my boss said I have “disconcerting heart-to-hearts” with my coworkers

A reader writes:

I’ve joined an academic research group about nine months ago for a PhD and am very happy here! The team is enthusiastic, we get along great, and also regularly have drinks after work or during weekends. In that group, I am directly supervised by the professor, but for anything more practical Fergus, a post-doc, acts as a mentor for me. He is about 10 years my senior, very focused, and doesn’t generally communicate much with anyone, but I felt like we got along well and I’ve gotten a few nice interactions with him; he complimented my skills a few times, and when we were at a conference together he invited me out for dinner.

Recently I’ve won a quite prestigious award and our professor hosted a dinner at his house for the entire group to celebrate. So Fergus gave a little toast with the usual topics but at the end said (verbatim), “We’re happy to have her around for the next three years and we’re looking forward to many more of her disconcerting heart-to-hearts.”

That remark really stunned me, on top of it because everyone laughed at it and seemed to know what he was referring to! After some reflection, I think I know what he meant – I try to communicate clearly when something isn’t working for me or also when I have made a mistake, which isn’t really done in that group. There have been maybe five or six moments like this since I joined. For example, in my first month, I had to perform a new technique and I had asked Fergus beforehand to go through the steps with me before we got the samples – only that on that day, he wasn’t around because he was at a consortium, which he hadn’t told me about. I was stressed about performing this experiment alone and when he came in later in the evening I was quite curt. The next day I just casually told him “Hey, I’m sorry if I was a bit short with you yesterday. I didn’t realize you were not going to be here in the morning and I was actually quite stressed because I had wanted to discuss the protocol with you before I got the samples.” He promptly apologized and the matter seemed closed.

In another instance, a colleague was constantly asking me for opinions on inconsequential things while I was working and didn’t pick up on any signs that I didn’t want to interact. I then quite abruptly told her that I didn’t have time to talk about this. On my way home I just popped into her office and said, “I didn’t mean to shoot you down like this earlier – I didn’t sleep well last night and was just tired and stressed. Hope you don’t take it to heart!”

I feel like those interactions are actually really important and I’ve tried to be polite but direct about any issues that arise (or that I have caused). However, I haven’t really heard this being done in the lab group and people instead usually complain behind a person’s back. When I initiated this type of conversation, the reaction from everyone was always very positive and I feel it dissuaded what otherwise could have become a tense atmosphere.

So I guess my questions are: Is what I’m doing inappropriate? Those “heart-to-hearts” are always work-related and I’m never revealing anything private even though most of us are also friends outside of work (academia…). Those conversations don’t feel overly touchy-feeley to me and I’m very casual about them so I didn’t really think that they could be disconcerting to anyone! Should I ask Fergus or even our boss if they are truly uncomfortable or disconcerting? And if they are not intrinsically inappropriate but don’t really fit with the culture of the group, what do I do? Do I adapt to the culture, find some middle way or do I keep doing what I’m doing?

I wrote back to this letter-writer and asked, “The two examples you gave were cases where it sounds like you kind of snapped at someone and later apologized. Are all the 5-6 times it’s happened that same basic pattern?”

The moments I think Fergus was referring to weren’t exclusively instances where I had snapped at others and then apologized. For example, I also brought up that meetings for one of our projects were scheduled with extremely short notice (emails were literally sent out at 7 p.m. for meetings the next morning which require substantial preparation from some participants), saying something like, “Guys, I realize that the scheduling for those meetings has probably been done like this for a while now but I was wondering if there is a particular reason for it. I personally feel very stressed when I get an email in the evening announcing a meeting for the next morning. I am not able to prepare as well as I want on such short notice and I think our meetings are less efficient as a consequence. I think others might feel the same so I thought I would bring it up.”

I think it’s maybe 60% me apologizing for being a bit snappy or not having done something on time and 40% me saying that something about how we do things seems suboptimal to me or isn’t working out well for me (and then politely asking if it’s done that way for a particular reason. If it is I never insist or push).

Okay! Here’s what I suspect is happening: You’re making your emotions central to work business more than you should, and that’s what’s standing out.

Certainly if you snap at someone, it’s good to apologize. But that fact that it’s happened more than once is worrisome. You shouldn’t really be snapping at people at work at all, and in a lot of offices doing it as rarely as once a year would still be enough to get a reputation as being kind of prickly. So yeah, if it’s happened several times in nine months, that’s a lot.

And it sounds like you might be framing other things through an emotional lens that feels out of place in this particular office. Pointing out the problems with a 7 p.m. invite to a meeting the next morning is totally fine and reasonable. But — especially in a context where you’ve already shown less control of your emotions than others (the snapping) — saying “I personally feel very stressed when I get an email in the evening” might be contributing to an impression of you as more driven by your emotions than other people you’re working with.

To be clear, we’re all driven by our emotions to some extent! That doesn’t change just because we’re at work. But when you make your emotions front and center in your work interactions, that will stand out. (More on this here.)

It also sounds like when this stuff happens, you’re openly attributing it to stress. There’s a risk that you could be creating a reputation for being unusually stressed by the normal demands of the job. People can like you and enjoy working with you (and it sounds like they do!) and still see that as a significant negative. So that’s a piece of this to pay attention to.

That said, your instincts to be direct about issues are great. Keep those! Just try to take your emotions out of those conversations, as far the specific language you’re using when you talk about said issues. For example, with the last-minute meetings, you could revise it this way: ‘”I realize that the scheduling for those meetings has probably been done like this for a while now but I was wondering if there is a particular reason for it. I personally feel very stressed When I get an email in the evening announcing a meeting for the next morning, I am not able to prepare as well as I want on such short notice and I think our meetings are less efficient as a consequence. I think others might feel the same so I thought I would bring it up. Would there be a way to schedule these with more notice?”

Of course, it’s also possible that this is all reading way too much into an off-the-cuff remark from Fergus that didn’t really mean much. But based on what you’ve laid out, I think this might be what’s going on.

{ 346 comments… read them below }

  1. Wannabe Disney Princess

    It is entirely possible you’re more emotional than this group is used to. That’s fine! But do keep in mind it may mean this is not a good fit. Doesn’t seem to be the case necessarily, but it is something to look out for.

    Also, I work with a few people who get upset (crying and/or snapping) then claim, “I’m sorry – I’m just stressed!” My reaction is almost always the same: We’re all stressed. Take that element out of it when you’re being direct (which is good – I wish more people were) and I think you’ll be fine.

    1. EditorInChief

      Yes, “The I’m just stressed” excuse is maddening. We’re ALL stressed, and it doesn’t excuse snapping at coworkers ever. Also snapping at coworkers doesn’t equal being direct with them.

      1. Tuxedo Cat

        I agree with this. I’ve had people use that excuse with me in research labs, and they had nothing more going in their lives than I did.

        1. EmKay

          Snapping at coworkers or being rude is not cool. However, you don’t know if a coworker has “nothing more going in their lives” than you do. Also, people react to stress differently. What isn’t a big deal to you will be a big deal to someone else.

        2. Nope

          They may seem to have nothing more going on in their lives, but they may have something major – a family member or friend with a serious illness, mental health challenges, a broken pipe and flooded basement, etc. – that they don’t want to share with you. The vague language signals that they’re dealing with something out of the norm for them but that they don’t want to share what.

    2. Turquoisecow

      Absolutely

      While I am certainly sympathetic to a point, pain (emotional or physical) is not an excuse to treat others badly. I know a number of people with chronic pain or chronic diseases that make them feel awful, and they still manage to be quite nice and empathetic. Stress is a thing that we all experience and some of us manage to be nice in the midst of it. Apologies are appreciated, but it really can’t be the default reaction.

      1. Jenny D

        I have chronic pain. On days when I’m feeling more awful than usual, I will tell coworkers in the morning meeting – “sorry guys, today is a really bad day so if I’m unusually curt or less than friendly, that’s why. Please don’t let it stop you from asking me for IT stuff, just be aware that if I don’t look happy when you do it, it’s not about you.” It’s worked fine so far.

    3. Elizabeth H.

      I actually don’t love this idea! I don’t think “we’re all stressed” necessarily. It’s become part of the culture to be stressed out by work, or to claim to be, but I’d like to think there are a lot of people, even with demanding jobs, who approach work with the attitude that they’ll do as much as they are able to, and don’t focus on what they aren’t able to accomplish. Most of my job is this way – sometimes busy periods or unusual project demands cause me stress that affects how I feel at or after work, but a lot of the time it doesn’t. I really hope we can maintain “stressed out” as a non-default state.

        1. Say what, now?

          The “too regularly to be a jerk” is what I take away from WDP. It’s an important distinction to make, that it’s not that we don’t care that our coworkers are stressed or believe that they aren’t working hard enough if they aren’t, but that it’s too common an issue for us not to actively try to find better outlets than snapping.

          As for the snapping, OP, it’s something I dealt with as well. When I stepped back and realized that I was snapping when I had given time to things that I shouldn’t have and it made me anxious to get back to work. So what I should have been doing was saying at the outright “I really only have a second to devote to this because I have something time sensitive brewing, but I’ll have more time later if you’re still debating this” or even “Hey, it’s not good for me today. I have some set in stone deadlines, but perhaps Becky would be a good resource if she’s not too busy.” When I realized that I could say no, I wasn’t snapping anymore. Maybe there’s a little of that going on here.

      1. Myrin

        Yeah, save for some very specific instances every now and then, I’m basically never stressed, and I do find it a bit disconcerting to see so many people (not here, I mean in life in general) claim that that’s their default state of being.
        On the other hand, I agree with the original point that stress in general is something that happens to everyone every once in a while and yet many (most?) of us manage to not become snappy and unpleasant just because of that.

        1. Bea

          I fall here too. I do not get along well with the perma-stressed out folks. They try to pull me into that web and get all defensive when I pull back because my reaction to common stressers is to detach and redirect.

            1. Cordoba

              In my case it starts with remembering that “work is a hustle that I do to get paid” rather than the point of my life or the thing that determines my worth as a person.

              Accomplishments, awards, professional growth, and promotions are all great; but ultimate I only show up at work in exchange for money so really as long as the paychecks keep showing up all is well. Worst case they fire me; I’m sure I can find somebody else to pay me to do something similar.

              Really takes the edge off of job stress.

            2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

              I tend to get really affected by other people’s stress, etc., and so my “detach and redirect” technique is to imagine myself walking with an egg-shaped invisible forcefield, and when people’s insane energy comes my way, I imagine it hitting the forcefield and sliding off.

              This tactic literally changed my life—I had more energy, I was able to deal with people’s bad moods without taking it personally, and I became more effective and direct in calling out bad behavior while still being kind/compassionate but firm. Other friends use the “sieve” technique where they imagine the bad mojo just going right through them, as if they were a sieve. That visual doesn’t work as well for me, but ymmv. Of course I still slip up, but the more I practice the technique (or use mindfulness tools to recenter), the more it becomes second nature.

              You may have tried this, in which case I apologize if I’m suggesting something obvious!

              1. Tuesday Next

                Ooh I like that. But I think my force field might be lightly tinted with whatever colour takes my fancy that day.

            3. WannaAlp

              I go with a short sympathetic acknowledgement, something not too specific. Then immediately change tack. This could be a redirect onto a work task, or it could be leaving the area.
              For example:

              “That must be tough, I’m sorry you’re stressed about that. However I have to get back to my own work now” [exit stage left].

              “I’m sorry to hear that. Back to this planning document, do you think that … ”
              Repeat a few times but if they can’t concentrate on work, suggest another time when they are less preoccupied.

              In other words, allow them a small amount of leeway, and then politely but firmly and repeatedly redirect back to work. If they can’t, escape.

              It helps me to remember, as someone who isn’t very good at instinctively dealing with these situations, that other people spilling their bad vibes into the workplace is a Situation In Which I Must Be Cautious, because bad things can happen very easily if I’m not careful and say the wrong thing. So that gives me a good incentive to back off quickly and not get dragged in.

            4. Anion

              I don’t know if this will help, but on the rare occasions I’ve found myself stressed, it helps me to remember that nobody is going to die if X doesn’t get turned in on time* (or whatever). Maybe it sounds silly, but it’s actually not only been helpful to me but to others when I’ve put it to them that way. Nobody is going to die, and there are very few mistakes that we can’t fix or make up for** or that won’t right themselves in the end, and what matters is that you and me and everyone else is a person with value.

              Again, I know it sounds maybe a little simplistic or nonchalant or whatever, but I’ve talked quite a few people down from some very serious situations by reminding them that it’s not the end of the world, and we all just do what we can, and most people understand that nobody is perfect. Honestly, just reminding them that the sun will rise tomorrow no matter what, and that actively tuning out from something for a while can provide a fresh perspective, has helped people. Then you look for or ask them about something that *can* be solved right away with relative ease, which can make people feel competent and in control again.

              (I used to occasionally have an awful nightmare where I’d accidentally killed someone, and the feeling when I woke up and realized it was only a dream was amazing. That dream used to put whatever problems I was dealing with into perspective, which is why I use it as a basis. Have you killed someone? No? Then it’s fixable or it’s not the worst thing that can happen, period.)

              *Medical professionals, firemen, and policemen, of course, are sometimes in a situation where a slip-up can kill a person, but even then, they can only do so much.

              **Yes, some work mistakes may be “unfixable,” but that still doesn’t mean they can’t be made up for or work out in the end or that they will result in deaths.

          1. Mallory Janis Ian

            I’m usually mildly stressed*, but I think I keep it more internally. People always comment that I handle things calmly, but I feel like that’s mainly on the outside. Then I had one coworker who was outwardly stressed all the time about the day-to-day vagaries of the job, emoting all over the place about his stress all the time, and I realized that I actually AM calmer about the day-to-day than that.

            *I think it is because any job with ongoing, long-term responsibilities is going to feel mildly stressful to me, when my natural inclination is to like more one-off, short-term projects instead of perpetual responsibility for ongoing operations. But that’s being an admin for you.

      2. Just Employed Here

        I agree!

        Also, when someone at work is stressed because of something personal (ill family member, financial trouble, divorce…), replying “We’re all stressed” is going to sound pretty callous.

        1. Wannabe Disney Princess

          I didn’t say I said that. I said I thought that. And that’s exactly my point – they have no idea what I may be stressed about either. Also, these are people who constantly cry and snap then shrug it off with being stressed. I’m not referring to anybody else who might snap once a year then follow it up with the fact they’re stressed. These are two different scenarios.

    4. Business Cat

      Another perspective is that *everyone deals with stress differently.* I’m glad that most of the readership I’m seeing comment thus far don’t have any issues with modulating their emotions when stressed, but that’s not the case for some others. Sure, stress isn’t an excuse to be nasty to your coworkers, but for some people it is more complicated than “I’m blaming my stress for my poor treatment of those around me.” I’m typically a delight to work with and go above and beyond to be courteous, if not outright bubbly, to those around me, but I have (high functioning) BPD, and difficulties with emotional regulation can sometimes mean that I get snippy under conditions that wouldn’t phase a neurotypical coworker. Thus, when I apologize for potentially having come across as snippy, it’s incredibly sincere. If I say that it’s due to stress, please be aware that it’s a completely different eschelon of stress than most people experience in their daily work. Most of the time when I do apologize, those I’m apologizing to typically have no recollection of me snapping at them and it’s my own self-awareness kicking me for being more brusque or abrupt than usual. So maybe cut the letter writer a break on this one—and probably your own coworkers because it sounds like there’s a lot of judgment here for people who aren’t perfectly calm 99.9% or the time.

      1. Wannabe Disney Princess

        Please see my other comments. I’m not referring to people who periodically snap. I mean those who do it with regularity and use stress as an excuse. A one off here and there doesn’t concern me, I honestly think “Oh, wow, Fergus must be stressed.” But when its’ repeated often? That’s when the excuse wears thin.

        And I am not judging anyone – I’m not perfect; I do not expect anyone else to be. I know people have bad days. I know they let their emotions get the better of them. And I’d be horribly concerned if nobody ever had. For the record, I’ve done it myself.

        1. Hiring Mgr

          Nobody should be snapping regularly at work (unless they’re in the ensemble of a musical). So if that’s the case there’s an issue and I wouldn’t think it matters what excuse they’re giving

        2. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock

          I’m with you on this WDP. I didn’t think you were being unsympathetic, but rather, that you were explaining that one’s individual life stressors are not a free pass to be snappy, and relatedly, that the frequency of snappiness matters. Snappy from time to time because of stress or other factors? Forgivable. Snapping regularly enough that it’s 60%+ of your heart-to-hearts? That could be a problem depending on the time horizon.

      2. JamieS

        I think you’re using a very specific example to undermine a general statement that’s true most of the time. If the two cited examples are representative of the other times OP has lashed out when “stressed” then it sounds like she’s using stress to mean experiencing less than ideal circumstances (basically feeling a normal amount of pressure) which is IME a fairly common usage of the word.

        While there may be some specific exceptions, in general people shouldn’t snap at coworkers due to normal job pressures and then use “stress” as a catch all to justify it.

    5. Caz

      OP, quick question… You state that ‘you all get along great, and you regularly have drinks together after work and weekends’… Are you sure that your heart-to-hearts don’t come from here, under the influence?

      I just ask, because maybe you’ve overshared here a few times without maybe realising… And this maybe be the source.

      1. Specialk9

        That was my thought too, alcohol can lead to weirdness without realizing.

        Or that they really don’t have a great idea of what topics are normal at work vs not appropriate (it’s a big change from college!). I have had co-workers of both genders who thought that work appropriate topics, at lunch, with managers and peers included:
        -The time their tampon got stuck up there and had to be medically removed.
        -Jock itch, in detail.
        -Their breast reduction surgery, in depth.
        -Why men like to hit on women in white pants (not on the rag).
        -Blow by blow of taking their girlfriend’s virginity (granted this one was at a misogynistic fire station)

        1. Midge

          My first job out of college, I worked closely with another young woman who was also fresh out of school. She told me in detail about her breast reduction (including how many days she and her boyfriend waited after the surgery to start having sex again!) and all kinds of other weirdness about her relationship with this guy. And this was during the work day, not under the influence of a few drinks after work. I just did not need to know. Any of it. I hope in the years since she recalibrated her sense of work-appropriate topics.

          1. Fortitude Jones

            I work with someone like this now, and the scary part is, she’s not fresh out of school AND she has these talks with our boss, who occasionally seems to encourage it. I just shake my head and put my headphones on because this team has a serious problem with oversharing.

            1. TardyTardis

              I am a writer. I would take notes. Just like I used to do listening to General Hospital (amazing what went wrong with her grandfather) in the cubicle next to me, and enjoying the ringtone of Off to the Races employed by another employee. But I know I’m different…

    6. MommyMD

      Yes. Everyone at work suffers stress. It’s still not ok to use it as an excuse for snapishness. If normal job stressors cause one to snap repeatedly, it may be time for a new position.

    7. Gadget Hackwrench

      I’m not really comfortable with crying and snapping being lumped together here. There is no excuse for snapping. Speaking is a voluntary action, and although one could impulsively snap in an emotional stat that’s still something people need to be able to control in a work environment (unless they are in the midst of an actual mental health episode, like a panic attack, and even then the professional thing to do is remove yourself from the company of others ASAP.) CRYING on the other hand cannot be controlled. One can refrain from sobbing, or openly weeping, but tear ducts are not under voluntary control. Trust me. I’ve tried. A lot. Again one should remove themselves ASAP, but I really wish we wouldn’t regard silent crying as an “inappropriate behavior” as long as the crier is being as discrete as possible. Some people, regardless of mental health issues, just have a lower tear-threshold.

      1. Ali

        Ugh, I agree! And crying for me is generally a response to extreme frustration or anger (hooray for being a woman and being socialised to be unable to express these emotions in other more healthy ways!). I have probably cried at work twice in my entire 20 year career, but both times were in response to terrible managers who I couldn’t have a direct conversation with about my workload or responsibilities, and it was completely involuntary.

    8. Gadget Hackwrench

      I’m not really comfortable putting snapping and crying in the same category. Snapping is an impulse, but still a voluntary action. Tears come whether you want them or not. Certainly one can refrain from being vocal about crying, but it does bother me somewhat that an entirely involuntary response (crying/shedding tears) is often viewed as an inappropriate office “behavior.”

  2. Falling Diphthong

    OP, you might want to ask whoever is most approachable in the office what was meant. Rather than guess.

    Those conversations don’t feel overly touchy-feeley to me and I’m very casual about them so I didn’t really think that they could be disconcerting to anyone!
    For any action you can think up, someone out there is disconcerted by it. Someone else is unclear what you’re talking about at all, the action was such a non-event for them.

    Also, I copied the italic line before reading Alison’s response, but I think it goes with her struck-through examples–don’t frame things as if you feel X, other people are probably feeling X.

    1. Falling Diphthong

      Oh, and your boss held a celebration and the others weren’t all ‘busy’ so right now this isn’t a big problem with them. Just a heads-up that you are coming across different from your image of these non-disconcerting interactions.

      1. dr_silverware

        Yes–OP this is super important to keep in mind as you read through a bunch of comments here analyzing what might be going on.

        Falling Diphthong, you’re completely right that this is a peek into their opinions that will let OP correct course, rather than a major problem that is already having consequences.

      2. Say what, now?

        Thirded, they came, they clapped and it’s important to make sure that you don’t build this up into a “thing” that makes you actually the pariah.

        1. Anonymoose

          + 1

          Letter Writer – I understand the feeling of academic research camaraderie. I’m professionally adjacent to tons of post-docs. That said, it sounds like this lab’s culture is more ‘professional’ than ‘academic’ – regardless of the very academic-friendly social outings outside of the lab. This just means you need to lock in your very first reaction to things that stress you out. Over time you’ll learn how to not react. It’s actually quite nice, now for me, to have stressful info just go right over my head so I can look at it objectively. Yes, there are times when I can’t (PMS, thy name is evil), and those times are when I keep a smile on my face and go take a walk so I can breathe it out and get back to homeostasis. To learn how to not react first, try re-framing that you couldn’t give a sh*t about this job, that you have zero stake in the lab’s success. Do the work, stop caring. You’ll start understanding how your instincts stop reacting first to stressors. Good luck.

  3. Snark

    Yeah, that wording struck me as offputting as soon as I read it, and in a way that Alison captured perfectly. It’s just….honestly, a little disconcerting, as it were, to see how you feel made so central to the response. It’s not that it’s overly personal, but I think the norm would be more to discuss its impact on your workflow, rather than your feelings. I can see how a socially maladroit academic type would find it weird that your interaction with your coworkers was framed in terms of feelings and how they make you feel, but it would be out of place in most workplaces, I think.

    1. Snark

      Also, pondering this a little further, it feels as if OP is putting the onus of making them feel less stressed on coworkers – the phrasing seems to imply a request for their help to manage her emotions, and that’s problematic. That’s really not their job. Their job is their job, and part of their job is to do things in a way that makes it easy to work with them as part of a team…but it’s not their job to proactively manage your stress. It’s the same thing framed two different ways.

      1. MommyMD

        And if her stress level is so high she snaps at colleagues this may not be the position for her.

        The I snapped bc I didn’t sleep bothers me. We all have bad nights but don’t take it out on our coworkers.

          1. Mobuy

            I have also been known to tell my (middle-school) students to be extra good, because Tiny was up four times last night. They were pretty understanding, because that’s a pretty bad night and they got it.

            1. Katie

              You said that _in advance_, didn’t you? That’s kind of different from snapping and then apologizing.

          2. SimonTheGreyWarden

            Yeah, my Squishy Warden is teething, and that means I sometimes apologize to the students I work with in tutoring that I’m not as on the ball as I might otherwise be. Most of them have kids or have been around kids (we work with a lot of single parents/mostly single moms) and they sympathize. However, it is still on ME to manage my behavior!!

        1. Bea

          Right. I’m irritable on occasion because of a bad nights rest or just wake up on the wrong side of the bed, I’ve never snapped at work. I do not play with “I snap sometimes it’s a thing I do.”, Then manage it that’s what adults do and yes people will gradually stop liking you when that’s a developed pattern!!!

        2. designbot

          I don’t know, it’s pretty normal for coworkers to snap at each other occasionally in my experience. Sadly, what’s not normal is apologizing for it.

      2. Thursday Next

        Yes, this stood out to me as well. It’s important to apologize when you snap at someone, but the best apologies in the situation LW describes should contain neither explanation (“I was stressed”) nor expectation (“don’t take it to heart”). I find the former a bit naive–after all, many people are stressed–and the latter presumptuous–dictating others’ feelings.

      3. Anon for this

        I have a few people who continually make their stress the problem of peers and supervisors and I can tell you that it isn’t a great look. There are people who I will never choose to work with because how they are feeling becomes the responsibility of everyone around them. It’s definitely something to avoid doing if at all possible.

        1. Specialk9

          It’s emotional labor – outsourcing one’s own self regulation to others. (Who are all regulating themselves already.)

          Not to say that friends and family – one’s intimates – don’t find ways to lean on each other for regulation. But that’s the very close. Coworkers should be friendly and a bit distant.

          1. Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret

            This is really a lightbulb moment for me. I have been walking on eggshells around a colleague because she is “always stressed” — she’s *absolutely* putting the emotional labor on me. I’m going to approach her differently from now on. It’s not my problem she can’t self regulate!

    2. DCompliance

      I agree. It does seem off-putting when you are consistently saying “I personally feel very stressed…” “I was actually quite stressed…” It seems like you are asking your coworkers to address what stresses you out rather than focusing on how things can be more efficient or managing your own stress. However, I do think you are on the right track by being direct and apologizing when you are snappy.

      1. PlainJane

        Yep. I think it’s fine if on rare occasions you explain that you weren’t at your best (curt, less alert, whatever), because you aren’t feeling well or are going through a tough time. The operative word there, though, is, “rare.” Being stressed (like being busy) is not an all-purpose get out of jail free card for bad behavior or failure to follow through on something.

        1. Falling Diphthong

          Rare, and ideally it’s a pre-emptive warning. Like Mobuy telling her students that she had a particularly exhausting night and just does not have any reserves. I’d rather get a heads-up to treat someone gently than a late explanation for why they yelled at my (in my view mundane) request.

        2. paul

          Yes.

          And there’s a range of behaviors too; it might kinda excuse being curt, but not calling your coworker jackass you know?

        3. Lissa

          Yes, definitely “rare” being the important thing, and also maybe keeping an eye out to make sure you aren’t the only one ever doing it. I have known people who think they are “just having a really bad/stressful day” rarely but it’s actually way more common than that and they start to get a reputation for it, because after awhile it feels like it’s always “just one of those days” for them.

      2. Ramona Flowers

        And you could also just stick to facts. You’ll be there but can’t be as prepared as you’d like because you don’t know before.

      3. fposte

        This has come up in discussion here before–there’s such an emphasis on “I” messages in a lot of interpersonal communication that sometimes people don’t realize that’s often not optimal to use them in the workplace.

    3. LBK

      I agree – I have a coworker who does this and it undermines what are generally pretty valid points. Focus more on benefit language here and less on how it makes you feel. You have a perfect good business justification for why meetings should be scheduled further in advance: so that people have more time to prepare and you can all actually get something out of the meeting. You can say that and even say that you suspect others are running into the same problem of rushing their preparation without adding the emotional layer on top of it.

      That being said, I think “disconcerting heart-to-hearts” is a very weird way to put it. Disconcerting, maybe, but “heart-to-heart” definitely isn’t the right term for the interactions you’re describing here.

      1. Specialk9

        Yeah, I suspect that if OP finds a coworker who cracks, they’re going to explain it’s something totally else. Apologizing for snapping or taking about stress is not a disconcerting heart-to-heart.

        1. Anion

          +1. I think there’s something here of which the OP is unaware; saying, “Sorry, I was stressed,” is not a heart-to-heart, and I don’t think even the most unemotional people would see it as such.

    4. MM

      I’m wondering if the emotion-centered language is coming out of some experience with therapy or interpersonal conflict management. Obviously it’s not universal, but people are often told to frame their statements in terms of their feelings rather than as facts (“This thing you do is mean” vs. “When you do Thing, it makes me feel X”). The LW may have been attempting to avoid any perception of conflict or confrontation by using this kind of language, not realizing that the different context changes the effect.

  4. Lil Fidget

    It sounds like you’re a little more direct than the office norm in this group. That can be good – and it doesn’t really sound like you’ve been penalized for it, since the remark sounds rather light hearted and people were generally positive – but it may still be out of step for a more passive group. Some of us just aren’t blunt about speaking up when our needs aren’t getting met, and it’s surprising when someone else is. It doesn’t mean you need to stop doing it! (Other than the snapping, I agree with Alison there).

    1. Observer

      That and the focus on their feelings / stress.

      Allison’s advice on how to present stuff is good. It’s still direct and gives the OP a shot at getting their needs met. But it leaves out the personal emotional component that leaves people disconcerted.

    2. Engineer Girl

      I would say OP isn’t direct enough.

      In each of the examples I see a common theme.
      OP is stressed but doesn’t communicate about the issues at the time they are happening.
      OP later gets upset and snaps
      OP apologizes.

      OP should speak up about the issues sooner rather than later. OP needs to self advocate for the needs of the job. AT THE TIME IT IS HAPPENING

      Don’t wait to get stressed and explode. Speak up immediately

      1. winter

        +1 Exactly. It’s hard to speak up immediately all the time. The situation with the co-worker asking questions repeatedly is a nice chance though to say ‘There’s some stuff I need to get done today. Can we table further questions/can you go over to/…?”

  5. Observer

    Allison’s advice is excellent. Waaay TMI. And a bit of emotional regulation / better stress management sounds like it might come in handy.

    Snapping at people 3-4 times in a 9 month period is a lot. And your explanations don’t really help you out that much. As a supervisor, I would be absolutely be disconcerted if you were sooo stressed out by doing your job that you snapped at me. And, while I would be glad to see that you realized that it was an inappropriate reaction, I would also be disconcerted that you thought it was a reasonable way to excuse your behavior.

    I’m sure that people actually do like you and mostly even enjoy working with you. But, what you describe really IS a bit disconcerting.

    1. MommyMD

      And she may be much more snappish than she realizes. Apologizing after the fact does not really excuse this behavior. They may be walking on egg shells around her.

      1. Lil Fidget

        Although looking at the comment that the coworker made, I wouldn’t expect “disconcerting heart-to-hearts” to mean, “Jeez OP is really snappish when you catch her at the wrong moment.” That’s more coded than I would expect if that’s the meaning (and everybody laughing seems to suggest that they knew exactly what he meant when he said this). “Heart to Hearts” seems to reflect more of the overly emotional language that Alison was pointing to, and also something planned out in advance.

        1. fposte

          Right, she might be standing out more for the apologies and the mention of emotion than for the actual snapping. (Though I still think that’s a notable number of snaps that should be looked at thoughtfully.)

        2. Lissa

          Yes I actually read this the opposite as MommyMD – she’s *less* snappish than she perceives herself to be, and is basically apologizing for interactions coworkers didn’t even notice.

    2. Snark

      Yeah, that’s a good point. It would contribute generally to a perception that your feelings about work are quite intense and that you’re overeager to share them with your coworkers.

    3. The New Wanderer

      This. I had a colleague while in grad school whose reputation was “Ball of Stress” because she made sure everyone knew how stressed she was all the time. It came across as both an explanation and an excuse for her to be snappish and ignore social norms. She was also a very nice, caring person but that could easily be missed since it seemed like we all had to walk on eggshells around her.

      However, I think it was rude of Fergus to put that in the toast. As your mentor, he should take you aside and privately speak to you about the way you are coming across. Using it as a punchline in a public toast To You is just inappropriate. You can’t control what he already did, but you can ask him to refrain from making comments about you that he isn’t willing to address with you.

      1. Snark

        Mmmm. No, I don’t think it’s a good idea to ask him that. It would come off as another intense Talk About OP’s Feelings and it would sort of self-fulfill the roast. I think she can ask him “Hey, what was the deal about disconcerting heart to hearts? I know you were roasting me, but am I coming off weird?”

    4. Artemesia

      If I got a call for a reference for a PhD student for a job and I saw her as someone who is overly stressed by bog standard workaday routines such that she talked about this all the time and snapped at people, I’d probably not be giving her a very strong reference. Being ‘stressed’ by ordinary work demands is a big red flag in hiring someone. This is something to pay attention to going forward. I would never again mention being stressed out and I would be very careful to never again snap at people. You may also face a problem that since people now frame you this way that even a calm request will seem more snappish or stressed than it would from someone who hasn’t acquired this reputation. You have only been there a year, there is plenty of time to work on turning around the image you have created of someone who is overwhelmed by the work, but do focus on a strategy for doing this. And absolutely don’t talk about it with co-workers which will only make it more of an issue.

    5. Samata

      I agree on 3-4 times snipping being a lot, but I also wonder if part of the joke is that she isn’t snipping and keeps apologizing for it.

      Her few examples make it sound like she is an over-explainer, so to her “cutting someone short” might just be presenting the facts, which might not be far off in her field.

      Overall I agree with the advice given and that emotion shouldn’t play a role in presenting information or making requests, but is the “disconcerting” part of the heart-to-hearts the fact that they aren’t necessary.

      1. Oliver

        Yeah, this is the read I got. I’ve had that happen to me, where all of the sudden someone starts delivering an apology for being rude to me when they definitely weren’t. If the OP’s coworkers are commenting on her heart-to-hearts but not on the snapping, then it might be that from their perspectives, OP is acting perfectly reasonably but then later swings by the office to have a long chat about how she’s sorry.

        1. CarrieT

          This is also what I took from the letter. That she’s being pretty normal, and the coworkers didn’t really take offense, but then she pops in for an unexpected apology centered on her emotional state, and THAT’s what seems unusual to the coworkers.

          1. Lucy Montrose

            In that case, it sounds like she’s been catching flak for her emotional state for a good deal of her life. She got the message early and often: your emotions bother people and you need to be sorry when you involve others in them. So she apologizes every time she thinks she’s bothered someone.. which is still awkward, just another kind. So the advice she may have gotten about piping down, seems to be worsening the awkwardness.

            Seriously, is there a way to give someone feedback about their effect on others that *doesn’t* leave them feeling self-conscious and awkward?

            1. Oliver

              It can be hard to if the person is coming from a place of insecurity, because they may only hear the criticism and filter out any assurances that they’re not disliked. I’ve been in the situation where someone apologized for offending me when they hadn’t, and it’s difficult to express “I don’t think you did anything wrong (initially) and still like you as a person, but please cut down on these apologies, but also please don’t feel too bad.”

              Of course if someone has a negative take on your behavior it will always leave you feeling somewhat self-conscious.

        2. Alienor

          I’ve worked with someone like that as well. It got to the point where I started to dread seeing them coming, because I knew I was going to hear another apology for a non-incident I didn’t even remember. I understood this person had anxiety and couldn’t help it (at least not completely) but it was still super uncomfortable.

          1. Redtail

            Exactly! I also wonder whether the apologies are as brief and casual as she presents them here, or whether she’s the kind of person who doesn’t feel she’s said something unless she’s said it three times with illustrative examples and pregnant pauses. A quick sentence is a little odd but fine, being unexpectedly trapped by a rambling emotional coworker is significantly less so, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that became an office joke.

          2. Anion

            Ooh, yeah. And another problem with those is they can start to feel a little like manipulation; like the co-worker is “apologizing” because they actually expect an apology from *you.*

  6. anon attorney

    Fergus has given you some feedback – although not explicitly. It sounds like things are basically okay given that they threw a dinner for you and everyone came, and it’s great that you’re considering what he might have meant,. I agree with Alison’s advice. Emotions exist in the workplace but I personally don’t want to be asked, unintentionally though it may be, to manage other people’s emotions about ordinary work practices or events – doing that oneself is a key skill for working adults. Suggest some reading on emotional intelligence and self regulation might be interesting for you (I can’t think of a specific recommendation offhand, sorry ). If you feel that you could deal with the answer and not become frustrated or upset, you could also ask Fergus what he meant with a view to making his implicit feedback explicit and actionable.

    1. Lil Fidget

      I thought this too! Plus one, maybe there’s a way to check in with Fergus on exactly what he meant. It sounds like that would be illuminating.

      1. LBK

        Yeah, depending on the relationship I think you could definitely bring it up to him. Just say it stuck in your head since you genuinely didn’t know what he was referring to and that if you’re doing something that’s off-putting to people without realizing it, you certainly want to know. Although ironically, that sounds like it might qualify as one of these “disconcerting heart-to-hearts” if really all he was referring to is being direct about feedback.

        1. anon attorney

          Yes – I think it would be essential for OP to be sure they could approach that conversation neutrally and not become emotional about it because that would compound the problem rather than address it. That’s why I think some more self reflection on emotional self regulation would be worthwhile.

    2. Radio Girl

      Yup. That works! Talk to Fergus. Find out what he meant.

      Although, I’m not altogether sure Fergus should have brought the matter to your attention the way he did…

  7. Maude Lebowski

    Sh1ts – this has all made me realize I am pretty above average snippy/snappy! Thanks for this topic, OP.

    1. Lil Fidget

      I think there’s different norms for this in different fields. Politics, possibly law, and possible medicine, it seems like emotions run a little higher and things are a little more casual about swearing or seeming quite agitated. Also I’ve seen it more often in fields like construction or the police force – physical jobs where there’s physical risks involved. In a white collar office situation without life or death deadlines, you definitely don’t want to be snippy.

      1. Book Lover

        Not in medicine I would say. At least, it wouldn’t garner you a good reputation. If you want a good reputation, you stay calm and pleasant while everything is falling apart around you. Patients don’t want to know that you didn’t sleep well the night before, and nurses don’t want you snipping at them because you’re worried about a patient.

        The doctors who have the best reputation here are the ones who are unfailingly pleasant and courteous – my experience only, of course.

        1. Sal

          I will ditto this for law. It may happen but it’s more because some people are jerks than anything inherent to the field. In every law office I’ve worked in, it’s frowned upon to be snappish.

      2. Cordoba

        In my experience this is absolutely correct.

        My work is split between 2 main environments:
        1) Standard white-collar engineering office
        2) Active field install site with a whole menagerie of potentially quite dangerous equipment, electricity, chemicals, and stored energy devices

        The types of communication in each activity are very different, even with the exact same people involved. Statements that are normal for (2) would be wildly out-of-place in (1) and would come off as being very short or snippy at best.

        I wouldn’t say that communication at (2) is more emotional, though. If anything it is less emotional, but it is also very abrupt because it consists of short, clear, information-dense bursts with no pleasantries or softening language.

        Carrying this style of communication over into the office environment where there is no functional or safety reason to use it would make a person utterly unlikable.

    2. caledonia

      Me too. My family used to call “snappy crocodile”. I have gained a lot of control over it but it’s still there.

    3. bohtie

      Seriously, now I’m really stressed about my own behavior, hilariously enough. I’ve never actually snapped at anyone at work but I’ve definitely stammered my way out of situations in cases where it was clear that I was deeply uncomfortable (no poker face + bad at thinking on my feet is a hell of a combination).

  8. Elizabeth H.

    First of all, it sounds like you have a good working relationship with your colleagues and that even though some of your emotion-forward style of interaction may be unusual there, that your colleagues can appreciate it as part of your personality and character. “Disconcerting heart-to-hearts” is a bit of a strange, and perhaps overly strong, way to phrase it, but I can see this being meant warmly in a spirit of friendly teasing/exaggeration, especially in the context of toasting you for a significant accomplishment.

    Second I think the advice Alison gave you is terrific – a tendency of phrasing things in an emotion-first way and that this is what is a bit disconcerting to your colleagues. I have a few friends who have this same characteristic (using emotion-mentioning language to talk about or react to both work and non-work matters) and I feel like I immediately was reminded of them by your way of wording things, both in your quoted email and your letter. A few (but not all) of the people I know who do this, are people who have anxiety and use the technique of noticing/acknowledging things that produce anxiety, the subsequent feelings, and reacting with clear statements/actions. I don’t get any indication this is the case with you, but I think it’s definitely a helpful technique – as an internal process. I loved Alison’s suggested wording with the email as an example – it highlights that in almost all cases, it’s unnecessary to leave out mentions of feelings because there are legitimate and neutral reasons that underlie why you would want to question a process or decision!

    1. Lil Fidget

      I agree that it sounds like the comment was well meaning and more “teasing” than anything else. Not that it doesn’t mean you could dig a little deeper, but – well, this was said as a roast at a party in your honor, clearly they’re not super mad at you and you need to change everything you’re doing.

      1. mooocow

        Seconded. It sounds to me like friendly teasing, like your colleagues have grown quite fond of your little quirks. In my experience, there’s quite a lot of leeway for individual quirkiness in academia, so while it definitely makes sense to reflect on how you come across and whether you actually want that, I wouldn’t worry about it too much.

        I was also wondering: is this taboo against being snappy an American thing? I’m in Germany, and in all workplaces I’ve been so far (academia and industry) it seemed quite normal that people are, on occasion, snappy. It doesn’t seem to be a big deal, and one would certainly not count it in instances per year (more like: if you’ve been snappy twice in one week, colleagues would start asking what’s up, if it went on for several weeks it might be brought up by your boss).

        1. Lucy Montrose

          In that case, it sounds like she’s been catching flak for her emotional state for a good deal of her life. She got the message early and often: your emotions bother people and you need to be sorry when you involve others in them. So she apologizes every time she thinks she’s bothered someone.. which is still awkward, just another kind. So the advice she may have gotten about piping down, seems to be worsening the awkwardness.

          Seriously, is there a way to give someone feedback about their effect on others that *doesn’t* leave them feeling self-conscious and awkward?

        2. Elizabeth H.

          It could be an American thing. I also suspect that it’s the kind of thing that is easier to profess a zero tolerance attitude about in writing than in real life (when you might forget about an unusually brusque interaction with a coworker two seconds later as soon as something new or more important happened)

  9. MuseumChick

    Am I the only one who thinks Fergus is a little bit of an ass for say that to a whole group? Like, “let me just highlight my co-workers personal flaw in front of everyone”.

      1. Lil Fidget

        I really wish I could hear the tone of the comment and the laughter, haha! Some people hate any form of teasing, other people little put downs are the coin of the realm. I read it as more lighthearted but it would all depend on context clues, I could be wrong.

      2. Specialk9

        Yeah, not cool. I’m trying to think of the person who *wouldn’t* twist themself inside out at that ambiguous dig! And in public… 20-something me would have cried and dreaded coming to work.

    1. LBK

      I think he was under the impression that this is kind of an in-joke among the team that the OP was a part of. I have a pretty strong reputation in my department for keeping my social life private and I get razzed about it occasionally, but it doesn’t come off as mean. It’s only in this case because the OP was blindsided by it that it might be kind of rude.

      1. Falling Diphthong

        Yup. Which is a bit ironic, in light of the “If I feel this way, I am confident others do” aspect on OP’s side. He’s assuming she’s in on her office role.

    2. CutUp

      I’ve met many, many academics who are known to be quite odd, and this toast would be a normal (even well-meant) thing to say about them. Whether the recipient realizes they’re socially odd is another question…

      1. ket

        I think that’s really important to consider! I’ll take it further: academics can be a bunch of repressed people with odd ideas of social norms, so a person with a normal level of emotional fluency can come off as the odd one. Over time, we all figure out ways of getting along, more or less, but it’s useful be aware of what’s “normal” in one context and what’s “normal” in another context.

    3. Cristina in England

      My PhD supervisor definitely would have said something like this. Don’t know if it’s part of his Glaswegian humour or not, but he could be a bit of a wind-up merchant. (Someone who likes to rile someone up, for those who don’t know the phrase)

    4. serenity

      Maybe, but OP snapping at 3-4 colleagues in less than 9 months seems more rude to me. (Don’t mean to knock any OP, but focusing on Fergus’s admittedly odd wording to the exclusion of OP’s behavior seems like a cop out)

    5. Jules the 3rd

      No, ‘disconcerting heart to hearts’ is hardly a negative put down. It’s a quirk. I personally like quirks.

      Though I do think this one is about using terms with emotion in them.

      I work to use ‘I think’ instead of ‘I believe’ or ‘I feel’ – I consciously choose to avoid the terms that are tied to the female stereotype. It’s surprisingly hard, even after several years.

      1. Elizabeth H.

        I agree, the overall vibe is more of a quirk. Quirks are (usually) good!

        Re. I think and I feel – I use “I feel” language a lot (especially in comments here) and “I agree that x, y, z” because I feel that (lol) this type of softening makes people take your points better, and I want to convince people that my opinion is the correct one! I definitely associate the absence of this language with authority/asserting dominance and I use that kind of language in certain contexts too. In my opinion, it’s also good to even try to leave out the “I think” on occasion, due to the fact that if you said it, it’s implied that you think it. (I know this isn’t how conversational speech always works, but can be useful rhetorical technique)

        1. Specialk9

          Elizabeth, women usually do have to use softened language like that. But you’re talking about using the word “feel” as a squishy word instead of a direct (ie ‘aggressive’ from a woman) word like “think” or “believe”. That’s not what the OP is doing, they’re talking about actual feelings. Very different!

          1. Elizabeth H.

            Yes, agreed – I was replying to Jules’s comment about choosing think/believe statements over feel statements (in contexts where they mean the same thing) not talking about the OP at all.

        1. serenity

          Well, what if he meant for it to have a somewhat negative connotation?

          I’m a little “disconcerted” myself to see so many people downplaying some less than ideal behavior from OP (snappish towards 3-4 colleagues in the space of a few months) and critique only Fergus’s word choice. Or the more extreme reactions below – OP should seek therapy or leave academia. Is this necessary?

        2. Half-Caf Latte

          I wondered if Fergus was a native English speaker. The peculiar word choice combined with the PhD fact made me wonder.

          1. saffytaffy

            I thought the same thing! And I sort of thought it of the OP, who uses verb tenses in a way that’s non-native.

    6. I Wrote This in the Bathroom

      Yeah, while I agree with Alison’s answer, my first thought was, “Oh, academia. Nobody can put you down like those guys can! With flair!” Ugh, I cringed on OP’s behalf as I read about Fergus’s comment.

    7. Airy

      Maybe a little bit. Sometimes people think they’re being affectionate and it’s “I can kid you about this because you know I really like and respect you” but it doesn’t always feel that way to the person on the receiving end.

    8. oranges & lemons

      The phrasing strikes me as odd, given the context that the LW has provided. I would interpret “disconcerting heart-to-hearts” as dramatic unsolicited oversharing about her personal life and the reality sounds a lot milder than that (I know a few people who do this and it is very disconcerting to have an acquaintance drop some heavily emotional personal revelations in the middle of very banal small talk). But I’m getting the sense that Fergus and the rest of the team are pretty socially awkward.

      1. Lil Fidget

        Agree, if I just heard that phrase with no context I would assume it’s like when one of my coworkers zooms up and offers their Deep Thoughts about boyfriend / mother / whatever is going on in their heads and I’m like whoaa. Nothing that OP is describing really sounds like it fits well into that descriptor. But, as others have said, academics are super awkward, maybe *any* conversation feels disconcertingly intimate to this crew :)

      2. Queen B

        Same, and I’m wondering if the OP is assuming Ferguson was referring to the snapping-then-apologizing because any other “disconcerting” behaviors of hers simply aren’t pinging her radar as unusual.

        Also, “heart-to-heart” usually refers to a conversation that’s very personal or emotionally revealing on both sides. It could be the OP just is able to get her coworkers to open up about things they normally wouldn’t talk about, and maybe they’ve discussed among themselves that they’ve all found themselves in that position with the OP — hence the laughter from the group during the toast.

        One of my coworkers and I recently had a conversation about how we both find ourselves blabbering on and saying more than we should when we talk to his boss…because his boss is a really good listener who gives us undivided attention and really thoughtful answers. Most of the other managers we work with just…monologue at your face and interrupt you after your first sentence when you dare to speak (slight hyperbole but mostly true!), and it’s like we’re so unused to being actually allowed to speak without interruption that we don’t know when to stop! (I tend to forgo smalltalk anyway and jump into deep subjects with no chill, so that’s led to me having some unanticipatedly personal conversations with him about my mother’s death and my religious beliefs, and afterwards I was mortified for going there with him. He just listens so well!)

        So I could totally see my coworker and I saying something about “disconcerting heart-to-hearts” in a toast celebrating his boss, and it would be said entirely out of affection for him and a little embarrassment on our own parts.

        OP, if you get the sense that your coworkers generally like you, you might not actually be doing anything that warrants correcting — it’s just hard for us to tell with just your letter to go by.

    9. Tuxedo Cat

      I did. I also read the gender dynamics in this and thought this was also a STEM lab (I could be wrong). It felt like it was taking the OP down a peg. I’m also reading this from my own research on gender in STEM and my own experiences, so I could totally be off.

      That isn’t a reason for the OP to keep snapping at people, though.

    10. OhBehave

      If she’s done this 5-6 times, then chances are many of them already know this about her and totally get the comment. The fact that they showed up for the celebration tells me they thought nothing of her comments. I would caution OP to stop with the stress comments. It will give her the reputation of not being able to manage stress.

    11. Another person

      This sounds exactly like something my boss/graduate advisor would say (and I could even imagine a lab-mate who he might say that about, although she’s not new…) and I don’t know, maybe I’m just picturing the way he would say it (it definitely depends on the person) but it would be just a friendly light-teasing thing. Especially if it was just at an internal-t0-the-lab celebration.

    12. GMN

      Here that is completely par for course. If there are no jokes/ light hearted teasing it would be more worrying, like people were not comfortable enough with you to joke. I would guess this varies a lot between offices!

    13. Tina Belcher

      That was my thought. My husband’s in academia and he had a former colleague who was this awful. He was absolutely brilliant, but he’d do things like blatantly verbally abuse people to their faces for sport, even at social events. I’ve spent a lot of time with his colleagues, and honestly I’ve found myself falling for the line of thinking that complete ass = total genius. Because if you weren’t a genius, you wouldn’t get away with behaving like an ass, right?

      Get feedback from a trusted source, not him, and get a thicker skin. Sheldon Cooper may be a fictional character, but he has many real world counterparts.

  10. Violet

    My impression of it as someone in a PhD program, is that coworkers are a tight group who are struggling deal with a new coworker who challenges their weird behaviour.

        1. Kathletta

          I don’t see in the letter where it says 9am but yeah I agree that one thing is not ideal, but I don’t see anything else that would make it seem like they’re weirdos that can’t accept the OP? It seems like she likes it there and if they all had a gathering for her, she’s probably a well liked member of the team.

        2. OhNo

          Also, “people instead usually complain behind a person’s back”. That’s not weird as in uncommon, but it’s also not great practice in a professional setting.

          I’ve definitely been in environments before where you can’t just say how you feel. It just wasn’t done. And in my experience, transgressing that social norm would be fodder for light, mostly-good-natured teasing akin to what the OP got.

        3. Dankar

          In a typically structured world, yes. In academia? So, so normal.

          I once received a 5:30pm email on my day off that a meeting cancelled by snow was being held at 7:00pm that day. And I was there, of course.

        4. nonymous

          super normal in PhD-world. A lot of faculty will wrap up their campus commitments somewhere in the 3 – 5P period, go home and have dinner or supervise homework, and then put in 2 -4 hrs from home. The expectation is that grad students can put in around 5 hrs of work between dinnertime and a 9A meeting. Also pretty common to have a prof that expects their students to put in 10 -12 hrs on the average weekend.

        5. Thursday Next

          The chair of my department refused to cancel an afternoon meeting with me when I called him to ask that morning. It was September 11, 2001, my husband worked next to the WTC, and was missing at that time. (He turned up that evening.) So yeah, academics can be extremely weird.

          1. Midge

            What the actual eff? Seems like that department chair was lacking in empathy and human decency, in addition to being “weird.”

          2. Anion

            Jesus. I hope you put in a formal complaint, if such a thing was possible. That’s disgusting.

            Agree with the others: that’s not “weird,” that’s a selfish asshole (sorry, Alison, I genuinely cannot think of a non-curse that describes this person).

    1. blondie

      I have been through a PhD program (sciences) and have done a postdoc and now have several years experience in industry. A PhD program is very different than a “real” job (industry/office setting). The whole business with the last minute meeting scheduling should get no more reaction than an eye-roll. The late/missing postdoc thing is also not a huge surprise. My advice for the OP is to try to go along/get along as that will be more important than having things go according to your personal preferences—even if those preferences seem very reasonable. You’re going to be in that small group for a long time and you want to be one of them not an outsider.

  11. ket

    This is academia, and it sounds like a lab. In my area of STEM academia, one might have emotions, but one will always find an external way to discuss them, for better or for worse. There’s always an externalization of these emotions because emotions aren’t considered a good enough reason for (anything). In addition, when we write papers, we always make it look like it was a straightforward process — we omit the twists and turns of the research process. If other people are accustomed to, “Sorry I snapped, (external thing),” then the acknowledgment of emotions might be disconcerting.

    I don’t think you’re in the wrong group. I think most of what you’re doing is fine! Think about what you’re conveying when you say “I was stressed…” and see if you can omit it, or if you can put your finger on what the underlying issue is rather than your reaction to it. With regard to the 7 pm emails, for instance, they don’t need to know you’re stressed. Emotional reactions can vary, after all. What they need to know is that it’s a better outcome if it is scheduled differently.

    It’s a bit like the “How’re you?” “Oh, busy!” conversation. “Busy” is a habitual response. It’s not false, either, necessarily — but is that the key thing you want to communicate?

  12. Vin Packer

    Alison’s advice is good and you should follow it.

    Just want to point out for everyone else that this OP is in academia, which is a weird place without the neat division between “office” and “personal.” The kinds of mistakes OP is sharing here are really not at all out of the norm for someone who is brand new to their career.

    Again: yes to Alison’s advice! But don’t beat yourself up, OP; this is something many new academics have to figure out. You have a new strategy you can use now without continuing to feel bad or worried about those incidents.

    1. Snark

      So, the division is still there, it’s just….blurry and convoluted, with lots of bays and fijords. Grad students bragwhine about their stress levels and how busy they are, but generally in the context of bragwhining, not int the context of how a meeting makes them feel. At all times, it is implied that no matter how crushing the burden, the student Has It All Dialed and is under no genuine duress. These kinds of constructions, where someone else is forthrightly and with intensity informed that their meeeting scheduling is causing someone to be quite stressed? Still not a thing.

      1. Simone R

        Yeah the email was the only thing that jumped out at me as being not a thing explained by academia. The rest of it is within the circle of weird stuff that can go on and is seen as normal.

        1. Vin Packer

          I def cringed at the email! But the cringe is less “WTF, who does that?!?!” and more “rookie mistake. Hate to see it happen.”

      2. Emi.

        “At all times, it is implied that no matter how crushing the burden, the student Has It All Dialed and is under no genuine duress”

        Was this also the case in undergrad for you? Because when I was in undergrad the common implication was that we were all teetering on the edge of a total and possibly unrecoverable breakdown (lol!).

        1. Snark

          Honestly, I went to a school that was about 80% wealthy orthodontists’ kids from the Chicago suburbs who’d come to Colorado to ski and get their business degree in their spare time, so that wasn’t the culture in undergrad even though my STEM major was pretty rigorous and intense. But once we got to grad school, it was like, yeah, totally about to collapse, but I’m powering through with Science.

        2. Countess Boochie Flagrante

          Wasn’t for me! Which, in fact, made it a lot harder to deal with the fact that I was teetering on the edge of a total and nearly unrecoverable breakdown. The expected front in undergrad was “Oh yeah, I’m fine, I can go to the party, my stuff’s taken care of. I’ll be going straight into a demanding grad program after I graduate!” It was to the point where my intention not to immediately pursue grad school was constantly questioned with a pretty blatant ‘well what’s wrong with you?” tone.

      3. Vin Packer

        Yes, exactly. But I’ve known more than a few first-years who missed the distinction between bragwhining (well put) and feelings talk. I’m glad the OP is learning this lesson; just saying that the behavior isn’t as bizarre as it might seem to some commenters and OP needn’t bathe in shame (as feelings-y grad students are wont to do), just follow Alison’s advice from now on and she’ll be good.

      4. Gingerblue

        This can depend a lot on the department. My grad program had the bragwhiners and the Too Cool To Be Stressed types, but we also had a fair number of people who were pretty candid about mental health stuff and stress levels and whether they were struggling. (I’m talking primarily about grad students talking to other grad students.)

  13. NW Mossy

    Reading these examples, I’m struck by the way that the OP uses feelings as supporting arguments, as if the core statement is somehow weak or unreasonable on its own and that it needs to be bolstered before anyone will accept the premise. It reads somewhat more defensive than I think is intended, and that may be part of what the OP’s colleagues are responding to.

    OP, none of the things you’re raising are such a big deal that you need to call in the reinforcements of the I Did It Because backup vocals. Alison edited your email perfectly to let your basic point stand as a solo artist, leaving it implicit that people will believe that your point is a reasonable thing to talk about. I think your colleagues are telling you that they don’t need you to prove your right to have an opinion or even a preference, and trying to say that in a lighthearted and kind way.

  14. Buu

    I think the advice on improving your performance is great, but if that’s what this comment about then Fergus was way off base making a joke at about it at a dinner celebrating your award win. He should have taken you aside and talked about it privately on another occasion.

    Keep on improving yourself, it’s great you want to resolve any problems but realise in this case he is not setting a great example.

    1. Tuesday Next

      I got the impression that it was seen as a mildly amusing trait by the team (who clearly value OP), rather than a Problem Which Must Be Fixed.

  15. LouiseM

    OP’s wording here was pretty twisty so maybe I’m just misunderstanding but…isn’t she saying she is in grad school? So the colleague she was talking about was a fellow grad student, her boss is her doctoral advisor, etc.? I bring this up just because academia in general and grad school in particular have really different norms than other workplaces and sometimes the advice here doesn’t quite hit the mark. Grad students in the same department are colleagues and employees of the university, yes, but they’re also classmates and as such the boundaries tend to get blurred in a lot of ways. Sometimes this is a good thing and sometimes it’s a bad thing. Bad thing: too much drinking, excessive personal involvement among colleagues. Good thing: OP’s feelings about things like the meeting actually ARE relevant, even though they might not be in a “normal” office environment. The meetings are both for the benefit of the department’s research activities or whatever and for the benefit of the students. And people in the department likely DO care if there’s an easy thing to do that will relieve stress for the students. Openly discussing stress and workload is fairly standard in the grad programs I’ve encountered.

    That said, OP, I wonder if you’re wrong about what Fergus meant by “disconcerting heart-to-hearts.” Something I remember from my own Ph.D days is that everyone’s social lives revolve around their department and everyone drinks too much (and smokes too much, and doesn’t sleep enough, and eats like crap, but these are separate issues). When your social life is so tied up with your workplace, it can be easy for things to become inappropriate, and I wonder if that’s what happens when your department goes out for drinks. Why do you assume that Fergus was referring to your interactions in the office and not your social interactions at the bar after work?

    1. Simone R

      +1

      Also, the colleague she mentioned was a postdoc, and yeah I’m guessing the boss is her advisor.

    2. CutUp

      Yes, exactly. It seems much more likely OP is having odd one-on-ones in social situations without realizing it. None of her examples struck me as out of line for academia (though they would be weird in an office). I think the advice misses the point.

    3. Snark

      “Good thing: OP’s feelings about things like the meeting actually ARE relevant, even though they might not be in a “normal” office environment.”

      So, I say this as a former grad student who dated a labmate and is therefore agonizingly aware of the poor personal-professional boundaries present in grad school: no, the feelings are still not relevant, in this context. Grad students all definitely whine about their stress levels when they’re hammered, but the phrasing OP is using is still implying that others need to manage her stress and that her stress is relevant in the context of lab business.

      1. CutUp

        Possibly, but I think Louise meant that it’s unlikely OP saying she’s stressed would get her a reputation for being odd. It’s more likely something that’s going on in these social situations.

        1. OhNo

          I think it depends on what kind of stress the OP is bringing up, though. From my own time in grad school I recall that discussing class- or work-related stress was widespread and wouldn’t be weird. But bringing personal stress into the equation would have been considered too touchy-feely.

          For example, it would be fine to say you were stressed because you were up all night writing a paper. But saying you were up all night with a sick kid, or just because you couldn’t sleep, would’ve been a faux pas.

      2. Emily Spinach

        I do think it’s a supervisor’s job to attempt to manage in a way that attempts to minimize preventable graduate student/employee stress; that’s part of your job as the manager of people who have two, often competing, roles in your lab/department. Graduate programs ought to be relatively consistently reflecting on whether they have things set up in ways that prepare their grad students (and undergrads) for success, both as students and as employees. If everyone is unnecessarily stressed by something fixable, then yes, I think that’s worth A. reporting and B. expecting your advisor/lab supervisor/grad director to work on improving. I have no idea if the 7 PM email is a “preventable” kind of stress, but it’s worth at least reflecting on.

    4. Luna

      OP is a PhD student, but Fergus is a postdoc, so not a faculty supervisor but higher than a student. It sounds to me like OP is in the phase of her PhD where she is working in a faculty’s lab research team- so more of an academic workplace environment than an academic classroom environment.

      I used to work in this type of research program and OP’s behavior would be out of the norm even for academia. The snapping is still inappropriate, even with an apology afterwards. Also, someone so new to the program would definitely be seen as rude for being so openly critical. That doesn’t mean that things there are not sometimes inefficient, poorly planned, etc., but it’s often because everyone is very busy, not all projects have the same priority level, and grant funding is tough so it’s not uncommon to have a lack of staff and other resources need to run things properly.

      I don’t mean this to be critical of the OP, she is young and still figuring things out, and I think it is good that OP is willing to ask these questions. But in situations like the late meeting request, rather than sending an email to the whole group that essentially says “guys this is bad and you’re doing it wrong”, a less aggressive approach would be to go to the meeting and ask at the end of the meeting if the group could pull up their calendars and find a time then for the next meeting, or approach the meeting organizer one on one about the late notice.

      Some people make the mistake of thinking that all communication is good communication, and that everything must be said and said immediately. Unfortunately that’s just not always the case.

      1. Dankar

        Your second paragraph is spot on. I didn’t do a STEM or lab-based grad degree, but there were things I questioned in my first year that became clearer as I went through the program. Turns out that everyone had at least three or four more *priority responsibilities* from administration that made things much more complicated and hard to balance.

        I got a great assistantship position because of the chaos (and the weirdly perfect fit my background was for their needs), but even that was a seat-of-your-pants sort of thing.

      2. OP

        I appreciate the comment, Luna and thought I’d add some context! I explained above that I work in Scandinavia where PhD students are more treated like normal employees and are also expected to perform similarly.
        I commented about the late meeting request almost like you suggested at the end of the meeting and definitely wouldn’t have sent it in a ‘reply all’ email. (The meetings are also not always called by the same person, don’t involved anyone who is formally at a higher level than the others and there is no real ‘head’ of the meeting.) I try to be reasonable with understanding when something is scheduled late-notice, at weird times etc. when it’s genuinely due to external circumstances but those meetings were usually called very late simply due to poor organization. It has actually improved a lot since that comment and we usually schedule them at least 24 hours beforehand.
        I do think I might be a bit forward with suggesting changes etc. so early but sort of consciously chose to do so since there’s a big focus here on flat hierarchies and grassroots ideas / changes etc. I will definiltey try to keep it in mind that I should approach any suggestions carefully!

        1. Specialk9

          Oh that’s great, I also thought you sent out a scolding reply-all, but you brought it up in person after the meeting. Much better. (Though still, as the new guy…)

        2. Close Bracket

          Don’t you have regular, weekly lab meetings? Or are these in addition to the regularly scheduled meetings, in which case, just how many meetings does a lab group need?

        3. anon scientist

          Hi OP – are you an American by any chance? I’m an American living in Scandinavia, and working in STEM (warning – generalization ahead) I think Americans are generally more “outgoing” than most Scandinavians – so in addition to a lot of the other comments, one factor could be the cultural difference.

          I’m the only American in my group and people often comment about how “outgoing” I am, while I’m really an introvert and back home I was seen as really quiet!

    5. OP

      OP here!
      I appreciate your comment and was reflecting on it a bit!
      To clear things up, my ‘boss’/professor/PI is indeed my main supervisor (advisor), Fergus is a post-doc but not formally involved in my supervision or mentoring. (The terms might be different in the US)
      The thing is that I work in Scandinavia where PhDs generally work a bit differently than in the US, meaning that students barely have any classes (maybe 10% of my PhD will be attending classes or courses), we receive a normal salary, PhD students don’t really flock together but rather integrate fully into their lab groups and we are generally treated more like employees than students. In that regard, I think the lines are perhaps a bit less blurry than you suggested.
      I am relatively sure that Fergus isn’t referring to any social situations where I overstepped. I actually try to stay somewhat professional with people at work, meaning that on nights out, during lunch etc. I would of course discuss some personal stuff (subjects like holiday destination, pets, sports I practice) but strictly steer clear of truly personal stuff (think disagreements with bf of friends, family matters etc). Various members of my group are sharing much more about their personal lives so I don’t think I’m crossing a line there…

      1. sin nombre

        This might be more of a field difference than a regional one. My experience in a STEM graduate program in the US was very similar to what you describe. (We didn’t exactly get a “normal salary”, we got a stipend that was enough to live on but not more — still very different than the “ginormous student loans” that generally come with non-STEM (I think?) grad programs.)

    6. not so sweet

      Yes, I kept thinking this — that a research lab full of grad students and a post-doc with ambiguous authority is not a normal 8-4:30 healthy workplace with boundaries. But then I thought about it some more, and I thought, well, maybe it could be a lot closer to that than some of them are/were, and maybe it should be.

      I think AAM’s advice is good, as a way for the LW to take her emotions out of the apologies and suggestions. They don’t seem to be matching the prevailing lab culture, and it’s good practice for more mainstream workplaces later.

      It would also be good for the LW to look hard at her coping mechanisms and supports in general, and try to build more ways to complain that are safely away from the lab. A counsellor, a support group, friends who are grad students in very different disciplines or at different institutions, a family member who’s been to grad school and has no unresolved issues about their own experiences …

    7. OP

      OP here!
      If I recall correctly, Alison wrote or edited the headline so there might have been a slight misunderstanding. Fergus, who is a postdoc in the lab and was assigned to show me around and introduce me to the lab, made the toast. He’s not a formal supervisor, but obviously senior to me.
      Our PI/professor/’boss’/supervisor was the one hosting the party but otherwise isn’t involved in this. I guess he would be called doctoral advisor or something similar in the US.

  16. Manager Mary

    Hey OP, you might check out counseling or therapy. Please don’t take this suggestion to be rude or in any way to imply that you’re “crazy” or anything like that! I personally think that pretty much everyone could benefit from therapy. For me personally, therapy helped me identify some ways I was not dealing with things at work appropriately, and not overall dealing with stress well! I didn’t even realize how some of my issues were related, but hey, that’s the benefit of having a professional lend their perspective. And if you’re on a university campus, you may even have access to free counselors who are experienced in navigating the kinds of communication issues you’re facing. Good luck! :)

    1. CM

      I like therapy, but all I got out of this letter was that the OP tends to frame things in terms of feelings and I-statements, and that’s not the norm for her workplace. Which is useful to know.

      Also, from my experience with people in academic science labs, snapping at people once in a while is totally normal. So in this context, I would disagree with Alison’s assessment that snapping at people a few times in 9 months is unusual. Otherwise I thought the advice was spot on. Delete the “I feel” statements and your coworkers won’t be so disconcerted. (But in other settings, “I feel” seems fine to me!)

          1. Specialk9

            I don’t really get why the OP needs therapy (other than that everyone could use it and it’s delightful). It seems kinda over the top advice here.

            1. Manager Mary

              They have an outside perspective, and they’re experts in communication. My therapist helped me identify ways I was communicating effectively/ineffectively and appropriately/inappropriately in different situations so that going forward, I could reduce the ineffective interactions and get the most out of my communication. Did I/does OP NEED that? No… I would still be gainfully employed and fully functional without it, and OP obviously isn’t about to get fired. It just helped me be a more effective, less anxious version of myself, and maybe that’s something OP could benefit from as well.

        1. Mim

          I’m a social worker and at my organization we talk about feelings fairly regularly. This isn’t universally true across my field, but it’s not uncommon either.

          1. Ramona Flowers

            You know, I work for a mental health charity and we spend plenty of time discussing feelings and reflecting bit this is not how to do it. Sometimes there can be a conflating of a) reflecting on what you find hard and b) making everyone around you feel pressured into taking responsibility for your feelings whether or not they choose to accept it.

            This is the difference between “I feel stressed when you email at short notice notice” and “I’m a bit worried about being unprepared for the meeting – I’m not used to such short notice and if I’m honest, it caught me unawares.” An I-statement doesn’t have the most adaptive function if you’re using it to veil a you-statement (you made me feel x).

            I had a colleague who would just announce that she was upset and wait for me to fix it and I found it really difficult. Using I-statements alone doesn’t justify whatever you say to people who share the same space.

            1. Rusty Shackelford

              And it’s interesting that there really was no reason to interject feelings into the conversation. “I can’t adequately prepare for meetings on such short notice” is the reason to suggest a change, not “and that makes me feel stressed.”

              1. Ramona Flowers

                I don’t mean to sound really hard on the OP I hasten to add. It’s just that sometimes ‘telling your truth’ isn’t the way to go at work.

          2. WellRed

            Yeah. I actually wondered if she came from a background like social work or maybe she already makes use of therapy and has learned to express herself through this…lens.

      1. Luna

        No no this is NOT okay! It would be accepted if it was a faculty member doing the snapping, but NOT accepted from a grad student who just joined the group a few months ago! If anything this is less appropriate in academia than a regular workplace.

        1. whingedrinking

          I’m seriously wondering if “snappish” means the same thing to everyone in this conversation, especially now that we know OP is from a non-American culture. To me, it’s snapping if I say something like, “Seriously, give me a minute here” somewhat abruptly, instead of “Sorry, could you wait a moment please?” delivered calmly – less than ideally polite, something you wouldn’t want to put up with from a coworker all the time, but not extremely aggressive or angry. However, it sounds to me like various people would only call it snapping if it involved snarling, “NOT NOW!”

    2. Koko

      Also, I went to see a campus counselor when I was in grad school and the great thing is most of them are themselves grad students in the psychology department, so they *really* get what you’re dealing with because they aren’t years removed from their own experience of it – they are dealing with it right now, too.

    3. Tuxedo Cat

      I was going to suggest this too. She’s only in her first year of grad school- from my experience, it only gets more stressful so it’s really important to learn how to cope better.

      1. Betsy

        I think it’s super normal to talk about being busy and fine to talk about stress and how many conferences you need to go to and papers to draft and experiments to run, etc. That was part of the culture where I was, anyway.But the key is to do so in a way that makes you look capable and in control. If you’re having issues, it’s fine to address these with your supervisor in private, or only with coworkers you happen to be close friends with.

        I’m not sure if getting someone to go through a new procedure with you is standard or not, but I would be looking for opportunities to demonstrate autonomy where possible. I feel like you might just be slightly misreading some of the norms of the lab. I found that there were some professional norms I really needed to pick up on during my PhD (such as when to make jokes and when to be serious and also not to immaturely express passionate dislike of a major theorist’s work, only to have people frown, and then realise that was one of their colleagues).

        It’s also a very hierarchical environment for better or worse. I’m towards the bottom of the hierarchy myself and not so far out of a PhD program, but I would be upset if a PhD student came in and snapped at me, even if they were clearly talented and destined for success. I’m also from a country that’s not very hierarchical. Once you’re towards the end of your PhD program and have been around for a while, that’s when you start getting treated more like a proper colleague. It’s more about ‘doing your time’ than talent or anything like that.

  17. Simone R

    It can be really hard to figure out normal social boundaries in an academic lab. Complaining about stress/overwork/discussing emotions can be much more common than in other places, which I’ve picked up from comparing all the answers on this site with my experiences in academic labs! Especially if you are spending a lot of time with other grad students, discussing your stress level can be totally normalized. Spending all day in a lab environment can erase a lot of professional boundaries and the relationships can feel a lot more informal. Honestly, what the LW did doesn’t seem that far out of the norm for other labs I’ve been in (except maybe the email).

    That said, it can’t hurt to keep a check on your interactions with the other people in the lab for a bit. I second what the other commenters have said about checking back in with the postdoc about what he meant, since he could have been referring to something else entirely! These don’t quite to seem to fall under the heading of heart to hearts to me.

  18. TotesMaGoats

    1. Fergus didn’t need to say it that way. That was a bit mean-spirited in my opinion.
    2. If you snap at someone, you should apologize. Good for you for doing something most people won’t do. Snapping 3-4 times in 9 months doesn’t sound horrible to me. You shouldn’t snap at all but I’m sure we’ve all done it. So be aware of the snapping but keep doing the right thing by apologizing.
    3. None of those sound like disconcerting heart to hearts to me. And I probably would’ve said similar things “I get stressed when I don’t have enough time to prepare, let’s think about how we schedule last minute meetings”. I personally find nothing wrong with that. However, you appear to be with people who don’t operate like that. So, use Alison’s scripts to better communicate with your colleagues.

    I don’t know that I would radically change my way of operating to be “emotion forward” (I do love that phrase) since it probably works well for you. Just keep in mind how others perceive that mindset.

  19. Nonprofit Lady

    I also wonder if there is some gender difference stuff going on here. We don’t know genders of the group beyond OP and Fergus, but I wonder if OP is a minority as a woman in the group. In that context, I think it’s possible to come off as “touchy feely” without even doing anything too out of the ordinary, just because you’re a woman and it gets read that way.
    I also think that as women, we tend to be more deferential and apologetic than men. If you truly snapped multiple times, that may be problematic, but how big a snap are we talking about here? I’ve totally apologized for being short with someone and had a blank stare in return because they had no recollection of my being snippy (I had inflated it in my head). Is it also possible that the talks feel extra emotional because the issue being addressed feels small and inconsequential to the person who was on the receiving end?

    1. Roja

      Yes! I can’t even count the number of times I’ve apologized for snapping and gotten blank stares. Probably because I can feel all the BLARGH internally but all they see/hear is what I actually do, which is apparently not as snappy as I feel like it is. Which is good, since I’m definitely a born snapper under stress… something I’m obviously working hard to not do.

      1. Specialk9

        Lol yeah, sometimes I’m apologizing for the biting sarcasm or profanity that was taking place inside my head… But what came out was really mild, but I feel guilty for being a jerk anyway because I know what I was thinking.

  20. AnonAcademic

    I am a postdoc and supervise research staff as well as work with grad students. I agree with others that particular in academia, no one cares how stressed out you are. All of us are stressed out because academia is a cult and a pyramid scheme that exploits underpaid trainees, but we all choose to be here because getting to do research is at least marginally worth it even given those cons. Managing your own stress is one of the biggest things you will need to learn as a doctoral student and beyond because if you don’t, the burnout risk is really high. Also, snapping at people because you’re stressed is really not acceptable – there are so many inevitable stress points (qualifying exams, dissertation proposal/defense, grant deadlines) that you will become someone who snaps at people all the time if you get into the habit. Norms around communication and scheduling are also often very loose in academia, and people cancel trainings or meetings all the time because they forgot they were going to be at a conference or got pulled into something time sensitive. Be understanding about this, because inevitably you will be That Person at some point.

    I will also add that if your work style and personality are not compatible with academia, that is fine and probably healthy. There’s a reason there is a high dropout rate for women in academia. If adjusting to the norms feels really uncomfortable, trust that feeling, because it only gets harder the more levels you go up.

    1. Lil Fidget

      Boy, it sounded like OP just won a prestigious award, I don’t think we need to suggest that she may want to drop out of academia! I’m sure that’s not at all what you meant, just clarifying this in case!

      1. Elizabeth H.

        Yeah, I think the comment above is quite alarming sounding and that there’s no indication that OP is overwhelmed by or unsuited to academia! It sounds like she is dealing with typical demands of her work environment in a perfectly competent way, and just communicating about it a bit differently.

        1. Lil Fidget

          Also I mean, nobody knows something until they learn it! I made many mistakes starting out but that’s how I learned not to do that any more. There wasn’t a short cut.

      2. artgirl

        Lots of very smart people with prestigious awards think that those things must mean they’re well-suited for academia…then end up burned out with no plausible job prospects multiple years down the road. I bailed years ago and wish I had heard more about its drawbacks before I did.

        1. Elizabeth H.

          I think there’s a lot to say about academia, job prospects, dropout rates etc. but that this is definitely outside the scope of OP’s question. I do not think that anything implied that she has an unusual level of stress or difficulty coping with the work environment – she says she is quite happy there and I feel like we should take her at her word. This strikes me as a communication-based issue, rather than (ironically) how she feels about her work.

      3. Nerds

        Academia is a crock and a pyramid scheme, as he says.

        People who are successful within academia for their talents can make more money and work with better people outside of academia. People who are successful within academia because they are good at the academia “game” instead of due to talent tend to do very poorly outside of academia.

        Get the shiny PhD credential if you need it and then get out. If your field does not require it, just get out.

        -PhD who got out of academia and will never look back

        1. Elizabeth H.

          These are some pretty awful things to say (from you and AnonAcademic). There are major issues universities are confronting these days – just like with MANY fields. That doesn’t mean that academia isn’t full of people who find deep meaning in research, teaching, scholarship and the pursuit of knowledge in diverse arenas, which contribute to humanity in so many ways. Personally, I went to grad school, dropped out after 2 years and decided that it was not for me – I feel like I experienced some of the worst of what the experience can be like and I’ve never been more unhappy. But that’s mostly because it wasn’t the right career path for me, not because academia is hell in and of itself. I work at a university and I believe strongly in the mission and values of higher education. My closest family members are all in academia and really care about what they do and get something out of their work besides a “shiny credential” or how much money you make. I’m sorry you have such a bad attitude about it – I usually advise people not to go to grad school unless they literally can’t imagine doing anything else with their life and they have a burning research question already in mind. But that doesn’t mean the whole concept is worthless.

      4. Tuxedo Cat

        I’m not sure I’d suggest right now that the OP drops out of grad school. However, just because she won a prestigious award doesn’t mean academia or a PhD is the right path for her. There are plenty of hardworking, intelligent, clever people (with evidence to prove that) who don’t complete their degrees or remain in academia because of reasons within academia and their lives.

    2. Alice

      I agree with you that “all of us are stressed out” in academia, and that women in particular decide to use their academic training outside of academia (the high dropout rate that you mentioned). But I really disagree about the next step. The solution is not to throw up our hands and say that everyone who cares about work/life balance should leave academia. Instead, we can try and change our systems, expectations, and behaviors. I’m not saying that will be easy, but important things usually aren’t.
      OP, this lab may have a culture like AnonAcademic’s; that’s certainly common. But it’s not universal, even in academia. Link to follow.

    3. Jules the 3rd

      I will also add that if your work style and personality are not compatible with academia, that is fine and probably healthy. There’s a reason there is a high dropout rate for women in academia.

      Wow. Do you realize that you just implied that women’s ‘personalities’ are not compatible with academia?

      I hope you don’t mentor anyone.

      1. Nerds

        This comment, and ones like it, make me wonder if any of you have been in academia, or if you’ve been in male-dominated fields of academia.

        It’s not a commentary on women’s brains or ability in a particular field. It’s a commentary on the academic environment.

        This is like police shooting unarmed black kids. Your statements are the equivalent of the people who say that the black kid should’ve just been friendlier to the police. That’s not how it works, though! The police are the ones with the problem, not the black kid that got shot.

        It is literally true that there are academic environments that are unsuitable to women, generally. Those environments are specifically engineered, by the men in charge of them, to be unsuitable to women. On purpose. It’s not the women who need to stick it out and work for change in that situation. It’s the men who are long overdue to change.

        Those clamoring for change from within sound hopelessly naive of the way academic environments work. Tenure ensures that the men in charge are untouchable. The legal status of grad student work ensures they cannot effectively change the culture from the bottom up. The post-doc system further inoculates those in power from change. It is folly to try to work from within – a waste of talent and effort that can be better put into a dozen other more tractable problems. Better to leave and work in an environment that values you.

        1. STEMfemale

          I have been involved in academic STEM work as a woman, and the notion that women should drop out of academia because it is less suited to them makes me want to write a response that I suspect would not make it past auto-moderation. There are many ways to deal with gender issues in academia, but suggesting that women should leave academia because of it is perhaps the worst way.

        2. Close Bracket

          Female with 15 cumulative years of Physics education here. You and AnonAcademic both have piss poor attitudes.

        3. Gadget Hackwrench

          There IS a reason there is a high dropout rate for women in academia. They get sick to DEATH of dealing with people like AnonAcademic and Nerds.

    4. CM

      AnonAcademic, I don’t think you meant it this way, but your comment really made me bristle, especially this part: “I will also add that if your work style and personality are not compatible with academia, that is fine and probably healthy. There’s a reason there is a high dropout rate for women in academia. If adjusting to the norms feels really uncomfortable, trust that feeling, because it only gets harder the more levels you go up.”

      It reminded me a lot about how my grad school advisor (computer science) told me in response to a question about how to handle an issue, “Some people just aren’t cut out for grad school.” That was uncalled for. Both men and women have problems that they need to solve. It is unhelpful, to say the least, to imply that women have problems because of some inherent incompatibility with norms in the field. This attitude is one of the reasons for the low representation of women in STEM fields.

      Just because the OP has encountered an issue and is seeking guidance does not mean that her work style and personality are incompatible with academia, or that she will not be able to adjust.

      1. 30ish

        +1 I think OP sounds like she is on top of things. Her communication style actually reads fine to me as well – taking out some of the emotion-based stuff may be smart but it’s not like she has a huge problem right now.

      2. Lora

        I was thinking of it from the opposite way: the people who apparently ARE well-suited to academia are Geoff Marcy, David Marchant, Florian Jaeger, Christian Ott, Jason Lieb…

    5. Lora

      “I will also add that if your work style and personality are not compatible with academia, that is fine and probably healthy”
      Agree 100%. Grad school was an extremely bizarre experience for me simply because people DID bring their personal lives and emotions in to work in ways that appeared to be extremely unhealthy and unprofessional to me; I’d already been working in industry for four years. In fact, if a postdoc had ever thought to mention that I’d said something too personal, I’d have been scraping my eyebrows off the ceiling because I was regularly treated to my PhD adviser’s love life and church social group drama/gossip, the undergrads’ social drama, random students stopping in to complain about their class grades and how this was going to totally disappoint their parents, which professors were sleeping with which postdocs etc.

      This was in STEM though, so people were counted as consummate professionals if they remembered to wear pants consistently, and kept them on around students at all times.

    6. deesse877

      AnonAcademic’s comments strike me as reasonable and proportionate to the demands of the field (I am also an academic, going on 20 years now, though in a different field), and particularly to the truly extreme opportunity cost that participation in advanced research imposes. It really, really isn’t a profession where trying one’s best will usually pay off, or where one can usually find one’s niche. Most people’s careers are determined by a combination of chance, credential-and-position pedigree, and willingness to sacrifice and/or endure abuse. Many people drop out under conditions of extreme personal loss or stress (loss of a partner, death of a parent, personal illness or injury, underemployment leading to bankruptcy-level financial precarity, etc.).

      I can see how this might seem overly negative, but it feels incredibly irresponsible to affirmatively encourage someone to become or remain a scholar when that certainly means, for the large majority, a decade-plus of lost wages and savings during grad school and postdocs, repeated cross-country moves, for many women lost fertility, and a skillset so far from the norm for private industry and nonprofits that the project of exiting academia becomes itself a full-time job. Being an academic is nearly as risky as trying to make it as an artist or actor, in short, and people similarly conceptualize their choices as a calling or destiny rather than a job. It’s best to speak frankly and concretely, rather than mouth platitudes about having drive and a good attitude.

      1. Close Bracket

        And how exactly is that specific to women? AnonAcademic implied, no, said, that *women* are unsuited to academia, and here you are defending it.

      2. CM

        OP: I just won an award and am well-respected in my lab, but my coworker made a weird comment; do you think I should do something to address it?

        AnonAcademic/deesse877/Nerds: You should probably drop out of academia. It sounds like you’re not suited to it.

    7. ket

      “Snapping at people because you’re stressed is really not acceptable…” I have to say, I disagree. There are plenty of people in academia who are enormous jerks and it’s all waved away, “Oh he’s just like that.” I bet if the OP stopped apologizing ever and just cultivated a “She’s just like that, brilliant people gonna be jerks” image she’d do fine. That’s my honest take.

      1. Tuxedo Cat

        There are people like that in my field, and I still think it’s unacceptable and I don’t want to be a jerk.

        Also, there are a lot of dynamics at play. For example, I’m a woman of color in a somewhat male dominated field. I also am not in a position of power. From my experiences as well as my friends’ experiences, we have to be careful in how we behave. Dr. Jerkface can interrupt and mock students at talks who ask questions (this happened multiple times), but I have to be careful with how I word well-meaning and non-malicious critique.

    8. LouiseM

      Wow, I hate the implication of this comment. One reason there is a high dropout rate for women in academia is that there are so many factors that make it difficult to succeed while raising children, dealing with family matters, and just generally having a personal life–burdens that still fall disproportionately on women in a lot of societies. It can be also a place where grad students and faculty are expected to be robots, and where having personal or emotional needs is a liability.

      But it doesn’t need to be this way. I’m often encouraged by the rising generation of junior faculty and postdocs who recognize what a toxic environment their labs and departments can be, especially for racial and sexual minorities, and are working to change that (and that includes the junior faculty and grad students of color who end up doing a lot of uncompensated work mentoring students, etc.). If you supervise graduate students, you have a role to play in making your department a more humane place than the department you graduated from. It’s incredibly disheartening to hear that instead you just think, oh well, maybe women aren’t cut out for this. Rethink your attitude.

    9. STEMfemale

      >I will also add that if your work style and personality are not compatible with academia, that is fine and probably healthy. There’s a reason there is a high dropout rate for women in academia.

      Are you insinuating that women are not compatible with academia, and should drop out? I realize that you may have not meant it this way, but for the sake of the female students you may mentor, I hope you do not treat them as if they are naturally incompatible with their work. If this is how you feel, I urge you to find some sort of training at your university that could help you be a better mentor to women.

    10. Close Bracket

      > I will also add that if your work style and personality are not compatible with academia, that is fine and probably healthy. There’s a reason there is a high dropout rate for women in academia.

      And what is that reason, do tell?

  21. Antigone

    I’m sure it’s all field- and department- and even lab-specific, but for what it’s worth, I’ve worked in several different academic research labs and Alison’s advice would be on target for all of them. Even in that environment, Alison’s rewrite of the meeting invitation response would have been significantly more typical/appropriate than one more expressly appealing to personal feelings of stress. (And the expectation in some (but not all) of those labs would have been that evening emails were entirely fine and so even Alison’s rewrite would have been met with a shrug and a “sorry, but this is how we’re going to do it.” Admittedly, those were the labs I hated working in and got out of ASAP.)

    It’s a given that graduate students are going to be stressed out, under-slept, and asked for stuff without a lot of time to prepare it, in many academic labs. Snapping in response to that is, in my own experience, not acceptable on anything like a regular basis.

    I don’t think that’s necessarily how it *should* be, but that’s often how it is. It might not go amiss to find a sympathetic lab-mate and have a chat about it, or even just to go ahead and run a little test. Make an extra effort for a month or three to change up your communication style a bit, see what if anything changes about how people respond to you, and go from there.

    1. oldbiddy

      I agree – lab “personalities” can vary from lab to lab, or the same lab may change over the years, depending on who’s in it. Nonetheless, Allison’s advice was spot on. Cultivating good general workplace behavior will serve OP well for all of her career.
      My PhD group was full of very competitive people who mostly didn’t hold grudges or care if people snapped. So we snapped, griped, etc, like the big dysfunctional family we were. I had to tone down my behavior somewhat once I got to groups with different dynamics.

  22. LQ

    Maybe this is just me, but I wonder if …you aren’t coming off as snappish as you think? (I know this is the opposite of what a lot of people are saying.) I’ve had people apologize to me for things that didn’t seem out of the ordinary or were such nonevents that the apology was very disconcerting. Especially when they talk very emotionally about it. I’d hope I wouldn’t be a Fergus and not say something directly, but…a different me in a different life? Totally would.

    I still think that the solution is to take emotion out of it. But if you said “No, I got it.” slightly coldly and you thought you were overly curt and came in and made a big emotional apology about how stressed you were that would feel like a disconcerting heart to heart, because you hadn’t actually done something that needed that apology.

    1. a1

      I was wondering about this, too. Being direct is not necessarily being snappish. So saying something like “I don’t have time for this right now.” might seems snappish to you if that’s not how you normally communicate, but others may think nothing of it. Just go back to their office/desk/station and keep on keeping on. So the apology would seem odd to them. That said, of course tone matters a lot, not matter what the words are and you’d have a better gauge on that since we didn’t hear these interactions.

    2. Solidus Pilcrow

      I was going to post something like this as well. There’s been a few times when a co-worker apologized for something like being snappish or curt that I didn’t even notice. Add to that all the emotional front-loading and it becomes A Thing when it really didn’t have to be.

      Also, there is something in your communication style that seems convoluted and over-involved. You’re spending lots of words and forcing your audience to follow your train to the very end to get to your point. You have a pattern of 1) apologize, 2) give an emotional reason (or several), and 3) make your ‘ask’ (whether that be forgiveness or more meeting notice).

      For the non-apology things, like the meeting notice example, try putting your ‘ask’ first then give supporting arguments (and leave the emotions out of it). You could word things more like this: “Hey, would it be possible to get more notice for these meetings? Preparing for these meetings on short notice is inefficient as other work has to be re-scheduled and it effects the quality of the presentations. “

      You can soften it a little by asking if there is a reason for the short notice, if that seems appropriate.

      For apologies, especially if they are for minor transgressions, really parse down the emotions or reasons (because they begin to sound like excuses). “I’m sorry for snapping at you yesterday. I was nervous about doing the experiment alone.”

      I know this communication style is hard to do. I’m deeply addicted to the introductory dependent clause and need to correct myself frequently. However, I think you’ll find this style lets you express yourself even more directly without a lot of “noise” contaminating your message.

      1. Solidus Pilcrow

        I see above the OP is in Scandinavia. My advice applies to English. I don’t know how well it translates (Ha!) to the Scandinavian cultures/languages.

    3. Wakeen Teaptots, LTD

      That’s where I went with my initial read on this. My take was that the OP was overthinking, not that there was an actual problem. The comment section took a weird turn for me.

      Alison’s advice is great, stick to the facts. My additional advice would be, just shake this off, be a nice person, remember not to snap, and don’t spend any more time thinking about Fergus’s comment. You’re an award winning rock star. :)

      1. Observer

        I’d say that Allison’s advice works whether the OP is really snappish or not. Because the key here really is to cut out all of the comments about “I’m stressed.”

  23. Serin

    It’s been my experience that people who are “emotion forward” aren’t even aware of how often they’re talking about emotions, their own and others’.

    And I usually don’t find it disconcerting when people talk about their own emotions — but I find it very disconcerting when they want to talk about mine.

    OP, think about how you talk to other people about their feelings.

    – Do you ever recall asking a co-worker, “Are you all right?”
    – Do you say things (“I don’t blame you for being angry,” “It can look alarming to a beginner, but there’s nothing to be scared of,” “The snow is really stressing me and Linda out”) that contain assumptions about other people’s emotions?
    – Do you accept polite responses when you ask people how they are? or do you follow up with something like, “But how are you really?”

    These are the kinds of things I think about when I read the phrase “disconcerting heart-to-hearts.”

    Personally, I don’t want to be in a feeling-sharing relationship with a co-worker without my consent. I’m told that most people aren’t as private about their feelings as I am, but in the workplace, you really want to be careful not to push people into levels of emotional sharing that they’re not comfortable with, and that may mean that “emotion forward” people have to hold back a little bit.

    1. hbc

      Yeah, that’s where I am on this one too. When trying to picture a coworker I’d say “disconcerting heat-to-hearts” about, I landed on a guy who, yes, has a reputation for snapping when he’s stressed and all that jazz. But the reason I thought of him is that he overshares. I was trapped on a car trip early on getting to hear about how his wife’s medical condition includes dryness *everywhere* and the power struggles at his church and I was all, “Hey, look, a distraction!!”

    2. jotpe

      “Do you accept polite responses when you ask people how they are?”

      +1 – yep, this is what I thought of too.

  24. Justin

    This sounds familiar.

    I got a job 5 years who where I entered into a close group with someone (who was their sort of emotional leader though not a supervisor) who was very very different from me. And uh, it didn’t go well. I empathize with all parties, but, like you, I was wrong (and in my case, my coworkers complained about me and said I was annoying to our supervisor, which hit me right in the middle school feels).

    The advice is spot-on, though it might hurt to hear/try/do. This doesn’t have to be the end or something to ruin things. I’d say just take a step back and edit your language a bit, as said, and, likely, if there are ways you can pull yourself back (taking a walk or whatever, not telling you not to feel something, just sharing what I did), it can go a long way. I never did get along with that person, but I did thrive in the job, like you are aside from this, so I don’t expect such a challenge to be fatal.

    I wish you good luck.

  25. Jaybeetee

    OP reminds me of a colleague I had in the past who framed things in a similarly emotional way (and could also be snappish when stressed, and a bit easily offended IMO). I recall we all had a decent working relationship with her, and a few people were even friends with her outside of work, but she did come off rather “hysterical” at times. Like AAM said, I would find it a bit weird when she’d snap at me over something minor, then come to me apologizing later with this whole emotional “I was stressed/distracted/tired/upset over something else” spiel. She had particular issues with one of the managers, a military reservist who was rather rigid and stoic with his emotions, whom she found insensitive and rather tactless at times.

    From what I know about academic circles, work and life get quite intertwined – your colleagues are your friends, and academic romances are quite common. So it might feel like it makes sense to talk to your colleagues as if they are your friends, but I think it can be important to distinguish whether you’re “friends” or “colleagues” in that moment. If it’s a workplace interaction, keep things a bit more formal/professional sounding. If you’re out for drinks and snap at someone inadvertently, feel free to be more, well, friendly in your apologies. (But overall, keep an eye on that “snapping at people” thing – that’s a bad habit to develop. Deal with your stress in other ways).

  26. Fabulous

    Reading through your exchanges, I couldn’t see anything wrong with them outright; however, Alison does make a great point – they are somewhat emotionally driven. I agree with her advice to remove the emotional language. As a general rule in business communication (and especially academia, at least as I was going through grad school) I tend to remove personal pronouns entirely from communications. For example:

    “Is there a particular reason for scheduling our meetings on short notice? When emails are sent in the evening announcing a meeting for the next morning, preparations often can’t be made on such short notice and our meetings are likely less efficient as a consequence. Would there be a way to schedule these with more notice?”

  27. Fergus

    I was furgus for many years. Honestly it just sounds like phD student behavior on op’s part. She just needs to take a step back and stop behaving as though she is the Most Important person in the group.

    1. Observer

      I think you are being a bit harsh. I don’t think that the OP is being too self centered. Just using a not so great communications style for this workplace.

      1. Betsy

        Perhaps Fergus is being harsh. However, PhD students do often come in with self-important and self-centred attitudes. They were generally the best in the class all the way through school and were told that they were destined for great things, so it’s not surprising some of them come in with such attitudes. They’re just nicer to talk to once they realise that there are all kinds of other people in the department who also have interesting research projects, and nice personalities and other noteworthy qualities.

        1. Observer

          Which is all good and fine. But we’re not to, or about, “PhD students”. We’re talking to an INDIVIDUAL who is actually NOT acting as though they are the Most Important Person in the group. They sound like they are trying be be polite and approprite.

    1. Elizabeth H.

      It sounds like it’s a small group where the meetings are more collaborative and perhaps different people call the update meetings at different times, so it seemed completely appropriate to me to email the whole group – and I think in this context it might be strange or over-personal to send a one-on-one email.

  28. arcya

    Hi OP! I graduated with my PhD not all that long ago, in what sounds like a similar field. I am going to give some advice I am afraid people outside of academic labs will not like, and I agree with them that this advice is not fair or just. But some people are recommending you talk to your PI, or other people in the lab, to get feedback on your mannerisms. Don’t do this.

    You’re giving yourself a reputation as being high-strung, and that’s kinda whatever. It sounds like you’re a young woman and your postdoc and PI are both men, so they’re going to pick on you for something and it might as well be that. BUT! It does mean that, from now on, ZERO of your lab conversations can be about your feelings. Do not tell anyone in the lab you feel stressed, ever, starting now. Tell your therapist or your mom. Once you get tagged as someone who talks about their feelings all the time it’s over. If you come to your PI about this he’ll tell your postdoc you had more feelings at him. If you tell anyone else in the lab you were hurt by what the PI said they’ll spread it around that you’re sensitive. They probably aren’t bad people, but this is how science is, especially to women. From now on in lab you are unflappable, and if someone’s a dick you’re just gonna quietly work around it. If you get an email in the middle of the night wanting a project update in the morning cheerfully ask if it can be pushed back (it can’t, if it could it would be, PIs don’t like morning meetings either), and if not throw some slides together and use enough concealer to hide dark circles around your eyes.

    It’s not fair and it’s not right. But this is what it is. You have begun to have a reputation as someone who lets their feelings get in the way, and this is deadly to womens’ careers in science. You’re a first year though, so if you don’t solidify this as your reputation (by have more feelings-conversations) people will forget it.

    I’m sorry it’s like this.

    Signed, a woman in STEM

    1. Lora

      Yeah, I have to say I agree with this.

      The notion in certain labs – not by any means all, but in certain highfalutin’ labs full of fancy people – is that if you are stressed, it is because you are too dumb to Science.

      I’m thinking specifically of the EJ Corey Lab at Harvard, the Rubin Lab at Harvard, and more recently the Wolan Lab at Scripps. UPenn and MIT are notorious for being pressure cookers with high mental illness rates. The Broad Institute has a similar reputation.

      It sucks out loud, but there’s also not much you can do about it. You don’t get to have any kind of feelings about anything, you’re supposed to stuff it all down and drown the feelings in alcohol. I read your email about the meeting time as trying to soften the language without being very accusatory – like, you’re saying, “I feel…” instead of saying, “WTF kind of last minute crap is this???” or even just bluntly saying, “no, this request is too last minute, next time send the agenda 2 days in advance kthx”.

      To be honest when I was in grad school there would have been a nonzero chance of me sending a haiku in reply:
      Last minute meetings
      Are not inevitable
      Next time plan ahead
      Which also would have been poorly received, but also par for the course where I went to school. So if it’s any consolation you’re more mature than me…

      1. arcya

        OP don’t do this haiku thing either, this is how you get an even worse reputation. If your PI asks to meet and it’s stressful and last minute, you throw some slides together and do it. Keep a reserve of slides to pull out when you have to. Only say you can’t meet if you truly can’t, like you are currently in a different country or have a dentist appointment. Higher level people can refuse rude, last minute requests. Grad students cannot.

        1. Close Bracket

          > OP don’t do this haiku thing either,

          But do cross-stitch it and hang it in your office.

          Nah, don’t do that, then you’ll get a reputation for having girly hobbies.

          You can hang it in your home, though, and think about it longingly while at work.

          (most of that was tongue in cheek. most.)

    2. mf

      I agree, and also you’re right: it’s not fair or right.

      “If you come to your PI about this he’ll tell your postdoc you had more feelings at him.” Yes–in a most normal workplaces, you could ask for feedback from your manager, supervisor, coworkers, etc. But if you do that here, you’re gonna look like you’re emotionally high maintenance. (You’re not–but it will be read that way.)

      1. FemaleMathGrad

        The last part of your comment really hit home for me, as a current grad student with an ever-looming deadline coming up. I’ve been struggling a lot lately with the fact that my (male) supervisor only really gives specific comments of “rewrite this sentence”, but without knowing whether he means it in the context of “it’s mostly great, this part is ok but could be better” or “none of it is great, but this bit is especially awful”. I have a tendency to think in black and white scenarios, so his real view is probably somewhere in between the two, but it is tough in academia to work with those sort of boundaries.

        1. J.B.

          Even better when you have two professors rewriting each others comments. Signed, not getting a PhD noway notme.

  29. 30ish

    I agree with Alison’s advice, but I also think there’s not much to worry about for OP. The postdoc probably intended for his comment to be lighthearted. It seems like there’s a bit of a difference in expectations around communication – her colleagues probably did not need OP to apologize in the situations she mentioned, and so OP now stands out as someone who checks in with how people are feeling, and the others don’t do that. But it does not sounds like it bothers anyone.

  30. AvonLady Barksdale

    I’m curious if the OP went into her PhD program straight out of undergrad or after working in the corporate world for a few years. I ask because some of these things, especially asking for a “procedure” change like the email about the meeting, would probably go over fine in a corporate setting, but in an academic setting they go over like a lead balloon. I haven’t done a doctorate but my partner is a getting his now, and the differences in workplace communication sound so nutty to me sometimes. It’s especially clear when he tries to give me workplace advice. He’s in a STEM field, though not in a lab, and some of his communications with his higher-ups boggle my mind. I have also seen some members of his cohort lose out on opportunities because they get too emotional about them.

  31. DQ

    “40% me saying that something about how we do things seems suboptimal to me or isn’t working out well for me (and then politely asking if it’s done that way for a particular reason. If it is I never insist or push).”

    That, in nine months, you have spoken up about so many things being suboptimal for you that you can quantify a percentage suggests that perhaps you might be falling into the trap of “I’m the new gal and I see all of these ways you should be doing things better if only someone would have pointed them out to you.” Don’t be that person, OP, you seem to earnestly want to improve things but first you have to learn how and why things are done a particular way and that doesn’t start from the perspective of something being “suboptimal for you”.

    It’s not ideal to get an email after hours about a meeting the next morning but it will occasionally happen- and if it happens once and you decide it warrants A Conversation, then you are really the one who is going to appear to be out of synch. Instead, maybe try asking a question like “oof, you guys….when we get an after hours email about an early meeting, what’s the expectation?” You might find that it rarely happens and when it does everyone is 100% fine with “I know you all didn’t have a chance to prepare” and the team is able to just roll with it.

  32. Amy S

    The response to the meeting can be even shorter than what Allison suggested. “Would it be possible to schedule these meetings a bit further in advance so we can all prepare better?

    Or better yet, at the meeting schedule the next one before you leave :)

    Done. Simple.

  33. MegPie

    I wouldn’t really worry about it, if I were you. It sounds like an offhand comment about a quirk, which we all have. I mean, it’s always good to continue to improve yourself and Allison’s advice is solid, as always, but he said this in a toast to you for a prestigious award. Only a super passive aggressive person would do something like that with the intent to point out something negative, so it sounds like he was just joking around.

  34. Where's the Le-Toose?

    I like Alison’s advice but I would change it slightly. The head of my government agency has a policy that it’s okay to gripe about a situation as long as there is a proposed solution. And all I would change from Alison’s advice would be to have a more definitive solution.

    So on the last minute meetings script, I would just shorten it to:

    “I realize that the scheduling for those meetings has probably been done like this for a while now but I was wondering if there is a particular reason for it. Can we push back the meeting notice to 12 pm the day before [or whatever timeframe works for the OP] so I can better prepare for the meeting?”

    1. postdoc

      no, because OP is a first year grad student and it comes off as tone deaf to fuss about last minute meetings. This is how academia is…annoying yes, but this sounds like how the group is used to functioning, so you have to go with it.

      You know how often e your meetings are needed last minute, even delayed for hours? You just have to manage and be flexible…

    2. user4233

      That’s funny.

      I’m not in academia anymore, but in my “normal” job, meetings are sometimes scheduled an hour before or less. And yes, I frequently need to present something. In such situations you normally re-use old slides and commend verbally on the current status.

      If you haven’t had time to prepare, nobody has. So nobody expects you to come 100% prepared and with sleek slides.

  35. Jerry Larry Terry Gary

    It reads more like you may be apologizing too often or in much detail.
    That said- just ask someone. Seems more productive than combing through months of interactions.
    And maybe work on feeling more confident in protecting your time.

    1. OP

      Scandinavia, though I’m fascinated by cultural differences within the US and very curious about your comment!

      1. ket

        Oh man…. from my understanding, Scandinavia has a whole different set of issues/discussions in academia. From my contacts there, I’ve heard that there’s a much higher awareness of burnout (for instance, friend got medical leave from grad school for burnout, which would never happen in the US). On one hand, good to acknowledge these things and have support structures in place. On the other hand, I almost feel like friend got tagged as “the emotional woman” — by having a superficial structure in place to support mental health and the language to discuss mental health, she was duped into thinking that some of her superiors would actually respect mental health. Hm.

        Also, I’m in a field with low female participation in the US and she was in a field with low female participation in a Nordic country with a great reputation for equality, and she saw ooodles more overt sexism from her colleagues and superiors than I ever did. Fascinating differences.

      2. Argh!

        The Midwest is heavily influenced by Germanic immigration. In some areas there has also been a heavy Scandinavian influence. Where I live, I am surrounded by blue-eyed white people who never say what they’re feeling and think you’re weird/needy/histrionic if you express a feeling. Even laughing has to be muted and tightly controlled after it erupts. This is a great contrast to New York & the South, where I have also worked. If you act that way in those areas you’re considered stuck-up.

      3. Argh!

        I currently work in the Midwest, surrounded by blue-eyed white people. I’m not sure where their ancestors come from, but they certainly don’t appreciate expressions of emotion, even laughter! I have also worked in New York and in the South, where these buttoned-up people would be considered stuck-up snobs.

      4. anon scientist

        I commented above – I saw you were in Scandinavia, and immediately thought that this might be a cultural US vs Scandinavia thing (if you are an American). This is a generalization, but my experience as an American in Norway is that Americans are thought of as louder and often seen as more dramatic. I don’t know if that’s always true (sometimes I think I’m pegged as being that way just because they know I’m an American, since I’m actually pretty quiet and introverted, or was in the US anyway!).

        Anyway, if you are an American, this could be part of the issue. You can still follow Alison’s advice to dial-back the emotions, I think it applies even more to Scandinavian work culture than American work culture.

      1. Solidus Pilcrow

        The Midwest (the Upper Midwest in particular) was heavily colonized by Scandinavians. Coincidence? I think not.

      2. Tina Belcher

        I find Midwesterners as a group creepy because of this, a cross between Invasion of the Body Snatchers Pod People and Stepford Wives.

  36. blondie

    This is a totally normal environment in a PhD group. Resisting the way of the group is generally ill advised. Choose your battles and go along to get along more often than not. The late notice for a meeting should generate a reaction no more than maybe an eye roll. Things will be different later in the real working world.

    1. Dust Bunny

      I feel like the OP needs to drastically adjust her expectations. Some jobs/situations are just going to have short-notice meetings, and you learn to do them even if they’re not your ideal. My job does not but it’s totally normal for me to have to drop everything and work with an unannounced client, which is annoying and less than ideal because it wastes a lot of time while I find material for them (if they call ahead I can have their stuff ready when they get here). That’s just how it goes, and if I started fussing about it, my coworkers would start to wonder if this was a good job for me.

  37. Professor Ma'am

    I have to say that a lot is lost here by people who have not “worked” in a scientific PhD program (or honestly any PhD program!). You are a grad student literally 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You work with other people in a constant state of stress. You’re developing good ol’ imposture syndrome full blast. No one knows what they’re doing, is terrified of messing up, and yet thinks everyone else has it figured out. Add to that the pressures of your adviser not only pays you (if you’re so lucky to get a stipend) but who also holds your career in his/her hands. And as a cherry on top, you’re doing all of this and usually you don’t know whether or not you actually *want* the PhD because at this point you realize Academia sucks and maybe you don’t want to go that route but here you are wasting years getting paid next to nothing instead of jumping into industry and getting that nice 401k. I literally don’t know a single grad student who didn’t want to quit at some point.

    So to say you can’t snap at someone is BS. You will, everyone will. You’ll also cry a bunch of times… quietly at your desk, directly to your adviser, or maybe at 11pm on a Saturday alone in the lab. I’m sorry the OP is getting shit from their lab group and I really hope it’s only playful teasing.

    OP: Hang in there. You’re doing great. If you feel alone or overwhelmed go talk to a counselor at student health. Did I mention that it’s not unusually to develop depression during grad school? ::raises hand::

    1. Turkletina

      Having been a PhD student both in the US and in Europe (OP says she’s in Scandinavia), my experience is that all of this is much, much more true in the US than it is in Europe.

    2. ThumbsUp

      ::raises both hands and waves them in the air::

      Academia is wildly different from industry. The management is different (PIs, post docs, lab managers, lab techs all with different expectations), the finances are different (hello constant grant proposals and inconsistent NIH funding), and the work is different (are you ever truly “done” with an experiment?)

      Imposter syndrome is rampant, fellow grad students are cut throat, and unfortunately those who are supposed to be your mentors are often too consumed with their own problems to help you.

      It is ok, I repeat, ok to be stressed. It is ok to snap at people. Don’t make it a habit, and always follow up with an apology. Stay strong and focus on the science.

  38. Evelyn Wood

    Is it possible that this is a language issue? The phrase “disconcerting heart to hearts” doesn’t seem to apply to what the OP is identifying as potentially problematic (although those issues are, in fact, a problem). I would’t consider any of those apologies as heart to heart conversations, or even particularly disconcerting. It does remind me of an old boss of mine who was a native German speaker, and every once in a while he would use a phrase in English that didn’t quite convey the meaning he was trying to get across. I would probably ask for clarification, considering I wouldn’t want my work habits to be considered disconcerting.

    1. Short & Dumpy

      I had the same reaction. To me, heart to hearts are things like conversations about my stress over my spouse’s medical condition flaring up (not that I just had one of those with my boss today or anything; thankfully it’s not a negative in my office!)

      1. ket

        From a Midwestern Scandinavian-influenced point of view, a heart to heart with my dad (an immigrant to the US from a Nordic country) would consist of something like, “I’m really worried about your grandma’s health.” “Me too.” (silence) (silence) “Love you.” “Yep, you too.”

        Whatever his other flaws, Garrison Keillor characterized this stuff pretty well.

  39. blackcat

    “Pointing out the problems with a 7 p.m. invite to a meeting the next morning is totally fine and reasonable.”

    I really, really hate to say it, but if you are a newbie in an academic research group with this established pattern, it really isn’t okay to point this out. You either suck it up or find a new group. If you’ve put in 2-3 years with a group, it’s okay to speak up, but you’re not at that point yet.

    It sucks, it’s unfair, but the assumption is generally if you don’t like the way a research group works as a PhD student, you find a new research group. I can’t think of a single field where a newbie grad student trying to change the way a group functions could go well.

    Some people view PhD training as a version of hazing. That’s terrible, unfair, and one of the most dysfunctional things about academia, but it is very true. You will not change the way your research group works, and you should not expect to.

    (I specifically chose an advisor I trusted to avoid exactly this kind of thing. But many, many of my friends are expected to turn around work within 12 overnight hours while working on their PhD. It’s terrible, but generally normal.)

    1. Antilles

      Agreed.
      The *only* exception might be if there’s a clear and obvious reason why a certain group pattern isn’t working, so you can suggest changes based on the specific work impact. For example, if people were regularly missing those “7 pm invite for 9 am” meetings because people couldn’t arrange someone to cover their classes on that time frame, you would probably be safe to suggest that sending invites earlier would help attendance. Or if people never communicating their out-of-office status regularly caused major issues with sample preparation, you could mention it under the umbrella of improving research efficiency.
      But that’s only feasible if it’s a repeated issue that’s sufficiently obvious that people would agree it’s causing a problem. And to be blunt, even then, cultural changes are pretty hard to implement, so it’s probably even odds whether you’d see real change or just words.

    2. Cat owner

      Agree – PhD students can often be seen as a revolving door of faces by researcher. One trying to change established patterns so soon could be seen as a lesser version of those infamous interns and their dress code petition.

  40. Coalea

    Am I the only one who doesn’t think the examples given fall into the category of “heart-to-hearts” (disconcerting or otherwise)? When I hear that phrase, I imagine the OP cornering a coworker (or fellow student or whatever the case may be) and spilling her guts – not just bringing excessive emotion into the workplace (which, I agree, is inappropriate), but sharing lots of details about non-work-related stuff about family life, relationships, how she’s always felt insecure about having six toes on one foot, taking a year off to herd llamas and “find herself,” etc.
    I think Alison’s advice is good for keeping that excessive emotion out of work-related interactions, but I wonder if perhaps the OP should dig a little deeper and make sure that is truly what Fergus meant by “heart-to-hearts.”

    1. anon scientist

      I agree with you, but above the OP said she is in Scandinavia. To a lot of Scandinavians, saying you are stressed would be a heart-to-heart.

    2. CMart

      Yeah, I was also wondering if maybe the OP is discounting their social gatherings when they shouldn’t be. This doesn’t have to be a “workplace” thing!

      Does the OP often ask people probing questions about their lives? When they go out to socialize, is their version of making conversation “How has you week been? How’s your girlfriend? It’s been what, a year? How’s it feel to be a year into a committed relationship like that? Are you moving in together any time soon? Are you nervous?” And so on. Back to back like that it seems like A LOT but I have friends who just looooove listening to other people and genuinely want to know what’s going on in other’s lives, so those are all very personal, heart-to-heart style follow up questions that emotionally open people are prone to ask.

      And a lot of times it’s fine! I’m usually quite flattered when someone takes that deep of an interest in me, but it is definitely “disconcerting”. Like, I just wanted to go grab a coffee at the kiosk with you, I wasn’t expecting to spill my guts about how new motherhood isn’t as magical as I thought it would be!

  41. Noah

    The lessons at work are (1) almost nobody at work cares how you feel; and (2) even the people who care how you feel won’t make business decisions based on how you feel if they are good at their jobs.

  42. Narise

    What color are you? Meaning are you orange, gold, blue, or green? There is a test that you can take that will identify your characteristics and will help you understand how you work, how you want information presented to you, and what causes you stress. I’m not sure you can have others take it but we had several people go through it at my company and it is eye opening because you learn how to deal with someone who is opposite you.

  43. Engineer Girl

    In another instance, a colleague was constantly asking me for opinions on inconsequential things while I was working and didn’t pick up on any signs that I didn’t want to interact

    I didn’t see anyone else address this issue.

    OP, as an adult, we are expected to use our words. It is not the duty of someone to “pick up signs” that you didn’t want to interact. Then you got upset and snapped because they didn’t read your mind.

    This is especially egregious in an academic setting. There’s a lot of science types that are really bad at reading social cues.

    Please stop communicating this way. If you need something speak up immediately. “Sorry, I can’t talk right now – I’m in the middle of this project. Can I come back later?”

    I believe your snapping is a direct result of you not being clear in your needs.

    1. Engineer Girl

      In short, OP, you are placing expectations on others without communicating them. Then you snap at others when these expectations are not met.
      You wanted Fergus to help you but did not tell him. Then you were upset when he wasn’t there the next day.
      You wanted the person to stop talking to you but didn’t tell them. Then you were upset at them.

    2. ThumbsUp

      I do not fully agree with this. As adults yes, we can use our words. But also as adults we should be able to recognize nonverbal social cues. Clearly OP’s colleagues cannot do that, which is a problem of it’s own.

      Unfortunately OP cannot force other people to be more tactful and considerate, so yes, she should learn to be explicit with her needs.

      Also I would note that calling these slip ups “egregious” is a bit of an overstatement. It’s a slip up. Let’s not beat down OP when she’s asking for help.

  44. STEMfemale

    Hey OP, the comments about gender in STEM could be very on the money here. I think that along with the other advice (don’t talk about your feelings, try not to snap at people, maybe see a therapist or get your friends advice) you should keep this in mind. Just being a woman could make you be “the one who does heart to hearts” whether you’re doing them or not. Good luck!

  45. Leah

    Can I just say, definitely need to work on the snapping – I’ve done it myself and it’s something where the real apology is not repeating it.

    Other than that, my read on it (based on what I perceive as the tone and also the fast that it was part of a positively-framed toast) is that your colleagues like working with you and consider this an endearing quirk. We all have them, some of them are funnier than others, and by letting them tease a little it brings a bit of levity to the situation). It’s almost like they smile a bit when they get one of these notes from you (instead of the far-worse eye rolling or passive aggression). I think Alison’s advise is still on point, but I feel like you might be taking this harder than you maybe should be so I hope you’ll consider that although you can make improvements in the way you express yourself professionally, I don’t think people were judging you overly harshly on this given that they felt comfortable enough to tease you a little bit about it (and this could really be any particular trait – think of someone obsessive to detail, etc… within certain limits it’s actually a good and needed trait but a good-natured person might get ribbed about it a little even though for me, I need a heavily detail-oriented person on my team to keep me on top of things).

  46. lily

    I think we all need to talk to each person as an individual. Each person has their own individual differences. What may not be offensive to one person can be to another person. I didn’t like it when one of my coworkers at my last job talked the same way to each person because it shows they don’t care about getting to know people. If you get to know someone then you’ll know if it’s appropriate to have a “heart to heart” with them and how to go about it to not be offensive.

  47. Erin

    If Fergus said that, in front of everyone, and everyone laughed and related to it, that probably means they’re all really comfortable with you and like you. I mean, if they really thought you were an emotional nut they almost certainly wouldn’t have done that. It sounds like good natured ribbing to me.

    I’d pay more attention to the verbiage you use as Alison suggested, but I think you’re good.

  48. J.

    I think all of these comments and advice are fascinating. For what it’s worth, OP, I think Allison’s advice is good, but that your comments were not necessarily too emotional, just too emotional for your workplace. I moved from politics into what I think of as my time with “crunchy granola nonprofits” (small groups doing activist work), and SO MANY meetings opened and closed talking about our feelings and what drives us. It was a real culture shock for me, and I was chastised constantly for being too brusque. Your emails or brief follow ups would have been right at home.

    So all of that is to say, more than anything be mindful of your work environment and team dynamic. It sounds like it’s too much for this place, but it’s not one size fits all advice.

  49. Josephine

    This is so funny because the way LW talks to her colleagues sound exactly like typical AAM scripts. My advice would be to talk like a normal person from now on!

  50. FemaleMathGrad

    Hey OP, I’m mostly here in the comments to offer you massive sympathy and send best wishes for your future success! Being a female student in a male dominated field is tough, but the fact that you’re reaching out to check about this sort of thing sounds like you have solid instincts.

    One thing that I doubt I would have made it through my PhD without (not that I’m quite there yet…) is having people to talk to who “get it” – one of my best friends now is a female grad student in a different STEM department. I find it incredibly valuable to have someone who is in the ‘academia bubble’ but is outside my immediate department, so she understands the feelings behind “I have no idea whether everything I’ve written is awful or not, because my supervisor only comments on specific parts that need improving and doesn’t give any general feedback”, without worrying about other people within the department, and we can have those “you’ll never believe what that irritating sexist lecturer said today” conversations. And yes there is that pressure to work all the time, but don’t be afraid to spend time on your hobbies, or even take up new ones if they interest you! Life still goes on outside the lab/office, and looking after yourself and your mental health is just as important as your research.

    (On that note, I would add +1 to the suggestion somewhere upthread of looking into counselling. Even if you don’t feel like you need it at the moment, PhD studies are tough and it can be reassuring to know if you can/how to access it before you really need it, when everything feels like a crisis and too much to handle. There’s no harm checking into what’s available, especially if it will make it easier to reach out if you really need to at some point)

  51. Jules

    Disclaimer: I didn’t have time to read all the comments but wanted to add my 2 cents.

    I noticed that sometimes I tend to apologize for not living up to my standards of what a women should be. In those cases, when I apologize in detail, it throws people off. If you don’t do it regularly, people can probably tell that you are out of character and is stressed. If it’s a pattern, it’s just probably something you have to work on. Work on can mean many things, counseling, therapy, etc. I explain it to my spouse this way, “I and the rest of the word are not responsible to manage your emotions. If you are stressed, you need to figure it out. Not the innocent bystanders in your life.”

  52. Long Time Reader, First Time Poster

    This thread didn’t go where I thought it would, but it’s been really fascinating. Great comments everyone.

  53. Rectilinear Propagation

    I agree with Alison’s advice and don’t really have anything to add to it. However…

    Recently I’ve won a quite prestigious award …

    It really bothers me that instead of simply discussing this issue with you, your professor chose to make it a joke during what was supposed to be a celebration of an accomplishment of yours. That is very much Not Cool: the passive-aggressiveness, targeting you in front of the group, doing it during a toast for you. Really, really not cool.

    1. GreenDoor

      I agree. And since OP is comfortable being direct, I’d go back to that guy and directly ask him, “Hey at the party, you made a comment about my disconcerting heart-to-hearts. Can you tell me what you meant by that.” Then stop talking. See what he says. Get it right from the horse’s mouth. Make him explain is “joke.” Either you’ll glean relevant information about your behavior that needs to possibly change….or you’ll put him on notice that his “joke” wasn’t so funny.

  54. ThumbsUp

    Sorry if this is a long response but this really struck a chord with me.

    As a fellow female who survived STEM post-graduate academia, I completely understand OP’s perspective. Academia is notoriously brutal, with PIs often providing little encouragement and fellow researchers often lacking in teaching skills. I personally worked with a PI who would return to the lab after sundown to make sure I was still there and still found cause to criticize my performance or “lack of commitment.”

    Please don’t lose your spirit and drive! But also, please learn to be a bit more detached in your lab. I 100% agree with Alison that you have valid concerns but that you need to learn to express them without the personal emotions. Try to approach every issue in an unbiased manner, I promise you will be better received for it.

    My best advice would be get a strong support system. I personally did not like to talk to my friends and family because I was insecure about my own perceived inadequacies. Most universities will have counseling resources available to graduate students. Please take advantage of them! I found it enormously beneficial to have a neutral third party with whom I could discuss my concerns and insecurities without feeling judged.

    Good luck and stay strong!

  55. Casuan

    OP, it kind of sounds like you might be using one-size fits all scripts for an environment where “I feel”-type comments aren’t really used. Like using psych-major scripts for a science-based environment [hopefully that makes sense because I’m not certain how to phrase this better].
    Try to think of all of this as another experiment. You are the subject who responded to stimuli, there were reactions, & what you’ve learnt is the data. You get to collate this data as you continue your career.

    re snapping at others:
    Snapping is subjective. One person’s snap is another’s simple exasperation at being interrupted, the analogy being how one might think someone is being direct when another thinks that same person is being rude.
    To me, snapping shouldn’t be the norm, although it can happen every so often. Yelling & cursing are never acceptable, although there’s quite a curve on the latter.

    re your apologising:
    I don’t think it’s ever wrong to apologise if you think you’ve wronged someone. OP, you do seem to have a pattern where you do something then realise you might not have come off as you intended so you apologise. Perhaps your goal should be to try to minimise those occasions.

    re the toast:
    Sometimes science-oriented minds tend to forget that not all scientists process words with clinical objectivity. Fergus used apt terminology, albeit a bit off.
    Whether or not Fergus intended the words he said, he was out of line to embarrass you at a dinner in your honour.
    Please don’t let that detract from the dinner your colleagues had to celebrate your achievement! Probably they wouldn’t have bothered if they didn’t respect you or your work. :)

    Congratulations on your award!!

  56. GM

    I think emotions are best removed from the workplace as much as possible. Also there is where I resort to passive voice and/or less “I” in the emails. My version of Alison’s email might read something like:
    “I would appreciate a little more notice for a meeting that requires preparation. I hope you recognize that an email in the evening announcing a meeting the next morning does not give attendees sufficient time to prepare and our meetings are less efficient as a consequence. Could we please schedule these with more notice?”

  57. Sara

    The toast was inappropriate. If the so-called heart-to-hearts are enough to be strutted out in a public forum, then they are something that should be given as constructive feedback in a professional environment. This is a clear mark of poor leadership. I don’t know why a team member is expected to guess at how her behavior affects others when someone could just tell her out of kindness, empathy, and the best interest of the team. These kinds of games are the kinds of things that make teams storm and less productive.

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