how can I be a good manager to an employee who barely speaks to me?

A reader writes:

I manage two wonderful employees who share an office next to mine. One of my employees (we’ll call him Neelix) is very outgoing and friendly. We have some similar views on life (politics, child-rearing, etc) and talk easily and often.

My other employee (we’ll call her B’Elanna) is wonderful at her job but rarely says a complete sentence to me. She’s rather introverted and quiet. She doesn’t participate in company events (nor do I push her to do so) and eats lunch an hour later than the rest of the office to be alone. I try not to take her introversion personally, but can’t help but be aware that she is on friendly terms with Neelix and other people in the office. She doesn’t talk often, but she does talk – and even laugh – with them. I’ve been her manager now for almost two years, and I think I could fit everything she’s said to me on one typed sheet.

She actively seems uncomfortable if I walk into the office to talk to her if it’s anything more than “hey, did you get that invoice?”. She emails me and I’ve started emailing her back even though we work next door to each other. I’m a wee bit introverted myself, to be honest, and her aversion to talking to me has been hard for me to overcome. Her discomfort makes me feel uncomfortable!

I’m not aware that we’ve had any encounters that might have led to her not wishing to talk to me. I’ve wracked my brain trying to find a reason. I doubt it’s any of the occasional political discussion that she’s overheard between Neelix and myself turning her off as she’s obviously friends with him. When she and I went over her last employee evaluation, I suggested that we add a goal of her updating me once a month as to her work so that I’d be in the loop, but even that has not really happened and I haven’t pushed the issue. I had no concerns with the quality of her work then nor now, and I made sure she knew that. It might simply be the boss-employee relationship itself that’s putting up a barrier between us.

Technically we can continue like this indefinitely, but when I have one employee poking his head in to say goodnight and chat for a second at the end of the day and one rushing out before I can say so much as goodnight to her, it’s hard not to be a little hurt and concerned by the contrast. I’m not even sure she’d tell me if there was a problem. We are about to go through some big changes this summer as we are replacing the software we use with a new product. We are going to have to communicate about this as both Neelix and B’Elanna will need extensive training.

Do you or your readers have any advice? I want to be a good manager to her, but I feel like I can’t connect with this employee on any level and I’m stumped. I’ve been in many management positions and never run into a problem like this. I’m hoping a fresh perspective will help!

There’s a good chance that it’s just because you’re her boss, and so she puts you in a different category than Neelix and others. The stakes are higher with you, and she may just not be comfortable talking to you in a more social way.

And that part of it is okay. It’s not a big deal if she doesn’t chit-chat with you or do things like say good night before she leaves, and as a manager you can’t take those things personally. It’s almost certainly not personal — and even if it were, as her boss you want to keep your focus on her work and her effectiveness.

But while she doesn’t need to connect with you personally, she does need to connect with you about the work, and right now it sounds like the level of work-related contact is way off where it should be. If you’re going a month without hearing anything about how her work is going, in most jobs that’s a problem — and it’s a problem that you’ve asked her to update you periodically and it’s not happening. It’s also a problem that you’re not confident that she’d tell you if a problem arose in her area of work.

Right now, you’re letting her set the terms of the relationship — you’re deferring to her entirely on what her preferences are. As a manager, you can’t do that (or at least you can’t do that if it’s resulting in a situation like this). You need to decide what kind of communication you want with her and how often, and then make that happen.

So for example, you might tell her that you’re going to start having regular check-in meetings (weekly, every two weeks, or whatever makes sense for your work — monthly would be pretty infrequent in most jobs, but figure out what truly makes sense for your context). Let her know ahead of time what to expect at these meetings — that you’ll go over current projects, debrief recent work, give input, talk through challenges, etc.

For at least the first few of these meetings, I suspect you’ll need to come prepared to draw information out of her. Do some thinking ahead of time about what you want to know, and how you might be able to be helpful to her. If you don’t take control of the agenda, it sounds likely that it’ll just be the two of you staring at each other, which will reinforce for her the idea that conversations with you aren’t necessary. But you also don’t want to just go through the motions because it feels like you should — so really think through what kinds of things you want to discuss.

Questions to get you started: What kind of feedback do you have about her recent work, and about how things are going overall? What feels like the biggest/stickiest challenge in her realm right now, and can you both talk through how to approach it? How are things going with tricky project X? Are there lessons to be captured from project Y last month, where she didn’t get the results you were hoping for? Are there things that you feel out of the loop on and want to know more about? What’s coming down the pike? Are there things on the back burner that at some point should move off of it?

Also, make sure that you explain to her why you’re making this change. You don’t want her to think that it’s a punishment or a response to problems in her work. Explain that you’ve realized that you’re out of the loop on her work and that you’re not able to be a resource to her in the way you want to be. Say that that’s been a failing on your side, not hers, and that you’ve realized that you need to correct it.

It might also be worth addressing the stark difference in your relationship with her versus Neelix … because there’s a chance that she feels slighted by the closer relationship you have with him and doesn’t realize that it’s because she’s thwarted your attempts to create that with her. You could say something like, “I want to make sure you know that I’d welcome talking with you more often on an informal basis too, similar to what I do with Neelix. My sense is that that you prefer to focus on work when you’re at work and not chit-chat, but do I have that right? If I’ve misread it, I want you to know how welcome you are to join in those conversations or have separate ones with me.”

One other thing — I’d cut out the political talk with Neelix. Even if Neelix enjoys it, there’s a decent chance that other people who can hear it don’t … and even people who agree with you may want to be able to escape politics while they work. It’s also possible that you have said something political that makes B’Elanna less comfortable talking with you, who knows. (The fact that she’s friends with someone with similar political views as yours doesn’t rule that out — as her boss, your views are going to impact her differently.) Either way, as a manager, talking politics at work can cause all sorts of issues for the people who work for you and it’s a good idea to cut it out — doubly so when you have someone so disconnected on your team.

{ 272 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Karo

    Regarding politics and friends – I have some good friends that have very different politics from me. They don’t really discuss it and honestly I learned about it well after I already had them mentally categorized as friend. But in general if I hear people talking about social politics that are in direct opposition to mine – particularly when we’re not already friends – I tend to categorize them as “avoid.” So the fact that she’s friends with someone who shares your views means next to nothing.

    (I know it’s an issue to put yourself in an echo chamber and I’m trying to get better about it, but it is what it is.)

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    1. Spoonie

      I totally understand. These days, I tend to switch the topic to puppies with one of my coworkers as soon as possible when he launches into a political discussion — and even that becomes equally tiresome. Who knew I could get tired of talking puppies?

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    2. tigerStripes

      For me, it’s not so much whether I agree with the other person’s politics as much as it is with how the person talks about it and how often the person talks about it. As a general rule, I’m OK with agreeing to disagree with someone (with a few exceptions).

      I also hate listening to politics at work because there’s usually nowhere to escape.

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  2. Leatherwings

    First off, love the names OP (or AAM?).

    Second, this is a little uncomfortable because I think I’m a B’Elanna. Office-type chit chat often makes me feel awkward and I know I can come off as a little cold, especially to higher-ups. If B’Elanna is the same way, it’s definitely not personal, it’s just that being the boss creates a different dynamic. I like Alison’s advice about having regular check-ins, that’s really important. If she responds well to these meetings and start to loosen up, I’d recommend asking her to lunch or coffee one day as well just to talk more in-depth about how her job is going, what her career plans are, etc. It doesn’t have to be to talk about her personal life, just about rapport-building.

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    1. Captain Janeway (OP)

      I’m reassured to hear from another B’Elanna. I’ve tried inviting her to lunch on her birthday (I took Neelix on his last year), and she politely declined. It might be that I need to start small (coffee or tea in the little coffee house next door for example).

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      1. SophieChotek

        Yes, don’t want to sidetrack…but do love the aliases. (of course now I want to know if you work with Seven-of-Nine, the Doctor, Chakotay, Tom Paris, etc.)

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        1. Captain Janeway (OP)

          We definitely have a Tom Paris type (he even loves classic rock and motorcycles and cars) and our director is a Chakotay! :)

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        2. writelhd

          Shouldn’t be too hard for the OP to check if employees are a former borg or a hologram, though it might violate workplace privacy laws.

          (sorry, couldn’t resist.)

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          1. Evan Þ

            Just remember: Letting your employee assimilate you into the Collective is probably not a reasonable accommodation.

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      2. Not So NewReader

        It might be that she does not celebrate her birthday, too.

        Back in my shy-er days, having lunch with the Boss would have been my idea of a nightmare. Having a birthday lunch with my boss might have caused me to call in sick that day. (It was a long time ago, but that is where I was at in my head.)

        It’s not you. It’s that BOSS label you are wearing.

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        1. Batshua

          Yes, this!

          I am working hard on being less TERRIFIED of my boss. My boss isn’t a bad or scary person. My previous bosses weren’t bad or scary people. It’s just that they are Authority and it makes me nervous.

          When I first started this job, I couldn’t even type properly when my boss was watching. I can joke around a little with my new boss, but I’m still a bit on edge just because Boss.

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          1. De Minimis

            I have the same issue….

            It’s odd too because I feel more comfortable around some of the other higher ups who aren’t my immediate boss [who are higher than him] but I can’t relax around my boss at all. And I basically share an office with him, so good times for me….

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        2. Morning Glory

          I agree with this.

          Also, a lunch with your boss on your birthday means expectations are unclear – is this mainly going to be a social lunch talking about social things, etc because it’s a birthday lunch, or is it going to be a work lunch because it’s your boss? That can create unnecessary anxiety.

          As another introvert, I feel much more comfortable with suggestions like ‘let’s grab coffee to talk about x project, or to do our monthly work-related check-in. And during the meeting you could drop in small amount of casual chit-chat if you wanted to.

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          1. BF50

            Definitely agreed with your second paragraph.

            I’m not as introverted as B’Elanna. I like my boss and we talk at work, but lunch on my birthday wouldn’t be something I’d want to do. One on one lunches are fine, but they are still work events. It requires you to be in social mode and a formal social mode at that, which for introverts, is work.

            And that’s why I take my birthday off every year.

            I probably wouldn’t have felt comfortable politely declining, so at least there is that.

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          2. aebhel

            Same. I realize that socializing with coworkers and bosses is a Thing People Do, but if I don’t organically have a rapport with someone, spending unstructured one-on-one time with them to chit-chat sounds nightmarish–especially if they’re my boss, and especially if they’re not enough of a natural extrovert themselves to carry the bulk of the conversation.

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        3. Intrepid

          As a semi-reformed B’Elena, I would be so much more likely to view a birthday lunch as fun if Neelix was invited, so I knew I wouldn’t have to carry the conversation myself. I would also be more up for just walking to the coffee shop, grabbing something, and walking back to the office– a short time to manage holding up my end of the conversation. I’d probably rehearse questions, in my B’Elena past.

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          1. SarahTheEntwife

            Ditto! I don’t like big noisy parties, but I’m even more uncomfortable with one-on-one time with people I’m not already super close to. 5-10ish people in a casual environment where there’s something to do besides talk (even if it’s just “eat cake”) is my comfort zone.

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            1. LQ

              This is kind of funny because 5-10 people is pretty much my worst case scenario. I’m great 1 on 1, but as soon as it hit 5 people you’ve generally got 2 conversations happening and I’m done. But at 5-10 you still have to look like you’re participating. At 25 you can just…leave and no one will notice. Dinner parties are horrible.

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          2. Koko

            Seconding this! I’m quite introverted, but not shy. I make a point to attend office social events every so often, not because I enjoy hanging out with them, because I know it’s the smart thing to do for my career. I stay long enough without staying very long, and I’ve had a lot of valuable conversations at happy hour that generated solutions I might not have come up with if I hadn’t talked to that person on another team who I don’t work directly with but unexpectedly had information that helped me.

            I also really like my boss, as both a boss and a person. He treats me well, supports me as an employee, has taught me a lot, has a great sense of humor, and is a genuinely kind person…And I would feel mild anxiety doing a one-on-one social thing with him. The stakes just feel too high, if I got nervous to fill the silence and ended up saying something wrong or stupid. And then I would have to come work for him every day knowing he had seen me do that wrong or stupid thing and whether consciously or unconsciously it was now feeding into his evaluation of me. It would take me months to get over the embarrassment.

            But luckily, my boss organizes and attends a lot of social events for our whole team or office. I end up chatting with him a lot at those events. If I’m not sure what to say, I can stay quiet and let others do the talking for a while. The stakes do not feel high in a group environment. So yes, invite Neelix And B’Elanna together. It will lessen the pressure.

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        4. Lemon Zinger

          Yup. I like and respect my boss, but I am not friends with her. I would not go out to eat with her and I do not want to discuss non-work related things with her.

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        5. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          It could also be a religious thing (not celebrating her bday). But I think, at bottom, it’s because there’s no real relationship other than “boss/subordinate.” I would not want to go out to a birthday lunch with my current boss for similar reasons, and I am suuuuper social.

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        6. tigerStripes

          I have a great supervisor, and he has a great supervisor, but just me and either of them for lunch? No. I deal better with social situations when there are a few more people so that it’s not as noticeable if I can’t think of anything to say (which is frequent). Add the one on one uncomfortableness with the thought of “It’s the boss – I have to watch what I say” (even if I don’t really have to watch what I say), and that just sounds painful. I mean, it’s a thoughtful idea, but some of us will cringe at the suggestion.

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      3. Newby

        Focusing on having professional meetings regularly might be a better starting place. If she gets comfortable talking to you regularly, she might start to feel more comfortable with the idea of getting coffee or lunch. She also might not, but that would be ok too. Not everyone needs to be on friendly social terms with their boss.

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        1. NW Mossy

          I’ll second this. I have a couple of directs who are hard to connect with, and I found that standing meetings about work fit better with their mental view of me as The Boss and got them talking more.

          A coffee seems like it should work better because it’s more informal, but for some directs, the structure of maintaining the formalities is actually more conducive to their opening up. A coffee says “tell me about yourself” in a way that many reserved people find ups their anxiety level, but a 30-minute “tell me about your work” in a conference room is more manageable because they can come up with topics for discussion more easily.

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          1. tigerStripes

            A lot of the quiet people that I know (including me) will tend to open up and start talking if it’s about work.

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        2. Turtle Candle

          I think this is a great way to do it. I tend to be somewhat… ‘nervous’ is too strong a word, but reserved/cautious around my bosses at first, whereas I become friendly/chatty with coworkers much faster. It’s not personal, it’s just that my managers have a much more make-or-break effect on my work life (both in the day-to-day and in the long-term trajectory of pay, title, responsibility, area of focus, etc.), and I really don’t want to screw that up.

          I will eventually relax and warm up to my managers (not everyone will, of course), but only if I feel like our professional relationship is on a solid footing first. Once I’m comfortable with that, being more sociable feels less risky. So yeah, rather than trying things like inviting her out for her birthday or initiating social chat right now, I’d focus on the professional things you want to improve (check-ins, increased communication about work projects, whatever that might be). She may never warm up to you, and as long as she’s not rude that’s fine; not everyone wants to be social with their boss, and it’s a legit choice. But it’s also possible that she’s not going to warm up until she feels comfortable interacting with you about work.

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      4. Elise

        I think I’m a bit like you, introverted enough for these situations to be awkward, but friendly with my boss and colleagues. I work with a B’Elanna, and in my office the whole department goes out for lunch for birthdays. Maybe the larger group would be preferable to her, and you might also get a more personal connection to her by virtue of group conversations instead of the pressure of one-on-one conversation (which honestly would feel awkward to me, even though I am friendly with my boss). Some common interests might come up that you can use for non-awkward conversation starters day to day.

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      5. Beancounter Eric

        Bad experience with managers in the past might play a part in B’Elanna’s silence toward you. There may be a history of bad managers and it can take time to get past that. Or you may have someone who just prefers a very professional relationship with their manager.

        As AAM said, update meetings would be a good idea.

        Don’t get too upset about email communications – you may be dealing with someone who prefers written vice verbal communication – I prefer email in part so I can go back and reference details, so I can link to my calendar, and so there is reduced ambiguity in communications.

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      6. ADL

        Honestly, since you’re my boss, I’m not sure that I would want to even have coffee or tea with you, on a social setting – which is what you are trying to do. Remember, you’re the person who decides my fate (promotion, raises; on the flip side, PIPs, etc). If the coffee was for work, then sure, I’d go. But you are trying to be my friend versus being my boss.

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        1. winter

          +1 As being friends is totally optional at work, I’d worry if the working relationship is … working and giving good results. Anything else is optional and should come naturally. A meeting over coffee would definitely not feel natural to me. At most I’d be interested in group activities with the whole team.
          B’Elanna might one day decide to say goodnight, but IMO that really shouldn’t be the goal OP strives for.

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      7. AnonyMouish

        Not to micromanage the coffee-getting, but one thing might help, and that I’ve seen in several workplaces, is to just invite her ‘for the walk’. “Hey B’Elanna, I’m going to walk next door to get a coffee and bring it back before my meeting. Wanna come with me?”

        If you both have something to do (even as simple as ‘walk and talk at the same time’ ) and she knows she has an out as soon as you get back to the office (due to your ‘meeting’), it might feel like it’s a lower-pressure way to start, and four minutes of chit-chat can be easier to come up with, and to recover from if she’s very introverted.

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      8. Office Plant

        I’m a B’Elanna. There’s a reason for it. I got tired of losing jobs or having co-workers yell at me because they asked about my views, or my interests outside of work, and found something offensive. I can’t risk being without a source of income because someone doesn’t like xyz about me, so I just do my job and act quiet and uninteresting.

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        1. Freya UK

          This. So much this.

          I am an introvert, and now in workplaces I just let it be instead of making an effort; I’ll set myself up as the cold one if you’re going to eventually find a “problem” with who I am anyway.

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        2. Sd

          So true. Same here. Not only that but damn it’s a job. I go to work in order to work, not to chit chat and make friends with people I have nothing in common with. Most people in the workplace just find some of my opinions to be offensive and like you said, I need my job so better to just work and be quiet.

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      9. LittleTeapot

        I’m a B’Elanna at my current job with my division director (not the department head or the team lead). And it boils down to a few related things. Division director likes to trash talk other divisions, customers, outside vendors, job candidates, my coworkers, anyone really. I don’t go beyond short, yet polite answers so there is little for her to trash talk about me. She often only talks to certain people on the organizational chart (think teapot designers I or teapot design assistants) if she is bored or for show. She listens to jump in and dominates the conversation. She often gives half explanations for decisions (if at all). And she jumps into conversations with little understanding of what I said going on and offers ideas like she is the savior of the organization. Basically I don’t trust her and don’t think she respects others. Going out to lunch with her is something I would decline.

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      10. Shelix

        I had to jump in and reiterate how FREAKING AMAZING it was to get a blast from the Voyager past. I really miss that show sometimes! Thank you for reminding me of it. And your pseudonyms regarding personality were great :)

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      11. Akcipitrokulo

        I’ve been really like B’Elanna in the past – at current job not so much – with OldBoss definitely not and getting to same level with NewBoss (me and Neelix – he manages one introvert and one extrovert too – call him Kirk…)

        A lot to do with that imo, is the 1-1s that we have here. EVERYONE in the company has 2-weekly 1-1 with their manager (before we were acquired, the CEO did it with the owner). It is so userful!

        I would suggest, if you do this (which I’d definitely second based on my experiences) that you do it for both of them as a new thing for the whole team. Talk politics with Neelix there if you like ;-) (OldBoss and I did on occasion) but having it as her only could make her feel secure and isolated as the one with the issue. I know it would have freaked me out and have been a negative thing, instead of a positive, if I had been the only one.

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    2. k

      Another B’Elanna here. I’m very introverted and have some social anxiety, so not a big fan of chit-chat. If a co-worker comes up an initiates it I’ll chat along for a bit, but I’d never start the conversation, especially with a superior. It’s nothing personal.

      I also want to really really encourage OP to start having formal check-ins. It can be a quick meeting once a week, every other week, whatever. I’ve had bosses that do this and it’s hugely helpful. With my personality I find it uncomfortable to randomly poke my head in boss’s office and interrupt them unless it’s something important. So when I have smaller concerns, ideas, etc. it’s great being able to just make a mental note that I can mention it at our next check it.

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      1. Not So NewReader

        I got the warped idea as a kid and carried it into adulthood that bosses don’t have time for chitchat and I shouldn’t be bothering a boss. (This did NOT serve me well and I learned to do better as the years rolled by.)
        Add this misconception to an introverted personality and things got complex fast.

        My suggestion is for you, OP, to look at her lack of communication as happening for more than one reason. We humans tend to like to find ONE reason and SOLVE things. Reality is people act the way they do for several or many reasons, there is no one single reason that usually drives a particular behavior. Behaviors are the result of re-enforced learning.

        Ironically, your friendly convos with her cohort can tend to re-enforce the idea that she should not chat with you. Yeah, that is kind of twisted. My best advice here is to ignore this, do not allow more awkwardness to creep into an already awkward setting. The best way to do this is to appear as happy to talk with her as you are happy to talk with him. Be natural and most importantly be consistent and even-keeled with her.

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        1. Collingwood21

          Yes, Not So New Reader! I have the same issue and the fact my boss has such a chatty relationship with my counterpart and the people she used to manage yet not with me causes my great worry and makes our working relationship very awkward. Regular informal check-ins would be a huge help in breaking down this issue, but I don’t like to bother the boss. I just sit here and feel very stressed about it all. :-(

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    3. Ihmmy

      also a B’Elanna, at least some days. I like my boss, we do occasionally chit chat a little, but we have nothing in common to really talk about most of the time. Our lives and interests are vastly different. She was really close to my previous coworker the way Captain is with Neelix and I found it really uncomfortable at times when it felt like there was a lot of favouritism in a way I wouldn’t be able to bring up. Please be careful with how your differences impact your staff (it sounds like you’re already aware of this though!)

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      1. Collingwood21

        +1000
        When managers have visibly closer relationships with one member of the team over the other it can create and extremely unpleasant dynamic for the one being left out.

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    4. Yup

      I’m totally another B’Elanna and I’m not even introverted!

      I seem to have been taught the same values as Not So NewReader… My boss never initiates talk with me and he is super busy and seems harried all the time so I whenever I want to talk to him about something I convince myself that I would be bothering him, he’s way too busy to be bothered by my small problems or check-ins etc.

      Many of my co-workers just burst into his office out of the blue to talk to him about every little thing and I wonder if I should do the same but it just seems so RUDE- I can’t do it.

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      1. Yup

        …sorry- meant to have a point to that.

        … is is there any way you could be making yourself seem unapproachable without realizing it?

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    5. Angelinha

      Two ways to interact with her that don’t require her to come up with the topics are: asking her input/opinion on something work-related, and giving her positive feedback. (Negative feedback, too, but it sounds like she hasn’t needed much of that.) These may help the conversations feel more natural. I do think implementing check-ins with both staff is a good idea, and what about a two-on-one regular check-in meeting where Neelix is there too?

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    6. Manders

      I’m a bit of a B’Elanna too. The truth is that I’m decent at small talk, but 1) I have some niche, nerdy interests, which makes it hard to open up when I’m trying to be my most professional self and 2) Big city living means pretty much every moment of my day is spent with someone else in the room, and sometimes I get kinda burned out on social interaction and I don’t want more of it at work. I also like email so I can have EVERYTHING work-related in writing–I rely on Outlook for flagging tasks and checking past instructions.

      I strongly recommend having some one-on-one meetings with her that are mostly focused on her current work, but with a little bit of chitchat about how she’s feeling about the job and whether she’d like to take on any new projects.

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      1. Anon for this

        I’m a B’Elanna too, in general, but moreso at my last job. When I first joined, my boss seemed super awkward around me (he tried, but we just didn’t click, and I’m too awkward to make it work from my end). Then I had to take some time off sick, and the relationship just deteriorated. I definitely didn’t do myself any favours, but it looked like he didn’t believe I was as ill as I had said, so I got super disincentivised to make the effort. Plus, I didn’t really respect him – in fact, I had to really work to not turn every interaction into outright insubordination (I didn’t know I had it in me, and I’m so ashamed of the way I behaved in that job! Ironically, when I left, I had a colleague who said he would miss my professionalism!) I think I might have actually skipped when I handed my notice in.

        All this is to say, is there anything in your past interaction with B’Elanna that might cause her to look unfavourably or uncomfortably at you? (Not that you might have done anything wrong, but she might have some screwed up mental gymnastics going on that you really don’t know about – for me, I’d always been a high performer, and to be taken down a peg or two like I was really stung – but even though I hated my manager, I will say he never did anything wrong). And also to say that, if it really is you, she’ll probably be leaving as soon as she can (if she’s anything like me).

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    7. Trig

      Yeah, the regular check-ins are key. I have a weekly phone check-in with my boss, and sometimes up to half of it is spent chatting about our weekend plans, something funny that happened on the bus, the weather, whatever. We don’t have a ton of similar interests and are at vastly different life stages, but somehow we still have topics of friendly conversation.

      I’m generally an introverted, awkward person, and normally I hate the phone, but these chats have come naturally, somehow. I actually think the phone is what makes it less awkward; not having to stare at the person helps, and we can be making a tea or wandering around the house in our pajamas, or doing whatever other phone habits with the other person none-the-wiser.

      Anyway. What I want to highlight is that having a regular, scheduled “how are these various tasks/projects going, do you have any concerns, do you need any support” meeting is really helpful in keeping my manager abreast of my work, and letting me know she’s got my back and I can bring things up if needed. The social chat aspect is a bonus that has evolved over time as we built more rapport. (And due to recent shakeups, I have a new manager now who I’ve only worked at arm’s-length with, so it’ll be interesting rebuilding that rapport.)

      Reply
    8. Sylvie

      I’m usually a “B’Elanna” because I’m nervous about doing a good job, not getting in trouble, and being nervous and insecure in general. That being said, I’ve had some bosses who were similar to B’Elanna and it’s very easy to think that they absolutely hate you/you did something wrong to tick them off and they won’t tell you why. It’s tough.

      Reply
  3. MuseumChick

    Please stop the political talk at work. You have no idea what her political views are, even if she is friendly with her co-workers with opposite views, you are her boss, the power dynamic is different. I hope different political views than some of my friends which I have no problem with. But recently in a meeting someone several positions above me made an off-handed political comment that was in major conflict with my own views and it made me extremely uncomfortable.

    Also, remember, you are not there to be friends. You are there to get work done and manage people. It’s ok to have a friendly relationship with your team but don’t lose sight of what you are there to do.

    Reply
    1. TotesMaGoats

      I don’t think OP wants to be friend, necessarily, but certainly friendly. The most productive offices I’ve seen are the ones where people are friendly and collegial with one another. Having good relationships with work mates helps you get through the rough times like budget cuts or staff shortages.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        Agreed. We have to be approachable and conversational, at least when it comes to the work part of the job. People need to know that they can walk up to me and I will not growl or bark or curl up my lip and bare my teeth at them. (Approachable) Ideally, people need to know that they can walk up to me and I will do my absolute best to help them with whatever is going on. (Conversational)

        Reply
    2. Dizzy Steinway

      I’m curious about how so many people have picked up on the political talk and not the childrearing talk.

      Some people find the latter difficult because they have problems with their health or fertility. And may go out of their way to avoid people who talk about it because workplace crying.

      Also, I’m curious about what you meant by child-rearing OP? Some conversations in that stable are potentially very polarising.

      Reply
      1. No Kids!

        This! Not that I find it polarizing, but as somebody who doesn’t like kids and who will not be having any, I actively avoid kid discussions. I don’t hate children or think that nobody should have them but I am more than tired of being asked when I am having them and told I will change my mind, to the point that I will LOUDLY talk about my tubal ligation to embarass shamers into not pestering me. I just prefer to avoid them and the kid talk though.

        Reply
      2. Antilles

        I think it depends how you interpret “child-rearing”. To me, that means the general life information like “so Brayden’s 4th birthday is coming up this weekend, we’re having a pony ride” or “yeah, Missy got the flu on Friday, she was a handful all weekend”. The kind of harmless stories where you could basically swap out “my child” with any other family member (niece, cousin, spouse) and have basically the same story.
        Or, to put it otherwise, ‘child-rearing’ discussions usually don’t involve controversial issues, whereas with politics, there’s basically no issue that doesn’t get controversial.

        Reply
        1. Dizzy Steinway

          I don’t want to go down the road of discussing these individual issues but I can think of plenty of child-reading discussions that polarise people. Vaccinations. Corporal punishment. Attachment parenting. Controlled crying. Choosing not to breastfeed. There are minefields aplenty. I read views as meaning opinions, not general life info. But I may have that wrong.

          Reply
        2. Lucille

          To me, “child-rearing” specifically means “how” to raise your kids, while the stuff you mention is just talking about your kids. And “child-rearing” to me therefore definitely can involve controverisal issues, such as people’s position on how to punish children (coroporal punishment?), breast-feeding (which should not be controversial but sadly often is), vaccinations (likewise) and so on.

          So when someone says they have similar views on child-rearing, I would take that as meaning they have discussed these sorts of things.

          Reply
        3. Tuckerman

          I think it’s likely that’s what OP meant about sharing views on child rearing, more just general kid talk. But I could also see myself getting frustrated if my colleagues were talking about certain views (“No vaccines for Braden because big pharma…” “Spare the rod spoil the child!)

          Reply
        4. Captain Janeway

          This is exactly the kind of talk I mean. In this case we both have older children (college age), so it’s more “Tess got an A on her philosophy exam” kind of talk — nothing personal or polarizing, I think.

          Reply
          1. Captain Janeway

            Although we HAVE talked about our philosophies of child-rearing (in kind of a looking back kind of way), it’s never been in the office but waiting in line at the cafeteria or waiting for a meeting to start. We got stuck at a poorly planned event that no one else showed up for when I first came on board, for example, and ended up talking about our free-range raising of our kids (encouraging them to be independent and experimental as they grew up). As usual Neelix introduced the topic of conversation, but, then again, he’s as extroverted as B’Elanna is introverted.

            Reply
  4. Autistic Person

    I don’t disagree with Alison’s advice but another possibility to be sensitive to is that if your employee is an autistic person like me the introverted behavior is not anything personal against you. I’m not “out” to my coworkers but they are aware that I like to be alone more than most of them do. There are lots of other things, but they aren’t really relevant, especially since there is no performance issue. I am told I am an excellent communicator (in my very specific, autism-friendly sub-discipline) but in-person communication can be difficult and draining even with coworkers and bosses that I otherwise like and get along with. I do avoid it if I am tired or whatever. That possibility doesn’t really change any of the suggestions Alison made, it’s just something you should be aware of.

    Reply
    1. Autistic Person

      Also worth noting: I can be very very focused on what I am doing, so if the boss pops in and asks me a question unexpectedly I may do the “deer in headlights” thing. I wonder if that is what the OP meant by: “She actively seems uncomfortable if I walk into the office to talk to her if it’s anything more than “hey, did you get that invoice?”.
      I also like emails for communicating (where appropriate) because having to do it in person can make it hard for me to say what I want because I am trying to concentrate on appropriate social cues and reading body language and stuff I am really not good at and it can be super distracting.

      Reply
      1. Dizzy Steinway

        I feel awkward when people walk in but it’s thanks to family of origin issues and abusive ex-partner issues. Even after much therapy and general healing I can still accidentally default to an old conditioned response.

        Reply
      2. Mints

        Oh man I’m probably not autistic but I have a lot of aspie traits, and the “deer in headlights” rings really true for me too. Like I joke that I can’t keep track of anything in my head but I’m hyper organized through email or other written stuff. Sometimes people will catch me in the break room like “Hey about that email you sent earlier – do you still need that?” And I’m trying to remember the dozens of emails I’ve sent recently to try to figure it out while outwardly my face just goes blank. Including when people are like “What are you doing this weekend?” Me: What AM I doing this weekend? Was the concert this weekend? Was it going to a bar? Do I need to censor the drinking? Was it a hike?
        I can deal with chit chat better when the other person initiates a story or plans, and I have some time to switch gears. Or if it’s work related, if they send an email.

        Reply
        1. CheeryO

          I am EXACTLY the same way. My boyfriend jokes that I have the short-term memory of a guppy, but I think it’s just the way my brain works – I need time to sort through things in person, but I can read an email, mentally place it in the context of the rest of the project/whatever, and fire off an articulate response without hesitation. I honestly feel like two different people sometimes.

          Reply
      3. Another Autistic Person

        Another autistic person here – I also like email for similar reasons. It gives me time to work through “how does this come across from the recipient’s perspective” stuff that’s hard to do face-to-face.

        As well as trying to read the other person’s body language, F2F also means worrying about my own body language – a lot of my natural body language reads as unfriendly to neurotypical folk, so I have to watch myself to make sure I’m making enough eye contact, keeping arms unfolded, etc. Sometimes that distracts from hearing what they’re actually saying!

        This is highly dependent on who I’m talking to. The better I know somebody and the better they know me, the less I have to worry about misunderstanding, and the less stressful it is to talk F2F. Some people are intrinsically easier for me to talk to than others – e.g. I’m much more comfortable around female managers. B’Elanna may have similar issues, so I wouldn’t assume that her reluctance to talk is coming from any kind of personal animosity etc.

        Talking is also significantly less stressful if I know in advance what we’re discussing so I can prepare for it – I’m actually quite a good public speaker if I have enough notice! But I try to avoid “what did you do on the weekend” small talk because the answer is often a downer: “I spent all weekend on freelance jobs to make ends meet because my partner’s ill and can’t work”.

        I would strongly recommend asking B’Elanna (perhaps via email) what her preferred communication style is.

        Reply
      4. Gyrfalcon

        I have a coworker who doesn’t like to be interrupted when she’s concentrating on a project. So even though she sits in the office next to mine, I email her when I have a question. That way she can answer at a natural time in her own work and thought process. I only interrupt her in her office for Things That Must Be Answered NOW, and there are vanishingly few of those. It can feel a little artificial, and sometimes I feel impatient and want (but don’t need) an answer right away, but I school myself and send email anyway.

        As the boss your needs for information might be different, but at one of the checkins you’re going to schedule with B’Eanna you might ask her her preferences for getting interrupted, and work out an arrangement that works for both of you.

        Reply
    2. Captain Janeway (OP)

      I will take that to heart. Thank you. It’s obvious that she’s uncomfortable and maybe even feels cornered if I single her out to talk to. I think that’s what has made this so difficult. I want to be on friendly terms and I don’t get any enjoyment out of making someone feel uncomfortable.

      If it were you, how would you prefer a manager approach you? Direct and brief? Friendly and casual? Something else? I’m at a loss because friendly 95% of the time, and no-nonsense and direct if there’s a problem has always been my MO and it’s worked in the past.

      Reply
      1. the gold digger

        You may already be doing all of this, but here are a few things my current boss does that I really like that my former boss never did:

        * He walks over to our group and says “good morning” every single day
        * Early in the morning, he will come over and ask if anyone wants to walk down to the break room for coffee
        * He will, once a quarter or so, arrange a Dutch treat lunch for anyone (including outside of our group) to attend
        * We have regular meetings about what I’m working on and track those issues through Jira (although any tool where there is a list you both can see would work)
        * He is very direct with his feedback, which I like – I am not a mind reader

        Reply
        1. Meg Murry

          In addition to all this, she also might interact better with you if she has a little bit of “fair warning”. So either routines (like GD said, saying ‘good morning’ every day around the same time), or giving her advanced notice that you’re going to pop by and specifics as to what you are going to discuss – “I’ve got some questions on the ABC invoice that would be easier to talk out than put in writing. I’ll stop in after my 10-11 meeting so we can go over it”.

          Reply
      2. Autistic Person

        Thank you for asking! Well there may be cultural aspects behind my answer, as well as me being autistic, but I prefer direct, to the point, and succinct, especially if there is a problem. Trying to spare my feelings is ok in a not-yelling-at-me way, but not ok in a bless-your-heart kind of way (I have trouble communicating effectively with overly “polite” southerners because of this sometimes, I have no idea what they are getting at or what they want me to do). Being what I consider unnecessarily friendly and casual would make me think you were being weird because I did something or that I was missing something that an NT (non-autistic people) would pick up on, which would make me uncomfortable. Does that make sense? Otherwise I like to be treated just like everybody else, although I appreciate that people I work with are aware of my “little peculiarities” . They don’t mind me preferring to be by myself or, for example, my preference for the same chair at lunch time. Since you are a friendly person perhaps you could make a ritual of greeting your employee in the mornings or when leaving, but not putting her on the spot with chit-chat? Also, if you think your report is like me scheduling stuff and having an agenda is good, so she knows what to expect. If it’s not urgent, could you try emailing her and saying something like: “I need to stop by your office today to discuss X, Y, and Z “? If she is like me she may want to plan what to say to you about X, Y, and Z ahead of time, it may allow her to stick to a workflow schedule that she is comfortable with, and it will eliminate uncomfortable surprises. As to whether you set the time to talk about X,Y, and Z or you ask her what is a good time depends on some of the stuff Alison went into. You also might find it helpful to explain WHY you want to have those monthly check-ins, because it may not be obvious to her, especially since she is good at her job. If it were me I would want to have them on a specific schedule (ex. it would aggravate me if you were late without giving me a heads-up, I’d be able to work around it, but all autistic people are different and some wouldn’t cope well, just as an example). I think the things I mentioned might help with a shy or introverted person too, since your employee may not even be autistic.

        Reply
        1. J.B.

          I think that advice would apply to many introverts and anxious (clinical or not) folks as well. Particularly the knowing an agenda ahead of time.

          Reply
        2. aebhel

          This. My former boss wasn’t always great about these things, but I really liked that she didn’t usually just pop in; she’d let me know ahead of time that she needed to discuss xyz with me, so I could have time to mentally adjust my focus and prepare for the conversation.

          Reply
      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Part of it can be feeling trapped at your desk. I had a boss who would wander in to talk, but she would do it when she was bored and blowing off steam. And she’d block the door while doing it. So I felt totally trapped at my desk, forced to have a long meandering conversation when I had deadlines, just because she’d walked in. Over time, I started tensing up anytime she came by because I didn’t know if it was going to be a 5 minute or 50 minute conversation.

        I think everything Autistic Person outlined is great, and I want to emphasize the “give someone a head’s up before walking into their office.” It sounds silly, but it can be a big anxiety reducer.

        Reply
        1. tigerStripes

          B’Elanna might also have some sensitivity due to a previous boss – it’s easy for someone to get nervous in a perfectly safe situation with you if the same kind of situation wasn’t so safe with a previous manager.

          Reply
  5. TotesMaGoats

    I don’t disagree with the advice at all. I would offer that there is a difference between introverted, shy, and not wanting to chit chat with your boss. I had a report who would actively go out of her way not to walk past my office door or say good bye when she left. She didn’t say it with anyone but would be chit chatty at other times. Sometimes with me and sometimes with other staff. It was just weird.

    I think saying good morning/good night and such normal pleasantries are part of a normal business day. Those things don’t have anything to do with introversion. Additionally, many shy people learn how to do those things as well. She may never change her behavior but I you can certainly keep doing you. Saying good morning and good night doesn’t hurt anyone.

    Reply
    1. dkfjoie

      I don’t say good morning/good night at the office. I’m pretty introverted, shy and soft spoken. For me saying a blanket “Good night” to a large room of people that may or may not hear me and that I don’t already have their attention is terrifying. If I don’t already have your attention, how am I suppose to talk to you? But I don’t mind if other people do it either. If it was brought up to me as something I should be doing, I would work at it though.

      Reply
      1. TotesMaGoats

        But still, you’ve stated you are shy and introverted. We conflate those two things a lot. They often show up together but they aren’t the same. And a large group of people vs walking past your boss’ door at the end of the day aren’t the same thing.

        You do you. Whatever is comfortable and the norm for your office. But saying those pleasantries are the norm in a lot of offices.

        Reply
        1. Buffay the Vampire Layer

          This is a really good point. Shyness and introversion are often correlated, but they are not the same. To be extremely reductive: Introversion is feeling that social interactions are draining; Shyness is disliking interacting with new people.

          For example, I am introverted and not shy, while my husband is extroverted and a bit shy. I enjoy meeting new people and making conversation comes easily to me. However, afterward I feel like I need to rest, just like I enjoy going to the gym but am tired afterward. I feel just as tired after an equivalent amount of time with friendly aquaintences or anyone other than a few best girlfriends. He, on the other hand, is super gregarious when around people he knows well, and finds socializing with them energizing, but is less comfortable going up to strangers and striking up a conversation than I am.

          Reply
          1. Ramblin' Ma'am

            Yes! It took me a long time to realize I was actually a somewhat shy/awkward extrovert, not an introvert. I just need to get over the initial introductions!

            Reply
    2. Sigh

      I do caution anyone viewing things like this as a learned behaviour.

      I grew up with social anxiety disorder and only started on medication as an adult. Before medication I could not ‘learn’ the pleasantries of society – I felt obligated to return a ‘good morning’ but could never initiate it. I could interact with customers but not in a social way… I could barely even talk to my supervisor without rehearsing what I needed to say 20 times and sticking to my script.

      I could only really talk to people if I became comfortable around them – which takes effort on their part to wear down my walls. Most people didn’t put in the effort because they assumed I was rude or disinterested.

      With medication I can carry on conversations with 1-2 people at a time but that is it. I still stick to scripted customer conversations and infamously known as ‘the quiet one’. I don’t choose this life and have tried to ‘learn’ but there are barriers I cannot overcome due to my mental illness.

      If I went off my meds I would not be able to pop into my bosses back office to say ‘goodnight’ when leaving or laugh with my coworker. Saying good morning and good night WOULD actually hurt me.

      Reply
      1. TotesMaGoats

        BUT…as I said above, those things aren’t the same things. Can they have the same outcomes? Sure. But social anxiety disorder is not shyness or introversion. While is was painful to do those things, were you aware that they were “done”? So to speak. That’s also different from someone who doesn’t understand that there is a thing such as pleasantries.

        Reply
      2. Ask a Manager Post author

        I think that’s a valuable perspective to take into account, but that it’s also worth remembering that there are plenty of people for whom is IS a learned behavior and who wouldn’t be harmed by being told to say good night to coworkers. (I want to caution us against doing the “not everyone can have sandwiches” thing here, basically.)

        Reply
        1. The Data Don't Lie

          Yes but we don’t know which type of person the employee in the OP is. I would be pissed if my manager insisted I “learn” to say goodnight to him every night just so he didn’t feel bad. I am one of those employees that took a longer route to the restroom because I didn’t want to have to walk past my managers office and exchange pleasantries with him. Social anxiety is a real thing, people.

          Reply
          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            But I think that’s a straw man — no one has suggested requiring it (that I’ve seen, at least) and instead people are just noting that it can make relationships weirder if it doesn’t happen. And I mean, of course it can. Social anxiety does make things weirder sometimes; that doesn’t preclude understanding its a thing, though.

            Reply
            1. The Data Don't Lie

              I’m really confused because you literally just said there are people “who wouldn’t be harmed by being told to say good night to coworkers.” If my manager told me I needed to say goodnight to my coworkers, I would take that as being a requirement. It’s splitting hairs to argue about whether “being told to” do something by a manager is significantly different than being “required” to do so.

              Also the initial post on this thread is claiming that people can learn these behaviors and states “Saying good morning and good night doesn’t hurt anyone.” Which implies that the shy/introverted/socially anxious employees just need to suck it up and do it. It’s NOT THAT SIMPLE.

              I agree that it can make relationships weirder without the social niceties and that there are people who wouldn’t be harmed by being told to perform them, but how do you plan to figure who those people are? If my manager asked me to say “goodnight” to her as I was leaving, it would cause me significant amounts of stress EVERY single evening and I would probably end up working until after she left to avoid it. Why am I the one that makes things weird and not the person that needs all their employees to perform the ritual of saying goodnight when they leave?

              Maybe it’s because I work in computer science and it’s common in this field to have people on the more socially awkward end of the spectrum, but I just don’t see why you can’t admit that you can’t just try to make everyone conform to some standard of social skills (and that perfect social skills are necessarily a requirement to be successful at most jobs).

              Reply
              1. Ask a Manager Post author

                I was responding to Sigh’s comment that she would be harmed by it. I was noting that that’s not a universal thing, and that I didn’t want us to discuss it as if it were (hence the “not everyone can have sandwiches” thing, which is a phenomenon I’m trying to ward off here, where one suggestion doesn’t work for everyone and therefore is shot down universally).

                Reply
      3. Jackie Paper

        Wow, you are me.
        Except that I’ve had minimal success with medications. Everything else you say resonates with me so hard I almost want to cry. I’ve also been “the quiet one” since elementary school – so, the last 30 years of my life. I feel like at this point it’s not even possible to change.

        Reply
        1. Socially Anxious Weirdo

          Jackie, I also feel the same way. I’ve gotten a lot better, but so so much of it has been cognitive therapy (with a workbook, actually– “Mastery of Your Anxiety and Panic: Workbook (Treatments That Work)”. If this specific one isn’t appropriate for you, there are others). I still can’t get all the way through the workbook without getting to sections that cause panic, and I’ve started over many, many times. But every time I learn something, every time I put a little of the stuff into practice and it helps a lot.

          There is hope. I’m sitting at my desk at work thinking about crying because of some awkward interactions I had with a coworker yesterday. But a year ago I couldn’t even get to this chair, I couldn’t even get to work on days like this.

          You can move past this. You are stronger than you even know.

          Reply
    3. The Data Don't Lie

      > Saying good morning and good night doesn’t hurt anyone.

      I don’t think that NOT saying good morning and goodnight hurts anyone either. Are people hired to do a job or to say good morning and goodnight? Are you willing to let go of an excellent employee because they don’t like saying goodnight to their coworkers when they leave?

      Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        I don’t think anyone has proposed firing someone for not saying good morning or good night. But in many jobs, having good relationships with colleagues matters and little things like this can make for easier working relationships. Again, not a firing offense (!!) but not totally unimportant either.

        Reply
        1. JessaB

          Another issue and the OP needs to find out if this is the thing. When Neelix says goodbye the boss knows they’re leaving. If the boss has any last minute stuff they can now say that. Now it’s a possibility that this is not an issue where the OP works, but besides feeling weird, they might need to drill down into why they want that thing happening. If it’s just meaningless social noise, then leave B alone. But if it’s an internal cue for the OP to take care of the last nuggets of business, then that’s different. And instead of expecting B to say “goodbye,” maybe something else “Boss do you have anything else?”

          Reply
      2. mousie housie

        The vast majority of employees are not indispensable enough to overlook rudeness. Greetings and farewells are simple gestures that acknowledge that you work in proximity with other humans.

        Someone who alienated the entire team around them by not performing basic social conventions wouldn’t last long in my workplace. It’s a free country, you’re welcome to behave as you would like but there are consequences to that behaviour.

        Reply
        1. Elfie

          Gee, that’s harsh. I’m reasonably happy to have conversations with my colleagues (too happy, some might say!), but I hate hate hate the ‘saying goodnight to a whole office’ thing. I don’t mind saying goodnight to individuals (sometimes), and I’m definitely okay with saying hello in the mornings, but goodnight is a Big Deal for me. And I’ve had to get better at the other stuff too. I took the mantra You’re Not At Work To Make Friends thing a little too much to heart at first, and that’s coupled with the fact that I’m perfectly happy not to be around people for long periods of time (unfortunately I have to live in a world full of social interaction, which, tbh, is not really my thing).

          Reply
    4. Cassie

      I think saying good morning or hello or goodbye can be normal pleasantries, but depending on the set up of the office, it may just not happen naturally. I sit in a suite with offices and cubicles and one coworker will walk around the suite each morning, saying good morning to every single person (~10 people). Nobody else does this to the extent that the coworker does. At most, they’ll say hi to the person in the office or cubicle next to them.

      I’m not saying you shouldn’t say hi or greet someone when you pass – I do this and most people do. But people should not feel impelled to make a round each morning. If they want to, because they enjoy it, then fine – that’s their choice. But they shouldn’t feel like they “must” do this (I know there are some people who do think this is a requirement for being polite – different perspectives, I guess).

      Reply
    1. The Cosmic Avenger

      Hey, those were pretty accurate analogies! Besides, it could have been worse, they could have used Trip and T’Pol! ;)

      Reply
      1. discarvard

        I might have known you would like Tinykittens too! I watched quite a bit during the Neelix/Sable/Skye era.

        Reply
        1. JB (not in Houston)

          Yes, my first thought was, aw, she’s using tinykittens names, and then I was confused.
          @discarvard i don’t want to derail, but she has two pregnant not-feral ferals right now, a week or two away from their due dates.

          Reply
          1. Ask a Manager Post author

            I’ve gotten us off-topic, which is my fault (and after I just said I want to cut down on this!), but tinykittens.com. It’s web cams run by an amazing woman who fosters pregnant cats and their kittens (and then gets them all spayed and adopted). She’s been successfully socializing feral cats who are supposed to be far too old to be socialized, and she’s proving that they’re not.

            Here’s an adorable video of what happened when a kitten from one of the older litters escaped and broke into the nest of one of the other mother cats — Neelix! — who had much younger kittens:
            https://www.facebook.com/tinykittens/videos/vb.462536430487893/1052608774813986/?type=2&theater

            Reply
          2. Perse's Mom

            Tinykittens is a website for a rescue group in British Columbia. They primarily deal with feral cats and kittens, and the site offers a couple of livestreams of their current resident fosters… along with a wealth of info about feral cats in general and their work as a rescue, specifically. There are some really tragic/heartwarming stories on there. But mainly kittens. :)

            tinykittens.com

            Reply
          3. Hellanon

            It’s a cat rescue group in, I think, Mountain View – they are on facebook as tinykittens and broadcast livestreams of baby kittens. They do a lot of trap-neuter-release and feral rehab, and it’s a good group doing good work. Plus, videos of tiny kittens.

            Reply
      2. TheFormerAstronomer

        It’s possible that the cat Neelix has been named by a fellow Star Trek nerd though! :)

        (Neelix the cat belonged to Lieutenant Barclay, who named it after chatty, cheerful Neelix the Talaxian)

        Reply
    2. Captain Janeway (OP)

      I’ve been rewatching DS9 so Star Trek names seemed perfect. My chatty employee is such a Neelix that I couldn’t resist. :)

      Reply
      1. No Name Yet

        As a big Star Trek fan, these were great, and I totally understood what your Neelix is like! Though I have to say, I half expected your B’Elanna to also have an anger management problem. :D

        Reply
      1. writelhd

        Mine too, now that I just started re-watching it (don’t remember much from when it first came on) so I greatly appreciate the references.

        Reply
  6. Some2

    This is minor, but man do I love using Star Trek names in these letters. So many great ones to choose from…Tuvok, Geordi, Odo, Quark!

    Reply
  7. IntrovertsInput

    As an introvert myself, I can’t emphasize enough how NOT personal this is. Most of us really find small talk exhausting, particularly when it’s forced. In college, I worked in the retail space where I really didn’t have a choice; making small talk with customers (at least when they wanted to) was essential to providing good customer service. Now, I’m a journalist, and while I don’t mind conducting interviews and building relationships for the purpose of developing leads, I have no interest in small talk when I get back to the office. I much prefer going to my office and not being bothered. I, too, have skipped out on company parties. Sure, there are people who’ve warmed up to the bosses better than me BUT my bosses also understand that this is just my personality, and they respect that my social needs are different. I am friendly, professional and don’t dampen the office culture, and that seems to be good enough. For what my two cents is worth, I’d advise not using another relationship (with someone I assume is likely an extrovert) for comparison; they may be equally healthy, just different.

    Reply
  8. a

    Just wanted to say the Star Trek: Voyager names put a huge smile on my face!

    I personally have a really, really hard time connecting personally with bosses/authority figures. I attribute that 100% to growing up in strict Catholic schools where authority meant authority. Not friends. Obviously I understand that’s not an excuse to be unfriendly, but some people are just more equipped to be buddies with the boss than others.

    Reply
  9. Captain Janeway (OP)

    I think I might have overemphasized the political talk a bit (mostly because I was trying to think of ANYTHING that might have put distance between us). We have maybe had half a dozen small chats in her presence and never initiated by me, always Neelix. He and his wife took off work on Women’s Day, for example, and talked to me about it and his political reasons for doing so. I really do try not to have a lot of personal conversations in the same office either way because I know it’s a space they share and that just seems like it would be distracting. As a rule Neelix generally drifts over to my office to chat. That being said, I have no idea where she stands politically and it might be off-putting coming from me and not from Neelix. I probably should change the topic if Neelix brings up politics in the shared office space though and I’ll do so from now on.

    That being said — this really gets to the root of the problem and I can’t believe I didn’t see it this way before: “Right now, you’re letting her set the terms of the relationship — you’re deferring to her entirely on what her preferences are. As a manager, you can’t do that…”

    I do WANT to have a friendly relationship with her, but I can’t force that. I HAVE to have good working relationship though and separating the two in my mind might help me address the issue.

    Reply
      1. Ask a Manager Post author

        Turn around the politics though. It might be easier to see how it could have a chilling impact on the relationship if your boss and coworker were chatting about, say, an anti-gay-rights protest the coworker was attending and the boss seemed supportive. (I’m not saying supporting women’s rights is similar to opposing gay rights, obviously, but sometimes this stuff is easier to see if you imagine the politics in reverse.)

        Reply
        1. Mike C.

          There’s two reasons I believe that this isn’t a major deal –

          1. The conversation was brought up in a casual manner by the employee as a reason for taking time off. The power imbalance doesn’t feel like it comes into play in the same way that it would if the manager were initiating the discussions or if those discussions were happening on a regular basis. While yes, it is the norm that politics shouldn’t ever be discussed in the workplace, it’s a bit of an impossible standard to hold so the occasional breach in this sort of context doesn’t really raise a red flag for me.

          2. As you know, the idea of inclusiveness is something that is being openly pursued and encouraged in a non-political manner in the workplace. There are company sponsored diversity groups, efforts to encourage the recruitment of historically underrepresented minorities and so on. So in speaking about events that celebrate or highlight minority groups, I feel like there is an alignment or synergy that just doesn’t exist with an opposing counter-example of decreasing inclusiveness.

          I get your point about “what if it were a political position you disagree with”, but I think it would be more convincing if the political issue at hand weren’t so well aligned with workplace norms in general. Maybe something like the funding of public vs. charter schools or secular vs religious expression by government entities. It’s certainly a thin line to walk.

          Reply
    1. Detective Amy Santiago

      One thing that did occur to me that could potentially be an issue and why she is cooler towards you is if she and Neelix have the same job and she perceives their workload as unfairly distributed because of his friendship with you. I’ve been on both sides of that one before – thinking that a colleague got a pass on something that I didn’t because they were closer to the boss and having people think I got special privileges because I had a better relationship with our manager.

      Good luck implementing Alison’s advice!

      Reply
    2. Meg Murry

      I wonder if part of it is also that right now your *only* conversations with her are somewhat high pressure work related ones (performance reviews and the like), so she feels like all conversations with you are at that “step into the principal’s office” level of stress.

      Maybe part of it is avoidance on her part? Since you made it your goal to have her update you at least once a month, maybe you could kick that off by scheduling a recurring meeting with her with a clear agenda (so she can prepare for the meeting and not stress out). Tell her she’s welcome to bring written updates as well, but you want to have a conversation about it, not just email.

      It sounds like she’s also just not a chatty person, who enjoys a high level of solitude. I’d be willing to be she didn’t open up to her other co-workers for quite a while either.

      Reply
      1. Grits McGee

        And hopefully having regular, low-stakes conversations with OP might result in B’Elanna getting comfortable enough to have more casual/friendly interactions. (If that is in fact part of what’s going on.)

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    3. B

      Yes, yes and yes. Thank you for taking Alison’s advice to heart. Good for you to realize you should change the subject, especially in a shared office space. As well as kudos for you realizing the difference between wanting to have friendly relationship and needing to have a good working relationship. Those are two very very different things.

      I have a decent working relationship with a higher up but would never want to have a friendly/chit chat/forced relationship. One can, and should be able to, separate work and life/chit chat.

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    4. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

      And to build on that last sentence, you also, as her boss, have the right and responsibility to ask for and expect that good working relationship with her, and you shouldn’t feel reticent about viewing that as a performance metric like any other. If she’s not meeting mutually agreed communication goals, that’s just like missing a deadline. Having a working relationship with one’s boss that’s not chilly, silent, and fraught is part of the package. And once you disconnect that from the friendly interpersonal relationship you’d like to have, it’s easier to view that working relationship in the light it should be viewed in.

      Reply
      1. Marillenbaum

        That’s a really important point. At my first post-college job, I went in with a lot of preconceptions about what my coworkers might think of me (millenial, former cheerleader) and didn’t want to come across as flighty, unprofessional or unserious, so I went a bit to the other extreme and kept all social talk to the bare minimum. It came up during my six-month performance review, when my boss explicitly said, “The culture of the office is pretty friendly and casual; when you do XYZ, it keeps you from working with people effectively.” I explained where I was coming from, and he let me know that a lack of professionalism was not a concern he had about my performance. From there, I started working on behaviors I was comfortable with–2-3 sentences of chitchat at the coffeemaker in the morning, mentioning if I was going to Starbucks in case anyone wanted anything, and things like that. With time and practice, I was able to work with my colleagues better and found I also felt better about my place in the office.

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    5. animaniactoo

      I had a major something like 15 or 20 year disconnect with my sister that it became clear that we both wanted to and were ready to bridge outside twice-a-year family gatherings, but didn’t know how to begin to do so.

      Well, we both started playing the same game online, and then started talking about the game via IMs. Talking about the game gave us something to talk about. Once we HAD something to talk about, we gradually talked about stuff in our lives, little snippets here and there until we had kind of felt each other out enough to have some bigger and deeper convos. And then we wobbled back and forth between talking mostly about the game and occasionally about personal stuff, but with the ground now to talk about big personal stuff if we felt like it, and connections to talk about other personal interests as they came up. There’s still a lot we don’t know about each other in our today lives. We’re not talking every day. But there’s a common meeting space and comfort level that wasn’t there before. Enough so that when I stopped playing the game (it got to be too much for me to keep up with), we looked for another game to keep the connection alive.

      I’m putting this out there to say… once you start talking regularly about the work, there’s a strong likelihood of a similar dynamic where there’s an established common meeting space and comfort level with talking to each other, and an occasional friendly sideline into (ahem) a love of ST: Voyager.

      Reply
    6. The Data Don't Lie

      PLEASE separate the two. You hired this person to be an employee, not a friend. It’s not fair to expect your employees to be your buddies and get upset with them when they don’t want to be. If I were interviewing for a job and one of the requirement was “chat regularly with your manager about non-work-related things and always say “good morning” and “good night” to her” I would walk right out of that interview no matter how good the job is.

      Reply
    7. Sympathy For The Devil

      I would even flip “you’re deferring to her…” on its head:
      You’re (as a manager) not stating YOUR preferences but you’re expecting her to meet them, and getting disappointed when she doesn’t.

      It’s not really appropriate to “manage” by casual conversation. It may feel great to chitchat with Neelix and somehow come away with an idea of how his work is going, but that’s not management. I strongly suspect that B’Elanna is not the only worker in that office who would improve under a little more structure. The OP shouldn’t just institute check-ins with B’Elanna, it should be for each worker or all at the same time in a group meeting. Otherwise it’s just going to seem to B’Elanna that the OP is coming down harder on her than Neelix for some reason. I really think the OP here could stand to differentiate between socializing and managing.

      Reply
  10. AnotherAlison

    I’m curious if the manager did not have a business reason to say more than 500 words to B’Elanna in two years, then is someone actually an intermediary who knows more what is going on with her work?

    I’ve been in positions where I almost never talked to my manager on paper, but I talked to other senior employees about my work daily. They were the ones actually directing me. Or, maybe she is senior enough at the work she does to be self-directed. It doesn’t sound like this has *really* caused any problems other than the boss’s hurt feelings, although the new software is a good reason to start communicating more.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I’d say in most cases it’s going to be an opportunity cost, at a minimum. When you talk to your manager at least semi-regularly, it’s an opportunity to get feedback, realize areas where you two might see something differently and need to get more aligned, hear “oh, you don’t need to keep doing X at all — I thought you knew that,” get input from someone who probably has a broader organizational perspective than you do, get more opportunities for professional development, and on and on. In other words, things might be going okay, but you could be missing out on lost of ways that they could be going better. And certainly from the manager’s perspective, she can’t manage effectively if she doesn’t have a sense of what’s happening in that person’s work and realm. (And for example in this case, the OP says she’s not confident she’d hear about it if there were a problem.)

      Reply
  11. Not Australian

    I wonder whether she might just have an exaggerated respect for your authority; it might be worth looking at the way she responds to people higher up than yourself in the chain of command for comparison. This happened to me when I was new to the workforce – having had a rather authoritarian father and been to a school with very formal etiquette I probably came across like a servile Dickensian flunky, and it was years before I realised that ‘bosses put their pants on one leg at a time’ and weren’t exalted beings to be treated deferentially. “B’Elanna” is a great choice of name for her; she may be coming from a culture or upbringing that sees someone in your position as superior, and it may take her time to unlearn that and relax a bit.

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      Great advice here.

      All the more reason, OP, to relax and just be consistent, be predictable.

      Realize that she will mirror back to you any awkwardness you are showing. (Having employees is one way to get a real handle on our own shortcomings, I always say. My crew taught me to be a better person.) I found it helpful to decide that I believe in ME as a boss. I believe that I will work hard to do right by people. Once I had this thought as my foundation, I moved on to trying to figure out how to best serve each individual.

      Some people came right up to me and started a conversation over almost anything. Those people were really easy to supervise because I did not have to work at being a boss.

      There were other people who were intimidated by my title. Anything I said or did got super big in their minds really fast. This is where having confidence in my own abilities kicked in and carried me. I’d ask questions such as “do you have what you need?” or “how is X going for you?” Basically, through my actions I showed them that it was OKAY to talk with me. It was okay to tell me about their work or how their day was going. I would say things like “I am glad you mentioned this” or “thank you for letting me know”.

      It really helps to know where you are going and how will you know when you have arrived? For my setting, I needed them to tell me IN THE MOMENT that a problem was occurring. I also needed them to ask questions and not make assumptions. I needed them to report safety issues as soon as they saw a safety issue. And I needed them to tell me if we were running low on something. So I knew we had arrived at my goals when they started doing these things on a regular basis.

      In order to get to this destination I:

      1) Made sure I listened to everyone. (Sometimes people start to say something then stop because a louder person started speaking. I would redirect to the first person, “Mary, you started to say something about gadgets…”

      2)Put a major effort into being consistent, day in and day out.

      3)Routinely thanked people for their inputs (The quiet ones needed to see my response to other people, in order to gauge what my response to them might look like.)

      4) Freely and randomly showed people how their inputs were helpful. (Hey, Bob that idea you had six weeks ago is working out very well because [reasons].”)

      5) I showed them tips to make their work easier and I encouraged them to develop their own tips. When people know they are doing a good job and participating in planning their own work routine, you can see changes in them.

      Reply
    2. kb

      I was coming here to say the same thing. If you’ve ever seen Arrested Development, I was a bit like Buster and his experience at the Milford School (where children should be neither seen nor heard). If there’s an age difference at all between OP and B’Elanna at all it may be exacerbating the issue. Because even though I am an adult and have been one for a while, I still have to fight my gut impulse to see and interact with bosses like I did as a child (which is to be incredibly polite and make myself scarce).

      Reply
      1. kb

        And by “incredibly polite” I mean calling people sir and ma’am (I’m not even Southern), not speaking unless spoken to, etc. The kid way of being polite to authority, not normal adults interacting-type polite

        Reply
  12. Lindsay

    “Also, make sure that you explain to her why you’re making this change. You don’t want her to think that it’s a punishment or that it’s a response to problems in her work. Explain that you’ve realized that you’re out of the loop on her work and that you’re not able to be a resource to her in the way you want to be. Say that that’s been a failing on your side, not hers, and that you’ve realized that you need to correct it.”

    Boy, this aspect is probably going to be tricky. It’s going to be hard to explain why the manager is asking her employee to start doing this extremely stressful thing (this employee pretty clearly avoids face-to-face interaction and finds it uncomfortable) if there’s no performance issue. I’m speaking as someone who’s actually fairly extroverted in my personal life but avoids random office interactions as much as humanly possible – face-to-face contact *when mandatory* is absolutely exhausting, and even a regular standing 1:1 with no problems to report is a source of dread for me. I agree the manager is entitled to ask for whatever form of communication she needs from her employee, but it might be worth thinking about whether a weekly email update (structured to provide the info the manager needs) might work, with maybe a monthly 1:1. I guess what I’m saying is, a high-performing employee who hates face to face interaction might well start thinking about finding a new, less stressful job if asked to routinely do something that caused her so much stress, for no particular reason relating to her performance.

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      I think taking an attitude of service might help OP here. “I am here to serve you as a boss, which is an odd thing to say, but part of my job is to help you do your job.”
      OP could go on by saying, “I feel I have let you down on this and I want to do better. So what we are going to do is [periodic meetings, random touch bases, whatever makes sense].”
      Then go on to state what is expected. “So we will meet once every two weeks. For each meeting I want you to [prepare questions about the work, bring ideas for streamlining your job, tell me where you would like more training, etc, whatever is appropriate].”

      Then follow through on whatever plan you have for the two of you. She is going to think whatever she is going to think. It’s important to realize, OP, that we cannot prevent people from having fear. All we can do is make our talk match our walk and hope that time eases what concerns they are having. We can show sensitivity by meaning what we say and following up in the ways we tell people that we will follow up.

      Reply
      1. Elizabeth

        I wonder if you could use a Collaborative Problem Solving approach here, instead of “what we are going to do is…” So instead you’d say something like, “I feel sort of disconnected from your work, and I’d like to have more knowledge and connection with what you’re working on. I wonder how we could accomplish that?” If she has no suggestions (and give her time, instead of expecting it to be on the tip of her tongue), you can say, “One idea I had was that we could have one-on-ones every week or every other week. Would that work for you?” And listen to what she says. You’re looking for a solution that works for both parties. Even though you’re the boss, you want her to be happy with and invested in the new plan, too.

        Reply
        1. Redtail

          That approach would leave me feeling more steamrolled, rather than less. I’d rather not be asked for input than asked solely as an opening for the other person to do what they were going to do anyway and disingenuously present it as both our ideas.

          Reply
          1. Elizabeth

            Well, they’re going to do something, but I didn’t intend to imply that he should ask for input and then do what he already decided anyway. Maybe she comes back after the one-on-one suggestion with suggesting that they both maintain some kind of joint to-do list, or that they handle it on email, and she has to consider those solutions. If she’d rather not go through all of this, that’s ok, but she sounds like a sensitive boss who wants to do right by her employees, and doing it collaboratively is a way to do that. YMMV as always.

            Reply
      2. Lison

        Actually seeing this reminds me of a place I used to work where bonuses and performance reviews were very structured at least in my department. I was on 3 shift pattern so meetings were every three weeks and the entire thing was structured so obviously if there were issues they were discussed but other than that the point of the meeting was to document the good things I had done so my manager had all the proof with a paper trail that I deserved a raise or a really good raise. I never had any anxiety about those meetings and my manager and I had a chance to sort out any potential problems before they became problems.
        She was an excellent manager.
        TLDNR maybe framing it as an opportunity to get recognition might help if it is possible.

        Reply
    2. Troutwaxer

      I think a couple things might help. First of all, bring some kind of food or maybe coffee/tea to the first conversation, just to make clear that this is happening on a friendly basis. Second, as someone said above, make an agenda in advance and make sure that she understands that she is welcome to add her own concerns to the agenda. Also, as suggested above, “are you getting along okay with Nelix?”

      On the more general subject of being friendly – and it is a social lubricant – you might make it a point to bring coffee for the workers once in awhile; “B’Elanna, what would you like from Starbucks? Anything? Yesterday was payday, so I’m good for a bagel or a cookie if you’re not in the mood for coffee.” That’s a lot less fraught for someone with anxiety than “let’s all go out for coffee.”

      Reply
  13. Snarkus Aurelius

    OP, I ran into a similar issue with my ex-boss who had similar complaints about me. She was doubly upset when she found out I was married and didn’t know until I gave my notice — a detail completely unrelated to work. (Ironically, she repeatedly cut me out of work-related matters, but that’s a whole other issue.)

    I’ll tell you what I repeatedly told coworkers who tried to confront me about this: your boss isn’t your friend. This is a good thing. Please don’t fault her for wanting to keep a distance from you. Honestly, enough people don’t do that who should.

    One other thing to keep in mind is that this is a good time for self-reflection. Any chance you’re inadvertently giving Neelix better treatment because of your personal relationship? Are you telling him things that they should both know? Are you relying on Neelix to convey information to B’Elanna? When you two pal around, is it pretty obvious to everyone else? Do you two have inside jokes and/or references? When something major happens, do you run to Neelix to tell him first? Do you give Neelix gossip?

    Just because you have a better relationship with Neelix, doesn’t mean you have to indulge it/him all the time. There have been so many awkward moments in my career where the rest of the staff and/or I had to sit and listen to some crazy story between the boss and one or two coworkers or a reference to people we don’t know or something about child-rearing, which not everyone can weigh in. It’s rude to have outsiders sitting there, patiently waiting for the conversation to end.

    I know you said that you’ve wracked your brain to figure out ways you could have turned her off, but try to go a bit deeper. A good example to learn from is the women in the Obama Administration. Yes, even Obama had a woman problem in the White House. When he would play basketball with his staff, where only men were involved, they’d inadvertently start talking about work and making major decisions without the inclusion of female staff. Obama was closer to his campaign people, again mostly men, and wasn’t making more of an effort to integrate his female staff. It got to the point, the women had to call a meeting and confront him about it. (I’ll post the article later.)

    Reply
    1. Not So NewReader

      Inclusion. Excellent point.

      And it’s very easy to help people feel included. Pick topics that anyone can join in on. “So how was you guys commute in this morning? Are you doing okay with all this snow?”

      IF, notice the if here, if you are good at inclusive humor you can tap the power of humor to tear down barriers even for a moment. Only do this when you are certain something is appropriate. I would usually draw it back on myself, something about my own klutziness or a cute thing the dog did this morning. People would chime in with their own stories.

      Another way to help people feel included is to look up from a problem and ask her if she is experiencing the same problem. Ask her if she has noticed anything about the problem. Congratulate her if she tells you how to fix it.

      Reply
    2. AnonAnalyst

      Yup, this is definitely an issue on my team (in fact, I was questioning if my manager wrote this until I started seeing some of the specifics included later in the letter…)

      I’m like B’Elanna, but I’m not an introvert. I prefer not to be super social with my boss – a similar dynamic came back to bite me in a previous job so I try to keep my distance aside from polite pleasantries.

      But I’m also a woman, and the other person on my team is a man who is super buddy-buddy with the boss. The basketball effect described above is real. I don’t get invited to those kinds of events, so I’m not in the know, and my coworker gets better and more high profile projects because he’s already sort of had the “in” on those projects after strategizing about them with the boss. I don’t know that this is your issue, OP, so I’m just putting it out there as a possible factor, even if it’s just optics.

      I would also say that you might want to examine how you react when your employee does approach you about work questions or issues. The other part of the reason I rarely pop in to see my manager about things is that he’s always busy – clearly too busy to talk to me (he also blows off scheduled meetings with me to discuss my coworker’s projects with him, consistently). When he is not meeting with anyone else and I stop in with something, it feels like it’s an inconvenience for him. So I’ve become pretty self-sufficient in getting my projects done. It doesn’t sound like this is you since you seem to want to talk more with B’Elanna, but it might be something to reflect on to see if there may be any cues that you’re giving off unintentionally.

      Reply
  14. Just Another Techie

    I feel like this could have been my boss writing in. OP, this might not at all be your situation, but here’s what it’s like from the perspective of someone who could be your B’Elanna:

    I’m one of only five women in a 70 person department. My immediate working group has no other women. When I was first hired (several years ago, reporting to a different manager than my current boss) four of the five people on my team shared the same hobby. It was a hobby that was strongly gendered and which I do not partake in. I tried going to lunch with my team or chatting during breaks, but all anyone wanted to talk about was their shared hobby. All my attempts to turn the conversation to topics of more general interest were thwarted, and even my attempts to learn about their hobby (asked them questions, showed interest, even started watching a tv show related to their hobby) were brushed aside. I was very distinctly excluded from conversations that weren’t strictly work related.

    It was terribly painful and awkward, so I started eating an hour later than everyone else to avoid the horrible interactions. “Oh, sorry, won’t be joining you today, I’m totally slammed with this bug and want to clear it before I grab lunch,” said really breezily, a couple of times, and all my horrible awkward social problems were solved. And after five or six years of this, it’s a pretty unshakeable habit. Even though we habitually reorg our teams every year and a half to two years (so no one gets pigeon-holed into any one role and everyone has opportunities for crosstraining) and I’m working with mostly different people, the habit being set combined with my natural social anxiety and shyness means there’s only two people I really have non-work related conversations with (my mentor from when I fresh out of school, and another one of my mentor’s mentees who overlapped a little bit with me). Everyone else? I’ll only talk if the job requires it, and I strongly prefer email or phone over in person communcation, because it’s hella awkward to swing by Neelix’s cube to ask the status of that bug I filed on him, only to discover he’s in the middle of some jocular conversation with Tom and Harry that I’ve interrupted, and have all those guys stare awkwardly at me while Neelix answers my question.

    Reply
    1. Snarkus Aurelius

      I love, love, love this comment, although I’m sorry you have to endure it. This experience perfectly illustrates the non-malicious ways employees can get cut out of things with the boss. I’m confident no one knowingly conducts himself this way, but the effects can be maddening and hurtful.

      I’ve heard, “Well we just get along better,” as a justification. Doesn’t matter. As a manager, you have a responsibility to mitigate these behaviors. Just like B’Elanna can’t dictate the terms of how the OP addresses her neither can the OP let his comfort overrule his working relationships.

      Reply
    2. MissMushkila

      I related to this really strongly. I didn’t have trouble or seem shy working in other industries, but then I changed careers into a field where I’m usually the only woman on my team.

      My first company was pretty exclusive and unwelcoming, so I learned how to get things done independently. I stopped making small talk and asking questions since people just wouldn’t​ engage with me.

      Now that I’m at a new company that is a lot more friendly, I’m finding the habit of keeping to myself had become engrained. I’m working on it and aware, but those coping mechanisms are hard to unlearn. It catches me by surprise sometimes – I spent a lot of time wishing I fit in, and now that I’m somewhere I probably could be myself at I find my instincts are all off.

      Reply
  15. Dizzy Steinway

    I’m a bit confused about the child-rearing discussions and wondering if that’s made her uncomfortable. Either because of the particular views you’re discussing or – and it’s just a thought – could be having problems conceiving. Or she might have had toxic managers in the past, or have misconceptions about bosses (just check out the recent thread on early career misconceptions).

    Some tips: don’t let it go about the updates. You asked for them. I’d start prompting her for them. It also sounds like you don’t do one to ones so I think the advice to start them is good but for all your reports, not just her. How do your evaluations go? Is she more talkative then?

    Lastly, I was reserved with my manager at first as I have issues with authority figures. (Workplace PTSD from old job, family of origin issues and she’s quite hard to read.) She does regular one to ones but also made a point of finding things to talk about (eg I was wearing a band t-shirt and she mentioned she liked them too and what did I think of the last album) and also asking for feedback on her management style and whether it worked for me. I didn’t dislike her at all – I thought she disliked me even though she hired me. (See above re workplace PTSD.)

    Oh, and I email my manager about some things (eg if I need to give a lot of information, or have a non-urgent query and she’s clearly busy) as it feels more respectful of someone’s time than interrupting when they look busy. I know she prefers that though – if you don’t, maybe let her know?

    Reply
    1. Dizzy Steinway

      PS I’m actually pretty sociable. I’m a talkative introvert – I get peopled out and need to recharge. But I have issues with managers due to past stuff. I thought it was just me until a recent thread where people discussed similar.

      Reply
  16. Sarah

    Have regular one on one meetings. Scheduled at regular intervals, indefinitely. I’m a very introverted manager, managing an accounting team full of introverts. If I didn’t have meetings scheduled with them every other week, it would be very easy for us to never really soak. But having that meeting on the calendar forces us to talk to each other. And over time, that forced work conversation has made us open up to each other and be able to have the “oh good morning, how was your weekend?” conversations.

    Reply
    1. Turtle Candle

      I think this is a good idea, depending on the personalities at play. My boss and I are very self-directed in our work. I actually really like having check-ins with him, but if he just said “I want to check in on a weekly/monthly/whatever basis” and didn’t schedule it, I suspect it wouldn’t happen–because we’d both get wrapped up in our work and just sort of forget. (Also, if he said that but didn’t schedule it, I might be hesitant to do so because I know he’s busier than I am and I don’t want to chuck something else on his plate at an inopportune time, so I might wait to see if he was planning on picking a time….) So we schedule it, and put it on the calendar, and then it happens.

      I don’t know if this is the case, LW, but are you expecting these work chats and check-ins to happen spontaneously? If you’re not, then ignore this, but if you are, then I’d say your next step is to proactively schedule them.

      Reply
    2. Poster Child

      Exactly this. Do this for all your direct reports always. You can cancel them once in a while if things are busy but having them on the calendar tells your employees that you are available and accessible, you care about their career and their work, their challenges and supporting them. I tell my team that team meetings will be my agenda but one on ones are for them and they set the agenda for what they want to share or ask for help with. If I need an update on something specific, I’ll ask for it. I’ve had many different types of employees over the years, some who hardly speak, some who focus only on the work tasks, and some who will share personal details of their lives. Treat all of them the same.

      Reply
    3. Andy Todd

      Absolutely one on ones. The Manager Tools guidance on this is quite extensive and I’ve used it in the past. The one thing I struggled with was making the meeting about the relationship and not about work – with a number of team members the meetings turned into just a list of what they had done in the last week. The solution (as ever from one of the Manager Tools podcasts) is to get your team member to provide you a progress report before the meeting. You can then chose to cherry pick a few things to talk about or just acknowledge their progress and talk about something more pertinent to your relationship with your direct report.

      Reply
  17. Snargulfuss

    I’d say that if you’re going to have regular check-ins with B’Elanna, you should have them with Neelix too. You might already get updates from Neelix in your informal chats, but if I were B’Elanna and you started having check-ins with me and not the other workers you manage, I’d assume you were unhappy with my performance, even if you verbally reassured me you weren’t. I’ve also found that one-on-ones are way less intimidating when my supervisor comes to me, rather than me meeting his her/his office. If you want to make things more comfortable for B’Elanna, I’d suggest you meet in her office – if she has a private space – or a conference room or other neutral space, rather than having her come to your office.

    Reply
    1. Detective Amy Santiago

      OP said that Neelix and B’Elanna share an office, but I do think the point you make about doing things the same with both of them is an important one.

      Reply
    2. k

      That’s an important point. And not just for B’Elanna’s sake. Having more formal check-ins with Neelix may you more insight than from the more casual chatting.

      Reply
  18. Dust Bunny

    From somebody who is hard-core introverted and would rather not talk to authority figures any more than is absolutely necessary: Make this structured. If she can know ahead of time more or less how much and what type of information you want, it will be easier for her to prepare what she’s going to say and it will then be less nerve-wracking. We like stuff to be predictable.

    Reply
    1. mf

      “From somebody who is hard-core introverted and would rather not talk to authority figures any more than is absolutely necessary: Make this structured. ” This x 1000!

      These conversations will be MUCH easier for B’Elanna if she knows when she’s meeting with her boss! The meetings will go more smoothly and will be more productive, which is a huge plus for the OP.

      Reply
    2. Freya UK

      This!

      My current manager doesn’t tell me when I’m about to have a review meeting and instead he just appears like “Freya, when you’ve done that we’ll go for a quick chat” with his morose face on, and it’s an absolute disaster for me. Not only does it give me no time to prepare (mentally, emotionally, and anything practical I want to discuss), but after previous bad experiences it also reads as “I’m about to fire you”. I end up sat in this meeting feeling stressed and defensive, and then only a little while after the meeting I think of things I should’ve discussed, when I said I had nothing to discuss purely because I hadn’t been given time to think about it beforehand. Subsequently I find myself unable to concentrate for a long time afterward because I’m so riled-up. A R G H.

      Reply
  19. Veruca

    OP, could you include B’Elanna in a work-related topic that could create some interaction where she gets to contribute and interact without chit-chat? Perhaps you could email her a couple of questions and ask for her feedback on some specific implementation strategies on the new software. This would allow her to respond in her preferred method but would also be a good litmus test on her willingness to communicate.

    (I’m very introverted and pretty awkward in person. Chitchat is painful for me. But if you ask me for feedback on real things in writing and give me time to respond, you will get a very thorough response from me and will be able to see me as my best self. This may not always be true in spontaneous in-person interaction.)

    Reply
  20. overcaffeinatedandqueer

    I hate these types of questions; they seem to assume there’s something wrong with introverts.

    I will talk to people, a bit, you know, good morning/whatever/have you seen the donuts in the break room/ugh it’s raining again. But having one on one meetings with a boss for no work related reason, just because they want to talk, would seem arbitrary and stress me out. I wouldn’t go by anyone’s office just to chitchat, either.

    I can work well with clients and all. But generally I don’t seek out interaction for its own sake. And that’s okay. Don’t force it.

    Reply
    1. Allypopx

      I think it’s less something being wrong with introverts and more fundamental misunderstandings that arise when introverts and extroverts, or even people on the same side of the spectrum but different levels on the scale, work together.

      This also does read to me as an extreme case and seems to make the working relationship tense, so it’s worth seeking advice on.

      Reply
    2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

      I agree that a lot of extroverts tend to pathologize introversion in insulting ways. But…I think the employee in this case is actively avoiding having a working relationship with OP, not just avoiding a personal relationship. If an employee is so chilly and distant with that boss that even talking about work regularly and freely, and expecting regular check-ins, feels this fraught, the employee needs to step outside their comfort zone and make a good-faith effort to connect on a professional level. We can demand that extroverts extend consideration and accommodation to us on an interpersonal level, we can resist stressful chitchat and awkward conversations, but being extroverted does not exempt us from investing the effort to build functional working relationships.

      Reply
    3. paul

      At this point it’s actually impacting work.

      It’s fair to ask extreme extroverts to adjust for a work environment. The same’s true of introverts. If you’re not keeping your manager looped in on work and are resisting doing so that’s a problem, regardless of your reason.

      Reply
    4. Anna

      I don’t think anyone is saying there’s something wrong with introverts, but there’s this assumption that other people who are not at the extremes of introverted or extroverted are required to bend around those who are at the extremes instead of introverts and extroverts bending much at all. This isn’t the only place I run across this. I think on the spectrum of outgoingness I fall along the middle somewhere, and as much as it’s exhausting for an introvert to be bombarded by conversation, it’s also exhausting to be forced to carry all the conversational weight.

      Reply
      1. SL #2

        as much as it’s exhausting for an introvert to be bombarded by conversation, it’s also exhausting to be forced to carry all the conversational weight.

        I need to print this out for half my social circle. I am good at small talk and carrying conversations but I can’t do that until the cows come home!

        Reply
    5. SL #2

      But the problem right now isn’t that B’Elanna is introverted and doesn’t want to do the small talk. The much bigger issue is that B’Elanna is letting her introversion in the way of regular updates with OP about project status and other work-related things. It’s not like OP wants to sit around and talk about random topics for an hour at each meeting; she wants to be able to connect with her direct report in order to get better business results.

      Reply
      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

        And I’d argue that being able to have pleasant small talk periodically is kind of a part of that. You can’t interact easily with someone when the only permissible topic and context is work.

        Reply
    6. Ask a Manager Post author

      This is a really extreme example of introversion though; this is not what you typically see. (And really, I’d argue this might be shyness rather than introversion, and we shouldn’t conflate them.)

      I’m an introvert — I need huge amounts of time to myself to feel grounded. But I still talk to coworkers, keep managers posted on my work, etc.

      If it’s impacting the work, as it is here, it’s a legitimate concern.

      Reply
    7. Detective Amy Santiago

      OP mentioned that she doesn’t know what’s going on with the employee’s work though. And that’s a problem that has nothing to do with being introverted vs extroverted.

      I use up all my “people-ing energy” at work every day which is why I almost never do anything besides go home and veg in front of the TV in the evenings.

      Reply
    8. Not So NewReader

      Introvert here. I always assumed I was pretty normal and extroverts had problems. ;) just joking.
      I did have one boss who said to me “You always think before you talk.”
      I said, “You might try it sometime.”

      Truth be told, I have envied extroverted people, until I figured out I am happy being the way I am and it seems to serve my needs.

      One thing that I have found odd on this site is when people cite sources that say most people are extroverts. The sources I have read have said most people are introverts. I find the later to be true in my experience. However, it could be that I draw fellow introverts to me and this colors my experience. Or it could be that I see all types of people having similar concerns and that muddies up my definition of who is extroverted and who is introverted.

      Reply
      1. kb

        I think part of it is that extroverts can have the tendency to be more visible. Also, for people at the far end of the introversion spectrum, it can seem like everyone is an extrovert because they are more extroverted than you (and probably vice-versa). I think the distribution is probably a pretty even bell curve in reality.

        Reply
      2. Detective Amy Santiago

        Some introverts are also really good at ‘performing’. I’m sure that a lot of people who meet me, especially in a professional context, would classify me as extroverted even though I’m really, really not.

        Reply
      3. Lissa

        I think it’s also that most people are a mix of the two, but we are more likely to notice when the people around us are behaving in an extroverted fashion. For instance, I’m a pretty solid mix, and my friends are more likely to see me in an “extroverted” state, because I’ll be out and about! If I’m feeling more introverted, I’ll be at home playing a video game or reading a book, so people won’t “see” that.

        I really disagree that this letter or the responses imply anything is wrong with being an introvert. If anything, I think quite a big percentage of the commenters here also talk about being introverted. Though I also think it’s only in recent years that people have felt such a strong need to identify as one or the other. I mean there are always outliers, but I know so many people these days who wear “introvert” like a badge of pride, but that seems to be pretty new.

        Reply
      4. Me123

        It’s a spectrum. Most people lean one way or the other but “most people” aren’t definitely one or the other. If it had to be categorized that way, it’d be a 50-50 split. Comments on this site are so crazy sometimes, like introverts are this special breed of people. No, they can socialize, talk to people, and be awesome in social situations, maybe not every moment of the day, but who can be? OP’s employee is either insanely shy or rude. It’s not fair to pin that on introversion when literally billions of introverts interact with people just fine every day.

        Reply
        1. Cath in Canada

          I’m not convinced it’s a single spectrum. As someone with both strong introvert and strong extrovert characteristics, an alternative explanation I’ve heard – that they are two independent traits, each with its own spectrum – makes a lot more sense to me.

          Reply
    9. emma2

      This person sounds shy to me (like, it makes her nervous and uncomfortable to talk to her boss.) Introverts are usually good at feigning small talk with their boss and coworkers. Introversion and shyness sometimes look the same on the surface, though.

      Reply
  21. PK

    For me personally (As another B’elanna), this would be a mix of authority as well as introversion. It’s already awkward making small talk with people who aren’t my boss. Add in that layer and it creates a lot of anxiety for me. Not sure I have many suggestions about it but another voice expressing that it’s probably not a personal thing.

    Reply
    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

      It’s probably not a personal thing, but I do think we extroverts need to meet others halfway when it comes to necessary relationships like this, even if it causes anxiety or drains us. You can’ freeze out your boss so much that they have no idea what you’re working on, and you can’t ignore clear requests for regular check-ins.

      Reply
      1. PK

        Oh, I’m not saying otherwise. Just noting that the manager seems to be taking it personally and that’s probably not the case. Work has to be done though regardless of any anxiety around it.

        Reply
        1. Not So NewReader

          I would be very surprised if this was a personal issue with our OP. I think OP tries to work at being a good boss, s/he seems to have done a lot of self-checks before even writing to Alison. OP is definitely putting thought into this.

          Reply
  22. Sunflower

    Is it possible she’s dealing with some sort of lingering effects from a previous toxic job that make her feel uncomfortable about the boss-employee dynamic? I was just rereading an old letter from someone who would panic every time her boss asked to speak to her, even though her new job and manager was great. It’s possible because of something in her past jobs, talking to her boss makes her uncomfortable and it’s just an instinct that is hard to shake.

    Maybe she had a strained relationship with her last boss or she held some sort of personal information over her head. Of course I agree with Allison’s advice and it’s possible she is just shy but I’m leaning towards B’Elanna is feeling some stress/anxiety around the boss-employee relationship/dynamic.

    Reply
    1. OhBehave

      I so want a ‘like’ button! I was coming here to say the same thing.
      All of the other advice is excellent and pose quite probable scenarios.

      Reply
  23. Abby

    I think this is really good advice. It is reasonable to expect her to talk to you about work. If she doesn’t want to talk about other things, just let it go. She may not even want to have coffee or tea with you. And, I agree. Managers have to be really really careful about talking about politics.

    Reply
  24. Channel Z

    Captain Janeway, can I join your crew? You sound like a great manager! From your description, there seems to be a chance that as well as some social anxiety, performance anxiety may be part of the picture. That would apply only to you as her chief performance evaluator. In addition, it may be the surprise of you suddenly dropping in that unnerves, because she didn’t get time to carefully prepare beforehand. Whenever I have a meeting with the Captain, I have to write everything down on paper and email bullet points first because otherwise I will forget due to nervousness and sidetracking. I have been there 3 years and still get nervous, but each time it gets better because I’m prepared and my logical part knows the captain isn’t going to jettison me. I think regular scheduled meetings will help both of you.

    Reply
      1. paul

        That’d be one dysfunctional workplace.

        “A manager from a different division-let’s call him Baron Harkonnen because he’s a hedonistic sadist with zero empathy–has recently tried to launch a coup by sabotaging our teams production by mislaying supplies, hiring away some staff, and bullying others into quitting–and in one case I’m fairly sure he got a senior staff member to give him important confidential information. I’m not convinced our CEO is hostile but he’s not going to intervene on our behalf either; he just wants our production to stay solid. How can I protect myself?”

        Reply
  25. NW Mossy

    From someone who manages reserved people, to reserved employees: assuming your manager is not toxic in some way, your manager is judging you far less than you think she is. Your manager is far more likely to be like Captain Janeway, who asked this question – searching for something they’ve done that turned you into a mute and trying to figure out how to draw you out.

    You can talk to your boss. You need to talk to your boss, especially if you have a direction you want to go in your career – different work, more challenging work, a different role, etc. We want to help, but we can only help if you’re willing to share a bit about what you’d like to see in your job. The less you tell us, the less we have to work with in terms of steering you towards the things you want. I know it’s really hard to share in that way (especially if you’ve been burned before), but the rewards can be great for less risk than you think.

    It took me a long time to figure out that sharing my goals with my boss was an OK thing to do. I had this vision in my mind that they’d laugh at my ambitions or try to stymie me somehow. It took a couple of instances of directly saying “I want X role” and then having a boss help me make that happen to realize that being plain about what I wanted would actually encourage them to help me. I’m in my current job because I told my grandboss I wanted to be considered for it when it came open, and I’m about to transfer to another job with a former boss who knew that I eventually wanted to be in the area she’s in now. Investing some of myself in those relationships will never be natural for me, but taking on some fear has paid off in spades.

    Reply
  26. Squeeble

    I am a B’Elanna, and a large part of it is knowing that my boss is very busy and I don’t want to interrupt her unnecessarily, even if other people do and she generally welcomes it. OP, I think if you want to have more of a social rapport with her, you have to initiate it. Make more of a point of saying hi, asking how her weekend was, things like that (you might already, but it didn’t say in the letter). Make some overtures to her–it may help over time.

    Reply
  27. Alex "Barney" Barnaby

    “There’s a good chance that it’s just because you’re her boss, and so she puts you in a different category than Neelix and others. The stakes are higher with you, and she may just not be comfortable talking to you in a more social way.”

    I’ve been burned by having social talks with a boss (who I figured out, eventually, was bizarrely abusive and almost sadistic), so I learned to be careful about talking about personal things with managers. It happens.

    Reply
  28. Ima Introvert

    OP, I’m a total B’Elanna at work, and I LOVE my boss. She’s wonderful, and it has nothing to do with the power dynamic (I’m actually oddly more comfortable with people in positions of authority!) I’m just very introverted by default and while I can definitely carry on a pleasant/fun conversation, attend parties, appear outgoing, etc, it does take a lot of energy and concentration. I would probably email you from my desk as well; it helps me think and retain conversations better. I eat lunch every day in my car to avoid the lunchroom (I’m embarrassed when I get caught doing this, lol – I realize it comes off as odd.) It’s not that I don’t like my coworkers (I do!), but socializing for me IS work, so my break needs to be me relaxing by myself, in my own head. I have a number of coworkers who drop by just to chit chat, and it took me the longest time to learn to “play the game” and engage back. My boss loves to arrange going out to group lunches for birthdays/coffee/etc, and these are insanely uncomfortable for me, especially one on one. I do go, and participate in conversations actively, but I’m fidgeting and picking at my nails under the table the whole time. What can I say? I’m quirky. :) However, I’ve learned to cover so well, some actually see me as extroverted! I’m happiest being a loner, but I also understand to people who are less introverted, it can come off as hurtful, wonder if they did anything wrong, what can they do differently, etc. Anyway, just offering my perspective it may very well not be personal. I’d feel terrible if my boss thought I didn’t like her! I do try to engage her socially when I remember (and tell her how much I appreciate her), but more often, I forget to think about it. (Something I’ll be working on after reading your letter!) If there’s a work reason you need to engage more with B’Elanna, that totally understandable, just tell her what you need. My boss and others actually make me feel way more comfortable when they just act like everything is normal, socialize as they normally would, request work/meetings as they normally would, and don’t ask if anything is wrong.

    Reply
    1. mf

      I’m an introvert too and I HATE eating lunch with people at work. I deal with people all day, so when I’m on my lunch hour, all I want is a few minutes of peace and quiet when I don’t have to make conversation. I guess some people at work probably think I’m antisocial because of this, but I just don’t care!

      Reply
      1. Ima Introvert

        Yay, fellow group lunch avoider! lol. Some people try to bribe me with offering to take me to lunch in exchange for helping them with a project. My office mate and I joke that that’s a punishment, not a reward. And then we feel really bad for being such jerks. Introverted humor. ;)

        Reply
    2. Freya UK

      I often wish I had a car so that I could eat lunch in it :) I was hiding in the archives to eat my lunch for a while, until I got caught…

      I’m sure my manager & colleagues think I have some kind of bathroom-related problem, I have to take frequent and extended breaks to go sit in there just to get away from PEOPLE for a bit every day.

      Reply
  29. Ashie

    AAM’s suggestion to start regular check-ins is a good one. It might be helpful to give the employee a heads-up about the areas they’ll be talking about.

    I’m an introvert too and it helps when I can gather my thoughts on something ahead of time – if I have to answer questions spontaneously I tend to forget things.

    Reply
  30. Jaguar

    If you’re happy with her work, don’t have weekly meetings with her if you’re not having weekly meetings with your other reports. If I was suddenly having my manager get way more involved in my work for no apparent reason and it wasn’t happening to anyone else, my mental alarms would start going off, regardless of how many “don’t worry about it”s were offered.

    To be honest, OP, since you stressed that there’s nothing wrong with B’Elanna’s work, a lot of Alison’s advice seems like fixing something that isn’t broken. You mentioned that Alison’s language about “setting the terms of the relationship” stuck out to you – but didn’t you know that you were already doing that? B’Elanna seems really introverted to you and you let her set the terms to accommodate that, right?

    Reply
      1. Jaguar

        Well, the OP says she doesn’t know if B’Elanna would come to her with a problem, not doesn’t think she would, and the loop thing reads almost as a pretext to have monthly discussions. OP is commenting, so if you are completely out of the loop or feel B’Elanna is holding back information because of this, OP, then that’s a problem and I agree with Alison’s advice. But working from you saying you have no concerns about the quality of her work and that you can technically continue on like this indefinitely – and that the overall message of your letter seems to be that you just want to be more involved socially with her (which is totally understandable – it’s hard working with people who are introverted and can be easy to take that personally) – the advice to have weekly meetings that to my reading seem unnecessary has a strong and possibly unintended consequence.

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          But a manager has a responsibility to arrange things so that she does have confidence that she knows what’s going on in the areas she’s responsible for overseeing. Right now, she doesn’t have that confidence, and it’s a prerequisite for doing her own job well.

          Reply
          1. Jaguar

            Yeah. But the work’s getting done and the situation could go on indefinitely according to the OP. That sounds like confidence to me.

            We’re debating the grey areas of what OP said. I just want to point out that getting way more hands on with an employee and only that employee is a strong signal that they’re in trouble, when it doesn’t sound like OP has any complaints with B’Elanna’s work. And that’s not even accounting for the fact that if B’Elanna is concerned something is wrong with her work, she’s already reluctant to discuss it with the OP, so those concerns will be the thought-and-not-expressed variety.

            If more communication is needed, why not e-mail, which B’Elanna has already shown some comfort with? That’s how remote workers already do it.

            Reply
            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              I’d argue that good managers in most jobs need to be more hands-on than what’s described here, and if the OP wants to be a good manager, she does need to talk more with B’Elanna. I would be alarmed if a manager who reported to me was interacting this little with a report. But we may have a difference in philosophy about what good management looks like :)

              Reply
              1. Jaguar

                That sounds pretty one-size-fits-all. A manager dealing with reports who use heavy equipment probably needs to be more hands on than a manager who deals with studio musicians.

                It sounds like OP has a lot of trust in B’Elanna’s work. Surely if you trust a report to do their work, you don’t need to be as involved, right?

                Reply
                1. Anna

                  Totally agree with Alison on this. Knowing what’s going on in the realm of those you manage is actually the job of the manager. That’s a pretty significant aspect of what they’re tasked to do. The thing the OP is saying is that should things go sideways, there’s no way for her to know because she isn’t confident B’Elanna would seek her out to say something. That is an issue. There’s a lack of transparency that would be worrisome in almost every place of employment.

          2. Student

            That’s not universally true any more.

            It often is, and it makes more sense to me when that’s how an organization works, but my current job is completely the opposite. My manager has no idea what I do and actively does not care or want to hear about it. My manager’s job is really to go get feedback from people I actually work with on how I did once per year for a review, to make sure I’m not taking excessive time off when rubber-stamping my time cards, and to sign official documents on behalf of the organization that I need signed periodically. We’re matrix-managed. I have several other “bosses” that are really my internal clients who set my daily tasking, but have no hire/fire/raises authority or influence.

            I don’t think I saw my first manager for maybe 6 month stretches. The second and third manager didn’t talk to me for basically their entire duration – I had to introduce myself to the third one because he didn’t want to bother with meeting any of us in person. The fourth manager at least introduced himself and spoke to us every two months or so. The fifth just started his managerial role, and has made it clear he views his job as just rubber-stamping paperwork with no interaction with us.

            They’re basically fake managers in any traditional sense of the term – they’re primarily there to give the organization some level of legal cover and a relatively low-level person to hold accountable if bad things happen. But they do entirely replace the traditional manager, rather than supplement it – I don’t have any single person who has authority over my work and a stake in knowing what’s going on with it.

            Reply
            1. Ask a Manager Post author

              There are always exceptions to the rule, but in general, in the vast majority of situations, a manager has a responsibility to ensure she knows what’s going on in the areas she’s responsible for overseeing.

              Reply
    1. NW Mossy

      Even if nothing is wrong today, it doesn’t mean that there can’t be something wrong tomorrow where the lack of relationship makes it harder for B’Elanna.

      Imagine for a moment that B’Elanna has a touchy situation where she needs Captain Janeway’s help. She made a mistake and needs her boss’s help to fix it. She has a health condition and needs to request an accommodation. She needs to tell Janeway about an issue with a co-worker that she couldn’t fix on her own. The list of potentially hard topics to talk about is endless, and you can’t always predict when they’ll happen.

      For a B’Elanna and Janeway that are used to talking frequently, dealing with this kind of thing is a lot easier – they have the foundation of a relationship and trust each other enough to talk about hard things. But if B’Elanna and Janeway hardly ever talk, the degree of difficulty for B’Elanna to start the conversation about a hard thing can be insurmountable, leaving her to suffer in silence when Janeway could help if she knew. No reasonable manager would want that for an employee, and that’s why managers care so much about relationships with their directs.

      Reply
      1. Jaguar

        Right, but she sounds like she’s pro-actively e-mailing OP, so there’s an avenue of communication established that B’Elanna can use.

        Reply
            1. Anna

              Exactly. What the OP perceives as the issue in this case is an issue. It’s not really important if any of us think an email is enough in this particular case.

              Reply
              1. Jaguar

                It’s a selective reading that makes the message of OP’s letter that B’Elanna is not communicating about her job. That’s just a dependent clause in a sentence about trying to get B’Elanna to open up socially, which, to my reading, is pretty plainly the theme of the letter. My bringing up the e-mailing is a response to Mossy’s comment in lieu of clarification from the OP.

                We’re offering advice to the OP given the information she supplied and, by proxy, advice for situations like this in general. Throwing out suggestions on the basis of selective readings isn’t productive. The goal of discussion here, in my opinion, should be a breadth of ideas.

                Reply
        1. NW Mossy

          I know that email is a preferred mode of communication for many people (and I’m an admitted over-user myself), but it’s not a great tool for building relationships, which is fundamentally what this question is about.

          I have directs that come off very differently in writing vs. on the phone or in person, and generally, people’s personalities come off as having a lot more sharp corners in print. In an email, I can’t hear the tone or see the facial expression that rounds out the full picture of what my direct is trying to communicate. As a result, I’m a lot more likely to misread them and their intentions if I don’t regularly interact with them in a way that’s more representative of their whole style. Being able to picture the person behind the email (their mannerisms, their voice, etc.) really helps me key into them and keep communication from going awry.

          Being in the loop is a useful starting point for building a professional relationship, but it’s not the whole story. A boss isn’t doing her job if she doesn’t know her people. And ultimately, the nature of the relationship you have with your boss is a huge factor in your level of satisfaction with your job. If you only have capacity to invest in one relationship at work because this kind of stuff is really difficult for you, pick the one with your boss. Otherwise, you’re missing a huge chance to influence the person who shapes your job.

          Reply
          1. Jaguar

            OP does know B’Elanna. She’s really shy.

            Let’s assume there’s no way to get B’Elanna to open up in a way that crosses the vague goal line of “building a relationship” due to her shyness and is otherwise doing her work without issue. What is the conclusion of your position? B’Elanna can’t do the job she’s in? That sounds much more like a problem with the manager than the employee to me: the employee is doing what the job requires and the manager is finding it difficult to work with them.

            Reply
            1. NW Mossy

              You’re exactly right – B’Elanna can’t do the job she’s in so long as one of the job requirements is having an effective working relationship with her boss. It’s a requirement of the majority of jobs, and it’s not something that only emotionally needy managers ask of their employees. It’s right up there with having good relationships with your colleagues and your customers – it’s baked into the gig.

              And when I say “good relationship,” I don’t mean that your boss knows anything about your personal life at all. I know relatively little about the non-work lives of my directs, and what I do know was freely offered by the direct and not solicited. What I mean is that I know them enough to understand their ambitions at work, what they like/don’t like about their work, their progress on key work, their concerns about the work, how they interact with me and others, and how they’re likely to react to a change in their environment. It means that I know I’ve invested enough time and energy into letting them see me and how I manage that they feel safe bringing a concern or question to me, even if the topic is touchy. It means that I’m pitching the right kinds of opportunities their way to help them grow rather than tossing them something they hate. That matters a lot to me as a boss because it’s a big part of the gig. I do my B’Elannas a disservice if I don’t try to draw them out about work.

              Reply
              1. Jaguar

                So you would fire B’Elanna if she didn’t become less shy?

                I don’t want to suggest that your management style is bad, but please understand that it is not universal or the only way to effectively manage. I’ve never managed a B’Elanna but I’ve worked with plenty of them (admittedly, the one described in the OP’s letter seems like a more extreme case than any I’ve known) – there’s nothing wrong with their work and most of the managers I’ve had have been able to work with them and help them grow professionally. So if you can’t manage someone like that but other managers can, I don’t think it’s honest to lay the blame entirely with the employee.

                Reply
                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  There’s no reason to think that B’Elanna won’t be quite capable of having periodic check-in meetings with her manager, once the OP makes it clear she wants them and how it will work. I’ve managed plenty of shy people who avoid optional interactions, and they all managed to have check-in meetings nonetheless.It’s highly likely that B’Elanna will be able to do the same.

                2. Jaguar

                  Of course. I would like to avoid classifying shy people as less capable as well. Most-or-all of them can step up on this.

                  However, we’re talking about a situation in which the OP has tried to get B’Elanna to open up and has been unsuccessful. In your response, you implicitly say this inability to open up is not “okay” and Mossy is more qualified but says, roughly, it’s “baked into the gig.” Neither of you have gone right up to the line and said that they should be removed if they can’t but it seems like that’s the conclusion of what you’re saying. I want to suggest that this represents a failure in the ability to manage more than the ability to work (for reasons I’ve stated but haven’t fully expanded upon) and, in the case of the letter in question, it hasn’t been a requirement so far without issue, so adding it and then potentially having to move B’Elanna out is pretty clearly crazy.

                  What happens if OP moves from making overtures to getting B’Elanna to open up to making it a job requirement and it still doesn’t have the desired effect? What happens then?

                3. Ask a Manager Post author

                  If she’s truly incapable of it, then the OP would try to figure out alternative ways of getting what she needs in order to manage her effectively. I’d imagine such ways exist, although they’re not going to optimal/convenient for the OP. If the alternative ways don’t work either, then yeah, that’s a serious problem; you can’t manage someone who won’t communicate with you, and the OP would have to balance that against the rest of the person’s performance and figure out what to do from there (which would depend on factors we don’t have access to, like the nature of the work, how strong her performance is, how the OP is being impacted by not having much communication with her, etc.). I can easily imagine situations where this would very much be a deal-breaker; I think there are some where it wouldn’t be, too, although I think those are fewer in number.

                  But I also think this is really, really hypothetical because it’s highly unlikely to end up there. The OP just needs to set clearer expectations with B’Elanna. We’re far, far from the point where we can say she’s tried and been unsuccessful; she asked her once for regular updates and then never followed up with her. It’s very likely that if she makes it more of a thing, it will happen — but so far she hasn’t made a real push to see.

                4. NW Mossy

                  I wouldn’t fire someone for being shy, although I fully own that monosyllabic directs are a challenge for me – I admitted as much in an interview last week (and got the job, so apparently not a dealbreaker for my future boss). What I would fire someone for is not being willing to engage with me verbally about key work-related information, even after an extensive period of coaching and feedback about why it’s a problem and what the expected behavior looks like. Shyness is fine – it’s when it manifests as behavior that’s unproductive or ineffective and the employee isn’t willing/able to change that it becomes not-fine.

                  For someone like B’Elanna, I’d set the expectation of showing up to regularly scheduled one-on-ones, bringing topics to discuss to those meetings, and responding to inquiries about specific work with a reasonable amount of detail (e.g., “Everything’s fine; we’ve met milestones X and Y and are working on Z now. Issue A we talked about last time is resolved, now that we did B.” vs. “Everything’s fine.”). I don’t see that as an insanely high bar, and the overwhelming majority of people can clear it pretty well.

                  I think what I’m pushing back against is the idea that B’Elanna has an inherent right to reticence that supersedes her boss’s responsibility to manage her, both in the sense of being informed about her work product but also in developing her skills. B’Elanna’s going to have to put in some effort, just as much as her boss does.

                5. Jaguar

                  Sure, but “most people can do this” isn’t the framework we use for accommodation. The overwhelming majority of people can walk up stairs, so there’s no reason to install a ramp for someone in a wheelchair that can do the job.

                  In this case, B’Elanna is already in the job and from what I can read in the OP’s letter, doing it properly. If that reading is correct, more communication is not fixing a problem and making a job for someone that may have anxiety/a disability/a preference/whatever worse for an irrelevant reason.

    2. Jaguar

      I do want to say one other thing, as an addition to my first comment. I’m reading in the letter that B’Elanna’s work is fine. Assuming that’s correct, you should also consider that Alison’s suggestions are adding a new requirement to B’Elanna’s work that didn’t previously exist: being able to converse in person regularly with the manager. Maybe that’s necessary, but if it isn’t, consider that you would be changing the requirements of the job to suit a behaviour you don’t like and in the process, assuming B’Elanna is pathologically shy as you suspect, making a job she has been a fit for thus far a job she is no longer a fit for on the basis of what might be (depending on whether this in-person feedback is actually necessary) an arbitrary job requirement. If that’s the case, you could be effectively taking away a job someone who already has a significant disadvantage in finding work they can do. Again, the letter doesn’t provide as much detail as I would need to say this is what’s going on, but it’s something I think is important to bring up if it is.

      Put another way, let’s say B’Elanna was un-fire-able, for whatever reason, and they were hiring for your job. One of the requirements for that job would be some form of, “must be able manage extremely shy people.” Does that seem fair? If so, it might be worth considering that B’Elanna isn’t the one that needs to change.

      Reply
  31. Papyrus

    Phew, for a second I thought this was written about me! I’m definitely a B’Elanna, and I thought Allison gave some really great advice – especially about controlling the agenda if you have a meeting/check-in with her. My manager just asks me a blanket “How’s it going?” and all I really feel comfortable saying is “Fine”. She always seems disappointed in that answer, but I honestly have no idea what she wants, or how much she wants me to elaborate. Asking specific questions that you want an actual answer to would go a really, really long way with me, and I think it would help with B’Elanna too.

    Reply
    1. Rater Z

      Sounds like you are getting more feedback or interaction with your boss than I get with mine. All my boss wants to talk about is her son who is Army special forces (think Green Berets, or Red Berets in his case) and sometimes her grandchildren. Nothing about how my job is going, how I am doing, or anything else in reference to me. She knows I am a caregiver for my wife and that things could go real bad for her real fast (she’s a free bleeder on a blood thinner so even a cut can be major. A nosebleed put her in the hospital for a week) but never asks how my wife is doing.

      The only feed back on the job is when I (rarely) do something she doesn’t like Then, I get yelled at about it in front of the customers. We are in retail. It’s not just me. She’s done it with others. The feedback I get from the others is that she will never thank anyone for anything. She has a couple of times lately with me but I can tell she doesn’t like doing it.

      I rank myself on the introvert level, probably on the extreme level as I prefer to work alone and actually look forward towards retirement when I can be alone 24/7 most of the time, but still the casual interaction with the boss is necessary. I do need to know that my work is alright from her point of view and that doesn’t happen now.

      Reply
  32. mf

    OP, my relationship to my boss is very similar to how you describe your relationship to B’Elanna. There’s a couple of reasons why I keep my distance from her (my boss):

    1. I do not like my boss, both as a manager and as a person. We are not a good fit, to say the least. I’m looking for another job, but until I do, I’m doing what I can to remain professional with her. That should be all that any employee is required to do.

    2. My boss doesn’t have any concept of what constitutes normal professional boundaries, in part because she’s desperate to be “liked” by her employees. She once asked me: “Do you *like* working with me?” Which is a question so wildly inappropriate, I don’t even know where to begin. She pressures me to attend after-work events (you say you don’t do that to B’Elanna, so that’s good). She can’t take a hint and doesn’t understand a soft no when she hears one: she asks me about my personal life repeatedly even though I do my best to shutdown these conversations in polite and professional ways every. single. time.

    3. Even in a workplace where I like my boss and coworkers, I prefer to separate my personal life from my work life. It’s just how I am.

    Alison is right that you should absolutely be kept in the loop about B’Elanna’s work. If you want regular updates, you can and should require her to meet with you to discuss her work projects. Since she likes to email you, you could also request that she email you updates on a regular basis.

    But I would encourage you not to try to force (or even encourage) a friendly relationship. She already knows how you relate to your other employees, so if she wanted a more friendly relationship with her, she would be making attempts to build that relationship with you.

    In other words, just focus on making sure you have a functional working relationship with her in which you are getting the information you need to manage her

    Reply
  33. Not So NewReader

    You have some really great advice here, OP.

    I just wanted to be sure to say that even once you get these things in place it can take a while before you see change. My own experience was it took about 6 months to a year. But by the one year mark, I definitely saw very positive changes. I was feeling much better about things by the 6 month mark.

    Reply
  34. Student

    Try asking her more about her career goals, her ideas, and her interests. If she doesn’t connect about social things, there’s probably a reason. I won’t talk to my bosses about my social interests because I am pretty sure they’d judge me negatively for my hobbies and they’re on the opposite end of the political spectrum in many regards. For example, I play video games – some people are fine with that, but I’ve gotten enough “but that’s not ladylike” and “that’s so childish” for a lifetime.

    I’d be happy to talk to my bosses about career-mentoring things, work topics, neat projects they’ve done, information on how the organization works, forecasts of upcoming work, problems the boss needs fixed or cares about, etc.

    Reply
  35. MommyMD

    If this employee is indeed wonderful, as described, and is emailing her boss about work issues, why not continue to be updated about her work via email? She is never going to be the social, chatty employee.

    Reply
  36. LizH

    I would recommend that the letter writer work on her relationship with her employee. As suggested, the employee may think her boss doesn’t like her because the boss doesn’t chat with her like she does with Neelix. I once had a coworker I was convinced didn’t like me. She was friendly with everyone else, but always cool with me. I attempted to cultivate a warmer relationship to no avail, so I took her lead. We were polite, but only spoke when necessary. One day she confronted me and wanted to know why I was so friendly with everyone else but so cold to her. I was flabbergasted and felt like she was gaslighting me: I wasn’t the cold one–she was! But then I thought about it and realized it was entirely possible that we’d both misunderstood the other. We talked and it turned out that she acted the way she did because she thought I didn’t like her! Perhaps if we’d only tried a little harder in the beginning, we’d have avoided this misunderstanding. We ended up being pretty good work friends after that.

    Reply
  37. Anon for this

    My direct supervisor is close friends with a man who sexually assaulted a friend of mine. My supervisor knows of the assault (the fallout was very public since the assaulter and victim were coworkers), but doesn’t know I am the victim’s friend. This is because I have never spoken to him in a friendly way outside of work matters. He was hired after the assault occurred, so I was aware that he had supported his friend. I am unbelievably uncomfortable around him and go out of my way to avoid him, and speak coldly to him when I have to interact. As a result my work and my standing in the workplace has suffered, and I feel as though I am about to be let go. I have a personal history with sexual assault that makes me react more strongly to my supervisor than I think an average person would (I am in therapy for this but it is a long process), but I would never feel comfortable approaching this subject in a conversation with him or any of my other supervisors, due to revealing too much of my own history. Just wanted to share this point of view that sometimes it *is* personal.

    I am looking for another job, btw.

    Reply
    1. Lady Ariel Ponyweather

      That’s awful. Sending you all the good job-hunting energy and also chocolate/treat of your choice and hope you get a great job soon!

      Also hope those dreadful people fall into a volcano and then the volvano is launched into the sun.

      Reply
  38. SarahTheEntwife

    Does your workplace use any sort of text chat? Given the way B’Elanna goes straight to email, I wonder if verbal conversations make her particularly uncomfortable for whatever reason. If that’s part of it, chat might be a better way to have those quick “do you have anything you need for that warp core retrofit tomorrow?” check-ins.

    Reply
  39. SixofNine

    Another B’Elanna here. 100% I actually can’t stand Neelix. :)
    I rarely enjoy talking about anything other than work. I push myself to chat more, especially when others want to, and I’m better than I used to be. But this is usually just with coworkers (not my boss), because they are around more, and they initiate it more. I also don’t show a lot of emotion, even when I’m excited about something, which can give people the wrong impression.
    I have a weekly checkin meeting with my boss, where we talk about my work progress, my schedule, tasks, anything really. I really like it, and look forward to it. Having structure makes it less uncomfortable, and we often end up chatting about other things too, now that I’m more comfortable.
    I highly suggest taking Alison’s advice on that.

    Reply
  40. Scarlott

    Reminds me of Michael Scott. Haha, but seriously you just make her uncomfortable. Maybe its a past thing she had with a boss, but let it go. You need good employees, not good friends here.

    Reply
  41. Chris S.

    If the employee is doing a good job, and no performance related issues were mentioned, what is the need for additional “management?” Some people work best if largely left alone. Is the desire to stir the pot really a performance issue or a desire by the manager to feel important?

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Well, managers exist for a reason, right? To do the job well, you have to know what’s going on in the areas you manage (as well as give feedback, etc.), and that means that usually the people who work for you have to be willing to have some conversations with you about the work. Right now, that’s not happening, so the OP can’t effectively play the role she’s been hired to serve.

      Reply
  42. Cassie

    I’m a B’Elanna. I’m happy as a clam when my bosses give me the freedom and authority to do my job, and (mostly) leave me alone. If we’re in an elevator or walking to a meeting together, small talk is fine (not talking would be way more awkward). If we’re discussing a work issue and it segues into non-work (e.g. vacation plans), I’m okay with that too. I’m generally less enthusiastic if a boss comes to my cubicle to chit chat because chances are, I will be in the middle of working on something and now I have to stop and shift my focus.

    I very much dislike when people (bosses or coworkers) ask a bunch of questions, mostly in an attempt to “get to know you”, because I feel like I’m being interrogated. I get why they’re doing it, but it just leaves a bad feeling. Let things happen organically and naturally. People in the workplace should be friendly (cordial) but they don’t necessarily have to be friends.

    OP – if you want to have regular meetings to discuss work, you should definitely do that. B’Elanna is probably expecting it and waiting for you to initiate the meeting. But otherwise – honestly, the best way to “connect” with an employee is to show them through your actions that you respect them, regardless of their personality/preferences, and that you trust them to do the job that they are there to do. To me, nothing else matters…

    Reply
  43. Tealeaves

    “I want to make sure you know that I’d welcome talking with you more often on an informal basis too, similar to what I do with Neelix. My sense is that that you prefer to focus on work when you’re at work and not chit-chat, but do I have that right? If I’ve misread it, I want you to know how welcome you are to join in those conversations or have separate ones with me.”

    I’m a B’Elanna. There’s no harm asking this, but be prepared for her to say, “I like to keep work and personal completely separate.” What you need to make sure is that during ANY of your scheduled check-ins about work, you don’t ambush her with informal / personal questions. Her trust will evaporate and she’s going to avoid wanting to meet you for these sessions, even if they’re for work. It happened to me. Halfway while talking about work-related issues, suddenly my manager randomly asked what my favourites (e.g. movies/music/foods) were and about my hobbies. It was very shocking and frankly a little rude to do that when I was not prepared to have a chat. If you have randomly gone up to her for a chat before, it might be scaring her off, which is why she runs away without saying goodnight so that you don’t enthusiastically ambush her while saying goodnight (“See you tomorrow! What are you up to tonight anyway?”) or ends up being the last in the office with you. Avoiding is easier than dealing with awkwardness.

    Arrange the work check-ins on a scheduled basis e.g. last Friday of each month, first thing in the morning. Send a calendar out, book a meeting room if you have to. Since she functions formally, make it formal and she’ll react to it. You can even prod her to email you a summary before the check-in, so you have something to discuss and go over, and she can mentally prepare.

    There are several reasons why she (and people like us) doesn’t want to be personal with the boss:
    1) As AAM and many B’Elannas said, it’s simply because you’re the boss. It’s weird being close to a figure of authority.
    2) Past job bad experience. Being close to a manager in the past could have led to some issues, such as crossed boundaries, or letting slip some information that the manager used against her. Crossed boundaries means like texting outside work hours, giving unsolicited input about her personal life, or even inappropriate behaviour (physical contact, innuendo-laden jokes, etc). Info could mean anything, but it’s never good when the manager brings it up e.g. “You say you need a raise, when you just went on a trip to Italy last weekend? Seems to me like you’re doing well financially.” I’m pretty sure this isn’t you, but as long as you wear the boss label, people would rather play safe.
    3) Afraid of being judged as the manager’s favourite (unlikely since you are buddy buddy with Neelix, but jealousy easily happens in small teams).
    4) Afraid of being judged by YOU. What if you find out things about her personal life that makes you feel she is less professional? Maybe she likes death metal, playing video games, or spends her weekends doing absolutely nothing useful? It’s just a risk that’s not worth taking since it can impact her career image and prospects.
    5) Some people are just private by nature. You don’t know what she talks about with her colleagues. Maybe she’s making empty small talk that doesn’t reveal anything about herself anyway, so you’re not missing out.
    6) Maybe she just doesn’t like you. Sorry. Some people just don’t click for whatever reason, and there’s nothing that can be done. But do schedule those work check-ins regularly. Stick to email if you sense it works better.

    About eating lunch an hour later, it’s possible she feels that since she wants to eat alone, it’s more polite to eat later than everyone else, rather than to bump into everyone at the same cafeteria / restaurant and be seen sitting alone at another table. Some people just use this time to decompress, I wouldn’t think too much of it.

    Reply
  44. Jonno

    This isn’t adding to the convo. But those names are perfect, hahaha. Should’ve called the boss “Janeway”

    Reply
  45. Kathryn

    Is this person really there to MANAGE B’Elanna, or is she just a “hire up in the business”? In my office we answer (and deal directly with) our Employer. We have a “manager” who’s real job is to oversee the work crews. When his work is slow he’s constantly trying to stick his nose into what we’re doing to justify his existence. Some people are just good at their jobs and need no “management” at all.

    Reply
  46. boop the first

    Talk more, I guess. I’m deep in the social anxiety pit, and I know I come off as some rude weirdo because I will only smile to coworkers and say nothing more to them unless they ask a question or something.

    But my departmental coworkers and I have had to speak every day, and with that comes a lot of pushing against comfortable boundaries on a regular basis. More jokes, more personal information… It’s been six months and I will still eat my lunch in complete silence with the more distant coworkers. But they would be shocked to hear me in my own department!

    Reply

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