the person who holds the job I’m applying for doesn’t like me

A reader writes:

I have an interview scheduled for this Friday, and it turns out that the person who currently holds the position (“Jane”) is a former coworker of mine from a different company. Unfortunately, there was a falling-out over the way we interacted during an orientation session and we ended on bad terms.

To provide you with some additional background, we were both tasked with giving an orientation session to incoming foreign exchange students. Jane began the session and ended up getting on the track of how college is when people have the most mental breakdowns, and how the next year would likely be incredibly difficult for these students. This went on for several minutes, and I could feel the atmosphere in the room getting tense. In an attempt to soften the tone of our orientation, I interjected with something along the lines of “Well, don’t say it like that!”

In retrospect, I definitely could have handled this situation better — I wish I had found a way to put the students at ease without interrupting Jane. It turns out she was pretty upset by this interaction, because she brought this up with our manager, and I was then brought into a meeting to discuss this further. At this point, I apologized and explained that it was not my intent to make her feel attacked (during the meeting with our manager, she told me she felt like this was a personal attack). She then said that this comment “made her feel unsafe,” which was a pretty big surprise to hear. I’m still not too sure what to make of that comment — I can see how my comment came across as rude or as an unthoughtful interruption, but the unsafe language she used really threw me, and blindsided me since we were both in our manager’s office at this point. We hadn’t had any negative interactions before this point and Jane is not someone I interacted with on a daily/regular basis. I’ve also never had anyone else I’ve worked with (or anyone in my personal life) ever tell me anything along these lines before.

After the meeting wrapped up and she left, my manager apologized to me that this had escalated so much. I know that I was far from the only person Jane had brought into the manager’s office with a complaint, as people have told me that similar things happened with them, so this is possibly where my manager’s comment was stemming from.

Fast forward two years, and I find myself applying for a position at a different company, only to discover that Jane is currently occupying the job that I am applying for, but is leaving to go back to school. I already had a phone interview with the hiring manager, and mentioned that I did know Jane, but didn’t mention anything about her complaint and the manager meeting. I am scheduled for an in-person interview on Friday, though I don’t know if Jane will be there or not.

I’m particularly worried about Jane possibly mentioning that she didn’t feel safe around me. If I were an employer, that would be a huge red flag, and would bring to mind questions about my character and ability to be respectful and professional around others.

Should I bring this incident up with the hiring manager before we meet on Friday? If not, what’s the best way to handle a situation where there are concerns of a current employee hurting your chances at getting a job at the company?

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do about this.

It’s possible that Jane will bring it up and torpedo your chances of working there. That’s frustrating, but that’s how it goes when you apply to a company where a former colleague who doesn’t like you is working. There’s not much you can do about it when you’re the person on the outside and they’re on the inside.

Bringing the situation up with the hiring manager might feel like it would help, but since the hiring manager doesn’t know you well, it’s likely to sound like a lot of drama that she’s not going to want to sift through, and she’s not likely to want to bring potential drama onto her staff. (Of course, Jane is leaving so that might not be as much of a concern. But if Jane would have to train you, it could be a significant one. And you couldn’t blame her for not wanting to risk it if she has other good candidates.)

At most, you should be prepared to respond if the hiring manager asks you about the situation. Ideally your response should not get into all the details but should be calm and concise and something like, “We didn’t interact very much, but my understanding is that she misinterpreted something I’d said in a meeting. I’ve always had excellent relationships with colleagues and I felt terrible about the misunderstanding. I hope I was able to smooth the situation over.” (And who knows, it’s possible that this manager knows just as well as your old manager did that Jane is conflict-prone and this will be a perfectly satisfying answer to her.)

Ultimately, though, Jane probably has more influence in this situation than you do. It’s unfair and frustrating, but it’s the reality of it.

{ 253 comments… read them below or add one }

  1. Malibu Stacey

    The good news might be that Jane is still overly complaining about her present coworkers so the Hiring Manager might not weigh her opinion as seriously.

    Reply
        1. Karen D

          Me as well.

          Once a drama llama, always a drama llama, and Jane’s a pure pedigreed drama llama. In my brain, I’d just offer a quick explanation: “I derailed her while she was trying to convince a bunch of international exchange students that they were likely to kill themselves.” But it’s probably best to say something milder like “We clashed at an orientation session and she complained, but other than that we’ve had very little interaction.”

          It might be worth it, though, to ask exactly what she did say (but only if they bring it up first).

          Reply
          1. Specialk9

            I was thinking the OP might have been rude or hostile until they explained. I’d leave in the detail, or phrase it as “She was scaring new students, and I tried to bring her back on topic” if it ever came up.

            Reply
          2. Prince of Snarkness

            We should form a club!

            Yeah, this person does not sound like she’s the most stable leg on the table.

            Reply
      1. Specialk9

        Anyone who defaults to Victim Snowflake(tm) language when just annoyed by someone has a reputation. Her not liking you will likely be taken with a huge grain of salt.

        And I say that as someone who ardently defends trigger warnings and safe spaces.

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        1. Prince of Snarkness

          I’m triggered by people who defend safe spaces. As someone with numerous disabilities, safe spaces make me feel infantilized and that people creating them think that I am too weak to handle the world out there.

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          1. JB (not in Houston)

            I don’t know if that’s a serious comment or not, but it’s off topic, so let’s please stay on topic and not derail.

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          2. Specialk9

            My temple is clearly marked as an LGBTQ safe space, and it’s a lovely dedicated belief that permeates everything. I love many things about my temple, but that is one I especially value.

            Sorry the concept doesn’t work for you and your specific concerns. It seems like you think your dislike means they shouldn’t exist?

            Unless you’re making a joke, in which case, ok.

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            1. Prince of Snarkness

              It’s half joking.

              I grew up in a different time and went through all manner of hell. Back then we were taught that the world **ISN’T** safe and that we had to be prepared. I used to go by the name “Ricky” which was quickly turned to “Rick-GAY” right before I’d get the crap beaten out of me.

              I also belong to the Unitarian church, and their stance is well known.

              So, yeah, it was a bit of a joke, but I also have a genuine fear that these “safe spaces’ will make us appear weak.

              Reply
              1. Breda

                I mean, this comment section is a safe space, thanks to Alison’s rules and consistent enforcement of them. It doesn’t mean everyone gets coddled. The idea gets made fun of a lot these days, but “safe spaces” are actually quite common. They just aren’t usually labeled as such.

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                1. Ask a Manager Post author

                  Just for the record, I don’t consider this a safe space in the way the term is generally used. Its priority is civility more than safety/support in particular.

    1. Cassandra

      Yes, I would be curious about the exact circumstances of Jane’s departure (though obviously this is NOT something you can ask about, in the interview or outside it!!!!!) From your description, OP, Jane seems like she may be the sort of person who weakens bridges, if not burns them outright.

      In which case her enmity might not be much of a danger to your candidacy. Go forth and rock that interview!

      Reply
    2. KHB

      I had that thought too.

      Another thought might be to use this story if the manager asks you in the interview about weaknesses, lessons learned on the job, a time when you could have handled something better, or what have you. Focus on what you wish you’d done differently, not on Jane’s complaint – but that should be enough to get your side of the story out there, in case this is something Jane’s told them about already.

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      1. Half-Caf Latte

        I think that’s a risky move. If Jane hasn’t brought it up, as the hiring manager I’d be seriously questioning your judgement in picking *that* as your example. I like Alison’s script in case it’s brought up, but seriously, if this hiring manager is a decent manager, they’ll know all about Jane’s tricks.

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        1. KHB

          Hmm. The only way I can see it as poor judgement is if the OP really can’t resist the opportunity to pivot and turn the whole thing into a way to get a dig in at Jane. But it sounds like she has a pretty level-headed view of her own role in the incident, so it doesn’t seem like that would be a problem. But maybe I’m missing something.

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          1. Alternative person

            I think it’s a bit of a no-win scenario for the OP. She can’t know what Jane has told the people at her company so it’s probably best to go with Alison’s script and hope things work out (and do some extra due diligence on company culture).

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        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          I agree with Half-Caf—I think it could read as really problematic (and certainly gossipy if the hiring manager later hears about the incident from Jane). It also sounds like there are probably better examples for OP to pick. This specific example doesn’t lend itself to thoughtful introspection.

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      2. SusanIvanova

        Tell the story but don’t use specific names. If Jane is still causing trouble they’ll think “oh, you’ve had a Jane in your life too”. They don’t need to know it’s the same Jane!

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        1. Alli525

          I don’t know, this could backfire if Jane hears about it later, and obviously wouldn’t work at all if she’s part of the hiring process.

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    3. Bea

      This was my reaction as well. Especially since the last manager the two shared knew that about her. I’m certain either Jane grew up and isn’t going to even remember her exact complaint about the OP or is the same, thus the manager already knows.

      Reply
  2. Catalin

    I wish I knew more about the flavor of the whole interaction/history: it’s so broad it could be that 1) something the OP said/did genuinely came across as hostile/threatening to Jane OR 2) Jane is a frequent complainant who at some point learned a magic phrase to be ‘taken seriously’, OR ANYTHING ALONG THAT SPECTRUM.

    If it’s 1 and Jane used ‘unsafe’ in good faith, then yeah, the chances this could go horribly wrong are high. If the truth is closer to 2, there’s a good chance Jane’s office is aware of it and will take it into account.

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    1. Snark

      Yeah, my read is that she has gotten rewarded for claiming that routine disagreement or contradiction “makes her feel unsafe” and personally attacked. The problem is there’s really only so many times you can pull that lever.

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        1. Specialk9

          The OP mentioned that the manager said the complainer made a habit of it. So while I might give the benefit of the doubt once – sometimes we just totally lean on someone’s figurative bruise, or are unaware that we’re doing something rude – once it’s a regular thing, I stop giving the benefit of the doubt.

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      1. Specialk9

        It’s especially ironic because she was scaring poor freshmen who were in another country and being told how much they would suffer there. Eek! Talk about feeling unsafe. Cutting that off is quite appropriate.

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        1. Artemesia

          This. While it is true that major psychoses tend to emerge in early college years, what is the point of scaring kids with that? It isn’t going to prevent schizophrenia, but may discourage kids with perfectly normal anxieties from getting help. Talking about the counseling resources available, because lots of people find the transition to college and especially in a new culture to be anxiety producing and there are tools to help with the process of integration to the new setting is helpful. Note: ‘most people face these issues’ and ‘we have resources to help’ is encouraging whereas terrible breakdowns often occur at this stage of life is just frightening.

          The OP’s only shot here is to be calm and collected during the interview and hope that Jane’s reputation is well known and her whines would be discounted. The ‘not safe’ bit is so overused by vicious people that it may not be as powerful as the OP fears.

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          1. Aurion

            Frankly, OP’s interjection is softer than I expected. I think OP would’ve been fully justified to cut Jane off with a “let’s get back on topic to X” or something of that stripe.

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        2. Elizabeth H.

          Same. As someone who has been a party to very similar settings as the orientation session OP described (and also been on the other end of it) I can so easily imagine myself being in OP’s position, getting more and more worried about upsetting the students, thinking that the students’ good experience was the highest priority and finding it difficult to try to redirect it to the appropriate goal without undermining Jane in some way. In an ideal world one would (and OP would have) found some perfect way to do both but I think it’s very understandable and explicable that she interrupted Jane with the motivation of achieving their actual business objectives.

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      2. The Supreme Troll

        Going by what the OP is saying (and giving her the full benefit of any doubt that might exist), Jane’s reaction was way, way over the top at that moment.

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      3. Dankar

        This! There can be a tendency in college administration to lean towards language like this where students are concerned. (i.e. “Be mindful that the policies we’re implementing/language we’re using doesn’t make the students feel unsafe or unwelcome!” Y’know, like Jane was DOING.)

        Some of the more *ahem* dramatic staff members will integrate that sort of talk into their own complaints for added oomph.

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    2. Language Student

      It might also be that Jane was having a rough time, this hit her hard for whatever reason, and she didn’t know how to deal with it herself – and years later, doesn’t actually feel unsafe any more or hold anything against OP, and may have learned how to deal with “it’s not you, it’s me” situations more professionally.

      I know I behaved similarly during training for my first ever job, when a coworker made a kind of relationship joke, but I was dealing with trauma flashbacks and a friend’s death, had a weird emotional reaction, and went to our trainer instead of dealing with it myself (though I explained it wasn’t his fault). He didn’t actually do anything wrong and I’d deal with it differently now, but maybe it was something similar and there aren’t any hard feelings nowadays.

      Reply
      1. Artemesia

        I have yet to see a person who uses the ‘unsafe’ meme in the workplace who is actually talking about a threatening situation. The only cases I have observed have involved people who grasp the latest drama producing method of shirking responsibility and drawing attention. (hostile work environment is another of those phrases and in every case I have personally observed has been to complain about a manager they don’t like or who is making demands they don’t want to meet or providing critical feedback not sexual or racial harassment or even inappropriately harsh behavior. Of course there can be legitimate uses of both of these phrases, but they are also often wielded as weapons by problem employees who don’t want to be directed or given negative feedback.

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        1. Language Student

          That’s true, but it can also just be an issue of bad word choice and/or genuinely meaning it while being unaware of its other uses. Sometimes that kind of behaviour coincides with difficult life situations in ways that it wouldn’t the rest of the time. We don’t know, there’s a lot of potential reads, and I just wanted to point out that it’s possible it was an issue at the time, but more because of Jane than OP, and so it’s not actually an issue today and OP doesn’t necessarily have anything to worry about.

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          1. Prince of Snarkness

            “Unsafe” is **never** used as a poor word choice, it is always deliberate, and it is weaponized. It’s the first strike of a one-two punch.

            1)State that you were made to feel unsafe

            2)Report to authorities that XYZ made you feel unsafe

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            1. Pearls Before Swine

              This is a gross over-generalization. Any word can be used as a poor choice, not everything is a deliberately calculated attack, and you sound very ignorant when you make comments like this.

              If you cannot imagine a scenario other than the one you describe, the failure here is your imagination and/or your empathy.

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        2. Specialk9

          The one person who genuinely made me feel unsafe, he still makes my stomach clench years later. It genuinely wouldn’t surprise me if a bunch of young women were one day found under his crawl space. That was one creepy dude.

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      2. Specialk9

        That would be really nice if the other person learned more appropriate ways of conflict resolution. You’re right that sometimes we don’t know a better way and we’re trying things on, and we know better later.

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    3. Falling Diphthong

      Some people use “that made me feel unsafe” as a synonym for “that made me feel uncomfortable.” In some cases unsafe, uncomfortable, they both are not okay to induce in your coworkers–people don’t have to prove that they feared physical violence before Creepy Alex can be told to cut it out. In other cases, people feel uncomfortable when they are told “this isn’t the Alpaca Tangoing report, it’s the Alpaca Mamboing report” and you know, things that make us uncomfortable happen.

      Agree with Catalin about the wide range of possible reads. And with Alison that the power here rests more with Jane, who may have forgotten the incident or stew over it weekly, and OP probably can’t guess the correct thing to do to make it all okay.

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      1. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

        Sure, but this sounds like a real misuse of the phrase. Talking about safety is serious—a person shouldn’t advance that complaint unless they legitimately fear unsafe (emotionally, physically, etc.). If Jane was in a “triggered” state, that doesn’t change the advice, it just offers texture that she may not have overreacted from a subjective standpoint (even if it’s problematic from an objective perspective).

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      2. Cafe au Lait

        Yes, this. My sister perpetually feels that others are boundary stomping and “creating” unsafe environments for her when they are boundary-holding and challenging my sister on her bullshit. It’s exhausting and one reason I have limited contact with her.

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        1. Specialk9

          There is a whole subcategory of abusers and boundary violators who weaponize language that is meant to help, and turn it into manipulative weapons. It’s worth being aware of.

          Other times young people are experimenting with language and communications. Hopefully they learn it’s not a good method for meeting their goals.

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      3. Snark

        “Some people use “that made me feel unsafe” as a synonym for “that made me feel uncomfortable.””

        And, overused, it’s going to devalue both phrases as authentic expressions of what’s going on in your head. Unless you actually feel unsafe, that’s a hell of a lever to pull, especially if you’re doing it to shut down valid criticism.

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          1. Gadget Hackwrench

            YES. Unsafe is a thing. If normal workplace behavior makes you feel unsafe however, then that is beyond a reasonable accommodation. I have PTSD, and while I have been triggered by co-worker behavior in all cases they were behaving unacceptably for the workplace at the time. Shouting, clench fists, turning colors flaring nostrils stuff. People that could not hold their temper. In only one case was I actually intellectually concerned that the person would actually harm me, and she was later fired for going at a manager in the same manner.

            My best guess on how this went sideways is that Jane may have been speaking from experience, was rambling on about the subject because she went and triggered herself and suddenly felt like she needed to “save” the students from her own fate and depending on how OP replied, may have taken the reply as OP not believing in the validity of her experience. I.E. whatever OP said, what Jane may have HEARD was “don’t listen to Jane; what happened to her wasn’t a big deal, her experiences are not valid and her pain isn’t real.” None of this is OPs fault, but it also means that Jane is perhaps not so much a drama llama as someone who may have since gotten therapy for their college breakdown, and subsequent dysfunction and would have had a change of perspective on the situation by now from “OP made me feel unsafe” to “OP was collateral damage from my trauma based misbehavior.”

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            1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws

              +1, thanks for this. Not OP’s fault, shouldn’t be OP’s problem to deal with, but there are reasons why this situation might have happened besides “Jane just LOVES playing the victim because it’s fun for her.”

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      4. aebhel

        Yeah, and there’s a difference between ‘this made me uncomfortable’ with ‘the other person was behaving inappropriately.’ Interrupting someone’s talk may be rude, but it’s a real stretch to call that unsafe behavior.

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      5. fposte

        I’m not sure I can go that far–it can be perfectly okay to make co-workers uncomfortable, because co-workers are human and therefore feel uncomfortable for all kinds of reasons that aren’t always entitled to protection.

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        1. Falling Diphthong

          It can be okay to make coworkers uncomfortable (pointing out a mistake) and it can be behavior that needs to be shut down (segueing from Dolores just returned from her uncle’s funeral to musing about the process of decay Uncle Wally’s body is undergoing).

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          1. fposte

            Yes, absolutely–and I think I may have misread you as saying “it’s plain not okay to make your co-workers feel uncomfortable” when you were actually saying “in some cases.”

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      6. anon 4 this

        Well, I’ve used “unsafe” as a shorthand for a particular phenomenon before: only in writing, and only about the situation (not to the people causing it). But what I’ve said is something like this: “as a stutterer, when I find myself among people who make light of speech impediments, I know that won’t be a place where I can feel safe.” What I mean by it, I guess, is “I will have to try hard to pretend to be perfectly fluent for as long as I continue to know these people and keep myself at arm’s length, because I can’t trust them not to be cruel to me.”

        For what it’s worth, I would only say this to a trusted friend, or a totally neutral party (on a pseudonymous forum, for instance) — I don’t think going to an authority figure would be appropriate or worth it, at least unless there’s something actually directed at me. (Which hasn’t happened since elementary school.)

        I’ve definitely witnessed people “weaponizing” concepts like safe/unsafe, but I never put it together that this was the same thing. Maybe this is a niche Tumblrite usage or something? I wouldn’t have said I was very much aligned with that culture, though I’m approximately the right age. But maybe I should stop using “unsafe” this way, and use the longhand version instead.

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        1. anon 4 this

          Also, I meant to say: sorry for going on anon, I’m fairly new and I’m not sure how identifiable I want to risk being. This is a fantastic community!

          I do think Jane was weaponizing: she acted unprofessionally and tried to blame OP. But I disagree with the idea that the entire concept of emotional safety is nonsense; see above.

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    4. Alternative person

      I’m currently in situation 2 where I seriously have to weigh the value of offering a pivot/course correction against the risk the co-worker involved will run to the manager and it is exhausting. Forget high school, primary school never ends.

      Reply
  3. High Score

    It might go in your favor too. One time when my kids were young, I had an interview with no sleep the night before due to sick crying baby. The last person I interviewed was the one I would be replacing. I dozed off while talking to him and he was clearly not happy with me. I figured I had zero chance. Then I got a call next day with a job offer. Turns out no one liked him and The less he liked a candidate, the better everyone else liked them.

    Reply
  4. Temperance

    For what it’s worth, it sounds like Jane is oversensitive and dramatic. She might try and torpedo your chances, but, well, if she’s that touchy, she’s likely done other ridiculous stuff at this job, too. I mean, saying that someone made you feel “attacked” and “unsafe” for making what might have been a slightly rude or thoughtless comment is just a bit too precious.

    I would have made a comment like yours in that situation, FWIW. I would have played it off as a joke, though, like ha ha ha, Jane you’re too much!

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    1. Mazzy

      Yup she was mostly wrong if you said what oh said even in a slightly nice tone, you were ok. College isn’t a time of breakdowns it’s a time of being poor and doing many firsts and maybe some depressing reality checks, but not breakdowns and crises. And how did he students not know that you were “tag teaming” each other and you didn’t actually get along really well. Mentioning that, because when I get along with a coworker, we talk over each other and interrupt and it’s never an issue. It magically becomes a huge issue when the person just doesn’t like you.

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      1. Gabriela

        Sorry if this is getting off track, but college is indeed a time for breakdowns for many reasons. Suicide, hospitalization and other mental illness issues both arise and become more complicated at that time in one’s life, both for biological and environmental reasons. That said, there is no reason to scare incoming students into thinking it WILL happen.

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        1. Language Student

          Exactly. And yeah – a few sentences on “make sure to take care of yourself and your mental health while you’re studying, partying and taking time for yourself, oh and see a doctor if you think you need more support” should suffice. No need to make students think they’re on the brink of a breakdown on their first day.

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        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          Agreed on the central point—mental health is indeed an issue in college and grad school, and the likelihood of depression, suicide, etc., increases at that point (several serious mental health diagnoses tend to appear in the second/third decade of life).

          I think there’s a difference between speaking thoughtfully about mental health and scare-mongering, though. If the conversation is making folks feel panicky, it’s not going to support their efforts to access mental health resources/support.

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        3. aebhel

          Sure, but that’s different than telling people that entering a new phase of their lives will inevitably casue a mental health crisis.

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        4. Temperance

          I think that bringing up, in a non-judgy way, that college can be difficult for some, and X, Y, and Z resources are available is fine. But using unscientific scare words like “nervous breakdown” is just a weird, inappropriate thing to do.

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        5. TootsNYC

          And I can see great value in saying to college students: This is a time period in which things like this will surface. So if something happens to you mentally, please please go talk to a professional about it, and don’t assume it’s only “the stress of college,” and don’t think you have to handle this one your own. Treat them as early warning signs, and go get someone who knows something to check this out with you. Help is available. And you might also get the reassurance that it -is- just the stress of college.”

          But then move on!

          (sort of like you’d say to a homeowner, “Furnaces last about 10 years, when you get to year 8, if it makes a noise, consider seriously that it might be time to actually replace it, not just get it repaired or ignore it, so you can be prepared for that level of intervention.”)

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          1. Ann O.

            I would change that to “may surface” versus “will surface.” Because there’s no sense in portraying something that is only one of multiple possibilities as a definite.

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        6. JM60

          A lot of college students experience mental health issues, but far from all college students have serious mental health issues. From the information provided by the letter writer, it sounds like she addressed the issue of mental health in an over the top, inappropriate way, and saying something to change the atmosphere in the room was the right thing to do in the moment.

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        7. JessaB

          Especially with foreign students where there may be language and understanding barriers and different cultural reactions to mental health talk. You don’t want to go over the deep end with a group like that and even if it was meant to be hyperbole, foreign students might not get the tone of voice cues that mean “do not take these words at bare face value.”

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  5. Anonymous Educator

    I think what happens will make the most sense. If she’s still the same Jane, and they respect her for it and trust her opinion, perhaps that’s not a place you’d want to be working anyway. And, if she’s still the same Jane, and they perceive her the way you perceived her (I know that I was far from the only person Jane had brought into the manager’s office with a complaint), then maybe they’ll take her opinion of you with a grain of salt… or a few grains.

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    1. Gloucesterina

      True, an employer who thinks that Jane’s professionalism is 100%A+++++ may not be a great fit for you, OP. Sorry this is happening, though!

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    2. AnotherAlison

      And if for some reason she has changed her behavior, New Jane would realize Old Jane was overreacting and probably wouldn’t share that story with her current company management. I would guess management will get some sort of neutral opinion of you from her. (Which, honestly, is the best I can do for a lot of my former coworkers.)

      Reply
  6. Detective Amy Santiago

    If Jane is someone who suffers from a mental illness, it’s possible she interpreted your interruption as you having a negative opinion of people with mental illness and that could explain the ‘unsafe’ comment. As a mental illness sufferer, I have used that language to describe people who have demonstrated a lack of understanding or belief that my illness is real.

    This is obviously speculation on my part and I’m not in any way attempting to armchair diagnose Jane, but since it bothered you that she used that language, I wanted to offer a potential explanation.

    Reply
    1. Emi.

      Would you mind elaborating on that? What makes these people “unsafe” instead of “ignorant” or “obnoxious” or “jerks”? I might say that I don’t “feel emotionally safe” around them, but I would just mean that I don’t want to be close with them, not that I perceive them as any kind of a threat in a normal work situation (except maybe if they were in charge of ADA accommodations or something like that).

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      1. Q

        Emotionally safety is a kind of safety, though. Feeling unsafe around a person doesn’t mean “I think they’re going to physically harm me.” I think in this case Jane meant that she felt OP was emotionally and/or verbally abusive in some way (an overreaction, in my opinion, but we weren’t there and are hearing it from OP, who intended no harm), or, at minimum, like someone who would be biased against them for mental illness.

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        1. Specialk9

          It is a kind of safety, but it’s a very specific sub-type that is not what leaps to mind when one accuses another of making one feel unsafe. Unsafe means fearing physical harm or violence to most people. It’s a shocking and extreme thing to say – akin to setting off a bomb rather than tapping the brakes. If you feel emotionally unsafe, say emotionally unsafe.

          But be prepared for people to dismiss your totally valid complaints because it just really does sounds histrionic. I suggest you find other words that are received closer to the way you are sending. Because “unsafe” isn’t working.

          Reply
          1. Detective Amy Santiago

            I think your comment is unnecessarily harsh. People who suffer from and understand mental illness frequently use ‘unsafe’ in this way.

            Reply
            1. Kobayashi

              True as that may be, Specialk9 is making a somewhat blunt but valid point in how that language is likely to be received by others. I would agree with that assessment, as I’d think the same thing if someone said they felt unsafe due to such a comment.

              Reply
            2. Kate 2

              Mmm . . . I’ve actually never ever heard it used that way before. Only used to convey “physically unsafe”. That’s what everyone is going to hear when “unsafe” is used.

              Reply
              1. Lissa

                I have heard it this way before, but *only* on the Internet, in certain spaces. I also think there is a massive difference between “I feel this way due to my anxiety” (for instance my anxiety means making phone calls will send me into an absolute panic and a stray comment can stick in my mind for weeks) and “I am bringing this to my manager as an actual complaint about another person.” I know for me before I went to someone (with authority) to complain about another person making me feel unsafe I would want to do a reality check to find out if the behavior they committed was actually a reasonable thing for me to want anything to happen to them, or if their behavior was reasonable and it’s my own reactions “making me” see it that way, not them.

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            3. Jule

              I can’t see any therapist I’ve ever had agreeing that my *feeling* of lack of safety gives me free rein to, you know, actually make someone else’s livelihood unsafe by sounding high alarm on them for behavior that was not actually threatening. Dealing with situations that make you feel unsafe that are not actually unsafe is a really big part of effective therapy. If there are people out there telling you that it’s an okay coping mechanism to lash out every time you feel uncomfortable, they don’t actually have your mental health in mind.

              Reply
            4. Specialk9

              I’m not trying to be harsh – I 100% believe you, and others, that many people in your life second guess or deny the reality of your life and the struggles you face. Must be exhausting and infuriating. We as a culture suck at supporting many people who need it.

              I’m saying that it’s not a good communication methodology, because you think you’re sending one message, but most people on the other end will hear a wildly different message that will torpedo everything you were trying to accomplish. I’m saying it’s ineffective, not invalid.

              Your message needs to be delivered, but that method is very likely not to work the way you want.

              Reply
              1. Specialk9

                More briefly: if only the people who *already* understand the problem use the term that way, then… why would you use it to talk with people who don’t understand yet?

                Reply
            5. Lindsay J

              And many people who have mental illness do not.

              I have depression and ADHD, and I would never say that someone made me feel unsafe unless they made me fear that my well-being was at risk in some way.

              Like if my boss said that they didn’t want to deal with anyone with depression and they would fire anyone who they found out that they had it, that might be a case where I told HR that I felt “unsafe” because I would feel my job was threatened. (Though I likely would still not use that term, really. I would probably just plainly say that I feared for my job and that it was an unacceptable form of medical discrimination that needed to be dealt with.)

              If it was just garden variety, “I don’t see why people with depression don’t just look at all the good things they have and see that other people have it way worse. Just do some meditation and get over it,” or whatever, then I wouldn’t have a high opinion of them, I would certainly never confide in them about my mental illness. But I wouldn’t say that they made me feel “unsafe” because they are not doing anything that threatens my well-being in any way. And I don’t know anyone who would use “unsafe” in this manner, either.

              And frankly I feel like using unsafe in this way does devalue the phrase a bit.

              And it’s odd, because I do agree that they would not be a safe person for me to confide in. But to me that doesn’t make them an unsafe person generally – I guess mostly because there are various levels of interactions I have with people, and almost all of those levels do not involve me needing to confide in them about my struggles.

              If they were someone I would expect to need to confide in due to our respective roles – if they were my doctor or therapist or the HR person in charge of ADA stuff – that would make me feel unsafe because I might not be able to get what I need (and what they should be reasonably expected to provide as part of their jobs) from them. (Though, again, I would probably still not use the phrase unsafe, but rather terms like, illegal, improper, unprofessional, incompetent. Unsafe would probably be only used if the other person didn’t seem to get it and I was trying to hammer the point home, because I still wouldn’t really feel unsafe because I could switch doctors or therapists or jobs. I would be more angry, and trying to protect other people who might not be able to stand up for themselves or were vulnerable in other ways).

              Other people I can choose to disclose or not to disclose to, and if they seem like jerks I can just choose to not disclose without suffering further harm. (Though it also occurs to me that I am privileged enough to choose to be able to not disclose, while if I had like visible compulsive behaviors or something like that I might not have the option and might feel unsafe more often.

              I’m not saying that using it that way is invalid, but you seem to be implying here that SpecialK9 doesn’t understand mental illness or have empathy for people with mental illness because they don’t agree with using the phrase in this way, and that seems both harsh and unfair.

              I also don’t like seeing “people who suffer from and understand mental illness” being painted with a broad brush because all of our experiences are unique. You and people around you use the phrase, I and the people around me don’t. The other millions of people with mental illness in the country and world are probably at various other points in between.

              Reply
            6. Marthooh

              Jane somehow reminds me of the interns who tried to change the company dress code, like she couldn’t quite see that what would be appropriate language at school or therapy or a safe site is not appropriate at work. If that was the case, maybe, with luck, she’s figured it out by now.

              Reply
          2. TootsNYC

            yes, but when someone is talking about mental health, or even in the context of talking about interpersonal relationships, I automatically assume they mean “emotionally safe” or “safe in terms of trusting that this person will be fair with me.”

            The context is there!

            (I actually wondered if our OP is a man because the “unsafe” comment gave them such consternation; I think “unsafe” when used toward a woman would have that “emotional” component very strongly.)

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            1. Lissa

              Eh, I’m a woman and if somebody else, especially in a *work* context told someone else I made them feel unsafe I would be pretty upset.

              Reply
              1. Anion

                +1. I’d be frankly kind of insulted, actually, and hurt, that one throwaway comment that wasn’t in any way a threat–or even discussing anything threatening, for that matter–suddenly meant I was seen as putting someone in fear for their actual physical safety. There’s a lack of benefit of the doubt there that I find very troubling and (in the specific case of the letter [and not in any way related to anything said in these comments]), honestly, pretty childish.

                Reply
            2. Lindsay J

              Yeah, I’m a woman and I have mental illnesses, and I only use the word “unsafe” when I feel literally in danger. If not physical danger, then that my job is being directly threatened or other material harm (like rumors being spread or something like that).

              If someone told me that their boyfriend made them feel “unsafe” I would assume that he was being literally abusive in some way (physically, mentally, etc).

              If they said that their coworker made them feel unsafe, I would assume the same – that they were literally afraid to be in a room alone with them because they thought that he would harm them, or at least that they felt that he might lie about their work or their interactions in a way that would get the person talking to me in trouble in some way.

              I would never assume that they meant, “I have ADHD and my coworker has previously said that they don’t think ADHD is a real thing,”.

              Reply
      2. Detective Amy Santiago

        Part of the way my particular brand of anxiety manifests is in panic attacks when I feel out of control of my surroundings. I’ve had panic attacks in large crowds or when crossing busy streets because of an overwhelming fear that I’m going to pass out and get trampled/run over. When I’m having those attacks, it helps me to have a ‘safe’ person with me (someone I know would get me help if something like that did occur). A person who doesn’t believe my illness is real would further exacerbate my panic rather than decrease it.

        Reply
        1. Observer

          But that’s a fairly different usage than the typical usage as described by the OP. What you are essentially saying, if I’m understanding you correctly, is that “Jane” would be someone could not be you “safe person” in the case of a potentially overwhelming situation, not that she actually poses an (emotional) threat to you, and the SHE might actually trigger a panic attack.

          Reply
          1. Detective Amy Santiago

            No, I’m saying that if I worked with the OP and they made a comment that I perceived to be anti mental illness, I might feel unsafe around them because of how my mental illness works.

            Reply
            1. fposte

              Asking out of genuine curiosity–do you think that kind of feeling of unsafety is something an employer should be obliged to intervene in? I think it’s a bit of a slippery term at the moment, and Jane clearly thought it was, but to me it’s not the same kind of crossing a line, so I’m looking for more input to think about.

              Reply
            2. sunny-dee

              Not to be mean here, but isn’t that just an effect of your illness and incredibly unfair to project to someone else and tell their manager to try to get them in trouble? Don’t you, as does everyone, have a responsibility to handle regular day-to-day interactions (like interrupting someone) with some maturity?

              The OP presumably poses absolutely no physical threat to Jane. Her comment can’t even be taken to be unsupportive of mental illness (especially since she was trying to defuse a tense situation). The most you can say is that what she did embarrassed or insulted Jane. But to say that someone did something you didn’t like and therefore that person attacked you and makes you feel emotionally unsafe is … over the top. It’s actually kind of bullying and certainly unkind.

              Reply
              1. Detective Amy Santiago

                Sure. I’m not defending Jane. I think what she was saying to those kids was inappropriate and potentially harmful and I think it was probably good that the OP spoke up.

                People keep trying to distinguish between physically and emotionally unsafe though and that’s not necessarily something you can separate when you’re talking about mental illness. IF Jane actually does have a mental illness it is possible that she genuinely felt unsafe because of whatever the OP said. I am not saying it’s definite or even likely, just possible. I also don’t necessarily agree that Jane was trying to get the OP “in trouble” and it’s bothering me that so many commenters are saying that she’s overly sensitive and a drama llama. Mental health is a sensitive subject for a lot of people.

                Reply
                1. Gadget Hackwrench

                  I mentioned things above but… It bears repeating here. Unsafe is a real thing. If normal office interactions and such make one feel unsafe, asking to have that accommodated may be an undue burden, BUT if the behavior that makes a person feel unsafe is also not workplace appropriate (shouting and hollering for instance) then yeah, it’s fair to ask that that sort of stuff be handled.

                2. sunny-dee

                  But … she is being over sensitive and she brought it up to the OP’s manager in order to bring her in for a special discussion to talk about it. That’s a little vindictive and incredibly out of proportion to the actual incident.

                  Even assuming Jane as a mental illness — which we don’t even know — she has to recognize that feelings are real, but aren’t reality. Even if she “felt” unsafe because, you know, someone interrupted her, she has a responsibility to recognize that her emotional reaction is inappropriate to the situation and deal with it.

                  Not complain to the boss and get her coworker dragged into a special meeting to apologize.

                  Jane’s responsibility to process emotions starts and ends with her, not the OP or the OP’s manager.

                3. Gadget Hackwrench

                  I don’t see the need for a “but” here. You basically restated what I said with different words.

              2. Astor

                I don’t know how to tell this story shorter.

                I broke my foot a few years ago, and had a really hard time with recovery. I had plans with a friend the day after my cast was removed, and we had made plans to drive separately. This made sense at the time, even though parking is in short supply at that event, so you often have to walk a few blocks to get there.

                However, that morning it started snowing, and it hadn’t let up by a few hours before our plan. It was around freezing, so there were layers of snow and rain and ice and mush. Just walking a few feet, I had already fallen even though I was wearing my usually amazing winter boots. So I called my friend and asked her if she could pick me up and drop me off in front of the building instead, while I left her to park alone. To me, this scenario justified changing our plans.

                She complained a lot, but came to pick me up. She dropped me off in front of the building, and went to park the car. And then after, she “didn’t want to walk to [her] car alone”. I was too shocked to think to call a cab, and instead walked with her to her car. I fell a few times, but thankfully only ended up wet and bruised, I didn’t re-injure my foot.

                She’d done similar things to me before, but this was the one that made me realize that it was reasonable for me to feel unsafe around her. Sure, she wasn’t attacking me, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that she was putting me at risk of injury. And being at risk of injury is synonymous with unsafe.

                And that *is* a thing that people do for both physical and mental differences. I have had to quit activities with certain people who don’t trust my judgement when I say that I shouldn’t do something. It’s an internal fight I have worked hard at, and so a little pushing sometimes means that I try it anyway (and often end up injured). Or means that I have to spend more energy or share more personal information than I want to in order to get them to back off. I take responsibility for that, but so should they. And the idea that me saying that I feel unsafe around them is viewed as bullying and unkind is… well, it’s exactly the problem.

                I believe the OP that Jane is conflict-prone. But the people in this thread who say that those of us who use the term “unsafe” to refer to things other than “worried that they’ll physically attack me” are immature, bullying, and unkind makes me really angry and sad.

                Reply
                1. fposte

                  I totally get that from a friend standpoint; if you told me this as your friend, it would make perfect sense. However, if you told me as your manager that Badfriend made you feel unsafe and this was why, I wouldn’t see it as rising to needing action in the workplace. Now it sounds rather like the “unsafe” comment was unfolding in discourse between the OP and Jane rather than something Jane meant to bring up as a specific complaint to the manager, but I don’t think the emotional safety we’re talking about here is something I as a manager would feel I had to ensure.

                2. Specialk9

                  Of course you get to make that call, and of course you get to decide that this person is a bad friend, and you get to use a term that works for you in thinking about why they’re crappy. (For what it’s worth, good call. She sound like a hugely crappy friend.) That is solidly in the realm of things you get to do, say, and manage in life.

                  What would be weird and inappropriate would be if you somehow went to your friend’s manager and used the word “unsafe” to get her in trouble, which for a manager activates the Workplace Violence Checklist and the Harassment in the Workplace Checklist. (Like, literally, they likely have to report your statement, based on corporate policies, to a compliance line or HR for investigation.)

                  Neither of which you intended or meant. You just meant she’s a crappy friend and you can’t rely on her. That’s the crux of the objection – it’s the workplace and that word means specific things, big BIG bad scary terrible things. It’s just not a good word usage at work.

                3. Astor

                  @fposte, I absolutely agree with you that in a work setting the term “unsafe” isn’t useful and your comment here: http://www.askamanager.org/2017/12/the-person-who-holds-the-job-im-applying-for-doesnt-like-me.html#comment-1750453

                  I do think that a similar situation in the workplace would need a manager’s intervention, but I’d be looking to resolve something that meant that the colleague wouldn’t be responsible for my accommodations or that the colleague would face stronger pressure to follow-through on promised accommodations. The fact that I don’t trust the colleague wouldn’t have to be resolved, but the fact that I was relying on a non-trustworthy colleague to manage my accommodations should be. Because the things I’m thinking of are informal accommodations that should be formalized if they’re not being supported in a work setting.

                4. Jaguar

                  How much responsibility for walking to the car are you assigning to your friend in that scenario? In that situation, you knew the risks of walking out and chose to do it anyway based on whatever went into your calculation (I’m assuming you placed a greater value on accommodating your friend than you did on your personal safety – that’s how my calculus would work out in the same scenario). I don’t think it’s fair to project the responsibility of that choice onto someone else, and as a result, I don’t think it’s accurate (let alone fair) to say that your friend is unsafe. A far more accurate description would be, that person will pressure you into making bad decisions. But the responsibility of making that decision is still yours.

                  It seems like a tedious thing, but how you phrase something shapes how you think about it. When you misuse a word like unsafe, it gives it the extra context of “lots of people use unsafe to get a desired result.” Like in the restaurant and allergies thing brought up by someone else, we had actually gotten to a point where restaurants would take people’s allergies seriously, but now that people say they have a peanut allergy just to get a preference accommodated, the respect for the seriousness of actual allergies has begun to backslide.

                5. Lindsay J

                  But, in this case your friend was actually causing you physical harm. You literally fell and hurt yourself because your friend didn’t believe your limitations/felt that their personal comfort overruled your limitations.

                  The scenario in the OP is not at all like that.

                  The scenario in the OP, is, maaaaybe if we stretch it, more like a coworker saying, “Well, since your cast was removed I don’t see any reason why you would slip and fall anymore.”

                  Which yeah, is possibly ignorant. And apparently demonstratively not true. But you’re not planning on doing anything with the coworker. They’re not your friend. They’re not someone that you are relying on bringing you to work or walking through the parking lot with.

                  They’re just someone with a shitty opinion about a limitation you have.

                  I still don’t see how that is making you unsafe in any way.

                  (If they were someone like a spouse that you were relying on transporting you while you rehabilitated, or the HR person who was in charge of determining whether you could use a closer parking spot, or the physical therapist who was supposed to be helping you rebuild strength in that leg, and they were like, “There’s no reason why you should fall anymore,” and so refused to do what you needed them to do, I can see how that would make them unsafe for that role. But the coworker is not someone who is in those positions.) n

    2. Myrin

      I interpreted it the same way but I find it a bit out of left field in the situation given regardless – it reads like Jane basically instilled the fear of regular nervous breakdowns in the prospective students, which is not an okay thing to do even if she was speaking from experience. Her reaction would be more understandable to me if she’d sensibly said one sentence about how this phase in life can be very difficult and students shouldn’t hesitate to contact XY Student Services should they face problems and then OP swooped in to laugh it off with “Oh, only total losers would feel that way, har har!”; it doesn’t sound like that’s what happend at all (although we obviously weren’t there) but I can imagine that it might have felt like it to Jane.

      Reply
      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        Right. I completely agree that it sounds like Jane was putting undue stress/fear on the students (which also could be a bit of projection if she suffers from a mental illness) and I think OP was right to switch the focus. I’m just trying to give Jane the benefit of the doubt that she genuinely did feel unsafe and that’s why she said it.

        Reply
        1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws

          I very much read it this way. Regardless of any mental health issues Jane may or may not be living with, if this is the way she manages new students’ first impressions of their school, she is not the right person to be leading that orientation, and OP was in a no-win position as co-facilitator. But I don’t think Jane just used “unsafe” because her pride was wounded and she wanted to add some heft to her vindictiveness. I think there’s more to it than that.

          Reply
          1. fposte

            I think some people absolutely do use “unsafe” as a way to manipulate things–it’s not like abusers aren’t familiar with the same discourse the rest of us are–but I also think there’s a vast middle ground where people use it without realizing how unactionable it is in a lot of venues, especially work venues. It’s just not a usefully phrased professional complaint; it’s not specific, it’s not behavioral, and it’s too personal to be a thermostat for what I need to do. I think it’s quite likely Jane’s complaint fell in that middle ground of expecting that her feeling meant that something should happen that probably wasn’t going to.

            Reply
            1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws

              Sure, manipulators can and will use whatever language is available to them and I don’t think I implied otherwise, since I’m not speaking in generalities. In Jane’s case, I don’t get the sense that her use of “unsafe” was disingenuous so much as naive. I 110% would read the situation differently if Jane hadn’t been on an inappropriately intense tangent about mental health before being interrupted. Whatever Jane’s intentions, it’s an unfortunate situation for OP, who was doing right by the students.

              Reply
              1. fposte

                I think we’re saying roughly the same thing–we don’t know what prompted Jane, and while it could be manipulation and it could be something the OP isn’t representing that would make us agree with her characterization, it’s really likely to be between the two.

                Reply
                1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws

                  I think we are saying similar things. I’m just reticent to use “manipulation” because other people in this thread seem very sure that “unsafe” is how Jane shuts down people who disagree with or embarrass her, whereas I think there’s a decent chance that Jane felt she had a legitimate grievance. Even if her complaint wasn’t reasonable and was unfair to OP, I wouldn’t call that manipulative, per se. But that’s semantics.

              2. Specialk9

                I think part of the inclination to believe she’s being manipulative is that she has made so many complaints that the manager was annoyed by her. That sounds like a serial problem, which means that she didn’t just happen to be hugely triggered by the OP happening on her hot button, but that she’s either unable to function in everyday life, or manipulative to get her way.

                Reply
                1. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws

                  You yourself offer two possible explanations for Jane’s behavior in this comment: either she’s unable to function without her issues interfering regularly, or she’s manipulative. The former doesn’t strike me as hugely unlikely for someone who would react to OP’s interruption the way Jane did, so I’m not sure why so many commenters seem so firmly convinced that the latter must be the case. Both are possible, but it’s interesting to me the pushback that some commenters are getting for merely floating the idea that Jane’s use of “unsafe” might not just be ~victim culture gone wild~, even when they qualify that she handled the situation inappropriately regardless and that OP did nothing wrong.

            2. Not So NewReader

              If someone reported a person as unsafe to me, I would ask for one or more examples of what was happening. The expression I have heard this most is “Person does not work safely” therefore the difference in word choice would jump at me. So I would definitely want the compliant filer to expand on that sentence. The first thing I would look it is do I have basis to intervene here. I am amazed by what people expect their bosses to fix. Conversely, I am amazed by what people don’t speak up about, also.

              Reply
    3. tigerlily

      That was my thought too. Or even that she herself doesn’t have a mental illness, but has strong opinions about or is well versed in mental illness in general and felt LWs comment to be dismissive of mental illness.

      Either way, I think it was good to put a stop to her speech if she was starting to scare or make the students in the orientation uncomfortable – there are plenty of ways to talk about taking care of our mental health without being scary. I do wonder if the LW was able to explain the *point* of her comment, not just apologize for making Jane feel attacked. I can’t tell from the letter if the meeting with the manager ended with feelings of resolve on the issue or just an apology, but that might make a difference to how Jane views the situation now, several years later.

      Reply
    4. Observer

      Not rally relevant though – if the OP’s description of what happened is accurate, it’s a wild over-reaction anyway. Nothing the OP said indicates a bad impression of Jane in general, much less of ALL people with mental illness or ALL people with a particular mental illness. So for her to effectively say “When OP said that it convinced me that looks down on all people who suffer from illness x” is really not that much better than the shorthand of “made me feel unsafe”.

      I’m also wondering why your mind jumped to that, though. Nothing in the description of Jane sounds like it points to mental illness. Yeah, there is an element of conflict prone-ness but that’s nowhere near an indicator of mental illness.

      Reply
      1. Susanne

        “I’m feeling unsafe” is now one of those phrases that is sooooo overused, and is in danger of losing its real meaning. A person is unsafe –> they are going to (consciously and maliciously, or thoughtlessly and carelessly) say or do things that will impede my ability to perform my work or let me feel that I can work collaboratively and fairly with them.

        It’s sort of what happened to “check your privilege” — a phrase with good meaning and good intention that morphed into “the moment I say check your privilege, you’re supposed to now immediately conform to my take on the subject because I’m right and you’re wrong.” “I’m feeling unsafe” has now morphed into another version of “I’m right and you’re wrong.”

        Of course we weren’t there, but it sounds as though Jane was veering down a Debbie Downer path with the students and while the OP could have been more eloquent in her course correction, Jane wildly overreacted with the course correction.

        Reply
        1. Specialk9

          Yes, very much this.

          Imprecise usage of “unsafe” is poor communication and burns relationships to the ground. It’s ineffective and will give you a reputation you don’t want.

          “Unsafe” is too common for something so extreme. It’s the interpersonal equivalent of dropping a grenade and striding away in slo-mo with flames as backdrop. It burns relationships forever. (Which sometimes needs doing – if you actually feel your safety is compromised, if someone has hurt or scared you.)

          If you are having a *routine interpersonal conflict*, that word is death. It doesn’t allow for effective conflict management because it’s nonspecific, menacing (ironically), and has no resolution options.

          Whereas “you contradicted me while we were presenting. I felt disrespected and humiliated, and like you were minimizing the importance of X” gives you things you can work on. You can give your version, figure out underlying hot buttons, and work out strategies for working together respectfully.

          Reply
        2. LCL

          Exactly. Unsafe has now become a weapon for Do it my way and don’t disagree with me or I will pull the safety card with the powers that be. My work group was very recently on the losing side of an argument that will have a huge impact on our working conditions because the winners played the safety card.

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        3. Plague of frogs

          Agreed. It’s been used against me one time–when I wouldn’t let a client at a homeless shelter stick her bare hands in the mashed potatoes I was cooking for everyone. I was trying to keep everyone else safe from her dirty hands, but I was stopping her from doing what she wanted so I was the “unsafe” one.

          I’m pretty sure if my pet rats ever learn to speak English, they will also say it makes them feel unsafe that I refuse to let them range over the whole house at will. Also they would feel much safer if they could eat Fruit Loops for every meal.

          Reply
      2. tigerlily

        I don’t think Amy Santiago (or myself) is reading something in the description of Jane that sounds like she has a mental illness. It’s not like we’re saying her reaction sounds like a panic attack and therefore she must have a panic disorder. It’s just that she had a strong reaction to being cut off when talking about mental illness to the point where she brought it up with the manager and told OP she felt unsafe. Her have a mental illness herself is a possibility for that reaction and that specific wordage.

        And also, I just want to point out, there’s nothing in the description of Jane that says she doesn’t have a mental illness. Just like we shouldn’t assume she’s white just because there’s no indication of her race or assume she’s straight because there’s no indication of her sexuality, not having a mental illness isn’t exactly the default setting for people either.

        Reply
        1. Detective Amy Santiago

          Exactly this.

          As I said in my initial comment, I wasn’t trying to diagnose Jane, simply offering possible context for the “feeling unsafe” language that she used because it bothered the OP. It might be useful for the OP to consider if her words or tone might have given an impression she didn’t want to give..

          Reply
          1. Observer

            This is where I disagree. The bottom line is that Jane was being inappropriate, and needed to be stopped. If the OP’s doing that makes her feel like OP looks down on people with mental illness, that’s on her. Especially since the OP did apologize for how she handled the interruption.

            Even assuming that Jane genuinely was worried about the OP’s attitude, that’s her issue to deal with. It’s just not realistic for people to second and third guess every interaction to figure out how to not trigger someone who has a hyper sensitive hair trigger or triggers that no one could guess.

            Reply
      3. Kelly L.

        Just because she seemed to have really strong personal feelings about the topic. I wondered the same thing. Not in a “this person sounds like she has mental illness, based on her behavior in the story” kind of way, but in a “hmm, she takes the topic very much to heart, might be something in her past or a loved one’s past” kind of way.

        Reply
        1. Specialk9

          Totally a possibility that outs a issue dear to her heart… but she was still being inappropriate in a professional setting, and causing low level harm to vulnerable young foreign students. We all have our issues, but the expectation is that we have to conduct ourselves professionally at work.

          Reply
    5. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      I agree in a sort of qualified way with this. That same explanation had occurred to me — that Jane’s focus on the mental health challenges of college had some personal weight thrown in, so the OP’s comment struck a very deep nerve and made it seem outsizedly direct. But I still think that ‘unsafe’ was an overreaction, though of degree but not necessarily type.

      Reply
    6. Temperance

      Are we speaking on a continuum where there are “safe” people and “unsafe” people, or can there also be people who just exist? I am honestly really bothered that Jane would lash out like this and try and get LW in trouble at work.

      Reply
      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        Sure, there are plenty of people who I don’t qualify in my mind as safe or unsafe. For me (and I can only speak to my personal experiences), it is heavily dependent on the situation.

        I wanted to bring up the counterpoint that it’s possible Jane wasn’t “lashing out and trying to get LW in trouble”. There may be more to the story that OP isn’t aware of and it might help her to put things in perspective if she considers that.

        Reply
    7. Torrance

      I’ll have to admit that I have an extreme bias– as someone who had a nervous breakdown my first semester of university, I actually find Jane’s perhaps clumsy attempt at awareness a positive thing! It’s too depressing to think about how my life might have turned out if, during or before that semester, someone had pointed out that a lot of mental illnesses are first diagnosed between 18-24 and made me aware of the risk. My campus was completely hands-off when it came to mental health– I didn’t even know there was a mental health clinic until after I tried to kill myself the first time. :/

      Reply
      1. Detective Amy Santiago

        I do think that it’s important to address those issues, but from the OP’s explanation it sounds like Jane was being a bit fatalistic about it.

        Reply
        1. Emi.

          Yeah, it sounds like the mental-health version of the “25% of you are going to get raped before you graduate” spiel.

          Reply
      2. JM60

        I think it’s important to address the issue of mental health, but it sounds like Jane was doing so in a counter-productive way.

        Reply
    8. paul

      I’m not sure that really matters, and (admittedly from one side of the story) the OP didn’t give any reason to think that they didn’t believe mental health issues were a thing, or that they don’t understand them. She may have truly felt unsafe, but it wasn’t reasonable given the circumstances as presented here.

      Reply
    9. Lora

      Wow, I am learning a lot from this whole discussion. Literally the only time I have heard anyone say someone was making them feel unsafe was in the context of, an adviser insisting that his students have sex with him and requiring them to meet with them alone for field work in a secluded place, a boss who would have temper tantrums and throw heavy or sharp objects at people, and a couple of guys who would cut off lockout/tagout tags from equipment I was working on, literally putting me in danger of electrocution. Oh, and people who were standing at the top of a cherry picker with no fall harness, doing tack welding with no eye protection.

      I am 100% certain that never in my entire career have I ever been emotionally safe at work. Like, that is just not a thing in my field – you’re expected to suck up a certain amount of verbal and emotional crap as a matter of course. You’re not supposed to dish it back, either, you’re just expected to absorb it and drink or go to therapy or whatever for coping. I wish I was kidding. This is why I tell people not to go into STEM, actually…

      Reply
      1. misspiggy

        Oh no. Any thoughts of shifting into aerospace engineering? Now that is a safety-focused STEM field (most of the time).

        Reply
  7. Economist

    My observation over many years is that management wants to make it clear that they chose the hire, and the person leaving does not have the right to pick a replacement. I’ve seen management bristle and push back when the leaving staff member tries to ensure that one candidate gets (or doesn’t get) their position. That will work against any recommendation that Jane pushes to her management.

    Reply
    1. tigerlily

      And in my experience, every time I’ve left a position I’ve been a major part of hiring my replacement: I’ve helped rework job descriptions, I’ve been in the interviews, I’ve sat with the committee to put together skill lists we’re looking for, and of course training. I don’t think we can easily say Jane will or will not be part of the process

      Also, Jane doesn’t have to have any part in the hiring to tell her manager “hey, I worked with this girl a few years ago and she made me feel unsafe. Just thought you should know.”

      Reply
    2. Observer

      If a person is leaving on good terms, good management always wants to hear their opinion because they are the person who knows the current ins and outs of the situation from the ground, so to speak. Of course, there are exceptions when you know that the person has issues etc. It is also true that if the employee tries to take over the process, that can backfire. But overall, it’s reasonable to expect that if someone is leaving for school or the like, the employer will be asking the employee for their input.

      Reply
    3. Anonymous Educator

      I’ve had a very different experience. I’ve often been heavily involved in hiring my replacement (mainly because I usually give a ton of notice instead of two weeks’, and I’m usually leaving on good terms). In fact, in the most recent case, I was the primary hiring contact for my replacement (I did all the phone screens, coordinated the in-person interviews, etc.). Even though my boss had the final say on whether to make an offer or not, my boss did not do so before asking me what I thought.

      Reply
    4. Lilac

      When picking candidates to interview at my current job, we didn’t go with someone who had sided with a bully against me at my previous job simply based on my recommendation. Some places do ask for history if they know/trust the current employee.

      Reply
      1. Annonomouse

        I actually heard of a case recently where a problematic person I worked with got a job with a company where someone who worked with them before in a different company warned the hiring manager about the behaviour the applicant displayed in the previous company. The applicant was hired despite the warning because they seemed good but has now been let go during their probationary period because the things the hiring manager were told would happen with this person were happening.
        So to OP even with an employee saying no don’t hire this person all the applicant would have had to do is not demonstrate the behaviour during probation.

        Reply
  8. Janet

    This is really a lesson to keep things on a need to know basis. Never mention you know anyone unless you are sure they’ll give a glowing reference. Chances are that they wouldn’t have involved Jane with the candidates at all but now that you mentioned you know her, there is an excellent chance they’ll turn to her as a reference.

    And really own up to it if they do bring it up. It was a conflict during a presentation that was mediated by management and you learned from the situation – anything further will either make you appear defensive or a liar if it conflicts with her story.

    Reply
    1. Amy

      Totally agree with the second paragraph. Saying Jane misunderstood something you said is totally deflecting any responsibility and how shows that you learned nothing from the situation. The way Janet has described it seems much more professional.

      Reply
      1. LCL

        I disagree. Saying Jane misunderstood something is necessary, if the incident comes up at all, to show that you aren’t in general a jerk. Standing up for yourself is not deflecting responsibility.

        Reply
      2. Temperance

        I’m not so sure I agree. I mean, unless Jane has had a total personality change, she’s probably done oversensitive weird stuff at this job, too.

        Reply
        1. Amy

          Sure, but I think this falls into the same category of how you talk about a crappy boss in an interview. Even if it’s true, you just don’t get into it.

          Reply
      3. The New Wanderer

        I think Janet’s wording covers the bases for both “Jane misunderstood and overreacted [which new employer knows alllll about]” and “Jane had a point [in case new employer sees Jane in that light].” Because the wording can be interpreted as that OP is diplomatic about working with a known-to-be-difficult coworker and/or willing to address problems and learn from them, depending on the interviewer’s context.

        I also think it would be fair to add that OP was surprised to have this issue, or believes Jane misunderstood, but conceding that there was an issue, it was addressed, and all moved on is appropriate.

        Reply
      4. TootsNYC

        Remember that you can admit fault and still shade the meaning:

        “I was abrupt and ended up being ruder than I intended.” That’s taking blame, but it’s casting a positive light on it.

        Reply
        1. fposte

          Agreed, and that’s a nice phrasing. I think the OP’s interjection was rudely phrased, and I could see somebody reeling from it; I think it also sounds like it was necessary and that we don’t always muster the ideal phrasing in the moment. This covers it pretty well.

          Reply
          1. Not So NewReader

            Yeah, Jane needed to stop. Unfortunately, Jane turned herself into someone who needed a brick dropped on her head in order to actually stop. People could have been told that X and Y were available if they had concerns along the lines of A, B or C. Better yet, third party this, “If someone you know has X or Y concerns then be sure to remind them that A, B and C are available on this campus. Or you yourself can contact us for support in helping your friend if you prefer.”

            Reply
  9. Kristine

    How is Jane going to even know who the applicants are until she has to train them, if she does? I would be very surprised if Jane is sitting on an interview for a position she is leaving. If she interjects a comment about any candidate I think that would reflect quite poorly on her.

    Reply
    1. AvonLady Barksdale

      I don’t think it’s that unusual for someone to say to Jane, “Oh hey, Rose is interviewing for this job, she used to work at State U– do you know her?” Happens all the time in the places I’ve worked. People are generally pretty discreet about it (i.e., they don’t call up applicants’ bosses).

      Also, at the beginning of my career, I sat in on interviews for my replacement; I was able to provide a lot more insight into the job than anyone else. So this scenario doesn’t surprise me.

      Reply
    2. Morning Glory

      Actually it’s pretty common in my experience – not that she would have the final say, but that she would perhaps sit in on an interview and give her opinion later. She seems to be leaving on professional terms (long notice period, leaving for school) and she likely knows what her position requires better than anyone else on her team.

      Reply
    3. Kyrielle

      If I were the hiring manager and a current employee knew one of my applicants, knew something that made them a really bad/risky hire, and didn’t share it, I’d be irked. (All this assuming a rational, good-actor employee speaking up about a real issue. The problem in the LW’s case is that there’s not really a real issue, from the sound of it, except if you’re Jane. Who’s leaving.)

      For example, as an employee, I once spoke up about the short list of applicants being considered – one of them was a former employee (from before the hiring manager’s time) who had been released in a RIF. Normally, that would be a great person to hire back later, but in this case I knew that he had been a bottleneck of non-productivity during his previous tenure. I said so, and others who had been there at the time were able to confirm it. He didn’t get called for an interview, never mind hired.

      If I hadn’t spoken up, and he had been hired and resumed slow progress and bottleneck status, and my manager later found out I knew about it and hadn’t spoken up, I’d expect them to be pretty annoyed with me.

      Reply
    4. H.C.

      My OldJob had me look through resumes of my replacement during my (extended) notice period – so not particularly odd for me.

      Reply
    5. TootsNYC

      I ask around about every serious candidate. If they’ve worked somewhere in the past, I cast about to see if I can think of someone who might have overlapped with them, and I ask.

      In this case, our OP has already mentioned Jane. So I’d absolutely ask Jane about brief impressions, etc.

      Then, of course, I’d evaluate the info I get; I’d take into consideration Jane and her reputation, her wording, the job, the other aspects, etc.

      Reply
    6. Science!

      When I applied for my first job out of college, I met with the current holder of the position I was applying for. Like Jane, she was leaving to go back to school. Two years later when I left to go to graduate school I met with all the applicants for my position and gave feedback on them as well. It was an opportunity for me to get a feel for the applicant, but also for the applicant to talk to the person actually doing the job to get a sense of what it entailed. My former boss absolutely took what I had to say into consideration (and I’m assuming did the same for the woman who held the job before me about me).

      Reply
  10. Susana

    I was floored by the “unsafe” remark, and if she uses that kind of lingo at her new job, I imagine they’re onto her. “Unsafe” is a word you use when you feel actually in danger. Not a word you use (like the Yale student having a public meltdown on the quad https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V6ZVEVufWFI when you got a memo from the house master saying people shouldn’t freak out over other people’s Halloween costumes). Alison’s script was pitch-perfect. The only thing I might add is a baffled shake of the head with a “my goodness, I had no idea that episode was still troubling her. I feel terrible about that.” You know, an apology (a non-pology, actually) that pretty much exposes how irrational she’s being.

    Reply
    1. TootsNYC

      In addition to “I feel terrible about that,” you can say things like, “I blurted something out and it ended up being kind of rude. I apologized at the time.”

      Reply
  11. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

    It’s an interesting challenge of training and facilitating: how to disagree with your co-facilitator without undermining them, especially in cross-racial or cross-gender facilitation teams, where societal power dynamics can pop up without intention.

    It sounds like Jane is a troublemaker (or was, at your old employer), but it’s also worth reflecting on why your mild correction resulted in her strong reaction — both because it’s important to be aware of, and because it will help you talk about it calmly and with curiosity if it comes up in your interview.

    Reply
    1. Susanne

      Sometimes it has nothing to do with cross-racial and cross-gender lines, because we are just HUMANS, and imperfect ones at that, and some people overreact to perceived slights because that’s how they are built, not because they are a certain race or gender.

      Reply
      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

        Of course, sometimes humans are sensitive. And we should do our best, within reason, not to poke at each other’s sensitive places.

        But it is different, and meaningfully so, when that sensitivity comes from discriminatory societal patterns. Women are interrupted (by both men and women) more than men are interrupted. People of color and women have to reach higher bars to be considered competent or expert. To train or facilitate well, we need to be aware of these disparities and account for them in our behavior.

        Reply
      2. Delphine

        Since race- and gender-based biases (like other biases) are ingrained in us, and can change how we think and react even when we don’t realize it, it’s next to impossible to say that sometimes it has nothing to do with race or gender. A better mindset would be to assume that we are all biased in some way and actively work to make sure social power dynamics aren’t informing our behavior–as Victoria suggested.

        These biases exist precisely *because* we’re human, so separating the two (“I did ABC because I’m human, and I did XYZ because I was talking to someone I have social power over due to my race”) isn’t really helpful.

        Reply
      3. Kate 2

        Agreed. As we have seen in the news recently just because someone is a POC or woman or WOC doesn’t mean they can’t behave badly or be huge jerks. POC can be sexist. Women can be racist. POC civil rights advocates can be rapists or what have you. Ghandi was kind of racist. MLK cheated on his wife. Women can rape other women.

        Sometimes the flaws aren’t from internalized -isms. Sometimes people are oversensitive jerks.

        Reply
    2. Havarti

      I feel like this is what a dry-run for the presentation is for. You go over the material together and anything potentially problematic gets nipped in the bud before the audience sees/hears it, perhaps with help from the manager if necessary. And you don’t deviate from the script/materials! You don’t want to show up on the day of and find out your co-trainer is (unknowingly?) traumatizing the students. I would have very gracelessly tried to cut Jane off myself.

      Reply
      1. Havarti

        And if OP and Jane did practice and Jane went off script, then Jane has no standing for being upset when OP cut her off.

        Reply
      2. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

        We’re getting off-topic here, but I love talking about training, so if anyone is interested I’ll start a conversation on Friday’s open thread post.

        Reply
        1. Havarti

          My apologies. I didn’t mean to derail the conversation. But I would like reassure the OP that what she did was understandable given the circumstances.

          Reply
          1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)

            No need to apologize! I caught myself wanting to go down the path of what I wanted to talk about (good training techniques), which is not what this post is about.

            But — I will say that I disagree. I don’t want to reassure the OP; I want her to stay uncomfortable enough to prompt reflection on what happened (both so she can make changes to how she engages doing forward, if that is warranted, and so she can talk about it in a useful way if it comes up in this interview).

            Reply
  12. Erin

    Based on what you’ve said here, I would predict that A) Jane does alert the hiring manager of this and B) The hiring manager is well aware of Jane’s, um, over sensitivity?

    The incident will probably be discussed by them, and taken into consideration, and they might ask you about it. But I’d be willing to bet the hiring manager is going base their decision on how the interview goes, your credentials, etc.

    Have a prepared response in case it is brought up, but otherwise, I’d just prepare for this like any other interview. Try not to overthink it or let it distract you into not giving a kick butt interview.

    Reply
  13. Kalros, the mother of all thresher maws

    OP, I totally get that “I could’ve handled this better” feeling, but your impulse of managing the students’ experience was a good one. It’s one thing to make students aware of resources, like on-campus counseling, but it’s another to freak them out. Foreign students are dealing with a double whammy of first-day-of-school and culture shock, so ramping up any anxiety they may already have is unhelpful, to say the least. The fact that Jane felt “unsafe” is unfortunate, and I sincerely hope it doesn’t come back to bite you, because looking out for students’ peace of mind was the right thing to do.

    Reply
    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      This.

      When I was studying in Europe, I was a complete mess of nerves before I even got on the plane. Arriving and getting an exhaustive lecture on how I would probably be suicidal before the semester was out, before I even got over the jet lag, would have been a pretty serious blow to me.

      Reply
  14. RES ADMIN

    In this situation, I’d just walk into the interview with confidence, do my best, stay positive. Only address the “Jane issue” if absolutely necessary–and then avoid saying anything specifically negative about her. Concentrate on the fact that it was an unfortunate misunderstanding and that you are dismayed that it couldn’t be resolved to Jane’s satisfaction.

    My only experience with someone who used that specific phrasing “made me feel unsafe” was someone who was very familiar with HR terminology and wanted it in the record to cover themselves. I worked with a master of the art. Everything that didn’t go her way ended up with “you make me feel unsafe” and “this feels like an unsafe work environment”, “I feel personally attacked”, etc. and was often followed up with a couple of unexpected sick days. A huge hassle to fire or really even discipline that type of person because their personnel jacket is littered with such catch phrases so you have to document extra carefully to make sure it doesn’t look like retaliation.

    Reply
    1. LCL

      Yes to everything you said. In one case, a person thought I was doing something unsafe and instead of stopping me or raising concerns, waited until the end of the day when we returned to the office to march in and tell the manager I was using unsafe practices. For a job that neither of us had done before. She was definitely adept at the using HR and management for protection game. She had to be, because people hated her.

      Reply
  15. Is it Friday Yet?

    When I read this, I felt that it made Jane look bad and not you. It’s really not something you’d need to involve your manager with. Jane should’ve just been direct with you and mentioned it afterwards that it bothered her. I don’t know her reasoning, but it looks like she’s making a mountain out of a mole hill here.

    Reply
  16. Seal

    Like the OP, I recently lost out on an interview for a job for which I was exceptionally well-qualified and thought I coveted because the chair of the search committee and I had had a falling out several years prior (she bullied a mutual colleague out of our profession and I took issue with that). I later found out that the chair wildly exaggerated the reason for our falling out, made up stuff about me, and intentionally misinterpreted my application materials. Frustrating as it was, there was really nothing I could do; she had the upper hand since she already worked there. I wound up doing a lot of soul-searching to figure out why I coveted that job in the first place. No one wants to work with bullies.

    Reply
  17. Dankar

    One thing to also be mindful of is that if this is the kind of situation I deal with, that orientation is a federally mandated requirement of the school sponsoring those students’ visas. There are no set guidelines for what that orientation needs to include (mental health is widely considered to be a critical topic), but there are certain things like maintaining status, work authorization, insurance requirements, etc. that really do need to be covered.

    Jane was drawing time away from other, arguably more important topics, and the OP was totally right to interject. I imagine that anyone hearing her account would at least be a little suspicious of the “unsafe” language in her complaint and of her using orientation time that way. I doubt OP has anything to worry about, as her position in the whole situation was very reasonable.

    Reply
  18. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster

    I’ll be the devil’s advocate here, because I don’t see people considering Jane’s perspective as valid. She’s being treated as a hysterical, overreacting, problematic employee.

    What if the OP is a hardcore mansplainer that talked over Jane’s presentation in a dismissive manner that undermined Jane’s entire role in the session?

    “Unsafe” might have been a poor choice of words, but being shouted down by a man in a meeting that YOU ARE WRONG isn’t exactly an empowering moment.

    Just a thought.

    Reply
    1. Kate

      We’re typically supposed to take OP’s at their word here, so I’m giving the OP the benefit of the doubt that he isn’t a habitual mansplainer, but I agree with you that since we aren’t getting Jane’s perspective here, I’m not sure it’s fair to assume she’s this over-dramatic drama llama. That’s also why I’m a little uncomfortable with Alison’s script that Jane “misunderstood” the interaction. If the conflict were to come up, I think the OP would be better off owning up to it by saying something like, “I interjected during a presentation Jane was giving to try to quell student fears, but I realize by interrupting I was undermining Jane, which was not my intention. In hindsight, I should have [name better course of action].” That way the OP is not just deflecting blame for the conflict back on Jane. But honestly, unless it came up, I wouldn’t bring it up.

      Reply
      1. Myrin

        Is there a better course of action, though? I’m genuinely wondering. The situation as described by the OP seems like something that absolutely should have been interrupted, even at the risk of it sounding like the two presenters didn’t coordinate their points (at best) or had a personality conflict and tried to undermine each other (at worst). I probably would’ve said something like “Now, we don’t want to get too gloomy here but really, if you do end up feeling overwhelmed, please know that you can talk to Student Organisation XY! Now about YZ…” in a light tone to change course but I don’t think a non-aggressive “Well, don’t say it like that!” is a bad course of action.

        Reply
        1. Kate

          That’s exactly along the lines of what I was thinking. Instead of “Don’t say it like that!”, something like, “We don’t mean to freak you out. Here are some resources.” I mean, he’s still interrupting Jane, and she might have take it just as poorly, but it’s also possible she was upset by the way he interrupted rather than the fact that he did. Just speculating.

          Reply
      2. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster

        In my experience, most habitual mansplainers have NO IDEA they are habitual mansplainers, though…

        Reply
        1. Kate

          That’s true, but I don’t think there is anything in the letter to indicate that OP is a mansplainer. Two people can have a conflict without one of them being the bad guy. If anything, the managers reaction is the one that weirded me out the most. It’s like he lets her come in to air her grievances and then talks about what a nut she is behind her back. If she’s constantly making complaints about other employees that aren’t valid, then maybe that’s something that should be discussed with her. And if there was validity to her complaint about the OP, I don’t think this is a need to apologize to him for having had to apologize to her.

          Reply
        2. Ann O.

          We don’t know either the OP or Jane and we weren’t at the orientation. All we can do is follow Allison’s instructions and take the OP at their word. What the OP described is a situation that needed interrupting.

          Reply
      1. Prince of Snarkness

        Exactly. The world is not a safe place.

        I know, I’ve been subject to gay-bashing and discrimination. The only people, that I have ever seen use the word “unsafe” have never known what it means to be unsafe.

        “Unsafe” is getting beaten by several people because of your sexuality or being fired due to your disabilities (of course, it will never be the OFFICIAL reason) or having been homeless, et cetera. (Guess who’s experienced all this)

        These days, that word has been weaponized to destroy careers.

        Reply
        1. tigerlily

          And at the same time, the dismissal of and policing of people’s language is another way to silence and oppress people. You’ve never met Jane. You’ve never interacted with her and you have no idea who she is or what she’s been through in life. She says she felt unsafe, and you’ve completely dismissed her.

          Reply
          1. Prince of Snarkness

            …as you attempt to police my language and jump to the defense of a person that you have never met while admonishing me for commenting on the same and presume to judge me where you have no idea of who I am or what I have been through in this life.

            Seems you are revealing more about yourself than me here.

            Quite dismissive about my experiences too.

            My hypocrisy meter just went up like Krakatoa.

            Reply
            1. Specialk9

              Maybe. I generally agree with you, but got some of the same impression. Your suffering a lot doesn’t mean others suffering a little isn’t worth addressing. It may not be what you meant, but it can be interpreted that way by at least several people.

              Reply
              1. Prince of Snarkness

                First, let me clarify a bit. I’m not saying that issues shouldn’t be addressed, I’m saying that suffering is being weaponized. If you call interrupting someone “unsafe”, then what do you call being homeless or being fired for your disabilities, or having to hide those disabilities for fear of being fired…AGAIN? Being interrupted can make someone uncomfortable, it can make someone irritated, but unsafe? No, especially when Jane used that to go to management.

                Now, let me turn that around for you just a bit.

                Put yourself in my shoes for a minute. If you went through what I mentioned, and survived it all, wouldn’t it irk you to see someone calling something that is at worse, a discomfort something so terrible as she seems to have made it?

                Something that is unsafe is something that poses a real danger. There is no possible scenario where a flippant comment could make someone unsafe.

                Now, could this Jane person have had a real issue? Yes, but it was not one of safety.

                I’m not dismissing the possibility of an issue that is being addressed, but the extreme hyperbole in play here.

                Reply
                1. Turkletina

                  It sounds a lot like you’re gatekeeping what it means to be “safe” based on your own experiences. You’re entitled to draw your own line for what it means for you to be safe, but you’re not entitled to draw that line for somebody else.

                  Jane doesn’t have your experiences, she has hers. Dismissing her concerns — which it still sounds like you’re doing here — isn’t productive. It’s like saying I can’t complain about my broken arm when my family member has cancer. I definitely can, and that fact that my prognosis is better doesn’t mean my arm doesn’t hurt.

          2. Yorick

            Yes, I am dismissing the idea that someone saying “whoa, don’t say it that way!” made their coworker feel UNSAFE.

            Reply
    2. Specialk9

      But the OP is not even close to the only one who Jane has formally complained to the manager about. In my experience, that’s far more likely to be about Jane being something dysfunctional in the work place – way overly sensitive or deliberately manipulative or something – than that the OP and a bunch of colleagues are all at fault.

      I’m not dismissing it entirely (I’ve worked in some truly toxic places, and some places promote catwalk poopers) but I’m thinking horse not zebra.

      Reply
    3. Yorick

      Sure, mansplaining can be really demeaning and frustrating, but is complaining to the manager that they made you feel unsafe (so basically saying they threatened you) really an empowering move?

      Reply
    4. Observer

      The reason you have not seen that because there is nothing in the letter to indicate that your description is close to what happened. Unless there is good reason to do otherwise, we generally take OP’s at their word. The OP describes a situation where Jane really was out of line – and they are explicit that the issue was not the bringing up the issue but that Jane was going on and on in a very negative way to the point that the students were clearly getting upset. And they didn’t say “You’re wrong” they said that there are other ways to say it. Furthermore, “hard core mansplainers” don’t generally apologize or acknowledge that they were wrong in how they corrected someone, not even when they write to columnists like Alison. (We’ve seen more than one example of the type here.)

      Lastly, why do you assume that the OP is male.

      Reply
  19. TootsNYC

    I know we default to using female pronouns, and there’s info in the letter, but I actually wondered briefly if our OP was male, because of the wording used around the “unsafe.” I’m female, and I think I wouldn’t get very shaken if another woman said, “you made me feel unsafe,” because it’s very clear that it would be emotionally unsafe, or unsafe in terms of confidence. And it wouldn’t seem like a really big deal. I wouldn’t be “thrown,” and I wouldn’t start to compare whether other people had ever said that about me.

    But if a woman said that about a man, I think there would be this subtext of -physically- unsafe.

    She then said that this comment “made her feel unsafe,” which was a pretty big surprise to hear. I’m still not too sure what to make of that comment — I can see how my comment came across as rude or as an unthoughtful interruption, but the unsafe language she used really threw me, and blindsided me since we were both in our manager’s office at this point. We hadn’t had any negative interactions before this point and Jane is not someone I interacted with on a daily/regular basis. I’ve also never had anyone else I’ve worked with (or anyone in my personal life) ever tell me anything along these lines before.

    I don’t think it changes the advice in ANY way (except perhaps to make it even more important to not bring it up yourself).

    Reply
    1. Myrin

      For what it’s worth, I’m a woman (who’s very familiar with several mental illnesses due to family, so it wouldn’t be a matter of not getting that Jane means emotionally unsafe) and I would feel and react the exact same way the OP did.

      Reply
    2. Breda

      Oh, if another woman said I made her feel unsafe, I would be DEEPLY thrown. I would be so taken aback I wouldn’t know how to respond, and I’d linger on it for a long time. So I’m not sure we can read into that either way.

      Reply
    3. Wife of the OP

      Hi! I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen a spouse of an OP write in before, but since I’m a huge fan of AAM and when my husband told me about this issue I suggested that he write in, I hope it’s not too weird that I’m replying with more info (he also knows I’m replying and is cool with it).

      To give you more context, my husband is a man in his mid 30s. I don’t know if Jane is older or younger than him, but their manager is also a woman.

      The phrase “I felt unsafe” I think was particularly alarming to him (and to me when I heard about it) because he was concerned that this could mean a whole host of Very Bad Things, including that she felt physically unsafe around him.

      We’ve been together for 12 years, and while I can’t know if Jane truly felt unsafe around him or may have instead said this as a way to pull this lever, I do know that I’ve never felt this way around him (physically or emotionally). When he told me how she used those words, my initial reaction was a combination of surprise mixed with hurt since I feel very deeply that this does not describe him and was sad to hear him characterized this way. Again though, I’m not Jane and even if he said this with no intention to attack her/make her feel threatened and in a way where the majority of people would not interpret it that way, she could have nonetheless received it as such.

      Anyway, I hope this helps provide some additional context. I’m currently sitting at my desk trying to get over the fact that an AAM article actually has ties to my life! Such a weird feeling after spending the past several years checking the site first thing in the morning for new posts :)

      Reply
    4. Observer

      Eh, actually the fact that the OP was thrown actually read more to the female side to me. Not like “oh the OP must be female” but it just struck me that a woman would be more likely to wonder “Huh? How could *I* make someone feel unsafe?”

      Reply
  20. Bookworm

    I was in a somewhat similar situation where I witnessed an employee backing out of an assignment because he didn’t want to work with the person who would be overseeing him (it would have been a single day temp job and nothing more). The boss who had to assign these temp jobs was really disappointed because of logistics/finding replacement. I went to her privately after to tell her what I had witnessed and left it that (I didn’t know the flighty employee BUT I also wouldn’t have been surprised if he had legitimate cause to back out). Flighty Employee later applied to the position I was leaving about a year or so later (I was miserable in this new job) and I explained to my then-colleagues what I had witnessed. He was never brought in for an interview.

    I share this to demonstrate what some of the others have been saying: it may depend on the relationship Jane has with the company and her co-workers, etc. I’m not sure if Flighty Employee was just job hunting or if he had only been temp anyway and whether my feedback regarding the temp assignment had any bearing. It was surprising to me my colleagues at the job I hated were willing to take my feedback but I guess they were going to take the word of someone who had been there for 6 months over someone who was a random applicant to them.

    So you may have to take this on the chin and move on. Even Jane has moved on, forgiven you, is fine with you being brought on board, etc. the hiring organization might look on it negatively and decide they don’t want to risk any sort of drama.

    Reply
  21. Prince of Snarkness

    Anyone who uses the word “unsafe” should be avoided. I’d bet real money on her current employer not being sad to see her go. If asked about it, minimize your past experience with her. That will put you in the best possible light as a temperate response will likely counter any hyperbole.

    Reply
    1. Countess Boochie Flagrante

      Anyone who uses it? Gee, thanks, I guess no one but you knows the actual meaning.

      Jane may be using it to be dramatic, but let’s not treat everyone in the world like Jane, okay?

      Reply
  22. Buffy

    Ah – I know of a situation where a college freshman who had difficulty getting along with roommates (BFFs one week! Mortal enemies the next!) got an absurd high of 3 room transfers in one semester because she learned if she used the phrase “I feel unsafe in the room”, the coordinator had their hands tied and had to re-assign her. I’m not even directly involved in that situation and my blood pressure started rising…

    Reply
  23. FD

    I feel like part of where this conversation is challenging is that there are different levels of ‘safety’ that you can/should expect from different environments.

    From work, you should be able to expect an environment that is physically safe, meaning reasonably free from foreseeable hazards (e.g. no black mold, no exposed electrical wires) and free from the threat of physical violence. You should be able to expect an environment that is also safe from things like sexual harassment.

    By comparison, in a relationship where you feel safe, you should expect those things, but you should also be able to expect, for example, the ability to share feelings in an open and honest way, support from your partner(s) for your goals, and a generally loving environment.

    I think that one thing that causes confusion is that we sometimes mix up terms appropriate to relationship safety with terms appropriate to, say, safety at work. Both can include softer factors than physical safety, but the expectations you can have from work and from a partner/partners are different.

    Reply
  24. anon4now

    Anyone wondering why Jane wasn’t just called out when she used the word “unsafe”? Like.. “Jane, how exactly did OP interrupting you actually threaten your well being or make you feel unsafe?” Of course its easy to speculate after the fact, but I’d immediately question why exactly she’s using that word, instead of placating her nonsense and then sending her on her way.
    Like, an employee says they feel “unsafe” in front of the offending employee and a manager, and no one bothers to ask her to expand what exactly she’s talking about? And if everyone thinks it’s all BS, then these interactions should be reported to HR (to help avoid liability at the very least). Not really sure we’re getting the whole picture here.

    Reply
  25. alana

    Leaving aside the debate about whether “unsafe” is appropriate in this context: No, don’t bring it up.

    1) People who are leaving jobs usually don’t get to pick their replacement. She might not even know you’re coming in for an interview. (It’s possible that she’ll end up training you, since leaving to go back to school is something with a fairly long lead time, in which case she might know who gets the job — but it would still be unusual for her to be involved enough to veto a candidate.)

    2) There are two options if Jane does see you or know you’re interviewing, and they both basically work out fine for you:
    a) She’s still someone who is easily upset and prone to complaining, in which case they’ll likely take anything she says about you with a grain of salt.
    b) She’s changed and matured in the past couple of years, and so she’s let go of some grudges like this. Given the context clues (working with students, going back to school, the use of the word “unsafe,” which is a linguistic innovation since my college years in the mid-00s) I’d guess you’re both fairly early in your careers. This seems like exactly the kind of fraught interaction that can happen when someone is young and passionate and doesn’t have great judgment. But if she’s overcome it to become a valued employee who gets to veto new hires, she likely has more perspective on that moment too.

    There’s also a wide, wide gulf between “had a negative interaction at a previous job” and “would blackball for all future opportunities.” If she were going to work with you long-term, that might be different. And if she really, really disliked you and would have to train you, AND she has veto power — well, it’s possible.

    (I do want to say one thing in Jane’s defense here. I understand why “unsafe” riles people up, and I’m not sure elevating this complaint to supervisors was even the best idea. But it really isn’t a good practice to openly correct your colleague when she’s speaking in front of an audience of people who assume she has some authority and knows what’s up. Her spiel sounds pretty cringeworthy, and you were right that it needed to be stopped, but the best way to do it is to just interrupt and divert: “And if you’re worried about this, we’d be happy to address it 1:1 after the session,” “Mental health is really important to us here, but so is physical health, and so we have a brand-new lazy river,” or, if you can’t think of anything, just start coughing uncontrollably. It’s not the end of the world as an error, just like Jane’s spiel wasn’t, but it really isn’t good professional or collegial behavior, and if you were both my employees, I would have addressed it with each of you separately.)

    Reply
    1. Observer

      The thing is that the OP *did* acknowledge to Jane that his way of handling was not optimal. Unless there is a long back story here, which doesn’t seem the case, that’s a real mitigating factor, considering that the error was not egregious in the first place.

      Reply
  26. Not So NewReader

    I would like to mention another thing I don’t see here and that is it seems she has not stayed at this job very long, OP.
    It appears that it was two years ago you had this run in with Jane. In that time, she left your place, started work at New Place and now she is leaving New Place. So she was at New Place for less than two years, am I reading this right?

    I wonder how much standing she has to say anything about anyone.

    The next thing that would be interesting to know is how long was she at your place? If the answer is two years or less this might be another clue.

    You said that your boss was aware of other situations with Jane. Hang on to that fact, OP. Keep it at the forefront of your thinking. One angle to consider here is that people have your back and you don’t even realize how much so.

    FWIW, IF Jane tells the manager that she felt unsafe with you, then that manager should ask her to give some explanation about that. IF the manager just goes on Jane’s word, then bullet dodged, OP. You don’t want a manager who bends which ever way the wind is blowing today. Better to find out now that this is a poor boss than to find out later.
    The toughest scenario I see happening is you get an interview and they ask you directly about what happened with Jane. Practice the scripts you see here until you find the script that is your own. Own the part(s) you need to own and state what you would do differently in the future. Be brief but be on target. My guess is that you carry yourself well professionally, let your professional habits help you through this.

    Reply
  27. Bluephone

    Ugh, the fact that Jane pulled the “unsafe” card to complain about your interruption makes me want to automatically disqualify anything else she says. Hopefully, the hiring manager realizes what a looney bird she is and doesn’t hold it against you.

    Reply

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