how to deal with a hostile interviewer, my boss asked me not to say “y’all” to customers, and more

It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…

1. How to deal with a hostile interviewer

I recently had a terrible experience with a phone interview in which the interviewer began with a tone of voice that was irritated and sarcatic, which escalated over the course of 30 minutes into openly aggressive and loud, bordering on bullying and browbeating. I tried my best to keep calm and politely answer everything but by the end, my voice was shaking (and so was I). It was shocking and extremely upsetting to endure but I was a loss as to what to do. I was afraid that if I said anything, even politely, he might use it as an excuse to blackball me from the company and possibly parts of the industry I work in. There was no one else on the line so there would be no “proof” either way and he’s at a more influential position than me.

Is there a way to gracefully disengage from a situation like this? Or salvage it somehow? I assume that by the time it gets this bad, one or both parties have decided it’s not the right fit anyway so losing the job isn’t a problem. I just don’t want to be trapped being someone’s verbal punching bag for as long as they see fit to keep me there. But is possibly being blackballed the price I have to pay?

Yes, it’s possible that he could keep you from ever getting hired in that company. It’s less likely that he’d be inclined or able to blackball you from your industry, particularly if you just politely disengaged. That means not saying, “You’re being very rude, so I’m ending this call” (even though that might be entirely justified), but instead saying something like, “You know, as we’re talking, I’m getting the sense that the fit here wouldn’t be right. I appreciate your time, and best of luck filling the position.”

Of course, if you want to, you could take it further than that. I’d probably say, “I have to be honest, your tone is really throwing me here. I don’t think we’d work together well, so I don’t think it makes sense to continue talking.” But that’s more confrontational, so if you want to minimize any risk, I’d go with the first option.

2. I’m southern, and my boss asked me not to say “y’all” to customers

I started my current job in NYC about 6 months ago. It is my first time leaving my hometown, a small southern town. There have been so many adjustments that I’ve made, but I’ve always held great pride in being a southern belle, and have tried my best to maintain that. I’ve always found the way southerners speak to be comforting, but I’m guessing my boss does not feel that way.

We are a small, multi-cultural office. Many of my coworkers, including my boss, are from different countries, and have different speaking styles. I am the only one from the south, though. My boss sat our staff down for a meeting tonight and handed out instructions for customer service, which included this note: “How y’all doing today?” is not a good way to start a conversation. I feel singled out in front of my peers and offended. I don’t know if it’s worth it to bring it up, or how to tell her.

Eh, I’d let it go. Your boss isn’t completely crazy in finding that a less formal conversational opener — it is less formal, and it’s her call if she wants you to take a different tone with customers. That said, I do think she’s wildly off-base in thinking customers won’t like it. Many of us love southern-isms like that and find them warm and charming. (And, I suppose, some people don’t … which might be why she wants to take a more conservative approach, although it’s really awfully micromanagey.) In any case, she’s overreacting, but it’s her call.

As for raising it to the whole group and not you individually, yeah, that’s not ideal either. But I think there’s more to lose than gain here by going back to her about it.

3. Should a departing employee screen candidates for her replacement?

Our HR director is leaving the company, and the CFO has asked her to screen candidates for her replacement. I have some serious concerns about this because 1) she has completely checked out mentally, and is no longer invested in the well-being of our company and 2) she has never really added much value to the organization. She’s notorious for being a bad judge of character, and writes people off quickly (not great traits for an HR director).

Am I wrong for thinking this is a bad idea? The CFO is new also and isn’t aware of her reputation but even so, why would you want an employee who no longer cares about the organization to be part of this process?

It could be a bad idea because this particular person is checked out (depending on how that’s manifesting), but it’s not inherently a bad idea to have the departing person involved in the hiring for her replacement. In many jobs, it’s pretty common. You’d want to have others involved at some point (if for no other reason than that candidates will want to talk to the person they’ll be working for), but there’s nothing wrong with structuring it like this at the early stages, as long as she’s not making the final decision.

4. Handling PTO on days when the office closes for weather

Two employees were already approved and scheduled to be out on PTO on March 3. Due to weather conditions, at 8:30 am we decided to close the office for the entire day. The 2 employees are requesting the PTO to be credited back. Additionally, several decided to come in and work and are now asking if they will get credit for time worked. Help please!

Whether to credit back the PTO to the two employees who were out that day is up to your company’s own policy. Some companies would credit it back (on the theory that the office ended up closing that day anyway) and some wouldn’t (on the theory that they were able to make alternate plans for that day, and it’s ultimately irrelevant that the office ended up closing). Personally, I favor not making people use the PTO in this situation, since it doesn’t really cost the company anything to be nice here and it’s good for morale. But the main thing is to pick a policy and be consistent about it.

But as for the people who came in and worked that day, absolutely they should get paid for that time. If they’re non-exempt, you don’t have a choice anyway; the law requires it. If they’re exempt, they’re being paid anyway, so I’m assuming the question would be whether they could get something like comp time. It’s a nice gesture, if you don’t want to lower morale (and, on future snow days, productivity).

5. The CEO asked me to work on a project I can’t tell my manager about

The CEO of my company has asked me to complete a project that he wants to keep “just between us.” It’s nothing untoward–but could be culturally sensitive within the company and mean changes to peoples’ jobs, etc. I am many levels below C-level, but the only person here who can do this particular kind of project. Normally — no big deal. I have done these kinds of projects before. I get them done and report back to the CEO, usually in one afternoon. But this project is much more extensive and will require a real time commitment, and I’m under a fair amount of pressure to complete some other time-sensitive projects right now. (I’m not sure the CEO realized this when he asked me to complete the project. In truth, I didn’t realize what a time commitment this secret project would be, or I would have mentioned something to the CEO when he asked me to do it.)

So the problem is this: I have no poker face. What the heck am I supposed to tell my manager I am doing while I’m working on this project? Or if other projects I have been assigned aren’t done as quickly because my time is being split with this second, “secret” project? My manager is not really the type to micromanage (thankfully!), so it is possible it won’t come up or he won’t notice, but if he asks me directly what I’m working on I am a little afraid I’ll blush or look sheepish or something awful that will reflect poorly on me. I’m not as worried that I will spill the beans about the project, but more like I’ll look like I am shirking my assigned work. I am a terrible liar. Is there an easy way to deflect attention from this project while managing the expectations of both my manager and the CEO?

Go back to the CEO and explain the situation. Say something like this: “This will take me about X days/hours to complete, and I’m realizing that it’s going to cause some awkwardness with Jane, who wants me doing other work during that time. Could you mention something to her so that she realizes I’m working on a project for you — and ideally heads off any questions about it that I shouldn’t answer?”

{ 408 comments… read them below }

  1. Artemesia

    I lived for many decades in the south and nothing grates like ‘How are y’all doing?’ when addressed to an individual. You’all is a very useful word — better IMHO than ‘you guys’ BUT it is plural and only correctly used with a group of people.

    To a group, I think it is charming, but obviously one adopts the norms of one’s business — and follows the directives of one’s boss on such matters.

    1. Jessa

      If y’all is plural then why does the South have the construction “all y’all?”

      On the other hand as someone from New York, it’s not you guys, it’s youse guys.

      1. Fucshia

        All y’all encompasses the entire group. Like if you are talking to a group of people… If you ask “have y’all seen the movie?” then you are asking if anyone has seen it. If you ask “have all y’all seen the movie?” then you are asking if everyone has seen it.

        1. Calla

          Nailed it! “All y’all” is akin to “each and every one of you” versus just “all of you.” I get SO ANNOYED when people think “y’all” can be used to refer to one person.

          1. Jessa

            Thank you. I never use it (I’m a Northerner,) but I could never figure out why you’d have two plural usages. Thank you.

          2. Anonymous

            Seconded. I also get really irritated when it’s spelled “ya’ll.” That is not how contractions work!

      2. Kathryn T.

        For me, y’all refers to the group of people present. All y’all refers to a group of people, some of whom are not present. So if I am hanging out with some of my children’s friends’ mothers and I say “Y’all should come over sometime,” I’m inviting the women and children present — but if I say “All y’all should come over sometime,” I’m inviting the women present, their spouses, and their other children. I’ve usually seen it used as a clarifying intensifier, though, i.e.: “Y’all should come over sometime — ALL y’all should come over sometime, we could fire up the grill and make it a party!”

      3. Anonymous

        I’m from the NY/NJ area too, but the “yous” goes right through me! I say “you guys” if anything.

        1. tesyaa

          “Youse” is a bit anachronistic. I’m in the same area and I really don’t hear it.

          1. Laufey

            Some of us must be in the wrong part, then, because I also hear it all the time, when talking to my relative and friends from there.

            1. Rachel

              South Jersey/Philly here. Most everyone I know uses “yous,” but I do notice I only use “yous guys” at the beginning of a sentence. In the middle or end, it’s just “yous” or, occasionally, “you guys.” Examples when talking to my kids: “Yous guys need to get ready NOW if yous wanna go to Mcdonald’s!” vs “We don’t have time to stop at McDonald’s because yous weren’t ready in time.” I can and DO drop it at work or in settings where that type of informality isn’t “ok,” though.

        2. E.H.

          I’ve lived in the elusive* central Jersey all my life for the most part (except for my year stint in Philly). It’s always been “you guys” for me. However, my mom grew up in north Jersey and you can tell there’s a difference in how we pronounce certain words, but I’ve never heard her say “youse guys”. I think it’s more of a New York thing because when a Jersey person does it, it’s usually a joke.

          *For those of you not familiar to the area, there’s been a debate what parts of Jersey count as the middle part of the state. Some people refuse to believe there’s a central part.

          1. ChristineSW

            I’m in Central Jersey, so I’m in the “there is a central Jersey” camp. lol.

            I tend to say “you guys” also.

      4. nonegiven

        You are correct, y’all is singular and all y’all is plural. “What is the plural of y’all?” was a question on Hollywood Squares, once. The correct answer, given by Ellen Degeneres, was “all y’all,” who is originally from New Orleans, IIRC.

    2. the gold digger

      A friend’s husband has written a screenplay. He is from Minnesota. The movie takes place in Alabama. His character asks the postmistress, who is alone in the post office, “How ya’ll doing?”

      I cringed, then wrote to my friend that I would be happy to coach her husband in Southern – that it is “y’all” and it is plural.

      1. Del

        Actually, it’s not that uncommon for y’all to be singular in casual conversation. I heard that pretty commonly living in the South.

        1. tesyaa

          I read a great book edited by Michael Beschloss of Lyndon Johnson’s White House phone calls (“Taking Charge”), and he discusses the difference between the Texas “you-all” and the Southern (but not Texan) “y’all”. “You-all” can be singular, if I remember correctly. If you listen to the tapes, you can hear the difference between “you-all” and “y’all”. Fascinating, really.

          1. cajun2core

            Del, I have lived in Louisiana and Alabama for most of my life. I have to agree with everyone else who states that “y’all” is plural.

            1. cajun2core

              Let me clarify. It may be a regional thing too. It may be done in Georgia or Tennessee where I have never lived.

              1. Del

                Yes, my experience is mainly with tidewater VA and the Carolinas. So I would imagine there are regional differences between what you’ve heard and what I have.

                And to clarify, I never said it wasn’t plural. But I’ve also heard it used fairly commonly when speaking to a single person.

              2. Loose Seal

                I can represent Georgia and Tennessee. Y’all is definitely plural. You is a perfectly good word that addresses a single person.

                It is always spelled y’all, not ya’ll (which I see everywhere, even printed on menus and signs!)

              3. Layla

                I’ve lived in Georgia and Tennessee. I’ve never heard y’all used in a singular form.

        2. Katieinthemountains

          Well, it might be the Southern version of the royal we, and may refer to absent coworkers or family members. I would probably reply with, “Oh, we’re doing great. [Spouse] is wrapping up his thesis, so we are super excited about that.”

        3. Callie

          I am born and raised in SC and have spent my entire life there (except for the last 3 years) and I have never heard y’all used in a singular context.

      2. JustKatie

        I was on the phone with a Southern customer service agent the other day, and was told at the end of the convo “hope y’all have a nice day”. Perhaps they’re using it like the French vous, so it can be plural and/or formal? ;)

        1. Matteus

          Nah, it’s plural. In that usage, it’s just shorthand for “you and and everyone around you”

      3. Kelly O

        That’s probably asking how both the secretary and her family are doing. The equivalent of “how’s your mama and them?”

      4. Pennalynn Lott

        As a native Texan, I can see someone using “How y’all doing?” on the phone when calling someone in another city/state/country. Because it can be the equivalent of asking, “So how are things in your neck of the woods?”, meaning that you’re asking about the office / weather / situation as a whole (an inclusive “you”) versus asking about a specific individual (the singular “you”).

        But if the boss says to drop “y’all”, you drop it. :-)

    3. AmyNYC

      My sister and I grew up in the Northeast with family in the South. She lived in Texas for two years after college (the only significant time she’s been there) and now says y’all. It sounds affected and more to the point MAKES ME NUTS.
      Sorry, rant.

      If you naturally say “y’all” tone it down a little in the office, but don’t lose it.

      1. KLB

        I often confuse people because I use y’all not infrequently and I lived my entire childhood in NJ, went to Boston for college, spent some time in LA and now live in NYC. However, I do know whose fault it is. My freshman year in college, one of my very good friends was from rural Virginia, and I picked it up from her. I still use it even though she transferred after that year and my only contact with her has been through e-mail/facebook. It confuses the heck out of people. Note: I have serious doubts as to whether I use it correctly, but now that I know the rudimentary rules, I will endeavor to do so. Also, as a person who spent the first 18-22 years in NJ, I never said youse guys. It is always you guys (which I do use interchangeably with y’all).

        1. Simonthegrey

          Likewise, I have always lived in the North, but my mom’s an Alabama lady and so we say y’all in my family. My mother-in-law has been known to tease me about this.

        2. JM

          I heard that it is easier to pick up a southern accent than a northern accent, i.e. a southerner moving north could affect others accents easier than a northerner moving to the south. It has to do with the speed of the accent.

          Also, it seems there are a lot of rules with y’all that would confuse me if I lived in the south. Living in the north, I don’t ever hear people using yous or yous guys; I always thought it was obsolete nowadays.

      2. Jessica

        My mom and her family are Southern and though I’ve spent most of my life in the North I naturally had some Southern colloquialiasms in my vocabulary because I learned to speak from her (at least partially). I find y’all an extremely useful word, because there’s not really a good alternative 2nd person plural in English. Some people probably think it’s affected but oh wells.

    1. majigail

      There are a lot of different type of southern accents and there are some that are charming and some that can make someone sound uneducated. That, coupled with the use of colloquialisms, could be what your boss is concerned with.
      There are also plenty of political and cultural stereotypes that are tied to the South right now that your boss might be concerned your clients are projecting on to you. It may be that your boss is trying to guide you to project yourself in what she perceives the best light to be, but obviously blundered this attempt.

      1. TL

        Yup. I just moved up to Boston from Texas and my new roommate was trying to head off any and all political discussions because she was worried I was a hardcore conservative Republican.

        Sigh.

    2. Katie

      I’m a New Yorker, and I picked up you all after travelling to ATL regularly on business. So some of us yankees like the construction. That said, I wouldn’t fight your boss on it. We all have to moderate our true identities at work – sometimes in ways we don’t think make sense. Yes, this is a particularly odd one, but it’s not worth the fight.

    3. Kara

      Urban northeasterner born, raised, and residing and I say y’all (it’s a staple of African-American Vernacular English), but I would only say it to my colleagues, and only then if we were referencing something casual (“I’m about to run out, do y’all want anything?”). It is indeed informal. I have an acquaintance who is from the Deep South and works for a big consulting firm and, she was reprimanded for saying “fixin’ to.”

      1. Just a Reader

        My California-born father broke us of “fixin’ to” VERY early in life. Y’all stuck around, but I’ve been living among Yankees for a long time and it only slips out occasionally. I miss it!

      2. Calla

        “Fixin’ to” is such a useful phrase! I’m grateful my southernisms have only gotten curiosity (or light teasing) from my yankee coworkers.

        1. De Minimis

          I’ve also heard a deep south variant called “fittin’ ta,” although it seems to be more used by African-Americans.

          1. Pam

            Oh, yes, Fittin’ ta (or just “finna”) is used very commonly where I’m from (Georgia, y’all!) and it’s used by white and black folks alike.

          2. Natalie

            Around me it’s morphed into “finnin’ to” (I don’t think that has a formalized spelling, that’s just my approximation).

          3. TL

            I just went to a production of monologues in the Northeast and a white girl read one of the monologues in a black southern accent.

            It really raised my eyebrows, though a) I’m positive she was speaking in ignorance and b) there were probably only a handful of people in the audience who realized it.

        2. Anonymous

          I grew up in the South and am a Southern living up north right now. I did not marry a Southern. I think there are variations of expressions though. I have had to work hard to change my you all to you guys up here. I still say you all though. I also know fixing to is a common Southern expression. So is cutting the grass instead of mowing the grass. I still know every time I open my mouth to speak someone will ask me where am I from and say they love my accent. Mine is soft but very much Southern soft drawl. So whether it is you all, y’all or you guys I think you need to do whatever they ask for the job.

      3. KC

        I grew up in Florida. Contrary to popular belief, there IS a Floridian accent–I’m a 4th generation Floridian on my mother’s side and they ALL have a soft Southern drawl.

        We moved to the Northeast when I was a teenager and teasing cured me of my drawl pretty fast. Once and awhile, a “y’all” or “fixin’ to” slips out. I had a coworker ask me if I was from Florida entirely based off of my use of “fixin to” that slipped out once. I was impressed. He’d also lived in Florida for a time, so maybe it was a lucky guess?

      4. Leah

        My family members from Tennessee and Alabama often pronounce it “fixun tuh”, which is charming in social interactions but I could see it looking bad in more formal situations.

        Similarly, I am from northern California and would never use “hella” or call someone “dude” in formal situations and I had a colleague who had to have the appropriate uses of “like” explained to her. Honestly, the use of “like” every two words was pretty grating to me in general but it was awful in a formal setting and was doing her no favors.

        1. Jamie

          I didn’t even know fixin’ ta was a southern thing till I was older – I used it unabashedly in my Chicago suburban upbringing. Ditto “reckon.”

          My gramma’s family is southern and although she lost most of the accent she kept the colloquialisms.

          Weird thing, I had to go to speech therapy for a couple of months as a kid to kick the “warsh” habit and no one else in my family ever said it like that and it’s not regional here. My mom never could figure out how I got that one, but I can still feel the pathologists hands on my cheeks teaching me to drop the R.

          1. De Minimis

            “fixin’ ta,” “reckon,” and “warsh” were all in pretty common use where I grew up, although “warsh” seemed to be more popular among people who had roots in the Ozark area.

            1. Jamie

              That’s so interesting. Wonder if the Ozark thing is encoded since no one else had it but me – but that is where the lions share hail from.

              I’m actually thinking of taking a real vacation this year and heading down there. I do the genealogy thing and they have a fabulous library devoted to genealogy of the area and family cemeteries which the people living there are happy to let you visit on private property.

              The problem will be trying to do that without talking to any actual living people – that’s where it all comes crashing down for me. I’m all about family as long as you’ve been dead for 100 years or more…the live people make me nervous.

              Hopefully I won’t reignite my “warsh” habit but if I do I’m keeping it – I’m not going to pay someone to squeeze my cheeks while I talk at my age.

                1. Jamie

                  Figures. Other people were royalty or warriors – I was sitting in the Ozarks or Appalachia churning butter and waiting for wi-fi to be invented.

            2. Kelly O

              My family is more Appalachian, but those phrases are fairly common, although “warsh” drives me bonkers on a personal level.

              We were discussing “fixin’ to” just this weekend, and all of us (all from the South in some way, shape, form, or fashion) decided that the hill upon which we shall all die is the ability to say “fixin’ to,” and the Oxford comma. Which probably tells you a lot about me and the sort of person I like.

              1. LeighTX

                I think we would get along beautifully. I managed to rid myself of “cain’t” and “purty” but will never give up “fixin’ to” or “y’all,” and I live and die by the motto “Good grammar costs nothing.”

          2. TL

            When I get angry, I have to stop myself from using “don’t” instead of “doesn’t.”
            I generally have pretty good grammar, but I’ll find myself wanting to say “That don’t make no sense!”

          3. athek

            I’m another midwesterner, and I love “fixin’ to”. Such a useful term. “Warsh” is extremely common where I live now.
            I lived in the Chicago suburbs for 13 years, and I picked up some of those pronunciations/terms too! I’m just a big mix.

            1. Laura

              So this is the first time I’ve ever heard of “fixin to” or other variations…what does it mean? I could see an employer saying not to use that here (i’m in Canada), because a lot of people wouldn’t know what it means.

              Off to Google!

              1. fposte

                “I’m about to” or “I’m getting ready to” or “I’m thinking about.” Again, it’s a situation where some other languages have actual tenses to indicate this state and in English we just make do :-).

                1. Laura

                  Thanks! I think the examples make sense. So I guess when I first encountered the term here, I was fixin to Google it?” :) The first few google results I didn’t quite grasp, since it kept making me think of actually fixing something, which makes no sense. Y’all is one I think most people understand, but I think that there are a lot of regionalisms that it would make sense for employers to say not to use outside of their common settings, because the customer base wouldn’t understand what they were talking about.

              2. ZSD

                It means “about to.” “We’re fixin’ to leave here in a few minutes.” “I’m fixin’ to start supper here soon.”
                (Disclaimer: I’ve lived in the South but am not a native fixin-to user, so these examples may be a little off.)

              3. Jamie

                I’m fixin’ to take a couple of days off. I’m fixin’ to load the software update now.

                It’s fixin’ to rain.

                It just means getting ready to, about to, going to.

        2. the gold digger

          call someone “dude” in formal situations

          My friends’ 30 year old, professional daughter called me “Dude” several times before I finally said, “Please don’t call me ‘dude.’ If you don’t feel comfortable calling me ‘Goldie,’ then ‘Mrs Digger’ would be fine.”

          She said, “But everyone calls everyone ‘dude!'”

          I shook my head. “No, they don’t.”

          I probably wouldn’t have cared if I liked this woman, but I don’t. :)

      5. Pennalynn Lott

        Of course the proper southern way to say, “I’m about to run out, do y’all want anything?” is “I’m fixin ta head out, d’yall want sumpin?” ;-D

  2. MR

    For #2, I am just about as Yankee as they come, and I married a Southern Belle, who is from the middle of nowhere Mississippi (her parents and grandparents still live there to this day).

    I find all of the Southern ‘mannerisms and traditions’ to be fascinating and quite enjoyable, and certainly not a hinderance to anything that I have been a part of, and actually, it’s been an expansion on my own cultural experience and knowledge.

    So, I’d chalk this up to an ignorant boss/culture. Not all of us from the north are jagoffs like this guy (Google Pittsburgh Dad for that one if it’s lost on you), and continue to be yourself. You seem to be doing a great job adjusting and don’t let this minor issue bother you!

    1. LisaLyn

      I don’t know if the boss is all that bad. I think it may just be that the phrase sounds, as Alison suggested, more casual and that could be something the boss doesn’t want. We don’t know what type of work this is, so it could be a profession where the boss feels the clients need to hear a more serious tone when they first make contact.

      1. Chinook

        I have to agree that y’all is casual and may not be appropriate in an office environment. In my mind, it is like the Canadian “eh” or the slang “ain’t” – they serve a purpose linguistically and are cultural markers but are not formal English speech. True, English is always evolving and what is considered formal differs from region to region, but the boss does get to signal what is considered formal English in the office. Keep in mind, she didn’t say to never use it, just to watch your language in front of clients because your word choice reflects the company.

        All I keep thinking of is Jeff Foxworthy’s joke about not being confident about a surgeon who spoke like he did.

        1. Jamie

          I disagree that y’all in in the same category as aint.

          Aint, imo, has no place in anyone’s speech ever unless you’re quoting Jethro Bodine or using it ironically. Y’all is charming and a really useful word – I sure wish we had the equivalent but all we have is “you guys” and some people don’t like that for mixed genders.

          And I know it’s plural, but people can use it at individual me all day long. I have a vendor based in Texas and no matter how frustrated I am about a tech matter, once I talk to someone for a few minutes I’m smiling in spite of myself. An authentic southern drawl is just soothing – it’s the aural equivalent of a big ol’ quilt!

          I have cousins that didn’t make the migration north and I’m so jealous whenever I hear them speak…not that the dulcet tones of the inland northern dialect aren’t just as sweet. Except they totally aren’t.

            1. Jamie

              When I hear the Dowager Countess use it, I’ll consider adding an exception.

              Although if my kids want to use the exception they will need to speak like Maggie Smith and Hugh Bonneville the rest of the time, as well.

              Nothing weird about that from some American’s kicking around the Chicago burbs.

                1. Jamie

                  I had to google (I learn more obscure (to me) stuff from you than anyone I know!) and I will concede that anyone who can pull off wearing a monocle can say whatever they like.

          1. anon

            “ain’t” is a contraction for “am not”….I personally don’t use it, but I can see how it could come in handy.

      2. Sunflower

        That’s what I’m thinking too. I’m from Philly and don’t use y’all, I use you guys. I work B2B and have known my contacts for a while so we are pretty casual. But if I worked in a more formal office, i wouldn’t be surprised if I was asked to not use it.

      3. Ms Enthusiasm

        Perhaps there is a reason the boss wants everyone to sound more “accent neutral”? I would only guess this though if the OP works in a place like a call center and the callers shouldn’t be able to guess where they are placing their call to?

      4. Ruffingit

        Agreed. I live in the south (though I am not from here) and y’all is an informal way of speaking that is not always appropriate. It’s actually not a “southern” issue, it’s more of an issue of the formal vs. informal way of addressing people. I have worked in places that were very casual and y’all would have been acceptable and was used. I’ve also worked in places where that was not the case because it was too informal. I wouldn’t walk into a mediation (in my former legal career) and say, for example, “How are you guys?” That is just too informal for the situation. So really, for me, this isn’t about “The southern way of speaking is so charming and boss is a jerk for not allowing it!” It’s about what’s acceptable in that business and that office.

      1. Ethyl

        Darn, yinz guys beat me to it!

        I tried to show Pittsburgh Dad to someone not from the area and none of it made any sense to them, lol!

      2. De Minimis

        Weird thing about yinz….it is very similar to something I’ve often heard in Arkansas/far eastern Oklahoma, which sounds kind of like “yungs,” and is used the way “y’all” is used, but was considered to be more hillbilly. Guessing it might have some kind of Appalachian connection which would have also brought it to Pennsylvania.

          1. Vee

            I’m originally from Johnstown, PA, we always said “yuns” as our regional variant of Pittsburgh’s “yinz.”

          2. Ann Furthermore

            I was born it Pittsburgh, and my family lived there for many years. My mom still uses that phrase, even though she hasn’t lived in Pittsburgh since the 70’s.

          3. tcookson

            That’s what my Illinois relatives always said — “you’uns”. So when we visited them or they us, we would all get enamored of saying “you’uns” and they would get that way about saying “y’all”.

      3. Elizabeth West

        An ex (Missouri) said “you’uns” (yinz) all the time. We grew up maybe an hour from each other but he was WAY more rural. I had never heard it before. The colloquialisms he regularly said just slayed me.

        My dad is from Texas originally and he pronounces certain words differently: warsh your clothes, rinch them, etc. Oh, and that lamp needs a light bub.

        1. De Minimis

          One I used to hear growing up…saying “bob wore” for “barbed wire.” [it was a rural area so fencing was a popular topic.] I’ve never heard it anywhere else, although it might be because it just hasn’t come up in conversation.

            1. Katieinthemountains

              My grandparents retired to rural Missouri, where fences were maintained with bob wahr, and a fahr could be lit if it got cold. I have never heard anyone say all the letters in barbed.

              1. Pennalynn Lott

                My brother once failed a spelling test because when the teacher said, “Far”, he wrote down “F-A-R”. But the word was “fire”.

                We’re native Texans, but my family was *big* on proper pronunciation and grammar. When I’d call my grandmother and say, “This is Pennalynn, may I please speak to Granny?” [because that was the only acceptable way to initiate a phone conversation, regardless of whom answered the phone] she would reply, “This is she.” I miss my Granny! :-)

              1. Jamie

                I thought it was barb wire – not barbed.
                I also thought it was ice tea, and duck tape.

                Also until I was in 4th grade I thought “all intents and purposes” was “all intensive purposes.”

                My family didn’t start catching this until I began to enunciate more clearly about 8-9. Yep, wasn’t a speech issue people…I was just wrong.

            1. De Minimis

              Think that’s more or less the same way I heard it, just wasn’t sure if I remembered them saying “war” or “wore.”

          1. J

            When I was kid in MO, we used to call chest of drawers “chester drawers.” My Mom still says warsh and Warshington.

            1. Pennalynn Lott

              I long for the days when people kept clothing in chifforobes, just like my Texan grandmother did. :-)

          2. Laura

            I did not know until I was in my late teens that “bob wire” and “barbed wire” were the same thing. I mean, contextually I had gathered that they were similar, but I never twigged that it was a just pronunciation thing.

            I grew up in Missouri (the Missour-ah side) as the child of a Georgian and a local country boy, so my twang developed early, and still comes out when I talk to anyone south of the Mason-Dixon line, to my boss’s great delight/amusement. I occasionally have to translate things for her and my other NJ peeps, like “a piece” or “a fur piece” as a unit of measurment (e.g., “Houlihan’s is just down the road a piece from Friday’s, but it’s a fur piece from the diner.”). I also put ohl in my car, for which I have IN-surance (my very favorite part of the movie Marnie is when Sean Connery uses that pronunciation to deduce she’s from the south).

            1. Pennalynn Lott

              Ya know, as much as my West Coast dad has always teased me about my pronunciation of the word, my hearing cannot distinguish between “IN-surance”, “in-SUR-ance”, “insur-ANCE” or any other combination / way to say the word. No matter who says it to me, and no matter which syllable they emphasize*, I still hear the same word. Brain mis-function. :-)

              * I have a friend who loves to say, “It’s the em-FAH-suhs on the sill-AB-ull that makes the difference.”

    2. Anonymous

      I have a similar marriage, although in our case I’m the yankee lady who married a southern gentleman. He stands out in Boston and I stand out in North Carolina. But we’ve both learned to adapt.

      (Though he did make fun of me when I asked, in a restaurant near the VA/NC border, if “you guys” carried something, and you would have to pry the “y’all” from his cold dead hands.)

    3. Phyllis

      Another Mississippian here. My mother (as Southern Belle as they come!!) married a man from New Jersey. At his first family reunion my grandfather asked him, “Well, Bill. Getting along okay? Do you understand everybody alright?” My step-father replied, “Yes, except for two things. Where’s ” ‘over yonder, and how far is ‘down the road a piece?’ ”
      Well, of course all the Southern clan got a real hoot out of that. He and my mother were married 25 years before he died, and by the end, not only did he know the answer to those two questions, he also said y’all and young’un with the best of ’em!!!

  3. ZSD

    Are you sure the boss was nixing the use of “y’all” entirely, or is it this specific phrase, “How y’all doing today?” that she doesn’t like? Removing all “y’alls” from your speech might be difficult, but avoiding that specific phrase shouldn’t be too hard.
    Incidentally, I’ve lived in the North, the South, and now the West, and I find Southern speech charming, particularly the word y’all (though I’ve gone back to using my native “you guys” since leaving the South). However, if your native dialect includes double modals (might should, might could, may can, etc.), I’d be careful not to use these in the business world, at least up North. They’re nonstandard and tend to strike speakers from other dialect areas as incredibly ungrammatical, and some Northerners will even have trouble understanding what you mean. So I’d avoid that.
    (For the record, my own dialect has at least two nonstandard elements that can be hard for speakers of other dialects to understand: positive yet and positive anymore. I can say things like, “I have to pack my suitcase yet,” which in Standard English would be, “I still have to pack my suitcase,” and, “We usually eat at home anymore,” for Standard English, “We usually eat at home nowadays/these days.” So I’m not criticizing any speakers of nonstandard dialects!)

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

      I think “ya’ll” is great. I’m the daughter of a daughter of the south and pleased when I’m able to use her “ya’ll” (in my Philly accent) in informal group situations.

      “How y’all doing today?” < is very informal conversation opener with an individual. The equivalent would be a Philly/Jersey opener of "How ya doin'?" or "Yo, 'sup?" People will pry my "yo" from my cold dead hands but I wouldn't use it to open a conversation with a customer…context.

      1. Rachel

        I love “yo.” My mother and I only just realized that our use of “yo” is specific to being from the Philly area. I actually read this to her, then went back to the conversation I’d interrupted with, “Oh! Yo, listen to this…” I once texted a friend who isn’t from the area and had recently lost all of her contacts. She didn’t have to ask who I was because the text read, “Yo, what are you doin’ today?” They’ll be prying “yo” from our cold, dead hands, too!

    2. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

      and P.S.:
      So I’m not criticizing any speakers of nonstandard dialects!

      this goes double for me. I love regional dialects. I love using my Philly-isms like “meetcha back” as a closing when breaking a group to go do something else and then meet back. I go down the shore and up the mall.

      I don’t use them in business conversation, though. Heavy regional dialects need to be cleaned up for business unless your business is selling cheesesteaks on South Street or whatever equivalent. So, yo, headsup to that.

      1. Sunflower

        LOLing at these. I am also a Philadelphian(I live next to South Street!) and there are lots of things like ‘didj’eatyet’ that I would take the time to pronounce out if I was at work. I learned quickly in college that pronouncing water as ‘wuder’ was normal at Wawa but not so normal at the office.

        Down the shore is something I don’t think I’ll ever be able to drop and I wonder how many people have heard that and been utterly confused- especially now that most think I’m going to hang out with The Situation and Snooki.

        Most of my contacts I’ve known for a while so I use ‘you guys’ with them but if I was speaking to someone new, I would definitely not use it. The same way if I was speaking to someone in the South and they said ‘ya’ll’ I wouldn’t think anything of it but I would think it was strange if I called a Northern office and heard it…

          1. Ann Furthermore

            Or “jeetereddy.” My parents moved to Pittsburgh when my older siblings were kids, and that’s where I was born. My dad told me a story once about someone asking if he’d gotten something to eat (before he’d learned the local slang/dialect), and the question was, “Jeetereddy?” Being from Iowa, it took him a few tries to figure out what it meant.

      2. Kara

        Philly represent! I don’t have the accent (it got weaker from generation to generation; my grandparents had it, my dad has a slight one, and I don’t have one) but I will never say anything other than “down the shore,” ever. I am not going to the beach, I am going down the shore. And yo and jawn are staples in my vocabulary. I lived in NYC for a decade and enjoyed the “huh?” looks people gave me when I’d ask them to pass me that jawn over there.

        1. Sunflower

          My best friend moved here and became so obsessed with the word ‘jawn’ that she bought anything she could find with the word on it.

          1. Windchime

            What does “jawn” mean?

            I’m from the pacific northwest, born and bred. We don’t really say “Y’all” here; it’s “You guys”. But I have a lot of family from the south, so there I have had to make a conscious effort to unlearn phrases like “fixin’ to”.

            1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

              The beauty of “jawn” is that it means literally anything, and that it’s pretty much exclusively Philly.

              The jawn outside the city don’t get that. :)

              (I’m not being difficult! There’s no actual meaning for “jawn”.)

            2. Sunflower

              ‘Jawn’ is just anything

              ‘did you see that jawn? it was awesome’
              ‘i didn’t go because I was at the other jawn’
              ‘i was talking about this jawn when he walked over’
              ‘hand me that jawn over there’

              Literally anything!

            3. Kara

              It’s an indiscriminate noun, like “thing.” You might say “pass me that jawn over there,” referring to a pen, or you might say “pass me that pen-jawn over there” if you knew the thing was a pen but it was an unusual pen you’d never seen before. I briefly dated a guy who was new to Philly and couldn’t quite get “jawn” right – he tried to use it as a verb. I think it’s derived from “joint.”

      3. Jamie

        I, too, love regional dialects. As long as people can be formal and correct when they need to be I’d hate to see the loss of regional patterns into one homogenized generic manner of speaking.

        I think all kids go through a stage where they are learning the rules and delight in catching adults speaking improperly. At least mine did, but I’ve been on their tails about that since their first words so turn about is fair play. My defense was always “colloquial.”

        Mom, you’re not ‘gonna’ make lunch, you’re ‘going to’ make lunch. Mom, it’s not a fruntroom it’s a front room, or a living room, or (my favorite) the parlor. And giggle like they caught me being naughty. My reply was always one word – “colloquialism.”

        They always ended up trying this on teachers and wondering why it didn’t work at school. Hence the lesson in being able to bring it properly when needed.

        1. Phyllis

          Same with mine, Jamie. I always told them there is nothing wrong with a Southern accent, but if you couple that with sloppy speech patterns, you just reinforce the stereotype of Southern hick. Or ignorant hillbilly, take your pick.

          Having said that, I agree with a couple of other posters, they will have pry my y’all’s out of my cold dead hand.

          And I am glad to see so many people on here realize there is a correct usage for it. My New Jersey relatives would throw it into a random sentence, and finally we sat down and I gave a lesson in Southern 101. Most of ’em got it :-)

      4. Emma

        +1 to “down the shore.”

        I love my Jerseyism of “jeet yet?” (Did you eat yet?). Of course, since moving out of NJ, I’m noticing quite how strong (or strawng, if you will) my accent is.

        1. ChristineSW

          I swore up and down that I didn’t have a NJ accent until several years ago when a woman I’d just met pointedly told me “Yes. You. Do.” lol. I’ll have to pay closer attention next time DH and I go out of state for a trip.

    3. Vee

      Where are you from that you use yet in that way? I do that occasionally, and just realized that I do it! I don’t know where I picked it up.

      1. ZSD

        I’m from Southern Indiana originally. Positive yet is one of the markers of what’s called the Midland dialect. (I’d tell you where that is, but entire books have been written on this subject, and some dialectologists still argue that the Midland dialect doesn’t exist! So…long story.)

    4. fposte

      Oh, the “anymore” thing I’m hearing a lot now, and I’ve never figured out the exact analogue word–thanks for suggesting “nowadays”!

    5. Bwmn

      The point of the boss being from another country might also explain why this phrase/casualness sounds perhaps more off than it would to someone born/raised in the US. Particularly if the boss is not a native English speaker.

      Also from my experience with non-native English speakers and native English speakers not from the US – the southern accent can be one of the hardest to understand. When the movie Mud came out (set in the south, thick accents), I saw the film with a friend from Montreal (who was raised speaking English and French) who had to ask me so frequently to repeat what was being said that we eventually just had to leave the film.

      I agree that the professional problem with y’all maybe just be a casualness – but I’d bring up that depending on where foreign born coworkers/bosses are from – there may be a greater issue at play beyond southern colloquialisms.

  4. Chocolate Teapot

    As somebody who has worked in multi-cultural offices, what I often find is that there is a standard office speech style. Not just the working language (which might not be the same as that of the country) but preferred terms and expressions.

    For example, in a French speaking country, you answer the phone in English, or say something like “How can I assist you today?” which is more neutral than “How y’all doing?”

    1. TL

      In south Texas, the very common “What can I do ya for?” is standard from friendly salespeople/repair people.

      It took me a while in college to realize that I should perhaps leave that one out of my vernacular.

    2. E.H.

      Around here it’s usually, “How can I help you?” or “Do you need any help?” I don’t know if that’s regional or just how they’re trained, because it’s pretty neutral as well. However, sometimes when I encounter an older person I’ll get a “What can I do ya for?” It’s rather adorable.

      1. Brisvegan

        That’s interesting, because here in Australia, “what can I do ya for” is a jocular, colloquial version of “how can I swindle you?” but is used deliberately ironically (sort of like how an Australian will admiringly call a friend a bast**d, but it’s completely different to how you would call a horrible person the same swear word).

        It would generally be used with a familiar customer in a trade or some local shopping situations. It would usually not be routine in many trade business and certainly not in most routine city business or shopping situations. In my part of the country, it is an identity behaviour for a sort of broad Aussie working class identity, usually by older men. (For example, I could imagine a man at a fruit stall at a country market using it, but not anyone in a retail store.)

  5. A Teacher

    And in my area we say ya or yuh instead of you. Can I help ya? Or how are yuh? Changing inherent speech pattern is kind of (speaking this might be kinda) hard. Good luck!

  6. Gjest

    For #4, I think this is the type of thing where the increase in morale of the employees increases at a higher rate than the cost to the company. Sure, you’re within your rights to take their PTO, but it’s those little things that grate on employees’ morale and willingness to give a bit extra at some other point.

    But as Alison said, make a consistent policy. I get more irritated at inconsistency than almost anything employers do.

  7. LisaLyn

    OP1, I am so sorry that happened to you. I wouldn’t have known how to end that call, either, especially since you had other concerns (about being blacklisted in the industry). I’d say that by completing the interview, you’ve avoided that so you don’t have to worry there. But, wow. I just wonder how people go through their lives being … jerks. ;)

    1. OP With The Terrible Interviewer

      Thank you so much! :)

      And thank you, Alison, not just for your wonderful advice but also for publishing the short version of my question instead of the embarrassingly rambly email I sent first. >_<

      I mentioned this in my email but I think everyone should know: I suffer from bouts of social anxiety and depression, and normally going through something that awful would've sent me careening through a mental health tailspin, questioning all my skills and experience, wondering what I did wrong to make someone treat me that way – an industry colleague, that too, who had absolutely no reason to.

      But I've been reading AAM for a long time and Alison's consistently amazing advice has helped me internalize the idea that interviews are a two-way street. It's not about you proving your worth to a potential employer, both sides have to see if they're the right fit. As angry and upset as I was, I told myself, he just failed his audition with me!

      This experience also gave me an invaluable insight into what kind of people I might’ve had to work with, had I got the job. Far better to learn that now than later, right?

      All of that was a HUGE factor in helping me avoid going into a dip. And I’ve learnt how to handle it if it ever happens again. So I’d say it’s win-win. :D

      1. Elle D

        I completely sympathize, OP. I also deal with social anxiety and having someone become combative and belittling out of no where would certainly lead to some major self doubting. I’m so glad you were able to avoid that and put it into perspective. It sounds like you handled the situation as well as anyone could and that it turned out to be a great learning experience! This guy was just a jerk. I’d be glad he revealed that during the phone interview, so you didn’t have to deal with him during an in person interview, or worse, as your co-worker or boss!

      2. littlemoose

        Sounds like you have a good perspective about it, and I’m glad to hear it. This interviewer was clearly a lout and not somebody you would want as a coworker. You got through this tremendously unpleasant experience, and now it’s behind you. Good luck in your job search going forward!

      3. nyxalinth

        i have depression and being yelled at or spoken to in a hostile manner is a trigger for me. I would have felt the same had i dealt with someone like that. You handled it very well though, and I’ll just say you didn’t dodge a bullet, you dodged an anti-tank round!

        That guy was either an a-hole, or trying to conduct a stress interview, and doing it very, very badly.

      4. Leah

        You’re not the first to have such an awful experience. I was in a second-round interview and the interviewer was fine and friendly at first. Then she read my resume in front of me while I sat quietly trying not to jump out of my skin. Suddenly, she got really hostile and demanded to know why I thought I had learned enough to justify listing a job I’d only been at for two months. I had been at the job for a year and two months. I used month name + 4 digit year format to be as clear as possible. My anxiety about the interview and the sudden turn of tone went through the roof since there was no great way to deal with it. I still have no idea how I had my wits about me enough to say, “Two months? It should say a year and two months. I am surprised I would make such a careless mistake. May I see the copy you have?” She acknowledged that there was no mistake on the resume but was hostile to the point of belligerence for the rest of the interview. She kept insisting that I wanted to be a social worker (the job was paralegal for a prosecutor’s office) when I had already said I wanted to go to law school in a few years (a common practice in their office) and become a prosecutor. She would directly contradict me and say, “No, you want to be a social worker and that’s not what we do.” All of this was based on the job she’d misread and I had explained the job entailed social work elements that I had not anticipated but I had still learned a lot from. I’d wanted that job so badly, I went to a cafe across the street and cried in the bathroom. Didn’t get the job but I probably dodged a bullet.

        tl;dr Interviewers sometimes go nuts. It’s not your fault.

        1. LizNYC

          I’m so sorry you went through that, but imagine working for her!
          “I’m ordering lunch. What do you want?”
          “I’d like tuna salad.”
          “No, you want egg salad! That’s what you had last time and that’s what you’ll have from now on!”

      5. Ruffingit

        Good for you, I am so proud of you for handling it this way. Anxiety and depression can cause all sorts of illogical horror that rips your self-esteem apart. You realizing that this is not about you at all is a huge win. High five on that!

        This interviewer clearly had some kind of massive problem. I cannot even imagine acting like that. It’s uncalled for. Even if you’d been the worst candidate ever (which clearly wasn’t the case), his handling it like this was not acceptable. PERIOD. I’m glad you realize that.

      6. Not So NewReader

        No human being should speak to another human being like that.
        Alison champions this cause very well. And, yeah, it’s the reinforcement we need to “just say NO'”.

        “No, Mr/Ms Employer you are not going to speak to me that way. I don’t speak to you that way for a reason. I don’t expect to be spoken to like that.”
        Basic human decency.

        I agree. The old me would have fallen apart over a conversation like that. I would have thought “If this is what the working world is like I. Can’t. Do. This.”

        Framing the interview as a two way street and checking for basic decency is the route to take. People are usually on their best behavior on an interview. If this is the best the interviewer could do, the I would describe that job as hopeless.
        This is the kind of job that fills hospital beds.

      7. ChristineSW

        As someone who also deals with some social anxiety, I can completely empathize. Very happy to see that Alison’s blog has been helpful in reframing your “self talk” (that’s what my counselor calls it). Best of luck to you!!

    2. 400boyz

      I had one phone interview where the interviewer actually went “BZZZ” when I gave one wrong answer. Her tone was hostile throughout.

      1. Heather

        I would never in a million years manage to think of it in time to actually do it, but how awesome would it be if you responded with “STOP…on a Whammy!”

        1. ChristineSW

          Of course it’s always awesome to see contestants win money, but the Whammys totally made the show. Thank you for that little flashback!!

  8. Ran

    #2: I can see your manager’s point (even though I agree it’s a bit controlling). Y’all is informal and if she wants to have a particular ‘tone’ for customer service it’s her decision. I have worked in customer service and our office was once asked to limit the slang and also to try and speak in a more neutral accent. This was a London-based office dealing with international calls though, and londoners speaking quickly can be almost incomprehensible to people from other countries.

    I would take it up with her about the group list, especially if it’s obvious she was singling you out (are you the only southerner in the office?). That’s the sort of thing that should be talked about in private.

    And us English guys love the y’all too!

    1. fposte

      I wouldn’t suggest taking the group thing up myself, actually, or at least not right now. It looks defensive, and there’s a risk of it turning into a conversation about the actual speech pattern, which would look *really* bad. Instead, wait until time has passed or you’re having a nice conversation at an annual review, and say that you’d really love to get feedback personally at the time so you can correct things more quickly rather than waiting for the group.

      And while the OP may feel singled out by this comment, I suspect that several other things on that list were singling out various co-workers, so she wasn’t the only person receiving an individualized correction that way.

      1. Ran

        Ah yes, wasn’t going to suggest OP storms into the office and yells ‘how dare you!’ Approaching it more diplomatically as you said is better – especially if you want to discuss it since that would take forever if it was a great group session. I wonder if it would have helped if manager had actually explained WHY they didn’t like y’all? Rather than ‘no y’all, y’all’

        And yeah – if this was a group session aimed to correct certain things the group is doing then OP probably just noticed the things she was being pulled up on. It’d be helpful to know all the things people shouldn’t be saying in one session rather than correcting everyone one by one which would take a long ass time.

    2. majigail

      I suspect the list probably singled others out too, but OP is concerned about the one pointed at her. I’ll bet if she looks carefully, she’ll see her coworkers in some of the others… Donchaknow?

      1. Ran

        Good point! I’ve been offended when a big customer service group email reminding people not to use a particular word/phrase. ‘But I’ve never done I know the guidelines do they think I’m STUPID????’ (Not that bad but you get the idea). And it turns out it’s lots of others doing it and I was just included in as a reminder since I might not know. To quote my office mate: ‘you’re not special, princess’.

        1. Leah

          I had a similar experience with a dress code memo! It was the first time I had worn colored tights in my office. They were a deep maroon with a black dress, jacket, and shoes.

          The memo reminded people not to wear things like jeans, transparent tops, shorts(!), and other stuff I’d never wear to the office. It had been sent by someone other than the usual people and as an attachment to an email that simply said “Just a quick reminder.” It was only when I’d finished reading the memo that I saw it had been sent to the entire agency.

    3. Elizabeth West

      Re the speaking fast and accents: I have to really pay attention when I watch BBC programs because the pacing of some of them is super-fast compared to American programs. Especially Doctor Who and Sherlock, where I don’t want to miss a single word.

      1. The IT Manager

        I use Closed Captioning for Americans who cannot understand British accents. But honestly I really pay attention to TV and often use CC on American shows too.

        1. Elizabeth West

          I can understand it fine; it’s just that they talk so fast I miss stuff if I just half-ass pay attention while interneting the way I do to American shows.

          I’m trying to figure out a way to plan a UK trip this year. Maybe that will help. :D

  9. Morag

    To be quite honest, as a customer in the northeast, I’d find that greeting annoying and grating. I’ve found that when in Rome . . .
    For example, when I worked in the south, I ma’amed and sirred with the best of them, as I realized it made all transactions go much more smoothly there. (By contrast, understand that in northern New England, you’d never call a customer that unless you were seriously ticked off with them and wanted them to know it.) So don’t think of it as being censored; your job is to communicate the best way you can and sometimes it means modifying something that would come naturally at home.

    1. Morag

      Just to clarify, I wouldn’t like y’all because it would seem overly familiar to me in my middle-aged crochetyness, not just too informal. How about “Good morning, how are you?” with a smile instead? Neither too formal, too informal, nor too familiar, but simply friendly and ready to assist.

      1. Anonicorn

        I wouldn’t like y’all because it would seem overly familiar to me

        I completely understand this sentiment. I’m in the South, albeit in an urban area, and rarely hear “y’all” in the office. It just doesn’t seem fitting.

        1. TL

          I grew up in rural Texas and it was everywhere in customer-based settings.

          However, it was a more informal environment overall, so there’s that.

    2. Anonymous

      +1 to the mad at the customer thing

      Here in Canada sir/ma’am also means “you’re so stupid i want to cry”.

      Its a great multipurpose word.

      1. Diet Coke Addict

        I have to disagree–I’ve lived several places in Canada and never seen that, even when I was in the service industry myself and dealt with some incredibly stupid people.

        1. Laura

          Another Canadian who’s never heard it that way!

          In fact, in the retail and restaurant industry is the only time I hear ma’am or sir, because you don’t know the name of the person you’re serving. However, here it would be strange for a child to call adults ma’am or sir unless they were teachers, as it would be strange for anyone to call someone ma’am or sir when they know the name of the person. But that’s just true for this particular part of this particular city in this particular province:) I do consider ma’am and sir from all children to all adults to be a very Southern thing though.

      2. College Career Counselor

        In the southern U.S., that is generally rendered as “Bless your heart!”

        1. Aunt Vixen

          Trufax: in the upper south, “Bless your heart” means something like “Oh, you poor idiot, I have some pity for you but that doesn’t change the fact that your stupidity has made my task more difficult.”

          The further south you go, the more it approaches meaning “Eff off and die.”

        2. Callie

          Bless your heart can mean a lot of things, depending on tone and situation.

          “Bless your heart, you have had such a hard time,” [after your illness/spouse’s death/unemployment] is a genuine expression of sympathy and concern.

          “Bless your heart, that really didn’t work out” [because of something stupid you did] is totally mocking you.

          1. Laura

            My NJ born and bred husband has been trying get me to teach him how to properly use “Bless your/her/his heart” properly for years now and he just cannot get it. But it’s fun to watch him try.

          2. tcookson

            Everything Callie said. Plus, if you’re talking about someone like they’re a low-down dirty dog, you can end the tirade with a prim, “Bless [their] heart” to show that you are not at all as catty as you just sounded.

        3. Collarbone High

          My New Year’s resolution is to start incorporating “Bless your heart” into my speech now that I live in Texas.

      3. Collarbone High

        “For once maybe someone will call me ‘sir’ without adding ‘you’re making a scene.’ ” — Homer Simpson

  10. Chris80

    I’m probably in the minority here, but what bothers me about that particular greeting is not the “y’all”. I don’t like the lack of “are”. I would be completely fine with “How’re y’all doing?” or “How are y’all doing?”, but How y’all doing?” would grate on my nerves. I’m from the north with family in the south, and I’ve never heard the “are” left out of that sentence. Either way, I don’t know that it’s worth your manager making a rule about it.

    1. Fiona

      I, too, wondered whether it was specifically the y’all that was the issue or if it was the overall casualness of the statement. Did the handout or the meeting offer preferred/standardized alternatives that all staff are expected to use instead?

    2. Mrs. Psmith

      Glad someone else pointed this out. That is what bothered me about the phrase, the missing “are.” I find “How are y’all doing?” grammatically correct (when addressing two or more) and don’t consider it slang. I wouldn’t think twice about it if I heard it from a customer service rep on the phone. But I’m fifth generation Texan, so I’m biased.

    3. NotherNonners

      I’m also from the North with family in the South, and cannot imagine this sounding anything but stilted and ridiculous if they tried to include the word “are” in the statement.

      I agree completely with the others that this greeting is simply too informal for a professional setting, and the boss would do well to suggest a standardized greeting (like Good Morning/Afternoon, or Welcome to the Teapot Showroom, etc.).

      1. LeighTX

        I’m from Tennessee and if I were to say it, the “are” would sort of get slurred and contracted into it–“howry’all doin’?”

    4. TL

      Texan here. “How y’all doin’?” is the standard greeting used here. (And I’ve traveled a fair bit around the deep South and heard that exact same phrasing used there.)

      Just for clarification, it is most often used when someone is addressing a large crowd in a friendly but at least semi-professional manner, like salespeople, public speakers, someone leading a training session…

      Unless I was in a super formal office or dealing with super serious matters, it would not strike me as informal, just as a way for the speaker to relax her audience.

  11. Bryan

    For #4, If you can, I would also try and have a policy of announcing office closures earlier. Many people might have already been in when you decided to close the office or would have already left for the elongated commute that day.

    1. Anonymous

      Yes! My boss calls me ten minutes before my shift starts to cancel me. I live half an hour away (she knows this) so when I get to work I have a voicemail saying dont come in today.

    2. Laura

      For where I work, most people start at 9, and by 8:30, most people would have already been on their way.

  12. ella

    I’m sure #2’s boss said other things in conversation that made it clear that “y’all” was the problematic phrase, but I want to throw another aspect into the midst: I had a customer service job once where the boss asked us to never ask how customers are doing to open a transaction. First because it’s insincere (I have generally benign hopes that customers are well, but really, I’m going to forget about you as soon as you walk out the door), and second, you don’t know who just lost their mother, or who’s getting a divorce, or struggling with a cancer diagnosis, etc etc etc. Asking “how are you” can be a really hard moment for someone who’s having a bad day. Better to ask what you can do for them, if they found everything okay, if they’ve read this particular book before (it was a bookstore). It’s something that always stuck with me. So I’d find a different phrase for that reason.

    Ella

    1. Anonymous

      Its so awkward when people actually tell you how they’re doing.

      How are you today?
      Oh, the wife just left me and my house burned down and I have dancer…
      ….. Did you find everything you were looking for?

      1. Jen RO

        I know you meant cancer, but a (female) dancer might be a good thing to have if your wife left you :)

      2. Elle D

        And there are people out there who really do!! It’s incredibly uncomfortable.

        When I was in college I had a job in the admissions office calling prospective students to follow up on their incomplete applications. I called one home, got the mother and asked how she was doing that evening. She launched into the whole story about how her teenage daughter had gotten pregnant so she wouldn’t be completing her application, meanwhile she and her husband were getting divorced, etc and started to cry. Talk about uncomfortable! I felt terrible for her, but had other calls to make so I had to politely excuse myself from the conversation. I will never forget that, and subsequently avoided asking “how are you?” as my opening line in a customer service setting.

        1. nyxalinth

          When I was young (17) and had just joined the Navy, I did this too, until a harsh but well meaning person took me aside and bluntly let me know that no one really cared, and it was just a social nicety. I felt so embarrassed, but I never did it again :P

          1. Agnes

            But… There’s no such thing as “just” a social nicety. Social niceties smooth out new interactions- just because no one ACTUALLY cares how the other is doing doesn’t remove their utility.

            1. nyxalinth

              Yeah, true. I think his point is essentially correct, but the fact that how he worded it the way he did stuck with me so long says something about him!

              He was pretty much an ass about it.

      3. Anonymous

        I accidentally did this once. I just found out someone close to me had died and my sister had been in a severe car accident. (I was outside on the phone and heard this so it was moments before.) I was at my local coffee shop and the person behind the counter asked and…the answer just poured out of me along with a whole bunch of crying. I went and sat in a corner and she brought me tea and gave me a hug. It was deeply weird and kind of nice and extremely embarrassing!

    2. De

      I am so, so glad that the custom of forcing retail people to ask “How are you?” and have small talk with the customer is not big in Germany. I am very fine with just saying “Hello” and “Please” and “Thank you” and “Bye”.

      1. Anonymous

        You’re not supposed to make small talk really. You ask how they’re doing, they say fine thanks (even if their life sucks) and you say nothing else until “have a good day”.

        1. Gjest

          Which is all so fake. I agree with De, I’d rather everyone just stick to hello, thank you, and good bye.

          1. fposte

            But those are fake too–you’re not actually wishing them good health, you’re certainly not grateful, and you don’t really care if God is with them, right?

            1. Jen RO

              Well, I usually am grateful that they helped me get my stuff. No self-check-outs here, so without the cashier I wouldn’t have my chocolate!

            2. De

              Well, I don’t actually wish them anything to do with God because that’s not what my native language implies there anyway.

              I am certainly grateful that they helped me with the whole “getting food on my table” thing.

            3. Gjest

              Eh, I don’t really see it that way. Hello is politely acknowledging their presence. For thank you I usually am grateful that the cashier stood there and rung up my groceries, and good bye to me doesn’t imply God in any way (if that is what you meant…I actually had no idea that any of these were inquiring whether God was with them. I am going to google the etymology of the word good). Anyway, I do hope they have a good day, I just don’t necessarily want to hear about the details.

          2. some1

            This is especially annoying when you are calling a company with one question. Even when you don’t get put on hold, there’s usually at least a few minutes of voice prompts before you can speak to someone and they want to know how I’m doing. I get that they are trying to be polite, but, really, I just want my problem fixed or my question answered. Even worse when you are calling from a cell and it’s costing you minutes.

            1. nyxalinth

              Not just trying to be polite. some call centers actually require it, and will write you up if you don’t engage in meaningless social blather. It annoys me too. I would rather just start solving their issue.

            2. Anonymous Call Center

              For the longest time, I couldn’t figure out why whenever I called a call center, the other person would ask me irrelevant personal questions. Then I started working in a call center where you are required to “personalize” every call. (And personalization is the most important part of the call.) Some of the examples we’re given of good personalization are completely inappropriate and if someone said that to me, I’d never do business with the company again. But management assures us that this is, in fact, good customer service. The funny thing is that every person I’ve discussed personalization with dislikes it immensely.

              1. nyxalinth

                Most of us agents dislike it too, since you often get yelled at for it! Not that you would yell, but many people did.

        2. De

          Huh, interesting. I got the impression (from TV and blogs, I admit) that at least some small talk about the weather or something like that is often involved.

          1. Windchime

            There is definitely some small-talk up here in the friendly Pacific Northwest. It’s usually a “Hello, how are you today. Find everything you need?”. There may also be a comment about the weather, “Still raining out there?” (answer…. Yes, usually).

            It would be highly unusual to have the checker just silently check out the order in this area of the country. I wouldn’t find it off-putting, especially if the store was crazy-busy, but it would be out of the norm for no pleasantries at all to be exchanged.

            1. smallbutmighty

              I’m from the Pacific Northwest as well. For a brief time right after college, I lived in New England and worked retail there. I’d had other retail jobs as well and was accustomed to making the kind of banter that’s considered normal in the Pacific Northwest.

              I realized pretty quickly that it made people uneasy but that I could put them instantly at ease by casually mentioning that I was from Idaho (e.g., “I can’t believe this weather. We never got freezing rain like this in Idaho where I’m from”).

              They’d visibly relax when they heard that. I could imagine them thinking, “Ohhh, she’s not trying to scam me. She’s from out west, where everyone is weirdly friendly like this.” And then we’d have some pleasant, natural small talk.

            2. TL

              In the south, it’s always, “Hot enough for you?” followed by “We could sure use some rain, huh?”

              :)

        1. Artemesia

          My local grocery chain just dropped the whole fake loyalty card ‘discount’ thing. So grateful for that. So annoying and for no purpose.

      2. smallbutmighty

        I think what happens in retail, especially at the big brand or chain level, is that the higher-ups on the company see the way these types of interactions (small talk, friendly conversations) build rapport when they occur organically. So then someone says, “Hey, isn’t it great that Chocolate Teapots Inc. on 6th and Oak builds such warm relationships with its customers? We should make it a policy across the whole CTI chain to have our employees learn customers’ names, ask them how they’re doing, and follow a script based on the way the 6th and Oak employees talk.”

        And then you’ve got people who work at, say, the CTI location in the airport being forced to make these stilted, contrived conversations with people they’ll never see again.

        You can’t force great connections to happen in a retail setting. You can build an atmosphere where they CAN happen and you can get out of the way and LET them happen, but you can’t mandate them and expect that to work well.

      3. Poohbear McGriddles

        I was warned in German class not to ask someone how they are doing. However, I was not able to overcome my natural tendency to do so. Good way to find out things about people that you did not need to know!

        1. Aunt Vixen

          In British English, “[Are you] all right?” means “Hello”, and “What’s up?” means “What’s wrong?”

          In American English, “[Are you] all right?” means “Oh dear, you seem not to be all right, can I help in any way”, and “What’s up?” means “Hello”.

          A housemate and I spent about eight months confusing the daylights out of each other before working those out.

          1. JMegan

            I have that problem with British English as well. When somebody greets me with “Are you all right?” I always feel like I need to answer “Yes, I’m fine – why do you ask?”

            My German friend says “All is well?” instead of “How are you?” And for some reason, I always interpret it in a tone of “It BETTER be well!” No idea why, but it sounds to me more like a command than a question or a pleasantry.

          2. KJR

            My English cousin comes to visit every once in a while (to the US), and it is amusing to compare what different phrases mean! (And I might add, I still don’t get the attraction of Marmite!)

          3. athek

            “Are you all right, then?” threw me off horribly when I visited the UK. What is the correct response? I heard someone say “yes, thanks.” Is that right?

            The other one that I’ve encountered in the US is “what do you know?” How on earth do you respond to that?

            1. fposte

              Oh, I hit this in Quebec–I grasped that “S’allez?” was basically “How’s it going?” but I had no idea what the correct response was.

              1. Aunt Vixen

                In other varieties of French, I think the answer to “ça va?” is “ça va.” The Francophone equivalent of “Anh, can’t complain”, perhaps? :-)

                1. fposte

                  The problem is the conjugation: since it’s third person, it remains constant with “Ça va?” “Ça va,” so that makes sense, but it doesn’t with “S’allez?,” which is second person. “S’allez” back would be responding to “You good?” with “You good” (NO U!). But I fear it would be overliteral to say “Je vais” in response. Any Quebecois know the answer to this?

                2. Aunt Vixen

                  “How you doin’?”

                  “How YOU doin’?”

                  I’m not seeing the problem here. ;-)

            2. Aunt Vixen

              I finally learned that the answer to “Hi, you all right?” was “You all right?” Seriously: it is as much a question as “How do you do?”.

              There were a number of cases where I could learn to understand the local terms or phrases fluently, but not produce them myself. So while I couldn’t say “You all right?” as a greeting, at least I could stop asking people what was up and stick with an uncontroversial “Hi”.

            3. Rindle

              “What do you know?” and its variant “Whatcha know good?” can be answered several ways. Some people have a standard cheesy response, “Oh, interest is up and the stock market’s down, Skeeter!” (to borrow a line from Hank Williams, Jr.) Others will use, “Nothin’ good, nothin’ good” with a smile or with a rueful shake of the head. You can also say, “Don’t know it!” Or you can interpret the question as “What’s up?” or “How are you?” and respond accordingly.

          4. Mints

            Huh I’ve heard/used “What’s up?” to mean “What’s wrong”
            (Californian)

            I also used it liberally when I worked childcare and kids would say “Mints…!” in a whiny way because it could be “I scraped my knee” or “You’re my favorite person” or “What time is lunch” so “What’s wrong” wasn’t really accurate

        2. De

          Heh :) I actually don’t think I ever answered that honestly except for with family or friends. Seems like other Germans are diffreent there.

          I am also very amused that one of the usual “waving away”answers to that question actually translates to “very good”. “Ganz gut” is not what it appears to be to people learning the language – it’s usually the closest people will go to “I am not actually fine”.

        3. Artemesia

          The classic German greeting is ‘Wie geht es Ihnen? or ‘Wie gehts?’ i.e. how is it going. They don’t use that anymore?

          1. De

            Only speaking for myself here, but I wouldn’t call that a greeting. I pretty much only use that when talking to friends or family, where I would actually be okay with knowing the answer. But other people certainly use it more often.

        4. literateliz

          Haha–at least they warned you. When I learned Japanese it turned out that the phrase the textbook translated as “How are you?” turned out to really strongly imply “Are you sick? You look sick” and I got a lot of weird looks from Japanese people. On the other hand, they kept telling me in English that I looked tired and I would get all bent out of shape before I realized that they were trying to tell me I had worked hard that day. Yay cultural differences!

      4. literateliz

        It’s funny, I would have agreed with the other commenters that we didn’t really do small talk in customer service situations in the U.S…. until I spent two years in Japan. When I came back and started going shopping I was like “WHY DO THESE PEOPLE KEEP ASKING ME QUESTIONS ABOUT MY WEEKEND?!” It was really jarring, haha.

        1. Anonysmush

          The radiological tech at my last mammogram asked me about my weekend. It was so bizarre. She was all “Okay, stand right there… grab the bar… this is going to smush you a little bit… Okay, don’t breathe… got it. So, got big weekend plans?”

      5. Neeta (RO)

        Yep, couldn’t agree more.

        When I went to the US (small town near San Francisco), I was so flustered whenever the cashier was asking me how I was. It’s just not something I’m used to back home. Here it is just “Hello”, “Anything else”, “Your total is” and “Good bye”. So it generally takes me a while to realize that I’m supposed to just say “fine”.

        A cashier even repeated the question louder, once, when I wore my “deer in headlights” face upon being asked how I was. I actually found that mildly scary; “why DOES she want to know that so badly?”

    3. Laura

      I once took a course called sociology of the every day where we learned about common phrases that aren’t meant literally. Like “how are you?” means “I am politely acknowledging your presence, but I really don’t want to know how you are, so please don’t tell me. “

      1. Mints

        Me too! We did an exercise where we talked about what you ask close friends/family when you really want to know (How’s your headspace? How have you been feeling lately?) It’s actually kind of hard

  13. David

    #5 – I feel for you. My boss’s boss is always starting up “secret” projects and holding meetings where very useful information is shared that is pertinent to the company as a whole and then telling us to “keep it in the family.” This isn’t top secret or sensitive stuff, just things he doesn’t want anyone else to know about, because, quite frankly, he’s kinda nuts. Makes it particularly difficult to collaborate with other work groups when you’ve been explicitly told not to share other information they may need to be successful. Not exactly the same as your situation, but your mention of not having a poker face struck a chord. Unless you’re in some certain jobs, you shouldn’t have to have one…honesty, integrity and openness should be enough!

    Unless, of course, “must be able to openly lie and withhold information from co-workers” is becoming a more common requirement in job descriptions.

    1. AB

      Do you work in my OldJob. I’m friends with a few co-workers there and it’s only gotten worse. The Big Boss was always having people work on projects but would make you swear to secrecy, esp from co-workers. Then all the co-workers and Mini Bosses would constantly ask you what you were doing to find out what Big Boss was having people work on. Mini Bosses would also ask you to find information or work on a project and tell you not to tell Big Boss or other Mini Bosses. It felt like you were in some sort of crazy double agent spy ring. The thing was, none of it, NONE of it was sensitive. It might have been something so simple as Big Boss was planning a business trip or Mini Boss wanted to get quotes for some office equipment. It was bizarre and stressful because even if Big Boss didn’t tell you not to tell anyone, and then Mini Boss found out, Big Boss would get upset. I am so glad I left and I am never asked to not to talk about what I’m doing unless we have a customer-requested non-disclosure agreement.

        1. Windchime

          I love the idea of covert office-equipment quotes. It adds a little fun to an otherwise boring day. If I worked there, I would insist on wearing all black and lowering myself into my chair from the ceiling, on thin cables.

          1. AB

            Mostly it just created a lot of bad blood and suspicion. You were always questioning people’s motives and they were always questioning yours. You couldn’t trust your coworkers with more than a hello, and even that might be contentious. People were constantly forming “alliances” and trying to undermine other people and throw them under the bus. I worked mostly with the Big Boss and the Mini Bosses would vacillate between trying to curry favor with me and trying to get me trouble to cajole me into telling them what I was doing for Big Boss.

              1. AB

                +100 to that. It really is! I never thought of it that way, but will have to tell my old co-workers. They’ll get a kick out of it.

      1. OP#5

        That would seriously stress me out. I am one of those people who is almost *too* transparent. Get no pleasure out of keeping secrets, though of course I understand the need for confidentiality in many situations. (like the one I’m currently in!)

    2. smallbutmighty

      My job is like this, too!

      There are a couple people who do this so often that I told them that in my role I need plausible deniability. I don’t want to know things through unofficial channels until the information is somewhat “baked” and it’s clear how and with whom it can be shared, and until I actually need to know it. I’m in a communications role, so this is actually true.

      So now when they start in, I put up my hand and say, “Plausible deniability!” They laugh at me for it, but it’s worked.

    3. Fiona

      Somewhat different from the OP’s situation, but management in my office loves to keep secrets. I think it’s a power trip thing. Ugh.

  14. Yup

    #5 – I understand that the CEO might want the *content* of the project to be kept confidential, but IMO the fact that you’re getting seconded for special projects shouldn’t be a secret from your boss. So it bugs me that he (the CEO) has repeatedly put you in this position — maybe unintentionally, but still. Is there any way for you to add on to Alison’s suggested wording and with the CEO come up with an agreed way for you talk about these projects with your boss? Just a simple phrase like “CEO has asked me to do 3 hours of analysis this week” — or “number crunching” or “desk research” or some other benign wording — so that you’re not in this position in the future? I might be making a mountain out of a molehill here, but the CEO’s regularly cutting your boss out of the loop rubs me the wrong way.

    1. Elle D

      I almost wonder if perhaps the OP only thought she had to hide the existence of the project entirely, whereas the CEO assumed she realized only the content was to be kept secret. I do think the CEO should have addressed how the confidentiality should be handled with the OP’s manager upfront, and possibly spoken to the OP’s manager as well, but this might just be a misunderstanding.

      1. OP#5

        CEO explicitly stated that I should not tell anyone I’m working on a project for him, so it’s not just content, but also the existence of the project itself.

    2. RB

      I worked for a CEO like that. He would regularly call my staff in to do a project, confidential or not, and keep me along with his VP out of the loop. It was just one of many of his dysfunctional leadership qualities. He would pull these stunts when we were in the midst of an audit and other compliance deadlines, as well. It ended up resulting in the mass exit of almost 40% of the employees last summer, including me and our CFO.

      Putting staff in this difficult situation makes me think this CEO probably has other poor qualities, as well.

    3. OP#5

      Thanks for the advice everyone and thanks for answering, Alison!

      The problem is that the content of this particular project could, in fact, affect my manager’s position/team. My manager knows that I occasionally head up projects directly for the CEO, but the fact that I do this is somewhat sensitive. My manager has expressed his frustration to me that CEO intentionally doesn’t keep him in the loop on these projects. It is a really awkward position for me to be put in, because the CEO has explicitly stated that he *doesn’t* want my manager (or anyone) to know that I’m working on these projects. The mere fact that I’m doing a project for CEO would imply that there will be some kind of restructuring or change, even though all I’m doing is the data analysis to see if some kind of restructuring makes sense, and making recommendations, not decisions. The organization is not only very resistant to change, but it’s easy to get a crazy rumor mill going, which is why the CEO doesn’t want it to get out that an idea is being considered before the data analysis portion (my work) has even been done to see if an idea is any good.

  15. Chocolate Teapot

    Exactly, it’s the data which needs to be kept confidential, rather than the fact the OP is working on it.

  16. IndieGir

    Slightly off topic, but this is the second time this week I’ve seen the term “C-level” used in a post. My google-fu has informed me that it applies to any Chief officer (CEO, CFO, etc) but I’m curious because I’d never heard that term before and now I’ve seen it twice in one week. Is it a new MBA/Corporate/Consultant-speak term, or am I just late to the party? I’ve always preferred the term “muckety-muck” when referring to the powers that be; I feel it puts them in the proper perspective.

    1. Brett

      It’s been around a long time. I think it may have originated as a government term where it means “cabinet level” (not just federal cabinet, but the cabinet of any elected executive) and has been adopted over to the private sector to mean Chief officer.

      1. RubyJackson

        Oh, like how government workers are called G-men? Cabinet members are C-level?

        It’s a bit confusing, considering in the entertainment industry A-list is the top, C-list is the bottom, and D-listed is the worst!

        1. Ms Enthusiasm

          I’ve usually heard “C-Suite”. And the way I’ve heard it is just a more general term for senior people or executives.

          1. Kara

            Yeah, I use C-suite and C-level interchangeably. I said C-level to someone recently and they didn’t know what I meant though.

    2. Elle D

      I think it’s definitely a “corporate” term – while I’m sure there are tons of people who have encountered the term in other capacities, I know I heard it in management class and never encountered it again until I got my current job at a commercial real estate firm. No one at my previous company ever said “C-level”.

    3. Positivity Boy

      Thank you! I feel like I’ve seen it 20 times on here recently and never before. I wondered if I missed something…glad I’m not the only one that noticed a weird uptick in its usage.

        1. Fiona

          I can’t quite put my finger on why, but the term C-Suite irritates the hell out of me.

    4. some1

      In my (huge) org, C-level means “AVP”, B-level is VP, and A-level is SVP or Chief Officer.

    5. Artemesia

      Oh the ‘C-suite’ is just pretentious B school jargon that puffed up officers of companies love as it makes them sound so special.

      1. De Minimis

        At OldJob, we’d see it more in our marketing/information materials, since those were the people who we had to convince to hire us.

    6. Colette

      At a large company I used to work for, C-level meant something different. Direct managers of non-manager employees were D-level, their managers were C-level, then it was directors, AVPs, etc. (I don’t know why there were only C & D). Every time I see C-level here, I have to mentally translate it so that I understand what’s going on.

    7. OP#5

      Wow, we don’t actually use these terms in my organizations (which is actually a government org) but I was translating it into corporate-speak for AAM. Very interesting to learn that C-level comes from “cabinet level” though!

      1. De Minimis

        I’ve always thought it odd that my government agency actually does use them. I guess the “CEO” title doesn’t necessarily have to be in the for-profit sphere, but it still seems funny to me.

        To make it even more confusing, we have Public Health Service officers in our facilities, and they all have military titles.

    8. Kit M.

      Thank you for bringing this up. I’ve encountered the term sporadically, and just automatically read it as meaning “lower level” — like C-list celebrities.

  17. BCW

    #2, I’m not from the South. I don’t personally have a problem with y’all in casual conversations, however I am kind of on your bosses side here. This is a more formal, business setting, so it calls for a more formal greeting. My non formal standard greeting is “Whats up”. I say that to friends and co-workers all the time. However in a business conversation with clients, I wouldn’t use that. I think its pretty much the same thing, nothing against Southerners, he just doesn’t want you using such an informal greeting.

    1. Joey

      That’s not really a good comparison though. Y’all can be quite formal and proper in the south. I think the closest northern equivalent is you guys. Although, it’s not quite the same since I imagine some females take offense to the masculine reference.

      1. Kelly L.

        I think female offense at “you guys” seems to occur when the person isn’t used to “you guys,” for example, if she’s from the south and is used to “y’all” as the plural and thinks the speaker really means “you males.” In my experience, women who grew up with “you guys” know it’s gender neutral. I’ll also add that it’s not used as much if the group is all women.

        1. fposte

          Might be an age thing, too–at my all-female Minnesotan camp, “you guys” was the standard group form of address.

        2. Ask a Manager Post author

          I actually didn’t know that “you guys” wasn’t in universal use until people started mentioning it here. And I’ve lived on both coasts and in the middle.

          1. Joey

            Definitely not in the south. Although I’m from Texas and I really don’t say y’all either. I have nothing to bak this up but I’ve always thought of it as a Deep South or small town thing.

            1. TL

              I noticed it was used a lot less in upscale San Antonio (where my university was) and in Austin, than the small town I grew up in.

              Mind you, I had some teachers from small town Hill Country and their accents were impressive.

              1. Joey

                This is just anecdotal, but I’ve seen it used less in urban areas with the exception of urban kickers.

                1. TL

                  My experience is that in urban areas in general (with the exception of inner-city type accents), especially as you move into the upper middle classes. you just hear much less regional accents,

                  Accents in Texas are very varied. Mine has the twang, but I also tend to use a lot of Spanish/Tex-Mex because I grew up so close to the border. Whereas my teachers from the Hill Country had much more pronounced drawl and heavier accents but almost no Spanish. And my friends who were Mexican-American or Latin@ had less of a drawl and more of a Tex-Mex, Spanish-based accent.

                2. De Minimis

                  I’ve had the same experience–it’s way less prevalent in the bigger cities here, although you do not have to go very far away to hear it.

                  Although I’ve only lived in one of the two major cities here, the other may be different since it is a lot more “cowboy” oriented to begin with.

          2. Jamie

            This is the only place I’ve seen women take issue with the phrase. IME it’s used all the time and guys is gender neutral – we even use it when the group is all women because it’s informal.

            What do you guys want for lunch? (to an audience of all women – no one offended)

            Substitute the word guys with:

            Women – oddly formal and off putting in a casual situation.

            Ladies – not everyone likes that.

            Girls – some people have big issues with this one.

            Gals – just ugh. I hate this word – it makes me feel like I should be wearing an cowboy hat or playing Bingo with a tight home perm.

            1. LeeD

              I’ve adopted “folks” as the alternative to guys. I thought at first that it might sound a little dated, but nobody has ever given me a funny look for it.

              1. Jamie

                That word is forever burned into my head in Bill O’Reilly’s voice as he argues with Jon Stewart.

                For people with fewer tv shows in their head it’s a good option.

            2. Joey

              Okay in officially confused. Referring to females as guys is gender neutral and preferred, but calling someone a jack of all trades or a lady is offensive. What’s wrong with ladies? I ocassionally write something like the following:

              Ladies and Gents,
              What do you want for lunch?

              1. Jamie

                I don’t personally care, but some women don’t like the word.

                In this context I can’t see it bothering me, but I don’t like being called the IT Lady, or being asked about the HR Lady, or that lady in the front office. So some women just bridle at ‘lady’ in general.

                I worked with someone once, who was entry level in the factory, who – when speaking to me – called me “Hey Lady…” or “Lady, the computer by blah is broken…” that’s the kind of context that rankles. It’s the tone. If you’re not Jerry Lewis you probably shouldn’t be yelling “hey Lady” at anyone.

                I would not find jack of all trades offensive – you don’t have to substitute Jill so I know I’m a woman. Trust me, my sense of that won’t be shaken by anyone’s word usage. :)

        3. Joey

          How’s it different though from referring both sexes as congressmen or businessmen or policemen

          1. fposte

            Linguistics, especially psycholinguistics isn’t always obviously logical :-). “Guy” didn’t come down the same way as “man,” though; “guy” was apparently less about gender than about freakish appearance, which seems to have been lost along the way even more firmly than gender association. Slang has also tended to have more slippage than formal language, and the whole “y’all/yinz/you guys” thing is part of the English language’s attempt to deal with being reduced to one kind of second-person address.

          2. Elsajeni

            It’s not! A fair number of people object to those, too, which is why you also hear “congresspeople” (or other phrasings to work around the “men” ending, like “members of Congress” or “senators and representatives”), “police officers,” “firefighters” instead of “firemen,” etc. — not necessarily in casual conversation, but certainly in formal or official contexts, where people want to avoid even the faintest appearance of sexism.

            1. Elsajeni

              Oh — durr, I just realized I think I was misreading Joey’s comment as “why would people object to ‘you guys’ if they don’t object to these,” when it’s actually the reverse. In which case, I think it’s the “casual conversation vs. formal/official speech” distinction that I mentioned at the end of my previous comment. Sorry, Joey, I am a doofus.

            2. Chinook

              I undersyand why some object to congressman or policeman, but I can’t help hearing my mother’s anger at why they had to go and change her title from “chairman” to “chair” just because she was female or the “alderbroad” who took similar offense when they insisted on change job titles from alderman to councillor just because she joined city council. Both of these women pointed out that they did the same jobs as the men before them and deserved the same titles (that and mother refused to be acknowledged as a piece of furniture)

          3. doreen

            Because to the people who use it , ” guys” and “men” don’t function the same way . Even way back in 70’s , “congressmen” or “policemen” required a minimum of one man in the group (similar to the noun forms in some languages) . A group composed entirely of women would be “congresswomen” or “policewomen” , but “guys ” can refer to any group regardless of the gender mix. It functions in the same way as “people”, not as “men”.

            1. Joey

              I get how they’re used it just doesn’t make sense that guys is acceptable while men isn’t.

              1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.

                It’s just how words work.

                “the guys”, as in “going out with the guys” = men

                “you guys” = gender neutral group

      2. The IT Manager

        Y’all can be quite formal and proper in the south.

        Really? Not in the part of the south I grew up in (which I acknowledge is not everywhere). But formal and proper – meaning it would be taught in school as grammatically correct? Because cannot picture that.

  18. Erik Hammarlund

    Re: Terrible Interviewer.

    I have gotten exceedingly good luck with a questioning tactic which also, for what it’s worth, works in a variety of other situations such as with rude salespeople. You can tailor it to your own situation and level of relative social standing.

    Choose one from each line, as appropriate.

    1 I’m sorry;
    2. (I think/apparently/it’s clear)
    3. (I have offended you / I have managed to annoy you somehow, / you are annoyed / you are angry)
    4. since you (seem to be acting / are / are unacceptably)
    5. (upset /hostile/aggressive/angry/rude) towards me.
    6. (I didn’t intend to offend you / I’m not sure what I’ve done / I know that I have done nothing)
    7. to (make you upset/deserve such behavior/justify your rudeness)
    8. so (can you tell me what I did so I can apologize / can I help in some way / I expect this to stop)
    9. thank you.

    The supplicant-interview model is

    I’m sorry; I think I may have offended you or managed to annoy you somehow, since you seem angry at me. I’m not sure what I’ve done to make you upset. Can you tell me what I did so I can apologize?

    The rude-salesperson model, at the other extreme, is

    I’m sorry; it seems you are angry since you are being unacceptably rude towards me. I know that I have done nothing to justify your rudeness so I expect this to stop. Thank you.

  19. Brett

    #1 Was the issue the wording of how they were talking to you, or their tone (volume and pitch, etc)?

    If it was specifically the tone of their voice, it could be another issue. I think it is bad form, but I have known companies to do phone screen on speaker phone or with people listening in on the line without telling the applicant. When they do this, it can cause all sorts of technical issues for the interviewer where they have to basically shout into the phone (especially if it is being recorded too), making the interviewer seem belligerent, angry, or rude.

    1. Ann O'Nemity

      This reminds me of a recent conference call. I thought one of the participants was extremely angry because he kept yelling at us. Turns out that he alone had a bad connection. He couldn’t hear us well so he kept raising his own voice until he was shouting.

    2. OP With The Terrible Interviewer

      I get what you mean and if it were just his volume, I would agree but his tone and words were themselves sarcastic and belittling. Things like asking questions, then repeating my answers back to me sarcastically as if to say, “THAT’s your answer? How pathetic!”

      Ever talked to someone who seemed determined that you were an idiot and that you deserved to be put in your place? It was that kind of interaction. From a complete stranger who’d never met me.

      If only I could convey tone of voice over the internet! It would make things so much easier to explain. Believe me, it was aggressive. I WISH it wasn’t.

      1. Brett

        Oh yeah, that is definitely more than a bad connection and inexcusable behavior even with just that small sample.

  20. Anonymous

    #5 I’ve been asked to work on items like this. I’ve always handled it by telling my boss that Guy In Charge has a project for me that I expect to take X hours a week.

    Beyond that he’s never asked me any questions. I’ve also told him, GIC has a project and I don’t have time to do all the other items can I put x project on hold. (And generally gotten support somehow with that.)

    Not saying this will work in every situation but if your boss is occasionally given tasks like this or if this is something that is common for this person to do you might find that it’s fairly old hat to your boss.

  21. Poohbear McGriddles

    “Y’all” is simply a contraction of “you all”. It can distinguish a singular you from a plural you when used correctly. If we are going to stop using that, we might as well also drop “you’re” and “they’re”. Come to think of it, maybe that’s not such a bad idea considering how often those are misspelled!

    “How y’all doing today?” is not a proper greeting in that it lacks a verb (are). Also, it should only be used when addressing more than one person.

    I’m curious if the OP’s boss is only opposed to this particular greeting, or the use of southern speech in general. Is she concerned that clients will worry they have accidentally called the KKK hotline or something?

    1. Joey

      I had a northern friend tell me that southern speak sounded uneducated, girly, and overly friendly bordering on creepy.

      Although this was a guy with a hard Jersey soprano-ish accent.

    2. Positivity Boy

      I don’t think it’s on the same level as “you’re” or “they’re” – “y’all” is definitely more informal and colloquial. The first two are used by all English speakers everywhere, “y’all” is rarely found outside southeastern US.

    3. Anonicorn

      If the office itself is multicultural and has the potential to serve multicultural customers, I’d actually agree with limiting all contractions, elisions, etc. because they can be more difficult for non-native speakers to understand.

    4. Bwmn

      As the OP mentioned that the boss was not from the US – depending on what country’s the boss is from and whether English is/isn’t a first language – there could be a wide variety of problems with the phrase not limited to those that are typical from a US understanding.

  22. Positivity Boy

    #4 – I totally agree with giving back the PTO people spent for the day the office closed, but I’d be hesitant about giving comp time to the people that came into the office on a snow day since it may be unfair to people who legitimately couldn’t get there. I’m walking distance from the train I take to work and a 15 minute drive from the office if the train is shut down, so except for extremely serious conditions I can always make it in. I have a coworker who has to drive about 20 minutes just to the train station, and when there’s a foot of unplowed snow covering his entire route to the train…there’s not really much he can do, short of chartering a helicopter to land on the roof of our building.

    1. Ask a Manager Post author

      Is it really unfair though? Those people got a day off; the people who worked when the office was closed and they didn’t have to should get something for working.

      1. Aunt Vixen

        If nothing else, it should be noted and remembered at performance-review time. (Assuming, of course, that it’s not a problem that they came to work when the office was closed. At my last job, when the place was closed, non-essential staff were not excused – we were required not to come in.)

      2. Positivity Boy

        It seems unfair to me for those people that might *want* to work on those days but physically can’t make it there. It’s not like it was a Saturday that the boss said anyone who came in for to help finish a project would get comp time for and I decided I’d rather stay home. In that situation, everyone has the same opportunity to put in extra effort and be rewarded for it. In the case of a snow storm, that’s not the case.

        I’ve written about 30 different versions of this comment and I can’t figure out how to articulate it exactly, but something about basing a reward on a criterion that may be completely out of someone’s control rubs me the wrong way.

        1. Ask a Manager Post author

          But that’s true all the time in the workplace — someone will get the opportunity to do X, but Joe can’t do it because he has to get his kids from child care, and so forth. Plus, this wasn’t even an opportunity, per se — the office was closed, but these people did work anyway. The answer would be the same if they worked from home — they should get some sort of credit for that work, which was above and beyond. (And if the office doesn’t want them doing that in the future, they should make that clear now.)

          1. Positivity Boy

            I guess I see your point. I think my view is tainted because I’ve always worked jobs where this stuff was not handled fairly or honestly. The attitude I’m used to is “You don’t have to come in today (wink, wink)” where you’re told the office is closed but what’s really meant is “You’re expected to be here unless you are physically unable.” I mean, we’re talking about people who docked me a sick day for not coming in on the day the FBI put Boston on lockdown while they were hunting the Marathon bombers (and they had told us not to come in if we didn’t feel safe).

          2. Ann O'Nemity

            Eh, I think a one-time comp would be okay if there was some confusion about the company policies. (And as I said below, you definitely should pay them because it’s the law.) However, I don’t think it’s a good idea to start regularly comping people who are disobeying the snow day closure without some formal clarification that it’s okay for employees to do so.

            It reminds me of folks who work unauthorized overtime against their manager’s wishes – yes, they must be paid for the time, but it also becomes a performance issue.

    2. Kylie

      I’m not seeing it that way…they were still at work, you were at home, regardless of whether you could make it in or not.

      1. Jamie

        Right. The people who couldn’t make it in got the day off that day and the ones who made it in get the day off later.

        That seems totally fair to me. Unless people were working remotely.

        And I’m totally in the camp of giving the PTO time back when the office closed. It’s good will and costs absolutely nothing.

        I know it’s not exactly the same, but I kind of look at it like if you were all ordering lunch and someone was collecting the money…then the boss said to put it on the company card as they are paying. The people who already put in their share still get the money back.

        I know there in an obligation there missing from the PTO situation, but honestly it costs nothing to be nice – why not?

        1. Colette

          Years ago when much of the Eastern part of North America lost power on a Thursday night, I was actually on vacation. I had taken the week off to do things around the house. Our office was shut Friday, as well as most of the next week.

          I was charged the vacation day for the Friday, but got the next 3 days off for free. (I didn’t actually ask for the vacation day back.)

          Long story short, I think how important it is to get that day back depends on what it was being used for. If I’ve taken the day off to run errands, losing it without being able to run the errands is really annoying. If I’ve taken it off because I’m out of the country on vacation, I don’t care that the office was closed.

          But since that’s logistically difficult and opens you up to allegations of abuse, it’s best to have a single policy.

          But yes, if people work the day that everyone else gets off, they should be compensated.

        2. Positivity Boy

          “The people who couldn’t make it in got the day off that day and the ones who made it in get the day off later.”

          I disagree that an unplanned, mandatory day off where I’m basically trapped in your house is comparable to a free vacation day that can be used whenever I want for any reason I want. I think that kind of policy works for a floating holiday, where everyone has the same opportunity to decide if they’d rather work to get an extra day they can use at their convenience or take the day off then, but it’s not the same for a day-of weather closure.

          1. fposte

            The problem is that there’s no real way to be fair to everybody in that situation. It’s not really fair to people who did haul themselves through the snow to work to treat them as if they were at home, either.

            1. Colette

              Agreed. If the people who made it to work don’t get a day in lieu, the next time there’s a weather issue, they may find themselves unable to make it in, too.

              1. Positivity Boy

                But what would be the problem with that? It doesn’t sound to me like anyone was expected to work. If you stay home next time the office is closed, so what? Isn’t that the meaning of “closed”?

                1. Jamie

                  Not always – sometimes you need someone there just not the full crew and it’s those who make it in who are making it easier for those who can’t.

                  Not a perfect example but in my case the weather gets bad enough to cancel work it’s bad enough that I have to be here to deal with the power company and phone service because for sure we lost both.

                  My husband has helped me dig out a 6 foot drift blocking the door so I could get in.

                  The guy who plows was there too. We sure as heck didn’t want or need more people there who can’t work and can’t park. But we had to be – it’s part of the job.

                  Hundreds of our co-workers are home snowed in while we’re at work trying to get communication restored and snow removed. We shouldn’t get a day on the books for that?

                  Sure, you are home not able to do much on a day you didn’t schedule and we can use ours when we like. But we also had to fight our way in through brutal weather and shovel just to get to the front door. You won’t have to do that when we take our comp day.

                  There is no equation where it’s perfectly fair or even – you just want to avoid screwing people and to do something nice if you can.

                2. Jamie

                  And ftr the day they stop comping me for days like that is the day I stop being such a damn good sport about it.

                3. Positivity Boy

                  Oh, in your situation I completely agree that you should be comped because you are specifically being asked to come in regardless of the difficulty of your situation in getting there, and it’s nice of the company to say “Sorry we made you work when we didn’t ask 99% of the people here to do the same”. But it doesn’t sound like that’s what happened in the OP’s situation – it sounds like they didn’t ask anyone to come in, and some people chose to anyway. It’s the difference between “We’re thanking you for doing something that probably kind of sucked for you” vs. “We didn’t ask you to do something and you did it anyway”. The second one could certainly be recognized in a performance review but giving out something as coveted as a vacation day seems like a big reward.

                4. Colette

                  People don’t generally fight the weather to make it in to work because it’s fun – they do it because there is work that they need to do that day. Maybe it’s building related (as Jamie says), but maybe it’s a big client call or some product development that’s on a tight deadline or something else that is time-critical.

                5. Jamie

                  Agreeing with Collette – my examples were a little too cut and dried, but if a business has power they may need a skeleton crew there to deal with any customer issues. So they need someone there to answer the phone and direct calls…if Tatum and Patrick who live within a mile and has 4WD can make it in they can grab the phones and keep balls in the air so the others who live further and have far more precarious commutes don’t have to worry about it.

                  They may not mind as they planned to work anyway, nice quiet office, and a comp day to use as they like is a nice perk.

                  If they always come in because they can, but they never get any extra time the resentment will build because when the weather gets like this they will be the ones working while everyone else can sleep in.

                  Now maybe instead of seeing working those days as a win win they start seeing themselves as the workhorses who work these extra days for no additional time when no one else has to.

                  So if they get the cold weather blues and call in those days because they resent this, someone has to slog in from further with a much worse commute.

                  I do agree if the office is officially closed and people are told not to come in and they do it anyway to get caught up – that’s on them. But usually if at all possible businesses don’t want to be fully closed – they want someone there to direct customer issues.

                  It’s not their fault everyone else lives so far away. It’s just a slippery slope when it comes to what’s fair and what isn’t.

                  On those days if I had someone who lived closer to cover my bad weather days I say give them a comp time and a statue erected in their honor if I don’t have to spend 4 hours driving 33 miles in. Which is not an exaggeration, sadly.

                6. Positivity Boy

                  I agree with both of you that if anyone is being asked to be in the office when it’s technically closed, they should be comped – whether it’s “Jane, you are the only person that knows how to operate the Teapot Database that has to be running every day so you have to come in” or “Jane, Mark and Bob, our non-movable pitch meeting for Project Mecha-Teapot is today and since Jane lives closest to the office, she should be the one to attend.” I’m only talking about situations where no one is being asked to work at all and people show up anyway, which is what I got from OP’s letter. I mean, I would certainly prefer to never put off any of my work for a day, but none of my job functions are so time-sensitive as to be essential. If I came in on a snow day because I personally wanted to stay caught up rather than because things would fall apart if I didn’t, I wouldn’t expect to be comped.

                7. Jamie

                  If I came in on a snow day because I personally wanted to stay caught up rather than because things would fall apart if I didn’t, I wouldn’t expect to be comped.

                  100% agreement.

                  It’s funny – I get comped working weekends and over holidays for things which cannot be done with users in the system. That’s fair, I don’t disrupt business by taking the system down during working hours and I get to recoup my time.

                  But I work most weekends just working on stuff – that’s not comped time. And this was misunderstood by someone at some point who thought it was a good way to bank extra time. Not so much – you can’t come in and do regular work on your off time and expect time for that – no one is asking you.

                  This is a point I reiterate the several times a year I do ask for volunteers on weekend or shut down projects…I make sure they know they are comped hour for hour, but that it’s because I’m asking them to come in.

                  Otherwise I’ll come in every Saturday and alphabetize my cds for 6 months and bank an extra month + of vacation time.

                8. fposte

                  I’ll add that it’s not uncommon for people to be caught in transit when the closing decision is made, so that it’s not like they struggled in against instructions–they just found out when it was too late to turn around.

            1. Jamie

              I was just about to comment on that – because I agree being trapped in my house would not be a vacation for you. But if you should find yourself in that situation and wanted to help with some laundry…

              1. Positivity Boy

                You’d better find a minister and a ring first, because the only way I’d voluntarily do someone else’s laundry is if we were married.

          2. Jamie

            I agree – there is no perfect correlation of fairness here, unless you were to take PTO days from everyone who didn’t make it in so those who did weren’t getting anything addition just keeping what they had.

            But people (including me) could argue against that.

            I just think in a situation that won’t be completely fair I’d rather err on the side of giving some people a little added benefit than taking anything from anyone.

            1. Positivity Boy

              I’d just say the door is open if you have work you want to get done, but no one is getting docked PTO for not coming in. I feel like that leaves politics out of it as much as possible and allows people to truly balance how much they need to be at the office that day vs. how difficult it will be to get there. Sure, you’ll probably get people that could make it to the office and choose to just take the free day off, but if you legitimately don’t need them to be working that day, so what?

    3. LauraG

      I think, though, that if you reward people for coming in when the office was closed, you’re going to set a bad precedent. Then you’ll have everyone thinking that they need to come in even though you told them not to. It’s like the office that tells everyone the hours are 9-5, but you’re secretly punished for not staying until 6.

      I think I might give the comp time, but do so quietly. I’d also let everyone know when the office is closed, you really don’t expect people to come in anyways.

  23. The IT Manager

    LW#2 – You’re boss was a jerk to passively address the problem that way. Perhaps he just wanted to avoid an ackward conversation, but he avoid having to speak to you directly about the problem in a way that speaks to bad management.

    Your boss handled it badly, but his request is legitimate especially because I get the feeling you may be laying on the accent and southerisms a bit thick because you said I’ve always held great pride in being a southern belle, and have tried my best to maintain that.

    I’ve always found the way southerners speak to be comforting, Please keep in mind you find it comforting because it sounds like home, but many other people esepcially in New York won’t find a southern accent comforting. They may find it to be all kinds of things both positive and negative – quant, charming, grmmatically incorrect, dumb – but the use of “y’all” doesn’t really stand out as professional. There’s nothing wrong with your boss asking you to sound more professional.

    1. Career Counselorette

      As a native New Yorker, I had the exact same reaction you did. It’s not even the fact that southern accents could sound quaint or stupid or whatever- when you’re dealing with client/customer services, the service provider should not be privileging her own comfort over that of the client. I’m always rubbed the wrong way by anyone who goes out of their way to be “nice” but isn’t able to grasp nuances of client service, like meeting the customer where they’re at, using simple enough language, etc.

      1. annie

        When I call a customer support line and I get someone with an obvious accent from outside my area, I always brace myself because that usually means that they’ve outsourced the customer support and I’m unlikely to get the best service because they are not on the ground here to see what the problem is. For example, I’ve sometimes had to explain a recent thunderstorm to customer service reps in the South as a reason for why my cable or internet might be out – but 90% of the time, they don’t have any idea what I’m talking about and can’t tell me if maybe that lightening strike is really what’s causing the outage. This is obviously a bias that I have which might be unfair, but it is based in actual experience.

        Plus, this does not even get into the personal feelings people might have about American companies outsourcing jobs to other countries, or even other states.

        1. Career Counselorette

          I’m not sure what #2 does for work, but I was actually thinking of it in terms of my organization (which is a community-based non-profit), and how our clients and managers might react to someone like this, who values her comfort and maintenance of her identity over the people she’s serving. I pride myself on being a very articulate and well-spoken person, but when my supervisor told me that I needed to use simpler language because the majority of our client base has a 7th-grade reading level, I didn’t flounce around like it was some insult to my intelligence.

          1. Jamie

            I understand the logic behind this, but I hate this and it will never fail to frustrate me.

            In an emergency, sure – use very basic language.

            But in most other instances why are we setting the bar this low? People improve their communication skills by communicating with others. If those others are deliberately speaking at a level so far below what should be the norm where is the behavior modeling and exposure that helps people improve?

            I love learning new words, when someone here uses a word I haven’t heard before (usually fposte :)) I get excited. I look it up and learn it and and now it’s mine, too.

            I would never learn another new word if people deliberately spoke to me using only basic words already in my vocabulary.

            To needlessly limit people’s exposure to higher usage levels of English just seems so condescending and insulting to them.

            I try to know my audience when speaking because most people will not interrupt and ask for clarification if they don’t know a word, but I don’t dumb it down. I watch faces and if there is confusion I rephrase and add clarity organically as I’m speaking.

            In email – people mock my writing style sometimes, but you know what? Anyone reading it on a work computer has access to the internet and dictionary.com. I’m not using any words you can’t look up – so I’m not going insult people by writing differently to them than I would to someone else. I’m not channeling Sir Walter Scott – if they have to look up a word or two isn’t that better than my putting them on some kind of second tier ranking when I communicate.

            ESL aside, because that makes sense to make things a little more basic. But I had a native speaker who was illiterate and I was helping him fill out an insurance form, at a temp job many, many years ago. He didn’t know what residence meant, okay so I clarified and said “where you live.” Now he knows what residence means. If I had skipped it and immediately simplified it to “where you live” maybe he wouldn’t.

            I know you were doing as you were instructed and my sadness and ire isn’t at you Career Counselorette…I just don’t know who these policies are helping.

            1. Career Counselorette

              We do talk to people for the most part the way you did with your customer- if they are confused about anything we say, we’ll always pare it down and make it simpler so that they do understand it. But since that discussion with my supervisor I have definitely adjusted my style so that my clients will paraphrase what I’m saying, or I’ll try to incorporate more of the vocabulary they actually use, and I have noticed a difference in the way they receive my feedback and internalize what they’re learning. The clients we serve have multiple barriers to employment and many are coming in frustrated and self-conscious, so we have to be careful that we’re not saying anything to exacerbate that, even unwittingly. (In my case, it’s also important because I don’t look like many of my clients, and some of them have certain assumptions about me right away that gives them reason to be wary of me. Having awareness of my own privilege and checking it accordingly is really critical, and the vocabulary piece is part of it.)

              I’m put off by #2 because she’s doing what SHE thinks would be best based on what she’s comfortable with, without an awareness of what might make the most sense for the customer or for the company/geographical culture instead.

  24. LenaA

    OP #5 –

    When I read this I thought of the character Felicity Smoak from Green Arrow. :-)

  25. The IT Manager

    A question for AAM commenters … were you rubbed the wrong way by the use of the descriptor “southern belle”?

    I was. (1) My more neutral problem. Why did the LW feel the need to point out she was a woman? Southerner or southern like Alison used in the letter header is shorter and doesn’t call out the LW’s gender which is irrelevant to the question.

    (2) Less rational complaint. “Southern Belle” really calls to mind Scarlett O’Hara, big hoop dresses, slavery and racism, cotillions, and wealthy people trying to keep that way of life alive. Does LW really want to be associated with all that? Plus in my head “Southern Belle” is someone all appearance no substance; a woman who looks pretty on her husband’s arm, but doesn’t have a job except to manage the servants in the house.

    I am a southern woman (although part a slightly different cultural subset of southern) and I was a tomboy so I was never enamored of playing dress up. But the use of Southern Belle really gives me a negative impression of the LW. I know that much of my reaction is not entirely rational, but I am wondering if I am the only one.

    1. fposte

      I suspect a fellow southerner might do more reading of the term than somebody from another region–it didn’t jar my Midwestern self the same way. I don’t dismiss your reading–it’s not a completely neutral term–but I think it’s also a pretty common shorthand that doesn’t have to carry all that.

    2. JustKatie

      I was just about to comment that that expression bothered me! Glad I’m not the only one. To my (Chicago born-and-bred) mind, it smacks of privilege and really just seems anachronistic.

    3. cajun2core

      I am a southern male. It didn’t bother me but I can understand why it might bother you. My wife has her PhD and while she has all of the graces and mannerism of a southern belle, she would never call herself that because to her it would be enforcing stereo-types of the south that you mentioned. To her, it would make her seem less respectable.

    4. Elkay

      European here with no real knowledge of the North/South divide in the US but that really stood out to me. It makes the letter writer sound affected and demanding of special recognition of her geographical background (to the extent that it feels like the next part of the question might be “Is it legal? I think I’m being discriminated against”).

    5. Laura

      The term bothered me for the same reasons as you – I thought it was just me! The only exposure I have to the term “Southern Belle” is Scarlett O’Hara, so that felt more problematic to me than the term y’all, even though I agree that y’all sounds more informal to me.

    6. Jamie

      I just think of the term as shorthand for a southern woman with charm and manners. It doesn’t carry any loaded or negative baggage for me.

      FWIW the image that immediately sprang to mind on reading the term was that the OP probably has beautifully cared for hair, smiles most of the time, and puts a priority on presenting herself well.

      And that she probably knows a thing or two about what makes a good sweet tea.

        1. Jamie

          You are correct! And if you ask my gramma a little bit of fresh mint – but I don’t agree.

    7. Delurking

      When I hear the term ‘Southern belle,’ I immediately think of Blanche Deveroux! Not sure if that’s an image one wants to be associated with in the workplace.

    8. Joey

      Yeah, it brings to mind looks, manners, classism, a low awareness of diversity, and traditional roles. I think chalk it up to growing up in a bubble.

      1. Mints

        This is how it sounds to me too. It’s a more positive version of “valley girl” (and a different region, obviously)

    9. Colette

      I’m not American, but it stood out to me, too. I think it boiled down, for me, to trying to remain “not like all those other people I live & work with”.

  26. The Wall of Creativity

    #2: I’m with Einstein on this one:
    “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.”

  27. Carolyn

    I’m from the South as well, and I don’t even know what I’d use instead of saying y’all.

    1. Artemesia

      I am a pacific northwesterner who spent my career in the south and now live in a northern city — I find you’all a very useful term and more graceful than ‘you guys’ which still has that taint of being a male reference. So I have kept it in my vocabulary now that I am in the north; I don’t have other vestiges of a southern accent.

      Of course if I worked somewhere, where my boss didn’t want that to be the face of the company I wouldn’t use it. But I do think it fills a useful niche in the language — a generic plural greeting that is not gender specific. ‘You’ is the alternative as it is also a plural as well as a singular, but it doesn’t seem to work as well that way as y’all.

  28. A Jane

    #1 – My first hostile interview phone interview was with a non-profit program manager for a volunteer leadership position. I learned after the fact that the interviewer was hostile to all of the applicants and wanted to stress test everyone! He was even purposefully late to the interview for some of the applicants. Definitely a jerk, and and we were glad when he left the organization the following year.

    1. JustKatie

      The only way I can see this being useful (and it’s a real stretch) is if the position itself is very stressful and involves regularly being confronted with angry people. Doesn’t seem to align with any of the volunteer positions I’ve held. Yikes.

    2. OP With The Terrible Interviewer

      That’s awful! Maybe it’s just me but in my experience, people work so much better in a supportive environment with people who enable their success rather than try to tear them down. I just don’t get why someone would want to act like a jerk. What do they gain? An ego boost?

    3. Artemesia

      Stress test was just his way of rationalizing the power trip of a jerk. Too bad his manager didn’t deal with that long before he left.

    4. Stevie Wonders

      I’ve had several phone or in-person interviews like this, where the interviewer treated me like I was unforgivably presumptuous applying to a job for which they deemed me to be so obviously unqualified. Couldn’t understand why I was interviewed if they thought I was so worthless. Being naive, I didn’t cut it short, not that it lasted long anyway. Today I would make a hastier exit.

  29. Ann O'Nemity

    #4

    For the folks who had scheduled PTO, give them back the time. It’s a small price to pay for raising company morale. Employees remember these things.

    For the folks who worked against the company’s wishes, pay them for the time (because it’s the law). This would also be a good time to remind those employees that company policy dictates that employees do not work on snow days, and future non-compliance will result in [appropriate performance coaching, write-up, etc].

  30. Izzy LeighGal

    To OP # 2:

    Bless Your Heart, darling. (I mean that the nice way, not the b***h eating crackers way.)

    I’m a Southern Belle myself, born, raised and living in Texas. I often travel for work, and in places like Vegas, Reno, San Fran and Chicago, when people ask where I’m from, they don’t believe me when I say Texas since I don’t have a traditional southern accent. But, I say “y’all” a lot.

    Like others have noted, in my experience, customers often find it charming, sweet and comforting. I agree with Alison that bringing it up to your boss is not worth it. However, it’s part of who you are, so I wouldn’t let that go.

    In a similar vein, I love speaking with customers who have more northern accents, so it goes both ways.

    Good luck in NYC!

    1. Jamie

      In a similar vein, I love speaking with customers who have more northern accents, so it goes both ways.

      Then why do you Texans (see, y’all would have come in handy here if I could have used it) insist on making fun of us for talking too fast on conference calls? And playfully mocking my lack of football acumen? :)

    2. TL

      I just moved out of Texas and people keep on asking me where my accent is and scolding me for being polite. :)

      1. Joey

        I used to get this all the time in the hospitality industry. Where are you from, you don’t have a Texas accent? Do people think that we all drive pickups and wear boots too?

    3. Artemesia

      I’m not sure ‘bless your heart’ is ever nice. Even when it is sympathetic and not a synonym for ‘@#$# you’, it is condescending. It is the sort of thing used in reference to a 5 year old who has wet her pants or to acknowledge some other inept moment.

  31. BettyD

    OP #2- Enh, I am a Southerner who makes liberal use of not only y’all but the phrase “how y’all doing?” and I can kind of see the boss’s point. (Not that s/he should have called you out specifically.)

    In the library where I work, I’d use that phrase face to face as a way to foster a sense of welcome, specifically because it IS rather informal. But I wouldn’t begin a phone conversation like that, nor would I use it during an interaction where the level of formality is higher. I might still use y’all because it’s ingrained in my vocabulary, but not “how y’all doing?”

    In other news- I love how many non-Southerners love the y’all! It’s a perfectly sensible answer to the you singular, you plural issue. Though, as a pet peeve I see frequently, it’s spelled “y’all” NOT “ya’ll.” Apostrophes take the place of missing letters, y’all.

  32. Tasha

    I have thought for a couple hours about what bothers me about #2, and I think it’s this line from the OP: “I’ve always held great pride in being a southern belle.” Depending on how this pride is conveyed in the workplace, this could be part of what’s driving the boss’ desire to tamp down on the southern greetings. Northerners, with some specific exceptions (e.g., some New Englanders), don’t really do the “proud” of where I’m from thing, especially if it comes with disdain for those who hail from elsewhere. “Proud” of where you happened to be born is just weird.

  33. liz

    #2

    in all my training for customer-facing jobs, i was always instructed to speak to customers professionally, and “you guys” was NEVER appropriate. ya’ll, yinz, yous, all of yous, and yous guys are all in the same category. “you all” “all of you” “your group” “your party” etc are all much more appropriate in a professional setting- fact.

    i am sure said boss would be fine with the use of ya’ll in an informal setting, and if not that’s their problem (i, like most, find its use absolutely charming and warm). to be honest, though, i am more concerned with the fact that this has offended someone at all- which makes me wonder: southern belle or delusional debutante?

    1. Career Counselorette

      I also can’t help but notice that OP #2 had to draw attention to the fact that she works in a “multicultural” office and she was the only one spoken to. Having a heavily accented voice because you grew up speaking an entirely different language is very different from deliberately over-southerning and saying “y’all” and “all y’all” because you think it’s charming and imagine that other people will as well.

  34. Katie

    At my last job my boss pointed out to me my tendency to say, “You guys” to clients on the phone, and challenged me to work on that. I originally protested, joking about it being common California vernacular (we’re in California, and 99% of our clients were Californian). Nonetheless, I made a conscious effort to curb my use of that phrase and succeeded. I have to admit I felt more professional and am thankful now for his pointing it out to me.

  35. Chris

    #2: When in Rome. Honestly, that’s the best answer I can give.

    I’m from rural Ohio, where there are a lot of southern aphorisms and dialect patterns, and I find it incredibly grating in a professional context. To my ear, a lot of the cloying sweetness of “southern charm” sounds completely fake, covering up the real emotions involved (e.g.: “Bless your heart”). The accent is fine, and I don’t want people to be hostile or anything, but I want to feel a sincere connection to the person I’m talking to, even in a retail environment, and I DO NOT feel that when people call me honey, or pumpkin, or anything like that. Of course that’s just my ear, and totally my perception of things. But that’s the point, regardless of how you mean things, you have to look at how you are perceived by others.

    Of course it’s fine in the south. It’s a southern thing! If I were in Alabama, I wouldn’t think twice about it. But you are in NYC. When I was in London, I quickly adopted the local slang and pronunciations of various words. I wasn’t abandoning my heritage, or attempting to affect an English accent, I was adapting so that I could be understood quickly and easily by the people I spoke to. If I insisted on using Americanisms that no one understood, or found to be inappropriate, I would have been met by confusion and discomfort, at the very least.

    So… just don’t say y’all. I curse constantly in my private speech, but I’ve never ever cursed to a customer or colleague (depending on the relationship with the colleague). Put on your “business words” hat when you’re in a business situation, and say whatever you want the rest of the time.

    1. Career Counselorette

      This is how I feel about it as well. I see right through overt attempts to win customers over with terms of endearment and small talk. I’ll never forget when my boyfriend and I went to a certain fondue restaurant in Atlantic City where the servers have to set up the fondue pot for you, and while our waitress was setting up ours, she was literally like, “So, where are you guys from? Wow, New York… you know, I think it was Frank Sinatra who once said, ‘If you can make there, you can make it anywhere.’ I’d love to live in New York. I always wanted to get out there and get into the arts scene-” and the two of us were like SERIOUSLY CAN YOU JUST LET US EAT THE DAMN FONDUE AND LEAVE.

  36. Chris

    I do have sympathy about being called out on it publicly, though. I suppose the manager thought they were being more diplomatic by making it general than coming straight to you, but it ended up being the opposite.

  37. Developer in Amsterdam

    #2 You mentioned that your manager is from abroad. Perhaps she did not mean to offend you and this is normal in her culture.

    As example: I started working at a Dutch company ons Monday and on Teusday they had a meeting in which they showed us ways not to complete a project… using real examples form peoples work. Since this is a 20 person company, every one knew who each of the examples belonged to.

    Suprisingly one was offended that their work was singled out to showcase errors. It’s just the Dutch way of getting down to bussiness and saying things the way they are. If your not used to it, it seems rude.

  38. Former Professional Computer Geek

    Late, but: I had a hostile phone interview once. The VP of a large company interviewed me over the phone for a senior position with a new branch of the company. He thought I was a perfect fit, but asked if I’d do an interview with one of their “technical screeners” to make sure I knew my stuff. I said yes.

    The technical interviewer’s tone went back and forth between snotty and outright belittling, and the questions were either absurdly simple (which was met with surprise that I knew the answer) or impossibly hard (and when I said, “I don’t know but here is where I would find the information,” I was told, “Any idiot should know this!”). After, I talked with colleagues who all agreed the questions were insane.

    The VP sent email a few days later to say they’d gone with another candidate. It was very kind of him to contact me, and while upset, I thought no more of it.

    A year or so later, at a conference, I met some recruiters for the same company. One of them encouraged me to apply, telling me I was perfect for the company. I laughed and started telling the above story. After a moment, the recruiter called to the others in the room, and I told my story to the 5-6 of them. By the end they were all silent, and one said, “Was the technical person’s a guy named [Name]?” I said yes.

    It turned out that this guy was one of a few who did technical screening, and he did 2-5 a week. After over TWO YEARS, someone finally figured out that he marked every single female candidate as ‘technically incompetent – do not hire.’ Even worse, it wasn’t his boss who figured it out.

    The company went under about a year after that.

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