my coworker loves meetings and jargon, temp is hawking health products at work, and more

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

1. My coworker is weirdly formal and loves meetings and jargon

I’ve been working with Jane for the past four months. We are peers, although she has direct reports and I’m a team of one. She’s in her mid 50s and has been in our industry for a long time, although in higher positions than she has now. She seems like a lovely, well-intentioned person, and she has shown great skill in revamping struggling teams within our division. However, and it’s a big however, she tries to demonstrate her experience by using an excessive amount of jargon and acronyms. We work in an industry that is rife with technical terms, but she is actually adding to the pile by borrowing jargon from other fields, such as project management, and using them in day-to-day communication. Nobody else at our office does this. Her written documentation is very unclear due to all the acronyms and jargon, plus constant passive voice and just being incredibly formal in situations that don’t call for it.

She also insists on over-formalizing things, such as taking a moderate task and turning it into a major project involving a multitude of players. She loves meetings, and takes every opportunity to schedule recurring one-hour meetings with various teams and colleagues. Her meetings are also very formal and controlled, but not in a way that is a good use of time. For example, if there’s a written handout during the meeting, Jane may start by reading it out loud, word for word, even though everybody has a copy.

I work closely with Jane, but we couldn’t be further apart on these matters. I prefer using clear, professional language whenever possible, and I try to limit the frequency and duration of meetings that I schedule and attend. I have the impression that Jane thinks I (and many of our teammates) should be as formal and “professional” as she tries to be, but to me she seems out of touch an a bit condescending. Am I being ridiculous for letting her formality bother me so much? I’ve wondered if I should have a casual conversation with her about it, but perhaps she’s in the right here. What can I do so I don’t go nuts?

You don’t sound like you’re being ridiculous. Jane’s work habits sound legitimately annoying, particularly the over-use of meetings and the horrible reading of written materials word-for-word.

That said, as a peer, it doesn’t sound like you really have standing to give her feedback on some of this stuff, like the jargon and the bad writing, unless you happen to be charged with editing her documents.

But as a peer, you do have standing to push back against all the meetings; it’s fine to say, “I don’t think we need a meeting for this; let’s just take five minutes now and hash it out” or “I’ll just send out an email and people can let me know if they have questions.” Same thing with “I don’t think we really need an hour for this. I could do 30 minutes tomorrow afternoon — does that work?” And at the meetings you do get roped into, speak up if she starts wasting people’s time! You can say, “Hey, since we all have a copy of this and I know we’re all busy, rather than reading it together, does everyone want to jump to the two questions at the end of the document?” (It’s highly likely that you will get immediate assent from everyone else there?) In other words, don’t see yourself as at Jane’s mercy with a lot of this; you can assert yourself back at her.

Beyond that, I’d say to try to get comfortable with the idea that it’s okay to just let Jane be annoying and weirdly formal. I think you’re feeling like you want to fix it somehow, but (a) you probably can’t, (b) that’s probably okay, and (c) realizing that that’s okay can sometimes make this stuff a lot easier to live with.

2. Our temp is hawking health products at work

I sit near a bank of cubicles that are mostly occupied by temporary workers. A woman who sits right next to me and is working as a temp for another department has been telling other temps about some miracle diet-cleanse product she sells. She’s been handing out sample packets of some powder and urging people to try it. She never tells regular employees about it, as far as I can tell– just other temps– which makes me think she knows it’s probably not an okay thing to be doing.

I’ve been ignoring this, but today I found a stack of postcards in our coffee room selling another “health” product (miracle stomach wrap-belt melts fat!) with this woman’s contact info on it.

Should I tell HR? Or confront her directly and tell her that selling stuff at work isn’t allowed? I’m not in HR myself, but I know our company wouldn’t be thrilled about this. I don’t want to be a jerk… should I just let it go?

It could be that she’s just confining it to the other temps because those are the people she talks to most, but who knows.

Either way, though, I think it would be fine to mention it to HR, framing it as, “Hey, I think Lucinda might not realize that we have a policy against trying to sell to coworkers, so you might want to give her a heads-up that we do.” Or, if you’re comfortable with it / have any interaction with her yourself, you could just tell her that directly — as in, “Hey, I saw these postcards in the coffee room, and figured you didn’t know that we actually have a policy against selling stuff at work.”

Basically, assume ignorance, but speak up since it sounds like she may be treating the other temps as a captive audience for a sales pitch.

3. My replacement was hired at a higher position than me

I have been at my company for three years, and for the most part, things have been great. It’s a small company and I work closely with my boss on many projects, so I feel like we have a positive relationship. I’ve always felt like a valued member of the team, my yearly performance reviews have all been very positive, and I’ve received two promotions in three years. I’ll be moving to another city soon, and my company – spearheaded by my boss – has offered to keep me on in a different role, which I gladly accepted.

The company recently hired my replacement. She came from a very similar background as me – our prior positions were in the exact same industry/role, just at different companies, in different cities. We both had around two years of experience at that previous position. The position is somewhat related to our current industry, but not directly (she’ll need to be trained, as I was, but our skills transfer well to this current role). Before that, we were in entry level positions in unrelated industries.

I was surprised to find that she was hired at a higher position than I am (account manager vs. account executive). I can’t help but feel hurt. Our backgrounds are so similar, yet I have three years with this company, and still haven’t reached this position. In fact, I’ll be training her.

Is this something I should discuss with my boss? I don’t want to risk sounding petty, or damage my relationship with the company when they’ll soon be accommodating me as a remote employee. But I’d like to know their reasoning. What would be the best way to bring this up?

You can bring it up, but your tone really matters here. You want to sound curious, not upset — because there may be very good reasons for their decision. For example, she might have amazing skills that you don’t know about, or they might have reassessed the needs of the role.

Say something like this: “I hadn’t expected Jane to start as an account manager instead of an account executive and was curious about that. Anything you can share with me?”

4. I don’t read resumes before I do phone screens

I had a phone screen recently with a candidate where the candidate asked me what I thought of his CV so far, to which I said that I deliberately don’t read the CV before a phone screen. He seemed very surprised by this. I read with interest your previous post about interviewers who don’t read resumes, and it sounds like this is the worst thing ever.

We have an internal recruitment team who pre-screen CV’s. By the time the applicant gets to me, my phone screen process (and note, this is limited to phone screens where a single person is making a decision compared to multi-stage interviews where there is a group debrief) is that ahead of time I review the job competencies / job description and the prior technical assessment, then during the phone call I follow structured interview questions looking for SBI / STAR type answers, and then post-interview I review the CV and use this along with the answers to make an informed decision.

I find that this limits the impact of unconscious bias on the phone screen from information such as graduating schools, years, previous roles (especially if the job titles are misleading), and as I work in engineering, just poorly written CV’s in general. I’d be interested in your thoughts on this approach. I don’t consider myself a terrible interviewer by any stretch but always happy to adjust my approach!

Usually when you hear about interviewers not reading resumes before interviewers, it’s not a deliberate strategy; it’s just disorganization. That’s why people object to it — because candidates generally put a great deal of time and energy into preparing for interviews, and it’s disheartening to find that the interviewer couldn’t even be bothered to take three minutes to read the most basic info about the candidate’s background.

That’s not the case with you. In your case, this is deliberate approach that you’re taking to guard against bias. Plus, there’s going to be time later in the process to dig into candidates’ resumes with them. So no, what you’re doing seems reasonable.

However, I think you probably need a different answer if it comes up again. If you just tell a candidate that you don’t review resumes before phone screens, they’re not going to know your reasoning — it’s just going to sound like disorganization or lack of thoroughness. Instead, be explicit about the fact that someone else has screened them and that you deliberately approach the calls this way to to guard against bias.

5. How can I tell my boss how much I appreciate him?

I am really happy at my job and a big part of that is my boss. I was hired as his assistant a few months after he was thrown into a leadership role several years before most people in his position would be. A year and a half later, through working so well together and him giving me a lot of freedom to implement best practices, we have the department running better than it ever has.

My boss does a great of job of showing he appreciates me. He routinely mentions to colleagues and higher-ups about how lucky he is to have me and that I make him look good, and he has frequently implied that he is only willing to retain his leadership role (which is temporary but for as long of a tenure as he chooses) as long as I am his assistant. Lately he has made it a point to memorize my Starbucks order and bring me a drink once a week. This sort of explicit appreciation from a supervisor means a lot to me, especially because it was greatly lacking in my previous jobs.

It struck me recently that he is constantly acknowledging his appreciation of me but that I rarely acknowledge that I appreciate him too. I think words of appreciation from me might mean a lot to him, since his praising of my work seems to demonstrate it’s a form of acknowledgement he thinks is important (is there a professional version of love languages?). I’m just not sure how to phrase it in a way that is sincere and meaningful yet not veering too much into an awkward amount of intimacy. I’m female and about 15 years younger than him, and we are both married, so I am very conscious that our relationship is full of potential landmines. Our office and our interactions are very friendly, casual, and candid but with boundaries that keep it professional and not-awkward (we do not call/text each other about non-work things or follow each other on social media, for example) and I don’t want to screw up this dynamic that is working so well by saying the wrong thing.

So, should I let my boss know I appreciate him and his support of me, and how can I phrase it to make it not weird?

Yes! Please do! Managing can be a pretty thankless job, even when you do it well, and I think most managers find it incredibly rewarding to hear appreciation from the people they supervise.

There are a bunch of ways you can do this, but one option would be to say something like this the next time you’re meeting: “I want to mention how much I appreciate your management style. In particular, I appreciate the freedom you’ve given me to figure out things like X and Y, and I especially appreciate the recognition you give me about things that are going well. It really motivates me to want to do more of those things, and it makes it really fulfilling to work for you.”

{ 369 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. KarenT

    #3 It may have something to do with her salary negotiation as well. She may have successfully negotiated a higher salary and they had to give her the tithe for that pay band. She also may have just known to negotiate the title.

    Reply
    1. H.C.

      Also, the company may have posted the opening for an AM rather than an AE because of upcoming business needs such as new clients, shifting responsibilities, etc. And even though you are at similar experience level as your replacement, they didn’t think to consider you for an internal promotion since you’ve already announced your move.

      If you haven’t already accepted your role in the new city, this might’ve been an opportunity to negotiate too. But since you have already accepted, I don’t see much practical reason for asking why she’s hired at a higher level.

      Reply
      1. Ama

        This is what is happening with a position at my company. The person leaving progressed from our entry-level title to our next level up because of her excellent work (which is pretty standard here for strong employees who stay for a few years), but she was able to take on so much more responsibility for managing projects that the position itself has really changed and can’t be considered entry level any longer.

        Reply
      2. OP#3

        OP #3 here. The job post was originally for an AE. I know this because I actually recommended this person (I didn’t know if I should include that in my original email to Alison!), and that was the job description they sent me to give to her. Perhaps that’s why I’m taking it personally that she was offered a higher position than me.

        I know she has some experience in things that the company would like to grow in. But when I joined the company three years ago at her experience level, I was hired as an account coordinator (which I felt was completely fair at the time). When I think about that it’s even more hurtful to think that they would hire her in a position above me, especially because I feel like I’ve grown into my role and performed above their expectations.

        Reply
        1. Sharky

          I was once hired at a higher job level than most of the current employees in the role (there was level I, II, senior, and principal, and I was hired as principal) without any direct experience in the role. I think it ruffled some feathers. It happened because I negotiated – we reached a ceiling on how much money they were willing to pay (which was below the industry standard), so I asked for the increased title and got it.

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    2. Mike C.

      If it’s an issue of “better negotiation” without significant differences in skills/experience/education, then this employer better get ready to give raises to everyone else.

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        It is bog standard business practice to not reward a person whose role and contributions have increased. Particularly a woman in a support or line role. She puts up with it and so they can exploit her. When they go to hire what she does, they discover that to get what they want they need to pay more or reclassify the job. Often the only way to get what you are worth is to move on as the OP did.

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        1. Lora

          +100000000000 and the entire internet.

          My personal favorite is when a large pharma who makes little blue pills for aging men re-classified people’s roles according to what they were paid. The women who had been employees of companies that the little blue pill factory bought, were making no more than entry level men who had recently joined the company. Their jobs were re-classified as entry level. If you’ve been working your butt off for 10 years and find out that you’re valued as much as the entry level new grad without so much as an internship to his name, it is galling indeed.

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        2. Mike C.

          I don’t care what “the industry standard” is, especially when it leads directly to poor employee morale or pay inequity. I’m not talking about what is but rather what aught to be done.

          Reply
    3. Dealtwiththis

      #3 this happened to me in my current position and I’m still angry about it. It didn’t help that the person coming in doesn’t have any more experience than I have. The explanation from my boss did not make me feel any better. They did give me a nice pay raise about 6 months after the situation and I have to tell myself that the other person is being paid less now even though we have the same title (heard it through the grapevine).

      Reply
    1. Tim

      True, but if the question is raised early in the interview, the wrong phrasing could negatively impact the rest of the interview.

      “Oh, I never read CV’s before I speak to people” sounds like you want to waste my time before you even bother to see if I at least meet the basic requirements of the position.

      On the other hand “Your details have been passed to me because you’ve been shortlisted for the next phase of the process, so I already know you’re qualified for the role. I’ll be reviewing your CV in due course, but I always like to start the initial call on a blank slate with no presuppositions from things I’ve picked up from your CV.” explains that my CV has at least been read and that I’ve been progressed as a result of that, even if the person I’m speaking to hasn’t yet read it.

      Reply
      1. Noah

        Yes, this! “I don’t read resumes” sounds to me a lot like, “I don’t value your time.” That’s not the case here, though.

        But it’s hard to imagine hiring somebody who asks, “What do you think of my CV so far?” in an interview.

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    2. neverjaunty

      It matters if they are losing potential quality hires because great candidates think the company is disorganized. If you’re getting quality hires DESPITE then hiring process, that matters very much.

      OP #4, there is nothing wrong with your reasons for not reviewing the CV, but AAM is absolutely right that you don’t want to tell candidates the are fact that you don’t read them. If I heard that I would take it to mean “I could care less about your credentials ; the important thing is whether I personally like you based on our phone chat.”

      Reply
      1. Jessesgirl72

        That is what I would think too. And I’d stop the interview process.

        It’s ironic that in trying to eliminate bias, the OP is giving the impression the process is moving forward based on of one of the worst types of bias!

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      2. k

        If I heard that in a phone interview without any explanation I would see it as a major red flag. It would give me the impression that the company is one that doesn’t think interviewing is a two-way road, and doesn’t care if their wasting my time. Unless it was my dream job I wouldn’t continue the process from there, and even then I would be very skeptical.

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      3. gingerblue

        Likewise, I would take this as sign of terrible disorganization unless the interviewer spelled out the logic here. Perhaps even more importantly to the interviewer, are you getting the right information out of candidates this way? I answer interview questions rather differently depending on whether the person I’m talking to knows the main points of my career or not–I’m in academia, so the context is a bit different, but I would fill in more background on both myself and my fit within my field if I were talking to, say, a dean, who I would not expect to have read my application materials in any detail, versus when I’m talking to an interview committee in the department I’m applying to, who I presume have read what I sent them. If the interviewers turned out to have not read my application, and I only found this out in the middle of the interview, my replies would make less sense and I would find it pretty discomforting to have that sprung on me at that point–suddenly, we’re having a very different conversation from the one I prepared for. I would suggest laying out your process in a little more detail for candidates ahead of time, both to avoid scaring good candidates off and to have the most useful conversation.

        Reply
  2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP#5, I’ve found that offering a one sentence, straight-forward, no drama comment about what you appreciate about your boss can go a long way. I usually try to focus on a behavior or management style that’s really identifiable. So for example, I might say something if my boss is proactively looking for professional development opportunities for me and connects me to them, or if they’re very thoughtful (as your boss is about your Starbucks order). Pick a specific character trait, management style, or action that your boss took that you appreciated, and say thank you about that one thing. Keeping it focused also helps avoid any boundary weirdness, although from what you’re describing, I don’t think that will be a problem.

    Another way to convey thanks is to wait until your boss thanks you for your kickass work, you can say something like, “it’s [easy/a pleasure/etc.] when you work for a [thoughtful / conscientious / kind] boss.” You don’t want to start an escalating compliment war, but it can take some of the anxiety out of conveying your appreciation.

    Reply
    1. Casuan

      How cool to have a really good post like OP5’/ letter!
      I like PCBH’s approach because it’s easy to “spread out” the compliments over time so you can often tell your boss that you appreciate him.
      caution: This can easily get weird, so don’t overdo it.
      At certain times a simple card could be warranted as well.
      The most important thing is just that you do it!!
      Congrats, OP5, your boss might win AAM Boss of the Year*!!

      *Is this a thing on AAM? With all of the boss horror stories, I’ve forgotten…

      Reply
      1. Mookie

        The spontaneous, ‘spreading out over time’ approach to compliments, combined with PCBH’s advice to name the thing you’re appreciative of, sounds solid. The boss offers praise in the context of good work, so it stands to reason that doing the same back at him will make this seem less sycophantic. Constructive feedback, whether it’s going up or coming down, works when it acknowledges, reinforces, and rewards thoughtful decision-making.

        Also, in my experience, this is what competent employees ought to do, demonstrating they’re discerning and clued-in enough to the dynamics of a team, beyond their own individual contributions, that they recognize when management is providing sufficient support and leadership. It’s not just gratifying for the boss; it also improves your standing and credibility with them (not as a brown-noser but as someone paying attention).

        Reply
        1. Jaydee

          And the specificity of comments is helpful because then the recipient can pinpoint what they did that was appreciated and replicate that in the future. It’s similar to how parents and teachers are recommended not to give broad, generic, trait-based praise (“You’re so smart!” or “You’re a really good artist!”) but specific praise based on the efforts and actions of the child (“You really studied hard for this test, and it paid off – you got a much higher score than last time!” or “I really like the colors you chose for this painting and how careful you were on the small details.”).

          Reply
        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Yes, agreed! I apologize—I didn’t mean to suggest OP should only praise one thing about their boss once. Sprinkling compliments intermittently is excellent and takes the pressure out of appreciation because it will feel like a normal part of your professional convos :)

          Reply
          1. Mookie

            No need to apologize–I was just expanding on yours and Causan’s comments. Your comments are always spot-on. :)

            Reply
    2. Saskia

      There actually is a book on love languages in professional life: The Languages of Appreciation, by Gary Chapman and Paul White.

      Reply
    3. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.

      Personal compliments embarrass me. I have issues. :-)

      Tell me what you’ve learned from me? I’m over the moon. The single greatest compliment is when one of my people tells me that she’s learned to how to be assertive, manage vendors, manage employees or manage projects from me.

      Reply
      1. Jessesgirl72

        One of the things I try to stress the importance of in the teen girls I am in contact with, is how to gracefully say Thank You to a compliment- without demurring or putting yourself down or otherwise trying to get out of the compliment.

        It’s never too late to learn! Be confident and gracious and say Thank You! :)

        Reply
        1. Wakeen Teapots, Ltd.

          idk I’m pretty old. :D

          “Your ad campaign was so successful. Great idea.” << win!
          " You are so creative and fantabulous" << squirm, I wish they hadn't said it.

          "I was in a vendor meeting the other day and kept it on track just the way you taught me how to do. That is so handy". <<< win

          "You've helped me learn how to be more assertive." <<< win win win!

          "You're the bestest boss anybody ever could have" <<< smile, change subject quickly

          Reply
            1. OhNo

              It took me a while, but I’ve found a response that seems to work in most situations: “Thank you! That’s very kind of you to say.”

              Just saying ‘thank you’ always seems insufficient to me, and if I agree or make any explanatory comment about whatever they’re complimenting me on, I feel like a tool. At least with that line, I can acknowledge that they are doing a nice thing (even if it makes me feel awkward, since I know that’s probably not the effect they intended).

              Reply
              1. Karen D

                Or “that means a lot. Thank you.”

                Of course, it really starts with listening. A lot of times, when WonderBoss offers praise, he’s really saying “I want you to know I like to see you do X and want to see more of that in the future.” So I come back with “thanks for the feedback, what do you think about rolling in X2 and X3?”

                Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            I also suck at taking compliments but agree it’s important to learn how to graciously accept praise. “Thank you” and “that’s very kind” are all you need to say :)

            Reply
        2. Marillenbaum

          This is so true! When I was in high school, I was in the Theatrical Honor Society, and one of the things in the oath was “I will accept praise and criticism with equal grace”, and it’s been such an important part of my life after that. It’s really helped me a lot to be able to accept praise confidently, and has actually helped me to feel more confident and deserving of praise when I receive it.

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    4. CM

      Great suggestions. I would also make sure you focus on your appreciation for your boss’ work with you, as opposed to their work in general. I’ve had some misguided compliments from people junior to me about my work, and while I’ve taken them politely, I find it annoying that they think they are in a position to assess my work and give me a pat on the back. Comments like, “It’s so thoughtful of you to remember my Starbucks order” or “I really appreciate how you accommodated my schedule this week,” or PCBH’s excellent suggestion of “it’s [easy/a pleasure/etc.] when you work for a [thoughtful / conscientious / kind] boss” are more focused on management rather than the boss’ substantive work.

      Reply
    5. C in the Hood

      Although it’s a ways off, mark October 16 on your calendar; it’s National Boss’s Day. Perhaps you could bring in some treats or something that day?

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        No!!!! Sorry, the suggestion is thoughtful, but National Bosses Day is a fabricated holiday that pressures employees with less relative power to gift up and fete their bosses. I hate it and don’t want to reinforce it as “a thing.”

        Reply
        1. Boss's Day, ugh

          Agreed, the one time my staff tried to celebrate boss’s day, it was so awkward and uncomfortable, I wanted to hide. I appreciated it but I had no idea if they really wanted to do it or felt like they should do it. It was also after boss’s day and I think they only did it because other offices had celebrated. On the other hand, when I left the organization, they gave me a really heart-felt card and threw a celebration that felt genuine. Those memories I’ll always cherish.

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    6. Violet Doyle

      Formal is safe and always appropriate. And I wouldn’t recommend anything else, because stepping outside formality is risky.

      But … I had a youngish direct report give me a handmade holiday card, with a brief note inside thanking me for all the help I’d given them during their first year in the position. Kinda corny and not overly professional, but the sincerity behind it was palpable and so very moving. For me, in that situation, it was the perfect display of appreciation. I will keep that card until the day I die.

      Reply
      1. Cards and such

        I gave cards to each of my bosses and two colleagues before I left my last job. The cards to my bosses might have been a little over the top but I tried to summarize everything Id learned from them and how much I appreciated them. I’d really grown up in the organization and began my management career there and one had been a long-time mentor.

        At the same place, I remember my boss was having a bad day not long after she arrived. I was more experienced than her in the organization and had basically shown her the ropes. I knew she was struggling and that she needed on that particular day to hear something positive. So I just said “you’re doing a good job here and have made a real difference. I wouldn’t say that if it wasn’t true.” It sounds like something you would say to an employee, not your boss, but bosses are people, too. And I think sometimes you just have to know the relationship you have and relate to them on a human level. I wouldn’t dare say anything like that to my current boss (nor would it ever come up) but in that instance, I have no doubt it was right (I had to work up to it at the time but I had to do something to help her). I still count her as a friend today. Compliments help. I know they’ve certainly boosted me at particularly low times.

        Reply
  3. Michael

    OP3: Apologies if this goes without saying, but when was the last time you brought up the subject of a promotion with your boss? I know it can really depend on the company, culture, etc. but if possible I would strongly suggest that, at least as a first step, you have a conversation about your ambitions, what your manager would want to see from you to recommend you for a promotion, etc. (adjusted for your particular situation). When I was newer to the workforce, I had a lot of success in the past being direct and saying “I really want to work my way up from Junior Teapot Associate to Senior Teapot Associate, what skills/experience/relationships/etc. would I need to make that happen?”

    Reply
    1. Mookie

      The LW says she’s had two promotions in three years. I do get the impression that this is a lateral transfer, though.

      Reply
  4. Great Bosses Are The Best

    The last letter here made me tear up- I had an internship supervisor like this for 2.5 years and he’s now moved on (I was hired on full time post-law school). I also struggle to express to him how much I appreciated and continue to appreciate his management, leadership, compassion, and mentorship. The love language I use generally is gifts; the one I like to receive is words. He used words, I used gifts.

    I’m surprising him with his boss and his assistant for his birthday tomorrow and I couldn’t be more excited. Need to write a card, actually.

    Damnit, I miss him as a boss. Appreciate him to yourself and express it to him.

    Reply
  5. Dienna Howard

    #2 – That sounds like It Works! and I’ve encountered some of their sales reps on social media, either trying to get me to buy their products or become a salesperson myself. I tell them “no.” Hopefully this temp will ease up on the on-the-clock sales pitches.

    Reply
    1. Sami

      Health/weight loss-related MLMs are so annoying. The “science” behind them is skimpy at best.
      Please do intervene- you’ll be doing her coworkers a favor. And her too- with a quick lesson on professionalism.

      Reply
    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I’m trying so hard not to open a conversation on how much I hate MLMs and the predatory nature of many of them, etc., etc.

      So instead I’ll say this: speaking to HR sounds like the right way to go. It’s unclear to me from OP’s letter if there’s already a policy in place or if this is simply something that the employer would prefer not to have happening on their time and in their space. If there’s a policy, OP#2 can certainly talk to the temp and can refer to the policy. But I think the less “charged” way to handle it is through HR, assuming HR is competent—there’s just a lot of sub-issues that could muddy the waters (e.g., power of a permanent person v. temp, whether these two are “peers” or not, whether you’re “policing” the temp, etc.).

      Reply
      1. Frances

        Because she’s a temp, I would actually avoid HR if possible. If she were a permanent employee, I wouldn’t worry about her being fired over this, but temps are much more precarious. Go to HR if necessary, but start by talking to her directly!

        Reply
        1. Temperance

          I’ll be honest, this might be my own bias against MLM weight-loss scams showing, but I seriously wouldn’t care if she was fired for doing something like that. YMMV, obviously.

          Reply
          1. Lizzle

            Please remember that temps are often in a precarious financial position, and so more vulnerable to the MLM pitch. She may have recently been talked into it herself, and endangering her regular employment would be very unkind.

            Reply
            1. Jadelyn

              +1 – frequently someone is temping because they’re struggling and need money right away while they’re still looking for regular work, and it’s easy to be susceptible to “side hustles” that offer to boost the little bit of precarious income you’re getting. Don’t let her get away with this, for sure, but also I don’t think it’s necessary to be careless about whether she gets fired or not.

              Reply
            2. Bea

              This is borderline offensive to temp employees. Most people in temp situations are looking for full time employment and assignments can frequently lead to amazing permanent jobs. Whereas others really enjoy the project based work.

              They’re not going to get anywhere by being unprofessional and bringing a side business into the company they’re supposed to be doing their best to impress. Making excuses for someone doing this because they’re a temp is a reach. They’re adults who should view every placement as working interview if they have a need or desire to have financial stability.

              Many MLM schemes prey on the bored and easily manipulated, such as stay at home moms or those who run towards to the diet fads.

              I was a former temp in my youth, so I’m speaking as someone who was among the many throughout the years. I’ve hired and fired temps because they do not follow work place rules or live up to basic standards. Again these are adults and we all need our jobs usually so we personally protect them.

              Reply
        2. Cassandra

          Another possibility is figuring out who handles the account with the temp agency (assuming an agency is in play, of course) and discussing with them. The temp agency then intervenes with the MLMer… but has an incentive not to fire immediately, because then they have to go through the process of finding a replacement, leaving money on the table in the process.

          Reply
        3. Tuckerman

          I agree. This seems like it could be solved by a simple, “hey, Teapots Inc. actually strongly discourages selling at work” (or whatever wording accurately describes the company’s culture/policy.
          I can’t stand MLMs, but I know some people turn to them out of desperation. Better to use compassion at least in the initial approach.

          Reply
        4. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          My concern is that she’ll push back, hard, and is more likely to push back on a peer than a “neutral” party. But I think my experience with MLMers may be coloring my perception. Your point is well taken—when possible and appropriate, one should not endanger another person’s (non-MLM) livelihood.

          Reply
        5. Jaguar

          Yeah, just on a human level, to say nothing of temp vs permanent aspect, talk to her first. Like the letter yesterday, you owe other people the benefit of a helpful warning. If you’re not willing to approach someone about their behaviour, you shouldn’t be willing to go to HR and jeopardize their job. Treat people the way you would want them to treat you.

          Reply
      2. Kathleen Adams

        I am not feeling particularly charitable regarding the temp – hawking stuff to your coworkers is highly questionable, hawking stuff in a company where you are temporary help seems much more obnoxious or possibly clueless – but I do think a pleasant, low-key “Hey, we really aren’t supposed to sell stuff here” wouldn’t be a bad idea. I think going to her supervisor would be better, though.

        Reply
      3. DevAssist

        Ugh…MLMs… I posted in an open thread about them (just asking if people have noticed an increase in their popularity) and I think my comment and the following comments were deleted, because I couldn’t find them when I went back to check the thread. :(

        But yes, OP should kindly say something to the temp. She may not realize what she’s doing isn’t okay, and if she does having someone talk to her about it could be a sufficient measure to curb her sales pitches.

        Reply
        1. Lily in NYC

          Hm, that doesn’t seem like something Alison would delete – maybe you checked the Sunday open thread instead of the Friday one (or vice versa)?

          Reply
          1. DevAssist

            Hi Lily!

            No, it was that same day and the next day that I checked, so I’m sure I was checking the right thread! If Alison did delete it (not an accusation at all!) I’m sure there was good reason- maybe it became to unruly or went off on a tangent. I honestly think maybe it was just a technical glitch. I don’t know!

            Reply
            1. Lily in NYC

              Hi Dev! That was a really interesting thread – I am so fascinated by the psychology behind MLMs. I’m currently sucked into sites that discuss what a scam LuLaRoe is.

              Reply
    3. snuck

      Ugh.

      I’d be saying something to her directly, if you are at all friendly/polite/talking to her. Just a cheery “Oh gosh, you probably didn’t realise we aren’t allowed to promote stuff like this here at work” and hand her back her postcards… and then if she continues then say something to HR/manager.

      I’d treat it like any other annoying habit at first and give her the chance to self correct. If she then doesn’t say something elsewhere. If I was her manager and you came to me I’d say something to her, but I’d be much happier about it if you’d try to resolve it yourself first. But then I try to create an environment where people work together, solve issues without a lot of management down approach, and there’s open communication. If this isn’t your workplace then adjust accordingly.

      Reply
      1. Parenthetically

        I agree with this. If it’s something that could be handled with a quick, “I’m sure you weren’t aware, but we actually have rules about not promoting products or services at work! I thought you’d want to know,” rather than going over her head, I think that’s the best course of action. Not that I’d ever do an MLM but if I had a similar situation, I would find it so embarrassing to know that someone tattled on me instead of coming and giving me a heads up.

        Reply
      2. Artemesia

        But this is not something for a co-worker to police. Her manager should deal with issuing directives like this. A c0-worker does it and she is just a busybody.

        Reply
        1. Parenthetically

          “Hey, FYI, this isn’t allowed,” isn’t a directive, though, and it isn’t being a busybody, it’s a collegial heads up about something the coworker clearly isn’t aware of.

          Reply
          1. k

            That’s how I’d see it, as long as it’s said in a friendly “head’s up” way. If I wasn’t aware of something at work I’d much rather a peer clue me in quietly instead of letting it get to the point where HR or a manager was involved. Even if the manager/HR is also saying it in a friendly way, coming from a higher up always feels like you’re in trouble.

            Reply
          2. Turtle Candle

            Yep. Early at a past job, one of my coworkers said, “Hey, just FYI, we’re not supposed to plug our phones into our computers. If you want to charge it you can plug a power adapter into the UPS, though, that’s fine.” (I had not realized that the prohibition against plugging outside stuff in to the computer applied to cell phones as well USB storage, although in retrospect I should have–I was thinking of it as ‘charging’ rather than ‘storage device.’)

            She said it in a friendly, heads-up kind of way, and it didn’t occur to me to think of it as her policing me or pretending to be my boss or anything like that. In fact, I was really happy she’d said something, since I a) was not deliberately flouting the policy and was grateful to know that cell phones ‘counted,’ and b) was happy to hear it in a friendly way from her rather than as a reprimand from IT. But it’s all about tone: there are definitely ways she could have said it that would have put my back up. Keeping it light and friendly and FYI-ish made all the difference.

            Reply
        2. OhNo

          It’s not policing, though. It’s just a friendly heads-up about a policy that the temp might not be aware of. The OP wouldn’t be enforcing anything, just giving a pre-emptive notice that they’re doing something that could get them in trouble.

          Reply
    4. OP #2

      Hi, Op#2 here, Thanks for all your suggestions and thinking points!

      Our workplace does have a policy against selling or promoting any external businesses here. I’m not sure they communicate this policy to temps, though. Our HR folks are very nice, but I can see the reasons for talking with the temp worker first. If she pushes back or doesn’t stop, I’ll mention it to HR.

      I did think about the necessity of a side-business for someone who also does temp work, that’s why I didn’t immediately go to HR. If it had been a regular employee, depending on how well I knew the person, I’d have said, “WTH, fellow colleague? This is totes bogus!” (We’re a medical lab, so it’s a little more annoying than usual that miracle cleanses and stomach-squashing belts are being pushed…)

      Reply
      1. Dienna Howard

        Please come back with an update. While MLM schemes can be annoying, it did come to my mind about how temps tend to be treated as disposable (as someone who’s been the disposable temp herself). As long as she eases up on the sales pitches and does a good job at work, I hope she doesn’t get canned.

        Reply
      2. Xarcady

        I will say, as someone who is temping right now, that frequently temps are not told about all the workplaces rules in the various places they temp.

        The temp’s employer is the temp agency. What you learn about the company where you will be working usually comes from the temp agency. I get told about dress codes, and business hours, and whether or not there’s anyplace close by for lunch, but most of the internal polices of the company that I’m working for are not mentioned. The hiring company has to tell the temp agency about the rules in order for the temps to get that info.

        For example, one job I took, we could not bring cell phones into the building. The temp agency must have warned me about that 6 times before I started the job. But that the business casual dress code did not include flip-flops? None of the temps knew about that until a supervisor threw a fit one day.

        I’d say a short, to-the-point message would work. Just tell her that it isn’t allowed. If she wants to keep the temp job, she will probably stop the selling right away.

        Reply
        1. Bea

          Showing up to a job in flip flops just made me flinch. The world is so different today, I wouldn’t dream of thinking those are appropriate job footwear.

          Reply
  6. AnotherAnon

    #4 – I was recently on the job market and went to numerous interviews, each with numerous individual meetings with various people involved in the hiring process. At two of these interviews, I had multiple interviewers who started the interview with “I’ve been too busy and didn’t look over your application materials. Can you tell me a little about yourself?” Or worse, they opened the interview with “So, what questions do you have for us?” and the conversation makes it obvious they don’t know anything about me. It was extremely off-putting, despite the prestigious reputation of both of these institutions, and I didn’t accept an offer from either one.

    I think they way you’re not screening CVs to not subject yourself to conscious or unconscious biases is perfectly valid, but you should tell candidates this up-front. I think candidates expect that by the time they reach the in-person interview stage, the interviewers will have at least skimmed their CV and will be expecting to be asked about their work experiences, credentials, etc. Making it clear that you purposely didn’t review this information without explaining why will likely be off-putting to a number of candidates.

    Reply
    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I’ve had this happen, and it was really awkward and awful, and it gave me this awful feeling that the employer cared so little that they didn’t even have a good lie for why they didn’t read my materials.

      That said, it doesn’t sound like OP is conveying that they’re too busy to read a candidate’s resume/CV. But I agree with Alison that it would be helpful to have a quick explanation for why you’re not reviewing CVs pre-interview so that you don’t give someone the (incorrect) impression that you’re not reading CVs because you don’t care.

      Reply
      1. Tuxedo Cat

        I’ve had this happen, and I felt like the interviewer was only interviewing me out of formality because they already knew who they were going to hire.

        Reply
        1. Stranger than fiction

          Same here! It’s happened to me twoce, and both times I got the “we decided to move forward with someone else” rejection in what seemed like a nano second later. So clearly both times the interviewer was over it by the time I got there.

          Reply
    2. Accidental Analyst

      I got the impression that after the phone screen they reviewed the answers in conjunction with the resume to make an informed decision as to who to move onto the next stage.

      Reply
      1. OP4

        Exactly, I do read the CV, just not before the interview and note this is for phone screens only where I am making the sole hire/no-hire decision.

        For in person interviews, we have a series of interviewers who then come together to debrief, I’d always read the CV before this as a group debrief is a very effective way of mitigating bias in hiring decisions.

        Reply
    3. Casuan

      OP4, please be transparent with your candidates when you begin the interview [“This is how our process works: CV screeners, phone interview, avoiding bias …”]. It’s no different than telling a candidate about any other interview process.

      For the candidate, it’s quite off-putting when the interviewer doesn’t know anything other than one’s name & it gives the candidate a bias that this company doesn’t care enough to know little more than one’s name, that the company is disorganised & otherwise wondering what’s going on.

      You want the candidate to be focussed on the questions you’re asking, not why you need to ask for infos already given or to wonder if the company is even the right fit.

      Reply
      1. CM

        I agree about transparency. As a candidate, I would be impressed with an organization that worked so hard to avoid bias. And like everyone else is saying, without that explanation I would assume that you were disorganized and were not taking this process seriously.

        Reply
    4. Thlayli

      I think the important thing is to make clear that
      1 SOMEONE read their CV
      2 you have read SOMETHING about them (the technical test results)
      3 you WILL read their CV before making the decision
      4 this is intentional and not just laziness

      Otherwise they will feel like you wasted their time by making them do both the CV and the technical test.

      Reply
    5. Mookie

      “So, what questions do you have for us?”

      Good lord. Flashbacks to some of the worst jobs I was desperate enough to take in my early 20s. If you can’t tell me what the role involves without me pulling your teeth and coaching you through an interview, you probably don’t know (and then later you’ll blame me for that, too, after balking when I decided to formalize my own job description).

      Reply
      1. overeducated

        One of my most frustrating interviews started out with “what would you do to improve this program?” Given that the publicly available information was very limited, I said I needed to learn more about the current program before I could identify improvements…I think the interviewer thought i was unprepared, but i would see coming in to overhaul an unusual program based on one paragraph of public facing information, with no organizational knowledge, as very arrogant.

        My only comfort in not moving further in the process was that I wouldn’t have to work for someone who was 20 minutes late for my phone interview, rescheduled my in person interview twice, and then started with that question.

        Reply
        1. KRM

          I had a half-day interview with multiple groups of people, very few of whom had actually bothered to read my resume. The leading question for most of them was “So why are you leaving [Company]?”. Ummm…well if you read line one of my resume, it says “Temp at [Company], contract ends on [date]”.
          Of course that was the same place that, when I inquired about their process (when I was 99% sure I was taking another job, but wanted to just cover my bases), the HR dude sent me a run on sentence rejection letter which addressed me as “K”. Literally, my initial. Uh, you’re not my family, you’re a professional! WTF?? Very glad I didn’t get a job there!

          Reply
        2. Jaydee

          “Well, it appears there may be some issues with disorganization and possibly some scheduling or time-management problems related to that. I think I would start by doing a comprehensive assessment of the program with a special eye toward those areas of concern….”

          Reply
    6. Yorick

      My worst interview experiences were when they didn’t read my CV. It’s ridiculous to ask a question like “Do you have any teaching experience?” when I sent the required CV and it lists all my teaching positions and all the courses I ever taught. How am I supposed to not be annoyed when I answer?

      Reply
      1. q

        Agreed. “Do you know Word and Excel?” …my resume says my last job was actually teaching classes on both those at several levels. Do you want the nuanced answer where I know enough to know how much I don’t know, except then you’re going to hire someone who says YES because they can open Word and Save Documents and type words and think that’s all there is to it. What do you actually need done in Word and Excel, they aren’t the right tools for every job. And why didn’t you just glance, glance at my resume! Microsoft Office Trainer right there!

        Reply
      2. Jessesgirl72

        Exactly. It seems to be such a massive waste of time to be asked questions that are clearly answered on the CV!

        Reply
        1. OxfordComma

          Sometimes when we ask those things, we want the candidate to expand on what is in the CV. Although, I agree, the questions could be better worded if that’s the case, “I see you have experience in Word and Excel, could you tell me more about that?”

          Reply
          1. Jadelyn

            Yeah, there’s a big difference between “Tell me more about [thing on the resume]” and “Have you ever [done thing on the resume]?”

            Reply
    7. Kathleen Adams

      I think the very worst interview start I ever experienced was years ago (but it’s still fresh in my mind, you notice) when I had moved from California to Indiana and had been searching with no luck for a nearly three months. So I sent my resume and cover letter to a company that hadn’t advertised any openings, asking if I could talk to them about career prospects. To his credit, the boss called me in for an interview, saying that there might be something opening up really soon. That was good, right?

      But his very first question – literally the first thing he said after I sat down – was “So what do you think you can do for us?” There was nothing about the company, nothing about the sorts of jobs that might be available, nothing about anything. It was pretty awful (and it turned out there were other significant problems, too, including a perfectly ridiculous and probably unenforceable non-compete agreement). But then, that was one time in my interviewing life when I walked away from an interview hoping like *heck* that I wouldn’t be offered a job because I could feel the misery oozing from the employees as I walked through the building. I have never before or since had such a strong sense that pretty much nobody who was there wanted to be there. I had been unemployed for nearly three months and hadn’t managed to get even a single interview at that point, so I reeeeeeeeally needed a job, but I still remember thinking “Please don’t offer me a job because if you do, I might have to take it and I really, really, really don’t want to.”

      Fortunately right then I suddenly started getting interviews (after three months without a nibble, during my last two weeks of being unemployed, I had five interviews), and I accepted a job elsewhere within less than two weeks. But I still remember the uncomfortable, chilly, inarticulate feeling of trying to sell myself to somebody when I didn’t know him, the company (this was pre-Google) or even know what job or jobs I might be in the running for. Brrrrrrr!

      Reply
    8. Sunflower

      I would probably just tell candidates ‘We’ve reviewed your resume and like what we saw so I’d like to use this time to talk about things not on your resume’. If a candidate pushed that, quite frankly, I’d find it to be very strange and kind of self serving? It’s fine to ask the interviewer if they have any questions or concerns about your fit for a role but you got the interview so clearly your resume impressed them.

      Reply
  7. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

    OP#1, I’m so sorry. It sounds like your coworker is stuck in old and ineffective norms. I don’t think you can change her behavior, but you can ignore any hints that indicate she thinks you should do things her way. And as Alison noted, you can kind of distance yourself about how annoying it is and just let it go as one of Jane’s quirks.

    To be honest, it sounds like her behaviors might stem from feeling insecure or not super confident about her role, authority, knowledge base, etc. I’ve generally found that folks who are this rigid and this committed to incoherence either have an impostor syndrome or pride issue happening that’s not always caused by their job. Of course some people are weirdly formal and jargony for no real reasons. But I’ve found it’s easier for me to let the annoyance go, or to be less emotionally reactive, if I think expansively about all of the non-obnoxious but sad reasons a person might behave this way.

    Reply
    1. Casuan

      OP1: I can’t offer you suggestions beyond what Alison gave you, although I think I can offer a glimpse into Jane’s world. To an extent I can relate because I tend to be formal in written communication, both professional & personal. It’s simply how I write & when I try to be more casual it’s quite difficult for me. I’m more casual in verbal communication. I have a good vocabulary & I’m not afraid to use it. With both methods of communication, I’ve been told that until one gets to know me sometimes I come off as a bit pretentious.

      All that said, always I try to know my audience & speak to them accordingly. I’m not going to use very large or inappropriate words in front of children nor will I use a bunch of acronyms just because I can. This is easier for me to do in speech & I try to edit my writing as best I can. There’s no point in saying something if no one can understand me.

      As for the meetings… sorry, I can’t help there because from your description I don’t understand Jane at all. That would drive me bonkers. Alison is spot-on with her meeting suggestions.

      an observation with no point, although I’m compelled to share the paradigm: Jane seems to have an idealised image of how she & her colleagues should conduct themselves… also with how the office functions, such as meetings… kind of like an idealised television show or an amalgamation of several “how to” books.
      Curious!!
      [at least to me]

      Reply
      1. Dizzy Steinway

        Thanks for the insight from the other side. I’m curious as to what you believe constitutes having a good vocabulary and not being able to use it, though? Doesn’t using your vocabulary mean choosing the right word, not the most complex or impressive one? I have a good vocabulary but I’m not going to use a longer word when a shorter one will do.

        I’m mentioning this only because you’ve highlighted one of the misconceptions that can be behind over-complex communication: that using longer, more complex words is a reflection of the quality or extent of your vocabulary. Most people who struggle with making their writing less formal have been taught otherwise and can find it scary or uncomfortable to use plain English instead. When actually most adults do not have a high reading age and it’s okay to make things simpler.

        Reply
        1. Casuan

          Dizzy, to me, having a good vocabulary means that one has many words to choose from* to convey one’s message. It does not mean to use multisyllabic or uncommon words just because one can. I try to use the word that best fits my message & audience. I never feel inhibited, eg: I never think “Darn, I have these words & I can’t use them.” I believe in knowing one’s audience, which is vital for communication.

          My writing is usually formal in terms of grammar & syntax, as opposed to vocabulary. Although I edit, I’ve never tried to change my writing style. Also I like to have fun so I tend to change things up, especially with punctuation. At least this is true for personal communication & commenting on this blog. :-)

          I’ve come to learn that how I communicate is a bit different than the norm. It’s simply how I process information. When I’m thinking of what to say, often several words will flash in my mind & I’ll just choose one without much thought. Sometimes this word is advanced vocab [for lack of a better phrase] & sometimes it’s quite simple. When I’m writing I can filter my words better. Sometimes this is more complicated for me because I’m multilingual & often words from another language come to mind so usually I automatically filter those out. This has been for as long as I can remember.

          analogy: When I need to copy & paste, I use whatever method that first comes to mind without any real thought. Some methods are simpler than others, yet if I use one of the more tedious methods it’s simply because I thought of it first… & not because I want to show off my knowledge & skill.

          As for Jane, I don’t think we’re alike although I did think the OP could use a paradigm from one who tends to be formal.

          Hopefully this makes sense & answers your questions!

          *Case in point, originally: from which to choose

          Reply
          1. Mookie

            It’s tricky, though, because, as you say, to communicate effectively you have to know your audience irrespective of your own linguistic sensibilities. And unless you’re a pontificator, lecturer, actor, or a slam poet, your job is to simplify rather than to talk pretty one day.

            I hear you on the translating-in-the-head, though. It can result in the most purplish and convoluted prose and a stubbornness to resist serviceable (and sometimes necessary) local idiom.

            Reply
          2. Candi

            “one has many words to choose from”

            Different words, their feeling on the tongue and in the mind, can provide subtle distinctions in the message conveyed. The words might technically be synonyms, but each one may provide a slight but distinctive difference in the meaning presented, especially in the context of the other words used.

            My son and I spent a few moments the other day discussing the differences between “moist” and “damp”. :P

            Reply
        2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

          I would caution against striving for simple language per se, particularly since most adults an educated, salaried professional is going to interact with in the context of their jobs is likely to be on the higher end of the reading age curve. The goal is effective and unambiguous communication, right? Sometimes the simplest language does achieve that, but not always.

          Reply
          1. Dizzy Steinway

            Ever checked out the average reading age of most adults? Trust me, it’s way lower than you think.

            Reply
          2. Emi.

            I agree, and I want to add a caution against thinking that people only use “complex” words to be pretentious. Sometimes they use them because those words express their meaning most precisely.

            Reply
      2. Djuna

        I’m struggling with a colleague at the moment who seems to be of the opinion that all business communication must be full of business words and jargon. Trouble is, unlike you, he misuses them. I spend a lot of time muttering “you keep using that word…” Princess Bride-style when reading mails from him.

        Worse, this leads to requests that I have to spend ten minutes parsing, and has become increasingly annoying over time. My company has been working hard over the past few years to cut jargon from our communication (internal and external), so his style now seems even more jarring.

        I think, in his case, it’s a combination of ambition (write for the job you want, not the one you have ;-) ) and a baked-in belief that you must use your most business-y words for all things work-related. I sometimes picture him sitting at his desk steaming about the lack of professionalism around him…while I sit at mine mentally begging him to write like he speaks.

        His manager has a much better style, so I’m hopeful that he’ll get some coaching on it.

        Reply
        1. OtterB

          Re needing time to parse the requests – more than 30 years ago, I watched a business communication video at work, and my husband and I still use a line from it as a reminder to be clear about what you want. In the video, a manager asks the landscaping crew to “remove the extraneous vegetation from the periphery of the facility.” He wanted them to pull the weeds along the fence. They dug up all the bushes. :-)

          Reply
        2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

          Have you considered stabbing him?

          Seriously, this would annoy the ever-screaming crap out of me, to the point where I’d probably throw politeness to the wind and reply, “I’m sorry, you’re using so much jargon that it’s unclear what your actual point is, so could you rephrase in normal conversational English?”

          Reply
          1. Djuna

            Ha! I’ll admit there are days I’m glad he works in a different country to me.
            But then, another part of me thinks it’d be so much simpler if I could swing by his desk and drag him off for a coffee and a quiet word about clarity. Possibly even including OtterB’s example above.

            I feel like he’s unaware that he’s shooting himself in the foot, so I have days where I just plain feel bad for him too.

            I have given some feedback to his manager, in the hope that he can be coached out of it.

            Reply
        3. OP #1

          OP here. There have been several examples this week of Jane misunderstanding some of these terms, so things have been interesting. A bunch of us are working on a project that she’s (kind of) leading, and it’s slow going because we need to translate after.

          Reply
      3. Laura (Needs a New Name)

        I am also formal as my default setting. Not so much in terms of vocabulary, but things I write just sound … formal! Polished? It’s hard to describe but you know it when you see it. It’s not jargon or complicated words. Like, imagine Queen Elizabeth sending you an email or writing up a grading rubric.

        Reply
        1. msmorlowe

          Ha, I’m the same! In one job I worked, the other (two) people in the office would usually ask me to write any and all letters, notifications, contracts, etc that needed doing. It worked out for me, as I was the receptionist during the quiet period and had very close to nothing else to do.

          Reply
          1. Laura (Needs a New Name)

            Sometimes I fantasize about starting a freelance business helping people write awkward emails. It is my talent!

            Reply
        2. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

          I’d personally find this a little alienating. There’s a nice middle ground between totally colloquial and polished/formal that I try to shoot for, and I feel like overly formal language tends to put up a barrier between people in a way that a less calculated register does not.

          Reply
          1. Kj

            Depends on the context- sometimes formal language allows you to be taken seriously whereas less formal language makes you seem less serious. I am formal in my emails/written communications, but more casual in person. People who communicate with me only by email think I’m older and tend to be surprised when they meet me and I am on the young side. It has been useful to be taken very seriously due to formal emails in the past! When they talk to me in person, they relax some, but still take me seriously.

            Reply
            1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

              I’ve had this experience on the recipient’s side, and honestly it made me feel a little like it came from a place of insecurity, and it seemed….not quite manipulative, but the message I got was, “I have to use overly formal language to make you take me seriously, because otherwise you probably won’t.”

              But that was with really deadly serious, very formal language, and I don’t know what tone you personally adopt.

              Reply
        3. OP #1

          It’s not her grammar though. In fact, her grammar is atrocious. I’m a former proofreader, and it kills me! Commas in, the middle of sentences. Apostrophe’s denoting plurals, things like that. Words that are Randomly Capitalized. She does use the passive voice almost exclusively in documents though, which makes for some convoluted-sounding processes and work instructions.

          Reply
      4. paul

        The formal written communication shouldn’t be a big deal IMO unless there’s something I’m missing…but the meetings. Maybe it’s because I hate meetings but oh man I would push back against that, and hard. Scheduling multiple hour long meetings (it sounds like several a week) is *such* a waste of everyone’s time.

        Send me a page long slightly formal email? Eh, I’ll live.

        Tie me up for 3-4 hours over the course of the week in pointless meetings? NO.

        Reply
        1. The OG Anonsie

          I wonder about the meetings because of the note about how she’s been lauded as helping turn around flagging teams on many occasions. I’ve had a long tenure as a cleaner upper in different organizations and no matter what the issue is with a department or team, having me regularly talking to everyone and getting people in the same room periodically to have asinine hash out meetings that seem like they should be emails or quick conversations always ends up being a huge part of shifting things back to a functioning track. Because without fail, somewhere in there there is a major misalignment with people that no one is sharply aware of enough to just suggest it. Also, the more I talk to people, the more I figure out what’s going on and can make a well adapted approach.

          I hate it. It feels like an insane waste of time every time I move that way and I can just feel the eye rolls when I set regular nonsense meetings with people, but I swear to god it’s effective. And often it doesn’t even feel that way, I might have a ton of check ins with people that seem to go nowhere, but from being able to just gather general information from/about everyone I talk to I can make infinitely more well-adjusted plans.

          Reply
        2. OP #!

          It’s not that it’s formal, abnormally formal. Similar to how the terms and conditions of a website would be written. The terminology she’s using (or misusing) is not standard in our field, so it’s confusing. As a made-up example (although inspired by actual events), let’s say she wanted to send us an email about buying a new car, the subject line would be something like “Announcement of PMD procurement”. If you asked what PMD meant; it would be “people moving device” aka a car.

          Also things like HD for help desk, TL for team leader. Nobody at our office uses those, so it’s confusing.

          Reply
      5. LQ

        I think you can have an extensive vocabulary, but if you are working with people who don’t your job is to communicate effectively and efficiently with them, then sometimes you need to pull back.

        When I started my current job I let my vocabulary fly and used all the words…One person understand nearly all of them. The rest? Less. So I pulled back, because it’s not my job to sound pretentious, or smart, it’s my job to get someone else to understand what I mean. I am going to use a less common word if it’s the right one, but I think there is skill to be able to massage your language to fit your audience, so I try to take that on as a challenge. (And use my vocabulary elsewhere so it doesn’t rot in a fetid swamp.)

        And when in doubt I check with my coworker and if he doesn’t know the word then I know I shouldn’t use it.

        Reply
      6. Casuan

        :::amazed at the comments & more amazed that I managed to cause them myself!!:::
        [the former phrase, not in a bad way; the latter, nothing new:::

        Wo. Okay.
        To answer several comments— mostly I’m amused & grateful for the opportunity to reflect on this & part of me is horrified— here goes…

        There’s a difference between using a good vocabulary & using words just because they exist & one knows them. From reading AAM, many of you have better vocabulary than I; I’ve learned several new words & acronyms here! I’m never afraid to question something I don’t understand: It’s easy to research definitions & if I’m in a conversation & don’t understand what someone says then I ask.
        Before portable devices, I was that person who would jot something down & research it later.

        Phrases like “remove the extraneous vegetation from the periphery of the facility” make me cringe & I want to track down the malefactor & box their ears very hard.
        re malefactor: “author” fits, although unless the author was told to be obtuse, “malefactor” is more precise & usually one can infer its meaning… & more fun

        “The West Wing” has a scene that sums my belief; I did a quick search although I couldn’t find it. My memory is a bit sketchy, tho the gist is that President Bartlet was reviewing some comments he needed to make & the staffer [CJ?] told him he shouldn’t use a certain word because some might think it too pretentious. Bartlet replied that the word was common & it fit so he wasn’t going change it, especially because his platform was on education.

        My writing style is my style & I’m comfortable with that & my use of words in any medium or language.
        What I am working on is pith!!
        //so far… failing, I think…//

        Reply
        1. Casuan

          *pith in my writing; my verbal communication is much more concise, albeit still there’s room for improvement

          Reply
        2. Anne of Green

          —-Maybe this from the West Wing?—–
          DOUG – (reading) …”to fall victim to torpor and timidity.” “Torpor”… is not a word a lot of people know.
          SAM – It means apathy.
          TOBY – And dullness.
          DOUG – I know what it means.
          CONNIE – Doug means…
          DOUG – They know what I mean.
          C.J. walks into the room and closes the door behind her. She looks a little tired.
          C.J. – Hey.
          Leo and Toby look up to acknowledge her, but they don’t say anything. They just turn back toward Doug.
          DOUG – If they don’t know what the word means…
          C.J. – What’s the word?
          JOSH – (after taking a sip of water) “Torpor.”
          C.J. – It means apathy.
          TOBY – And dullness.
          Everyone but Doug is looking more and more impatient with this conversation, rolling their eyes, standing up. Even Bruno looks annoyed.
          DOUG – (louder, more exasperated) I know what the word means. I’m saying if people don’t know what the word means…
          Bartlet walks in briskly through a door behind Doug.
          BARTLET – They can look it up!
          Everyone, including Doug, stands. Bartlet stops and stands next to the teacher’s desk at the front of the room.
          EVERYONE – Good morning, Mr. President.
          BARTLET – It’s not our job to appeal to the lowest common denominator, Doug. It’s our job to raise it. If you’re going to be the “Education President,” it’d be nice not to hide that you have an education.

          Reply
      7. OP #1

        Your observation at the end seems to be spot on. She does have an idealized version of how our business should work and how we should conduct ourselves, and she sometimes seems like she’s trying to school us.

        Reply
    2. Lablizard

      Do you think OP1 could request that an acronym key be included in all documents? That is something we do because too many acronyms have multiple meanings (e.g. CDC is California Department of Corrections, Centers for Disease Control, Certified Development Company, Central Depository Company) and relying on people knowing which one you are referring to in your documentation seems unwise, especially if it is being used for training purposes.

      It won’t help with meetings, but it might help with making her writing more coherent

      Reply
      1. S-Mart

        It’s mandatory for our documents that all acronyms and symbols are listed in a table at the beginning of the document (right after the table of contents, I believe). Even things that ‘everyone’ knows go there if they’re used anywhere in the body of the document. It often feels like busywork/waste of time to go through and make sure everything used has been put in the table, but (a) it helps often enough that it makes sense and (b) (I’m told) it’s ‘required’ in our industry (‘required’ in quotes because I don’t believe there’s a codified requirement for it, but external approval bodies/regulators expect to see it, and so the approval process goes more smoothly if it’s there).

        Reply
        1. Elizabeth West

          The standard I set for ours was to mention them right off the first time we used the phrase, like We will contact the United Federation of Planets (UFP) in the event Romulans cross the Neutral Zone. Then later, you could say, The UFP has outlined the actions to take in the event the Klingon Empire reverts to pre-treaty behavior. We didn’t have a long enough list to use a table, though that’s a good practice.

          Reply
      2. Lora

        When I am cursed with having to read such things, I have fun making up potential meanings for acronyms.
        “Evil Rattlesnake Poison”
        “Endangered Oryx Bones”
        “Jackholes Irritating Truckers”
        and my pet peeve, “King Pin Intimidation”. They are goals. Just say goals, like a person. Only douches say “KPI”.

        Reply
        1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

          I’m a contractor for a branch of DoD. Acronyms are out of control here, dude, it’s not even funny. Like, two-word phrases get turned into acronyms.

          Reply
        2. Persephone Mulberry

          We use KPI in my office but when I’m discussing them with a client I usually say “stats” or occasionally “metrics” because I know perfectly well these folks have no idea what King Pin Intimidation is and how it applies to them.

          Reply
          1. Djuna

            Before we had the big overhaul of our comm style at work, I was in a big meeting where I felt like I needed a cheat sheet for the acronyms and jargon.

            I worked retail for years, “shrinkage” to me is stock loss, not a shortage of butts in seats. I also worked in computer hardware where SME meant Small/Medium Enterprises. I kid you not, I spent an entire day after that meeting wondering how we had multiple small business owners on staff…only to find out they meant subject-matter experts.

            That kind of style in a large-forum meeting is really bad for morale – but no-one seemed to realize it. Thankfully, that was one of the first things to change.

            Reply
        3. Turtle Candle

          I’ve actually done this to help me remember acronyms that I otherwise might forget, weird as it might sound. Like, let’s say that we have a product called LlamaVision, and another product called LlamaVision (SSE), where SSE stands for Software Services Edition. I’m never going to remember Software Services Edition, or SSE, on its own; the way my brain works I’ll be going “Software Integration Edition? Software Service Integration? Integrative Software Services?” and have to look it up each time.

          So instead I’ll remember it as LlamaVision Superior Squirrel Extraterrestrial, and that will stick like glue to my brain as I imagine the superhero alien squirrel. And once my brain can keep the SSE in it, I can work backwards to what it stands for pretty easily.

          Reply
        4. Whats In A Name

          So I don’t know why I just thought of this but I used to be in love with New Kids on the Block. And I’d try to be cool and say “NKOTB” but it took me like 4 minutes to get the letters in the right order. One time my dad was like “OH MY GOD JUST SAY THE DAMN NAME”. That is what I am hearing you shout in meetings.

          Reply
        5. Dizzy Steinway

          We call them KPIs in my organisation because Goals (with cap) are a different, strategically defined, publically accountable, funded thing. You could say goals but it wouldn’t be clear what you meant.

          Don’t ask me why they arent just called targets, though!

          Reply
    3. One of the Annes

      Seconding PCBH’s comment that OP 1’s coworker may be behaving this way out of insecurity in her role. If you’re confident in your role and in your message, you don’t need to bury your main points with jargon and wordiness. Or with using passive voice to obscure who’s responsible for what. Overreliance on passive voice isn’t formality; it’s just bad writing.

      Reply
      1. OxfordComma

        An awful lot of people just don’t get why passive voice is ineffective. I know someone who is a lot like OP#1’s Jane and is, as you suggest, very insecure about her position. She seems to be getting worse as her position is growing more and more precarious.

        Reply
        1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          And a lot of folks also overcorrect (passive voice can be preferable/clearer sometimes!). I wonder if this is also field specific. In law school, I had to work on a project with grads from other departments that involved updating a manual for new grad student organizations so they could apply for funding, book rooms, etc. the leads rewrote the entire thing in passive voice, which added 8 pages to what had been a 7-page document. They let me change it to active voice but said they didn’t notice what they’d done because they were science PhDs, and they said they always wrote in passive voice to avoid incorrectly attributing a result to any specific agonist. I’m not sure I buy their explanation, but it boggled my mind.

          Reply
          1. sb

            Passive voice is standard in a lot of science fields. We had a campus writing center in college, where any students could go to get help on papers (and first-years were required to do so a certain amount of times, to make sure everyone got off to a good start), but it was staffed by students majoring in the humanities (English lit. and similar). They despaired at dealing with first-year Engineering students lab reports and research papers until they finally convinced the college to hire a handful of upper-level engineering students to look ONLY at engineering papers. I was one of them. I think I was able to be much more helpful — when I had taken papers in, I’d gotten admonitions not to use passive voice (which was required and standard) and lots of ??? NO JARGON!!! at very basic engineering terms that we were all expected to know and use. As a helper, I mostly told people to never use the first person, that exclamation points, smilies, and slang were inappropriate in a formal document, and helped them fix actual required formatting for lab reports that the campus writing center didn’t even know to look for.

            Reply
          2. JustaTech

            Yeah, a ton of scientific writing is in the passive voice because some times there just isn’t a good way to phrase a sentence in the active voice.
            My company (biotech) had a two-day class on “effective business communication” where the main points were “you’re all very smart, stop trying to show off in writing” and “this is a business, not academia, get to the point already”. A lot of the examples of the too-wordy, too-academic writing came from a coworker who was in the middle of writing his PhD thesis.
            One of the rules of thumb I took away was, when you’re writing something formal (a report), if you ever have a sentence that is more than 20 words long, ask yourself why. Sometimes it can’t be helped when you’ve got two technical terms that are each 6 words long, but often you’ve got either a run-on sentence or you’re using 4 words where 1 will do.

            The instructor also said that e-mails need to get to the point first, then provide background, and should be as short as possible so people actually read them.

            Reply
            1. Elizabeth West

              Same in banking and it drove me crazy. I corrected to active when I could, but I had to leave a lot of passive sentences as is so the meaning would remain clear, and I would gnash my teeth. It started to creep into my own writing too! Arrgh!

              Reply
      2. OP #1

        I think she IS insecure in her role. However, she’s confusing jargon and wordiness with professionalism. In some ways, I think she thinks she’s teaching US what professional communication should look like.

        Reply
        1. irritable vowel

          It’s possible that it has to do with feeling the need to “prove” herself as competent earlier in her career, especially if this is an industry where there might not have been a lot of women running meetings. It’s posturing, to be sure, but in the case of someone who’s been in the workforce for 30+ years and doesn’t necessarily *currently* have a reason to feel insecure, it might be behavior that she routinized so well (and that worked for her when she needed it to) that she doesn’t even realize she no longer needs to do it.

          Reply
        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          I’m certain you’re right—she probably thinks she’s teaching your norms about professional communication. But it’s also probably because she wants to be seen as relevant and competent (even if she’s missing the mark on both)

          So all I have left in my bag of suggestions it go say to yourself, “silly rabbit,” when she does annoying things and then let it go. I’m a person who gets very easily annoyed with things that I perceive to be a massive waste of my life (stilted, overly formal jargon that requires brainspace and time to translate into something intelligible, and meetings where someone reads a handout to me are on the list of things I think are a massive waste). I’ve found the only way for me to let it go is to adopt the “observe her like a strange creature in a nature documentary” approach mentioned in today’s letter about Belinda the complaining complainer. At least then I can see it as kind of amusing/odd?

          Reply
    4. Lora

      Agree. People who believe in these things (it’s a religion, I swear, complete with special clothing requirements, moral judgments and a rejection of hard evidence in favor of faith) are nigh-on impossible to retrain. I mostly just mentally tag them as “bad culture fit” and move on. Bless their hearts.

      I can only hope that some are reading this, recognize themselves, and understand how they are perceived by others.

      Reply
      1. Cath in Canada

        We had someone in our team for an 18 month mat leave cover recently who was obviously used to a MUCH more formal environment. She started to relax about 8 months in, and ended up being awesome fun at happy hour by the time she left. So, not everyone is a lost cause ;)

        Reply
    5. Fishcakes

      In my experience, excessive meetings and overuse of jargon are either because an employee is concerned with looking good to management (and some companies unfortunately do value those things), or because that’s what they’ve learned to do from their peers and training.

      I despise the current style of business writing. Obfuscating your point with word garbage does not make you seem like an excellent writer!

      Reply
  8. Dizzy Steinway

    I’ve found people over-use jargon for one or more of these reasons:

    1. They’ve got the idea that jargon makes you look clever and plain English doesn’t. But a smart person who understands what they’re saying isn’t threatened by explaining it in plain English.

    2. They don’t understand what they’re saying.

    3. They want to make other people feel stupid.

    4. They think other people are stupid.

    5. They’re afraid of losing their jobs and are trying to make themselves sound important in a woefully ill-advised way.

    Now I’ve got that off my chest… OP, I think you might have to take the approach of viewing Jane as a weird animal who’s the subject of a science documentary. You’re not ridiculous for being needled by this, but I don’t think you can fix it with a conversation or that you have standing to do so.

    I’m guessing Jane doesn’t interact with/give information directly to the public? For me that would make the difference between the jargon being annoying and urgently needing to be addressed.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      7. They have the idea that business writing must be formal, and that formal means jargon. So they truly think they’re writing appropriately for the context, without realizing that business writing doesn’t have to be like that (and in fact is generally stronger if it isn’t).

      Reply
      1. Djuna

        So much this, plus 8. – Insecurity. They may have fewer on-paper qualifications than people around them, and use lots of jargon to overcompensate: “I didn’t go to business school, but I’m fluent in the language of business!”

        Reply
        1. Mike C.

          I feel so much that there’s a difference between the folks who accept at face value the stuff put out by the business community and those who understand that most of it is garbage.

          Reply
          1. PlainJane

            This. I occasionally lapse into business jargon when I’m surrounded by it, but when I do, I set off my own BS detector.

            Reply
            1. Mike C.

              I’m still irritated that “synergy” was taken over by a bunch of idiot MBAs in cheap suits. It’s such a useful word otherwise!

              Reply
        2. The OG Anonsie

          Not gonna lie, this is 100% me sometimes. But my vitriolic hatred of jargon and acronyms (jargonyms?) tamps it down pretty well.

          I love portmanteaus, though, I’ll shove those in at any opportunity.

          Reply
      2. Dizzy Steinway

        Also, writing simply can actually be harder as you have to know exactly what you’re trying to say.

        Reply
        1. MegaMoose, Esq.

          I’m a great believer in the expression “this letter would have been shorter if I’d had more time”.

          Reply
          1. LBK

            Ha – so true. I have a tendency to braindump these huge emails in 2 minutes, and then I spend 15-20 minutes rereading and editing them down to be as concise as possible.

            Reply
          2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            1000% agreed. Elegance in brevity can be exquisite, but for most of us, takes time.

            Reply
      3. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

        9. They’re weirdly enthusiastic about jargon and take pleasure in employing it. I’ve known a couple of people like this. They genuinely like talking about leveraging core competencies to achieve synergies. Like, that wording makes sense to them and resonates with them.

        Reply
        1. PlainJane

          Bonus points when those synergies are impactful and move the needle. OK, I think I just made myself gag…

          Reply
      4. OP #1

        I think this is 90% of it. Although we are a global, successful company who just had a stellar year, our internal communication style (which is by no means informal) may come across as too casual for her. She often references past workplaces where things were laid out very formally and clearly. In contrast, we are in a growth phase, so things seem chaotic in contrast to what she’s used to. She sometimes makes comments that suggest that she doesn’t think the company knows what it’s doing (not true), so she may be trying to lead by example. However, nobody is following her in this initiative!

        Reply
      5. Astor

        Yes, this this. One of the things that has been a great side effect of my current job is that I work with a lot of very well educated people whose formal (and academic) writing is clear and concise. It’s made me much more aware of the weaknesses of the way that I phrase things, and really interested in finding a more natural voice for myself.

        This still means using words correctly, including field-specific wording. But it’s a switch for me from my more STEM background where the author is more disconnected.

        Reply
      6. Turtle Candle

        That was me! I wrote these bafflingly stilted emails (not jargony, but wayyyy too formal) at my first job because I was nervous and I had had the idea that workplace = very formal, and the more formal I was, the “safer” it was. I think my thought was that you could err by being too informal, but you couldn’t err by being too formal, so the safest thing was to write everything as if I was drafting a letter from a Trollope novel. (I cringe even just remembering it.)

        One of my coworkers, who was a really sweet guy, clued me in gently with a “wow, so formal! it’s fine to be a little more relaxed when you’re writing to coworkers” offhand mention. (This wouldn’t work for everyone, but for me, I really appreciated it, because it clued me in but because it was friendly and offhand I didn’t feel like I had to roll over in mortification and die. Also, because it was no secret that I was fresh out of college and this was my first office job. Mileage obviously varies, but he had a good enough read on my personality to do it in a helpful and appropriate way.)

        Reply
      1. Dizzy Steinway

        Oh yes, that’s a particularly insidious one.

        10. They genuinely do not understand what is and is not jargon, or that it’s okay to write the way you speak.

        I have to communicate some very complex information to vulnerable members of the public who do not understand what we might view as basic terminology and who may simply disengage if we over-complicate things. I also help others do this. I recently had a debate with someone who simply couldn’t understand why I was insisting that certain phrases were overly formal. I asked them when they last used those phrases out loud in conversation. It was like watching a light turn on.

        Reply
          1. fposte

            I don’t know that it’s necessarily elitism, though; it’s true when anybody communicates outside of a like group, and since a lot of people communicate largely with folks sharing their knowledge base, they don’t realize that it’s not universal.

            Reply
        1. Lablizard

          Your last paragraph makes me flash back to when I first tried simplifying information on hepatitis C for the public for a volunteer job. I was a trainwreck. “Simple” to a microbiology doctoral candidate is not community presentation friendly. I now translate everything to Turkish, send/say it to my grandma, and simplify accordingly. Lesson learned the hard way

          Reply
          1. Julie B.

            Exactly! We have a similar guideline here at work when it comes to explaining complex topics: Pretend you are explaining it to your mom. Works like a charm.

            Reply
            1. Liane

              Along the lines of the For Dummies/Idiots Guides books, I tell people I want the version “for smart people who didn’t take XYZ.”

              Reply
            2. Elizabeth West

              When I first started Exjob, AwesomeBoss explained it to me thus: we had no idea of the education / experience level of end users at customer sites, so we had to make sure the reports could be understood by both the executives and the front-line people. My team lead called the latter the worker bees. We made jokes about how the bees were smarter than the executives, haha. (They probably were, at least with the on-the-ground stuff.) So if the exec could get it, then we nailed it. ;)

              Reply
            1. MegaMoose, Esq.

              I had a law school professor who regularly asked us to explain things to our “great aunt Sally,” who was interested in what we do but not educated in the law. It’s a lesson that has stayed with me for sure.

              Reply
              1. LQ

                Yup. Mine is my mom, she’s smart, but not educated. If I can’t get that right I need to go back and try again.

                Reply
              2. Jaydee

                Yup. My favorite is reading affidavits that you know a lawyer wrote. “My name is Lucinda Plimpington, and I am the mother of the Respondent, Fergus Plimpington. I am writing this affidavit in support of Fergus’ request for shared physical custody of his children (my grandchildren), Wakeen and Jane. Fergus is a loving and caring father. Contrary to the Petitioner’s assertions, he has been a reliable co-parent for the children. He has provided roughly half of their day-to-day care and is an active participant in their schooling, medical care, and extracurricular activities.”

                Reply
              3. Astor

                I once ended up on a chain of emails between a law school professor and a (non-law) masters student, and his encouragement to write the same way you’d write to your educated/knowledgeable family who are not fellow-students has really stuck with me. It became immediately obvious how he manages to have such a present voice in his work.

                Reply
            2. Spoonie

              My entire job revolves around “Could my mom navigate this? Could my grandma? Could I handle having to explain how to do this to both/either in person or over the phone? How many drinks would I need after each experience?”

              Reply
              1. MegaMoose, Esq

                Yeah, I was thinking earlier that there is an unfortunate gendered quality to a lot of these (perfectly well-intentioned) exercises.

                Reply
            1. Kj

              The problem with that is that eight year olds tend to me more technologically literate than older folks. So some stuff is easier to explain to an eight year old than an eighty year old! I would have had an easier time teaching an eight year old to adjust margins in Word than I did teaching my boss, who is in his mid-40s.

              Reply
          2. The OG Anonsie

            The 8th grade reading level for the public thing is a good standard (though you can reasonably raise it to, I don’t know, 12th grade for internal stuff probably) even though it can feel silly to write.

            The cool thing about using reading levels is that if you need to check yourself on something, Word has a grade level checker along with the spell check. You can have it run through the whole document or selected passages or even individual words. It’s determined by sentence complexity and vocabulary level. I used this all the time when making patient materials when that was part of my job, now I occasionally use it for professional stuff just to make sure I’m keeping it simple (stupid).

            Reply
            1. MegaMoose, Esq

              I’m a big fan of the “reading level” check in Word, even if it has its flaws. I’ve seen a criticism floating around in certain circles about politicians use use simplistic language, and while I may have plenty of criticisms about those individuals on other grounds, I find that one to be profoundly misguided. No one likes feeling talked down to, and being able to communicate effectively to a wide range of people is a vital skill, especially in a field like politics.

              Reply
          3. Chameleon

            Moving from being a PhD student to a community college teacher was a huge crash course in “not everyone knows what that word means” for me. My poor first students…

            Reply
    2. Some Sort of Management Consultant

      Also, one I come across surprisingly often:

      11. They’re simply bad at writing.

      I’m far from a writing expert and my brain sometimes gets away from my fingers (rather often actually) but I’ve come far more jargony and confusing emails from people who simply aren’t strong writers.

      Reply
      1. Myrin

        Ha, I encountered that two weeks ago at a job interview! One of the two main interviewers was extremely smitten with my writing style (I had to send in two writing samples beforehand) which delighted yet somewhat surprised me; I know that I’m a strong writer but I’ve found that there are people who just don’t mesh with my academic style at all, saying that I can be a bit too colloquial and tend to use convoluted syntax. Now to be fair, I’ve been getting this feedback all my life and there’s definitely some truth to it (and I’ve been working on it!) but there are also people who view as “colloquial” what others simply view as “normal, non-jargony, or exaggeratedly complicated”. Those who prefer easy, straightforward conveying-of-information tend to praise my writing.

        Now, back to the original point, where I thanked the interviewer and later said that I was very flattered by his assessment because I’ve come to learn that some don’t like my style at all – he then said “Oh, what I primarily liked about your writing was that I could tell that you knew what you were talking about and didn’t need to write in complicated circles to express what you wanted to say. I recently read something by a very famous person in [Ancient Teapots, our field] and you could totally tell that he’s just not that good of a writer because he needn’t to inflate everything so that, if someone didn’t understand his article, it would look like they did so because of his complex word choices and not because he just can’t write properly.” I wanted to go “OH IS IT PETER TEAPOTCUTTER BECAUSE I TOTALLY AGREE WITH YOU AND ALSO HE’S A GIANT DICK AND LOOKS LIKE ONE TOO” but just nodded and said “That’s interesting” or something.

        Reply
        1. RedSonja

          I get the same feedback on my academic manuscripts! Though for me the criticism is ‘conversational’ rather than colloquial. But it frustrates me, because I am a HUGE believer in approachability in scientific work. I WANT people to understand my research! Ideally (to me), a layperson could read my article and understand the basic whys and what happeneds of the study. But not everyone agrees, particularly reviewer number 2.

          (Also, I genuinely loled at your internal monologue!)

          Reply
          1. PlainJane

            I edit a column in an academic journal in my field. A good bit of my editing consists of changing jargon and long strings of passive voice to something a regular person would actually want to read and understand. I think some academics live by the motto, “Why use 3 words when you can use 10?” *sigh*

            Reply
          1. Myrin

            He’s one of the only people you could actually call “very famous” in our field so it’s quite likely but even if he’s not who the interviewer meant, he totally expressed how I feel towards his essays regardless.

            Reply
        2. The OG Anonsie

          Oh man my field in school was so rife with this. I knew which of the other students were with it and which ones were suffering from If You Don’t Understand This Labyrinthian Manuscript It’s Because You’re Stupid-itis whenever I talked trash about big name academics’ writing style for this reason. A lot of students emulate it as well, I think, because they think they too will appear stupid if they write a straightforward text.

          Pearls were always clutched by those whose own papers resembled House of Leaves. I’m sure I was discussed as very plebeian and pedestrian to a lot of folks who regularly tried to publish 8,000 word knitworks of name drops and semicolons.

          Reply
      2. Gadfly

        12. They recently took a course or graduated from somewhere that included using jargon in the grading metrics for the papers and so believe that is more correct to use it than not…

        Me, bitter? Nahhhhhh…. (yes, YES, so bitter, so VERY bitter! But almost done!)

        Reply
        1. LQ

          That’s such an evil thing!! I had a coworker who was going to school and you could tell when school was in session and when it wasn’t because her writing would get infinitely more complicated. I was glad I had a good relationship and could push back on that.

          (My favorite was when I was talking with her about it and a guy in the next cube over overheard us, turns out he was an adjunct professor at another college and had been pushing hard to remove requirements to have those long convoluted jargon monsters from business classes. Was a very good chat.)

          Reply
        2. SophieChotek

          Such a good point! (Or you learned some new complex term in class and you want to ensure you understand it, so you use it everywhere).

          Reply
      3. Turtle Candle

        That’s true. I’ve found that okay writers are more likely than good writers to fall into some of these traps (convoluted sentence structure, unnecessary jargon, etc.), because good writers have a command of their level of diction and okay writers may not.

        One of my jobs at work is translating various chunks of writing “from developer to English,” and it’s far, far more common for me to make sentences simpler and to reduce the use of jargon than the other way around. (Depending on audience, of course. If it’s a API reference by programmers for programmers, jargon away. If it’s aimed at very basic end users whose use of the computer otherwise is “Word and Internet Explorer,” not so much.) The people writing these documents are very, very smart, and they aren’t trying to be obscure on purpose, but their command of the ability to write to different audiences at different levels is not so great. They can write for an audience like them and that’s basically it. (Which is fine. That’s why this is my job.)

        Reply
      1. msmorlowe

        Oh yeah. My dad doesn’t “keep in touch” with me: he “touches base” to see how I’m getting on…in life.

        Reply
      2. nom

        It’s amazing what becomes jargon over time– it seems like people forget the normal meaning and grammatical use of words.

        For example, I’ve noticed people in my office starting to use “outreach” in really convoluted, jargon-y ways, and it drives me crazy. Um, no, you’re not going to “outreach to them,” you’re going to “reach out to them,” or even “make outreach to them.” Grrrrr…

        Reply
        1. PB

          My leasing office uses the word “opportunity” when the mean “problem.” The post office failing to deliver mail to our address isn’t an “opportunity,” by any definition of the word. Stop!

          I’ve noticed a similar problem with industry-specific acronyms. When you work in that field so much, they become second nature. I have to actively remind myself that the vast majority of people have no clue what they mean. This was driven home to me recently in conducting phone interviews with a committee. The candidates were in my specialization, so the acronyms were clear to me. Other committee members were scratching their heads. The candidates who didn’t explain the acronyms were universally not invited for on-site interviews.

          Reply
        2. Allison

          My pet peeve is the word “utilize.” People throw it around like it’s a fancy synonym for “use.” It is not. You utilize something when you use it for something other than its intended purpose. I use the chair when I sit in it, I utilize the chair when I stand on it to reach stuff in high places. I use the pan to cook, I utilize it to subdue a home intruder.

          I know our language is always changing, as it should be, but there’s a difference between utilizing words for new purposes, and misusing them due to a poor understanding of vocabulary.

          Reply
          1. Rat Racer

            I don’t like that word either, but I was once told that “use” has the ring of drug use/abuse. Maybe this is crackers – could also be because I work in healthcare. The word everyone uses around here is leverage (as a verb). And hoo dog am I sick to death of that word!

            Reply
            1. Rat Racer

              For clarification – “leverage” as a substitute for “use.” This is an awkward time to be imprecise in my own language!

              Reply
            2. Allison

              Hm, never thought of it. It does have some negative connotations, like “you’re just using me!” whereas “utilize” can sound more positive and productive.

              Reply
          1. Sylvia

            Hell, what’s wrong with “talk to?”

            At an old job, everyone used “get with” or “get up with.” But “get with” means something very different to me. :|

            I also hear a lot of “ideate” instead of “think” lately.

            Reply
          2. LBK

            To me, “reach out” is more collaborative, eg you reach out to someone for their input on a question. “Contact” is more one-way and informational, eg contacting a vendor to make tell them a shipment hasn’t arrived yet.

            Reply
          3. Allison

            We use “reach out” a lot in my industry, probably because it sounds better than “call” or “email.” But there’s this guy who does a weekly radio show on our industry, and “reach out” is one of his “bad words,” so that made me think of ways to avoid using it myself.

            Reply
      3. fposte

        And it’s not black and white anyway. Lots of phrases that start as jargon become general use and even gain broader metaphorical employment (think computer stuff like “reboot”).

        Reply
        1. Turtle Candle

          There’s a linguist named Arika Okrent who has a whole wonderful series of linguistics videos, and one of them is on exactly that topic–“Horrible Jargon We’ve Totally Gotten Used To.” Her examples include ‘contact’ (as a verb, like “You should contact Joe”), ‘interview’ (again as a verb, like “I interviewed Lady Gaga”), ‘donate,’ ‘mortician,’ ‘electrocution,’ ‘balance’ (to mean remainder), and ‘endorse.’

          There’s always a weird period where a word has made it halfway out of its original jargon context and halfway into normal speech.

          Reply
    3. Government Worker

      I’d add #12. They come from a different educational/cultural background and think this is how things are done. I work with a lot of people who were promoted from a blue-collar role to a white-collar one, and a handful of them are much more formal in all communications than the rest of us. I think they have some expectations about “how things are done in an office” that they think they have to meet. Most adapt eventually and do learn general business norms around formality, but I’ve been through some pretty stilted presentations while people are learning.

      Reply
  9. Dizzy Steinway

    #4 I really like your approach! You’re not judging non-writers on their writing or seeing things like employment gaps due to having children or being out of work.

    Some application forms say things like: your application is the only information we will use to make a decision so please include anything you want us to know. Many people also now realise that a competency-based interview (I think you call them behavioural interviews over there?) is based only on your responses to STAR questions.

    You could let people know ahead of time that this will be this type of interview. I don’t think would expect that at the phone screen stage and it’s actually a kindness to let people know beforehand so they can spend some time thinking about scenarios and not be blindsided. I imagine most will be expecting to just discuss their resume as usually STAR questions come after someone has decided your resume passes muster and are asked by people who’ve read it, or an application with equivalent information – you’re not doing that for excellent reasons, it just may not be what people expect at this stage. You might get better answers if you let them know.

    Reply
    1. Thlayli

      Yes! Scenario responses are hard to come up with on the spot. If you know what to expect you can prepare.

      This is especially relevant for people who may have a lot of experience working but not experience of competency interviews. E.g. If someone has only worked at 1 or 2 organisations since college they may have held lots of positions and have lots of experience but never had one of those types of interviews before.

      Judging someone on how well they can do this type of interview is just as weird as judging someone by how well they can write a CV. Both are skills not actually used in a lot of jobs.

      A technical test is the best thing for an engineering role, and well done OP for including that, but some excellent engineers may be utterly rubbish at eitther STAR responses or CV writing or both.

      Reply
      1. Dizzy Steinway

        Yes. Last time I applied for a job I’d been freelance for years and had never had a STAR interview. AAM saved my bacon as I found this site while searching for interview tips and realised I needed to be ready for this.

        Reply
        1. Thlayli

          I had a STAR interview for my chartership but they actually listed all the competencies they were looking for and I aced it. Other than that the first STAR interview I ever had was when I was 36. If they hadn’t told me in advance it was “competency based” I would have been totally blindsided. I had to google competency based as I’d never heard the term before.

          Reply
              1. S-Mart

                And coupled with another post that (among other things) complains about overly-jargoned communication. :)

                I’ve heard the term before, but also don’t actually know what it means. So I’m not much help here.

                Reply
            1. Collie

              Situation, Task, Action, and Result!

              I’m familiar with STAR, but not SBI. (And Google was no help.) Anyone?

              Reply
              1. The RO-Cat

                I guess it’s Situation, Behavior, Impact (same concept as STAR, different acronym). At least that’s what they called it when I was taking my accreditation in CBI.

                Reply
              2. Tuesday

                I Googled sbi/star and got a bunch of results about ankle replacement. “SBI interview” yielded some info about interviewing at the State Bank of India. (The comments section here was much more useful than Google in this case!)

                Reply
            2. Dizzy Steinway

              A behavioural or competency based interview. In English this means questions asking you to “tell me about a time when you…”

              Reply
    2. Jesmlet

      I would be pretty surprised to get this in a phone interview and definitely agree it’s better to let them know beforehand. Maybe if the phone interviews are scheduled, you can just send a confirmation with a heads up that you won’t have read their CV and want to focus on STAR questions so they’re not thrown off.

      As we’re hiring a new person, we have one person that does screening and first interviews and my boss, the owner and I are last stage. At that point, I really need to trust that the boring resume review stuff has been taken care of and I can then just focus on things like soft skills and cultural fit. But to do that on the phone is unusual enough that it might merit a warning unless you’re trying to test how well they think on their feet.

      Reply
  10. Gaia

    #5

    I manage a team and it really means the world when they express any appreciation for the job I do. I don’t need some big dramatic moment but I think tonight was a really good example.

    My team is struggling right now because we lost a few people in the span of a couple days (we normally have very low turn over so this was a surprise but, that’s life) and this is a very busy time of year. On top of my management work, two large projects and searching for new members for our team I spent a good part of today taking as much of the work as I could to help out our team. Because of the nature of our work this isn’t visible unless you really look for it.

    When I was packing up to leave one of guys on my team came up to me and quietly said he had seen the work on my computer as he was passing and he appreciates knowing that I am willing to jump in and help as much as I can. That simple statement made my very long day worth it. Not that he saw the work but that when he saw it he didn’t think “oh that’s all Gaia is doing?” but instead appreciated it for what it was: me trying to take some pressure off of them. The same was true when I provided a defense shield for a member of my team that was being unfairly attacked by another department. She sent me a message later and just mentioned she appreciated me standing up for her. That is my job, but it was nice to hear it recognized.

    As managers we don’t often hear praise from our teams. I am lucky to get positive feedback regularly from my manager but it is extra special when it comes from my team.

    Reply
  11. The Wall of Creativity

    #1. Learn from Basil Fawlty.

    Mr. Hutchinson: Now listen, there’s a documentary on BBC2 this evening about “Squawking Bird”, the leader of the Blackfoot Indians in the late 1860s. Now this starts at 8.45 and goes on for approximately three-quarters of an hour.
    Basil Fawlty: I’m sorry, are you talking to me?
    Mr. Hutchinson: Indeed I am. Yes, now, is it possible for me to reserve the BBC2 channel for the duration of this televisual feast?
    Basil Fawlty: Why don’t you talk properly?

    Reply
  12. Shannon

    #2 While blind phone screening may prevent against some types of biases, it seems like it opens the door for other types. How do you know that your first impression of a candidate isn’t unduly influenced by an accent, speech impediment, or even tone of voice? What if the system ends up favoring candidates simply because they come off well on the phone?

    Moreover, although the OP’s intentions here are good, I can’t help but thinking that this system could easily be abused to reinforce unconscious or conscious bias regarding ethnicity, background, and even gender. Recently there was a letter here about an interviewer who referred to an African-American candidate as “not well-spoken.” How is that candidate going to fare if she latches onto that impression without even seeing his resume? What about a sexist manager who thinks that “JK Rowling” looks like a great candidate on paper, but would quickly find a reason to dismiss “Joanne Katherine Rowling” on the phone?

    (I have to admit that I have a personal perspective here–I have a high-pitched voice that doesn’t serve me well on the phone. I try to make sure that my first point of professional contact with colleagues, clients, etc takes place in person or via email; and when we do speak on the phone, I hope they know me well enough to disregard the “Valley Girl” impression. And when it comes to an interview, I would like to hope that they read my resume first.)

    Reply
    1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      I’m confused, so please forgive me if I’m asking basic questions.

      It sounds like you think phone screening shouldn’t exist because of the potential for bias. But there’s always a possibility for bias when hiring, and not all biases are bad (in fact, sometimes they’re desirable or preferred). And for most organizations, phone-screening is a vital and effective tool for winnowing down a large applicant pool. Given that the phone screen happens after the internal recruiters have already screened by resume, I don’t see how OP’s approach is more biased than someone who reads a CV prior to the call. So how does phone screening relate to whether or not OP reviews a CV prior to conducting that phone interview?

      Are you arguing that phone screening produces more biased results than other forms of evaluation during hiring?

      Reply
      1. Alton

        I get the impression that Shannon is suggesting that in cases where an interviewer might be biased, having read the person’s CV beforehand might mitigate that if they make a great impression on paper. So sometimes preconceived notions might be positive or helpful.

        I don’t know if I agree with that or not, but it is an interesting question, I think. It could apply more generally, too–an interviewer might be a little more forgiving of a nervous candidate if their application and CV were very impressive, for example. I guess whether the OP’s approach is best depends largely on what types of biases they’re hoping to avoid.

        Reply
    2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

      Also, I don’t want to relitigate the “well-spoken” letter, because it descended into some very awful and ugly madness. But the issue in that letter was that the candidate’s verbal communication was overly informal and did not meet the standards required for the job. Resume review would not have affected that essential job function.

      And the use of phone-screening cuts against your argument regarding race. It’s certainly true that certain styles of communication are racialized (or that individuals’ implicit biases recast communication in racial terms), but coming to a conclusion independent of physical appearance is arguably less likely to trigger the kinds of implicit bias that stem from in-person interactions. Particularly because the alternative is an in-person interview, which evaluates how you speak/sound and how you’re perceived on the basis of your appearance.

      Reply
      1. Myrin

        Yeah, I’m not following that line of thinking, either. After all, if someone’s verbal communication isn’t up to par, that’s going to become apparent as soon as you talk to them; it really doesn’t matter whether that’s over the phone or in person and with or without a previous resume-reading.

        Reply
    3. Dizzy Steinway

      Hi, it sounds like you’re having quite an emotional reaction to this, perhaps because of how you feel about your voice, as you’re expecting OP to judge candidates in the way you judge yourself (and fear others are judging you).

      It is simply not possible to eliminate all potential for bias from the hiring process. But a good interviewer won’t make decisions based just on how they feel – STAR questions are designed to enable you to score someone’s answers against a set of criteria. Yes, the way you score them could be influenced by bias (unconscious or not), however well-designed the scoring process is. But there won’t be space to mark someone down because you don’t like their voice.

      Reply
    4. Thlayli

      The bias against people with high-pitched voices is well known. Margaret thatcher for example had voice coaching which changed her voice from quite high pitched to very low pitched.

      I speak quite low and monotone when I’m really tired and more higher pitched and with varied tone when I’m feeling more awake. I’m not sure how much I’m imagining it or not but I think I get better reactions from men in work when I speak low and with less tone variation. I’ve actually started doing it intentionally in work.

      I think I read somewhere that most men can only identify 3 tones of voice, so it makes sense they are confused by lots of varying intonation. And I guess the high pitched bias is because children have high pitched voices so it makes you sound young. Note I’m not saying this is ok at all – it’s totally unfair that people with high pitched voices are discriminated against. I’m just letting you know that it’s not just you – this is definitely “a thing”.

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Yes, but you’d still be annoyed at a person’s high-pitched voice if you met them in person, no?

        Reply
    5. Trout 'Waver

      Bias is possible at any stage. But the phone screen is especially important because many people lie or exaggerate on their resumes. Or they have someone else prepare their resume so it is not indicative of their communication style.

      On the flip side, a phone interview is the precursor to a face-to-face interview. It’s not like the racist or sexist manager in your example would be less racist or sexist in the actual interview than a phone screen.

      Reply
      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Eh, I don’t phone screen because I think people lie or exaggerate on their resumes. I phone screen because, when the screening questions are sufficiently tight, the phone screen helps avoid wasting everyone’s time. Plus, realistically speaking, it is difficult to get the panel of interviewers needed in a room to do the final interview. I’m not going to waste my relationship capital with them by making them participate in 20 interviews simply because I failed to do an adequate screen to narrow the field!

        Reply
  13. Amber

    #3 Actually I think you should let it go. Her title doesn’t affect you and they won’t change it, asking about someone else’s title will just look like jealously.

    This situation sounds very much like me and a former coworker. We had almost the same background, we did the same job for the same amount of time but I started my next job at a higher title. This was because even though we were on the same team, some of our work varied. I volunteered to work with people who others deemed “difficult to work with” while she complained about other’s work. I lead major projects and she was apart of big projects but didn’t lead them or take on additional responsibilites. She stuck with her comfortable skill set, I regularly asked for additional training and in turn others were open to learn from me. So now after 2 years of the same title and same team, I had been doing “senior” level work while she was still seen as a non-senior level. That’s an example of how someone can start with a higher title. And also sometimes it comes down to your confidence, how well you interview and negotiate, as well having an internal reference can go a long way.

    Reply
    1. european

      I don’t want to doubt what you wrote. However, I know some people who can say about themselves exactly what you did (they have more complex, important projects, additional responsibilities, etc.) and they see it as normal that they earn more or are promoted.

      The problem is sometimes that people who want to do more complex, important projects and take additional responsibilities aren’t given this opportunity. I now spent 1,5 year asking my bosses to give me obligations because I normally spend half of my day doing nothing (I work quickly). What I got from that was only criticism for not being happy, which is not well seen in my company. They expect that if they gave me more I would want to be paid better, so they don’t.

      This happens especially often to women. Research shows that they often work below their level of competence.

      Reply
      1. Gadfly

        The Paula Principle is what I’ve seen it called (since the Peter Principle seems to mostly apply to men’s careers…with certain types of men being more prone to it…)

        Reply
      2. Dizzy Steinway

        Telling people off for not being happy? Because that will totally make them happier?! Wtf. I’m sorry.

        Reply
      3. JGray

        I’ve seen this happen to good employees who just end up deflated because they get bored and want more opportunities but are denied. I also agree with you about “However, I know some people who can say about themselves exactly what you did (they have more complex, important projects, additional responsibilities, etc.) and they see it as normal that they earn more or are promoted”. Sometimes peole just don’t know how to advocate (& keep advocating) for themselves- perhaps that is what is going on. It is true that sometimes people are good talkers and don’t actually have the experience that they claim they do. These people are many time job hoppers and always have a valid reason for leaving previous jobs even when they only spend two years somewhere. I have worked with a number of these people and it always frustrates me because I feel like they lied & get more money but don’t actually deserve it. I have been better about advocating for myself and it helps that I have a good boss that listens & is honest about what is realistic in my role and what isn’t.

        Reply
      4. Lora

        So… “Smile, honey! You look pretty when you smile!” (cue Mallory Knox)
        “Smile! It can’t be that bad!” (my dog just died, eff you)
        etc etc.
        Ugh. I’m sorry.

        Reply
    2. Czhorat

      I see your point, but in some organizations the path of least resistance is to keep everyone at their title, and even if the work creeps towards what could be senior-level responsibilities it’s more cost-effective to leave employees at their current level. An outside person, on the other hand, might not take the job without the higher title. It’s a way in which a new applicant has an advantage over an incumbent.

      Reply
      1. The Wall of Creativity

        Which is why the only way to progress your career is to change jobs every 2-3 years until you reach middle age and have repaid the mortgage. Then you move into contracting. Welcome to the 21st century.

        Reply
    3. Bean Counter

      Agreed you should let it go. The company may also have reassessed what they want and need, and changed the title and perhaps duties to reflect what they want in the future, rather than what you were doing in the past. We recently had a change in which a long-term employee left, and we ended up changing the title, even though we didn’t make much change to the job duties.

      My former coworker confided to me later that she was very hurt that her replacement had a higher position than she’d had, and why hadn’t we ever given her a promotion? In fact, the job is essentially the same, but the new person is has Associate in the their title, while the old one had Assistant in her title, and she took it to mean more than it really did.

      Reply
  14. Rebecca

    OP#1 – Jane’s direct reports will thank you for pushing back on all the meetings. I can’t imagine how utterly draining and miserable this has to be for them.

    Reply
    1. Julie B.

      +1 We have a project manager here who looooooves meetings. She thinks it brings the team together and builds collaboration but really the meetings are a complete waste of time.

      Reply
      1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

        This is how my old boss felt about our thrice-weekly, MWF round-robin staff meetings.

        Reply
      2. Adlib

        We have two managers like that in our marketing department. They constantly complain about having so many meetings and never get anything done. I wonder if they stop to think about why that is.

        Reply
  15. Chevron

    #3. When I wanted to tell my supervisor how much I appreciated her, I bought a blank card and wrote a nice note in it. I figure this way she would know all the things I was thankful for and had a little memento to remember.

    Reply
  16. V

    #4

    I was all set to ridicule the OP of this question for deliberately not doing something so basically essential to hiring but the way he approaches this actually sounds reasonable, assuming that the pre-screening is done well.

    And yet it’s not something I’d ever do. What he refers to as bias is what I’d consider useful information about a candidate that will factor into my evaluation of his profile. And sure, you’re not punishing people for writing a bad resume which isn’t unheard of for technical profiles. But don’t you think it’s much more common for those profiles to flub their reply when you say “I haven’t read your resume so please introduce yourself and tell me why your experience makes you an ideal candidate?”. I think that’d trip up a lot more people and I wonder if the OP isn’t now unconsciously filtering out people who are bad at free-flowing (phone) interviews. And that would be especially the case if he often decides “no-hire” off a single phone call. That should be a rarity if the pre-screening is done as effectively as he states.

    Reply
    1. baseballfan

      I agree with this:

      ” What he refers to as bias is what I’d consider useful information about a candidate that will factor into my evaluation of his profile”

      I appreciate that this manager is trying to avoid bias – but bias is not inherently bad! Bias is inherently bad if you are judging a person for something that is unrelated to the ability to perform the job well (and certainly bad if it is illegal discrimination!). But if a person’s resume is badly written for any number of reasons, that to me is relevant. If a person has gaps in their job history, that is something I’m going to want to address in the interview, not ponder afterwards. If a person claims a particular skill, I’m going to want to know more about that. For example, if someone says they have advanced Excel skills, does this mean they are highly experienced with vlookups and pivot tables and macros, or does it mean they know how to copy and paste? (Don’t laugh, I have seen this).

      To me, resumes provide a wealth of information useful to guide the interview and what questions are asked. I can’t imagine going into an interview blind without some background on the person’s job history and skills.

      Reply
      1. OP4

        I agree that a CV provides useful information, it’s more, do you need that information in order to undertake a structured phone screen?

        Going off-piste on any interview introduces even more bias. Evaluating all of the datapoints together before making a decision allows full consideration without introducing the temptation to avoid structured questions. Interestingly, I personally have experienced bias when interviewing a candidate who had climbed Mount Everest in his CV – in no way was that relevant to his performance in the role however I can objectively look bad and know that his interview was far more favourable due to that piece of information.

        It is worth qualifying that we have numerous stages and part of it is pre-screening by recruiters, technical assessments and further technical assessments on-site so knowing what level of Excel skills isn’t something we would probe in a phone screen (since they could just make it up anyway)

        Reply
        1. V

          It think it all depends on what those phone screens mean for you. Is it a simple case of checking for basic fit in a 5 minute call to introduce the job, get an elevator pitch version of the candidate’s profile and establish mutual interest before committing to a full interview then I don’t see the harm. But if you are making reject/interview calls based on things like missing experience the candidate might not even think to tell you about or a case of a candidate being caught off guard by your nonstandard approach to hiring and being unprepared then that would be much more harmful form of bias. Perhaps I’m reading too much into the way you phrased “this is for phone screens only where I am making the sole hire/no-hire decision.” above.

          On reconsideration, I think the main problem I have with this is that you seem to not trust yourself to recognise and process your own bias. Instead, since you’re aware that you could be biased, you decide to prevent that by sticking your head in the sand.

          “Going off-piste on any interview introduces even more bias” in particular is setting off alarm bells for me. Interviews are meant to go off-track! There is no one single flowchart you can follow and that you should stick to rigorously to give everyone a fair shake. Interviewing is a subjective business and it’s a simple fact that you’re going to make wrong calls and misjudge some candidates. But don’t restrict yourself in what you can ask of or learn about a candidate in a misguided attempt to objectify the process. (Unless you’re required to by company / public sector policy and excepting some obviously inappropriate questions.)

          Reply
          1. fposte

            It’s virtually impossible to prevent your own bias, though; that’s one of the pernicious things about bias. I’m intrigued by the OP’s approach–I think it might end up overvaluing the phone screen, but I still think the effort to avoid a sequence of confirming first impressions is a thoughtful experiment.

            Reply
            1. Anonymous Educator

              There are many biases that also cannot be avoided in a phone screen, regardless of whether you see the C.V./résumé or not—for example, “foreign”-sounding names, masculine- or feminine-sounding voices, etc—those should have no bearing on the hiring manager’s judgment of the candidate’s merits, but studies have shown they do.

              You should be aware of bias, but you can’t think you’ve accounted for all bias.

              Reply
              1. LBK

                Right – I think the most nefarious biases aren’t screened out by this method, and while it’s certainly admirable to try to eliminate bias where possible if you don’t have the authority to implement truly blind hiring, I don’t know if this has enough merit to be worth how much it’s likely to trip up interviewees and reflect badly on you when trying to attract good candidates.

                Reply
                1. fposte

                  Yeah, that’s what I’d need to think through. I think the theory is that you don’t overanchor on one data point, but does this just change what that first data point is that you’re confirming as you look further?

                  I don’t think it necessarily has to throw candidates if you frame it clearly–we ask a pre-selected slate of questions, some of which may be answerable by people’s resumes, and we just are upfront that we ask the questions regardless.

                2. LBK

                  I think I’d still find that rigidity annoying as a candidate; explaining to me that you know you have a very cookie cutter hiring method that forces candidates to repeat previously provided information but you continue to do it anyway might just make things worse.

                  And yeah, I’m not sure that you’re necessarily replacing preconceived notions from their resume with better data points by starting with a blank slate on the phone, where your first data points are the person’s voice and manner of speech, and those are fraught with potential bias related to gender and race/nationality.

                3. fposte

                  @LBK–nonetheless, that’s what hiring by the state is like. We’re luckier than some in that we can ask unplanned followups, and we do manage real conversations.

                4. LBK

                  Ha – I almost made a caveat about government hiring, since I know it’s a requirement in that case. I’d just consider that a weird/annoying industry quirk but not ding the interviewer for it; when it’s not mandated, I’d be more judgmental about it.

          2. baseballfan

            This is an important distinction. Every interview I’ve conducted, whether in person or on the phone, is to evaluate the person’s fit for the job based on their experience and skills. It’s a “real” interview to evaluate their suitability for the job.

            If it’s a short phone screen to assess personality, that may be a different situation without need for advance review of experience and skills, but I have never participated in an interview that limited in scope.

            Reply
        2. Lablizard

          Personally, I like your blank slate approach and an wondering if I can propose it at my work. We also have a multistage interview process, so everything on a CV can be assessed at one of the other stages

          Reply
        3. BPT

          I don’t think that anyone can completely get rid of bias, although it’s definitely a worth goal to strive towards. But I think it’s possible that with this method someone could just trade one bias for another.

          To me, the first impression is usually what sticks, and then later data points add to or modify that original impression. So like someone already said here, she has a high pitched voice. If that was the first thing someone noticed about her, it could certainly read “childlike” or “young” or “immature/valley girl,” with that impression maybe be modified by her answers and resume later. However, if you read the resume first, the interviewer might have noticed all her competencies and how experienced she was, and then her voice would be a less-important data point added to the original impression from the resume. Same thing with an accent, or gender, or things like that.

          All that to say, you’re not doing it wrong, and there probably isn’t a way to completely guard yourself from any bias. But I’d just caution you to make sure you don’t think that your method gets rid of all opportunities for bias, and note that sometimes reading a resume first can actually avoid the pitfalls of some biases I listed above.

          Reply
        4. B

          If you would like a good candidate and to give a good impression of you and your company you need to either read it or give the true reason why you are not. I have been interviewed by employers who did not read my CV and it left a very bad impression for me of them as well as the company. It is definitely a data point I used in evaluating if I would want to work with them. You should consider that other point of view because while you are trying to avoid your own bias you are giving the candidate very useful information/impression you may not realize is in the negative.

          Reply
        5. LBK

          This may be less of an issue for a phone screen, but I’m a little confused by the impulse to avoid unstructured questions. I think good interviewers are people who don’t just stick to a list of pre-written questions; they might have a handful of conversation starters, but ultimately the meat of the interview should be tailored questions based on their resume and follow-up questions digging into the candidate’s responses. That’s where you get the information you really want about their qualifications and experience, and I don’t think you can prepare yourself adequately to do that if you haven’t looked at their work history.

          If you’re going to continue to use this approach, I’d at least try to coordinate with HR to have them send you the person’s work history with the years and titles stripped off it. I’d be really taken aback if I went into an interview where the person had purposely not familiarized themselves with who I was and what made me a candidate worth pursuing – if you don’t know a thing about me except my name, why are you trying to hire me?

          Reply
      2. Fictional Butt

        Right, I think OP’s intentions are admirable, but it is a little odd for people to not have the opportunity to explain gaps in their resume or whatever. It seems like that could lead to more confusion than clarity. OP- could you maybe just have your HR people scrub names and graduation dates off the resume before they send it to you?

        Reply
    2. Emilia Bedelia

      I am confused about how this process actually reduces unconscious bias. It reduces THE OP’S bias, yes, but… someone is still reading and filtering the CVs, right? Who also… may be biased?
      What is the initial recruiting team filtering for? Unless there is a very specific and objective process for the initial CV screen (ie, “5 years experience” + “college degree” +”has professional license” = automatic move on to phone screen), I don’t see how this helps the hiring process to be less biased on the whole.

      Reply
      1. LBK

        This is the reason the whole concept of The Voice has always seemed like BS to me – yeah, the auditions in front of the judges are blind, but there’s multiple rounds of auditions you have to go through before you make it to the judges that aren’t blind.

        Reply
  17. The Wall of Creativity

    #1 If Jane’s writing style is like this, then have some fun with it. Every time she sends you a paper, open it in word, set the spellcheck settings to output readability statistics and run the spellcheck. Take note of the “Fleisch reading ease” statistic. Keep doing this and you can rank her docs in order of reading ease. Nothing like having something come out under 20 and being able to exclaim “OMG this is her most unreadable doc yet!”.

    This might also be something for Casuan’s colleagues to try. ;-) Or even for Casuan to monitor the readability of his/her own docs.

    Reply
  18. Lady Julian

    I work with colleagues who also love meetings, and it can be a grind! One thing that helped was that during one of our regular industry reviews, a reviewer remarked with some surprise on how frequent and long our meetings were (two-hour all-staff meeting once a month, each two hours), in addition to various committee meetings. Until then, my colleagues hadn’t realized how their love of meetings were taking up time that could be better used elsewhere. Perhaps (I know this is a long shot!) simply reminding Jane that not everybody loves meetings the way that she does and that time could be better spent in another way would help scale back the meetings.

    Reply
    1. Allison

      One colleague in particular at my old job loved meetings. We had a weekly meeting, and any time we needed to talk about anything, we had a “meeting” about it. It bugged me because to me, we didn’t need half an hour to discuss it, he could have told me what I needed to know in an e-mail, or he could have taken 5-10 minutes to say it over the phone. Sometimes I’d tell him “we don’t need a meeting, just shoot me an e-mail when you get a chance this afternoon, all I need to know is ___.” The fact that he needed a meeting usually meant a delay in getting me the information I needed to do my job, because we needed to wait until he had a free half hour at a time when I was actually in the office.

      On the other hand, if someone is very busy, “meetings” are a way to block out time to sit down and communicate information, without planning a meeting that communication may be delayed indefinitely.

      Reply
    2. Kj

      Oh god, the meetings at my office are absurd. No group has as many meetings as my group. And most frustrating to me, about 3/4s of the meeting is devoted to “shit that you could send an email about.” I adore my team, but I schedule other stuff during our weekly meetings some weeks just to get a break from the 3 hours of pain. My supervisor doesn’t like it, but I have successfully made the case that some work has to come before meetings.

      Reply
  19. Roscoe

    #2 This is more of a question than an answer to yours. But where do people draw the line at selling things at work? I mean it seems that a lot of people have a problem selling “health” stuff, or makeup, things that while annoying aren’t really harmful or inappropriate. Yet people seem perfectly fine with selling Girl Scout cookies or other crap for their kids fundraisers. I mean even if the logic is one is for profit, lets be real, most parents who sell their kids stuff are doing it so the kid can win some type of prize. Is that really that much different than doing it for your own personal gain? I mean, even the times when parents sell stuff so their kid has to pay less for a class trip, really still comes down to saving the parents money in the long run. It just seems like a somewhat random standard. Even when offices have people running a race and raising money, people seem to find that ok in a lot of situations.

    #4 Sounds bad to me as well. Even if your reasons kind of make sense, it just seems like you are unprepared and aren’t really asking about my experiences. Also, you may be asking questions that can be answered from the resume. I kind of see it the same is if I was recommeded for a job by an employee that worked there, but I didn’t bother reading the job description because they already thought I’d be good for it.

    Reply
    1. BPT

      I mean I think the Girl Scout cookies are a little different because they’re so universally liked so people aren’t going to be as annoyed.

      But even with those – the only appropriate way (to me) to sell GS cookies or anything at work is to put up a sign up sheet in the break room, and maaaaaybe send out ONE email saying: “selling GS cookies, sign up is in the break room if you want any!”

      What makes MLM selling different (although it could certainly be true for other products) is that their whole tactic deals with pressure. “Consultants” or the salespeople have to order a certain amount of product, so there is pressure on them to unload it. And then part of their whole schtick is to get people to sign up to sell under them. Most people selling these things don’t have a large enough circle to sustain themselves selling, and they have to keep pressuring their friends/family/coworkers over and over to make their sales. And training from the MLMs encourage that, it seems to me.

      Almost nothing MLMs sell are good deals – you can find these same or similar items in stores or on Amazon for much cheaper. So the only way to actually move product is by leveraging your relationships, which can be filled with pressure.

      If someone was selling MLM stuff and just put a flyer up in the breakroom, I wouldn’t have a problem with it. But it IS inappropriate to try to leverage your work relationships to guilt them into supporting you financially by buying crappy products on your job outside of work.

      Again, with people raising money for races, I wouldn’t be ok with someone pressuring me to donate. If they made one announcement and it was completely opt-in, fine. And that’s how most people do it at the places I’ve worked at. It’s the tactics that I find inappropriate that are often (but not solely) used by MLMs.

      Reply
    2. Taylor Swift

      Um, no they’re not doing it so their kids can win a prize, they’re fundraisers for what are usually worthy causes.

      Reply
  20. Czhorat

    OP#3 – I’d take a slightly different direction on this. Asking about your replacement’s title can come across as petty, but if they are hired at a higher level to fill your position that may serve as an indication that you can look for that level for yourself. I’d be OK talking to your new boss and saying something like, “I’ve been an Account Executive for [x amount of time] and wanted to discuss what the path to Account Manager would entail”.

    This makes it about you and your career development rather than the what could come across as jealousy.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      But I don’t think she wants to be an account manager; she just got moved to teapots coordinator. I think she wants to know if she was underpowered or underpaid/titled, and it’s a reasonable question to ask as long as you ask it once and politely.

      Reply
      1. Czhorat

        AH. My apologies; I misread that.

        In that case, the best thing to do is probably, as hard as it is, to just remain quiet. There’s really nothing to be gained from it at this point.

        Reply
      2. OP#3

        OP #3 here. Yes – you’re right. Since my position will be changing anyway, I suppose it doesn’t matter much, but I’d just like to know their reasoning. I joined the company three years ago in a role two “levels” lower, with similar experience. Makes me feel like a sucker and wonder if I was underpaid this entire time.

        Reply
  21. FiveWheels

    OP 5 – perhaps ask if your can have a closed door moment and just say “I want you to know that I really enjoy this job, and a big part of that is you. You’re a great boss and I’m very glad we work together.”

    Smile, get up, and out the door!

    Reply
  22. Antilles

    #2: The only caveat to Alison’s advice is that if you talk to your co-worker before HR, you should be prepared for potential pushback (no, no it’s not a big deal) and/or for her to try to turn it into a sale to you (I get that, but what you’re missing about Special Snowflake Products is…). Don’t hesitate for an instant to firmly shut the conversation down if it starts going that way and she refuses to get the message.

    Reply
  23. Doe-Eyed

    For #4, it would really sit wrong with me if an interviewer deliberately did not read my resume. I get the unconscious bias aspect, but I don’t think an interviewer would be particularly impressed if I disclosed that I did not research the company at all because I wanted to go in for an unbiased opinion. I’m not saying that it’s wrong of you to do it this way, I’m just saying if I was a candidate and I got to this stage I’d find it very off-putting and borderline insulting (“Hey, you take all this time to prepare for the interview, but I’m not going to be bothered to know about you beforehand”) and I”d likely withdraw from the process unless it was the Forbes #1 place to work in the world.

    Reply
    1. Dizzy Steinway

      That’s different though. There’s only one company hiring but multiple applicants they are picking from.

      Reply
      1. The Wall of Creativity

        You’re talking about a power dynamic there Dizzy. We all have a choice of whether to submit to that power dynamic or to stick up two fingers (I guess one finger for all you Americans). Me, if the interviewer didn’t know who I was, I’d consider walking out.

        Reply
        1. Doe-Eyed

          Exactly – if the interviewer was apologetic and there was some actual reasoning behind it (“Oh gosh, I’m so sorry but I was out of town last week and this is a fast hire”) that’s one thing, but just to not even glance at the information I took time to put together just strikes me wrongly for some reason. But, that combined with the very rigid interviewing template that it seems as though they prefer would in general be very red flaggy for me because I hate working for places that are overly rigid or focused on weird rules.

          Reply
  24. RVA Cat

    What stood out most for me in letter #1:
    “She’s in her mid 50s and has been in our industry for a long time, although in higher positions than she has now.”

    It sounds to me like Jane is embarrassed about working in a more junior position at this stage in her career, and she’s being formal like this and scheduling all these meetings to feel more important. So many people are in these circumstances since the recession. Maybe push back in a “I know you’re busy too” and “people are having trouble understanding those terms” sort of way?

    Reply
  25. LiveandLetDie

    LW1: Until very recently there was a project manager at my job (she recently got a new job and left) who was so enamored with jargon and business speak that it was a genuine detriment. She was on a committee with me and there were multiple times where she would write a template or a memo that was to go out to the rest of the company that was so bloated with jargon that the rest of the committee would clash with her about clarity and ease of reading. It was absolutely a waste of time and it made meetings a lot longer than they had to be.

    Reply
  26. Whats In A Name

    #1. I hate the overuse of jargon and I once worked somewhere that it felt like we had a meetings about when to schedule the next meeting. But this sentence keeps standing out to me: she has shown great skill in revamping struggling teams within our division.

    I think you need to push back on the meetings, especially the things that can be handled in a simple 5 minute conversation – yeesh! – and especially pushback on the use of jargon.

    Is there a chance she took her role and is supervising teams that got no attention/guidance from their former supervisor and is trying to get them up to speed on their work. If she is successfully revamping teams she must be doing something right, right?

    Reply
    1. OP #1

      OP #1 here. She did an awesome job at revamping the team structure and basically cleaned up the mess in her first few months. She would be a fantastic consultant if she could go from place to place and set them up for success like that. However, once things were improved, she just seemed lost. I think she wants to recreate the sense of importance she had when doing the revamp, but is trying to do it by making small projects look much more complicated than they are.

      Reply
      1. Whats In A Name

        So this makes me think it’s not about her sense of importance at all – it makes me think she is wired this way.

        If she is a fixer by nature and is successful my guess is she breaks everything down as part of her mental process. Everything gets disassembled and each part gets evaluated individually. No less annoying, at all, and can be an issue if it eats into others productivity but it helps me understand in a different way.

        If she could act in the way you are describing or somehow move into training for these situations or get assigned to special projects that need fixing that would likely be the best case. But if you are not in a position to do anything about that I think the things Allison suggested will be a good work around.

        I say this from the perspective of someone who has a similar personality. He is a great builder and fixer but HOLY SHIT. Everything is a deliberation. It took us almost 2 years to buy our last car and it ended up being the 1st model we looked at. It’s the same with picking out a new phone, a new computer, a new bike and bike rack.

        Reply
        1. Whats In A Name

          **someone’s whose partner has a similar personality.

          And while I’m PSing: It took him 8 months to pick out his personal laptop. For me we were in the Apple Store for less than 20 minutes. I was less than 60 minutes from ” Maybe I need my own computer” to “I own my own computer”. And that included the drive to the store.

          Reply
        2. The OG Anonsie

          Yeah I’m inclined to think this is the deal as well. I’m also a breaker-downer and I do it to everything.

          And on that subject, maybe the reason there were problems in the first place that she was able to solve was because the culture is to not break things down nearly as much as they need to be on an ongoing basis. You can’t always just pack everything up and say “screw it” to procedure once everything seems to be working again, otherwise you can easily just slide right back down into chaos after a while. Some of it is regular maintenance, and some teams absolutely have to be taken to boarding school levels of regimentation to keep them from wandering off and falling off cliffs. Some might not need it, but are more comfortable and productive when there are very set lines and measures.

          Reply
        3. OP #!

          Agreed. Being able to fix a mess like that is a rare talent, but one that Jane absolutely has. If she could put herself out there as a consultant in that field, she could rake in the dough!

          Reply
  27. bohtie

    OP #5, I love you. Seriously. I’ve had a draft in my email with almost this exact message for a while but never got around to sending it. And hooray for good bosses!

    Reply
  28. Allison

    #2 It sounds like your temp is involved in a multi-level marketing scheme, and in this case, I can’t say I blame her. She’s a temp, the extra income from selling products on the side was probably really tempting. However, I agree she shouldn’t be employing pushy sales tactics at work, and someone needs to talk to her about it.

    And honestly, the fact that she’s peddling weight loss/cleanse products make it a bit worse. Sure, many of us could stand to lose some weight, but if someone tried to sell me weight loss stuff at work, I’d be more than a little peeved. It was bad enough when a local juice bar came by to give out samples, and left behind a bunch of flyers listing the benefits of fasting. Nope. Not at work.

    Reply
    1. Jadelyn

      Re your second point, can you imagine if this person approaches someone with a history of eating disorders or something like that? That could be not only hurtful, but outright damaging – speaking from experience here, when my coworkers start talking about various diets and weight-loss efforts I usually have to excuse myself and leave the room for a bit because I fought, hard, to get out of that headspace and don’t want to risk getting sucked back into it. This temp’s selling behavior would be obnoxious anyway, but especially when it touches on an extremely sensitive subject that could be harmful to people like that…it’s really not okay.

      Reply
  29. LBK

    #3 I’ve seen this happen twice: once it was because the person negotiated a higher title (she had experience with the company and was being hired into what was usually an entry-level position) and once because the person being replaced was fired for not having the skills necessary to do the job, so they bumped up the title on the new listing to try to attract more experienced candidates. The details of those situations obviously don’t sync up with the OP’s, but point being, there’s a variety of reasons it can happen and it doesn’t necessarily mean anything about you as the person being replaced.

    Reply
  30. Trout 'Waver

    In regards to #1, Some projects call for more formality, especially those in the regulation and compliance side of things. Is that her background? Maybe she’ll adapt to your culture eventually.

    Also, with the jargon and acronyms, ask her to define them. I had this happen in a meeting this morning. A simple, “Hold up, can you remind us what TLA* and strategerize stand for quick? I want to make sure we’re all on the same page” This works well if you’re a bit higher up, because junior people often don’t feel comfortable asking that. And ask even if you do know but suspect others may not.

    *TLA = Three Letter Acronym.

    Reply
  31. Case of the Mondays

    #2 – I think this is a “not your circus, not your monkeys” situation. You don’t supervise the temp. She hasn’t tried selling to you. You just don’t like the concept. No one has complained to you about her. I really think you should just stay out of it. Also, many workplaces allow the “leave a brochure in the lunchroom” approach to selling things.

    Reply
  32. Jessesgirl72

    OP1 (and several commenters) I wish you’d get away from the idea that “she tries to demonstrate her experience by using an excessive amount of jargon and acronyms.” or other nefarious purposes.

    As someone who doesn’t use a lot of jargon, but who does use words like nefarious, and has been accused of “using big words to show off” or to make people feel bad, I really can feel for Jane. If she seems to be an otherwise lovely person, maybe she just talks that way because that is the way she is used to talking! Maybe she uses the words because she actually does know what the jargon means, and, the jargon words are the ones that come to mind when she’s talking about the subjects. That she is bringing in jargon from other industries (presumably ones where she used to work) is a strong indication of this being the reason, rather than trying to show her superiority.

    So if you don’t understand something Jane has said, ask for clarification. And by all means, push back against the excessive lengthy meetings (although, you may find that if you are successful in outright killing some standing meetings, things go to pot because not everyone is on the same page… I have had this happen recently) But otherwise let Jane be Jane.

    Reply
    1. Whats In A Name

      I really agree with you here and agree we seem to be in the minority. I commented above that the statement she has shown great skill in revamping struggling teams within our division. must mean she is doing something effective in all of this. I do think unnecessary meetings can be the death of people and that if it’s impacting work productivity or efficiency it needs to be stopped. But overarchingly I do think that there must be some method to her approach.

      Understanding the why and asking for clarification in a non-judgmental way could really open some doorways to understanding.

      Reply
      1. Doe-Eyed

        I have a coworker like this who also has tremendous skills dealign with revamping process and other teams. He’s very jargony because of all the Six Sigma/Lean training he’s done. He’s also very formal meeting heavy.

        Reply
        1. Whats In A Name

          This is another good angle. OP #1 mentioned in reply to my comment above that she is really good at fixing but thinks now that the team is fixed she is insecure. I am now leaning even more towards it being personality quirk or this training. If she is good at revamping/breaking down/rebuilding teams it’s likely that here entire mental process it to disassemble everything individually. Annoying as hell but it doesn’t scream insecure to me, it screams specifically process oriented. My partner is the same way and at times I want to blow his brains out. But I love him. I am just glad I don’t have to work with him.

          Reply
          1. OP #1

            Wow. This is food for thought. She is somewhat insecure, because she has confided that she is unsure of her place here. In reality, she may have organized herself out of a job when she started revamping things. However, maybe thats much less of the issue than I thought. Your comment about needing to revamp / break down / rebuild seems spot on. It’s fantastic when everything is broken and you need to build from scratch, but when you just need her to ask her technical team to do X instead of Y, it can turn a 5 minute request into 5 months of back and forth as she’s trying to understand how every little piece fits together. (Her team is technical, she is not).

            Reply
      2. The OG Anonsie

        Yeah, this is what I was saying above– it appears that this process, however painful, is working out pretty well for her. Maybe because it’s not the norm for the business. I want to light every piece of jargon I’ve ever heard on fire (especially the project management ones, oh my god) but it sounds like Jane’s approach is working better than the average at the company so whatever.

        Reply
        1. OP #1

          I should clarify that it wasn’t the processes that needed revamping, it was the technology, staffing levels, and team structure. She figured out how many new people she needed, chose and implemented the technology that they needed, and gave some of her senior staff more responsibility. Outside of that, we are fairly good with process documentation and following procedure.

          Reply
          1. The OG Anonsie

            Sure, sure. I mean process as in how she operates (using a lot of meetings to gather information, for example) not in terms of the business structure overall. Like, say, from what you described, she may have only known those steps would be effective because of her time vampire one-on-ones with a lot of people over time.

            Reply
    2. fposte

      Yeah, I lean more toward this. If you can’t understand, ask for clarification; if it’s taking too long, move things along; if it’s looking too cumbersome, countersuggest a more efficient process.

      I know sometimes it’s hard; I worked with my own version of a Jane for years, and she just would thoughtfully embark on a comment that somehow never came to a period, let alone a paragraph break, and her measured delivery always made you think she was winding up when she wasn’t.

      Reply
  33. Lizzard

    #4 you definitely need a better response if a candidate asks you about reading their resume. It sounds like you have a good approach, and one that works for you, but from a candidates point of view hearing you don’t read resumes will make them wonder why you called them if you don’t know anything about them. For all the candidate knows you choose who to interview by throwing all the resumes down the stairs and calling everyone who lands on step seven.

    Reply
  34. Lee

    #5- To me it feels like you’re asking “How do I let him know I appreciate that he appreciates me?”. It feels like responding to a “you’re welcome”, when you’ve already said “thank you”.
    It’s cool you have self-awareness of the overt cliché dynamic of your situation (older male boss can’t function professionally without his younger female secretary), but I personally wouldn’t respond . He’s appreciating you because you do good work, which is what you’re being paid to do (and presumably said boss is giving you regular raises/bonuses).

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      He is also a human working closely with the OP, and in what can be a thankless job. If she has the impulse to tell him how much she appreciates him, that’s not something to discourage.

      Reply
      1. Anna Pigeon

        Yeah. It’s the other side of a boss who says “I never say thank you to my employees – why should I thank them for doing their job? Isn’t their paycheck thank you enough?” It’s not strictly required, but everyone likes their job better when they feel appreciated.

        Reply
  35. The Optimizer

    #5 – I have a great boss/business owner as well. A while back, I wrote him an email on Boss’s Day about how I didn’t believe in such BS (I’m pretty blunt about most things – so this style suited me well – YMMV) so he wouldn’t be getting an card filled with empty sentiment or a token gift but I did tell him how much I appreciated him. I told him he was fair, honest, smart and a genuinely decent human being, which I valued more than anything, and that these things make it easier to put in the effort and hours I had been working (we had recently and very unexpectedly lost a key person on my team and it was brutal few months). I told him that because of these things, plus his guidance, I had a job I truly enjoyed and how much I appreciated that. I meant every word of it.
    He was pretty much floored by my note and called me later that day to tell me how much it meant to him that I said these things. I’m pretty sure he was even a bit choked up by it.
    I still feel the same a year and a half later.
    Yes, you get compensated for the work that you do but sometimes, especially when you’re the boss, you’re not always on the receiving end of praise and rarely for the less tangible things. These are the things that matter and it’s nice when your efforts are acknowledged.

    Reply
  36. Wild Feminist

    #1 I can see how working with Jane would be really irritating ( I also hate being read “at” and being forced into meaningless meetings), but as she has been successful, maybe there is something to what she’s doing? I also can imagine that if I were Jane, that I would feel incredibly undermined by someone speaking up in a meeting by trying to cut it short or saying what I was doing was useless. I think if OP wants to discuss these matters with Jane, that it’s best done in private, and consider how the feedback would be received by Jane and its effect on your working relationship subsequently.

    Reply
    1. The Not Mad But Occasionally Irritable Scientist

      Correlation is not causation. It’s probably more likely that she’s successful despite her jargon and unproductive meetings, not because of them.

      And frankly, when it comes to dealing with patronizing behavior that’s disrespectful of others’ intelligence and time, I think Jane’s feelings really come second here. Her reaction to perfectly legitimate requests from colleagues to cut to the chase is up to her; if she chooses to interpret that as being undermined, that’s too bad, but it doesn’t mean the request is out of line.

      Reply
      1. OP #1

        Yep. The revamp that she did (successfully) was not process related. It’s like she was a corporate Mary Poppins who flew in, procured brooms and dustpans for everybody, helped the team clean up the bedroom and take ownership. People bought in, so now it’s the mundane day-to-day management that she has to do. Kind of like if Mary Poppins stuck around to help with the cooking and laundry…despite being a sub par cook and not following washing instructions!

        Reply
  37. Fabulous

    #3 – It’s got to be skills negotiating higher wages or title. I have my own story for this too… I used to work for an independent Wealth Management Advisor. Within a few months, I went from scheduling appointments to getting a raise and promotion after I got licensed, where I was able to prepare/process applications and provide direct customer service. After I was promoted, we hired two more assistants, one to schedule the appointments, and another (male) who was in the same role as me. The WMA decided to purchase us all disability insurance as an added benefit. I was the one to process the applications. I was mistakenly given the app pages with everyone’s salaries. The new scheduler was earning the same as I was AFTER my raise, and the new male assistant was making about $12k MORE than me, and I had been there over a year at that point. The kicker was at my annual review, I had asked for a slight raise, going from $34K to $36K, but it was denied. Really makes you feel great to knowing you’re appreciated!! *eye roll*

    Reply
  38. Meg Murry

    Along with all the other good advice, depending on how well you know your boss’s boss and if there is a formal review season, dropping a line to the boss’s boss that says something along the lines of “I just wanted to take a minute to let you know that I really appreciate working for Joe because: specific reasons” If possible, make it something specific and quantifiable, directly work related, and not something that’s going to get Joe in trouble (for instance, don’t mention letting you have schedule flexibility if the boss is a stickler for butt-in-seat time, etc).

    Obviously, if you’ve never talked to Joe’s boss before or she is a formal person who would be put off by an email from an assistant, don’t do it – but if you have a cordial working relationship with that person it’s a nice thing to do. I’ve worked in relatively flat org structures where I had regular interaction with the boss’s boss, and when I had a good boss I tried to make sure to let the big boss know that I noticed and appreciated it.

    While I think holiday’s like “boss’s day” are generally silly and invented by Hallmark, an occasion like that, or his birthday or milestone work anniversary would also be a good time to write him a “thank you for being a good boss and mentor” card with specific examples like you gave. I wrote a similar card to a former mentor thanking her for being my reference in a new job search and also thanking her for all she had taught me regardless of the job search outcome, and I heard through a mutual friend that she really really appreciated that and keeps the card on hand in her “compliments” file to read when she’s having an otherwise rough day/week.

    Reply
  39. Emily

    #1–I think you MUST be talking about my boss. This is her to a T. It annoys the heck out of me, but I’ve decided to look at it as this is the way her own insecurities manifest themselves–meetings and jargon make her feel important. So be it.

    #3 This exact same thing happened to me, except not only was someone hired at a higher level, the job was posted at a higher level. The reason was because they reviewed the job description, which had evolved since I had first been hired, and realized I had been severely underpaid (in spite of my telling them this over and over, which was why I left in the first place). It was so frustrating!

    Reply
  40. Jady

    “by borrowing jargon from other fields, such as project management”

    I know we try to give the writers the benefit of the doubt, but “project management” is jargon? I’m concerned that maybe OP#1 needs to put in some effort to learn some of this ‘jargon’.

    I think there’s some degree of jargon that is pretty business-world-desk-job-universal, that phrase being one of them.

    Reply
    1. fposte

      I don’t think she meant the term but the field, which has its own jargon that doesn’t necessarily suit other fields.

      Reply
      1. LBK

        Yeah, I think project management is an example of a field from which she borrows jargon, not an example of jargon itself (and project management definitely does have its own language – “scrum” is pretty meaningless to people who don’t know Agile).

        Reply
    2. DevAssist

      I think OP meant jargon from project management (as a field) is being borrowed but doesn’t work well in OP’s field of work.

      Reply
    3. Anxa

      So, I didn’t know PM was a thing. I still don’t really know what it is. And now, apparently being a Project Manager is a much more specific thing than being the person that manages projects. I’ve actually naively thought I could be a project manager for some organizations I was applying for some years ago (I didn’t actually go through with those) because I had initiated, planned, and coordinated a few projects for my organization. Actually I think it was here that I realized it was its own discipline and didn’t just mean that you were the manager of projects.

      So it does come off as very jargony to me.

      Reply
  41. MommyMD

    Your company is accommodating you in becoming a remote employee. You generally like your job. You are soon leaving. I would not say a word about it and instead would appreciate my current situation.

    No matter how you phrase it, it’s going to sound like sour grapes and your higher ups will pick up on it.

    I would accept that the company can hire and title their employees in whatever way it wants, and move on emotionally from it. Think of the positives in your own situation instead.

    Reply
    1. OP#3

      OP #3 here. I agree that it may sound like sour grapes, which I why I’m hesitant to bring it up (plus I hate confrontation). But if I’m undervalued, I’d like to know – would it be worth it to look for a new position? I guess that’s what I’d hope to learn from having a conversation about this.

      Reply
  42. LoiraSafada

    It has always been VERY apparent to me during phone screens when the interviewer has not read my CV. I had one just a couple weeks ago where I was repeatedly (and firmly) asked about a project I hadn’t worked on in a country I hadn’t listed on my CV, and the interviewers made it very hard to course-correct. These interviews often feel like a trap because the minimum amount of effort has been put in from the side of the employer, yet they treat their lack of planning like a bona fide interview strategy. It’s even worse when the only person that has actually looked at the CVs has little to no technical expertise in the field and is in a dedicated HR role. It just sends the message that the candidate’s time and what they could potentially bring to an employer isn’t valued. Why waste the candidate’s time?

    Reply
  43. Aunt Margie at Work

    LW 5, Thanking your manager. Try this, giving your boss credit and thanks for allowing you to be the employee who succeeds the way you do. The reason I am successful is because I got the both support and guidance from my supervisor. Did I agree with everything over the years? Did I never go home angry? Of course not. But ultimately, work is a healthy place for me to do my work.

    Reply
  44. Squeegee Beckenheim

    Letter writer 1, your coworker is clearly an alien who learned business norms from TV shows and movies. Either that or she’s read the CIA’s Simple Sabotage Field Manual and now she’s testing how effective the techniques are.

    Reply
  45. Thinking Outside the Boss

    For me personally, I disagree with #5. While the advice is well meaning, it needs to come with the caveat that you need to know your boss.

    I’ve been a manager for 7 years and I don’t like it when my employees come in and thank me for being a good boss. I know their hearts are in the right place but to me, it feels like they are sucking up. I don’t need my employees’ praise. It’s my job to praise my employees. What matters to me in the praise department is when my boss comes in and says I’m doing a great job.

    The best things my employees can do to show their appreciation for me as a good boss is by delivering great work, not complaining when they get a rush assignment, be willing to take on a new subject when someone is out ill and we have a short deadline, and by getting to work on time.

    Reply
    1. OP4

      It’s actually an open debate at the moment – intuitively people think it’s a bad idea, on reflection they tend to come around to it, on balance it comes down to how we think it impacts the candidate experience and if we can mitigate that.

      Reply
  46. KTZee

    Thanks to LW5 – I had been muddling about sending in a similar question, as my division boss has played a real role in my maintaining sanity through a pretty insane couple of months at work, and I have been wondering about the appropriateness of expressing my appreciation for his support and management.

    Reply
  47. Anxa

    #4.

    I think it’s also probably a good idea for you to keep in mind that it is the norm for other employers to read resumes ahead of time, or at least intend to have them read ahead of time. I think most interviewees are going to be thrown by this and it can feel a little weird to go into stuff that you’re used to be given a given, and not part of a phone screen (which is going to feel like a bit like an interview on the interviewee’s end, even if it’s just a screen)

    Reply
  48. Mananana

    Re: #1: I work for a branch of the Dept of Defense – we LOVE our meetings. And at the top of my list of work-peeves are people who read power-point slides to the audience. These are the same people who will call on audience members to read the slides.

    Other than the obvious insult to our intelligence when someone thinks they have to read to us, not everyone is comfortable with “reading on command.” I’ve sat through more awkward moments when someone is struggling to read aloud. Had a boss who would throw stress-balls at any briefer who read class slides to us, or who would call on audience members to read aloud. I wish we could adopt that as protocol.

    Reply
  49. Lauren

    Why am I not at all surprised that this is in advertising/marketing? More often than not, posts about shady workplaces and office politics are revealed to be in that industry.

    Reply

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