclaiming to sit up straight. That is probably why it was also brought up after the evaluation, it’d be one of those things that was on her mind but she didn’t want it in the file as an issue that came from her.
      I really hope that OP at least points out to the boss that even though she is aware she should have better posture that it isn’t just something you can fix overnight and it can be humiliating and demeaning to be constantly told/shown to be sitting up straight in front of coworkers.

    2. OP

      The complainant is almost certainly one of my several Partner bosses. Attorneys can stipulate to reviewers that their feedback is anonymous. My issue is more that my supervisor just reports all the comments she gets, without regard to confirming their accuracy. This may be because in law firms, the partners are owners, and if they want something told to you , they feel they can demand it.

      1. FiveWheels

        Also at least in my jurisdiction, attorneys are assumed to be entirely truthful about everything. This is obviously fairly comical, but even implying an attorney is being liberal with the truth is considered highly inappropriate. So if one of them says you don’t sit up straight, even if it’s obviously incorrect, the reviewer might have to act like they believe it.

        1. OP

          What does the paralegal do who has been told by this guy that he’s an idiot? How do you correct for idiocy? I do take your point, however, that if that’s what Partner A wants, that’s what Partner A gets (within reason). In response to the untidy desk complaint, what I did to my already tidy desk was, I removed everything (e.g., manila folders and papers) and put them in lateral files. Now my desk has nothing on it except supplies (pens, copy stands, binder clips), the PC monitor, keyboard and mouse, and the phone. It’s tidy!

          1. FiveWheels

            That kind of super tidy desk is heaven to me, I find it hard to focus even with an elastic band out of place, heh.

            In response to mad partners – who live in almost every law firm – often the best thing to do is nod, smile, ignore them and get on with your job.

            1. OP

              Yes, that’s what I’m hearing from my secretarial colleagues — like water off a duck’s back, just be impassive, let it blow over, and move on.

          2. WIncredulous

            I must have my projects sitting out in my desk. If I file them in any way I think they are “done” and that’s when I get into trouble.

            1. OP

              I’m the same way — out of sight, out of mind. Unfortunately, I now have to conform my desk to someone else’s idea of a helpful work environment. This is a good example of counterproductive petty criticism; I am now more likely to forget something for which I previously had a visual reminder.

              1. Miss Betty

                I’m also a legal secretary and I have to say I’ve never seen a totally clean desk in any firm I’ve worked in, unless that person was out for some length of time. If I saw a desk as clean as what you’re forced to have now, I’d belive she had no work to do. Does this partner actually have to do things anymore or does he just schmooze and sign things? (And then, of course, bill for it!) I’ll take that back – I did know one attorney who had a perfectly clean desk and schmooze and sign was all he did. His paralegal did literally all the research and writing.

                1. OP

                  I know, I feel the same way about totally clean desks — they make me worry for the person, that they’re not getting any work, and they’re going to canned.

                  This partner is actually a fantastically productive attorney with a desk full of neat stacks of paper — different deals, different stacks. I think they hold support staff to a different standard, though.

                2. Bartlett for President

                  Thinking back to the many after-school and summer hours I spent working at my father’s large (for the area, at least) law firm as a helper to the secretaries, I can’t think of a single desk that was clean – except, my father’s. But, he had numerous cabinets that were really pull-out tables that were stacked with various things – but, easily hid away for client meetings. In fact, I remember when a lawyer relocated to the other branch of the firm, one of the secretaries was moved into the office because she simply had so many files that it was getting impossible to contain in her area.

                  The only “clean” desk in the whole place was mine, and that was because it wasn’t really mine…it was just the spare desk area that I given to have a place of my own, after the partners realized the secretaries were much, much happier having me around because I took care of the boring, tedious work that really didn’t require much thinking – and, the secretaries could focus on doing actual legal secretary work.

                3. FiveWheels

                  I used to work somewhere like that. Single file policy, we were only allowed one on the desk at a time. Work on it, finish, put it away. It’s the most productive I’ve ever been anywhere, not least because it forced everyone not to multitask.

      2. Artemesia

        Messy desk and slouchy posture add up to projecting a slovenly impression; I’d be carefully reflecting on posture, tone, dress etc all those things that go into the definition of ‘professional’ in that setting. If partners are complaining about posture then you may not be projecting the professional competent image they want for the firm.

        As a messy desk person myself who slouches, I can separate productivity from dress, mess and posture — but in a public facing role, the partners want crisp professional demeanor and this is probably how it is getting communicated.

        When the owners want X from you, that is what you have to deliver to work there (when it is at all reasonable — and these are reasonable things to expect)

        1. Rafe

          I thought this too. And “tone” in this context almost certainly doesn’t mean OP is talking too loud. Some partner is complaining more about the attitude OP is taking with clients on the phone.

          1. OP

            No, as I’ve mentioned in several other responses, it was a misleadingly worded volume complaint. I specifically asked the supervisor what she meant by “soften my tone”, because I do take great care to be very courteous to all callers. Clients are extremely, extremely important in the law business. They are the beginning and the end. I only connect with them over the phone, not in person, so that’s the only chance I have to give them a favorable impression of the firm.

            1. LeRainDrop

              I would venture to say that your use of the phrase “as I’ve mentioned in several other responses” here is an example of the critique you were given. No need to be so snotty. To soften your tone, just delete that phrase.

              1. OP

                “[A]s I’ve mentioned in several other responses” doesn’t sound snotty to me. It sounds like a neutral statement of fact. Do you read it as a reprimand to Rafe? It’s certainly not meant to be. It’s meant to let readers know that I’ve discussed the point in other answers, if they’re interested to read more about it. Honestly, I’m just trying to be accurate and helpful.

                1. LeRainDrop

                  Yes, I read it that you are annoyed you have to repeat yourself. An example of how you could soften your tone would be to simply remove that unnecessary phrase.

          2. Ask a Manager Post author

            I don’t read it as snotty at all. It’s something people often say when responding to comments here to explain why they might be repeating information that they’ve also said elsewhere in the thread or to give more context.

            1. OP

              Thanks, you articulated much more clearly what I was trying to say in my answer to Sara LeClerc. I’m just trying to be a good comments section citizen, scouts honor.

        2. Natalie

          Well said. From my opinion, the last line was inappropriate and passive aggressive, as well. (“…manage my own posture…”) A better response would include some sort of reflection on the behavior, or just a simple indication that the message was received. (“Thank you for sharing that. I appreciate the observation.”) You don’t have to slave over an apology or throw yourself under the bus, but there is a professional way to receive feedback. In the end, it doesn’t matter what you THINK you’re doing. It matters how it is perceived. And if someone is investing the time to coach you, it’s best to open yourself to the feedback and be reflective about the precipitating cause. It’s okay to sometimes say to yourself, “I can do better.”

          I have an employee who is like this – simply cannot take any constructive feedback, always on the defense, and doesn’t buy into the professional standards of our organization. You have to be careful – when every piece of feedback has to be immediately qualified, you can be labeled as “difficult.” And if that becomes a pattern, after a while you’re just not a “fit” … and then you’re obsolete.

      3. Stranger than fiction

        Is your posture actually bad? I have bad posture and it’s been commented to me (not in a review tho) and some people do have curved spines and without a lot of chiropractic help and yoga and things, my posture is always going to be bad. However I do make it a point to sit up as straight as I can at meetings and such when higher ups are present. But just sitting at my desk, it feels completely unnatural. I think your boss should be careful.

        1. OP

          No, my posture is fine. I should have stated up front that I’ve been at this particular firm for 10 years and this is the first time I’ve been cited in a review for “not sitting up straight” and for an untidy desk. Not coincidentally, it’s also the first time I’ve gotten feedback from the problem partner (I was assigned him 8 months ago when my predecessor left the firm to move across country).

          I’ve heard about the voice before, though. I think I’m a little hard of hearing.

          1. Not So NewReader

            Is this more about “You are NOT Jane, and I want Jane back” than actually about you?

            1. OP

              It absolutely could be that. “Jane” was his secretary for 17 years. Wonderful young lady.

        2. Koko

          I have hyperlordosis which looks like “great posture” to a lot of people but is actually horrible for my back and causes a lot of pain for me. I’ve been working to correct (very long, slow process) but in the meantime it means I need to be able to do things like lean back into a chair with lumbar support to stop myself arching, or lean forward to relieve the arching I’ve been doing subconsciously. I make myself crazy enough obsessing about my posture and spinal alignment all day, the last thing I need is someone else monitoring it and making me feel like I can’t move the way I need to to get relief.

          1. Ms. Anne Thrope

            I came to say basically this.
            1. Some people have scoliosis, osteoporosis, etc. They literally can’t “sit up straight.”
            2. No one can sit in a rigid position for 8 hours straight without winding up on opioids. You have to move and shift around.
            3. What is this, the army? “Chest out, belly in, yes sir!”

      4. TootsNYC

        Even if your manager didn’t feel the criticism was accurate, wouldn’t you want to know about it?
        Since it’s coming from the owners; and so that you can manage the perception, even if you don’t need to manage the actual thing?

        1. OP

          I would indeed like to know, IF I were also told the source of the complaint. From some people, I’d take it with a grain of salt; with others, I’d take it seriously.

    3. Mike C.

      It’s like a bad political interview where unnamed sources are cited claiming that the subject has done X and asking them to respond without any context.

      1. OP

        Yep, that’s what it feels like every year at the annual performance review, where new weird and petty complaints are reported — they vary according to which new attorneys you’re working for, and you can only guess who said what.

        1. De Minimis

          Common for professional services….I remember the “military tribunal” style of evaluations, put together by some anonymous panel…

    4. the gold digger

      A former boss told me that I “used big words that make people feel stupid.”

      When I asked him for examples, he couldn’t give any.

      When I shared the conversation with a co-worker, my co-worker said, “He’s talking about himself. He is the people who feel stupid.”

      1. OP

        That’s hilarious. He was definitely talking about himself. I feel better now, your boss’s complaint was much pettier and ridiculous than the one my supervisor reported to me.

        1. TrainerGirl

          OP, I’m wondering if this complaint is really about posture. Because your boss’s example of “sticking her chest out” makes me wonder if perhaps the partner wanted you to show off your “assets” instead of merely sitting up straight.

          1. OP

            This guy is perfectly well-behaved (in that regard, at least), and way too scrupulous in this day and age of hair-trigger sensitivity re potential harassment and discrimination claims, for this to be the case. I think my supervisor was modeling to me her old-fashioned notion of good posture. Her mother probably admonished her to sit up straight in the same way when she was a little girl.

      2. Terra

        I always wonder if complaints like this are specifically designed to downgrade scores and keep people from being eligible for raises in some metric based systems. My current boss loves claiming that he’s “had complaints about my voice” but can never give any details beyond there being “complaints” about “your voice” which is incredible unhelpful.

        1. OP

          Yes, they are specifically designed to provide justification for scores which were determined (by market factors) before you even got reviewed. Or it feels that way, anyway.

        2. Lauren

          The sit up straight thing is easy – get them to pay for a better chair, and be seen as doing straight back exercises for 3 min intervals during all meetings with that person. Train your back, show you did correct it like the desk messiness.

          Voices are also a thing that is anecdotal, and you can’t claim you fixed it – because it is subjective – so the boss can continue to claim it even if it is bogus. Since this is your manager, ask him / her after every call or meeting if your tone was ok – sound real interested in the feedback and ask privately. If they keep saying no, then eventually you can ask if they feel that you’ve resolved the issue. Beat them at their own thing. I hate gender feedback (you need more confidence / your too aggressive in the same review). Without examples you can’t refute it, so don’t try. Just make an effort to ask in the moment if your voice was ok. Get them to repeat ‘yes, you are fine’. Then eventually, you can list that you’ve made a conscious effort to address, the posture, the desk mess, and the voice – ask if they believe that you’ve been able to resolve it. Make it a non-issue by shoving it down their throats that you’ve complied. It’s petty, it’s stupid – bend over backwards to “correct it”.

          1. Christopher Tracy

            The sit up straight thing is easy – get them to pay for a better chair, and be seen as doing straight back exercises for 3 min intervals during all meetings with that person. Train your back, show you did correct it like the desk messiness.

            I know you’re being facetious, but yes! I slump back in my chair at work because no matter how many times I adjust it, that dang thing is still uncomfortable. I need my back to be completely up against the back of the seat due to various back issues too. This feedback would piss me off.

            1. TootsNYC

              I wanted to say this as well–some chairs’ construction makes them slump-encouraging. Or, the positioning of them might do that as well.

          2. Qmatilda

            For a trial college thing I was told in one panel review to both stand still, move around more and be more assertive and less so.

            I just laughed and walked out.

        3. Lana Kane

          They are. I had a former manager admit that once, that if she gives too many Excellent markings then the employee can push for a raise or something. So managers are encouraged to, let us say, temper their enthusiasm. I actually asked her once because the written portion of my review was glowing, but my actual marks were mostly Meets Expectations, so I pointed out the disconnect.

          At least she was honest.

      3. Murphy

        I was once told that I couldn’t express any excitement for getting into grad school because it would make the people who didn’t get in (none of whom had applied or wanted to go to grad school – this was at a bank and I was going back to school for my MA in Poli Sci) feel bad.

        I sort of just laughed and said, “you can’t be serious?” But oh, they were.

        I loved quitting that job.

        1. the gold digger

          I had a job in corporate finance at Ryder (yes, I am naming and shaming) where there were not only no celebrations of promotions, they were not even announced. When I asked why, the VP told me that if they announced a promotion, the people who didn’t get promoted might be jealous.

          I left there after a year and a day (long enough not to repay my signing bonus and my move package) and have never missed it.

          1. Koko

            The unfortunate thing there, is that by treating promotions that way they actually encouraged people to feel jealous.

            If my company acted like they expected me to be upset about Khaleesi’s promotion and felt they had to hide it from me, I’d start to wonder if there was good reason for me to be upset about it. Maybe being passed over for promotion is worse than I thought it was if the company feels the need to soften the blow. Am I supposed to be getting promoted more often? Am I not a good employee if I’m not getting promoted?

            1. TootsNYC

              Oh, yeah! My subordinate was promoted and given part of my duties while I was on vacation. (she had accepted another job and had to give notice while I was away; my boss counter-offered w/ the promotion)

              When I got back and my boss told me about it, her first comment was, “I expect you to be happy for her.”

              I thought, “wait, why wouldn’t I be happy for her? It sounds like you expect me to be UNhappy about this. And the only reason someone would be UNhappy would be if it was a bad thing for them–so you must think this is a bad thing for me!”

              It was, essentially.

        2. Stranger than fiction

          Recently, my Bf did a fist pump when he got some good news about his project at a meeting and later his boss told him not to do that. We’re still scratching our heads over that one because normally this boss is reasonable.

      4. Artemesia

        I’ve had that problem from time to time. I speak English; I am at a loss to figure out how to speak like ‘regular folks’ whatever the heck that is.

      5. Heather

        That’s hilarious! But you bring up a great point about how to approach personal critiques that are thinly veiled as professional feedback. I had the president of a company pull me aside once and tell me I had a “negative aura.” That was news to me because I sat next to a guy who had me laughing all day. So I asked him, “Can you give me specific examples of when you felt I was being negative?” and he shrugged. Long story short, the place was toxic, and I left soon after.

        Always ask for examples! It’ll help you figure out of it’s legitimate or someone trying to make a personal problem your problem.

      6. Important Moi

        I’ve heard that myself about after I used the word “jostle.” It was an opening to a conversation which I learned I used other words that made people uncomfortable.

        When I asked for examples, he couldn’t give any.

        But he wanted me to know it made me come across “hointy” which put me in the position of deciding to not tell him the word he was looking for was “haughty.”

      7. Agile Phalanges

        Yes! I wrote a paragraph that included multisyllabic words (see?), explaining some problem or another. My boss replied that he didn’t have a clue what I was talking about. I replied with very small words. But great words. Lots of words. In short sentences. And he replied “why didn’t you say so the first time?” My co-worker (who also has a multisyllabic vocabulary) and I had such a laugh…

      8. Not So NewReader

        Isn’t odd that the many, many people who read here don’t seem to have any trouble understanding you? Must be a fluke. I mean, many, many people cannot possibly be correct, right?

    5. Kms1025

      I think these are coming from the boss, herself…she is just claiming the “everybody says” cover…crummy management style : (

      1. OP

        All supervisors are different, I recognize that; ours is the kind that you see about five times a year. She holes up in her office (on a different floor from mine), and we see her at meetings, trainings and during review season. She doesn’t observe me on a daily basis — only on guerrilla walk-arounds just before, and during, review season. And if I run into her accidentally in the hall outside of IT or HR.

    6. OP

      I just recognized that your post title is a reference to the scene in Legally Blonde when the Jennifer Coolidge character teaches the Reese Witherspoon character how to showcase her “wares”. Great movie!

    7. Rafe

      And in any case, the boss doing a stage whisper “Sit Up Straight!” now definitely is directly from the boss, so there’s that.

  2. Juli G.

    Not knowing how credible any of the feedback is, I wouldn’t interpret “soften your tone” as too loud. I would hear it as “too sharp/gruff/impatient”.

    Honestly, I think your review sounds a little nitpicky but if you’re committed to making the suggested changes, make sure you’re reading that one right.

    1. OP

      I thought “soften my tone” meant, speak more like a lady. But I directly asked my supervisor what she meant by “soften my tone” because it was such an ambiguous phrasing, and she said, “Less loud”. She euphemizes a lot in her written reviews, in ways that obscure her direct meaning.

      1. the gold digger

        If that is an issue – that you speak too loudly, it should not wait until your review. Instead, your boss should tell you, in the moment, “I noticed that when you are on the phone, I can hear you even when I am five desks away. Would you please speak more quietly?”

        It is not a review-level worthy issue – it is a small thing that can be corrected in an instant. Hoarding something like this – something so small and so easy to fix – for an annual review is completely inappropriate.

        And – just reading the letter to my husband, his first comment was, “That sounds like a totally sexist criticism!”

        1. OP

          That’s what my stepmother (a nurse manager who reviews people) said — it’s a sexist comment. I didn’t really see it like that. Incidentally, my posture is perfectly fine. I do occasionally lean back in my chair when I’m listening to someone rattle on and on on the phone. But as I told my supervisor in the follow up review where she gave me my (as usual, miniscule) raise and bonus, “I have to be able shift my weight in my chair”.

          1. Elle

            It’s just kind of creepy that a.) someone is scrutinizing you that closely, and b.) that they care so deeply!!

            1. OP

              Are you Elle from Legally Blonde? ;)

              Yes, it is kind of creepy, but that can be the working world!

            2. j-nonymous

              OP –

              The only thing that I could think is that if the anonymous reviewer happened to see you leaning back in the chair on several occasions, it might generate some sort of notion that you aren’t comporting yourself as professionally as need be. (Mostly, I think that’s a crock o’ crap, but some people have very rigid views about what kind of body language is appropriate, and when you factor in the power differences between Partners and staff and the potential gender-specific views that may come into play, this shit is rampant.)

              On the way the feedback was given: I had a boss who did this kind of thing where she’d round up all this feedback from peers and other leaders and present it to me unfiltered. Very frequently in my case, one person’s feedback contradicted another person’s feedback and my boss didn’t do anything to wrap a narrative around it–or more importantly–present it in such a way that there was something I could actually *do* with the feedback.

              It’s really frustrating to get the unfiltered feedback dump from your boss–especially in the context of a review, but as best as possible just try to view it as information and see what you can learn from it. Maybe the lesson is: the Partner is an ass, or your boss isn’t skilled at giving feedback. Ultimately, though, you get to decide what to do with the feedback.

              That said, if your boss is coming around reminding you to sit up straight, this *isn’t* some minor comment that doesn’t have any bearing on your review. Whether it was couched as inconsequential or not, people tend to follow up on things that are important to them.

              1. OP

                “if your boss is coming around reminding you to sit up straight, this *isn’t* some minor comment that doesn’t have any bearing on your review.”

                She was performing for the partner, I think — that’s actually what made me realize it was probably him who complained. His office door is about five feet from my desk, and his chair is 10 feet from my desk. She did her chest-out, “Sit up straight!” demonstration right in front of his door, in full view of him. I was actually standing at the printer at the time, so I held out my hands palms up, and asked, “This is not straight?” She replied, “You’re not sitting”.

                1. J-nonymous

                  Wow. Just…wow.

                  I think your boss is actually making this much worse by performing this way for the partner.

                  That sucks. Your boss doesn’t appear to know how to manage up (or down for that matter).

            3. Jennifer

              That’s what happens when you serve the public. The entire public feels entitled to nitpick every single thing about you.

        2. I'm a Little Teapot

          Yeah, I was just about to post that I doubt you’d get the complaint about your posture and the legal secretary would get the complaint about “not saying hello” to a couple of coworkers once (!) if you were men.

          A couple jobs ago, the HR person developed a nasty grudge against me because she once waved to me and I didn’t notice she was there. After that, even after I apologized when she confronted me, she made snide comments every single time she saw me about how I was stuck up and too good for her. It was bizarre.

          1. the gold digger

            My mom was annoyed because she had waved at someone who was jogging past her yard and wearing earbuds. The jogger did not wave back. My mom – bless her heart – was convinced she had been snubbed.

            “Mom,” I tried to explain, “when I am jogging, all I can think of is how much I hate what I am doing and how long until I am done. When I am not thinking about that, I am listening to the political podcast I downloaded and getting really ticked off at the state of our country. I really do not notice people! I promise she just did not see you and that there was no ill intent.”

            1. Loose Seal

              I don’t see other people when I’m driving. I mean, of course I see them but it just registers as something on the road to keep track of not as someone I know. I cannot tell you how many times people have been upset with me because I didn’t wave back to them when they passed me. I wouldn’t even notice my own husband if he drove past me accompanied by a marching band and the entire squad of the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders. It’s not a personal slight but people can get so torn up about it. I’ve never understood that.

              1. Merry and Bright

                Sympathy here. Quite a few times I have been walking along the street and someone has shouted my name or sounded their car horn. When I turn round the car has already sped by so I have no idea who it was. Some days later I get “I called you from my car the other day and you ignored me!” Or something to that effect.

            2. WIncredulous

              A former co-worker would constantly tell me that my then-husband, soon-to-be-ex wouldn’t wave back at her when she met him on the road. He is a state trooper. Waving isn’t really their thing. These complaints happened for years and years. OMG, it’s not like I could control him waving !

          2. moss

            I had a person from another department drift vaguely past me, enquire about my coworker, and then drift away again. It came up on my review that I was unhelpful to other departments. Eff that place, never once have I looked back except to gleefully note how far I’ve come.

        3. Qmatilda

          Does your voice just really carry? Mine does and even if I whisper you can hear me at a decent distance…nope I don’t need a mic, thank you very much.

          Horrible in an open office plan though.

          And yes, totally sexist.

          1. OP

            Yes, I’m afraid my voice does carry a bit, and I do have a loud and enthusiastic laugh. I am trying to rein it in. I am very polite and friendly to clients and co-workers both on the phone. The partner just doesn’t want to be distracted by noise.

        4. Brooke

          The volume of someone’s voice can be pretty distracting. I work in an open-plan office and all it takes is a couple moderately-loud talkers near me and I have trouble concentrating on my own calls. I can politely raise the topic but as is the case with most habits, people revert back to their norms pretty quickly.

          1. Brooke

            … I should also mention that in 20 years of working, this was definitely the case for both sexes – both on the talking and hearing ends of the equation.

      2. Juli G.

        I should have known you would follow up! That just seems like an off way for her to phrase it. I think I’m more annoyed by your boss than you are. :)

        1. OP

          My supervisor has protected me in the past from a bully partner, so I see that she can be a force for good as well as a force for petty stupidity. I think she’s afraid to use her own judgment re reviews, frankly — she is very devoted to toeing the party line.

      3. Corporate Drone

        How many men were asked to “soften their tones” in performance reviews? This “feedback” is both ludicrous and insulting.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          Eh, the OP says above that she asked for clarification and it turned out it’s about talking loudly. I’ve certainly asked men to work on lowering their voices when it could be heard booming through the office in a distracting way.

          1. Dog Allergies

            At my old office there was a man who had a booming voice and you could hear him 5 cubicle rows away. A few discreet complaints to his boss and you could tell when his boss spoke to him because it had an immediate impact. Some people are just loud, but I suspect women are asked to be quiet more often than men.

        2. Mazzy

          Why are you calling it “feedback” and not just feedback? I get the feeling that it is nitpicking in this example, but right now I work with a guy who talks loud, complains a lot, and makes sarcastic comments and trivialities, and they’ve told him a harsher version of “soften your tone” a few times

      4. LQ

        This is so odd. Tone and volume are different. They are different dials!
        (I would be more offended if someone told me to soften my tone than be less loud, though I know I’m loud so that may be part of it.)

    2. Sadsack

      Yes, I think tone means how you are speaking, not how loudly. That would be volume. Some may think OP comes off as abrasive or otherwise not pleasant, so she should follow up in that one while she’s at it.

      1. OP

        No, it’s volume, I directly asked the supervisor what she meant by that, and she said to be less loud. I was surprised she put it that way when all she had to say was, speak less loudly.

        1. Mephyle

          From what you have said, I wouldn’t trust her to have the discernment, or the ability to express herself, to know whether her description of your tone as “not soft enough” is that she finds it too loud, or too brusque, in spite of what she said.

          I’m not sure I explained that well. She thinks she wants you to lower your volume, but I wouldn’t trust that it’s what she really wants.

          1. OP

            I think I understand what you mean now. She’s not unintelligent, and she’s fluent in corporate/HR-speak, that’s for sure — it may have been the case that she repeated his words verbatim, and didn’t really know what he meant, either, and was taking a guess. I think she just bangs these reviews out like a production line. She’s got a lot of secretaries to review. She’s pretty isolated from the attorneys. She doesn’t know their personalities at all, really. These are not excuses, just thoughts towards an explanation.

  3. Amber T

    I’d be so tempted to slouch or kick my feet up ONLY WHEN said coworker/boss walks by (and there are no clients present). But I’m petty, and probably would never end up doing that anyway.

    I’d raise the professionalism concern with your boss without mentioning the posture, because there may be a legit concern underneath the crap advice. Ask, listen, and roll your eyes if you need to.

    1. Ife

      I had a manager who would slouch so far down in his chair that his neck/head would be resting on the back of the chair, where the middle of his back would be if he were sitting up straight. It was really more like laying than sitting. THAT kind of slouching can read as unprofessional. But normal “not sitting up straight as an arrow” posture? No. That is nitpicky and unnecessary. Chairs have backs for a reason!

  4. AMG

    Is your company terribly image-conscious or something? I can see your posture and overall appearance having a bit more impact, especially if you are customer-facing.

    Otherwise, it makes a lot of sense for your boss to leave you alone. Why bother a good employee with nit-picky stuff? Perhaps she is lacking in feedback for you for whatever reason so she just fell back on that?

    1. OP

      I am not customer-facing; legal secretaries in my firm rarely see a client in person in the vicinity of our desks, but we speak with them constantly on the phone. The Partner who reported me (I think) has military straight posture but also leans back in his chair when he’s talking on the phone. I just think he doesn’t want to see me do it. But again, I’m very accustomed to attorneys making unreasonable, even strange demands of staff. My issue is that the supervisor doesn’t filter any of it or apply her own discretion in framing it. As Alison said, she’s just a transcriber. But that may be the influence of the law firm environment, where Partners are owners and perhaps can make certain demands of their reviewers.

      1. Bend & Snap

        This is pretty indicative of the politics. I get a little of this too in a large company. Depending on where it comes from, you just comply with the demand/request, knowing it’s unreasonable. Gotta play the game.

      2. OriginalYup

        Are you familiar with the psychological concept of the halo effect? It’s the bias by which people apply all kinds of other positive traits to someone because of a favorable impression, like attractive people being perceived as smart or tall people being perceived as leader-like. I used to work for a company that had this problem to the nth-finity degree, and it sounds a lot like the partner at your firm. Basically, there was a very very narrow band of how Good Employees looked/acted/seemed – were early birds, dressed conservatively, had slim builds — and if you didn’t meet that superficial criteria, then you couldn’t possibly be a Good Employee. So I’m wondering if you’re dealing with a firm partner who nitpicks stupid sh*t like your posture instead of actual work performance because that is their metric for measuring success. (Like, you could set small fires in your trash can, but as long as you do it wearing a suit and saying “good morning, sit” in the right tone of voice, you’re fine.)

        1. OP

          Your post made me smile because it seems like an elaborately delicate way of asking me if I’m an especially unpresentable physical specimen! Yes, I’m familiar with the halo effect. Perhaps the best way to describe how I present is to tell you that I am often mistaken for an attorney by those new to or visiting the firm. That doesn’t mean as much as it used to, but it still means something.

          1. OriginalYup

            I think you might have read too much into my comment. :) I was asking if the firm partner is someone who has a stupidly narrow view of how humans are supposed to be while at work and thinks that he’s actually giving performance-based feedback when he talks about your posture.

            1. OP

              I would say he’s tolerant of a wide range of different types, based on the presentation of my predecessor, his former secretary who worked for him for 17 years before she quit the firm and moved cross country. She had a punk-goth-anime-filtered-through-traditional-business kind of style/presentation, very arty and interesting. She had a great eye for color combinations that seemed crazy but somehow worked really well. High chunky heels, tight short business skirts, Joan Jett hair. She pushed the envelope hard, fashion-wise, but never crossed the line. He seemed OK with it.

              The more I think about this, the more I realize he maybe just misses her and is punishing me for not being her. He was so unsentimental and undemonstrative when she left, I didn’t think he cared.

      3. Temperance

        At my firm, there was a woman whose desk was arranged to face the wall because she had a loud and annoying voice. She was part of a round of layoffs (before my time), because she was seen as annoying and unpleasant.

      4. Lana Kane

        I had a similar situation working in a small financial firm. One of the partners walked by my desk one day when I was working on a particularly trying document (and also not feeling well) and I was in some sort of position he deemed unacceptable. It was only once but he told my supervisor, and she didn’t really have a choice but to pass that feedback on. The expectation was that if a partner mentions it, it has to be passed on.

        I’m glad I’m not there anymore.

      5. Not So NewReader

        It could be that your supervisor feels like an idiot saying this to you. BTDT.

        The worst instance happened to me when my boss told me to tell the employees to do X. She was big on the fact that I had to make it sound like it was coming from ME. I tried the best I could. In this example, X was an incredibly stupid thing that no thinking being would ever recognize as a good idea. When I presented X to the employees, they said, “NSNR, we KNOW this did not come from you at all. You don’t say stupid things and this one is over-the-top stupid. So we know it’s not your idea and the boss is making you do this.” (Gotta love those employees.) This freed me up to get real.

        My suggestion to you, is to come in on a low key plane. Tell your boss that you realize she has to relay this stuff to you. Then say, “In your opinion, do you think this is a big deal, do you see a problem yourself?” You can even add, “Knowing what you know, what do you recommend here?”

        Try, try, try to remember that you are working for a place that does not even allow your boss to do her own thinking. You will not make out better than what is happening to your boss. In my case, my boss was not playing a fair game and she had no intention of ever playing a fair game. With you, it looks like your upper bosses place a high value on superficial, relatively unimportant things, that is who they are. My question to you is do you want another ten years of this?

        1. OP

          “Try, try, try to remember that you are working for a place that does not even allow your boss to do her own thinking.”

          Good point. As supervisors go, she’s pretty benign, in comparison with others I have had. Very hands-off, and overall, in my situation, that’s a much better thing than being a day-in, day-out micromanager.

          Do I want another 10 years of this? This is the time of year I run searches on idealist.org and look at the non-profit jobs I can’t afford to work. And in any case, just because an organization is well-intentioned, doesn’t mean it will be a great place to work. My brother is a professor and academic administrator, and he has told me many a horror story about brutal, savage office politics at the universities where he has worked. Generally I think the devil I know is better.

    2. some1

      I think this is Law in general. My first professional job was clerical in a public law office and me and the clerical employees would receive the same type of nitpicky feedback from the attorneys.

      Attorneys are trained to look at both sides of every issue, and the ones that I worked with used this technique with *so* many other situations that they have to offer a counterpoint to every comment. “I love that restaurant, but they don’t Coke in bottles, only from the fountain.” “Jane is a fabulous secretary, but I wish that she didn’t tap her pen on her desk.”

      1. MsMaryMary

        I was wondering if either the way the feedback request is setup or organizational expectations make people feel like they must give negative/”developmental” feedback in addition to positive feedback. OP’s developmental feedback sounds like what you’d say about a strong performer if you were forced to come up with something negative. “Um, well, her desk is a little messy? And she doesn’t always sit up straight. But otherwise, she’s terrific!”

        The problem is that OP’s manager seems to be giving this feedback the same weight as an actual performance problem or area of improvement.

        1. Not So NewReader

          To me it sounds like the type of thing bosses say when they have no idea what the employee actually does for them. “Sue needs to comb her hair.” Meanwhile, Sue is the one who keep their world from coming unglued.

      2. FiveWheels

        Ha yes, I’m like that! I want to know every possible problem with everything so I don’t get ambushed by it. The best place to realise something is horribly wrong is in the office, not in court.

        Given that law in general is a very conservative world, there’s some validity to wearing a nice suit etc. If a client sees their lawyer or their staff looking anything else that highly polished, they could have concerns about their competence. Even judges can be prone to this.

        A nice suit, confident tone, mild/educated accent, and tidy paperwork can solve a LOT of problems.

      3. OP

        Yes, nitpicking is what these guys do for a living. Unfortunately they apply the same strategy/tactics to dealing with their helpers. That’s why I have always especially hated working for litigators — they treat you like an adversary, not the person who was hired to help make their job easier, and whom it would behoove them to treat like a teammate, instead.

        1. FiveWheels

          We don’t have great hiring policies. There are few support staff who have ever made my job easier. Sigh.

          1. OP

            That’s too bad. Are you sure there aren’t support staffers that help make your job easier in ways that may be invisible to you? Like plumbing, or mass transit — things you take for granted until they stop working. Alternatively, it may be a case of, you get what you pay for. Good workers can be expensive although in the long run, paying good salaries for good workers is more cost-effective.

  5. Catalin

    Jeepers, I’m glad I don’t work in your office. I’m in a very private cube, and I sit with my legs crossed under me in any combination of poses. Sometimes I sit on the desk if I’m working legislation review. It’s fine in my office in my circumstances. If someone was checking on me for ‘posture’ or other such malarkey, I’d start feeling threatened fairly quickly.

    On some level, nit-picking stuff like requiring the sterile desk and *sitting up straight*(!) feels like the foundation for future bullying.

    1. OP

      The partner is most definitely an off-and-on bully. My supervisor (she who conducted the review) has protected me from a bully partner in the past, so I appreciate that she will do so again in the future, if need be.

  6. KT

    Is bad posture ever a reasonable complaint?

    I have appallingly bad posture and I know it, so I didn’t bat an eye when my manager mentioned it. It did make me look like a good hunched over taking notes.

    I ended up buying a thing from Amazon you wear that’s very comfortable when you sit straight, but is super uncomfortable when you slouch or hunch. It made a world of a difference.

    1. Batshua

      I have naturally horrible posture, so I’m super curious. What is this thing you speak of?

      1. KT

        LOL I wasn’t sure if the term “bra” would trigger moderation or something.

        If you look for “posture correctors” you’ll find all kinds of different versions.

        I have this one in black and nude. http://amzn.to/1NrJvci

        1. A Non E. Mouse

          How well does this work under clothing? I’m very interested, I have horrible posture, but every “corrector” I’ve ever tried is definitely Not Work Clothing Friendly.

          1. KT

            I wear this every day; I usually wear a silk/silkish shell and blazer, or a nice dressy blouse and it doesn’t show through–I wear it over a regular bra and I think it looks just like I always would

      2. Posturizing

        I use a Lumo Lift – it vibrates when I have bad posture for more than 2 minutes. It is also a pedometer! I really like it, and it is unobtrusive. I can also turn off the posture “coaching” when I’m having a bad day. Or a lazy day.

        1. fposte

          Somebody who does see clients is part of “ever,” and the question was about “ever.” Yes, there are times when posture can be a reasonable complaint. I can’t imagine it being reasonable in the OP’s situation.

    2. SbucksAddict

      I can’t wait to hear about this. I have HORRIBLE posture and as a result I sometimes get pain in my neck at the end of a long day. The doc’s suggestion was to try and sit up properly while working but it’s hard to remember that. Maybe this device would help!

    3. A Teacher

      I’m going to come at it as a certified athletic trainer with a graduate degree in kinesiology. There are some obvious ways that posture could be* unprofessional (think the actual Al Bundy sitting position or putting your feet on your desk, etc…) and in many cases people sit a certain way because they have, for lack of a better term a misalignment in their kinetic chain. You may sit a certain way because of shoulder posture, or you may have a lordotic arch, or you may have kyphosis, or a leg length discrepancy, tight IT bands, or a spinal anomaly or injury, arthritis is a common reason why people adjust posture. I could go on with the list. I can say I’m glad I don’t work for your company, I can sit how I want at my desk and no one complains.

      1. fposte

        Though even if you’re public-facing, I don’t think pelvic tilt should be a manager’s concern, and I don’t think it makes people unprofessional.

      2. OP

        I do have arthritis in my knees, and I did remind my supervisor about this in the follow-up meeting when she gave me the bonus and raise info — I said I had to be able to shift my weight in my chair, in part because I couldn’t put weight on my left knee (perma-torn meniscus) for long periods of time (knee replacement surgery is in my future).

        Interestingly, the very first thing my supervisor said to me when I came in for the initial review was, “How’s your knee?” I tore the meniscus a year ago and ever since then she and I have been swapping knee recovery stories because she has the same condition.

  7. Mockingjay

    If posture is so important, they should buy you a better chair. Or tie you to it with an Hermès scarf.

    Your boss reminds me of my high school typing teacher. She’d walk around the classroom, observing our posture and work. Those who slouched felt a long red nail in the center of their back, reminding them to sit up straight. “Fingers curved, feet flat on the floor, eyes on copy. Begin.”

    1. Just Another Techie

      I can’t get my feet flat on the floor if I want my seat high enough that I can type without injuring my shoulders or wrists. So I sit crosslegged in a chair without arms and am quite happy. I’d totally lose it if my boss tried to nitpick that.

      1. the gold digger

        Oh, you mean you can’t have your feet flat on the floor and still type comfortably in the FURNITURE THAT IS ALL DESIGNED FOR MEN WHO ARE 5’10” TALL?

        I. Am. Not. Bitter.

        1. Out of State

          I understand the feeling, but as a guy, I have the opposite problem. I am 6’4″ with long arms and I have to put the desk on blocks to get the chair high enough. Could not use a keyboard tray to save my life.

          1. animaniactoo

            I’m a 5’10” woman and a lot of it is leg and I cringe at keyboard trays. Yeah, um. Nice idea. But my wrists *really* don’t bend that way.

            1. Qmatilda

              First thing I usually do is either rearrange to avoid them or take them off, because I have lost too many pairs of stockings to a keyboard tray.

              1. the gold digger

                I am convinced that the pantyhose manufacturers are in collusion with the furniture manufacturers. I have lost so many pairs to rough edges and finishes on the underside of desks and tables and the edges on chairs.

                1. Kelly L.

                  Forget hose, my actual *knees* are perennially banged up from all the infrastructure that’s tacked onto the underside of my desk from previous occupants! I forget it’s there and then KLONK! OW!

              2. animaniactoo

                I am fortunately enough to be in a role/part of my industry where stockings are dressup for meetings with outside people 3-4 times a year. And usually, not even then. I can get by with dress pants. So I do. But I hear you!

          2. LQ

            I’m a woman over 6’2″ and I have the keyboard tray issue. Though I finally got a standing all the time desk and it is hilarious when other coworkers come to stand at my desk for something, they always look tiny.
            We had a horrible time recently selecting furniture for a conference room. My coworkers were super fixated on the height of the armrests and they’d ask me if it was comfortable and I finally had to look at what they were talking about. My elbows are always about 6 inches or more above the arm rest so they would never be comfortable. On the other hand my coworkers hated the super deep chairs, which of course I loved.

          3. Mona Lisa

            5’10” woman, and I had to do this at my last job! I do have a fancy office chair at my new job (part of the organization’s ergonomic standards code), but they ordered it without consulting me. It’s definitely designed for a smaller woman. The adjustable lumbar support is somewhere around the top of my butt.

            1. LD

              I had this issue with my office ordering a chair for me and not consulting me. It was supposedly an “executive” chair with adjustable seat height. It was so short I only used it as a holder for my lunch bag and brief case and kept using the old, nasty chair to sit in because the seat could be adjusted higher. It was a waste of money and space. We just went through an office move and redesign to be compliant with corporate. Now we all have new chairs that are really adjustable for arm rests, seat height, back flexible or fixed…SO much better.

        2. Koko

          I’ve just realized why I have always sat cross-legged in chairs. It’s for exactly this reason but I never thought about why I was doing it!

      2. Manders

        Me neither! Office furniture is not built for people who are 5’0″. Even heels my feet would be dangling.

      3. Nova Terra

        Amen to this. Keyboard trays are a necessity at all my desks. Otherwise, I last maybe a day or two before my shoulders/neck/back or my thighs/lower back/hips start hurting.

        1. Ife

          I have a typing tray, lowered to its fullest extent, and my feet are still dangling a solid 3 inches off the floor as I type this. However, even if I could lower my tray more, I wouldn’t, because… then my screen would be 6-12 inches above my eyeline!! I probably need to get a foot rest or something.

      4. OfficePrincess

        I have the opposite issue. I can sit with my feet flat on the floor and arms comfortable to type, but even with two Staples catalogs and a phone book I can’t get my monitor high enough, so I’m always a little hunched over to read the screen. I’m only 5’6″ and relatively proportional between my legs and torso, so I’m really not sure who this setup was made for.

        1. pope suburban

          I am, apparently, exactly average size for a woman in the US. One would think this would be quite useful when it comes to mass-produced things. One would be DEEPLY DEEPLY WRONG if one is talking about chairs and desks. I have had more banged-up knees from keyboard trays, chairs are often somehow too short, and forget about a desk being a good working height. I am literally the average model, and everything is colluding to tie my back into knots and make me even more determined to leave desk jobs behind forever. I’m truly baffled, but there it is.

      5. another IT manager

        Every desk I sit at has an old desktop in the footwell doing duty as a footrest. Confuses people when they go looking for spare computers and the one under my desk won’t boot.

    2. Nova Terra

      I suppose one benefit of being short is that (for me), all chairs are the same (padding is nice, but occasionally padding is situated weirdly for my proportions and it ends up being irritating). I don’t care about ergonomic backrests or armrests or anything like that; if I’m working at a desk with a reasonably ergonomic posture, my back, elbows, palms, etc. are nowhere near the backrest/armrests/keyboard palmrests/etc.

      I actually can’t imagine leaning back into a chair far enough to take advantage of the ergonomic backrest and still be able to type.

      (However, no desk is right for me without a keyboard tray. None. Sigh.)

    3. Not So NewReader

      In high school, I had a severe strain in my back and a major infection around my tailbone. I would “brown” out a dozen times a day because of pain. If anyone put a finger into my back like that they would have had to call 911. Just reading about this so-called “teacher” fills me with loathing for her.

  8. Analyst

    Ugh. I know that a professional appearance is important but damn does this feel gendered. So much focus on what you look like and how you sound means less focus on what you can actually DO. If I were you I’d be looking for a new job.

    1. MashaKasha

      It did feel extremely gendered to me too. Sit up straight, smile, wear heels, wear stockings… ugh.

    2. Murphy

      Yeah, it made me feel like they were wanting a doll or ballerina instead of a legal secretary. It has “gendered” written all over it.

      1. Kelly L.

        Yeah, I’m envisioning kind of a 50s-stepford-instructional-video secretary and remembering the olde tyme rule that A Lady was not supposed to let her back touch the back of the chair. (Yuck.)

        1. F.

          Exactly what I was thinking. And especially when the supervisor came by and threw her chest (boobs?) out, I was picturing one of those prim and proper 50s-style secretaries sitting at her desk typing away on her Underwood while wearing a rigid bra under her sweater looking like a bad Madonna parody. And I am probably one of the *last* readers here to think something is gendered.

      2. OP

        I guess you guys are right, it is gendered. But virtually all of the legal secretaries are women. Business casual is acceptable here, so that aspect of it doesn’t feel sexist.

        1. Murphy

          But virtually all of the legal secretaries are women. Business casual is acceptable here, so that aspect of it doesn’t feel sexist.
          The fact that virtually all the legal secretaries are women is, in and of itself, a gender issue.

          1. OP

            Yes, it’s a gender issue that all the legal secy’s are women. But IMHO, it’s even worse that 90% of the partners here are men, because tone is set from the top down.

            1. Analyst

              Yuck. OP, I’m sorry you have to deal with this. I’m not in law… is this a normal demographic for the type of law that your firm practices? Maybe the gender/representation grass is greener in another branch of law?

              1. OP

                Big Law corporate partnership is generally 80% men, 20% women. Google away, there are lots of reputable sources (e.g., American Lawyer) behind paywalls. I will look for a link in the NYT to which I subscribe. Our firm is worse than that, though, and there are business repercussions, I’m happy to say. Some very big clients are reluctant to bring their business to firms with such poor male-to-female partner ratios, for PR/corporate image reasons.

                1. Not So NewReader

                  Just a story, not necessarily fact: one woman lawyer said to me, “Yep, not many women in law. Women see you can either have a life or you can have a career in law, not both. So they leave.”

                  It’s a tough field for many reasons.

    3. Allison

      I was getting this sense too. Sit like a lady, speak like a lady, and dress like a lady. Why do women have to act like they’re fresh out of finishing school in order to seem professional?

  9. L McGee

    100% chance OP is a woman, because no one would ever tell a grown man to “soften his tone” or to stick out his chest. Good lord. There is a context where feedback like this, delivered more constructively, would be appropriate (like if customers were complaining that OP was rude on the phone, or she was sitting with her feet up on the desk or something) but this is not the case.

    I am a grown woman, and the day another adult (who is not my grandmother or leading me in some sort of synchronized dance performance) stage-whispers to me to “sit up straight” is my last day working of employment for that company. OP must have way better impulse control than I do, because I’d be like “I’LL SIT UP STRAIGHT WHEN YOU PULL YOUR HEAD OUT OF YOUR ASS, CHARLENE! HOW’S *THIS* FOR A SOFT TONE?!?” and flipping over my slightly-messy desk on my way out.

    1. OP

      Yes, of course I’m a woman, almost all legal secretaries are women in Big Law. The complaints are probably all from one person, who is an ill-tempered Partner guy — in my nook of Big Law, almost all partners are guys.

      My other partners are nice, reasonable, good people. The complainant is an ill-tempered bully. At the moment I’m resigned to taking the good with the bad, but I will look around to see what else is available in my firm, and elsewhere, if I can’t figure out a way to work with this guy.

      1. F.

        OP, hate to tell you, but if this partner is as you have indicated, you will never be good enough for him. He will always find fault with you. Your work must be very good that he has to resort to petty things like picking on your posture in order to keep you “in your place” as he would see it.

    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’ve told male employees to soften their tone.

      I agree women hear it way more than men (and my agreement is irrelevant since loads of studies show it), but I don’t think we should say “never” about this stuff, since it’s not actually true.

      1. Mookie

        That’s true, of course, but as you say, the data suggest that thresholds beyond which behavior or speech is considered disruptive differ across genders (and, just as importantly, ethnicities). A man asked to stop being disruptive is more likely to have behaved in a way that actually warrants that request than a woman. And given that it’s more or less impossible to universally and neutrally codify standards for good behavior, that what constitutes “loud,” for example, is invariably subjective, it shouldn’t be controversial to acknowledge when and where cultural biases might get in the way of good, efficient, and productive management practices. I’m not suggesting that’s what you’re doing, but a few comments seemed to suggest it.

        The other crucial issue here, I think, is that employers and management are no longer naifs when it comes to blatant forms of discrimination, and framing an objection to a woman being assertive and unabashedly knowledgeable, defending her ideas, or not being silenced as “loud” provides some pretty good plausible cover. And we shouldn’t forget confirmation bias, either: managers finding fault with female employees often fail to name the real problem, fail to recognize the cause of the problem, and fail to provide a path out of that problem, because they are primed by our culture to judge women more harshly and to provide less support and mentorship to them. There are triple standards at work here about women and what constitutes a good female employee. Behave in any way that can be construed as “feminine,” and you’re representing your entire gender (who are believed to be innately passive and saddled with loads of other undesirable characteristics). Make an error, and management silently chalks it up to gender, thereby reinforcing the belief that women make poor employees compared to men or are more disposable. Fail to live up to these standards–or, if you like, succeed in transcending them–however, and you’re “loud” or “aggressive.”

        These are the reasons not to handwave away objections to these kinds of evaluations or pretend that “loud” is gender-neutral. There is no other means to improving women’s lot in the working world if you can never address why that lot, at present, is so meagre.

        None of this is to suggest that women can never be loud nor can management ever safely address that loudness, but rather that managers asked to convey subjective feedback like “loud” should tease out exactly what that means to the complainant and how it manifests in that particular employee, and that they should always thoughtfully interrogate their own assumptions, as well.

      1. Anxa

        I really wish I had had a working phone or a pen on me one some ass told me I didn’t need to look so angry (I don’t even have RBF typically, and I was actually kind of happy because I was on a pretty idyllic walk home and passing this tiny little pub that a favorite beer of mine on tap and I was about to do a self date until my mood was ruined). He was working for a landscaper and was literally on the job harassing (I know some people may not consider it harassment, but it felt that way….anyway it was completely rude) me. I had had it with the smile comments and he’s probably lucky I didn’t have a phone because I was about to give him a reason not to smile and call the company he was working for.

        Does anyone thing being told to smile is going to make someone happy?

        1. Not So NewReader

          “I am going to call your employer when I get home and tell them that you are telling random strangers to smile. There. Now, it’s YOUR turn. You can smile.”

    3. Bartlett for President

      I was once told by my brand new supervisor that I shouldn’t have said something because I didn’t want to come across as assertive. My response was just to stare at the cam (it was a virtual office, so meetings were done over Hangouts or Skype) and blink in confusion. It took me a few minutes to remember how to use my words.

      I envy the people who get told these things and are able to respond coherently in the moment. It was the first time I was given such blatantly sexist feedback, and it really threw me.

  10. AtrociousPink

    20+ year legal secretary here. I’m not in biglaw now (yay!) but I worked in it for 8 years. The thing about biglaw HR and annual reviews is that legal secretary positions don’t lend themselves to the process. The bar for success is usually insultingly low and promotions virtually unheard of, so any secretary worth her salt quickly reaches a place where there is no more room for significant improvement and nothing constructive to do in an annual review. HR at my old firm tried to mitigate this in a couple of ways, first by making us state “goals,” and second, by offering silly, nitpicking “feedback” of the type OP describes. I was once told in an otherwise stellar review that I needed to get out and socialize more with secretaries on other floors. Wait, what? If I did that, wouldn’t it be frowned upon that I wasn’t at my desk, um, working? The “goals” were even sillier. What goals are you supposed to have when your job lacks real challenges, there is zero advancement potential, and you don’t have any areas for improvement? My true goals for most of the time I was there involved finding a way to transition out of legal work entirely without taking a ruinous pay cut, but I was pretty sure that wasn’t what they wanted to hear. Most people used goals like “attend x number of firm training classes,” which might have been fine if the firm had offered useful training, which it didn’t.

    1. OP

      Yes, your assessment is accurate. There is nothing to talk about in the review except, I did the same stuff I did last year, but for a slightly different roster of attorneys. I am in Big Law because it pays, but sometimes (every year about this time, actually), I dream of escaping these golden handcuffs.

      1. AtrociousPink

        That sounds so familiar. I finally ended up at a smaller firm making a bit more but working 3 times as hard. I don’t mind, though, because I’m less bored and there isn’t all that corporate BS to endure.

    2. Kelly L.

      Not the OP, but that actually makes a ton of sense. Annoying, but does make its own sort of sense.

    3. Mazzy

      This is a very good point. I would lean more towards this explanation than some of the ones above.

  11. Mint Julips

    The “sit up straight” thing moved into the “ick” when the manager came by and ” stuck her chest out to show me how I should be sitting, and said in a stage whisper, “Sit up straight!””
    I would be reciting the lines that Alison gave in her advice and tell her to back off with a smile.

  12. Case of the Mondays

    I can think of two things that might make this review less annoying but only you know the true reasons behind it so you should still trust your gut.

    (1) Reducing risk of worker’s comp claims. Law firms are acutely aware of the cost of such claims. Some hire ergonomics instructors to teach staff how to sit properly and use the equipment properly. I have an ergo set up but it only works ergonomically if I don’t slouch, don’t rest on my arms, etc. I still slouch and use it improperly often. If I ended up getting a repetitive stress injury because of that it would be on my firm. But, EVERYONE, not just women, get the advice to not lean on their arms while they are typing.

    (2) Particularly with younger employees, I try to give some feedback if something they are doing is undermining their professional image. I tell them that they aren’t in trouble for it or anything but they might just want to be aware of it. This is particularly important for younger lawyers so that they can be taken seriously by opposing counsel and judges. A lot of this stuff can be read in the book Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office. But, my advice goes to both male and female lawyers. The most common is pointing out when someone adds a nervous giggle at the end of each statement. It really undermines what they are saying. I have had both male and female interns with this habit and I include it as constructive criticism in their feedback but do not mark them down for it. Constant slouching can go against your image but if you are legal secretary, that image shouldn’t matter as much. (Meaning you are not client facing.)

    1. Corporate Drone

      Not appropriate for the performance review. These are issues that should be discussed separately, and at the time of need.

  13. kathleen

    When I started a Job there was an old calendar calendar it was the kind where you flip a page for each day, the pages were small and thin – think post-it size. I kept it in the thought of being green using it as scratch paper – my review with a toxic manager came up and she talked about how having an expired calendar on my desk reflected poorly on me and I obviously had no organizational skill or pride in my desk.

    1. Mike C.

      Pride in your desk? Who in the hell has “pride” in what their desk looks like!? Outside of maybe the carpenter that built it or something.

      1. LQ

        HA I totally have pride in my desk (the one I have at home not at work). But then I designed it to be tall enough and worked with a family member to build it to my exact specifications and with all the bells and whistles I wanted and it is awesome and I’m super proud. But I think I’m maybe on the carpentry angle of this ;)

  14. Michelle

    As far as posture is concerned, they need to make sure you have a proper, supportive chair. We have the most awful office chairs ever*. So bad that I bought a proper chair at my own expense and after a few days was told I couldn’t use it because other staff were “jealous”. I replied that I purchased the chair at my own expense and they were currently on sale, so the jealous people could buy their own and because they chairs that were furnished were not supportive or safe, I needed the chair. I lost that battle and my posture suffers from having a horrible office chair.

    * Most of the chairs are not assembled properly, are missing screws and more than one has broken while someone was sitting in them because the one screw that was holding it together could not support the weight of an average adult. They also have this weird tilt that pretty much forces you to lean back if you are using the back of the seat. I hate them.

    1. Phlox

      Ooo jeez, I thought my old chairs were bad but that’s impressive/frightening! My old department got the broken chairs from the head mechanic in another department when they no longer worked for him. He was a large and tall dude with a right knee issue, so all of our chairs had broken right armrests and the right side of the seat was often bent from using the chair as leverage standing up. I had a really hard time believing the GM later when he said you didn’t have to bring in that (fully functional) chair you found for free, we have a budget! Err the busted rejects from another department don’t count…

    2. Mabel

      You hate the bosses who make you use the awful chairs? Or you hate the awful chairs? Probably both.

  15. Grey

    The male members of the firm prefer that the secretary sit with her chest sticking out? That doesn’t sound right to me.

    1. Not So NewReader

      Thank you. When I was heavier I was very self-conscious. Even though I lost the weight, I still do not want to feel stared at. I don’t slouch but I don’t strut either. I definitely would not thrust my chest out even if the CEO issued the order. What’s next? Cone bras? grrrr.

  16. Mando Diao

    This is fussy nonsense (besides the tone of voice thing – like it or not, affecting a certain vocal tone can help you be more effective in business, especially over the phone). Is you manager going to tell you what lipstick color to wear next?

    If your posture becomes an issue again, bring up anything that might be making that hard for you. Some desk set-ups make it hard to sit up straight, especially if you’re using a chair or a computer layout that were designed for someone shorter than you.

  17. Sally Forth

    Where has this line been all my life???
    ” I’d like to be be given the leeway to manage my posture on my own.”
    This is perfect when people are being overbearing. Whenever I go out for lunch, one of my coworkers (higher up the chain but I don’t report to her) comments on how I carry my handbag and tries to fix me. I’ve looked at others walking on the street, and I think I am pretty normal. Now I can say, “I’d like to be be given the leeway to manage my handbag carrying on my own.”

  18. GreenTeaPot

    I was criticized for sighing once. I took it to heart, but considering it came from a boss who used to sit her office screaming, ” I need money,” not too much.

    1. Allison

      That does sound petty, but all that frustrated sighing, grunting, “aaahhhhhh”ing and panting people do to vocalize their stress at work all day is a huge pet peeve of mine. Sometimes it feels like you need to make those noises just so the people around you know you’re working hard. A little composure never hurt anyone.

    1. Patsy Stone

      In my three-month evaluation (working in the UK for a international sporting event that happens every four years), I was told that I was “too Canadian”….

      1. Sidenote

        Okay, I think we might just need to collect these “weirdest feedback” stories in a post or the Friday free-for-all. I’m not sure if I’m happy or disappointed that I don’t have one to contribute.

      2. Bartlett for President

        Well, were you walking around with a maple leaf on your shirt, eating poutine and talking about REAL maple syrup – while simultaneously apologizing to everyone? No? Then, I don’t understand how someone could be too Canadian, eh?

    2. Lia

      The (now thankfully retired) woman who used to work in the next office over wore what sounded like wooden shoes, and of COURSE she paced the halls all day. CLUNK CLUNK CLUNK, all day long.

    3. Allison

      In one of my monthly goals meeting at my first job, my manager told me I needed to quiet my sneezes. I know he’d commented before on how I sneezed with “authority,” and I guess he’d decided my sneezes were too disruptive, but I’m not adding power to them, that’s just how I sneeze! Believe me, I’d love it if my sneezes were quiter, gentler, and more lady-like, but I just . . . can’t!

        1. Bartlett for President

          I tend to be a bit of a thrasher in bed, and an ex once said that I “sleep to win.” I feel like sneezing with authority is an even super power than that.

    4. Illogical Reviews are Illogical

      I was once reported for having a Stars Wars poster in my office. Except it was Star Trek, not Star Wars, and it was something the IT department printed as a test of their new wide bed printer and gave to me because they knew I was a Trekker. It was sitting on a shelf until I could take it home. That would’ve been an entire afternoon.

  19. Corporate Drone

    I did a four year stint with one of the world’s largest professional services firms (not a law firm). Working in a partnership is very, very weird, and unless you’ve experienced it, you can’t really describe it. In the case of the firm I worked for, we had 100k+ employees globally, and thousands of partners. Each partner is a mini-CEO, and can pretty much do whatever he wants. Lots of them are just jerks who treat anyone who is not “chargeable” (i.e., non client facing) like an expendable widget. People fear partners. So, if these silly comments are coming from a supervising admin, it doesn’t surprise me at all that she would just parrot back whatever the partner told her.

    1. OP

      Interesting to hear that partnerships that are not law firms behave the same way. My supervisor is indeed a supervising admin, and I’m sure she is subjected to an endless stream of weirdness from megalomaniac partners. I would not want her job.

      1. Corporate Drone

        I have heard that law partners are “even more stupid” (!) than consulting partners. This, from a guy who left our firm to head up marketing for the LA office of an AmLaw 100 firm.

  20. moss

    Things like this are why I will chew my own arm off before working in an office again (been remote for 3 years & just accepted a new remote position). This is ridiculous and has nothing to do with the quality of your work.

    In the open thread last week most of the things listed in people’s dream jobs are things that could be achieved by working from home (good coffee, cats, temperature regulation, etc). Being in an office is soul-killing because you are judged so harshly for things that have NOTHING TO DO with how well you do your actual job duties.

    1. the gold digger

      If cats at work are wrong, I don’t want to be right.

      OK. Cats on your lap while working at home.

      If you are stuck in an office, then tinykittens dot com is the way to go, with their live feed.

    2. Kyrielle

      And sometimes you can’t get away from it even remotely. I have a colleague who was once asked how he could call himself a professional developer when he didn’t use Microsoft Word for his documents.

      This is a gentleman who works on, and has worked on for decades, very specialized and highly technical software that *is written on and runs on Linux systems*.

      1. moss

        oh that’s nuts but at least the criticism was halfway relevant… not based on appearance or personality.

        1. Kyrielle

          Yes, it was at least something that was possible to change fairly easily, and was clear. Ridiculous, but clear. :)

          The job had nothing to do with using Microsoft Word, tho…and he never once had a problem reading or interacting with what other people sent him in that format as far as I know, he just used HTML/pdf/rich text formats (all of which are easily viewable from Windows, observes the person who used only-Windows at work for more than a decade…).

    3. esra

      Could I ask where/how you found your new remote gig? I’ve been searching for one as well. I worked remotely before, and let me tell you, the cat did not really care about my posture.

      1. moss

        I work in pharma, doing data analysis. SAS programming is my meal ticket. Happy to answer any questions, email to Marjorie dot sloan at gmail :)

    4. Not So NewReader

      This is exactly why I avoided office work for years. People can be so nasty. There can be nastiness in any work setting but I always felt that office situations were some of the highest levels of nastiness. I have friends that still avoid office work for this reason. It’s some times easier to deal with someone calling you an AH than it is to deal with this crap.

      I have been very fortunate to find a desk job. And I have been fortunate to work with some great people. But the places were small. I think the part of the problem with larger places is that people become a disposable commodity and leadership loses their connection to the very people they are supposed to be leading. Additionally, many folks, like doctors and lawyers never receive management training but are expected to behave like professional managers. And they just can’t do it. They are so immersed in their own professional field that they cannot see beyond it.

      1. OP

        I have worked in a couple of small firms; one was more mid-size (about 50 attorneys), and pretty good re work environment; the other, a bankruptcy boutique, was completely demented, because the three name partners were completely demented, and they set the tone. I have never worked in a weirder, grimmer place, and because there were no external checks on their insanity, it just got weirder and weirder. After a year, I was mercifully poached by an attorney at my present firm, someone I had worked with before who knew the quality of my work.

        I always feel like there is more room to hide at a large firm, if things get nutty.

  21. SH

    OP – After my boss told me I have to put on my heels when I leave my apt and cannot commute in Doc Martens I started ignoring nitpicky notes.

    1. Murphy

      A staff member of mine was once told to make sure she wore a skirt to an interview. The guy who said that got quite the earful from me (after I picked my jaw up off the floor). He thought it was harmless joking. I disagreed.

    1. MsChanandlerBong

      Thank you for realizing that! I posted this below, but I would never be able to sit perfectly straight all day. A. I’ve had four spine surgeries, so my back is already sensitive. B. I’m under 4’10” and have a terrible time trying to sit comfortably. Every chair I come across seems to have been made for someone who is at least 8 inches taller than I am. It is supremely uncomfortable to sit with your feet dangling (which makes them swell) all day. The way I combat that is by sitting as far forward in my chair as I can so that my feet touch the ground, which makes my posture a bit less than perfect.

      1. Wednesday

        Can you request a footstool? Or would that get in the way of your work?
        My desk is non-standard, so it’s a little tall for me. I combat the height I need from my chair (and thus dangling feet) with a small footstool to keep my legs where they properly should be. Makes a huge difference for me.

        1. TootsNYC

          The footstool thing is a good idea–I find that I slump if I feel like I’m sliding off my chair. And a footstool lifts my knees high enough to get a more 90-degree-like angle.

          I have the same “need my chair higher than my legs are long” thing.

          1. Bartlett for President

            I have found that a rocking footrest is amazing – especially if you are a fidgeter.

            I have very short legs, so a footrest is necessary for me in general; otherwise, I usually end up not being able to sit in an ergonomically-correct manner. At my first real office job, the nurse (we had them on staff for consults for our work) responsible for making sure my desk was ergonomically set-up noticed I often fidgeted with my feet, and ordered me a footrest that basically rocked up and down. It was like a miracle, and I actually took a picture of it and the brand information when I left – and, have made sure I have one at every desk since. In fact, I’m fidgeting with it now.

  22. Camellia

    What is the world coming to when we have to use a phrase like “manage my posture on my own”?!?!?!

  23. Rusty Shackelford

    I don’t understand what you want. You admit that the criticism likely came from a particular partner, that the partners are Always Right, and that your supervisor has protected you from bullying partners in the past. So why are you asking if you should go over her head and complain about the feedback? What do you hope to accomplish, other than throwing an ally under the bus?

    1. OP

      She’s not an ally, she protected me from a bullying partner because I’m a really good secretary and she needs really good secretaries to keep the partners happy. It was her self-interest, but it was of service to me. Complaining to her manager does not constitute throwing her under the bus, because she hasn’t done anything “wrong” if relaying any and all attorney complaints is considered an appropriate part of the review process. My complaining to her manager would serve the purpose of letting the manager know that this sort of posture nitpicking feedback is resented. (Note I’m not complaining about the desk comment and the voice comment, just the posture comment.) Consider it constructive criticism, rather than under-bus-throwing. Also, I have spoken directly to my supervisor and re the posture complaint, told her I considered it unreasonable, and said, “I have to be able to shift my weight in my chair, for reasons of physical comfort and health”. She seemed to think that was a reasonable thing to say.

      1. Not So NewReader

        Giving them the words to respond with is always a good strategy. You may have resolved this particular complaint.

        I am not sure that you will ever get your manager to filter the complaints better for you. I think she could do a better job of standing up for you. For example, I would have told the person, “What if OP has a health issue that causes her to slouch? Do we really want to open that can of worms?”

        My guess would be is that the higher ups have worn her down with their constant gibberish.

        1. OP

          It’s impossible for me to know if my supervisor even spoke with the complainant; she may have just been reading written feedback (there’s a user-unfriendly PeopleSoft application for reviewing). I don’t know that our review process allows her to query complaints. But you’re right, faulting an employee for the manner in which they interact with the office furniture, without taking potential health issues into account, is flirting with ADA non-compliance, and that is an economy-sized can of worms.

  24. CM

    The comments on this post are making me laugh, and the original post made me laugh in recognition. OP, sounds like you already have a very good sense of what biglaw is like and to what a ridiculous degree law firms pander to the whims of partners. Partners expect their feedback to reach the person they’re reviewing, so it may be that your supervisor isn’t really able to filter — of course, it could also be that she enjoys wielding her power. I too (as an associate) sat through many a review where I was told very specific, personal comments from anonymous partners. I will admit it’s easier to laugh it off and not feel angry when you’re a lawyer — at a lot of firms, secretaries and other staff members are treated as second-class citizens. Still, I would keep the complaining about the stupidity between you and your coworker friends, and remind yourself that when you get fed up, you can leave.

    1. OP

      To my supervisor’s credit, during the after-review (when raise and bonus info are given), she did look chastened when I told her I thought the posture complaint was unreasonable (see my answer to Rusty Shackelford). I don’t think she is so much trying to wield power, as hold onto her job by keeping the attorneys as happy as it is possible to keep attorneys. In any case, I agree, the comment section on this site is fantastic, a very high level of thought and articulation overall! I have greatly appreciated the opportunity to vent and have learned a lot.

  25. KG

    I was once told in a review that I dress like I’m going out, which is outrageously untrue and my manager told me she didn’t think there was anything wrong with how I dressed (I’m 99% sure which partner said it). She was trying to justify why I received a non-perfect score on professional image by relaying a single comment from someone else. I show very little skin, and thought I dressed like a young professional (I was 26 at the time). I use to put more effort into what I wore to work, and was more on trend, wore more patterns, etc. but that comment really rubbed me the wrong way. If anything, I think I look less professional now as a result.

  26. Jeanne

    These are people you are NEVER going to be able to please completely. You sit up too straight, not straight enough. You’re too loud, too soft. Use Alison’s last suggestion and try to ignore the rest. If your review has any helpful suggestions, work on those. But if you sit up too straight, they’ll come up with something else. And if anyone mimicks sitting up straight by sticking their chest out, tell them your breasts are fine as they are.

    1. stevenz

      I hesitate to introduce facts into this discussion but research has shown that sitting up straight – the classic rigid chest-out, stomach-in, shoulders-back, head-high, feet flat on the floor position – is not good for your back. That’s why you’re sore at the end of the day. A reclining position is much easier on the body. It was measured that an ideal recline is 135 degrees, not 90. But being uncomfortable, especially at work, is considered noble according to the prevailing Protestant ethic culture of the western world.

  27. MsChanandlerBong

    This might be the dumbest complaint I’ve ever heard from an employer. Sure, if she was half bent over her desk all the time, it would be a problem. But not sitting ramrod straight for 8 hours/day? The horror.

    I have to recline my car seat slightly, or else my lumbar area tightens up so badly that I can barely walk. I’d never be able to sit stock straight in a chair all day, especially if the chair was uncomfortable to begin with.

  28. TootsNYC

    Sometimes I think these petty things come up because the employee is good enough at their job that when someone is asked, “Do you have any comments or complaints that I should tell her?” this is all they can come up with.

  29. Noah

    Usually when somebody comments on your “tone,” it’s not about volume, it’s about the tone of voice. There seems to be a thread of unprofessionalism in the comments about the letter writer. I think she should be more concerned that she seems to be. These are common themes common from her supervisor and people who she works for, yet she calls them “stupid” and suggests they are the same as another example she describes as “ludicrous.” Having worked at big law firms, my feeling is that she should just do whatever she wants from here on out because her next review is probably going to be her last no matter what she does at this point.

    1. Bartlett for President

      I don’t disagree with this, but I just wanted to say it can be about volume for some people – I had that problem, and sometimes still do. I have a naturally loud voice, and have had to learn to quiet it down while working in an office setting. As a lecturer? Great gift to have when the mic is out and you have a large lecture hall full of college students expecting to be able to hear you.

    2. Mookie

      There’s something else below-thread I find stupid and ludicrous (and presumptuous, and indicative of having not read for comprehension, and unnecessarily, gleefully nasty, and brimming over with intentionally bad advice).

      1. OP

        Thanks ;) I appreciate the spirited defense. I just didn’t see the point in going there myself.

        1. Mookie

          I mean, you’re kicking ass all over this post so that comment is bizarre and demonstrably untrue. Rarely does an OP engage like this with such an open and diplomatic attitude. Your firm is lucky to have you, I feel.

          1. OP

            Thanks! That comment did seem like an outlier — the vast majority of the comments in the thread are very thoughtful, helpful, and to the point of the post.

            Alison mentioned up front before posting my question that my participation would be appreciated, and I’ve been trying to be a good guest by honoring the host’s request. I have really benefitted from the discussion, and I’m very grateful to Alison and the site for the opportunity to have others help me figure this out. This is a remarkably useful and informative site for employers and employees both, and I have already shared the link with numerous support staff colleagues, and they’ve all been really impressed with the (almost exclusively) high level of discourse.

  30. stevenz

    My current boss is hyper-sensitive to body language. She makes snap judgement about people depending on how they sit, whether they cross their arms, facial expression, etc. It’s oppressive because it makes you feel like you’re under a microscope all the time which is not helpful. It’s also putting a lot of weight on something superficial. At the same time she doesn’t seem to put much value on what I – or anyone else – *think.*

    One day she told me that she got a complaint about me from a person who was at a community meeting that I didn’t stand in the front of the room to make my presentation but did it from where I was sitting at the table. This was a very relaxed three minute summary of a project, not even really a presentation. I just told her that I had no respect for someone who would even think about calling someone’s boss to complain about something that is of *no consequence whatsoever*. So one petty complaint amplified by another petty person whose eye is definitely not on the ball.

  31. Not So NewReader

    Does your boss send out a written survey? Maybe she could change the questions to get different types of answers. Maybe she could include something instructive at the top or preface a question with something instructive to the answering person.

    I was thinking that she could say “This survey is about our employees productivity levels and work quality. As you consider the employee involved, please reflect on her work outputs that you see. The goal is to improve/keep high quality work. Your answers should be clearly tied to goals that have substantial meaning to the well-being of our firm. Answers that do not tie into the well-being of our firm will be disregarded.”

    Just because these lawyers are bosses does not automatically mean that they know how to manage people. Your boss may have to provide guidelines for comments.

  32. Bartlett for President

    When I was young, I really wanted to be a lawyer. My father took me to work for “Take Your Daughter to Work Day,” and it soon became apparent that paying me minimum wage to have me work afternoons and summer breaks was worth it for the secretaries because I was eager to please – and of course I could stuff all those envelopes! and spend five hours in the file room! and walk down to the coffee shop and get tons of coffees? sure! I ended up working after school, and every summer there doing mostly boring stuff, but learned a lot about people.

    This post reminds me of one of the biggest lessons my father wanted me to learn about being a lawyer: you are only as good as your secretary, so treat that person well both in interaction and salary. If you don’t, then you will suffer chaos and crappy billed hours.

    On TV, lawyering seems to be all about arguing in courtrooms. And, perhaps for very bigtime litigators that is true. But, the average lawyer probably spends a lot of time doing divorces/family law, or corporate law – at least, that was the case in the area my father practiced. At my father’s old firm, the secretaries did a lot of the heavy lifting, and therefore were the backbone of a firm. They deserve to be treated well – as, it doesn’t matter how good of a lawyer someone is if they don’t have a great secretary holding down the fort.

    Apparently, this lesson needs to be taught to many of the partners/lawyers being mentioned in the comments here….

  33. BadWolf

    One year, I got a review where I was mostly graded “exceeds expectations,” with a few “meets expectations.” However, in one section my manager had noted that a colleague had made a complaint to HR about me. This was a surprise, as it was the first time I’d ever heard of it. When I asked my manager about it, she stumbled through an explanation that “this person wanted to be anonymous” and that ultimately the complaint was decided to have no merit by her and HR, so that’s why they never brought it up with me. She refused to give me any hint as to what the complaint was, but still felt it was necessary to document it in my review.

    Same manager once slid another employee’s (same title as me) review paperwork across the desk to me and sat there and waited for me to read it. I should have reported her to HR, but I was young and new at the job and eager to please. Super, super uncomfortable situation.

  34. Willow Sunstar

    This seems silly to me. There could be medical reasons for not sitting straight (for example, back issues or near-sightedness). People need to focus more on the larger picture. Also, would they give the same feedback to a man? If not, it is misogynistic (i.e. Back to the old, woman’s appearance matters more than anything else balogna).

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