let’s talk about advice columns

If you find advice columns interesting, this post is for you. Elyse Vigiletti is a researcher whose specialization includes print culture, with a side interest in the history of advice columns. She and I talked advice columns and advice columnists. Here’s our conversation.

Alison: So we are both interested in the cultural role of advice columns, and advice columns in general. Where should we start? History?

Elyse: To talk about the full history of advice columns themselves would take us back to the 17th century. In fact, here’s a really fun piece from the Atlantic a few years ago about the kinds of questions readers of the Athenian were sending in in 1690! Advice-column format has been remarkably stable over the last 300 years–readers send in questions and columnists respond, with direct instructions, with straightforward answers to questions, or by using the question as launch point for a philosophical treatise.

Alison: I love that Atlantic article. Some of those questions remind me of some of the weirder, completely non-work-related ones I’ve received. One person emailed me with a question about keeping chickens. (I had no answer.) But go on.

Elyse: Every database I’ve consulted so far shows a significant curve up in “advice columns” after 1900, however, particularly in the U.S. And I do think there’s something uniquely twentieth-century about the twenty-first-century advice-column renaissance’s blend of self-help, humor, and tastemaking. The early-twentieth-century spike in literacy and the growing middle class created an opportunity for a wider print audience, but in order to be tapped its tastes had to be cultivated. In other words, if editors and publishers wanted to maximize the potential of the growing market, they needed to train their new consumers to want what they were selling. The notion of upward mobility became a driving force: almost all magazines included regular book-recommendation features (sound familiar? :D) that gave tips for choosing the “best” books; Emily Post’s etiquette columns and books blew up; people went nuts for self-improvement books, cookbooks, and parenting books (and puzzle books, interestingly). Academic fields like psychology and sociology started bleeding more into pop culture as people warmed to the idea that it was possible to be a learned expert in interpersonal relationships–and that this expertise was directly applicable to all of our daily lives.

I think we might be having a similar moment now. Mass culture’s Internet literacy is at an all-time high, now that the Internet has been around awhile. We as a mass audience are well-trained to crowdsource our problems among strangers, to strive to put our best selves out into the world. Dashing off a letter to an advice columnist is as easy as dashing off a Tweet or email to our boss, and sharing their responses is as easy and cathartic as sharing an inspirational quote on a stock-photo sunset background. And because it’s less necessary for advice columns to respond to the more straightforward stuff that can be easily Googled (to the point where LMGTFY is an actual website), they skew more heavily toward the philosophical, developing their own subgenres and vocabularies; they’re not just for old people or housewives anymore. There’s an old joke that the first thing people did with the Internet was try to find naked people on it; I think the advice column boom might suggest that that was also the second thing people did, but more figuratively.

Alison: I agree that advice columns are having a moment right now. And I think a lot of the coverage of Heather Havrilesky’s new book earlier this year might have driven the point home.

Elyse: Havrilesky is a great case study, too, since she is regularly far more personal/autobiographical than most of you (and takes the longer-form writing I mentioned before to the greatest extreme). I think you’re right that her book tour is partially responsible for the current trendiness of advice columns. What’s “having a moment” in print culture is rarely, maybe never, organic — in other words, part of the reason why they’re “having a moment” is because somebody started saying they were having one.

Alison: Doesn’t even Molly Ringwald have an advice column now?

Elyse: Advice columns are, at their core, aspirational; people just implicitly trust Molly Ringwald’s judgment about their lives and life in general because who wouldn’t want to be more like Molly Ringwald?

Thinking about advice columns in general being on the rise, did traffic spike at any particular point on your site, or has it been a more or less steady climb?

Alison: My traffic has been a steady-ish climb, although it really jumped in 2015. You can actually see a chart showing the year-by-year growth here. Sometimes it can feel smaller to me — because the commenters are the people I most frequently engage with directly, it can sometimes feel like I’m just writing to them, and then I look at the numbers and remember they’re a pretty small sliver of the whole.

Elyse: The advice columnist-reader relationship is strange. I can’t think of any other longform medium that centers reader engagement in the same way, but that aspect doesn’t seem to break down the reader-writer barrier or make it more democratic so much as add more layers to it: you have the columnist on one side and this Venn diagram of readers and letter-writers on the other. It’s an intimate personal conversation….for a large, remarkably loyal, yet invisible audience…..in which one party is simultaneously a participant, moderator, and expert consultant in the discussion.

Alison: Yes! The advice columnist-reader relationship confers a strange authority on the columnist, and in most cases, from what I can tell, the columnists just sort of claimed that authority for themselves and readers accepted it. None of the advice columnists I can think of have what we traditionally would think of as advice-giving credentials (Carolyn Hax’s bio even makes a point of describing her credentials as “five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist”); it’s more about building a track record of common sense with readers.

Elyse: You’ve mentioned before that you just sorta started your advice blog one day, and people just sorta started writing into it, without you having to do much to solicit letters. This is actually a pretty common narrative–there’s no advice columnist certification, and few spend any time trying to convince anybody of their qualifications to give out advice, but readers don’t seem to need it. What do you think made people trust you?

Alison: Oooof, it’s a good question. I actually really struggled with wondering that for a lot of years (and sometimes still do). I mean, I am far from a perfect manager or a perfect colleague. But I think people respond to straightforward talk and the fact that I (hopefully) sound like a real person, and that I explain my reasoning. I’ve noticed that a lot of career advice doesn’t explain the logic behind the advice being offered, and I think doing that probably builds some credibility. I also like to acknowledge when I don’t know something or when I get something wrong, and I’m sure that helps.

Can we talk more about Carolyn Hax, my religious leader?

Elyse: Hax lines right up with Ann Landers and Dear Abby. Americans like their advice columnists to be no-nonsense white ladies who champion personal responsibility and tolerance of others’ differences. But she was one of the first to be marketed specifically to a younger audience and to embrace the longer-form philosophical style that I mentioned above; she answered fewer letters per column and treats questions like “how do I get my husband to do chores?” as questions about the meaning of life and the point of relationships–which, in a way, they are. She’s developed a glossary of terms and themes–boundaries; “wow”; you can’t other change people; don’t negotiate with abusers; be honest with yourself and others–that crop up in y’all’s columns.

I would need to do a lot more research to substantiate my claims about Hax, and really all of the stuff I’m throwing out here. Someday, I’ll do it!

Alison: Yeah, when Carolyn Hax started out, it was marketed as an advice column for younger people. In fact, her tagline used to be “advice for the under-30 crowd.” That was dropped at some point, when they started pitching her as more all-purpose.

One other fascinating Carolyn Hax thing — years and years ago, there was a mini-scandal when the Washington Post gossip column reported that she was divorcing her husband and was pregnant with twins with someone else. It was a weird position for an advice columnist to be in — suddenly people were scrutinizing her personal life and I think she felt like she had to do something in response. She did something that in retrospect I think was really smart — she devoted an entire one of her online chats to tell people what was up and answer their questions about it. It wasn’t really anyone’s business, but I think she must have felt like in order to credibly advise people on their own love lives, she needed some degree of transparency about her own situation. It’s always stuck with me, both as an example of a well handled situation and as an illustration of just how weird advice-columning can be when it intersects with your own life.

Elyse: Do you interact with other internet advice columnists at all? Do you guys have, like, a secret support group in the dark web?

Alison: Not that I know of. It’s possible others are meeting without me? I actually would really love this — there are a bunch of weird things about writing an advice column that I would love to be able to talk with others about. I want to find out how everyone else manages their mail, and if they have those people who SEND THEIR PHONE NUMBER and ask for a call instead of a written response “because that will be easier,” and whether they too now struggle with giving unsolicited advice in their personal lives, and oh so much more. I have traded some emails from time to time with Mallory Ortberg (Dear Prudence), which is always a thrill, but I want an old-timey listserv set up.

Elyse: What does being an independent blogger allow you to do that your gig at, say, NY Magazine, doesn’t?

Alison: Well, I can publish anything I want, which is nice. I can choose letters solely because they’re interesting to me, and I can go on impassioned rants that other outlets might not be interested in publishing. Really, though, there’s not a huge amount of difference … other than that I love it being MINE, having my judgment be the sole judgment of what to write about and how to say it and how to manage the whole thing. I find real joy in doing that.

Elyse: Do you deal with much harassment/trolling?

Alison: No! This is weird, and I’m always afraid to talk about it in case I jinx it, but no. I can’t figure out why, since I know that so often women writing online deal with tons of crap. It might be that would-be trolls assume workplace advice will be boring and so pass me by.

{ 172 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Elizabeth the Ginger

    I would love for you to do a column where you print the strangest off-topic letters you’ve gotten, like the chicken one! Though maybe that would encourage more off-topic letters…

    Reply
      1. Your Weird Uncle

        I’ve always halfheartedly wanted to keep chickens because I think they’re funny and cute, and the eggs! And then a colleague who does keep chickens told me more about it (including how they’re dispatched to make…chicken roasts) and that took care of that fantasy. :)

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        1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

          I’ve always thought that if I ever go insane and decide the country life is right for me, I’m keeping goats. Speaking of smelly…

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          1. Mrs. Fenris

            My family still owns farmland outside my hometown, so anytime I want to move back there and become a small town/country girl again, I’ve got a place to go. The urge hasn’t really hit me yet, but anyway, if it ever does, I’m getting goats too. They’re pretty fun animals.

            Reply
            1. Jessesgirl72

              I have no desire for chickens (They are NOT nice animals) but I love goats!

              Of course, they are noisy and they don’t eat flies and fly larvae like chickens do…

              Reply
              1. Annie Moose

                Aww, it depends on the breed. My mom has Orpingtons that she raised from chicks, and they’re big fluffy sweeties. Dumbest animals I’ve ever seen, but sweethearts.

                Before anyone swoops in (heh heh, unintentional bird pun) to tell me that chickens are actually secretly brilliant, here is a short list of things my mom’s chickens have done:
                – gotten stuck inside their pen with an open gate a foot away, running frantically back and forth while the others were outside the fence, because they couldn’t fathom that just because you can SEE through a fence doesn’t mean you can’t WALK through it
                – gotten stuck OUTSIDE their pen, unable to find the open gate, and had to go and get my mother to show them where the gate was
                – jumped up to eat a leaf off a low-hanging branch, then gotten startled by the branch moving and running away. Then immediately did the same thing again several times over.

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                1. Cedrus Libani

                  I had a friend who kept chickens when we were kids. I went off red meat for years, but never stopped eating chicken…because I’ve met smarter vegetables. =)

                1. Jessesgirl72

                  Goats are tasty indeed, and at $9/lb for ground goat… ;)

                  I have a Rottweiler mix. I know about smart and stubborn!

          2. Bethlam

            Yes, smelly, but they also eat poison ivy and that invasive multiflora rose, both of which I have. I could use a couple of goats.

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        2. Ashie

          I used to have chickens. They were so sweet and funny. Sure, they poop a lot but so what. Other than that they’re really easy to keep and give you lots of eggs. They’re a really low-maintenance pet and offer lots of entertainment.

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        3. Connie-Lynne

          I had thought about keeping chickens, but then I found out they live a loooong time after they stop laying. I’m not entirely sure that I could take the steps necessary to turn them into food after the eggs stop, so I decided no chickens for me!

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          1. Former Employee

            Of course you don’t turn them into food afterwards! What you do is give them a small pension and let them live out the remainder of their lives in comfort. (Read Ted Kooser’s book “Local Wonders Seasons in the Bohemian Alps” – that’s where I got the idea of pensioning off the no longer laying hens. He was our Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006. he Bohemian Alps are in Nebraska, where he lives.)

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      2. paul

        and noisy and messy and a pain, and you have to deal with possums, coons, snakes (rat snakes LOVE eggs), stray cats, dogs…uuuugh.

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        1. Blurgle

          And salmonella. Apparently one of the big sources of salmonella infection these days is snugglable pet chickens.

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          1. Fuzzywuzzy

            Here all chickens have to be vaccinated against salmonella. We don’t have possums, raccoons, or snakes, but we do have foxes. And rats!
            That’s the main reason we don’t have chickens. (We live in a huge metropolitan area – the state capital – and yet up to 30 chickens are considered ‘pets’ rather than a commercial farm.)

            Reply
      3. Nieve

        I hand reared 4 hens from when they were a day old while living in an urban shared home as a university student. Chickens are extremely entertaining and as long as you have a nice spacious (and secure) garden they’re pretty easy to look after. I live in a country where there just arent any predators that could hunt chickens so I left their coup door open 24/7. They cant see very well in the dark so are strictly diurnal animals, and put themselves to bed when it gets dark. Its also really soothing to sit in the garden with chickens clucking scratching at the ground :) My hens were extremely tame and curious, if I was doing some gardening or digging for bugs for them some would jump up onto my back, and sometimes sit on my lap. I had one that would perch on my arm when she felt like it haha. They were brown shavers, which are one of 2-3 breeds used widely for commercial egg production. I had 4 eggs almost every single day which just accumulated so fast I had to give some away to friends and family. Feed cost about $30 NZD a month so I have to say I didnt exactly get to save money compared to buying store eggs (even if they were free range store eggs). I definitely would have saved a lot more money if I regularly sold the eggs to neighbours or something though

        Reply
    1. irritable vowel

      The person who wrote about chickens obviously thought the name of your blog was Ask a Manger…

      Reply
      1. Halls of Montezuma

        I have made that typo before when coming to this site from a new computer! I did not have the chicken question, though.

        Reply
  2. Grits McGee

    Ooh, I love the idea of Ask a Manager as a professionalism tastemaker! Alison, have you gotten to the point where you feel like the advice you give ripples out beyond the question-askers?

    Reply
    1. Dorothy Mantooth

      I know I have referred people to this column many times – or just mention it when the circumstances align. Like, “so, there’s this workplace/management blog/site that I follow, and here’s what she said about that..”

      Reply
      1. me too

        I am constantly telling people about AAM when they complain about Work Things! Or I’ll just straight up tell them what has been discussed here, with the caveat that I’m not the actual expert but I’ve read this site A LOT.

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        1. Marillenbaum

          I sent my mom a link to this website when she wanted to change jobs for advice on how to negotiate salary, and later on for prepping for a performance review. I’ll admit, it made me feel like a Certified Adult to credibly point my mom towards work advice.

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          1. Parcae

            I recommended AAM to my mom too (I pitched it as Carolyn Hax for work) and it has immeasurably improved our work related conversations. Despite our different experiences and industries, we now have a common frame of reference.

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        2. Annie Moose

          Same, same. I constantly reference this site and am always pointing people to it if I know they’re job-hunting. It’s been such a big help to me, of course I have to share it!!

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          1. Jessesgirl72

            I keep telling people on Ask Harriet’s comment section on UExpress to stop asking her work questions and to come here instead. She gives the worst advice out there, in general, but her work advice is the worst of the worst!

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        3. firebolt

          I give advice from this site all the time and I have referred SO many people here. The most recent friend told me that she visited and subsequently spent five hours in the archives. It was very gratifying.

          Reply
      2. Connie-Lynne

        I teach a class on how to manage in Tech, and I always recommend AAM! The first time I did it, someone shouted “I love Alison!”

        Reply
      3. Chinook

        I stumbled across AAM when I was looking for advice/insight to how/why our American owners functioned the way they did. It has been eye opening to see the cultural and legal differences and helped me to translate some of what is happening to new coworkers and our vendors.

        And whenever anyone asks me for job searching advice, I point them right here. This site is the best for realistic advice, especially about resume writing.

        Reply
    2. Ask a Manager Post author

      I think it definitely shapes the perspectives of readers (as anything will that you read enough of), but beyond readers? Like reaching some sort of critical mass where it then affects the broader culture? That would be awesome, although I couldn’t argue that it’s the case currently.

      Reply
      1. Anlyn

        I’ve become a bit of a proselytizer, to the point where it’s irritated a few folks (I’ve since backed off a bit). Most of the people I mention it to have never heard of it. But I keep trying! :D

        Reply
  3. Bibliovore

    Why do we trust you? You give balanced, sensible actionable advice. You call out when things are truly bonkers. You ask for help when at a loss. And you admit it when it seems that your advice wasn’t quite on the mark. AND you have created a safe space for those of us who do not have a “Real world” cohort of mentors for these workplace issues. AND on the weekends, you have taught me how to have a sort of successful work/life balance.

    Reply
    1. Deschain

      You’re spot on! I also appreciate that Alison isn’t snarky or judgemental in her answers. People are often very vulnerable by the time they seek help, and I really appreciate her logical and compassionate answers. She’s the only advice giver that I recommend to others. Although I do love Dan Savage!

      Reply
    2. SarahTheEntwife

      Yes, I particularly appreciate Alisons’s willingness to say “yes, that’s a good point, I should definitely have included it in my answer” or even “ok, these comments have convinced me that my first response was kind of off the mark”.

      Reply
    3. AndersonDarling

      I was drawn here because the advice was for the everyday worker. All the other work advise I found was for executives and all that advice fell flat. I can’t think of another columnist that would tackle a question from an Executive Assistant, a Warehouse Worker, and an Analyst all on the same day.

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    4. paul

      It’s the actionable that resonates with me. And the fact that she’s willing to say, sometimes, that yeah the policy/manager sucks and probably won’t change without getting all “SO RUN AWAY NOW REGARDLESS OF LIFE” about it.

      It amazes me how many work related blogs seem to think that just up and quitting is an easy/safe/sane thing to do. I’ve got kids and a mortgage; if my job suddenly went crazy I’d probably have to tough it out until I could find something else because while yes, we do have a savings account, I’m not comfortable facing the prospect of living on it for a month or three.

      I’ve been reading through the archives and while I certainly don’t agree with every piece of advice (If two people agree on everything over such a broad span it’s probably safe to say one of them isn’t thinking), it’s a really consistent general approach that seems to try to strike a balance between being sympathetic to advice seekers, cognizant of reality, and invested in trying to give people concrete steps to take where possible.

      Reply
    5. LS

      What they said. But also what Alison says, for me, translates well to my own same-but-different situations. The best example I can think of right now is to not address issues as individual happenings when there is actually a pattern of behaviour. And this is just as true outside of the workplace…

      Reply
    6. Anlyn

      She’s even admitted when she’s flat out wrong. I’m blanking on the example I was going to put, but I remember like 99% of the commenters said, “no, that’s not right.” That tends to build trust.

      Reply
        1. Naruto

          That’s funny, because that’s something I heard in law school from all the career advisers and such. But in the legal field, it really doesn’t make sense (at least after school) because it honestly isn’t something that’s possible. Your best writing sample is going to be a brief that you filed with a court (if you’re a litigator), and the odds that you wrote it without it being edited by anyone else are close to zero.

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        2. Anlyn

          Yes, that’s the one. I thought it had something to do with writing, but couldn’t remember the reason.

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    7. minhag

      I appreciate that she gives actually verbiage and scripts to go along with her advice. I’ve seen so many advice pieces that will say “Tell your boss that your work is valuable and then demand a raise” but Alison actually spells it out “Say ‘I’ve been working on the X account for X months now and feel that my contributions has exceeded… etc.'” and that really helps me! Wordsmithing the proper response to a smelly coworker or a confusing boss is so valuable. That’s why I appreciate Captain Awkward as well.

      Reply
      1. AllTheFiles

        This! I feel like “what to say” is half the battle for a lot of people. I know I’ve found myself helping others and after I explain how to phrase it I’m like well listen to me…I sound like Alison :)

        Reply
    8. Not So NewReader

      Here’s how it goes sometimes.

      Starting point. People ask basic questions, in part to test the waters and in part to find out the answer.
      Then they find the advice is doable as in “hey, I could actually DO that.” So they try. It works.
      Next they see over and over, oh, this person’s advice worked in this different situation, too.

      At some point, the questions get harder. Oddly, this means that the person being asked is respected. (Think about it this way, you don’t bring your beloved and injured pet to a random person. You think carefully about where you are going to bring your little buddy. Likewise with difficult life or work questions, you want to talk with someone who has some experience/basis and someone you trust to be respectful and thoughtful.) So difficult questions are actually a compliment.

      I suspect at this point, Alison, you are seeing some tougher questions, the kind that you have to incubate them for a bit before answering. And this is the exact type of help people need and value, we’ve needed practical workplace advice for a long time.

      Reply
      1. Gaia

        That was good but the question (and answer!) about why moonbeams are not warm like sunbeams was pretty great, too.

        Reply
        1. Newbie

          The “Dancing, is it lawful?” question made me giggle. I just imagined Kevin Bacon running up to them and screaming “Let’s dance!” and the whole cast of Footloose busting a move behind him.

          Reply
  4. FDCA In Canada

    This interview is great, and that article from the Atlantic amazing. When I was doing the research for my Master’s degree, I spent almost an entire summer combing through microfiche of newspapers from the First World War, and even the tiniest little country paper usually had a “Q&A” or advice column. Most of the time it was home-related, farm or cooking advice or whatever (“my pig has a lame trotter” “my jam won’t set up”), but occasionally there would be something more exciting. And for anyone who’s fascinated by the history of advice through the ages, there’s a wonderful collection of letters from the Jewish Daily Forward called A Bintel Brief by Isaac Metzker. (Not to be confused with the Liana Finck book, which is also good, though!) It’s mostly family and romantic problems, and it’s utterly enthralling to see how little people have changed in spirit even when the circumstances are wildly different from our own.

    Reply
    1. Elyse Vigiletti

      Seriously, this has been my experience, too! Every little publication has one or something like it. One thing combing through archives teaches you is that literally nothing is ever new.

      Reply
    2. Jessesgirl72

      On Jeopardy last night, one of the contestants was an Egyptologist with her focus on Hieroglyphics. So Alex asked her why she did she go into Hieroglyphics, and she said that it was fascinating to her how little people have changed in millennia- the Ancient Egyptians were writing letters to their kids about the same things parents write about today- study hard, don’t spend all your money, etc.

      There really is something wonderful about that.

      Reply
      1. Elle

        One of the things I loved best in my history of law class was studying primary source material relating to the education of Scottish lawyers on the continent – it was just these 18 year old boys writing to their dads, and it was apparent that students hadn’t changed a bit! If you modernised the spelling, and substituted ‘we went to the cinema’ for ‘we went and watched a battle from a nearby hill’, it could have been one of my emails to my parents 300 years later – complaining about classes, telling them about new friends and begging for some extra money. My favourite of them can be summarised as ‘oh whoops, I know you wanted me to write when I got here safely, but it’s been a month, I’m having a great time, and can I please have some more money?’

        Reply
        1. starsaphire

          Darn kids these days with their styluses and portable wax tablets! Writing in stone was good enough for us! ;)

          Reply
      2. MegaMoose, Esq.

        Hah, they had a whole different millennium in mind when they complained about “millennials these days!”

        Reply
  5. Cafe au Lait

    Dan Savage mentioned once (years ago) in his podcast that there was a yearly retreat for advice columnists.

    Reply
      1. Cafe au Lait

        I’m serious! It was probably around the winter of 2012; I was driving an hour each way to work then. He mentioned in a podcast that he had gone on a retreat with other advice columnists. It sounded like it was an annual thing.

        Reply
          1. Cafe au Lait

            My Pollyanna-sunshine personality just thinks that everyone is too afraid to ask you to come because you’re one of the cool kids, and WHAT IF YOU DON’T COME TO A PARTY THEY THROW?!?!?!?!

            Reply
              1. Cafe au Lait

                It’s amazing what perspectives we hold. I’m trying to plan several staff development meetings for the upcoming year, and one of my goals is to ask you to speak. But I have put off asking your rates because I am so afraid that you’ll be out of my budget, and my colleagues will think I was ridiculous for trying.

                Reply
                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  That is so kind! Thank you. Right now I’m not taking on anything new since my goal is to spend less time working this year, but I really appreciate you thinking of me!

              2. Candi

                As far as the former Abby sister team were concerned, I think you are way above them. (“These kids today” are doing a much better job.) You, Alison, not only address the issues openly addressed in the letters, you pay attention to the subtext and say, “It sounds like X is happening. If it is, here’s advice on that too.” The sisters were…. not good at that.

                One particular instance from the late ’90s/early ’00s still stands out in my mind. A mother wrote in; her actual question in one line was ‘should I get my daughter into therapy so she won’t be gay?’ Abby, quite rightly, politely told her to back off.

                But.

                The mother wrote out quite a bit about her shy, quiet, insecure daughter with low self-esteem and the relationship in question. The young woman was a freshman in college.

                The other woman was a teacher at the young woman’s college, teaching a class the daughter was attending. The daughter was constantly parroting the teacher and quoting her, with no thoughts or analysis of her own on the subjects. She was spending ALL her spare time with the teacher, even though a few high school friends were still accessible, and wasn’t participating in activities her past history indicated she would be curious about and enjoy.

                The mother said the daughter said that the teacher was also encouraging the daughter to completely cut off contact with her mother (mom was paying for college), saying the young woman didn’t need the mother and that she was a bad influence.

                There was more that made it look like the teacher was manipulative and controlling. All this in the first quarter too.

                At best, the situation rang of obsessive ‘live’. My gut reaction was it was emotional/mental abuse.

                The girl DID need therapy -to make sure she was living her own life, not her mother’s, and not her teacher/lover’s.

                But that wasn’t addressed at all.

                Reply
  6. ChickenSuperhero

    This was really interesting. I often imagine you advice – givers, and your reactions to letters. I imagine sometimes you feel totally out of your depth, and sometimes wonder why people are even listening to you. I know I would! But I love this column, and others.

    One note, though, is that in complex situations, sometimes we just need someone to take a stand, because we might not know what the answer is, but it’s a start. So the columnist is not the all – knowing sage, but the opening gambit in a broader dialogue. I pick my advice columns partly due to the official advice, but a bit more due to the quality of the commentariat. AAM is unusually good for both!

    Reply
    1. Elyse Vigiletti

      Advice columnists really do tend to inspire community. It’s easy to see in the age of Internet comments, but it’s always been true. Letter writers often mirror the writing styles of the columnists they’re writing to: Ask Polly gets letters that match her ironic/edgy/rambly style; AAM gets people writing about teapot companies and “Jane”; Hax gets people asking her if they’re being a “[glassbowl]”; Dan Savage added DTMFA to everyone’s vocabulary, and before any of that, Ann Landers popularized MYOB.

      Building reader communities around common fandoms that have their own vocabularies is a big thing on the internet, but advice columns were the OG, I think. Maybe. I’d need to check!

      Reply
      1. fposte

        There’s some really interesting work on periodicals in the nineteenth century, Elyse, that might be relevant–with the whole democratization and lowered price point of the printing press there were a lot of young people–like sometimes actually teens–creating newspapers and communicating via periodical columns. I don’t know if they developed insider vocabularies, but I wouldn’t be surprised.

        Reply
        1. e271828

          I was just looking at an old copy of Girl’s Own Paper (November 30, 1907), and the advice ranges from ways for women to earn money and support themselves, to getting rid of selling self-published poetry, to the history of the Blue Willow plate design.

          Late 18c/early 19c women’s magazines had letter columns which offered fellowship, frank advice, and support at a time when those could be hard to come by in a woman’s immediate society.

          Reply
          1. fposte

            Yes, the internet has changed the pace at which this all happens, but I suspect it’s nurturing seeds that have been growing for a long time.

            Reply
          2. Elyse Vigiletti

            It’s so interesting–we tend to assume that women’s agency, community, and progressivism was a post-1950s invention, but it was very much not. As I said above: once you start reading old newspapers for awhile, you learn really quickly that nothing is new.

            Reply
        2. Elyse Vigiletti

          Yes! There is a lot of work directly post-civil war that mirrors a lot of the stuff I do in the 1920s-50s in general, and I would not be in the least bit surprised if there was a robust advice circuit then, too.

          Reply
  7. Mananana

    One of the things that has made me a fan of your site, Alison, is the culture you’ve created here. While many sites claim to have a “be kind” policy, you actually enforce it. And because of your example, the commentariat does a pretty daggone good job of self-policing. You dispense solid, well-reasoned advice with a healthy dose of humor. You’re a treasure.

    Reply
    1. I woke up like this

      Agreed! In fact, I imagine one of the biggest differences between being an independent blogger vs. a newspaper employee is control over the commenting section. I’ve ventured over to the NY Mag’s comment section once or twice, and wow, those commenters are vicious to the letter writers! I mean, just so mean-spirited. That would never happen here. I love Alison’s careful moderation of her comment section, which has built the culture you describe here, Mananana (do dooo do do do).

      Reply
  8. Channeling AaM?

    My partner (M) came home a bit bummed out by work last month. Their firm (where they’d been for nearly 6 years) recently voted on the new slate of promotions and M didn’t receive one despite regularly being complimented by management. The part that stung was that a colleague (same department, different team) who’d been regularly letting work slip was promoted to the next level. I gave M my thoughts*, and their response was that it was very much in line with AskAManager – what a compliment!

    *My advice was twofold: (1) meet with your manager in a week or two to explain that this promotion is a profession goal and ask what steps M could take to position themselves for next year, and (2) separate from the promotions conversation, ask manager how to handle colleague since M has already asked for guidance once before and it clearly wasn’t working.

    Reply
  9. Cassandra

    Re lack of trolling on the site specifically, I suspect a couple of factors in addition to subject matter:

    * Inoculation by moderation. Trolls often test the waters at a particular venue before they dive in with both feet. That doesn’t fly here.

    * Moderation-reinforcing community. Several regular commenters work pretty hard to shut down unproductive threads and threads that have the potential to turn ugly. Some online venues turn into “moderators vs. the community.” Not here.

    I can’t speak helpfully to the lack of trolling outside the site specifically; I’m not sure what presences Alison maintains.

    Reply
    1. MixteFeels

      I came here to write something similar. . . . there’s a subscription-based niche blog I would follow more and maybe even contribute to but the comments are so often a cesspool of judgement and hate, which the owner only half-heartedly deals with, and whose response to feedback about the toxicity of comments is to point the finger at readers for not intervening. (Imagine being a customer in a small shop and telling the owner you’ve encountered a spill in the back aisle and them telling you to grab a mop and clean it up. An imperfect analogy, but.) In contrast, Alison models good commenting policy, shuts down troll-y and OT stuff quickly, and readers have followed her lead.

      Reply
      1. Candi

        That’s why I like this site – you can point to the rules, mention the customs, and the owner/mod will back you up. That is incredible important.

        On TV Tropes and Cracked, I find it similar: if someone won’t listen, you holler (or it gets seen), and down comes the good fairy to say quit bopping the field mice on the head -or just boot them into froghood if it’s egregious. They also have the #1 rules of “don’t be a d-” and “be nice” respectively, so it’s clear up front that as long as you’re a good neighbor, you’re welcome in the neighborhood.

        The importance of Alison’s awesomeness in engaging the comments can’t be underestimated, as well as the fantastic behavior of the commentators in keeping this a nice place to be.

        Reply
  10. Tomato Frog

    Re: authority — like many (maybe most?) readers, I first found Alison because I was looking for job hunting advice. I initially trusted her because she wasn’t a proponent of the job hunt stuff that never sat right with me — all those gumption-y tactics, as well as all that advice that treated cover letters as stiff, formal things. Basically, her advice fit with my own values and preferences. Also, I think being able to write well tends to instantly bolster anyone’s claim to authority, rightly or wrongly, and Alison can write. There’s other stuff over the years, but those things laid the initial groundwork.

    Reply
    1. Daffodil

      I think Alison also has a knack for going into an appropriate amount of depth in her answers, which is more complicated than it sounds. Going either too short or too long can easily turn into talking down to your readers, as well as not being interesting.

      Reply
      1. rr

        Ha. I was once talking advice columns with someone IRL and I mentioned one I liked to read, and the response was along the lines of “I’d prefer to read the edited version”. Because, yeah, I often do skim because it can get very long ;)

        Reply
    2. k

      Agreed. This is one of the rare places where I’ve seen career advice that actually practical. It’s given me some major realizations about job hunting and all the bad advice I’ve followed (You mean my cover letter should sound like a human person wrote it and not like a legal document?!)

      Reply
    3. cleo

      “Basically, her advice fit with my own values and preferences. Also, I think being able to write well tends to instantly bolster anyone’s claim to authority, rightly or wrongly, and Alison can write.”

      Truth. And not only did her advice fit with my values and experiences, unlike the other job hunting advice type sites I visited, reading it didn’t send me into a downward spiral of despair. Getting laid off was not particularly easy on my mental health and all of those chirpy, just create a personal brand and try harder than everyone else type sites really weren’t helpful.

      Alison sounded like a real person and following her advice seemed much more possible than anything else I read. And that’s why I trusted her. That and the commenting community.

      Reply
      1. Not So NewReader

        OMG, despair! Yes, how true!

        Some of the stuff I was reading before I found AAM. “You must learn to golf. Your entire career depends on learning to golf.” If I have to play golf to get/keep a job, I would be unemployed for the rest of my life.

        Then I found AAM, a place where logic and sanity prevail.

        Reply
  11. Ann O'Nemity

    “Americans like their advice columnists to be no-nonsense white ladies…”

    So true. Up until Mallory Ortberg took over Dear Prudence, I would have added straight as well. I’ve often wondered why there isn’t more diversity in the field.

    This reminds me of something. About 10 years ago there was a “Carolyn Hacked” blog floating around. A gay African American man answered select questions that were originally published by Carolyn Hax. And of course his answers were intentionally humorous, while trying to highlight how Hax’s advice didn’t relate as well to specific audiences. I can’t find it now, and wondered if it was taken down for some sort of legal issue.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      I recently had a really interesting correspondence with someone about how my advice doesn’t always translate for people of color, who can get perceived quite differently than white people if they advocate for themselves in clear, direct ways.

      Reply
      1. OhNo

        I’d love to hear more about that, if you ever have time to write up the basics. I’ve had a general inkling that this might be true, and I’m curious what the person you corresponded with had to say.

        Reply
        1. paul

          Seconded! If the correspondent and Alison are both OK with it that could be fascinating and educational.

          Reply
      2. LCL

        Maybe you could help the writer, and society in general, by setting them up as a guest columnist sometime? That would be cool!

        Reply
        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          I thought about that! But I’m trying to be careful not to do that thing where someone speaks up and says “hey, this doesn’t work for me, as a member of the non-dominant group” and then hears in reply, “great, you do all the work to fix it.”

          Reply
          1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

            There are some fascinating POC advice writers for online “ethnic press” (blech at that term) outlets who might be willing to write guest columns like the Carolyn Hacked columns… I think if it were carefully framed it could avoid the “please do my inclusion work for me” trap.

            Reply
      3. New Bee

        I think this is true (Black woman here), but I do appreciate both your advice and the comments section aren’t “race-neutral.” Other blogs I used to read took a “can’t we all just get along” stance toward microaggressions, which can be a microaggression in itself, but this site doesn’t hide it’s anti-racist/feminist bent (though there can be a lot of Whitesplaining in the comments at times).

        Maybe the post idea suggested below could be paired with an Ask the Readers on ways to be an ally in the workplace?

        Reply
    2. cleo

      Dan Savage is the biggest exception to the straight lady advice columnists that I can think of. Interestingly enough, he started out giving sex advice for straight people and then expanded out – the idea was that as an openly gay man he’d already learned to accept his sexuality and he could help others accept their sexuality (whatever it happened to be).

      I’m sure there are many non-dominant culture advice columnists that are popular within their sphere that just aren’t on my radar.

      Reply
      1. ThatGirl

        Overall I like Dan and appreciate that he’s giving advice nobody else is (or at least, was at the time) but he’s not perfect either; for starters he was pretty biphobic for a long time and still says some sketchy things sometimes.

        Reply
      2. all aboard the anon train

        If you mean “help others accept their sexuality” as long as it fit into his idea of what “queer” looked like, sure. When he expanded, it was a lot of him making nasty comments about queer identities and experiences that didn’t fit into his view of “queer”. I know people love to hold him up as a great advice columnist, but his advice has been pretty strongly biphobic, transphobic, acephobic, and misogynistic.

        There are plenty of other better queer advice columnists out there, but Dan Savage seems to have a lot of straight people who love him, so he gets brought up the most.

        Reply
    3. Marillenbaum

      This is one of those things that has made me want to start an advice column in the past. I don’t fit the “no-nonsense white lady” label, but as a “mild shenanigans queer Black lady who sounds white on the phone” I feel like I could maybe fit the bill.

      Reply
  12. rr

    “Alison: Oooof, it’s a good question. I actually really struggled with wondering that for a lot of years (and sometimes still do). I mean, I am far from a perfect manager or a perfect colleague. But I think people respond to straightforward talk and the fact that I (hopefully) sound like a real person, and that I explain my reasoning. I’ve noticed that a lot of career advice doesn’t explain the logic behind the advice being offered, and I think doing that probably builds some credibility. I also like to acknowledge when I don’t know something or when I get something wrong, and I’m sure that helps.”

    I feel I should also mention my joyous discovery when I started reading you, and what I highlight when I recommend you: you aren’t blaming people for not having jobs. So many advice stuff I was getting when I was unemployed during the worst of the recession was along the lines of “it’s your fault, you didn’t do X, Y, and Z”, especially when X, Y, and Z included reading minds. Your advice made sense and also included things I couldn’t be doing, but while also not blaming me for not getting a job that literally 900 people also applied to. That was a breath of fresh air and something I truly deeply appreciate.

    Reply
    1. rr

      also since I’m self-commenting, we were told at a staff meeting at current job once that more than 900 people had applied to our last posting. So that number isn’t hyperbolic!

      Reply
      1. Anlyn

        This isn’t anywhere close to yours, but my organization recently had two open positions, and over 50 people applied. So yeah, 48 people aren’t going to get the position, and there’s nothing wrong with that.

        Reply
        1. Ashie

          Were they all qualified candidates? We recently hired a second person for my department. We had dozens of applicants but only about 8 or 10 that had *any* relevant experience or knowledge. Luckily some of those were excellent candidates but the rest… I jut don’t understand.

          Reply
  13. Chocolate Teapot

    There was a very good documentary on BBC4 with Philippa Perry (an Agony Aunt) all about the history of advice columnists and it was a surprise to discover how old the concept is.

    Reply
      1. Isobel

        It was called “Sex, Lies and Love Bites : The Agony Aunt Story”. Not currently available on the BBC iPlayer but might be online somewhere. I really enjoyed it.

        Reply
    1. Anlyn

      I’m curious as to where the term Agony Aunt came from. Was that the name of an early advice column? Or a sense that everyone has one of those aunts (or uncles or moms or, in my case, dads) that are always giving advice and it’s agony smiling through it? :) Off to google I go!

      Reply
      1. Noobtastic

        I thought it came from the idea that everyone has a wise old spinster aunt, who won’t judge them, but will offer useful advice, when they are in agony.

        That’s how I’ve always interpreted it, at least.

        Reply
  14. KC

    This is the most honest and realistic career advice website out there. I usually find myself nodding along as I’m reading Allison’s answers. She’s a breath of fresh air compared to the Liz Ryan’s of the world, where HR is cruel and incompetent, and every job seeker is an abused victim. Keep it up!

    Reply
    1. Solidus Pilcrow

      Yes! What appeals to me is the distinct lack of gimmicky advice here and realistic expectations. Such as you research the company, but you don’t need to find the hiring manager’s name to address the cover letter to. Oh, what a relief to realize I wasn’t somehow defective because I couldn’t figure out the hiring manager’s name!

      Reply
  15. TheLazyB

    I love this. I love this article and this website :) thank you so much Alison for all you do.

    The funny thing is, I’d heard of you years before I started reading – you were regularly mentioned at tomatonation.com, but I was like workplace advice, how boring. Why on earth would I?!

    Because it’s the best internet place I’ve ever found, that’s why. Take that, 7-years-ago-me!! ;D

    Reply
    1. Noobtastic

      Yeah, Pretty In Pink Molly Ringwald was a twit, with awful taste in men. She spent the whole movie chasing after a twit with no spine, and then went for the stalker, instead?!

      Sixteen Candles, on the other hand, she chose a generally decent guy (as far as she could tell, that is), and was a decent friend. Much problematic stuff in that movie, of course, but I think she did have more sense, in general.

      Then there’s Breakfast Club Molly Ringwald. So very relatable, even if I wasn’t in the popular crowd. She made the “In Crowd” girls seem less plastic, and more pathetic, and suddenly, being in the Out Crowd became just so much better, since I didn’t have the In Crowd on a pedestal, anymore. Not that I looked down on them, instead. I just felt they were on my same level. Untouchable, perhaps, but on the same level. In other words, all of us high schoolers were insecure fools, who were just trying to learn a bit of wisdom and make it to adulthood without exploding, and we all took different routes to go there. LOVE the Breakfast Club.

      Reply
      1. Chocolate Teapot

        I seem to remember she answered readers’ problems in The Guardian for a while, as did Carrie Fisher.

        Reply
  16. Stella Maris

    My favourite advice column (though I love Mallory Ortberg at Dear Prudence but more than Actual Prudence) is Captain Awkward.

    Reply
    1. Marillenbaum

      Captain Awkward legit saved me when I was in college and struggling to identify whether my relationship with a family member “counted” as being abusive. It helped keep me (relatively) sane and healthy, and set good boundaries for when I moved out. I love her muchly.

      Reply
    2. Noobtastic

      I LOVE Captain Awkward. Not really much of a commenter there, but I love to read the columns and the commentariat, too.

      Reply
  17. Antilles

    It might be that would-be trolls assume workplace advice will be boring and so pass me by.
    It also probably helps that your particular niche of workplace advice doesn’t really lend itself to trolling you personally. Many people have clear, strong opinions on politics, religion, racial issues, social justice, pop culture/hobbies, and so on…but not on workplace issues. So when you say something that people disagree with, it’s more of a “eh, I think she’s wrong” than a “she’s wrong and her inaccuracy is offending me personally, so let’s burn her at the stake”.

    Reply
  18. Pam

    I’ve always loved advice columns, and was a regular reader of Dear Abby, Ann Landers, Heloise, etc., from childhood. (Did you know that Good Housekeeping’s ‘Ask the Doctor’ from the 1960’s and ’70’s was also a science fiction writer?) I even ran out and bought the first Miss Manners book as a teen, so having internet advice columns is a joy to me. (I highly recommend Marjorie Hillis’ advice books from the ’30’s)

    Reply
    1. Marillenbaum

      Oh, I love Miss Manners! I’ve read several of her books and enjoyed them all thoroughly. If you haven’t checked it out, may I also suggest the Awesome Etiquette podcast by the Emily Post Institute?

      Reply
    2. Mrs. Fenris

      I used to read my grandmother’s Good Housekeeping, mostly for the advice columns! I also read a couple of Alan E. Nourse’s sci fi books, and wondered if it was the same person. My favorite answer of his, ever, was to someone who had read about a new product you were supposed to sprinkle onto your food like salt and it was supposed to reduce the calorie content. His response: “I’ve never heard of such a thing and can’t imagine how it could possibly work. In general, if something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

      Reply
  19. Vancouver Reader

    Thank you for this delightful article. I don’t read a lot of other advice columns, or haven’t since Dear Abby and Ann Landers, but what I enjoy here, besides the great advice, is that you write like you speak (at least I think you do). I find with some advice columns, they may have good advice, but I find the way they get the message across to be more, this is the job; you have warmth and personality in your responses.

    Reply
  20. Michelle Young

    Someone once told me that I should write an advice column. My mother always told me that I was wise, and seriously, people often came to me for advice, over the years, including advice about love and relationships, despite the fact that I have never been in a romantic relationship, myself.

    Since my auto-accident, and the constant pain, and the very frequent (but not EVERY DAY, thank God. I still have the odd day when I can deal without it, and the doctor says I’m not addicted, hooray!) use of pain pills that make me very loopy, my “advice” has changed, and my mother now says that her favorite thing that I say these days is “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Also, my family find me really entertaining, and call me “Aunt Loopy.” They used to call me “Aunt Responsible.” My sister was always “Aunt Earthy,” because she’ll talk about anything, and my other sister was “Aunt Slappy,” because she loves to be silly, but I was “Aunt Responsible.” I’m not quite sure how to feel about the name-change, but I’ve decided to embrace it, because it’s not changing any time soon.

    I read this, and got to the point where it said, “Americans like their advice columnists to be no-nonsense white ladies who champion personal responsibility and tolerance of others’ differences.” Due to the fact that the word “no-nonsense” was split at the end of a line, my mind rushed right past the “no-” at the end of the line, and hit on the “nonsense white ladies” at the beginning of the next line, and I said, “HEY! That’s ME!”

    It’s a sign. My sister set me up with a website ages ago, but I’ve been stuck on what to put on my blog. Now, I must start an online column, “Aunt Loopy’s Questionable Advice – Take at your own risk.” Any advice on how to get letters to start with? My sisters said to just write my own letters about whether or not it’s a good idea to fry potatoes at four in the morning and wake up the household when the fire alarm goes off (my advice for real, not Loopy – invest in an inexpensive fire extinguisher and practice outside before you ever have to deal with a real fire, develop the habit of checking the charge on the fire extinguisher at least once a month – this will ensure it is still charged and also reinforce in your mind where it is so you can find in an emergency, and whatever you do, do not store the extinguisher above the stove or oven! Thankfully, I did not panic when the stove caught fire, and was able to use the fire extinguisher with little fuss. Also, invest in a mess-free fire extinguisher, after you’ve used the practice one, because MESSSSSS! Ugh) Ummmm, where was I going with this? Oh, yeah! They say I should make up my own loopy letters, but I think they’re missing the point. The letters are supposed to be real. The ADVICE is what’s supposed to be loopy.

    So, yeah, where do you get your starting letters? Do you send the word out by mouth to friends and family, or did you perhaps take letters from other columnists, and say, “That’s her advice; here’s mine”? My pill is just starting to kick in, so I’m ready to go!

    Reply
  21. Cristina in England

    Thank you so much for this! I just said to a former (and potentially future) boss that if she ever wanted to propose a research project on advice columns, I would be all in.

    Reply
  22. MissDisplaced

    I think AAM has a very loyal and regular group of commentators who tend to shut down trolls pretty quickly. Plus, it’s work advice mostly, so people tend to stay more professional.

    Reply
  23. Anonymoose

    Thanks Elyse for the Ahtenian article. My favorite was about ‘learned women’:

    Q: Is it proper for women to be learned?
    A: All grant that they may have some learning, but the question is of what sort, and to what degree? Some indeed think they have learned enough if they can distinguish between their husband’s breeches and another man’s… Others think they may pardonably enough read, but by no means be trifled with writing. Others again, that they ought neither to write nor read. A degree yet higher are those who would have them read plays, novels, and romances—with perhaps a little history, but by all means terminating their studies there, and not letting them meddle with philosophy… because it takes them off from their domestic affairs and because it generally fills them of themselves … ’tis a weakness common to our own sex as well as theirs… We see no reason why women should not be learned now. For if we have seen one lady gone mad with learning… there are a hundred men could be named, whom the same cause has rendered fit for bedlam.

    Reply
    1. Elyse Vigiletti

      I love that part too! The idea that “women should be learned” is a strangely common core theme of advice columns that apparently dates back at least 300 years!

      Reply
    2. Noobtastic

      I liked that one, and the one about the dog.

      Oooooh. Keep the dog inside, and he’ll never bark at the graveyard again, and you’ll live forever! Cause and effect.

      Reply
  24. Bets

    I love your advice and this site, except for its ad network, which is so buggy and spammy I want to punch it.

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Try clearing your cache and cookies (at least for AAM). That may fix it. If it doesn’t, you have my blessing to use an ad blocker (Ad Blocker Plus is really easy and effective, and free).

      Reply
      1. Dee

        AdBlock Plus actually now displays ads that are part of their “Acceptable Ads” program. If you want more detail you can search on it, but I’d recommend uBlock Origin instead. It also uses fewer system resources than ABP.

        Reply
      2. ancolie

        I can’t use AdBlock on my phone, though, which is where I read AAM 99% of the time. I’ve had multiple bottom-screen “anchor” ads layered over each other, or X buttons that take literally 10+ taps to finally close, or X buttons that still open the ad’s link in a new tab.

        I know it’s the ad networks and not you, Alison, which is why I deal with it. It’s also a billion times more inconvenient to try to send (useful) information about problem ads when I’m on my phone (which is, again, 99% of the time). :/

        Reply
    2. Fuzzywuzzy

      Sometimes I get that “You’ve won a new iPhone” scam in a new tab and my phone vibrates and I have to shut down Chrome to get it to stop. I’m now pretty sure it’s AAM that sets it off.
      Worth it, though! I enjoy the column.

      Reply
  25. GraceW

    Odd to find no mention of Amy Alkon, who actually uses scientific research for her advice columns and books.

    Reply
  26. Orlando

    “And whether they too struggle with giving unsolicited advice in their personal lives”

    Oh, so that’s where the “thank you for your opinion, I’ll consider your advice” scripts come from. You have been on the receiving end, haven’t you :D

    Reply
    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Ha, well, I meant that I’ve found I struggle not to be the unsolicited advice-giver, especially when people are talking about work problems. I’m used to being in advice-giving mode and it can be hard to turn it off. But I try to because I know how obnoxious that can be!

      Reply
  27. CM

    Love this interview, and I’m happy for evidence that other people are also advice column junkies! I’ve thought about writing a book that is a taxonomy of questions asked and advice given in advice columns. There are definite categories and recurring themes like “How can I say a hurtful thing to a person without hurting them” or “How can I express my need without directly asking for it” or “How can I make an abusive person stop abusing me.”

    Reply
    1. Noobtastic

      Don’t forget, “My significant other is absolutely perfect except,” followed by the peanut gallery saying, “That’s abuse! DTMFA!

      Seriously, I see that at least once a week. Including the obligatory comment from someone saying, “If the genders were reversed, you would say it was perfectly acceptable, and to suck it up,” which is inevitably followed by, “No, read last week’s episode of DTMFA, because the genders were reversed, and got the same response.

      Sometimes, I find the re-runs – same issue, different names – boring, and sometimes it is refreshing to see that human nature is so constant. And sometimes, I just shake my head, and say, “Do the people who write in even READ these columns? It’s been answered so many times, already.”

      Reply
  28. Life is Good

    Interesting that your readership increased dramatically in 2015. I found you in 2015 after having looked online for sound management advice because I was struggling in my own management role. I ultimately left that job and am in a much better position. I credit the oomph to change employers to the excellent, no-nonsense answers you give to questions from your readers that mirrored my own frustrations.

    Reply
  29. starsaphire

    Does anyone remember the Great Comic Strip Switcheroo of 1997? (Basically, a huge number of comic-strip artists did each other’s strips for one day; I think it was April Fools day.)

    In my secret heart of hearts, I keep wishing and hoping that AAM and Prudie and a bunch of other advice columnists will do the same thing some day…

    Reply
    1. Sami

      I remember that! In fact, someone (Dear Prudie or Amy Dickenson or Hax) recently got the same letter that Alison did recently. I think it was Carolyn Hax.

      Reply
  30. Sarah

    I know it’s unlikely I’d get an answer even if I’d posted this in a timely manner, not a month later, but if anyone were able to link me to the Carolyn Hax chat that AAM mentions where she talks in detail about her own life, I’d love to read it. Heck, I’d send you a $10 gift card to Amazon.

    (I adore Carolyn Hax, although I don’t currently get around to reading her stuff every day. I credit her work with many positive impacts on my own life, like teaching me that finding a relationship is about finding someone you match well with instead of finding someone you can convince to like you. Years ago when I had a very undemanding job, I read through a LOT of her old chats, including from the time the news about her personal life came out, but I don’t remember seeing her discuss it in that kind of detail at all. All I remember is her saying something like, “Rest assured, my conscience is clear” and at some point talking more about how the relationship developed but definitely not for a whole chat. Heck, maybe I did read this chat and forgot it, but I’d still like to see it again. Sorry if this comes off creepy.)

    Reply

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