I’m afraid I’m going to be assigned to the wrong work team

A reader writes:

Just before the holidays at my workplace, a manager casually mentioned that sometime soon, staff members (of which I am one of the longer-term ones at my level but all of us have been there under a year) will be divided into two different “teams”: briefly put, “client/public-facing/informational” and “non-public-facing/long-term technical projects.” They did not have discussions with any of us as to our goals or preferences, and we have still not been told who they’ve decided will be on which team. I’m getting nervous.

From what I can tell from my experiences and interactions there, my particular preference and leanings —based on my skills, temperament and career path/goals/needs— should be abundantly clear, and my being on my preferred team would clearly be a good organizational fit for them. And, more selfishly, working on that team could be something I could more easily parlay into my future goals (within or outside the organization) with maximum respectability and “sellability.” Someone with the opposite bent and career track, though, would find more potential to excel in working on the other team. So it’s not a status difference based on actual fact, but it kind of IS a status difference relative to each employee’s particular career path. (This is the reason I’m not disclosing my preference in this question— because both have equal merit and I don’t want to suggest either is “beneath” the other in anything but personal preference.) I’m optimistically assuming my employer will recognize all this as obvious and assign me accordingly, but communication there isn’t always great and there’s a chance this won’t happen.

I’m afraid I’m going to be quite upset if I’ve been assigned to the other team, because to me that would indicate that they’ve made a poor management decision because they’ve not paid enough attention to obvious cues about the goals, strengths and aptitudes of their employees– which really goes beyond just bad management and into the realm of personally dismissive. Again— I have no idea if this will be my fate, but if it is, how can I best phrase that I’d like them to reconsider without coming off as petulant or inflexible? How could I make them recognize the benefit to themselves of making sure they’re getting “fit” right without insulting their judgement? Other than a continued paycheck and a decent reference, is it of any advantage to me to suck it up if I’m put on the other team?

Why, why, why would you wait for them to make decisions before you bring this up? Talk to them now.

People often assume that their career goals must be obvious to their employers, and then get upset when their employers seem to be ignoring those — for instance, passing them over for a promotion that they never told anyone they were interested in, or not assigning them to a project that they never mentioned wanting. Employers are not mind-readers, and what might seem obvious about you to you is not always obvious to managers who have dozens of other things to be thinking about and juggling.

You’re already envisioning getting upset if you’re assigned to the wrong team and wondering how to get them to reconsider, but the time to speak up is now, before assignments have been announced. If you don’t do that, you’re really forfeiting any moral high ground or rational claim to complain about them being “personally dismissive” or even poor managers. If you don’t tell them what you want, you’re setting them up to disappoint you.

I’d be pretty irked if I told employees in advance that these changes were coming and someone who hadn’t expressed any preference to me had this type of reaction once the teams were announced. And it would reflect on their communication skills and judgment, which could potentially factor into future decisions like this, which you really don’t want.

Go talk to them. And do it immediately, like Monday, because they could finalize or announce these decisions at any time, so you shouldn’t keep waiting.

{ 104 comments… read them below }

  1. Sabrina*

    We’re supposed to be having similar changes soon at my work. When my manager told me about it I immediately said “Please do not assign me to THAT team.” Nothing wrong with *that* team, it would just be my idea of a small corner of hell. Luckily my manager did know this and had agreed it would not be a good fit for me, but there’s no way I would have risked it. If you feel that strongly, you have to say something.

  2. Elizabeth West*

    Oh for gosh sake’s yes. Do it first thing. How are they going to know unless you say something? But I’d do it in a positive way–like “I think my skills/goals/etc. would be a terrific fit on this team and I just wanted to let you know,” or whatever.

  3. fposte*

    When AAM was going to analyze the management styles of fictional characters, I thought about submitting instead an employee situation, where a character–Donna from The West Wing–who apparently sought growth in her career never applied for a promotion. (Okay, way later on she did, but there was well before that much fan distress over how poorly she was being managed because nobody promoted her. I demurred.) She was a great example generally of how it can hurt you not to ask directly for what you want.

    If this is really important to you, don’t wait in the hope that somebody who has a pile of stuff to juggle will happen to hand you the thing you want.

    1. Josh S*

      She also really liked Josh Lyman, who also liked her (more than professionally, too). So I think there was partly that “I’d like to get promoted, but I don’t want to leave my terrific manager” thing going on too. But that’s just my take on it…it’s been a while since I watched that (quite excellent) show.

      1. fposte*

        Oh, sure. But mostly there was a fandom that really adored her and thought because they liked her as much as the other characters she should have as much fictional power and money. And dammit, even in fiction we need to have standards!

    2. khilde*

      I never watched The West Wing, but I do remember when AAM wanted to do the fictional characters analysis and we all had a hard time coming up with suggestions. But NOW….. I totally think we need to do that for Downton Abbey!

  4. DA*

    I’m wondering what the OP’s reaction would be if she were placed on the team she didn’t want to be placed. If everyone wants to be on that team, clearly there are going to be those who aren’t happy. I got the impression that the OP may start World War III if this is the case.

    I think it’s in the OP’s best interest to be prepared for that happening, even if she states her case/concern to management.

    1. From the OP*

      World War Three— that’s funny. No, not hardly. I would have understandable frustration about it, for sure, as I imagine anyone here would. Nothing I would express at work, though. But I do wonder how I should handle it if I don’t get on the team I want, even if I let my feelings be known before they make the announcement. That is to say, even if I discuss my preferences with them while I still can and they end up saying something like: “yeah, we know you’d prefer Team X but you’re on Team Y.” At that point asserting my preference gets a little more difficult. Since, if that happened, I would not be very happy staying there it might be worth the risk to show my surprise a bit more— not in a rude way, but maybe just by asking for some explanation of why they made a decision that would seem to me (and to most anyone who knows me even very casually) to be an ill fit. Depending on the personalities involved, I can see some managers as perceiving my asking why as “starting World War 3”, even if it was asked very nicely. : (

      1. fposte*

        I’m not sure where you’re going here, but it sounds like you’re thinking of a response that would make them change their mind or let them know how you feel. The time to let them know how you feel and influence their decision is before they make it.

        The “why” question would depend on what you wanted from it. Right now it sounds like a rejected applicant’s “why” that really means “Why did you make such a mistake and will you undo it?” That’s an adversarial “Why?” that isn’t going to help anybody, and it will indeed make you look petulant. That doesn’t mean you have to take the decision and shut up, but I think there are questions that are more honest (“This isn’t how I saw myself growing in this company–can we talk about what this career path might mean and whether there might be a possibility in the future to change tracks?”), and you also have to be willing to genuinely listen to what people might say to you.

        1. Jamie*

          Listening to what people say about you isn’t only immediately expedient I trying to get your way – but you can learn a lot about yourself in the process. How we see ourselves is one thing, but knowing how other people see you is information you can really use.

          I.e. I’ve been given assignments based on skills my boss saw which I wouldn’t have assessed me as highly in those areas.

          Listening and either applying or filing away the info , whether its less than flattering or an ego stroke (or somewhere in between) is one of the best favors you can do for yourself.

  5. ChristineH*

    What an interesting question! I’ve always had the mindset that it WASN’T okay to state team/project preferences, that whatever is decided is final. I’d probably fall into the same trap that the OP is in right now.

    So to the OP, I say absolutely speak with your manager! I like the way Elizabeth West phrased it; it sounds so much more positive than “I don’t want to work with Team B”, which sounds picky.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      It’s often hard to change things once they’ve been announced (although even then, it’s worth asking if it’s a big deal to you), but it’s absolutely okay to speak up before decisions have been made. Good managers want to know where people would like to be, even if they end up not being able to accommodate that — but it’s frustrating to hear it after the fact when someone had the opportunity to speak up earlier.

      1. Nonnymoose*

        It DOESN’T make a lot of sense, for sure. Or it SHOULDN’T be so, but some people are just touchy that way. A lot of people (including some managers) are, unfortunately, very uncomfortable one way or another with directness. (Which can make others uncomfortable about being direct with them, ironically.) In some work situations, expressing task preference can be interpreted as lacking the willingness to do “any duties as assigned”, or if it involves working with one group more than another they may suspect you have a beef with one or more people in the group you don’t prefer or that you don’t equally “play well with others”. Some managers may even find it presumptuous of an employee to think s/he has the standing enough to co-decide who does what, seeing that as solely a management decision. And on maybe a more understandable practical level, some managers may wish to avoid opening up the subject for discussion with employees in hopes that they’ll avoid certain dramas that may arise from everyone wanting to be on one team instead of the other, or the bad feeling that results when an employee shares their preferences only to have those preferences ignored or over-ruled, sometimes for valid reason, sometimes not. None of these are great reasons to shy away from clear communication, but sadly they are common enough to make some people shy away.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          It’s certainly true that some managers aren’t comfortable with directness, but this is SUCH a normal thing to discuss that it would really odd and unusual for a manager to have a problem with it. You can’t make workplace decisions for yourself based on the possibility that your manager might be the one in 30 who would have an issue with this. You need to conduct yourself as a normal professional behaving in normal ways and assume that will be received normally, unless you have pretty clear-cut evidence to the contrary.

    2. Laura L*

      “I’ve always had the mindset that it WASN’T okay to state team/project preferences.”

      I’ve had that mindset as well. Both in work and in life. I’ve only recently realized that people can’t read my mind and I need to speak up more if I want to get what I want.

    3. LMW*

      I wouldn’t say I’ve always had this mindset (I usually speak up about what I want), but I’ve definitely been on teams where decisions were made behind closed doors, and then announced. And if you didn’t like where they placed you, it was still frowned upon to speak up. I can see that if you started in your career in a place like this, you would definitely have a strong impression that you aren’t supposed to question these decisions. Which is unfortunate, because in my experience, places with this type of decision making usually aren’t making the best decisions and end up loosing good employees.

  6. Bookworm*

    I second what everyone else is saying–talk to your sup or manager ASAP. They cannot read your mind, and when it comes to your work assignment and long-term happiness there, this issue can’t be left to chance.

    The same thing at work is happening to me shortly… I’ll be on one team or the other (public-facing or non public-facing) one of which would make me miserable. I already spoke to my sup about which one I prefer, and in my case it doesn’t matter–we are going where they deem best, personal preferences completely disregarded. I sincerely hope you get someone input here. But you need to speak with them.

  7. Pandora Amora*

    Many of the answers that AAM provides have a common thread: you are in control of your own career.

    Think about this question in terms of planning a move with your spouse: either your spouse will move to Freezerville, North Dakota; or your spouse will move to Idealtown, USA. Would you wait until your household was packed up and the moving truck loaded before asking where the GPS was set to take you? Or would you become part of the decision making process before the first box even got packed?

    You’re in control of your own career. You will never regret telling your manager where you want to be headed in 5 years’ time. Talk to your managers, people.

    1. ChristineH*

      Many of the answers that AAM provides have a common thread: you are in control of your own career.

      Very good observation! I like your analogy too.

    2. JT*

      We need to act as if we are in control of our careers, but in reality we aren’t always. But the advice is helpful: acting that way is a good approach to doing your best and getting what you want.

      1. Jamie*

        I think we are. I may not be in control of my job if I were to disagree with tptb, but my career is mine alone and is bigger than any one position in any one company.

          1. Jamie*

            My comment didn’t have anything to do with being assertive.

            My point was just that you may not control everything at your job, no one does unless you own the place and are a company of one, but everyone controls their own career overall. If I didn’t like ow things were going for me I may not be able to sway my boss, but its up to me whether I stay and accept that, move one, etc.

            Not to be trite, but to quote Rush “if you chose not to decide, you still have made a choice.”

            I know people who think their career is something that happens to them and they tend not to be happy at work. There is a element of luck invoved to be sure, but its about pairing luck and opportunity and if you aren’t proactively controlling your career you are giving other people far too much power.

            1. Job seeker*

              I understand what you are saying, but you are in a position that you are much more marketable than I am right now. You are very good at your job and you have much more experience and more power to take control. I am right back where I started in my 20’s with not a lot of recent experience in the workforce. I am competing with younger workers that already have more recent work experience than I do. I am sure I would have to accept more things because I would be a low-man on the pole. :-)

              1. Rana*


                I was “in control” of many aspects of my previous career, but the ability to generate positions in line with my skills, experience, and training was not one of them. I did what I could with the aspects that were in my reach, but it’s not like I could fix the economy or make universities hire more environmental historians.

                I guess one could claim that I took control of my career by giving up one set of professional goals and looking a new set, but it wasn’t something I had a lot of choice about.

              2. EngineerGirl*

                That stinks, but the way to get the change you want is to find a way to be more valuable. Sometimes that involves actively looking around. Sometimes it is going in to the boss and asking him what is driving nuts or frustrated. Then trying to find a way to get rid of that thing.

                I’m an extreme introvert and painfully shy. But in order to get ahead I had to learn how to speak up in a friendly way and make a case for what I wanted. That is one of those success skills.

                Taking charge of your career isn’t just about skill sets. It is about looking at any weakness and attempting to correct it.

                1. JT*

                  “Taking charge of your career isn’t just about skill sets. It is about looking at any weakness and attempting to correct it.”

                  That’s not always possible, and not always possible within changed in the broader reality. It’s easier if you’re young, smart/well-educated, and/or mobile.

                2. Jamie*

                  I think there is a disconnect of what it means to take charge of your career.

                  I don’t mean (and while I won’t speak for her, I didn’t read Engineer Girl to mean this either) that you can craft a solid plan which will be followed without deviation to the end you want. Or that everything is within your power to determine.

                  And everyone gets stuck sometimes in less than optimal situations and sometimes it can take a little while to get unstuck.

                  It’s just that the overall arc of your career is largely in your hands – because it’s not up to anyone else to get you where you want to be.

                  It is a combination of knowing where you want to me, trying to become the person that adds value to the position you want, and taking advantage of opportunities.

                  I understand that it’s not always possible in the short term – but when you think of a career as a whole which is overarching decades of work and achievement it is empowering for people to know they do have a large measure of control over what they do and who they become.

                  Not total control, but more control than anyone else on the planet because your boss, spouse, parents, etc can’t direct your career for you – only you can do that.

                  There will always be circumstances beyond our control – and for people like me who want to control everything that sucks – but it’s a question of knowing what’s beyond your control and working around that with that which you can control.

                  It may be easier if you are young, smart/well-educated, and/or mobile…but for those of us where most don’t apply (I am not young, well-educated or mobile – and I got my first real job in my late 30s) it’s still possible to steer your own course.

                3. JT*

                  “knowing what’s beyond your control”

                  That’s my point. There are things beyond our control. We can certainly control our careers within those limits.

                4. Job seeker*

                  Well, I applaud you for learning to speak up. I am kinda at a lost at the moment. I have so many balls tossed up in the air. I have a personal responsibility I want very much to be there for and I have a worry what if I never work again. I know life is a combination of many things and I know what is the most important to me. I just feel I have made so many mistakes and stuck without a plan. I have messed up many opportunities and made some messes.

  8. perrik*

    Just because you know what your strong preference is doesn’t mean your supervisor will know – even if she knows the quality of your work well. If I were in your situation, most of my previous supervisors would have put me on the client-facing information team because I am really good at that. It would also be my definition of hell because I am an analytical introvert who is happiest sitting in a quiet corner poring through piles of data (and am really, *really* good at that, but hardly ever had the opportunity to do so in prior positions)

    So go talk to your supervisor ASAP and state your case. I’d wouldn’t put it in terms of how it would benefit your future career; instead, talk about how much stronger a performer you will be for the department if you are on your preferred team.

    Your supervisor might still assign you to the other team; that’s when you grumble (quietly, to yourself) and ask her why. It might make more business sense to assign you to the other one, and you’ll have to decide whether you can live with that or if it’s time to look elsewhere.

  9. Sandrine*

    Ha, this reminds me of what is going to happen soon at my work.

    We are “only” customer service reps on the phone, mind you. At the moment I think there are about 5/6 teams for the morning shifts (around 15/18 people in each) and apparently one of the afternoon shifts team leaders is moving up to morning shift.

    So there will be a new team created (they’re hiring at the moment) AND apparently the TeamLeadersBoss has decided that, oh, why not shuffle people around from team to team while we’re at it ?

    Our TeamLeader doesn’t want to lose us (and I don’t want to quit his team… I mean if I have to suck it up at this job for a while might as well hold on to my boss whose main weakness is that he plays the good puppy part a little too well) . There at least two current TeamLeaders who just DO.NOT.WANT this. AND their current subordinates don’t want to quit them, either.

    The change is supposed to happen in the beginning of February (before the 11th as the schedules are changing then) but I’m already thinking of the mess.

    The good part, though, is that while not asked about it, we have made our preference heard out loud. Not sure that TeamLeadersBoss will listen to it, but I think he’s in for a surprise if he doesn’t.

    TL;DR : YES, voice your preference. Be diplomatic about it, but YES a million times to stating it :) .

  10. Tank*

    Yes, I’d speak up once I’d predicted/figured out who the teammates are likely to be. For if you get the team you want but the teammates are lazy, incompetent, users or simply the socializing type, whether in general or with you in particular, the team and you will likely fail. There is no point getting on the ‘right’ team with the ‘wrong’ teammates, and if both teams are equal in prestige as you describe, the quality of the colleagues, in my view, matters more.

    1. K*

      I don’t think people being the “socializing type” is enough to make a team fail by itself. Plenty of outgoing and social people are hard workers who buckle down when need be.

    2. Waiting Patiently*

      The right team with the wrong team members is scarier. Hopefully, the OP wont have this problem.

  11. Dawn*

    “People often assume that their career goals must be obvious to their employers, and then get upset when their employers seem to be ignoring those.” This is very important. Your career goals are ultimately YOUR responsibility, you have to take ownership of your own career and be your own advocate. Your manager is not a mind reader and if your manager doesn’t ask you about your goals or preferences then you need to tell her. And not just once, be sure to bring up how you are progressing regularly if she doesn’t.

    For example, when I start a new job, usually sometime within the first 3-6 months, During a 1 on 1 I’ll tell my manager something like “I’d like to talk about my career goals. In the long term my ultimate goal is to become Director of Teapots and in the short term I’d like to work on reaching Senior Teapot Maker. So I’d like our 1 on 1s to focus on what I need to work on to reach that goal. I know it will take time but my concern is that down the road I’ll get to evaluation time and I’ll be told ‘You aren’t ready for Senior Teapot Maker because of A, B and C.’ so I want you to tell me about A, B, and C during our 1 on 1s.”

    1. Jamie*

      I like this a lot. The only thing I would change a little is asking that the one on one’s focus on meeting your career goal – as it seems like that reads “exclusively” and you don’t want to look like your upward mobility is all that matters to you. One on ones are also a place where the day to day issues should be handled, too.

      That tiny nit pick aside (which I’m sure you didn’t even mean exclusively – but I needed to clarify because I’m me) I would LOVE to have someone like you on my team.

      Offering people opportunities for advancement just to find out they have no desire to do that is one of the less fun parts of management. Knowing where someone stands on this kind of thing so you can comfortably talk to them about new projects and how this will position you better for your long range goals – that kind of transparency would be great.

      And if there is something concrete in the way of your goals (i.e. the position you want requires some training or degree you don’t yet have, there will never be an opening until the current Direct of Teapots leaves and he won’t retire until he dies, and his father lived to 125. Whatever) at least you will know and can shift your plans accordingly.

      Seriously – it’s really uncommon for someone to be this clear about where they are going (and to be fair you don’t want to get locked into a plan – be open to pair luck and opportunity as they arise because you could end up on an even better path you couldn’t foresee) but I would love to work in a company full of people like you.

  12. Elizabeth*

    A couple years ago, I knew there changes coming in our department, because one colleague had announced his resignation, which was about 6 weeks out. I knew that another colleague was going to take the open position.

    I walked into my boss’ office to talk with him on what his plan was for the position that the second colleague would be vacating. He had planned on converting it from a senior analyst to a regular analyst. He paused and asked me how many years experience I had. I told him, and he decided on the spot that he needed to keep the senior position.

    It took a couple months, writing a resume for the first time in over 10 years, creating a cover letter that detailed more than 15 years of experience and interviewing with my boss in my office over the course of 2 hours in between a series of conference calls to coordinate the purchase of a major system, but I got the senior position.

    If I hadn’t gone to him, I would have been stuck in a position at which I topped out the salary steps with no hope for advancement.

    The boss can’t read your mind, so go make your preferences known.

  13. Not So NewReader*

    I have had this conversation turn very bad, very fast.
    “How dare you ask!”
    “Just because you asked for A, I am going to make sure you get B.”
    “But you are so good at B. And we do not have many people that can do B well.”

    OP, if it is that important to you to get on Team B, have your answers prepared in advance. Practice if need be.
    Be able to tell the boss why it is to his advantage to keep you on B. Skip the office politics stuff- and go directly to why it benefits the boss/company have you on B, not A.
    The times I have prepared for these worse case scenario conversations has ALWAYS helped me. I remained composed and quickly thought of something to say that merits consideration. Brainstorm with a good friend or family member if you need to.

    The prep time you put in will also help with the jitters/nervousness.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      “How dare you ask!”
      “Just because you asked for A, I am going to make sure you get B.”

      If anyone really thinks their boss is likely to have this reaction, that is a glaring sign to get out of there. That is not normal or okay.

      1. Anon*

        I had a not-insignificant number of teachers like this during middle/high school. I currently have a supervisor (I have a lot of supervisors of different levels) who I believe would do something like this, but I also have a bunch of others who I don’t think that of.

        Would that the working world were made of nice, reasonable people, so that if you had to jump ship because of an aberrant personality, you could do so trusting the odds that you’d land somewhere better.

        1. From the OP*

          And unfortunately some of these “aberrant personalities” in the course of our working lives can really do a number on us. I know in my case there’s one or two from the past whose effect is partly what’s driving my nervousness now in my current job. I know that as much as possible we should try to work through and move past those experiences, but they can definitely leave their mark if we’re not careful.

  14. Janet*

    Yes yes yes! Mention it to your boss. Argue your case for the one you want. When it comes to work, no one has your best interests as their priority except for you so you have to argue for it.

    Last year my work went through a re-org and we all had to submit our resumes for new positions. I knew I wanted to do one thing and not another thing. I never actually ever sat down and told someone “I want to do X and not Y. Please put me in X because I have more experience in X and I have no experience in Y.” I just stupidly assumed my work would speak for itself. Fast forward 6 months, I was put in Y. Co-workers who had also hoped for X were put in Y or even in Z. No one was happy. And it really was our own fault for not ever stepping up and saying “I want X”

  15. Kara*

    At a previous job, our VP quit. My friend and I each made appointments with our managers to ask what the plan was – we were too junior for the VP spot, but we wanted to know if there was a plan to promote someone from within, leaving that slot open (in which case we would have applied – and yes, we would have been in competition for it, but we were mature enough to handle it; we both ended up leaving the company and are still friends) or bring someone else in. Each of our managers commended us for taking the step to ask and noted that we were the only two to do so.

    I have a very “look out for yourself because it’s no one else’s job to do it” attitude when it comes to my career, and this letter is a classic case of that. Tell them what you want!

    1. Her*

      I agree! You know yourself much better than anyone, including your boss, does so you absolutely need to be proactive instead of waiting around for someone to “help” you. Great response!

  16. From the OP*

    All good points, and thank you to everyone who’s responded so far (and to future responses!). I honestly had not thought about the possibility that I was expecting too much from my management to count on them being able to spot my strengths & weaknesses. Partly because I’ve been thinking my weaknesses are obvious, but perhaps I hide them better than I think! And maybe it is a bit too much like expecting them to “read my mind”. I am seeing the situation more from that side now. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to be direct as long as I phrase it right. I am only concerned, as has been alluded to in a few of the responses here, that I will somehow come across as demanding, or that it’s possible they’ll have some kind of negative reaction to my even bringing it up. I guess that’s a risk I have to take. I really do think it would be a “win-win” for both myself and the workplace if I’m on the team I want to be on.

    1. Kara*

      If you fear being seen as demanding, stress what you just said – that you think your being on Team A will benefit the company in the following ways, and oh yeah it make better use of your skills. That way you’re more likely to be seen as a team player.

      Also (and I hope I don’t offend), are you female? I am, and it helps to recognize that it is the rare man who worries about coming across as “too demanding” in the workplace. We’ve talked in this space about how men are more likely to ask for raises, promotions, negotiate higher starting salaries, etc. It can be hard to bypass the “men are assertive go-getters, women are bitches” thing that’s drilled home so often, but try.

      1. fposte*

        I definitely think there’s truth in that, and that there’s often a lot of early reward for being quiet, not needing attention, etc. I also think women are, perhaps as a consequence, more prone to being anxious about risks of commission than risks of omission. “What if I ask and they get mad?” seems scarier than “What if I don’t ask and don’t get what I want?” But it’s the latter that really hurts you and hurts your career–and, frankly, can hurt a lot of your life.

        1. Jamie*

          “What if I ask and they get mad?” seems scarier than “What if I don’t ask and don’t get what I want?”

          This is so well said. I will be stealing that one from you the next time I pep talk someone right before a review.

      2. From the OP*

        Yep, I’m female. And —male or female— I think most of us have, unfortunately, worked somewhere at some point in our lives where our “go-getter”-ness was interpreted as “upstart”-ness or our confidence as arrogance or something perfectly normal about us somehow threatening. And yep, especially if we are women.

        This can be blindsiding because we grow up believing that if we’re “go-getters” in the appropriate ways and high performers and decent human beings and ask directly for what we want, our progress through the working world will be smooth enough. That’s the way it’s SUPPOSED to go, so when the formula gets all wonky, we no longer feel like we’re dealing with straightforward rules and become more vigilant to possible unspoken ones. And not wanting to risk being blindsided again, we become more cautious about exactly how and when to speak up about certain things, and every other job afterwards is seen as a new potential minefield. It’s like a whole programme of brainwashing that we have to unlearn.

    2. fposte*

      Even if your weaknesses are obvious, they’re looking at the weaknesses of *everybody*, not just you. There can be a situation where Beth would be better at the front desk than Tom, but Beth can handle the database and Tom can’t, so there’s Beth to the database.

      But a sane manager is also going to consider an employee’s strong preference. And since it sounds like you’re considering leaving if you don’t get what you want, why not give them a chance to give you what you want? If they’re crazy enough to freak out about the query, well, you were thinking of leaving anyway.

    3. Henning Makholm*

      Even if your preference were just based on what you’d like best, subjectively, don’t think of it as making demand. Think of it as supplying your boss with information that he needs in order to do his job well.

      If you’re a reasonably good worker, part of what your boss is supposed to try to achieve in his job is to keep you happy enough that you’re not likely to decide to seek greener pastures. He’ll have other possibly conflicting priorities to juggle, but without knowing what your preferences are, he’ll have no way to even consider whether whichever conflicting priorities he’s acting on are worth risking your job satisfaction over.

      (And even if your job satisfaction ends up being less important than such-and-such other business consideration, that is not your call to make preemptively. That decision belongs to your boss, especially if you don’t even know that the opposing business consideration might be).

      1. From the OP*

        This is true, that we don’t always know what the other business consideration(s) might be, which may have absolutely nothing to do with any particular employee. It helps to bear that in mind, since I think it’s probably a pretty natural tendency for many people to first take things personally.

        1. Henning Makholm*

          Don’t forget that this works both ways: Since you don’t know what your manager’s other priorities are, for all you know they may be so weak (or so evenly matched) that even the most tentative “I think would be slightly happier with task X” from you could make a difference in his calculus.

          My point was to state a reason for you to speak up and let your preferences be known — emphatically NOT that you should assume that a decision that goes against you would still have done so for good reason no matter whether your wishes had been known to the decision-maker.

  17. Seal*

    Certainly speak up, but be aware that your boss may have a larger agenda. Several jobs ago, the department my unit reported to, which had previously and logically been organized geographically, was slated to be reorganized by job duty. This meant that people would be reporting to supervisors in other buildings who generally had no idea of the necessity of local practices and procedures versus the proposed “one size fits all” approach that was about to be implemented. Worse, in an effort to justify this impending disaster, many people – myself included – were moved to teams based on a very small part of their duty assignments. So those of us who spend 70-80% of their time molding chocolate teapots and only 20-30% of our time painting chocolate teapots were put on the Painting Specialty Team, and were not allowed to interact with the Molding Specialty Team. Since this clearly was going to create enormous problems across the system, most of the people assigned to the Painting Specialty Team, with the support of their soon-to-be former supervisors, successfully lobbied to be moved to a more appropriate team. But when I made the same request for the exact same reason, I was refused. Turns out the department head felt she needed to justify her idiotic reorganization decision and decided to make an example of me. It didn’t matter to her in the slightest that my team assignment made absolutely no sense, or that her reorganization obliterated formerly highly productive units; she was simply trying to cover her ass with her own boss.

    I stayed at this job far longer than I should have, given the circumstances. If I ever found myself in a similar circumstance again, I’d head for the door and not look back.

    1. Anonymous*

      I was on a team that was split up several years ago, and I ended up on what was the hellish side of the fence for me even though I had expressed a preference as soon as I got wind of the reorg. I had been with the company a number of years and one of the managers told me that the VP laying out the new teams assumed I would stay no matter whether they honored my preference or not.

      He was mistaken.

  18. Elise*

    Ideally, shouldn’t management ask for preferences? It would be good for moral if nothing else, since most people do like to have some sort of input into their career path.

    I understand that if 90 percent want team A, that not everyone will get what they want — but then they can give the jobs based on review scores or whatever.

    Since they aren’t asking, I would definitely make my preference known. But I am surprised they aren’t requesting the input from the employees at all.

    1. From the OP*

      Yes, that’s kind of what I was thinking, too, that ideally they should be asking us —if they haven’t already observed— what our preferences would be. Now I realize that this would be an “ideal” and that they don’t HAVE to do that, but as you said, I think it would be good for morale, short-term and long-term. I also think it would tend to ensure better job satisfaction for everyone, including management. My honest opinion is that the better managers do take the time and care to ask such things when possible. I don’t think it necessarily makes a manager horrible if they don’t/can’t/won’t in a particular situation, because that’s kind of the traditionally-accepted old skool way of managing and there might sometimes be legitimate reasons they can’t. But it seems like in general the best managers make a point of paying the kind of attention to their employees that would get them the information necessary to minimize mismatches and dissatisfaction as much as possible. For all I know, my employer’s already paid this kind of attention, and that would be great. But I guess the lesson I’m getting here is that none of us can count on that happening even though it would be ideal if it does. So maybe the jist is we shouldn’t HAVE to be the ones to initiate such conversations, but that we would be smart to do so.

      1. fposte*

        But I can also see a situation where the problem is that they do know what teams some people want to be on, and those aren’t the teams management thinks they should be on.

          1. PEBCAK*

            But wouldn’t this be stuff that you were addressing regularly in performance reviews/career planning/whatever? There was a point in time when a position came open and I asked for it, and my manager told me she didn’t think I’d be a good fit based on what I’d told her in our annual meeting, and looking back, she was terribly correct. Not three months later, something else came up that was a far better fit for me.

            I guess my point is that a good manager should have a pretty good idea of preferences anyway, and if someone was placed in a role that really defied those preferences, she’d probably find a way to address that (hey, pebcak, I know you might have been hoping to be on team A, but here’s why you are on team B, etc.).

            1. From the OP*

              Funny you should mention performance reviews. Bit of a sore subject at this workplace since they simply don’t do them, even when asked. (Which is, no doubt, adding to my nervousness about this upcoming “team” change, and I imagine I’m not the only one at work feeling it.) I don’t want to paint my employer as awful— far from it, and I like everyone at my job very much, including my bosses. But as you can see, communication is not their strong suit, and in acute change situations like this, you really feel the consequences of their not being at least that healthy baseline of scheduled review talks.

      2. EngineerGirl*

        I think you are asking far too much from a manager. Maybe if they were heading up a team of 5 or so, but most managers are so busy fighting fires that they sometimes forget to ask, even if they want to do the right thing. And really, it isn’t the managers job to make the employees happy. The managers job is to move the business foward. Happy employees usually are a part of that equation, but not always. In fact, if the manager is doing the right thing there will absolutely be times when there are unhappy employees (no, you can’t have that promotion, no, that week is bad for vacation, etc.)

        As an adult, it is your responsibility to make your needs and wants known. Expecting someone to chase you down and ask for it is sort of self-centered and maybe even bordering on manipulative. In business it is 2 adults meeting each other as equals, so that means both sides get to initiate dialougue.

        1. From the OP*

          In my case, it actually is only a few people to manage. A few more than 5, but still a small number. Anyway, I’m noticing a split in the responses here, between those which are *encouraging* of speaking up (which is the majority) and those which advise speaking up but get a dig in, like “self-centered” or “manipulative”. It seems there’s a subset of people in our society who not only look down on people who have, in some situations, difficulty speaking up, but who see these people as inherently just… bad and worthy of this kind of strong personal criticism. As though it is a deliberate choice to be cagey and indirect, or “manipulative”, for who-knows-what reason. There’s also an obvious split between people who place the burden more on the employees than the employers for effective communications, and vice-versa. Obviously, you and I don’t share the same opinions on these things. My stance is that it oughta be a two-way street, both equally responsible. That’s what your last sentence supposedly states in words, but it’s clear you judge employees far more harshly than employers when proactive communication fails to occur. Management gets a pass because they’re too goshdarn busy (presumably employees are slacking), but employees are self-centered and manipulative if the inherent power imbalance causes a bit of nerves to momentarily muzzle the words they’re hoping they won’t get wrong lest they be out on the street. It’s true that I may hold managers up to a very high IDEAL standard, but I also allow for them to be human beings and I know that many perfectly decent ones don’t have their finger as fully on the pulse of their employees’ strengths, goals, etc. as I feel they should. But I feel that the kind of view you and a few others have of employees who don’t stick their pulse right under management’s fingers is far more judgmental. Which I can’t agree with, again, because of the inherent power imbalance involved: one party is assuming all of the risk and, in your view, taking all of the blame.

          1. EngineerGirl*

            I really resent you putting words in my mouth. No one is looking down on anyone, nor are they seeing anyone as bad. That is a gross extrapolation. But the point is that there are consequences to behaviors. The consequence of not speaking up is not getting your needs met. Even if someone were chasing after you they still couldn’t figure out your needs without you speaking up, because they can’t read your mind. It is true for business, and it is also true for personal relationships.

            I do believe that it is unreasonable to expect the managers focus to be on you. It isn’t – you are probably #57 on their list. They are focused on the business. A sucessful person will account for that. Do you want to succeed or not? If so, you’ll have to account for ways to work with a busy manager. That means you’ll have to initiate things. It isn’t a values judgement. It is what will or will not work!

            1. From the OP*

              Well, to be fair, I didn’t appreciate it being suggested that I am “self-centered” and “manipulative”, which are the words you used. And it’s not a gross extrapolation to interpret those words as looking down on the person you’re describing or seeing them as bad because those two traits are among the most maligned in all societies throughout all of history. Are those two traits something you would aspire to, or proudly admit, or use to compliment someone? So no, it’s not a gross extrapolation. When you use such words to respond to a basic question someone has about ONE situation at work, you’re using a cannon to shoot an ant. It’s quite a leap to make that kind of assessment of someone’s character over one question —a valid and common question— on the internet, so you should expect the person to take issue with being painted that way. You could have left it at “you might be expecting too much from managers” to know some of these things, then added “you risk not coming off well if you act on these high expectations” or “if you stop and think about it, the management just isn’t as focused on you as you naturally would be” or something like that and gotten the fair enough part of your message across just as well. Most other people who’ve responded have managed in much nicer ways to say similar things. I’m not saying you shouldn’t have said it —and in a way I’m glad to know that could be the perception I risk— but just that it’s expecting too much of random people on the internet to not get their dander up at the personal inferences.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                OP, I think you’re getting defensive and focusing on the wrong thing here. Engineer Girl wrote “Expecting someone to chase you down and ask for it is sort of self-centered and maybe even bordering on manipulative.” Frankly, in this context, I think that’s a reasonable statement. It doesn’t mean that you are self-centered or manipulative, but yes, reasonable people could see the expectations you wrote about in your letter in the way EG described them.

                The benefit of getting feedback from an audience who doesn’t know you is that people will often be more direct and won’t always make the same efforts at diplomacy that your friends and people who know you might make. A smart, thoughtful audience of strangers who are willing to be direct is a real advantage if you’re willing to take it that way.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            “It seems there’s a subset of people in our society who not only look down on people who have, in some situations, difficulty speaking up, but who see these people as inherently just… bad and worthy of this kind of strong personal criticism. As though it is a deliberate choice to be cagey and indirect, or “manipulative”, for who-knows-what reason”

            I think what you’re seeing some people respond to here isn’t the idea that someone people have difficulty speaking up. Rather, it’s that your initial letter sounded a bit like you weren’t planning to speak up ahead of time, and instead were simply planning to hold it against your management if they didn’t do what you wanted, even though you weren’t planning on explicitly telling them that in time for them to act on it. That’s what I meant by “setting them up for failure” in my initial response — it’s not fair to get angry at people for not doing something you never said you wanted. And I think that’s the element that’s drawing concern here.

            1. From the OP*

              I can see now where my phrasing could make it sound that I was definitely planning to not say anything. And yes, I’d have to agree that that would be unfairly setting my management up to disappoint me. I guess that’s what all the “manipulative” stuff is focusing on. But it really is a question, not a plan, and I’ve never been in this exact situation so I have not been sure how it’s usually handled. Now I have a better idea, and I’m glad I asked.

  19. Anonymous*

    I have an answer to why, why…

    not to look like complaining. happened to me several times while on poor communication terms with the mngt

  20. AnonA*

    Also, it honestly depends on what relationship you’ve cultivated with them. Not in a suck up type of way, but are you a performer who they want to keep happy and who is self-directed enough to make what she needs and wants out of that job clear? The passivity of your mindset is irksome and if you were on my team, acting like the management held all the power in a fairy godmother/evil stepmother way, I honestly wouldn’t care where I assigned you. I would care more about high performers who self managed their careers and weren’t waiting for management to make a decision they didn’t like so they could pout. Petulant and passive is how your mindset in terms of work comes off. I hate that attitude in coworkers.

    End rant.

    1. From the OP*

      Ouchy. But I guess this is the kind of response one risks, posting a question to the anonymous internet. And, well, to give you the benefit of the doubt, you don’t know me, so… Sure, I’ll fess up to a little passivity in this particular situation, at least thus far (but the majority of these responses are very encouraging in terms of convincing me to speak up, which I will definitely do). And I’ll admit imagining future feelings of frustration if I don’t get my wish, which could show themselves outwardly as petulance if I’m not careful. That’s something I’d do my damnedest to avoid, as I generally don’t like passive-aggressiveness in others so I wouldn’t like it in myself. So, point taken, to some extent. And yes, I’m a “self-directed” top “performer”, to answer your question.

      But I have to say I find your hypothetical rather passive-aggressive and pouty: that you would be so “irked” by someone else’s demure communication style that if you were in a position to delegate tasks you would be so personally bothered that you “wouldn’t care” what tasks they were assigned and you would just automatically “hate” them. Jeez, sounds pretty labile. (Not to mention self-serving and short-sighted.) It’s not like this hypothetical wilting flower threw a rock at you or called you a bad word. And you have absolutely no idea what experiences such a person may have had to cause them to be more careful than others in broaching certain topics or speaking up. (Might be experiences you can’t even begin to imagine.) Capricious and un-empathetic is how your mindset comes off. And kinda snotty. I am deeply bothered by that attitude in most anybody— it’s all the more destructive in a management context.

      The “take-away” here seems to be this: whether you’re avoiding direct communication with employers because you’re like me and a little nervous about being somehow punished for it, or you avoid it with employees because you’re like AnonA and assume others are weak or contempt-worthy (without knowing anything about them) unless they come to you first, you’re not likely to get the best outcome at work. If more employers and employees could make the effort to communicate more clearly and proactively, this world would be a much better place. Let’s all start doing it tomorrow.

      1. Jamie*

        Something kind of telling from your response. AnonA said s/she would hate that attitude but you responded that s/he would hate “them.”

        That’s not what was said and its not personal. What team you get put n most likely isn’t personal and the comments here aren’t personal.

        Oth in your response here and to Engineer Girl pure assuming attitude and motives on the part of others without evidence and you’re responding to your assumptions far more than what we actually said.

        You might find these conversations easier (both here and work) if you take what people say at face value and respond to that rather than to a backstory which may or may not be true.

        1. From the OP*

          Point taken, but I also think there were a few assumptions and backstories applied to me, assuming attitudes and motives that aren’t true. My word choice “upset”, for example, was not taken at face value —as in, I’d be miffed— but was taken as I’ll “start World War 3”. But I can see how that could have been interpreted that way because I reacted in a similarly non-face-value way to the word “hate” in AnonA’s post. I responded imprecisely to the “hate the attitude, not the person” distinction, but it was less about the behavior/person split than the overall contempt I was perceiving being directed at the hypothetical person in AnonA’s post who doesn’t make their work wishes known well enough. Whether it’s the person or the attitude that’s “hated”, I still read that as a pretty harsh personal judgment based on limited info and very negative assumptions about the person. So I responded by assuming that AnonA was lacking in empathy, which may or may not be true, and so it goes….

          A lot of this mutual assumption and hair-splitting is due to how fraught word choice can be. Certain words are “loaded” words which definitely convey messages beyond “face value”. Sometimes unintentionally so, but they can cause reactions nonetheless, creating misunderstandings. In reality, most of us don’t take most of what people say at “face value”, even if we should. Especially when they seem to come with harsh judgements. And we all mess up word choice sometimes— it’s hard to totally avoid. And again, the distance and anonymity of the internet makes these word/message mismatches even more likely.

      2. Anonymous*

        “The passivity of your mindset is irksome and if you were on my team, acting like the management held all the power in a fairy godmother/evil stepmother way, I honestly wouldn’t care where I assigned you.”

        I’d have to agree with AnonA on the basis of your letter, but your comments show that you intend to act on advice and were not looking for permission to throw a fit, so please remember that if you continue to read.

        The word “acting” is also very important to me. You recognized how you might feel in a future situation and asked for advice on how to avoid it, so you haven’t yet “acted” like you expected your manager to read your mind and heart and deliberately disappointed you. If an employee not only asked me to change my decision which also affects others, but also behaved as though I should have known what they wanted and even took my decision as a judgment of their person, then I also would not care about their wishes. However, I would still explain politely that it is too late to change the decision, even while I categorized them as drama queen/king. From your comments, you won’t behave badly, even if you feel badly, which is very professional.

        I’d like to point out that employee behavior is affected by all the bad managers out there and managerial behavior is also affected by all the bad employees out there.

      3. fposte*

        OP, nothing you’ve described or displayed is a “demure communication style.” Your use of that term makes me think that you really are kind of stuck in this “appearing to have no wishes is virtuous” myth while at the same time you’re so angry–and really, you sound pretty angry generally–about something that hasn’t happened and may not that you’re thinking through the minutiae of how to convey your upset. I just feel like you sound more comfortable with defensiveness than agency. And maybe I’m overreading, because that’s a strand in my upbringing, but I hope you’ll consider the possibility, because asking for what you want is going to get you a lot farther than being upset because they didn’t guess what it was and give it to you.

        1. From the OP*

          Well, you’re right to see that I’ve bought into certain myths, and, yes, have a bit of anger in this situation. The myths & anger, I know, come from certain past experiences where I was judged and punished for healthy assertiveness in double-bind no-win situations, and I know that’s my issue. The defensiveness here —which actually makes me very UNcomfortable, having to defend myself— is not my usual state, but I’m feeling it instinctually right now. I guess I just wasn’t expecting some of the judgmental assumptions of my basic character to be hurled (“self-centered”, “manipulative”) because I expressed concern about how/when to speak up about something which certainly can be a minefield in some workplaces, particularly when someone is in a low- or no-power position. This reaction especially concerns me because the simple fact of it is that not every job situation grants its employees the luxury of being able to behave as assertively as they ought to be able to, and not every life situation permits simply getting another job right away if the potentially tricky conversation is botched. Sadly, no matter how much “agency” we might want to exercise, we often simply don’t get to exercise it. Or, if we do, someone can take it the wrong way and it bites us in the butt. People are not wrong to be a little nervous or cautious about their “agency” and how to best exercise it, especially when they have little power or recourse.

          For people to FIRST assume that this cautiousness is due to some very deep character flaws which are among the most maligned in our society BEFORE recognizing that navigating these things can be tricky for even the saintliest person strikes me as cold and harsh, and it’s exactly what makes it scary sometimes to know precisely how to broach a subject with someone who has the power to judge you in the worst possible ways despite your best intentions. I admit to finding that scary and cold, and if that’s naïve (another word someone elsewhere used), then I guess I admit to being naïve too.

          I also wasn’t expecting my admission that I’ll probably be “upset” if things don’t go the way I want to be read as I’ll probably “throw a fit” or “start World War 3”. Especially because I posted my question looking for advice, intending to follow it, not to announce an evil plan to mess with people’s heads and then create drama for no apparent reason. I have no power in my situation— why would I risk doing something ridiculous? Nope, I just meant the usual boring ol’ “I’ll be sad/frustrated/disappointed”, as I know anyone would be in a similar situation. But again, this is the anonymous internet, plus there are people these days for whom “upset” means they go “postal”, and I know that words can get misconstrued by reader and sender. I think I may have mis-conveyed a couple things in my letter, unfortunately. So I’ll take the bitter pills with the medicine, and I’m still glad I asked the question.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            If I can be candid here … I don’t see a lot of “anonymous internet” reaction here (which usually means people being nasty for no particular reason, something I’ve seen none of here), but I do see signs that you might not realize why people are seeing what they’re telling you they’re seeing in your letter and comments.

            You’re characterizing comments here as people “hurling” judgments at you. I haven’t seen that. People have pointed out that you can’t expect your managers to be mind readers, and I think they’ve also reacted a bit to what’s sounded like a good amount of negative (and I’d argue misplaced) judgment from you toward employers/managers who (a) don’t always have all the info it sounds like you’re assuming they should have and (b) sometimes have reasons that they need to do something other than what you’d prefer.

            No one here is trying to put you down or make you feel bad; all we have to work with is what you tell us. A number of people have commented on you sounding inappropriately angry, and whether you intend that or not, it sure is how your comments here have come across. If that’s not what you’ve intended, isn’t it valuable to realize that you might be conveying something you don’t intend to convey in your communications? Many people do that without ever being told, and it’s really useful to get the chance to hear it from people who have no agenda in your life.

          2. fposte*

            OP, when I talked about agency, I didn’t simply mean in this one situation; it’s evident throughout your comments generally. You’ve talked about the workplace as having poor communication while never seeming to realize you’re contributing to that. You’ve talked about the way somebody can be affected by an interaction in which people needlessly spring unpleasant surprises without seeming aware that you were planning to be one of those people.

            This is definitely closer to personal than I wish to pursue, and I know it’s not fun to read this much about oneself in general; I commend you for your stamina and your willingness to reconsider your original plan, and I wish you good luck in getting on the team you want.

            1. From the OP*

              Thank you. I commend your writing style and your balanced approach even when saying potentially difficult things, and I appreciate your acknowledging the “un-fun” aspect of putting oneself up for scrutiny. I’ve been a lurker on this blog for a few months and I’ve noticed I usually admire your posts.

  21. Jamie*

    (of which I am one of the longer-term ones at my level but all of us have been there under a year)

    I missed this on first read. The OP is one of the longer serving people at her level and it’s been less than a year?

    and then …

    I’m afraid I’m going to be quite upset if I’ve been assigned to the other team, because to me that would indicate that they’ve made a poor management decision because they’ve not paid enough attention to obvious cues about the goals, strengths and aptitudes of their employees– which really goes beyond just bad management and into the realm of personally dismissive.

    You have a team of people who have been working together less than a year – there is no way it’s reasonable to expect management to be cued into all the goals, strengths, and aptitudes of all their employees. People who have been working together for months, not years, just don’t have that broad a base of information from which to draw.

    That the leap would be to assume that’s personally dismissive shows, at best, a naivete of what’s involved in managing employees and at worst some very unrealistic expectations. JMO of course, but I think this and some of the follow up comments from the OP show a disconnect of how communication should work – and it’s something I’d address because unrealistic expectations will leave the OP in a state where she’s unhappy more often than not (at work).

    1. From the OP*

      Maybe it’s just a personal difference, but I don’t find a year, or even a month, too soon to be able to get a good enough handle on someone’s general temperament/bearing, career goals, interests, relevant skills and basic personality. I mean, it would be too soon if nobody had the curiosity or conversational skills or motivation to have these kinds of talks, or if nobody bothered to look at a resume or ask interested questions, or if they really just didn’t care one way or the other. But I don’t think certain things are rocket science, especially if the information matters to you, even if it’s for no other reason than you want to make the highest possible profit by having people doing what they do best. I don’t think it should be too hard, even within a few hours of meeting someone and knowing their education & work history and observing how they interact, to get a general sense of “poised people person”, “shy”, “creative type”, “good verbal ability”, “quick on the draw”, “technical proficiency”, etc. and I think the best managers make these observations quickly because they find it important, or at least advantageous, to do so. Obviously certain other traits or work skills take longer to determine, but that’s what the 3-month, 6-month and annual performance evaluations should be for.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        It really depends on the work environment. In some small, tightly knit teams in specific types of workplaces, sure, you can figure out the basics about most people pretty quickly, if you’re their direct manager. But only the basics, and even that is dependent on how much people volunteer and how much they go out of their way to make sure you know that sort of thing about them. But in lots of other workplaces, no, it’s definitely not reasonable to assume that.

        OP, if you don’t mind my saying, it seems like you’re getting very focused on arguing some small pieces of the conversation here and missing the larger point that people are trying to convey about how to set yourself up for success in this situation.

        1. Jamie*

          But only the basics, and even that is dependent on how much people volunteer and how much they go out of their way to make sure you know that sort of thing about them.

          Because I found this side topic interesting I gave some thought to what you’d know about me a couple of weeks into working with me – how well you’d know me.

          I mean not YOU guys – but total strangers with no prior knowledge.

          The list would be short. Quiet. Smart/logical. Not afraid to work. Controlled. Formal. You might know that I was married and had kids if you asked – but most likely not their names or anything about them.

          So because I was thinking about it the subject came up over lunch and two of my work friends agreed with my list (and I agreed with theirs) but they also added “intimidating” and “stuck-up and kind of bitchy” to my list. Humpf.

          I love those two – nothing like people reminding me that I’m an acquired taste. You have to learn to love me.

          I’m months in before people I attempted to be funny, unpack the Kitty’s, and bust out the endless supply of Van Halen trivia in my head. And I would have also been months away from having any kind of meaningful discussion about my career goals…because I wanted to be proficient enough at what I was hired to do so that I was in a position of strength when we discussed what’s next.

          May not work for everyone, but it does work for me…anyway I just found it kind of an interesting exercise because for a lot of us “Nervous starting a new job me” is pretty different from “confident in my position and abilities me.”

        2. From the OP*

          On the surface it seems small, but in my mind it’s connected to the larger picture in that there’s an inherent debate about how much a manager can be reasonably expected to know —or care to know— about their employees’ strengths and goals. This is obviously a matter of opinion, and many people don’t share my view. In my opinion, one of the main things that should qualify a manager (as opposed to just “business owner”, “the big bucks”, etc.) is the kind of interpersonal skill and awareness that would permit them to know certain things— maybe not immediately, but soon enough. Specifically in terms of how to best utilize employees on the job or even having the goal of being supportive to them in their careers in a broader sense. Or engendering a work culture where people feel that they’re more than just interchangeable cogs and that they’re “known” well enough to have their duties match their strengths wherever possible, which allows for better future career prospects as growth within the organization and better morale in general as the workplace becomes a more human place to be. Other people take a more brass-tacks “bottom line” view which I guess works well enough for their purposes, and those people are likely to see my ideal as very naïve. All depends on what’s seen as important.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Out of curiosity, do you have experience managing people yourself, and if so, for how long? I ask because the job of a manager is to get results toward a business’s mission, sustained in the long-run. The things you talk about are very often means to that end, but they’re not ends in themselves. A manager should be assessed on what results she gets — again, sustained in the long-run (and I add that part because you might be able to get great results in the short-term by terrorizing the crap out of your employees, but you won’t sustain them long-term, because good employees will leave and you won’t be able to attract great people once your reputation gets around).

            You’re focusing on stuff that really isn’t the definition of a good manager. And again, it’s distracting you from what should be the main point here: that it’s not outrageous for your managers to expect you to speak up and make your preferences known,, if you have them.

            1. From the OP*

              I’ll admit to seeing some of those things as lofty goals in & of themselves, I guess in a more “job satisfaction” or “work/life balance way”, so I can see where at times it could conflict with a bottom line, depending on circumstances. In general I don’t think meeting business goals and ensuring good interpersonal communication and morale always have to be mutually exclusive —I think they very often go together— though in some cases it probably presents conflicts.

              I guess my view is that our time spent at work —whether we’re the owner, manager or we’re lower level— is the majority of our waking lives, and even if we’re making money hand-over-fist, if there are serious communication blocks or errors of “fit”, that waking life is not going to be very rewarding. What’s the point of being amazingly profitable as a business owner if your own employees can’t speak well of you? Why would someone choose to be in a managerial position if they feel uncomfortable talking with their own subordinates? The workday, every day, would suck, no matter what your position, with these kinds of work culture problems. In those situations, my opinion is that it might be worth a little short-term loss in one area of the bottom line to work on a longer-term gain in the overall morale, and that seems to usually boil down to working on communication. Somebody has to start improving the quality of communication, or say something directly to somebody, and if at times that has to originate with the lower-level employees so be it, but it can be more expedient if it starts with management, and I do feel management should set the precedent more often than not. I feel that’s part of why they get the bigger checks and the bigger offices. Again, people differ about what responsibilities a manager should have beyond the bottom line– I’m only stating my outnumbered opinion.

              To answer your question, I’d likely never get hired as a manager because my views are probably seen by many as too idealistic and naive and “money hemorrhage” would probably be written across my resume in the interview. And there are some hassles and headaches managers deal with on a very regular basis that would drive me nuts and I have the highest respect for the managers who deal with them well. I know managers are often in between a rock and a hard place and that it’s not an easy job in general.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                I think you might actually be misinterpreting what I wrote or misunderstanding my point — of course meeting business goals and ensuring good interpersonal communication and morale aren’t always mutually exclusive; in fact, they usually go hand-in-hand (although not in every situation). But my point is that the sorts of things you’re talking about are means to an end (the end goal is getting results, sustained in the long-term), not the end in themselves. Good mangers generally do those things (means) because they help them get good results (end).

                Anyway, it’s a side issue. The more relevant point, I think, is simply that it’s reasonable for your managers to expect you to speak up and make your preferences known, and that it’s unreasonable to take issue with them not already knowing.

      2. EngineerGirl*

        You are right. Finding people’s goals and motives isn’t rocket science. It is a LOT harder.

        I think you are being really naieve in you expectations.

  22. AnonA*

    Honestly, the OP is willing to communicate more on the Internet about her job situation and her motives/hang ups/need for sympathy than she is with her managers. That’s passive aggressive and great if you want to see your career as a series of decisions made by Fate/Management than something you have any stake or voice in.

    In my experience in the workforce and managing people, this attitude sinks people. As a manager, I think about my team and their careers, but it is their responsibility to manage their careers. I am not a mind reader or their Mommy and I will make decisions based on what is good for the business or the team. Coddling someone who wants to hold slights against me and not be active in their own work lives is not what I am interested in or paid for. But, Alison already addressed this issue of agency/emotional maturity: https://www.askamanager.org/2009/09/why-new-hires-fail.html

  23. From the OP*

    On further reflection, I think something else I should have made clearer in my letter is how “final” the team decisions already sounded when the news was stated (but without being told any details of who-goes-where), combined with no soliciting of employee input. This is the main factor as to why I haven’t spoken up yet: because it didn’t sound open for discussion. I mean, neither me nor anyone else in the room even felt comfortable enough to ask then & there: “have you already made the decisions? is this something you’re allowing our input on?”, which in hindsight someone definitely should have asked right away but in these situations many people clam up whether they should or not. We all clammed up that day, that’s for sure. But those are the first two questions I’ll ask when I broach it with them.

    And I will broach it, but in hindsight it would have saved a lot of anxiety (I’m sure not only on my part) if we could have known right away how final and/or closed the team decisions are. I think that lack of clarity makes a difference in terms of how comfortable or uncomfortable someone might be in stating a preference and how much they could be judged for doing or not doing so. A statement that the change is coming, plus a clear statement that employee input is welcome DOES kinda mean you can’t pout if you don’t speak up and suggests things have not already been fully decided. Lack of a clear green-light for input could mean either that it’s okay to speak up about preferences because it hasn’t been fully decided or that it absolutely isn’t okay because Case Closed, Run Along, Nothing to See Here Folks. It’s kind of a double-bind, or at least a crapshoot, since you could just as easily be judged badly for not speaking up as for speaking up in that situation. It just would have made it less dicey if we knew one way or the other how open it was for discussion.

    It’s the difference between: “We’re dividing you guys up into teams.” [cue elevated heart-rates and befuddled, expectant look of “AND…????” on employees’ faces, then spending the whole holidays worrying about it] vs. “We’re dividing you guys up into teams. If you have a preference, we’re open to discussing it, provided you understand that for various reasons we may not be able to accommodate your preference.” Or, if the situation is totally non-negotiable for some legitimate reason: “We’re dividing you guys up into teams. We’ve already decided who will go where, and it’s non-negotiable, but we’ve made the decision by trying to find the best fit possible for each job and considering it from both our benefit and what we know your preference would likely be. But we know we probably won’t please everyone. If you have a real issue with your team assignment, we can discuss it but we’re honestly not going to change team assignments unless it’s a serious factor we hadn’t considered and if the change won’t interfere with our business goals.” [cue employees all lining up outside managers’ offices to express preferences without a moment’s hesitation].

    Management might be *thinking* any of the above, and/or we employees might just be expected to automatically know (mind-read) that the subject’s open for discussion OR that it’s not, but a statement one way or the other would have cleared it up beyond doubt. Because, honestly, I still don’t know which it is: open for discussion or not. I know I’m talking about what would have been IDEAL for them to say and managers don’t have personal script writers to make sure they always communicate perfectly. Employees don’t either and they have a lot more to lose. All I’m saying is that this would be a great example of employer and employee meeting each other halfway to ensure communication is effective with a minimum of undue anxiety or expectations of mind-reading on either part. That, I think, would be the fairest thing: proactively state a green light to employees if their input is welcome on a change, and THEN if employees don’t take up the offer and then get pissed about the outcome, it’s their problem. If their input isn’t welcome, make sure that’s clear too. Don’t put them in a crazy-making double-bind position. It just costs a few words, one way or the other, and a few extra seconds to say them, to do your part to make the change as smooth as possible for everyone and not add to an already tense situation (which any change at work has the potential to be = Management 101). That’s not “coddling”, that’s being a considerate, proactive effective manager who knows the value of good communication.

    Good work communication needs to go both ways, like, TRULY both ways. I know I need to stick my neck out and speak up, and should have done so right way, I’m not arguing that. But it wouldn’t kill management to have made it more clear if this would be welcomed. I shouldn’t expect them to mind-read and they shouldn’t expect me to mind-read either. That’s as fairly as it can possibly be put, and that’s all I can really say on the matter since I’m not going to keep beating a dead horse. I know many disagree with me, and we’ll just have to disagree. AAM and most others here pointed out some of the errors in my thinking and/or areas of disagreement in diplomatic ways which will ultimately be helpful, and I appreciate it. Thank you all for your time.

    1. Henning Makholm*

      Well, in the absence of further information, at least the fact that they haven’t announced what the teams are going to be means that it will be easier to influence the decisions, because they will be able to listen to your input, thank you for it without committing to anything, and then quietly change the decision they thought they were going to make, because nobody will ever know they changed their minds.

      For some people, it is important to maintain an appearance of rarely needing to revisit a decision once made. Such people are much easier to influence once they haven’t told anybody what they have decided, even if they claim already to have decided something.

  24. keerthi*


    i am quite dissatisfied with my work right from the start of my carrer..need some siggestions!!

    let me explain you my situation.

    i was trained in .net for three mnths by the company and got a project. as the project got ramped down we were on bench for some time.

    My manager tagged me in one project suddenly without my knowledge. but its a php based project. i didnt have any other option so i tried n learnt php well.. since i was new inthe project i was given menial works.
    but i used to do them interestingly.

    after 6 mnths i was transfered to another project in a different city.
    here i need to work on sharepoint..
    all 6 mnths that i wrked on php was of no use here.
    i tried n started learning sharpoint.
    since i was the only newest member there again i was treted as fresher and given some junk works. i was demotivated by all this kindoff things..though i have only limited knowledge on sharepoint i startedto look for oputunities outside the present company.
    and i found one new job.
    i joined in this company just two months back. this company pays me double the pay that my previous company paid me.
    but since am new here i still feel the same that i am not recognized. i am not given right amounts of work.
    onl,y if u start working u wil grow rite.
    as i am not assigned any thing i end up browsing a lot of self study sites daily. i wanted to know where i stand and as a developer , i need growth.
    i am worried plesae suggest me what can i do.

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