how to get an employee to stop using baby talk in the office

A reader writes:

As an HR professional, I often have to talk to our employees about embarrassing or sensitive issues. However, I have a situation where I need to talk to an employee about her communication skills and I am not sure how to approach the situation.

We have an employee here who likes to talk “baby talk.” I have been getting a lot of complaints lately from her coworkers and staff that this is embarrassing and awkward for them. For instance, I have noticed her say goodbye to her coworkers by saying, “Bye bye boo boo,” and I have also heard her say, “What’s up, foo foo.” Yes, she is a grown woman, and no, I am not making this stuff up (although I really wish that I was). I have noticed this in my interactions with this employee as well. I have also noticed that the baby talk intensifies when she appears to be stressed, so perhaps it is just an odd nervous reaction. Most recently, I had to ask her a question about an expense report that she had approved. It was just a simple question, but she seemed a little defensive like she thought she was in trouble and she switched the baby talk into high gear and said, “Am I in tubble?” in this little baby voice while giving me a pouty face. It was very embarrassing.

What makes it worse is that she is a manager. Her staff has been complaining as well, as they consider this to be degrading to them. One particular member of her team told me that she pulled the baby talk in a meeting with one of her clients. Afterwards, the client sent an email to his contact here and asked what was up with her strange manager.

I definitely need to have a conversation with her, but I just don’t even know how to start the conversation. How do you tell someone to knock off the baby talk?

Just to give you a little more info on our environment: We are a mid-sized, business consulting firm and she is a manager of a team of about 20 account managers. Communication is a huge part of her job. Also, her immediate supervisor has asked HR to have the conversation with her as he also doesn’t know how to handle the issue. A couple of her coworkers have asked her to knock off the baby talk a few times, but from what I have been told, she has laughed it off and acted like she didn’t even realize that she was doing it. I am used to having the sensitive personnel situations passed over to me and usually I am perfectly capable at handling these things and tend to have a knack for being empathetic yet direct. However, this situation has got me at a loss for words. Please help!

I once worked with a woman who did this — although only with men, interestingly — and it was incredibly grating and unprofessional and absolutely destroyed her ability to be taken seriously as a normal professional person.

In any case, her direct manager is the one who needs to be handling this, because he’s the person charged with giving her feedback, and he shouldn’t be allowed to pawn it off on HR. So please go back to him and tell him that you’d be glad to coach him through the conversation, but it needs to come from him, because he is her manager, not you.

As for what to say, he should just be direct: “Jane, I’ve noticed you sometimes use a childish voice, or baby talk. This is impacting the way you’re perceived by clients, coworkers, and your team. You’re an adult professional, and it’s important that you represent yourself that way. This type of thing can really hold you back at work, and will prevent people from taking you seriously, particularly as a manager. Are you aware when you’re doing it, and do you think it’s something you can stop?”

Then, if he ever hears her doing it again, he needs to address it — privately, of course, not on the spot if there are others there. For instance: “I noticed in our meeting with Bob, you were using baby talk with him. Did you realize you were doing it?”

And if she does it one-on-one with him, he should say something in the moment: He should stop the conversation — just as you would if someone, say, started speaking to you in pig Latin out of nowhere — and say something like, “Jane, why are you speaking to me like that?” (You can address it like that too, if she does it to you. And I hope you will, because she probably needs the message reinforced.)

If her manager then notices her continuing to do with her the people she manages, he needs to address it as a performance issue. Since she’s managing other people, this doesn’t fall in the category of “this is an optional thing to fix if you’d like to be taken more seriously,” but rather “you need to fix this because it’s impeding your ability to manage your staff.”

{ 351 comments… read them below }

  1. Cat*

    Oh wow, that sounds unbelievably annoying. Where on Earth do people get the impression that stuff like that is a good strategy in the business world?

      1. Seal*

        First thing that came to mind was a Community Christmas episode, where Annie sang something like Santa Baby to Jeff and degenerated into baby talk because it was supposed to be sexy; he was repulsed.

        My reaction to a baby talking coworker would be a blank stare and/or saying “What?”. As a manager, I sincerely hope it never comes up!

      2. Anonymous*

        There’s an episode of The Office where Michael addresses Andy’s baby talk (and Andy manages to turn it around by complimenting him on his Elvis voice). I really thought it was from the vivid imaginations of creative professionals. I am having a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that this is a real (and, apparently not infrequent) occurrence.

        1. Jamie*

          I thought that also – just creative brilliance reaching for extremes…I cannot imagine what my reaction would be to this.

          I don’t even baby talk to babies so I’m dying to know why – what’s the mindset behind doing this?

          And OP, is this a recent development? I can’t imagine she rose through the ranks to where she has 20 direct reports and has significant management responsibilities if she was doing this all along.

          What triggered this?

          1. OP*

            Sadly, she has been doing this for years, but I didnt realize how bad it had gotten until recently. I love reading all of these comments, I didnt realize that this was such a common subject for TV shows. Too funny.

          2. Ellie H.*

            I don’t baby talk to babies either. (Or animals.) I literally do not know how to do it. I talk to children (and animals) the exact same way I do to adults.

            1. E*

              I coo a little bit at babies, but it’s vocal tone, not made-up words. On the other hand, I had a boss once who greeted infants with “Sup, baby.” Wasn’t exactly the kid-friendly type, but it was hilarious.

              1. Natalie*

                If I recall my Intro to Psych class correctly, it’s quite common, nearly universal, for people to talk to babies in a higher pitch.

      3. Anonymous*

        Yes! The new comedienne that Liz brings onto TGS to prove that the show isn’t misogynistic. But she acts like a child and men find it irresistible, which frustrates Liz and makes her question her feminism.

        “I am a vewwy sexy baby.”

      4. Workingmom66*

        It was!! “TGS Hates Women” – the new female comedian did the same thing. Perhaps a quick Netflix view will provide yet another great solution?

        I can’t believe a woman who oversees that big a team of people is doing that. I am totally in agreement that her manager should handle it. And quickly.

  2. Malissa*

    I am happy to hear that I’m not the only person who works with a baby talker.
    My fairly effective solution has been to just not engage my coworker when she does this. But then this is just a coworker, I can’t imagine having a manager talk this way. Awkward.

    1. anon*

      +1. this drives me up a wall. we have one of those who also makes noises as ways to express thoughts. only in my case, they are encouraged to do so because it’s FUN! ugh.

      1. Kim*

        I have a co-worker making whooshing noises and meowing at people that walk past her desk as I type. I’ve asked so many times if I could move to a different area, but we’re lumped by department. So I haven to endure these weird outbursts all day long. No one says anything because what to be “nice.”
        It’s bizarre. Like serious nails on a chalkboard.

        1. Jamie*

          I’ve mentioned it here before – but I had a co-worker who would hoot like an owl when bored or “stifled.” Which was several times a day.

          1. Heather*

            “Hey Hedwig, should I bring you back some Owl Treats next time I go to Diagon Alley? And by the way, where the hell is my mail?”

            1. OP*

              Ok, so I suppose that my sitation could be worse. She could be hooting or meowing as well. LOL

              1. Jamie*

                The hooter wasn’t anywhere cool enough to be Hedwig…I cried when she died (book and movie.)

                He once got bored enough to kick beach balls around the office…not the kind you blow up but the hard plastic kind in multi colors…flew through my office, bounced off my book shelves (along with some hard drives) and ricocheted to knock over 2 of my monitors as I was working trying to close the month.

                Hedwig would never have done that.

                1. Marmite*

                  WTF? Where did he even get beach balls? Did he come prepared to play at work?

                  Two guys at one of my old jobs got bored enough one day to do the Mentos in Coke thing. Would have been fine had they done it outside or in the kitchen. Near computers, not such a bright idea.

                2. Jessa*

                  I would have politely but with obvious rage, collected up that ball and dropped it into whatever lockable drawer I had or into my purse.

                  It’s one thing to bounce a ball off an empty wall (West Wing anyone?) or even to bounce a beach ball type ball, but the hard plastic kind? My books and my monitor, etc. are valuable equipment. No no no you do not risk my valuables.

                  There would have been issues. But any ball thrown the way of my equipment would instantly become mine. I am a former special education kindergarten teacher, you know the “confiscating that now” look teachers get? That would be my face.

                  Especially after knocking down monitors.

          2. jesicka309*

            There is a GUY in my department that does that. Someone will tell a story, and he will say “Naawwwww poor baaaaaayyybbeeeee!”

            He also meows, and like some other people have mentioned, makes noises just to get attention or break the silence.

            I used to be quite friendly with him, but after I lost my patience with him one day and told him to just ‘shut up’, he decided he didn’t want to be friends anymore. Everyone else seems to think he’s the Golden Boy though.

        2. JamieG*

          I have a coworker who meows, barks, growls… actually, now that I think about it, I have more than one. I’m glad I’m not alone!

          1. Paul*

            I have a co-worker who quacked like a duck, croaked like a frog and more, throughout the day for five years. Another co -worker would also do it, they played off each other. When the other worker left he quietened down for a while, now he replaces the first letter of words with a J. Nice becomes “jice”. Management don’t seem to care. The guy is in his fifties going on two.

        3. FiveNine*

          I used to share an office with a woman who inexplicably, at random times, would say her cat’s name out loud. She acted like this was an involuntary reflex she couldn’t control, but it never happened with any other word, and she was in her 40s.

          1. LCL*

            Um, I do this sometimes. When I am thinking of the dog and how much fun I have walking him. I know it’s kind of weird…

            1. AMG*

              Why would you do that, and what kinds of reactions do you get? I also wonder if you are the same person FiveNine is talking about–it’s a pretty unique quirk.

              1. FiveNine*

                I don’t think LCL is the same person. (It was 15 years and one of the woman’s pet cats ago.) She’s a lovely woman — I knew her outside of the office, on a personal basis, before I took the job and am still friends with her today. It was a quirk that had nothing to do with OCD or Tourette’s or even the pet cat that followed. We’d be working on our computers in silence and she’d just blurt out her cat’s name. But it was similar to what LCL is saying, she just adored this particular cat.

                1. LCL*

                  Not the same person, I am a dog person! I talk to myself alot anyway to organize jobs or write things, so people are used to it. And I am not saying it loud, or to them. Upon further thought, I realize I am saying the dog’s name when I am really stressed and need a mental break.

                2. Jamie*

                  For those of you who are familiar with Ricky Gervais on youtube there is a clip called “Living with Ricky Gervais” some behind the scenes where he is annoying the hell out of Robin Ince and he does talk about making strange animal sounds as a stress release. It’s funny.

                3. khilde*

                  My cat’s name is Bingo, so it might not actually be too weird in my situation. :) kind of like if your cat’s name was Eureka! :)

          2. Jill*

            Maybe she had OCD or Tourette’s? I have OCD, and repeating a mantra mentally or verbally is a pretty common compulsion.

        4. the gold digger*

          What about the guy at my gym who “Woos!” at random during body pump? Not even in rhythym! And during the breaks between sets! (Although as far as I’m concerned, the only time worth cheering during an exercise class is the time when you’re not exercising.)

          He is the only “Woo!”er in the class. This is the upper Midwest. This is not a “Woo!”ing culture. We exercise in silence here.

          I hate him.

          1. jesicka309*

            There are people in my boxing class that “woo” when they tell us to do burpees.

            Stop. Now. Burpees suck. Do not woo over burpees.

    2. RB*

      Another baby talk sufferer here and it’s from a person that’s at a director level. The exec team never addresses it and so it goes on and on.

      Yes, I work in total dysfunction and am looking.

  3. Chriama*

    This is pretty hilarious. In a painful way.The best strategy is to be direct with her — baby talk undermines her professional credibility and makes people uncomfortable when they interact with her. This will be an awkward conversation, but sometimes you just have to have one. Good luck!

      1. the gold digger*

        I tried watching it (the British original, with Ricky Gervais, who is a genius). It was too painfully close to my job, so it wasn’t funny to me.

        My boss: “We are pirhanas in the river. Biting at the competition.”

          1. Jen M.*

            I remember that one!

            I agree: I liked the British one better, but the show is much too painful to watch, so I haven’t even bothered with the American version.

            I love Ricky Gervais, though.

    1. Susan*

      I love love love the Office. So sad to see it go. Last week’s finale was lovely.

  4. ExceptionToTheRule*

    I think the first words out of my mouth were I to encounter such a co-worker would probably be “what is wrong with you?” with a serious expression of disbelief.

    I work with some weird people, but this takes the cake…

    1. Andrea*

      I once had a co-worker who did this, too. The first time she did it to me, I said, “Gosh, it must be hard to go through life with a speech impediment as serious as that.” When she stared at me blankly in response, I went on and told her about how I used to lisp as a child and that the speech pathologist at school helped me learn to stop. Then I suggested that a speech pathologist who works with children might be able to help her, too.

      She didn’t stop. But she left me alone after that. Which was fine; I hated her.

      1. AMG*

        I love this! I am now actually hoping someone will start doing this at my office so I can steal your line.

  5. fposte*

    “Her immediate supervisor has asked HR to have the conversation with her as he also doesn’t know how to handle the issue.” Interestingly, that’s pretty much the managerial equivalent of baby talk–“Pwease do it fow me as I’d just do it wong.”

    The baby-talk thing drives me bats, but the “Am I in tubble?”, horrific as it is, illustrates that for some reason in her life, this is an adaptive behavior for her; somebody–parents, partners, whatever–thought this was cute, gave her approval for it, and eased up on criticism when she presented this way. That means it’s going to be a really hard habit for her to break. If you can find a way to non-condescendingly praise her for avoiding baby talk while she’s working on this, that will really help.

    1. fposte*

      It also occurs to me that the language/clothing analogy might be useful here. When you’re at work, you’re expected to present yourself professionally in dress and communication. Baby talk is like attending a meeting in a romper and bib.

    2. Elle-p*

      That’s a good point. If this is the case then bringing forward the EAP as a possible support resource for solving this issue would be beneficial. They may be able to work with her on figuring out more productive stress management techniques and potentially also help her figure out the root of these issues (although as a manager I would focus only on the first component of that–the second part is none of my business).

    3. Anonicorn*

      I wonder if some type of Pavlovian trigger would help. Any time she starts doing baby talk, her manager could abruptly yell, “Waaaah!”

      (I’m reminded of the episode of Community where Pierce helps Shirley with her speech about brownies.)

            1. Jen M.*

              This thread right there is full of win!

              I’m in favor of tasers. Maybe you could expense it?

    4. Marmite*

      I would so want to respond to that with, “Well, you weren’t in trouble, but that baby voice is getting you there!”

      I think you’re right though, this is a behaviour that has worked for her in the past. It will likely be a hard habit to break but having it pointed out to her may help, if she realises it’s having the opposite effect than she’s going for (alienating people rather getting them o her side) she may make a conscious effort to change.

      1. Chinook*

        I would add that she may not even realize that the baby talk is doing her more harm than good. After all, if no one has mentioned it as being bad but others have laughed or even changed how they were treating her in a positive wawy, shy wouldn’t she think this was appropriate?

        My response would be similair to that of my dog when I asked him who freed the cat food from the cupboard – tilt my head and look confused.

    5. The Other Dawn*

      I agree. I was thinking the same thing. Earlier in life she must have used baby talk as a way to get what she wants, avoid consequences, etc.

      1. Cat*

        I wonder if the book “Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office” might be useful; its thrust is that the same behavioral patterns that girls and young women are rewarded for become maladaptive when applied in an office setting.

        1. Andrea*

          I just got this book and I’m about halfway through it! Great suggestion for this situation.

    6. Apostrophina*

      True. I worked with a woman like this: she’d been in that office forever, but didn’t have much backbone. So when a VP took a dislike to her, she was basically pushed aside, never given training on new technology, and semi-demoted. (It was so bad that when they re-org’ed and she got a good performance review for the first time in years, she went back to her desk and broke down and cried.)

      I don’t doubt for a minute that she felt infantilized, but she was not necessarily the kind of person to consciously realize it, either, so I guess it came out in baby talk.

      Since she was technically my supervisor, as long as I could understand her, I wasn’t going to say a word.

  6. BausLady*

    I’m dealing with something very similar, although in my case, it’s the HR Manager that talks this way. She vacillates between baby talk and ‘Girl’ talk. If it’s not ‘uh oh someone’s in twubble,’ it’s ‘how are you doing today girly,’ or ‘You’re my eyes and ears hunny bun.’

    It’s incredibly annoying and somewhat demeaning. I report into her (I’m the HR Assistant) and I’m a 30 year old woman with a Master’s degree. I’m nobody’s ‘hunny bun.’

    And it’s also really off-putting to the staffing agencies and other vendors that she works with. They have all ended up coming to me directly with anything rather than dealing with her. Same with most of the employees. They’ve started coming to me with any employee relations issues rather than have to listen to her.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Any chance you have a good relationship with someone who’s in a position to speak with her about it (peer or above her) and could discreetly suggest that they do?

      1. BausLady*

        I could try. I’ve at least worked with her direct supervisor longer, and she’s pretty approachable. I don’t think she’d just shrug it off if I went to her.

    2. Jen*

      Oh wow – I used to work with an intern who would refer to me and our boss as “Girlies” all the time. “Hey, girlies! What’s up?” – just extreme disrespect and way too casual. Fortunately my boss stepped up and one day simply said “Please don’t refer to us as girlies, you know our names, there are only two of us and we’re grown women so let’s speak appropriately” and that was the end of that.

      1. Marmite*

        I think with an intern there’s more room to cut them some slack and assume they genuinely don’t know what’s appropriate in the workplace. Of course, it should still be pointed out to them so that they know how the way they’re speaking is perceived and learn what is and isn’t appropriate in the workplace.

        Workplaces vary so much too that language like “Hey, girlies!” may be acceptable in some (although, when aimed at your supervisors that’s less likely), but I can’t imagine the baby talk thing going down well anywhere!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          But I would say with interns part of the point is for them to learn how to operate in an office, and so people have a responsibility to tell them this isn’t cool (even if you’re not their manager).

          1. Marmite*

            I agree, that’s why I said it should still be pointed out to them so they know how it’s perceived and learn what is and isn’t appropriate in the workplace.

            By cutting them some slack I meant more in the way that you approach it, and in being understanding of the fact they may not understand workplace norms. Whereas presumably the baby talker in the OP’s letter does know what is expected in the workplace.

        2. Sarah*

          I was at a lunch and learn today and when I came back our intern had her shoes off! She was in someone’s office and the shoes were was in the staff office common area. I was motified! I had to say that was not okay – especially if one of our donors showed up!

      2. Sydney Bristow*

        I had an interview this week and the woman who was interviewing me mentioned that I could talk to “any of the girls in staffing” if she wasn’t available. Not even close to baby talk, but it still makes me cringe. Luckily I think I only cringed internally when she said it!

  7. Ash*

    Wow, reading this made me cringe. I can’t imagine anyone who would do this with any co-workers, except as maybe a joke between close colleagues (I’m just trying to think of when it might be appropriate to be joking or silly). This would be annoying to deal with on a regular basis, and I would be mortified if I watched someone do this to a client or an outside vendor of some sort (unless again, there was some sort of funny-jokey relationship).

    Just ugh.

    1. Jen M.*

      It’s hard to believe.

      For all I put up with on a day-to-day basis, I’m happy to say I’ve avoided this kind of thing.

    1. The IT Manager*

      That is a question I’d like to see answered.

      Who promoted her to a managerial position? If she was an external hire, I suppose that she managed to avoid baby talk in the interview, but who provided a positive recommendation for someone who does it? So unprofessional.

    2. Anonymous*

      I’d be willing to bet that this woman has some impressive account wins on her resume. I’d also be willing to bet that her baby talk has worked in her favor in the past. I had a supervisor who was very smart but would purposely act silly around our male clients because she believed that being serious would intimidate them. Or something. It was bizarre and ridiculous, but since she did manage to land big accounts, our boss let it slide.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          No, no, no! This type of comment is horrible for women. Some women get away with things they shouldn’t, and some men do. Assuming that women who do are somehow exploiting their sexuality undermines all women.

          1. Mike C.*

            Yeah, this is really a terrible thing to say, please take some time to think about what this really says about her, her superiors and her coworkers. I’ll give you a hint, none of it is good.

          2. OP*

            I guess I should add that this individual isnt doing anything in a sexual or flirty way. At least, I really dont think that is the case.

        2. MJ*

          Why… why would you think this is even a little bit appropriate? This is poisonous and vile and offensive as hell. Please stop.

    3. OP*

      I have no idea. That is something which has always baffled me. I am assuming that it wasnt so noticeable when she was promoted. Or perhaps her supervisor at the time did not notice or care… other than that, she is good at her job. She has worked her way up in the company and this is the only complaint I have ever gotten about her… however, communication is a huge part of her job, plus the whole team morale factor.

  8. Annie*

    Whoa! many years ago I used to work with a Baby Talker – sheesh! It was exhausting! And of course no one ever addressed it because she did it for years and years.

  9. Sascha*

    I’m a bit surprised at the number of people here who have worked with a baby talker. I have not yet encountered that, thank goodness.

    This post is making me reflect on my own speech habits. I know I can get high pitched when I’m nervous and defensive, I wonder what else I’m doing that I don’t realize.

    1. fposte*

      I’ve worked with two. In both cases they were dramatic, likable, and vivacious women (has anybody had a male co-worker who did this?) who would do a lot of varied things for narrative effect, so baby talk was in among the rest. It was still really annoying and a little bit sad, because it was clearly an “I’m being cute and engaging now” thing and they were actually a lot more engaging when they weren’t baby-talking.

        1. Cate*

          Now that you mention it, I have! But only one. He talks to everyone like an excited third-grader, with lots of head tilting and smiling and bouncing and “Okie-dokie-artichokey.” I suppose I could see that being someone’s natural personality, but on him it’s very obviously affected.

            1. Cate*

              Oh great now I won’t be able to get that out of my head when I talk to him, hahaha

              1. Jessa*

                And when you giggle he’s going to want to wonder why. This is like putting an earwig of a song in your head. Bad bad. Giggle. Funny, but bad.

          1. AP*

            It always makes me wonder what these people’s real personalities are like – do they naturally come off as mass murderers and feel the need to overcompensate in the other direction?

          2. AMG*

            Oh dear. I just said ‘hiya papaya’ today to someone. Is that bad? Does it matter if I’m not a particularly perky or 3rd grader-ish person?

        2. Jamie*

          You should hear my husband when talking to the fur babies when he thinks no one is listening!

          But seriously I don’t think I’ve ever heard a man do this when not addressing an animal or actual baby…but then I’ve never heard anyone do it at work.

          1. Sascha*

            Yep, you would never suspect my husband would do any kind of baby talk – but when he is sharing a moment with his favorite cat… :)

            1. Jen in RO*

              My boyfriend hates anything baby-related… and he turns into such a pile of mush when he’s talking to the cat.

              1. The gold digger*

                I mentioned these comments to my husband, who looooves our cats almost more than anything else.

                He asked defensively, “What’s wrong with baby talking to cats?”

                Then he said, “I love my kitties.”

              2. FreeThinkerTX*

                Wow, I’m pleased to see that this is relatively common. The Boyfriend does the same thing with his favorite cat (her name is Stella, but he calls her “Boo-Boo”).

                And, oddly, his favorite thing to say to all of the animals (4 cats and 2 dogs) is, “Whazza matter little [nickname]? ::pause:: Whazza matter little [nickname]?” He usually asks this of an animal who is very clearly *content* with whatever they’re doing, and he *always* repeats the question. Like maybe the animals don’t know enough to know that they’re upset about something. . . and they’re hard of hearing. :-)

                1. The gold digger*

                  I keep telling my husband, when he is trying to tell the cats to stop doing something and they ignore him because they are cats that Laverne and Shirley, who are Siamese, don’t speak English, so just be quiet already.

                2. Meg*

                  My dog’s name is “Spunky” and we call her everything from Spunkadunk to Boo-Boo to Baby Girl. She surprisingly responds to all of them.

        3. Marmite*

          I imagine it’s less likely to go uncommented on in men, and likely to be practice knocked out of them before they reach the workplace. I’ve worked with kids a lot and I know boys will do this just as much a girls will when they’re younger, but I don’t think I’ve seen it in boys once they’ve reached puberty, whereas in teenage girls I’ve seen it used often.

          1. Sydney Bristow*

            I’d also guess that the young girls are rewarded while the young boys are not so they have no reason to continue.

            1. Jamie*

              Yep – same reason that into adulthood my dad would respond to my tears immediately by giving me anything I wanted as long as I would stop crying and smile again.

              My brother wouldn’t have gotten the same reaction had he tried it.

              Social conditioning runs deep – even once we know better.

          2. Mari*

            As a mother and grandmother I deplore the baby talk and let’s not forget slang. I didn’t and don’t accept either baby talk or slang in my home. I have tried to teach my family that you must learn when and where to use the “appropriate” language. I felt if they learned to speak proper English in the home they would not have this issue when they were adults in the professional and adult world.

            1. Jessa*

              Baby talk DOES have a legitimate purpose when people are babies. It’s all about rhythm and sounds they need to learn to talk later. But once they start putting words in order, no, full sentences are good things. Shorter, easier sentences with age appropriate words certainly. But all baby talk is not by definition bad. Those games where you babble back and forth with a baby have a purpose. It’s why every language and culture has a version of them despite being separated by miles and water.

              1. fposte*

                Researchers differentiate “parentese”–the high pitched, simple-sentence stuff you’re talking about–from baby talk, which is mimicking youthful speech misunderstandings and pronunciations. Parentese has a place; baby talk has no linguistic advantage.

              2. The Engineer*

                I’m married to a speech pathologist. Baby talk is of no value. Children learn by mimicking what they hear. You always want to model the correct version. Simplify at times but speak as they should and eventually they will.

        4. Sascha*

          Well after some thought, I realized that I do work with a semi-baby talker, and it’s a guy! He is one of the manager in my office and he drives me crazy. When he gets defensive, he goes pouty, and will do a bit of the baby talk. It’s not as often as others but it is definitely there.

          1. LisaLyn*

            I currently work with a guy who does that, too. When he’s “in trouble” he goes pouty and start baby talking. It’s really disconcerting.

        5. OP*

          No, but I heard from a friend that she has a male co-worker who busts out in a fake southern accent when he gets nervous.

          1. T*


            I just have one woman who whines. Like “Teeeeee whyyyy didn’t you emailllllllll meeeeee” as her normal speech pattern. But nothing like Fake Southern Accent guy or Baby Talk Manager

          2. Marmite*

            I find that I sometimes switch accents if I’m speaking to someone with a different accent to mine. I don’t mean to do it, I just subconsciously slip into it. It happens especially often when I’m speaking to Americans or New Zealanders, I think because I’ve lived in the US and NZ and picked up those accents.

            No one has ever made negative comments about it but I try and make a conscious effort not to do it because I know it’s weird. I don’t think it sounds like a fake accent though, because in both the US and NZ I was frequently mistaken for a native.

            1. Malissa*

              I understand. I’m not so far removed from the south. The accent comes back quickly when I’m talking to a southerner.

            2. Chinook*

              I did that switching accents thing and it was bad.When I was overseas, the only native English speakers I was interacting with were in Diana Gabaldon books. From out of nowhere, I started speaking with a slight scottish burr. It even freaked me out.

            3. Rana*

              Yeah, I do that too, thought it’s primarily when someone else has a distinctive accent of their own. I worry that I come across as mocking them, so I try not to do it if I can catch myself (not always easy). It’s handy when traveling; when dealing with people in ordinary circumstances, not so much.

                1. Ariancita*

                  Oh, I’d like to think they wouldn’t notice, but it really only happens to me with people who speak in a very different accent…like at the end of night at a wedding where the bride and her family was from the Philippines and I started speaking with a Filipina accent AND started mingling in Tagalog words. I’m pretty sure they noticed.

                2. fposte*

                  Well, I don’t know exactly how you sounded, so it could be everyone was wondering if you were from Mars :-). But I think we don’t really notice when other people accommodate to us linguistically, because there’s so much left of their speech that is “different” to us and the stuff that sounds like us is transparent because it’s “normal.” I suspect we mostly don’t notice when it’s been done to us. That’s why the stories are usually about our *own* tendency toward accommodation and not about times somebody else slipped into accommodation with our speech. ( I have a dear longterm UK friend, and I’m very conscious of slipping into accommodation when I’m visiting her; despite the fact that I’m pretty good with linguistics, it still slides right past me most of the time when she slips into accommodating me.)

              1. Ariancita*

                Wow, me too! It’s embarrassing. I worry they think I’m mocking them, but once it’s picked up, I can’t control it! I’ve now learned to warn people when it’s starts to happen and explain. :/

            4. Lexie*

              I have this problem from time to time. I was raised in Kentucky but have not lived there in years. When I get stressed or excited, sometimes a southern accent slips out because I am not focused as much on my speech.

            5. FreeThinkerTX*

              OK, I know that we’re not supposed to tell people about our weird dreams once we reach the age of 25, but just last night I dreamt that I was talking to a group of folks from England and I kept mimicking their accent. I tried to stop, but couldn’t, and they got very annoyed.

              FWIW, I tend to do the same thing in real life, but to a much, much smaller (lesser?) degree. It’s like I get a feel for the rhythm of the accent and then can’t let it go. It has its uses. I’ve frequently been called on at various jobs to help “translate” what someone with a very heavy accent is saying. [I worked at Home Depot during a break in my professional career and one of my coworkers was from Ghana. We ended up basically being joined at the hip because no one could understand him but me. He asked me once why I could understand him, and the best I could give him was that it was like listening to music and picking up on the beat.]

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                “OK, I know that we’re not supposed to tell people about our weird dreams once we reach the age of 25”

                I know this is true too, but I want to say that at a job I had years ago, I was in charge of the in-house staff newsletter, and I started a feature in it called “Notable Dreams.” People would submit write-ups of weird dreams they had — ideally involving work but not required — and we’d print them. It was very popular.

              2. 22dncr*

                OMG Free- are you my long lost twin? (<; I do the same thing. When I lived in London I totally picked up a British accent without realizing it (did not hang with fellow Americans – why would you go all the way to somewhere and then spend all your time with people just like you?/rant). Then when one of those friends came to the States she told me I didn't sound the same! I always attributed it to my learning Spanish at a young age and not being allowed to speak it with a Texas accent. Where I'm from everyone switches back and forth with the correct accent with no problem. It IS like music too and I think that's helped me pick up speaking multiple languages (can't stand the book learning part, though).

          3. Elizabeth*

            James Marsters, who played Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer is from Georgia originally, and he has a soft, very slight, Southern drawl. He also has a strong tendency to pick up accents from the people around him. The way he voiced Spike was to listen to Anthony Stewart Head’s normal speaking voice and emulate it to get the London Street Tough.

            He is sort of aware that he’s a natural mimic, and fans have been known to torment him with it. The one I know about, because I know the people involved, when he did an autograph signing at a convention, a group of people who are also actors & who have various accents at their disposal used basically random accents as they spoke to him and he signed the autograph. Each time, he unconsciously mimicked the accent of the person speaking to him. He didn’t know he was doing it until about the 20th person in line burst out laughing to hear him drop from British Public School to Midwestern flat and then move on to Boston Harvard Yard.

        6. Anonymous*

          Not quite baby talk, but there is a very distinct, high-pitched, syrupy voice a male colleague uses when speaking to certain people (e.g. the owner of the company, men he’s trying to impress…) He always says weird things too, like “sammie” for sandwich … which I find very strange for an adult male to say.

        7. Meganly*

          An ex-boyfriend used to talk to me in a baby voice once in a while. I like to think my overt disgust for it trained him out of it, since he didn’t do it for long!

        8. jesicka309*

          My coworker does it, as I mentioned upthread. He often says “Pooor bbaaaybeeeeee” and uses phrases like “that’s cray cray”. Just now I can hear him talking with another coworker whose name is Chris and say “Nawwww Cwwwisss! Poor Cwissy!” and ask a female colleague “are you warmies?” All in the time I’ve taken to write this one comment.
          Apparently everyone loves him though. I don’t think he’s dared to speak to me like that in years, otherwise I think I’d flip.

        9. Schnauz*

          Years ago, we had a new employee who would say “I’m bored Mommy” or “I’m bored Daddy” to myself and another employee whenever he was at loose ends. Thankfully, this was the only time he baby talked, but I’m sure no one is surprised to learn that he had other issues and did not last long at our company.

        10. annalee*

          I think there are men who have the same ‘root cause’ behind babytalk, but because men and women are socialized differently, it’s probably not manifesting the same way–in most cases at least.

          I’ve worked with men who will speak in fratboy slang at the office, then code-switch to a more adult communication style when they’re off work. It’s like they’re afraid no one takes them seriously at the office, so they speak the part.

        11. Ruth*

          Ugh… I have an male acquaintance who uses baby talk, usually while talking to his fiance. It’s infuriating; I don’t know how she stands it. Actually, he’s kind of annoying in a lot of ways, the baby talk being one of them. Luckily, I don’t have to see him very much, but the connection is through family, so not completely avoidable.

    2. Jamie*

      I know I can get high pitched when I’m nervous and defensive

      Me too. I also blush a ridiculous shade of red when defensive or embarrassed so the heat from that is my cue to modulate my voice. I don’t go baby talk, just a lot higher and more shrill than usual so I have to deliberately halt that.

      1. E.R*

        Ugh, me too. I’ve actually only noticed it recently at my new job. Unfortunately, I tend to realize I did it once I stop talking, but I notice that if I take a breath before responding to someone when I’m nervous, I can manage my pitch and tone. Sometimes I do it when I’m unexpectedly excited by an idea or something too. And I hate that I do it!

      2. Min*

        Count me in, as well, with both the high pitch and the blushing. And as I as soon as I realize I’m doing it, I instantly stress about that and it only gets worse.

      3. Windchime*

        High-pitched is one thing, but it seems different to me than baby-talk babbling and using words like “tubble” in place of “trouble”. Sometimes my voice gets higher when I’m emotional, too. But there is a C-level woman at my place of business who constantly speaks in a tiny, child-like voice and has gotten away with some really nasty behavior because it’s couched behind the tiny, little-girl voice. Very annoying.

      4. Christine*

        Jamie – Did I meet you in college? j/k My psychology club was doing a demonstration video, and one girl had a rather embarrassing part–I swear, her face matched the dark red top she was wearing, lol. (I know, OT, but your post totally made me think of that).

      5. Ellie H.*

        My college roommate had an entirely separate, upward-pitched, cheery sounding voice she would use for talking to older people she was trying to impress. She knew she was doing it too – she called it her “New York voice” (I think she picked it up doing an internship in NYC). It kind of got on my nerves.

        1. Rana*

          I had a colleague once whose father had deliberated trained all of his girl children to cultivate a special… mellifluent, for lack of a better word… voice. She didn’t use it when speaking in ordinary conversation, but when she was lecturing or otherwise presenting, it was like a switch was flipped. She demonstrated it for us once, and it was indeed a very lovely, cultivated way of speaking – but it freaked us out a bit, given that she didn’t talk that way all the time.

          (For a while I had a “professional phone answering voice” from working as a receptionist, but that was small potatoes compared to her presentation voice.)

          1. Ariancita*

            Great. Now I’m going to spend hours tonight practicing a mellifluent voice, I’m sure of it.

  10. Cate*

    Funnily enough, I was thinking of submitting a question along these lines too! I work in IT and am training a new woman to take over some of my old tasks. Aside from the fact that she is struggling, she frequently speaks very unprofessionally in a way that, I believe, makes people take her less seriously. It’s an unfortunate fact that it’s a lot harder to be taken seriously as a woman in IT (everyone assumes I’m a designer or a tester…) so saying things like, “The ‘puter is being naughty” instead of “The server is lagging” or “The error logs look icky” instead of “We’ve had an increase in errors” will really, really hold her back.
    Not to mention that it’s really annoying.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Can you say something about it to her? Something like, “Hey, when you talk like that, it will really make people take you less seriously and eventually could get in the way of you being able to do your job well here.”

      1. Cate*

        I’ve considered it – it’s tough because she gets a lot of (negative) feedback all the time, so it almost feels petty to bring this one up? When I’ve spoken to her in the past about other issues (she used to interrupt me and incorrectly answer questions that other people came to me to ask) she got really quiet and sulky for several days. Then she started referring to herself as an idiot all the time, and I had to say something about that to get it to stop. Cue more sulking.
        Obviously this is a bigger issue than just speaking inappropriately!

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          What if you changed the framing then? Instead of it being “serious issue that will hold you back,” what if it went like this:

          Her: The error logs look icky
          You: I’m sorry, what? Icky? What do you mean?

          If you did this consistently, it might reshape her behavior. (And be really obnoxious after a while, but…)

          1. Cate*

            I do this every time, actually, and it hasn’t changed anything :\ “What do you mean when you say X” is something I say probably 5-10 times/day, every day. It sounds like I either need to just go ahead and be direct and endure whatever response she gives, or learn to ignore it.

            1. Jessa*

              Honestly, a lot of people (way better than 75% probably but that’s a wild guess not a statistic from any research,) are not good at oblique references. Women are socialised to use them but you run the risk once you do call her directly on it of “how the heck come nobody said anything to me before?” or some version of “What? I had no idea.”

          2. Jessa*

            The problem is this particular woman is contributing to the “women in IT are stupid and do not belong there,” attitude that is incredibly still prevalent out there.

            It kind of really does need to be addressed with “this is a professional office, we have to communicate in a professional way. Or you’re going to be doubly impacted by this: 1 because you’re being perceived as being immature, and 2 because you are a woman you’re being perceived as completely unqualified. Any woman in this field already has to prove herself against the built in bias about women in tech and STEM fields. This just makes it harder for you to be taken seriously and also harder for all women to be taken seriously.

            1. annalee*

              As a woman in tech, I try really hard not to hold women accountable for ‘making the rest of us look bad,’ because of course the fact that we’re seen as a (second rate, unqualified) monolith is not fair, and certainly isn’t any one woman’s fault. It’s tough, though.

              I do agree that for her own sake and the comfort of her coworkers, this woman needs to learn the value of detailed, specific bug reports delivered in a professional way. “The ‘puter is being naughty” could mean anything from “there’s a loose cable” to “our custom software has attained sentience and may soon kill us all.”

              If she’s feeling out of her depth, playing dumb may be a coping mechanism. It sounds like emotional maturity is probably not her strongsuit, so she may not get that there are grown-up ways of expressing that she feels ill-prepared for the tasks in front of her.

              1. Jamie*

                “our custom software has attained sentience and may soon kill us all.”

                The person who sends me that particular support ticket will get my undying respect. Awesome.

                1. ella*

                  I know it’s a year ago, but I’m so tempted to put in an IT ticket on Monday saying this just to see what happens.

        2. Jamie*

          Then she started referring to herself as an idiot all the time, and I had to say something about that to get it to stop. Cue more sulking.

          I don’t usually think I know better than a stranger what they should do for a living – but she needs to find another field.

          In IT there will ALWAYS be something you don’t know. And there will ALWAYS be people directly or indirectly irritated with you because of things beyond your control or because they assume you have a magic wand which solves all problems immediately but you just don’t use it on them.

          Like I tell the phone company when our lines go out – my users know I am neither the one who made it rain nor am I the one who should be fixing the underground infrastructure so it doesn’t short out our circuits….but you aren’t here so I’m the face of it and have to hear it.

          You cannot afford the luxury of being sulky in this field. Maybe if you’re a brilliant writer or artist then people will let you hole up for days pouting because the genius of the end product is worth it…but we have end users to serve and a network to run and if you are that sensitive this job will kill you.

          Besides – in order to be a successful IT you need to project confidence. Because you will not have all the answers and most of the time you’ll have to figure stuff out – so people need to be confident that you can and will do that.

          The baby talk is the least of her problems – as big as that is – but even the best IT people on the planet have days where they have to consciously hang in there because technology has a way of reminding us who’s boss on a regular basis and it will always win. That’s why when people call you a genius because you can run some data or map a network drive you just take it in…keep it in storage for the days where you’re blamed because they are pissy their computer did what they told it to and not what they meant it to do.

          1. mollsbot*

            “they assume you have a magic wand which solves all problems immediately but you just don’t use it on them”

            This. This. This.

            1. Chinook*

              “they assume you have a magic wand which solves all problems immediately but you just don’t use it on them”

              You mean you don’t? I thought it was an invisible wand because, some days, the only time the computer seems to work right is by having the IT person standing next to it. I thought for sure there was atleast a magic aura involved.

              1. Jamie*

                Oh no, that’s real. My boss says the computers recognize me as their higher power and that’s why they always work when I’m looking.

                Kind of like how your tooth stops aching when you get to the dentist or your car never makes the weird noise for the mechanic.

                I so wish users knew that if a wand existed we wouldn’t only use it on the people we like – but the first people to benefit would be the ones with the tricky problems who email every 10 minutes asking if it’s fixed yet. Like we have the means and knowledge to have fixed it ages ago…we just don’t ever want the email bombs complaining about our slowness to ever end.

                1. Jessa*

                  Well maybe, I think I’d use the wand for the nice people who waited their turn first before the terribly annoying people. They do need to be taught that behaviour will not result in action.

                  It’s like the kid who screams for 20 minutes because they have been taught that their parent’s limit is 19.5 minutes before giving in. If someone knows that 22 emails in a 6 hour period is the point where they get to jump the line for being obnoxious, they will absolutely have no problem sending 23 or 24.

                  Obnoxious behaviour in people not major management types gets pushed to the bottom of the list unless it’s incredibly mission critical. In which case you manage up and train them to understand that YES they’re at the top of the list, they still need to wait for service and every email you have to answer makes it LONGER by x time to them getting help.

    2. Jamie*

      Make her knock that off right now – we’ve been clawing our way into a traditionally male dominated field and we don’t need Betty Boop setting everyone back.

      Although it does remind me of a time when I was very new to IT and so excited to have end users of my very own for the first time (that novelty wears off fast) and one came to me and said, “Can you help me? My pooter is acting up.”

      It was my first time meeting her and had no idea what a pooter was (although I had some ideas for which I am VERY grateful I was wrong) and had no idea what she expected me to do about it.

      All was revealed when she said – aren’t you the new pooter person? You fix the pooters? And then it dawned on me that pooter = computer and yes, yes I can assist with a problem in that area.

      1. Chinook*

        “Make her knock that off right now – we’ve been clawing our way into a traditionally male dominated field and we don’t need Betty Boop setting everyone back.”

        This is so true in many fields. If TPTB can remember when the first woman did the job, please, for the love of all that is good, do not try to act cutesy to in the job. I cringe whenever DH tells me of his female coworkers (whether in the infantry or the red coated police*) metaphorically bat their eyelashes to accomplish something. These jobs were male-orientated for a long time and you are actually doing harm to those who changed that by reinforcing all the reasons ever brought up about why a woman shouldn’t be allowed to do it.

        *the exception for police work, of course, is when “batting your eyelashes” deescalates a situation and can be backed up by doing your job in the more traditional ways if it doesn’t work. If it will get everyone home alive, then feel free to “cootchie coo” the guy out of his “twubble” all you can.

        1. Jessa*

          This. If “cootchie coo” gets the gunman out of the building or gets the suspect to confess something, go for it. But that’s a TACTIC, it’s a skill, and everyone watching the woman do that on the side of the good guys should know that. It’s just like playing good cop, bad cop. When the woman hauls that out, it should be obvious to everyone that she’s deliberately doing something to set up the bad people. Not that “oh she always acts flakey and silly.”

      2. Elizabeth West*

        I’m turning purple here…”pooters” H AHA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HAH AH

        1. IronMaiden*

          My son used to say “pootie” when he was learning to talk. We still say it sometimes for a laugh. Then there was the time he was going on about the “motor toll”. Took us ages to work out he meant remote control.

      3. Mimi*

        If someone used told me their “pooter” was acting up, I wouldn’t think it had anything to do with computers. I’d probably suggest they see their doctor, asap.

      4. FreeThinkerTX*

        Egads. I’m the house IT support person and The Boyfriend refers to his laptop in text messages to me as his “puter” (as in, “Can you find a new battery for my puter?”). I’ve told him a thousand times that he can save characters, time and his dignity by referring to it as his “PC”.

      5. Schnauz*

        “Make her knock that off right now – we’ve been clawing our way into a traditionally male dominated field and we don’t need Betty Boop setting everyone back.”

        I disagree. I hope Cate tries to help her coworker out by letting her know that her affectations are hurting her perception of a capable, professional employee and coworker. However, it’s also a function of sexist bias to say that this ONE woman is hurting the perception of all other women in IT. I understand what you’re saying, but this type of thing also feeds a sexist environment. If this coworker was a man, he would also appear less capable and professional by using cutesie phrases but we would not also say “this one guy’s behaviour is negatively impacting IT men everywhere.”

        1. Jamie*

          That’s a fair point in a vacuum. But when one sex is a minority in a field – by far – one bad apple can cause more damage because many will extrapolate from that experience.

          It is absolutely unfair that everyone in every circumstance isn’t weighed on their own individual merits – but if you have 100 IT people in a room and 90 of them or men if 5 are incompetent jackasses it doesn’t bring down their average the it would if 5 out of the 10 females were the same. It sucks and I wish people didn’t generalize based on gender but they do.

          1. Anonymous*

            definitely. the next time a strong, smart, capable woman applies for a job there, she will totally have to overcome the impression left by her colleagues and deal with people who think she can’t possibly know how to work a “pooter”

          2. Schnauz*

            Yes, it does seem like an ivory tower type of ideal but I happen to think that negative gender biases will exist so long as (a) there’s male/female dominated fields and (b) gender bias exists at all. So, while it is helpful if all 10 women were the “ideal” model of gender-neutral professionalism – there would still be negative perceptions from their lives outside of work, other women at the company that happen to reinforce whatever perception they have, etc. It’s like the joke that women are poor drivers compared to men – it doesn’t matter how good a driver you are, the minute a female driver does something thoughtless or stupid, someone who already buys into the bias against female drivers will think their attitude has been validated. And yes, the more women who act and behave in ways that blow those outdated perceptions out of the water, the easier it is to change those attitudes but you can’t hold every woman responsible for someone else’s views. All you can control is yourself. I feel that you’re perpetuating the unfair burden of gender bias when you say to someone or about someone “you’re making it harder for everyone if you keep/won’t stop doing XYZ” instead of placing the blame where it really falls – with the person/people who keep falling back on negative stereotypes.
            This coworker absolutely needs to be helped to present herself more professionally, but not because she’s

          3. Melissa*

            Yes, but that’s the men’s fault ,not the woman’s. Don’t blame women for men’s sexist generalizations. They would do that regardless of whether she was there because the root cause is misogyny, not any actual woman’s behavior.

  11. some1*

    At a previous job, my counterpart was a grandmother in her 60’s. She was off on Fridays, so the first Monday after the Friday she was off, she came to my cube to check in about what I had completed the previous Friday. When I told mentioned I had started and finished a task she told me she had been dreading, she lit up and said, “Good Girl!” I just stared at her blankly and said, “Girl?” in as neutral a tone as possible.

    1. Chinook*

      I have to bite my tongue whenever anyone says “good girl” to stop myself from saying “woof” and panting like a good dog.

      1. Jamie*

        I got a good girl once when I did say woof! It was a goodnatured thing – but I Scooby woofed and he was immediately, “oh crap – I just said that!” and we had a laugh over it. Depending on the relationship you can lightly use humor to make a point.

    2. Andrea*

      Being referred to a “girl” is a huge pet peeve of mine. I am a woman. Sometimes I just correct people, but other times I ask, “Do I look prepubescent? Because I am absolutely an adult.”

      I am kind of baby-faced, but I am also 35 and have a deepish voice (not babyish or childlike), so there’s just no cause for that crap.

    3. Rana*

      If – and only if! – she’s the regular caretaker of a small child would I forgive this. I once spent an afternoon with my small nephew looking at books and asking him to pick things out, and kept rewarding him with “Good job!” (said in exactly the high-pitched happy voice you’d expect). Then I walked over to where the rest of the adults were, and someone did something – I forget what – and what pops out of my mouth? You guessed it…

    4. FreeThinkerTX*

      I’ve written countless letters to the editor of my local newspaper [Dallas, major metropolitan area] because they’ve referred to women as “girls” in umpteen headlines and articles.

      One article was about the revamping of something-or-other at the racetrack a couple towns over, and the headline said something about the business owner adding “Girls” to spice up the attraction. Mind you, these “girls” were at least old enough to serve alcohol, because part of their duties were those of a waitress. Drives me friggin nuts that a newspaper would refer to women as “girls”. Makes me think they expect us all to wear Playboy bunny costumes when we go to work.

  12. Eric*

    I suppose my first reaction on how to respond of telling her to “use your words” isn’t the best idea.

    1. clobbered*

      Hah :-)

      if someone asked me “Am I in tubble?” I’d probably snap “You will be if you talk to me like a baby again”.

      But I wonder whether just echoing back wouldn’t give her a jolt – “Why, baby make boo boo?” Perhaps it will immediately sound ridiculous to her if somebody else does it to her. Not sure I could bring myself to do it though…. (*shudder*)

      1. Jamie*

        I couldn’t do that. No way I’d be able to keep the snark out of my tone and it would definitely come off very mocking and nasty.

        I think befuddlement is the way to go – it’s baffling that they speak that way nothing wrong with them seeing people’s confusion on this. That is if you’re a peer. Their manager needs to suck it up and deal directly.

        1. Jessa*

          Yeh, I don’t think I could keep the right tone. It’d sound either mocking or sarcastic. I can’t even think of the proper tone of voice you would use to make this not sound bad.

  13. Lanya*

    We have a pregnant woman who occasionally slips into baby talk, but she didn’t do that before she got pregnant, so maybe it will stop after the baby is born. Maybe not. We’ll have to see.

    We also have a senior manager who likes to dole out nicknames to everyone and then yell the names very loudly for extra attention as she is walking by. It’s highly annoying and disruptive.

    1. Jessa*

      On the nickname thing, I just refuse to answer to a name I don’t like. And I have an advantage my middle names are probably THE most nicknamed/diminutived in the world, so there are probably over 100 or more nicknames I’d be okay with. But call me something I don’t like and I don’t even pay attention to it.

      “Sorry did you mean me? I’m Jessa.”

      1. Kim or Kimberly*

        I hate to be called “Kimmy”, but there is apparently something warm and fuzzy about me that makes people at work want to call me that. I have learned to put a stop to it very quickly by asking them in a friendly tone to please not use that nickname, because it makes me feel like a toddler. This approach has been much more effective for me than the “not responding to that name” method. And if people slip after the first warning, they usually apologize profusely.

        1. Anonymously Anonymous*

          I have one of those 9 letter names that can be shortened to all kinds of nicknames. I most certainly where give a blank stare to anyone who calls me by the one ending in ‘y’ or ‘ie’. I will only answer to two variants. My family and close friends calls me by one and my co-workers call me by the other (I used to hate this one but it grew on my in college)

      2. Rana*

        See, I have a name with the opposite characteristic – there are very few nicknames for it (maybe two? three?) so I don’t even recognize them as variants on my name. I have perhaps three friends who use one of those nicknames – and I let them – everyone else just gets a blank stare.

    2. crookedfinger*

      I have a coworker who does the same thing. The name that I go by is a nickname that could be for a couple of different longer names. He knows what my full name is, yet he insists on yelling out the wrong longer name every time he sees me. He thinks it’s funny, even though I don’t and no one else does, either. I pretty much just ignore it, since he’s been doing it for several years and it’s really not worth saying anything since he’d probably find THAT even funnier…

  14. MiaRose*

    Hello, I stumbled onto this site not too long ago while looking for ways to deal with minor efficiency problems at work.

    I will have to say that this one, even with all the nightmare situations I’ve read about here, takes the cake. This just seems to be an offshoot of something that I have dubbed “the waif syndrome” that I have come across all my life. I’ve seen (mostly) women trying to appeal to the protective nature of others by acting helpless, child-like or victimized to obtain their goals. The baby talk is not subtle, though. Coming from a grown woman, it seems very vulgar. I have never come across this in a professional setting.

    The manager, who is a guy, may have problems dealing with this one because of the discomfort this kind of behavior brings up, but, yes, he will have to deal with it. I still am surprised that this woman managed to make it to a supervisory position given her behavior, or, as others have mentioned, it may be a new thing for her.

    1. some1*

      “This just seems to be an offshoot of something that I have dubbed “the waif syndrome” that I have come across all my life. I’ve seen (mostly) women trying to appeal to the protective nature of others by acting helpless, child-like or victimized to obtain their goals.”

      This definitely happens, but in one case I know of, I am not sure the woman is consciously aware of it because no one has called her out on it.

  15. Anonymous*

    Yes, we’ve got a young woman here who blends a very high pitched voice with catlike purrs, with heaving bosoms, particularly when she’s talking to men. Of course the men are not complaining, but it undermines her reputation because she’s highly intelligent, hardworking and dilligent, working and attending school fulltime. I’m sure she does it because it pays dividends. LOL

    1. Y*

      “of course the men are not complaining”

      What do you mean with that?

      “because it pays dividends ”

      What do you mean with that?

      1. Elizabeth West*

        There are men who react favorably to this behavior. If I see it, I call them on it.

        1. Isabelle McGuire*

          Don’t use it! What about using a normal tone. This denotes honesty and sincerity. No one likes that sing song stuff. It sounds fake.

      2. Jazzy Red*

        The poster obviously means that this woman gets what she wants from men when she acts that way. I’m guessing it’s attention and maybe compliments.

        1. Min*

          I don’t think either Ash or Y were actually asking for an explanation. Think of it as the same as saying, “I don’t get it,” when someone cracks an offensive ‘joke’.

          1. AMG*

            I think that’s what they meant, too. But the fact is that people do this because they get a ‘positive ‘/ wanted reaction from it. And sadly, plenty of men will respond to it.

  16. Rob (Bacon) Bird*

    I can’t stand baby talk when my kids use it, I couldn’t immagine someone I work with doing it.

    1. Brooke*

      I don’t allow my son to talk baby talk to me. I remind him that I don’t respond to baby talk and if he wants me to listen and respond, he has to talk to me like he knows how to talk correctly. He straightens up real quick (particularly if it is something he wants).
      I am confident I would do the same if I had a daughter.

  17. The Other Dawn*

    A friend of mine uses baby talk with her husband all the time. I think she uses it as a way to get what she wants and thinks that no one will say “no” to a baby. She’s tried to use it with me and I flat out tell her to stop it because it’s incredibly annoying and makes me not take her seriously. We worked together for about 10 years, but luckily she didn’t do it at work.

  18. Lara*

    This question, and especially the comments, has been really helpful, so I wanted to say thank you! I’ve never used straight up baby-talk (“am I in tubble?” creeps me out), but I use some of expressions commenters dislike in my everyday life (e.g. okie-dokie-artichokey). I’m more formal at work, so I don’t think I’ve used them around the office, but it’s something I’ll pay close attention to.

    1. fposte*

      I think the actual voice and cumulative effect have a lot to do with this, too. I don’t have a problem with the dorky-saying “okeydokey” kind of stuff–we’re small-town midwestern here, and those are pretty common–the way I do with baby talk. However, combined with a funny voice or a Ned Flanders kind of overkill it could be a problem, and I think it’s significant that I hear such folk usages less often from higher-level people than from lower.

      1. Jessa*

        Exactly. It’s not “okeydokey” specifically. It’s the entire package of communication. That in itself can be fine. And a lot of people might do that in an informal setting who would never use that kind of language style with the CEO or a guest of the company. They know when it’s appropriate to be informal and chummy and when it’s NOT.

    2. Andrea*

      Yeah, I also say “okey dokey” sometimes. I wouldn’t use it in an office or while talking with a supervisor. I used to say it to my students (college level), on occasion, too, usually when dismissing them for fall/spring break, as in, “be careful traveling this weekend, okey dokey? Make sure you drive the way your mother would want you to; see you next week.” I don’t think anyone cared or noticed. I don’t teach anymore, but I do still say it sometimes, and I wasn’t aware that people hated it. Oops.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Whoops, I say it all the time.
        But then I work with someone who says “Cool beans,” so I guess it’s just that we’re casual.

        1. T*

          I don’t think the words by themselves infuriate/bewilder people as much as the whole baby talk style. I personally find the baby talk style of communication infuriating because it reeks of “Oh aren’t I adorable? I’m so cute!” and comes across as manipulative

        2. Jessa*

          And “cool beans,” also goes along with the New England use of “wicked,” as in “wicked cool.”

          1. FreeThinkerTX*

            I’m in Texas and was once told by a manager that I needed to restrict my use of “cool” and “cool beans” in front of potential customers (I’m in sales). I had no idea I was saying either of those things in my presentations. I trained myself to say “great” or “brilliant” in place of “cool”. I had to let go of “cool beans” altogether. :-)

            1. AG*

              I think part of it is generational – younger people (myself included) reflexively say “cool” and “awesome” which isn’t as professional/appropriate.

    3. Lara*

      I definitely agree that time, place and overall presentation are important factors and that those expressions in and of themselves aren’t bad (I say “cool beans” a lot to!). A large part of my interest/self editing is that I’m a young woman and am starting a new and fairly prestigious job in June, so I’ve been thinking a lot how I want to present myself. I’ve also been reading Nice Girls Don’t Get The Corner Office, again based on some comments here, and some of the tips in there have also had me thinking about my habits.

      1. Rana*

        Yeah, I say a lot of goofy things in contexts where it doesn’t matter or I’m trying to engage people who themselves speak on that level, but I am grateful that I am capable of code-shifting to a dignified tone and professional language when the situation calls for it – and that I can recognize those situations.

  19. Gobbledigook*

    oh wow. I’m not surprised to read in the comments that this has indeed been a subject taken on by many office-based comedies. I’m incredulous that someone could think this was OK in a professional setting. Please OP: follow Alison’s advice for the good of everyone in this environment.

  20. Plynn*

    A former remote coworker used to do this. Having previously communicated only by e-mail, I had no idea until an all-team meetup where everyone remote came in and had lunch. Kind of an unpleasant shock, and afterwards I would get a horrified shiver whenever a message from her would arrive, because I couldn’t help but hear the baby-talk voice in my head as I read it. That was years ago, but I’m having the horror-shivers again just thinking about it.

  21. T-riffic*

    “Am I in tubble”?! AM I IN TUBBLE?! Wow. Okay, going back to finish reading…

    1. Jazzy Red*

      Yes, tubble – with a capital T and that rhymes with P and that stands for…


      1. Jazzy Red*

        Thanks, guys!

        The Music Man is one of my all-time favorite musicals, right along with Victor/Victoria. Robert Preston just cracks me up, and his voice turns me into Betty Boop!

  22. OP*

    I am really enjoying reading all of the comments and advice! OK, I am going to do it… I am going to go talk to her immediate supervisor and coach him on how to address the situation, and make sure that he has a conversation with her right away, and continues to help her get this issue under control. I am going to follow this through and see how it goes. I am interested to see if this is something that she can overcome. Wish me luck!

    1. AG*

      Good luck! It is unfortunate that he tried to dump this on you to begin with, so hopefully he will step up and handle the situation once you give him some coaching.

  23. N*

    OP, I see you are here responding to comments, thank you! I am curious about your reaction to AAM’s advice . Will you insist that the employees manager speak to the employee? Do you regret telling him you would handle it?

    1. fposte*

      I don’t think she did say she’d handle it, though–the manager just asked HR but didn’t get an answer. (And even if the OP did say she’d handle it, it’s kosher to say “Upon reflection, I really think that should be a direct manager conversation. I’m happy to help you think about ways to approach it, though.”)

  24. just me*

    I never talked baby talk, even when my kids were babies. I have three girls, and we always spoke to them as if they were regular grown people. Babies don’t need baby talk, and it really does them a disservice as they grow to not know the proper names for regular things.
    With that said, I too had a former boss who spoke baby talk in the office, and to our customers. We were in consumer lending, so I think that she felt it helped her connect with the customers. I came from a very professional background, so it was really shocking to me to hear not only the baby talk, but also the “honey” and “sweety”. However, she could also be very vindictive and so no one ever said anything about it. It did provide fuel for a few after hours discussions over drinks though!

  25. OneoftheMichelles*

    Just a suggestion…

    If she’s doing this out of insecurity/anxiety, only putting focus on her bad adaptive tactic could just increase her anxiousness *Without making an Alternative clear to her*. I’d definitely include an example or even a couple of options of other tactics to substitute for the next time she feels the impulse to do this.

    Ex: “Mary, I’ve noticed that in tense situations, sometimes you use child-like expressions to ease the tension. I understand you wanting to put everyone at ease, but it seems to be having the opposite effect of what you want. It’s not the right style for a business situation.

    When I get tense, I usually want to talk too fast, so I’ve learned to focus on an image of myself as one of those Victorian suffragettes. They had to stay self-possessed and fairly calm, but Claim their rights at the same time. Then I go have my conversation with this picture in my head. If that doesn’t help you, I’ve found that when I hear something upsetting, just forcing a myself to take one, deep breath before I start talking helps my mind stop racing and my statements come out clearer and smarter. Feel free to brainstorm for other ideas or change mine to work better for you…

    I don’t want you to feel attacked about this. I just see that you can make your team, clients–anyone you want to be able to rely on you–feel better supported if you don’t present yourself as needing their protection. You want them to know that they can come to You for help.

    If you can’t make the switch with just willpower, then come talk to me….If you’re not sure when you are talking in the “cutesy voice”, let’s come up with a small signal, so you can recognize when it starts…(etc, depending on what she says during the discussion.)”

    (I know I’m not experienced or concise, but I’d start with something like this.) I hate when people complain about something I do, but don’t make any effort to help me figure out what to do instead.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      “When I get tense, I usually want to talk too fast, so I’ve learned to focus on an image of myself as one of those Victorian suffragettes. They had to stay self-possessed and fairly calm, but Claim their rights at the same time. ”

      I like this. I’m going to try it.

    2. SerfinUSA*

      That’s a great tactic.

      I’m into genealogy and have some really amazing people in my family tree, so when I need to put my game face on I try to channel one of my ancestors. Some days it’s the homesteader great-great grandma, some days it’s a viking raider :)

  26. Z*

    Alison, can this one please go in your “request an update” file? I see that the OP is going to talk to the baby-talker’s manager, which is great, but I’d like to find out how this person reacts to the criticism, and if she manages to switch to adult speech over the next few months.

  27. LPBB*

    As amusing as these threads can be, they are also so frustrating!

    These people have not only been hired, but have been promoted using baby talk in the office! I never use baby talk unless I’m talking to a baby and even then I feel weird and self-conscious. And yet, I can’t seem to convince anyone to hire me! Maybe I should start putting that on my cover letter: “I never use baby talk except to babies, rarely even use a funny voice, and absolutely never make random cat or owl noises in the office.”

    I used to work with a woman who made random cat sounds and I truly thought she was the only one. Now I find out that I can expect to work with more of them?! The only time I make cat noises is if I’m trying to get the attention of an actual cat!

    1. Windchime*

      I am a bonafide cat person and I have never used cat sounds in the office. That just seems plain bizarre to me. Who are these people!??

      1. Chinook*

        I think someone has already looked into pricing one out but we would need to order 1,000’s of them to make it not outrageously priced.

        On the other hand, I think we owuld all gladly give AAM money if she did sell them.

        1. Judy*

          My kids have been big on fortune tellers recently. The folded papers you open and close to find the answer. I wonder if there is a generator out there. Then we could print and fold our own.

          I.S. I.T. L.E.G.A.L….

          1. Jessa*

            Google “cootie catcher template,” you’ll get a zillion of them. Most of them are even pdf files that you can fill in and then print.

  28. Andrew*

    Back about 20 years ago I worked with (but not directly for) a very bright, accomplished SVP of Marketing who used baby talk all the time–except with clients, where she was very direct, almost curt.

    I hadn’t thought of her in a while, but I just flashed back to her jumping up and saying “Ooh, ooh, ooh, I need the widdle girls room! It’s time to tinkle!”

    No one ever commented or seemed to mind. She was VERY good at her job.

  29. Elizabeth West*

    I figured this comment thread would make me cry laughing, and I am not disappointed.

    One of my coworkers at OldJob (a man) would whistle, sing, and make all kinds of noises. It never bothered me even though our desks were in close proximity (I was at the reception desk and he was on the other side of a cube wall). But then, that workplace was kind of strange all around.
    I like to make up names for stuff (triangular conference room phone= spaceship phone, to distinguish it from a regular phone in the same room), but I say them in a grown-up voice!

    1. Chinook*

      “I like to make up names for stuff (triangular conference room phone= spaceship phone, to distinguish it from a regular phone in the same room), but I say them in a grown-up voice!”

      I always called it the spaceship phone, so you are not alone.

      I do admit to my own weirdness – anytime someone is cursing at a nonworking printer/copier, I tell them they need to whisper sweet nothings to it because they have feelings too. I then fix it while whispering things under my breath and, taadaah, it works.

      What I won’t tell them is the magic incantation that works only on Ricoh’s and Xerox’s but not the other brands.

      1. Jamie*

        The sweet talk to machines works – so that’s not baby talk that’s just a maintenance tool.

        And stupid confession but when I first got here they called the data collection stations ‘tricorders’. I thought it was some very specific IT thing I didn’t know so I thought it was a real name for months before I found out the previous IT who installed them was a trekkie and it was a joke naming convention.

        I was so naive…

        1. Another Emily*

          I think this is awesome. I think it’s great to have fun with stuff. Being a child at heart is good, but acting like a child when you’re an adult is bad.

          I find baby talk a bit creepy when adults are doing it. It’s related to the #1 thing that creeps me out: adults dressed as babies. Now you know.

  30. JamieG*

    I’m almost ashamed to admit I do something similar at work; not baby talk (oh dear god no), but I intentionally make my voice more… nonthreatening, I guess – not that I have a particularly threatening voice in the first place. But a huge part of my job is getting busy people to stop what they’re doing and do stuff for me, and I’ve found the best way for me to get a response without pissing anyone off is to sound as stereotypically feminine as possible when asking, coupled with lots of “pretty please” and “you’re my favorite” when applicable. (Plus, it makes my less-than-pleased tone when I’ve asked for assistance four times a lot more obvious in comparison.)

    I hate it. I can hear it and I really, really wish I could stop. Whenever I stop to think about it, I feel like I’m degrading myself; I’m a fully grown adult woman, not a seven year old, and I’m doing my job, not actually asking for any favors. But I was instructed by my supervisor to be as nice and friendly and sweet as possible, and it’s the only way I can do my job.

    1. Jessa*

      You can probably work on that to get a pleasant voice that doesn’t scream “poor, helpless woman,” and still get help. You can be soft and polite without sounding weak (which is I think what your objection to doing this is.) You can still be gushy “Oh, thanks for your help, here have chips and chocolate,” (do IT people still live on tips of chips, chocolate and pizza when they do extra favours?)

      1. Jamie*

        For me it’s a coconut donut or Chinese food for lunch…or if the pop delivery guy threw in a couple of grape or orange sodas pulling one for me before they are gone will get you to the top of the queue for a good month or two.

    2. Chinook*

      I noticed, when I was workign overseas, that my voice went up an octave when I answered the phone in Japanese (once a receptionist, always a receptionist I guess – I only knew enough to tell the person to wait a moment while I got the manager). It was unnerving to hear myself sound so”girly.”

      1. Jessa*

        But that’s also a function of the Japanese language. I know I used to do that too when I was answering the phone (didn’t live in Japan, worked for a Japanese import house though.) My limit in language was the formal version of “please wait, let me get someone who speaks Japanese.” and other general pleasantries such as finding out who they needed to talk to.

      2. KellyK*

        I do the same thing when I answer the phone (in English). Apparently I subconsciously associate “polite and professional” with “chirpy soprano.”

        By the same token, when you hear my voice drop an octave, you know you’ve ticked me off.

        1. Jamie*

          I think this is common – as a kid we used to mock my mom’s “phone voice.” She had a relatively high and melodic voice anyway but when she answered the phone she was practically Georgette from Mary Tyler Moore.

        2. Lanya*

          My boyfriend can always tell when my family members call, because my voice apparently drops a register lower from its normal pitch. Conversely, “work voice” is higher than normal, and calmer. I never noticed until he mentioned it!

          1. the gold digger*

            I can tell when my husband is talking to his best friend (happy, light tone) and to his parents (tense, distressed). His office is above our bedroom. It freaks him out when he’ll come downstairs after a call and I’ll ask, “How’s Pete doing?”

        3. Lindsay J*

          I call it my customer service voice, because whenever I answer a phone at work or have to jump into some sort of canned greeting my voice jumps up in pitch and becomes a bit softer.

        4. Anonymously Anonymous*

          Ha! Try working in a preschool! Who knew lining up to go to bathroom can sound like so much fun! We switch voices high and low all day from the exciting trip to the bathroom to chatting with coworkers to firm stern voice when correcting a behavior. I swear we sound like we are maniac on any given day.

            1. chikorita*

              I know the feeling! Swapping from, “Good job! Now, let’s play a GAME, everyone, listen carefully to the rules” to “We do not run indoors!” (with undertone of “this is the third time this week, damnit”) makes me feel like I’m nuts.

              The added layer for me is that I’m teaching English to kids whose native language is Japanese, so lots of exaggerated intonation and deliberately e-nun-ci-a-ted words (then I swap into my stern, don’t-mess-with-me-this-is-important tone of Japanese to tell them to stop climbing on the cupboards, lol)

        5. Rana*

          Yup. I call it the phone answering voice. I can still chant the opening of my litany from my very first office job (as a reception): (imagine chirpy tone) “Good morning! You have reached the law offices of… How may I help you?” “Oh, I am so sorry. X is in a meeting. Would you like me to take a message?” etc.

          It’s about half an octave higher than my usual voice and very smooth and flowing. It’s a nice voice, but still a bit freaky, because it’s not really my voice…

      3. Another Emily*

        Actually I know what you mean. Not about Japanese, but when I worked at a call centre, I noticed my voice was higher pitched and more conciliatory than my normal voice. (I don’t normally talk on the phone like that.) Something about the culture and atmosphere there really affected me.

        1. Calibrachoa*

          Ditto. I have a definite “phone voice” I picked up in the call centre; Interestingly enough, it has carried over to when I haveto make any calls to businesses, etc, and has resulted in usually getting whatever I need – phone banking, customer service, etc – done v. efficiently. Guess we recognize a kindred spirit :D

    3. Leslie Yep*

      I completely relate–in both directions. In college, I studied a field that isn’t male dominated but it’s male-conversational-patterns dominated (competitive, aggressive, interrupting, etc.). By my sophomore year, I had actually damaged my vocal cords by speaking in a much lower register very loudly trying to get by in that world.

      Fast forward to my current employer, I learned really fast that my typical email style came across as terse, aloof, and aggressive, because it’s the culture of the workplace to be friendly and include lots of exclamation marks and smiley faces in emails (it’s a serious place that takes itself seriously, but places a high premium on overcommunicating friendliness and appreciation).

      It’s been a real challenge to find a self-presentation that feels authentic, when as a woman there’s such a fine line to walk here.

  31. Anon*

    Most of the time I read these posts about bizarro work behaviors and I’m like “okay, I can totally see someone doing that in an office.” This might be the first time that I actually thought, “no way someone actually does this.” And then to see other comments saying that they’ve seen it. WTH.

    Follow AAM’s advice.

  32. Joey*

    You sound as though you are the one that regularly addresses these kinds of issues. If you are stop. You should do everything you can to get managers to address these issues themselves. Your job is to advise, coach and support, not to manage for them. These kinds of complaints to you from her co workers should be an indication to you that her manager, her manager, is not taking care of business. And really if its at the point that employees are complaining to you that means they feel her manager won’t or isnt capable of addressing their concerns. That’s what should really concern you- that there’s a problem she’s allowed to fester to the point that employees are looking to other people to solve what amounts to a pretty low level issue.

    1. OP*

      Yes, I certainly do agree with that. Sadly, the issues with the managers are an entirely different conversation alltogether.

  33. Ruffingit*

    The only thing I’d change about AAM’s advice is the part where the baby talker is asked this “do you think it’s something you can stop?”

    I would change that to: This is something you must stop. Don’t even make it a question, make it a command. If she’s unaware she’s doing it, then she needs to get mental health or speech therapy or whatever it takes to stop, but asking if she thinks she can stop gives her the option to say “Well, no…” Don’t ask, tell! And then it’s on her to get the appropriate help to stop this.

    1. Rana*

      Maybe a slight rephrasing to “do you think it’s something you can stop without help?”

    2. Ellie H.*

      Well, maybe if the answer would be “No, it’s not” then the next logical step would be her leaving the company.

  34. Christine*

    I love these posts about quirky workplace behavior because 1) the subsequent comments make me laugh and 2) it gets me thinking about my own quirks. I’ll be 40 in October, but I don’t look it, and definitely don’t sound it, particularly when nervous or over-excited. So I can see where my communication can come across as immature if I’m not paying attention (no baby talk, though!)

    Definitely agree with Alison’s advice – this really should be coming from this woman’s direct supervisor, not you. Really glad to see you are going to give this a shot – good luck!!

  35. Anonymously Anonymous*

    Wow. I don’t even hear 3-5 year olds speaking like this unless they have a legitimate speech problem.

    1. Laura L*

      Really? Most kids are still developing their language abilities at those ages, so it’s actually pretty common for 3-year-olds and even 4-year-olds to have trouble (twubble?) saying R or L. Most kids seem to outgrow it by about age 5.

      So, in conclusion, no one over the age of five should be talking like this. And when someone has an actual speech problem, they still usually don’t sound like a baby (the voice is never that high pitched).

      1. Jamie*

        If people do have legitimate speech issues I can’t recommend a good speech therapist enough. One of my sons had a speech therapist for his entire childhood and it made a tremendous difference. If he is very angry or very tired…like just waking up…he can have a little trouble still with this th/f combos – but he catches it in seconds. So it’s still something he needs to more conciously control than most, but he can. That’s the last vestige of his impediment though – the R/L/W thing (think Barry Kripke BBT but not as pronounced) is completely gone…not a trace of that one left.

      2. LauraUK*

        Reading all the comments about ‘pooter’ really reminded me of my step daughter who used to say that until only a few months ago. She’s 4.

      3. Anonymously Anonymous*

        ” And when someone has an actual speech problem, they still usually don’t sound like a baby (the voice is never that high pitched).”

        Very true. I was going to come back and add that later.– ‘I have never heard a child speak that way unless they either have not developed the ability to create the sound or legitimately cannot make the sound. ‘
        I answered rather quickly because— aside from tv shows; I’ve never actually encounter an adult who speaks “baby talk”. Or perhaps if I have, I simply dismissed it and moved on.

        But yes, I’m very familiar with children not being able to pronounce certain sounds and sometimes it takes longer than 5 years for certain sounds–some can take up to 7 years old.

  36. Cassie*

    We have one lady (maybe early 30s?) who talks in a very sweet voice, particularly when she’s asking for something. I can’t quite figure out if she’s trying to make herself seem like a little 5 year old girl (so people will be willing to help her) or if she’s just a really nice/sweet person and that’s how she talks.

    She’s not overly friendly in emails (they’re the usual polite office emails) so maybe it’s just a habit of hers when she verbally requests something?

    I have another coworker who says stuff like “I’m going to get me some cookies” – she’s not a native English speaker, so there may be some grammatical discrepancies there, but at the same time, it makes me cringe. She has a reputation of being a bit of a flibbertigibbet so the grammatically incorrect phrases that sound a little kid-like doesn’t help…

  37. Anonymus*

    So, how do all of you guys modulate your voices? I’m well into adulthood and I can’t change what my voice sounds like consciously at all. It comes out however it’s going to come out and there’s nothing I can do about it beyond choosing to speak or not speak. When I’m talking, the voice I hear sounds to me like a normal, average adult. But whenever i listen to a recording I hear a seven year old’s voice.

    I can never hear it when I’m doing it, but in recordings I frequently repeat syllables (talking-ing-ing). And I talk very, very slowly. But I can’t make the words come out any faster any more than I can change their volume or tone — I’m unable to speak above a whisper. My tone does sometimes vary on its own, but it’s never deliberate and the changes in tone aren’t communicative, or indicative of my thoughts or feelings.

    I have no idea what I have to do with my lips or throat or tongue to get it to sound differently. I can’t even change my intonation well enough to form a question rather than a statement. But there must be a hundred comments from here from people who know how to change what they sound like.

    1. Min*

      Are you able to sing or hum a tune? If so, the mechanics of it are quite similar just less musical (for lack of a better word) and you raise and lower the pitch of your speaking voice in the same way you would go up or down the notes on a scale.

      If you are unable to sing or hum, I can’t actually think of how to describe it. Hopefully, someone else here can!

      1. Anonymus*

        I can sing a tune (but I sing too quietly and with a little too much breath), and I can actually get my voice a lot deeper if I’m singing, maybe a little off key, but I’m not tone deaf when singing, just when speaking. I saw some exercises on youtube where you lean your head back and say words with back vowels to deepen your voice, and I haven’t recorded myself doing it but it feels like it’s changing the sound somehow, but I can’t sustain it very long, because it’s really hard to pay attention to it and speak at the same time. with a song, it’s easier because i can memorise the tune. but sustaining it while producing novel speech is hard. I guess the problem is I can’t produce an appropriate tone while simultaneously coming up with words to say and ordering them into sentences.

        I wonder if adopting “I’m a character in a musical and am speaking in a singingly way” voice would be an improvement. I’d have to memorise some musicals to do it, though. It would be equally weird, but maybe it would sound less childish.

        I’m in the habit of making a short humming noise before I start speaking, just to see if my voice is working at all. (It’s worth testing it, because frequently I can’t get any sound at all and I’d rather not go through the trouble of moving my lips if it’s not working.)

        Sometimes I think it would be better to just bring a notepad and pen with me everywhere and use that for my primary mode of communication. So far, I’ve been too self conscious to try it.

        1. 22dncr*

          To me it sounds like you need to see a speech pathologist – or at least an ENT. It’s not normal to have no sound when you begin to speak and yours happens so often you’ve developed a coping mechanism. A lot of people develop bad speech habits as children that cause them to have physical problems as adults. There might even be something that’s very easily fixed. Sorry, lots of friends that are professional singers and actors so I immediantly think this way.

          1. Anonymus*

            That’s a good idea. I didn’t realise they could help an adult. I thought there might be a window of opportunity for that kind of thing. I actually took some phonetics courses in college on the off chance that learning about place of articulation and all of that would help, and it did help by giving me the technical language to talk about the mechanics of speech but it wasn’t speech therapy and mostly left me able to draw the IPA symbols for sounds I can’t pronounce. And then I took a pragmatics course to see if I could learn rules for turn taking in group conversations (i have trouble figuring out when it’s my turn to talk, so I end up saying nothing at all), but instead only learned technical language for talking about those rules.

            Since I do have that background, I bet a speech pathologist would have an easier time with me, because they wouldn’t have to use layman terms with me. It’s definitely not something I can fix on my own — I’ve done a lot of online reading and youtube watching and practising talking to my cats, but there comes a point when you need a professional to tell you what it is you’re doing wrong with your glottis* and what you should be doing instead.

            *or whatever

            1. Chinook*

              If you want to see what a good speech therapist can do for an adult, watch “The King’s Speech.” It is the true story of King George VI having to deal with a speech impediment when he unexpectedly became King and Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mum). His speech was so bad that he was terrified of public speaking and was helped only after his wife found a speech therapist to help him.

        2. Anonymous*

          If this is something that bothers you (it seems so) and/or is impeding your ability to communicate effectively, consider working with a Speech-Language Pathologist. They do _far_ more than just treat kids in schools. A reputable SLP who works with adults on articulation, breath support, etc. could do an evaluation and may be able to give you strategies or exercises to assist you with projecting and maintaining your tone. SLPs treat actors, voiceover artists, professional presenters and others who make their living with their voice, but even if you don’t, you might still benefit from a consultation.

          1. Laura L*

            Hmmm… breath support? Does this mean they could help with projecting your voice without hurting your vocal chords or sounding like you’re angry? Because I need help with that! I was thinking of taking voice lessons, but a speech pathologist might be covered by insurance.

            1. Chinook*

              “Hmmm… breath support? Does this mean they could help with projecting your voice without hurting your vocal chords or sounding like you’re angry? Because I need help with that!”

              If all you are having difficulty with is projecting your voice, learning how to speak/sing from your diaphragm (the part below your lungs – think deep yoga breaths combined with using the muscles you use when wearing a strapless bra) instead of your throat makes a world of difference. With that type breathing, I little old ladies happily tell me they can turn off their hearing aids when read at church. When needed, I can bellow loudly and not feel at all in my throat because all I am using my throat for is tuning, not volume. It also allows me to speak/sing for longer times without gasping for breath.

              I learned this technique by joining a community choir with a conductor who focussed on technique.

              1. Rana*

                Yes – speaking from the diaphragm is key to good volume, and something anyone who does public speaking regularly should learn how to do. I’m not a particularly loud person (except perhaps when excited) but I can reach the back of a lecture hall without a mike and without straining if I need to.

                1. Laura L*

                  I used to be much better at projecting back in high school when I played trombone and had to breathe from the diaphragm on a regular basis. I think I’ve forgotten how to do that and I don’t spend a lot of time talking during a normal day, so I don’t have much practice.

                  Then when I go to my improv class, no one can here me…

                  I’ll look for some tutorials on youtube and I’ll maybe consider joining a choir. :-)

    2. fposte*

      Wow, that’s really interesting. You might just have a bit of a linguistic mis-wiring in there that some coaching/speech pathology could get you past if you’re interested. Don’t worry about the hearing-your-own-voice-recording thing–everybody hates that and thinks that’s not how they really sound. But inability to consciously intonate, even to differentiate question from statement, is pretty unusual, especially since you clearly possess the receptive ability in that area–you can hear the difference when somebody else does it. Have you had any feedback about your voice from other people, though? It’s possible this is a difference but not actually a problem. I certainly wouldn’t sweat it based solely on hearing recordings.

      1. Anonymus*

        People who have heard me speak online without having seen my face have asked me if I was a child prodigy (because I was speaking using the vocabulary of a literate adult but with the voice of a young child), I said “I know what it sounds like but I’m not actually seven years old” and they said “seven sounds about right, though”. More people were commenting on the sound of my voice than on the content of what I was saying. Several people have described it as “tiny little girl’s voice”.

        On the phone, telemarketers usually ask if my mummy or daddy is home (I’ve been old enough to live on my own for over a decade). This is probably the only perk of the situation. I tell them truthfully that “mummy and daddy” are not home and then they ask when they’ll be home and I say that I don’t know and hang up.

        Additionally, I have trouble getting people to treat me like an adult, being sent off to play with the children when I’d actually find the adult discussion more interesting. I like children, but it’s been long enough since childhood that I don’t relate to them all that well any more. So, it’s not just that I don’t like what I sound like: I have some evidence that way I sound has an effect on how I am treated.

        My partner doesn’t really think my voice is a problem, but she’s already in love with me. The friends I keep in touch with treat me very well. It’s nice of my loved ones to do that, but adults who are not close to me or who are meeting me for the first time, especially in a professional context are going to form first impressions based on the way I speak, dress, and act in public and treat me accordingly.

        I can (and do) help the way I dress and act, but my speaking voice is something that is going to continue to grate on people and negatively shape their impressions of me every time I open my mouth, making them take me less seriously. It would be nice if strangers would assume, on seeing an odd behaviour*, odd mannerism, or odd-sounding voice that “this is just how this person is and they are probably doing their best to communicate with me,” but that’s not the world we live in.

        *I mean odd-but-harmless, not odd-and-creepy or odd-and-threatening. Definitely err on the side of caution with the latter two.

        1. fposte*

          I think you’ve summed that up with considerable perceptivity there. You’re not using US spelling, so I don’t know if you’re somewhere where speech pathologists are equally available, but I think it might be worth at least a conversation with one to see if this is something that you might be able to make less of an obstacle in professional life. It’s not even just people judging you–voice can be a great tool, and even if I can’t, à la Jack Donaghy, “command a room with my voice,” I know that I can use it to make people take serious note of what I say, and that’s really helpful.

          1. Anonymus*

            A cursory search of the internet shows that most speech pathologists in my area work in elementary schools and preschools, but perhaps I’ll uncover more up later. I did find one page with about a thousand listings of, presumably, all the speech pathologists in the country, but, bizarrely, what city they were each in wasn’t listed. My country is a bit behind the times as far as the internet goes, unfortunately.

            There is a university in my area where this subject is taught, so I could also inquire there if they have any students who want to practice on me (which might be the most economic solution.)

            1. Jessa*

              The easiest thing to do is call an ENT and ask them for a referral. Mine was attached to the local hospital. But a lot of ENT practises have them available as partners. I wouldn’t be able to talk at all without mine, I have vocal fold issues that are due to acid reflux damage.

              And yes the uni could help too. A lot of times people need practise subjects.

    3. Anonymously Anonymous*

      I remember a kid I went to elementary school with was like this. He could only whisper (everyone would constantly ask him to speak up) and he also had difficulty in writing (he wrote very lightly)

  38. NurseB*

    Nice to know that there are others out there dealing with this too. Or maybe the right word is “awful” because it totally is. In a past job one of the marketing people did this and it drove everyone insane. When it was pointed out to her she just laughed it off as if it was a nonissue. And yes, she would do this with clients and other contacts that the company wanted to form good relationships with. Whatever compels them to talk that way, it doesn’t seem like it’s easy to change- stopping the conversation and pretty much asking, “excuse me, what?” might be enough though.

  39. OP*

    Well, I did it. I sat down with the Manager and politely told him that this would be the most effective coming from him. Then I sat there with him and coached him on what to say and how to say it (Thanks to everyone’s great advice on here!) He wanted to wait and have the conversation with her on Tuesday when everyone is back from the long holiday weekend. I said NO, you need to do it now. I was afraid that he would lose his motivation, forget, or get too busy playing catch up. So… I left his office… he gave her a call… and now I just need to wait and see if the baby talk is still happening. The Manager is supposed to keep me updated on the situation.

    1. Z*

      Good job! I hope it turns out well! (And I think you can tell that we’ll all definitely want to know the outcome.)

    2. Cassie*

      I’m happy that you insisted it needed to be done NOW instead of Tuesday – in our office, there has been a lot of problems lately with staff performance, overall morale, and other issues and it seems like people are moving through molasses. I’m not saying that people should be hasty when dealing with stuff like this, but it seems like a lot of the people at my office try to put it off until a “better” time.

      When is there ever going to be a “better” time to deal with a problem? There will always be a million excuses to procrastinate! (And then people forget and/or lose their nerve…).

    3. Joey*

      You might want to set a calendar reminder for you to follow up with him in a couple of weeks.

  40. Dennis*

    Definitely address the ‘baby talk’ issue straight away! It should go up the chain beginning with her boss. If her boss feels uncomfortable doing this then her boss and HR rep should have an ‘adult’ talk with the baby talk manager. By allowing this to continue, it undermines your authority or lack thereof, in the work environment. Under the continued course, underlings will either transfer or leave the company altogether. This issue MUST be addressed!

  41. inspokane*

    It is a tremendous need to be comforted. At that moment and well there is some abandonment issues.

  42. Isabelle McGuire*

    How about a doctor’s office/dental office worker who treats the patients like they are two years olds?
    Why do doctor’s allow their employees to use this condescending behavior? This is such a put down for the patient.

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