can I ask my staff to be nicer, beauty routines during class, and more

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

1. Can I ask my staff to be nicer?

I’m a new director at a medium-sized nonprofit that has gone through a hard year. There have been many staff changes in the past year, and I can tell that many within the organization are still struggling to negotiate these changes. Two supervisors who report to me are very unfriendly to me. They give one-word responses most of the time. They don’t say hi or bye unless I really go out of my way. They never ever ask how I’m doing or anything like that, even though I try to initiate pleasantries with them. I don’t think it’s personal — I think they just are not in the habit of cultivating a positive relationship with a superior. Their lack of warmth rarely offends me, but I do think it sends a bad message to the other people in the department for whom they should be setting an example because they’re supervisors.

Can I ask them to be nicer and more mindful of the way they communicate? I will also continue to lead by example by being very friendly and communicating thoroughly. I have never encountered people at any stage of my career who behave with such a lack of awareness for how they interact with their superiors. I think niceness is really important and it’s not about kissing ass or feeling popular; it’s about laying the foundation for productive conversations and a free exchange of ideas. I don’t mean to imply that I would threaten to give them a negative review, but they really need to be aware of the fact that how they communicate, whether they are open with me, and the example they set for their reports are all things that I could consider in a performance review. Would this come across as petty or needy?

Well, the real issue isn’t about pleasantries; it’s that they’re operating in a way that isn’t consistent with the kind of culture you want, and I bet it goes well beyond basic pleasantries. If they’re this chilly with you, I find it hard to imagine that they’re keeping you in the loop on work, using you as a resource, cultivating a sense of positive sense of energy and mission with their staffs, and I’d focus more on that stuff. (Because really, if they were doing that stuff well, the rest of this wouldn’t be an issue … if it were happening at all, which it probably wouldn’t be.)

One next step might be to take them out to lunch (individually) and try to get to know them better — but I’d also stay alert to the possibility that they’re not operating the way you want managers to operate on a whole RANGE of things, and that you might need people in those roles who are better equipped to work in a partnership with you. (Before you conclude that, I’d have a direct conversation with them about how you want the relationship to work — again, focusing on substance more than the hi/bye stuff — and give them a chance to meet those expectations. But it’s really possible that they’re just not ideal for their roles, or that they’ve been so damaged by the hard year you reference that they might not be able to move on from it in the way you need.)

2. Should you use a headline on your resume?

I am an employment and training case manager, and I end up assisting many clients in writing resumes. I recently attended a “Resume Basics” workshop, in which the presenter stressed creating a Headline Statement at the top of the resume, under contact information. Samples of this would be:
“Medical Assistant”
“Experienced Nurse”

No more than 5 or 6 words, and then after the statement would be the person’s profile/summary and the rest of the resume.

I don’t not include headlines on the resumes I assist clients with. Should I? Or is this an outdated practice? Normally I highlight whatever experience they have in the summary of qualifications and core skills, if applicable.

There’s no faster way than these headline statements to flag for me that someone used a professional resume writer, since no one else uses them.

No, there’s no need to do this. It’s unnecessary and a little gimmicky, and I wish people would stop trying to muck with the basic resume format, which serves hiring managers’ needs just fine as it is. (I think professional resume writers must feel they need to invent things like this to continue selling their services to clients, but you should ignore it.)

3. How do I politely decline a vendor’s offer?

A few weeks ago, a vendor emailed the director of my department a sales pitch for a software service. The director forwarded the email to me and asked me to evaluate. I did a 20-minute phone meeting and their service was pretty interesting, so I scheduled a follow-up meeting including the director, the head of my team, and two of our technical gurus to get their input. The tech guys listened to the pitch and are confident they can build us the same technology in-house without additional expenditures. Thus, we won’t be signing up with the vendor.

I’m never sure what to say to the vendor in situations like this. Earlier in my career, I’m embarrassed to admit sometimes I just stopped answering their emails or calls (and it often tooks weeks or even months for them to stop calling). Nowadays my professionalism is more important to me and I know I need to be up-front but tactful about declining. What’s the professional norm here? Do I tell him why we’re declining, like, “We’ve decided to build our own version of this tool and so we won’t need your service?” Or do I just say something vague, “We’ve decided to explore other options at this time,” or “We’ve decided not to pursue your service at this time”? Would either offend him? What do other people do when they are saying no to a salesperson who has invested a good chunk of time in pursuing their business?

You can be vague (“We’ve decided it’s not for us at this time”) or specific (“We’ve realized we can create this in-house and prefer that option”). Vague can sometimes be better, because specifics can open the door for the vendor to still try to sell you (for instance, in this example, offering to lower the price or telling you why an in-house system won’t be as robust, or whatever). But the main point is to realize that you’re the one in control here — they don’t have the power to take up any more of your time than you want them to, so there’s no reason not to simply be direct about what you are and aren’t interested in. It’s also fine to firmly say, “Please don’t contact us again about this” if a more polite no is being ignored.

4. Beauty routines during class

I’m a high school teacher who recently stumbled on your blog. Teaching high school juniors is a mess all by itself, but what disturbs me most is some of the habits that I see my students getting into, especially the young ladies. They will repeatedly put on makeup in the middle of the class late in the morning (one and a half hours after the day has started), and one of my female students even brings a curling iron and tries to do her hair during group-time.

It’s my opinion that beauty routines should be done either before school or during our short lunch, and this is because I believe it’s unprofessional (and rude) to do it during class. Even though my students are 16-17, I want them to get into good habits because some of them will be working their way through college. How would doing hair/makeup on company time be treated in the corporate world?

You’re right that it’s unprofessional and would reflect poorly on them in most offices. It’s almost just plain rude, according to basic etiquette. You should have no qualms about telling your students that your class isn’t the place to groom themselves and that you expect their focus to be on classwork while they’re there.

5. My request for time off from six months ago wasn’t approved

I put in a request for time off (not vacation or PTO) in November for 5 days in May. We do not have request off forms in our binder, as our manager never restocks them, so we use binder paper or text messeges. I was not told anything by my manager until a week and a half before my scheduled vacation that I was denied because those days were blacked out due to due a yearly Memorial Day sale. Okay, fine. Why wasn’t I told about this months in advance before I started making my arrangements for flight and hotel rooms? And now that I have complained to her, she has gotten rude (especially after finding out that I was seeking other employment) and scheduled me all closing shifts even though mornings are when more tips can made. Am I being unreasonable or should she have gotten to me sooner about demying me my request off?

Of course she should have responded to you sooner, but you also should have followed up when you hadn’t heard anything back, and especially before making flight arrangements. (Also, for what it’s worth, I wouldn’t use text messages for that kind of thing; it’s too easily overlooked and there’s no record.)

{ 402 comments… read them below }

    1. Stephanie*

      Ahhhhhh, OMG. I love her look of disbelief.

      When I still relaxed my hair, I flat ironed it all the time. I have no clue how I still have any hair left.

      1. Audiophile*

        Somehow I’ve never seen this video. The look on her face is priceless.
        I was always afraid of this happening when I had my hair relaxed and flat ironed. It was bad enough getting burned.

        1. Stephanie*

          On the tips of the ears and the forehead? I probably still have some scar tissue on the tips of my ears. My mom would always be like “Ooooh, let me get this tiny bit of hair behind your ear….ooof, sorry honey! I’ll get the aloe vera!”

          Or the damned Marcel irons. Those things looked like (and were) torture devices.

        2. Karyn*

          Ohhhh yes. When I used to flat iron, worst burn I got was when I was trying to do the back of my hair and accidentally burned my inner arm (trying to hold a section of hair and blindly flat iron behind your head is a BAD idea, folks…). I had to wrap it in an ace bandage for a week while it healed, and when people would ask how I got hurt, I would say, “Zombie bite.”

          1. Stephanie*

            Oh I blindly flat ironed the back of my head. I had a bob, so it was the shortest back there. I definitely dropped the flat iron on the back of my neck a few times and had bruises and/or burns there.

            1. Bea W*

              This is why I don’t own anything other than a blow dryer. I’d me covered in burn scars. I do not have manual dexterity for this stuff. I’m always amazed at people who do.

        3. Chloe*

          Once when I was straightening my hair, I put the flat iron down on my chair to go get something. When I came back, I sat down without thinking. I was wearing shorts.

    2. Elizabeth West*

      OMG what did she have that curling iron set on? Surface of the sun?

      The worst that’s ever happened to me was that I burned the crap out of my ear.

    3. louise*

      Ha! I then had to watch one of the suggested videos where Ellen interviews the girl. Funny.

  1. Artemesia*

    Wow. Verbal behavior is behavior. If you had a child who was snotty would you pretend it was nothing because they weren’t throwing things? Supervisors who are disrespectful towards their managers and who are unpleasant in their communication are exhibiting BEHAVIOR that needs to change. Not only should such people be subject to possible bad reviews for this, they ought to be fired if they don’t shape up.

    It is perfectly reasonable for management to want employs to be pleasant to each other and respectful of authority. Doing otherwise once feedback is given is insubordination. Being ‘chilly’ to a superior is unacceptable and should result in being fired if not responsible to feedback.

    1. Hugh*

      Sometimes it’s not rude, but different. Lots of people aren’t chatty or effusive. Yes, you should manage a hello and/or goodbye – how are you? But many people- in all aspects of life- make this hard- as they turn conversations, especially supervisor/subordinate, into sparing matches. I had one supervisior who was offended by an employee merely disagreeing with him over say favorite ice cream or TV show. Everything had to be their way….. Work is not friendship, I think this where folks get confused.

      1. Snarkus Ariellius*

        This is precisely what I came here to say.  And here’s why it bugs me: those “niceties” aren’t important to the work environment.  They’re just not.  We’d like to think they are because it feeds into this pollyanna idea everyone gets along all at work.

        Guess what?  We don’t and that’s okay.

        I worked for someone who had similar complaints.  But never once were the *whys* of the lack of “how are yas” examined by this person.  It was an office culture full of bullying, paranoia, and unpredictable rants from that SAME person.  

        Me saying “How are you” isn’t going to fix the major problems.  The fact that LW is fixated on that, rather than root causes or a deeper understanding of dynamics, is the bigger problem.

        Criticizing the deck chairs on the Titanic here.

          1. Bea W*

            I didn’t get that at all. Relaying one example of a crappy experience != bitter.

      2. Bea W*

        Pretty much. Some people just prefer to and default to not expending energy on idle chatter. Some people hardly talk at all. They’re not purposely being rude or cold. I have to think very deliberately to engage in the whole “hello how are you blah blah” nicety exchange. It just does not come or feel natural to me, and it’s uncomfortable particularly when I’m working and just want to get to business. It’s not that I don’t care. I’m just focused on work and sidetracking into a chatty social thing is highly distracting and if I’ve connected with you to talk work it takes mental effort and time to get my head back together.

        There are also times where I’m just not paying attention, and I may totally not register the passing “hello…” I had one coworker stop and point this out to me more than once, and the first time I explained I had never caught her passing in the hall greetings that I wasn’t being rude that my head is often in my work or some thought that I totally miss when people do this. After that any mentiom of it just annoyed me. Seriously, as much as I try to remember “niceties” I totally have inattentive type adhd and my brain has its own agenda. On top of that my temperement has always been very quiet. I tend towards introversions, and all of those things combined means it feels like it takes a ridiculous amount of energy to talk. I don’t even like using voice commands over the phone. I hate those systems. It’s much easier for me to press buttons to tell the robovoice what I want. Talking drains my battery. People who obnoxiously keep pointing it out after having a conversation about it or tease me (without being a super trusted close friend) just irritate me and discourage me from wanting to bother. Let it go. Not every one even agrees “niceties” are necessarily polite or meaningful.

        It could be these two workers are cold, rude, or just don’t like the OP or are unconfortable making chitchat with a supervisor or people in authority, or being “quiet types”. I wouldn’t immediately write them off as rude and negative without approaching them about it first.

      3. KrisL*

        It’s hard to tell whether the OP’s complaints about pleasantries are a symptom of a bigger problem or if the OP is just working with people who don’t talk much. Not everyone feels compelled to ask others how they are.

    2. Bea W*

      Are you saying just being “chilly” is grounds for firing? What if the person is an otherwise great employee performing well? Does it really make business sense to cut someone loose on account they’re just not chatty enough (unless it’s their job to be chatty)?

  2. CanadianWriter*

    #5 – Based on the day off binder, tips, and text messaging, I’m assuming you’re working retail/hospitality? Asking for days off is a guaranteed way to end up working those days.

    Next time you want to go on holiday, don’t tell your boss what your plans are. Wait until the schedule gets posted, and then ask your coworkers to switch shifts with you; bribe them if necessary.

    I don’t believe the story about blackout days. If you go in to work on those days, I guarantee you that at least a couple of people got that day off, without even asking for it.

    1. Canadamber*

      My manager’s actually pretty good about that; I got two weeks off in July approved, and I am fairly confident that I can get another four days off during a different part of the summer as well. (Then again, I only work 2 or 3 times a week.)

      However, a lot of managers aren’t quite as accommodating.

      1. AdAgencyChick*

        I was going to say — it’s been a while since I worked retail, but when I did, my manager was pretty nice about my few vacation requests.

        To OP #5 — this is why I’d never put down money on anything nonrefundable unless you have confirmation from your boss that your time off request has been granted.

        1. Amberleaf le Haunt*

          Yeah, exactly! I need relatively few days off, usually, but I’ve had to ask for quite a lot of time off recently, and so far I’ve gotten all of it. My manager’s also quite protective of her cashiers and everyone loves her, so. I’ve gotten in trouble a few times but she’s always handled it amazingly. Like Sunflower said, managers who ignore time off requests are a symptom of a toxic workplace.

        2. Elysian*

          Indeed. Even now, I work in an office environment and we almost always get our vacation requests approved. But I won’t buy a flight until I have my manager’s “OK” email in hand, just in case.

    2. Sunflower*

      Did you work somewhere the managers did that? Ifmanagers were rejecting requests and then letting people off who hadn’t asked for it, that is signs of a toxic environment and not the norm.. People do get off because even on the busiest days of the year, the business probably still doesn’t need every staff member. I requested off a few blackout days at my restaurant job and got the majority of them unless someone asked off before me. I explained to my manager if it was an important event- like a wedding and they were accommodating.

      Still request off and then try to to switch with coworkers. If you asked for that day off, your manager isn’t going to be shocked if you are trying to get people to take your shifts.

      1. Elsajeni*

        Yeah, “you can’t ask for this whole period off” isn’t the same as “everyone will be working every day during this period.” (I had a retail coworker who asked for the two weeks leading up to Christmas off, and was shocked when she didn’t get it — “They told me the only days everyone had to work were Black Friday and Saturday!”) I will say, though, that it’s bad management not to let your employees know about blackout periods before they put in time-off requests for them, and a manager who operates that way shouldn’t be surprised if it breeds suspicion about whether those days are really blacked out for everyone.

    3. H. Vane*

      I had a boss once who rejected my time off request, even though she knew it was so I could go to my sister’s wedding.

      I went anyway.

        1. H. Vane*

          Nope. I had asked eight months in advance, and it wasn’t like it was a black out date. I just called out sick.

          If I had gotten fired, I honestly don’t think it would have been much of a loss. It was not the best job by any means.

    4. Barista*

      I work more in food service/retail than in hospitality. And I would try to switch, but turnover is extremely high. In the eight months that I have worked here, 10 people have left.

  3. Another Teacher*

    #4 – She curls her hair during class?! 0_o Completely inappropriate. First time I catch these girls doing this it’s a verbal warning, second time it’s some kind of creative punishment, like giving a public speech in class on the modern socially perpetuated notions of beauty.

    1. Elysian*

      I was always fond of confiscating whatever the awful thing is they’re doing and making their parents come pick it up. If I saw a curling iron it would end up in my desk and she’d have to explain to her parents why she was trying to curl her hair in class before she got the thing back. I worked with younger kids though, so I don’t know how well that approach would work with older ones.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      god bless high school teachers, is all I can say. Just the thought of this makes me want to scream. I thought it was bad enough when I was a teaching assistant in grad school and the kids would roll in wearing their going-out clothes from the night before (ick) or pajamas. Ackk. I don’t have the patience for high school at all – I’d be gone after a day. And junior high kids should be sent to siberia for all three years – we were just pure evil at that age.

      1. Callie*

        My experience with middle schoolers is not only are they not doing beauty routines in class, but they aren’t even doing basic hygiene. :P My daughter is in middle school and we just took a field trip to a jazz festival (with the band)–all the parents were chatting one night of the trip about how none of their kids ever want to shower! I have to remind my daughter about deodorant, tooth brushing, face washing, showering, etc EVERY DAY.

    3. GigglyPuff*

      Nice…that is the one thing I don’t miss about being in school. I’m a very low maintenance person, so when someone would break out the body lotion or spray, my nose would burn so bad from that stuff.

      One of the best things one of my teachers did, senior year in high school, was have a professional come in and talk about appropriate interview/work dress and habits, (and she was a woman, so it was nice learning about things like what kinds of jewelry would be appropriate versus not for interviews, make-up, etc), so if you could find someone like that to come speak to them, it would probably be a huge help.

    4. Muriel Heslop*

      I used to assign a paper on “How to Apply Eyeshadow” or a critical analysis of “She Walks in Beauty”. Bonus points if they were written in eyeliner pencil.

    5. louise*

      Senior year of high school, I used to be late to 1st period almost everyday. Once there, I’d ask for a hall pass. I’d then finish my hair and make up in the bathroom. In hindsight, I’m as mystified by this behavior as you are. I can’t tell you what I was thinking or why the teacher let me do this. 13+ years later, I still run late for things, but I try to be invisible when it happens now.

      1. Jamie*

        In high school few things rival the importance of hair and what we look like. By far it was my my highest priority and certainly trumped getting to class on time.

        If I had to maintain that kind of vigilance on my look throughout adulthood I’d have died of exhaustion years ago.

        1. Ruffingit*

          If I had to maintain that kind of vigilance on my look throughout adulthood I’d have died of exhaustion years ago.

          AMEN. I just can’t be bothered with that level of maintenance at this point in my life. It’s just too hard.

      2. Anonsie*

        You do dumb stuff when you’re a teenager because your brain still hasn’t figured out how to make you act like a normal human yet. ESPECIALLY at school, which is a weird zone between worlds with its own weird rules.

        It always grates on me a little (and did when I was a kid, too) when people tried to connect a kid’s behavior at school to how they would behave at work. Those are different spaces with different levels of propriety and even for mushy teenager brains that’s a pretty easy to understand concept. You don’t talk the same way around your friends and you grandparents, and all that.

    6. Mints*

      Yeah, by your response, I don’t think kids are attempting grooming in your class (probably waiting for the lax teacher’s class). I remember saying things like “oh you’re lucky you have Mr. Jones after lunch so you can eat”
      It totally depends on the teacher’s classroom management

  4. Editor*

    No, students shouldn’t be doing their personal care business in class. In my brief experience as a substitute teacher, telling a popular girl with long hair not to comb her hair in class resulted in a lot of mean-girl retaliation.

    Controlling this should have begun the first time it happened. It’s pretty late in the school year to change your classroom management in a way that some students will see as “unfair.” Some students will also tell you that lunch is too short or the bathrooms too disgusting so they “have” to do this stuff in class.

    Two possible solutions are a later start to school and universal classroom behavior rules. Research has shown teens do better in high school when classes start around 9 a.m. instead of at 7:30 or 8 a.m. I support changing high school schedules, and I think adults who get up early who state teens need to get up early should focus more on educational outcomes and less on work schedules. The teens will grow older and more able to adapt to early schedules.

    Second, in the workplace I’m opposed to a lot of issuance of rules in order to control inappropriate behavior in one or two people. In high school, I think controlling personal grooming during the day needs to be a clearly stated policy that all the teachers buy into and that parents and students are aware of before school starts in the fall. The policy has to be consistently enforced. If your school is a dysfunctional mess when it comes to consistent discipline, then the best you can do is to start the year with an information sheet on proper classroom behavior and enforce it consistently all the time with every student, no matter how popular or athletically gifted or smart-mouthed. I sure hope your principal isn’t a wuss or an appeaser.

    1. Stephanie*

      My high school started at 7:30: the official reason was so the district could stagger school start times for the buses. It was rough. I had orchestra first period. During competition season, our director had us arrive at 7 to get in extra rehearsal time. That was even worse.

      I remember feeling like I was never fully alert until my second period class. As an adult, I can be somewhere by 7:30, no problem, so your point makes sense.

      1. Callie*

        The last district I taught in, the ELEMENTARY schools started at 7:30, middle at 8:00, and high school at 8:30. As a teacher I hated it, but as a mom, my elementary school kid was much easier to get up in those days than she is now in middle school. Where we live now, the middle school starts at 9:00! But she has jazz band before school, which is at 8:00. It is such a trial to get her up and moving. :P

      2. Cassie*

        My high school started at 7:40, unless you had zero period which started at 6:55am. Luckily, I lived just on the other side of the school so I didn’t have to get up way earlier. It was not fun having to go to dance class at 6:55am, in the winter, when it was still dark outside. Just because the wrestling team needed the room after school…

    2. Hummingbird*

      I agree that it is very late in the school year to start addressing this…unless this is a new habit from the girl. Nonetheless, whether the first time you saw her do was in September or just last week, you should have nipped it in the bud at that moment. You can be held accountable if she burns herself. Plus, even if she’s the most experienced person using a curling iron, how do you explain your classroom management to the principal if s/he walks down the hall and sees that happening during class time on your watch?

      And trust me, I hate that argument because you really would think the students would have enough common sense to not be doing anything but schoolwork. You have to make the student accountable before someone can make you accountable.

      Sometimes girls like to get to class and use the time before the late bell to sit and fix their make-up or brush their hair. That to me is not too bothersome because usually they do not have enough time to go use the restroom for that or, as it is in some schools, the bathrooms are locked during the change of class minutes.

        1. Diet Coke Addict*

          I’m having a hard time even imagining how that would happen–were the doors lockable on some kind of master all-at-once system? Did teachers pop out a minute beforehand to lock the bathroom nearest to them? Was there a dedicated staff bathroom locker and unlocker for passing periods? In my high school we had 45 minute classes and 5 minute passing periods, in a big rambling building with about twenty bathrooms–what even are the logistics there? And WHEN are the students supposed to USE the bathroom? These are all serious questions!

          1. Brittany*

            When I was in high school they weren’t locked during class changes, but they was only one bathroom unlocked during class time and it was by the main office (I didn’t go to a big high school, so it wasn’t a bad walk from the other end of the school). During the class changes, each restroom had an assigned teacher monitor and they locked them after the bell rang.

              1. Shortie*

                I wish my high school would have done this. Too often the bathrooms were used as the perfect place to attack other students between classes because nobody was watching. For four years, I went 9-10 hours per day without using the restroom and also skipped breakfast and lunch so that holding it would hurt less.

              2. Hummingbird*

                Exactly. When I was student teaching, my cooperating teacher at first allowed me to skip hall duty, and he would do it so I could have extra prep time. However, another teacher realized he was doing it and not me, and she raised a question about it. He then told me I had to do it, and I had to prove myself in doing the “other duties as assigned” bit.

                And then on another occasion, I was substituting in a local high school when there was a mix up of sub assignments. They had no place to put me! So, until they figured it out, they gave me the bathroom key and told me which bathroom to sit outside of and monitor the students going in and out. Basically, I was being paid by the my board of education to monitor the bathrooms! Of course I wouldn’t do it without pay, but what a way to spend taxpayers’ money!

        2. Neeta (RO)*

          So students could only use them during class? That seems very weird to me. When I was in school, students were heavily discouraged from asking the teacher to let them use the bathroom during class. Not that you wouldn’t be allowed to go, only it was expected for you to be able to control yourself for the the duration of class.

          1. Adam*

            Same here. Your breaks between classes were expressly FOR using the bathroom, eating, and all those various things that you weren’t supposed to do in class. How big is this school where locking bathrooms between periods seemed like a good idea?

            1. Bea W*

              We had 3 minutes between classes, barely enough time to stop at your locker to get something. People carried all their books for the day with them and just hustled between classrooms. The bathrooms were never locked, but there was no time to stop in except at lunch.

          2. Chinook*

            And the teacher’s expectation of you being able to time your bathroom breaks for the time between classes are based on the fact that they have to do the same thing and count themselves lucky if they have that minute between classes to use the bathroom (because there is nothing more awkward than a teacher looking a teen in the eye and saying “you need to ask me that question later because I had too much coffee and I won’t get another break until after class.”)

            The worst part of teaching (even worse than unreasonable parents) was supervision between breaks or at lunch hour. I had a schedule where one day I had 5 minutes total where I wasn’t suppose to be watching students and that included time to eat my lunch, answer student questions and prep for my different classes (sometimes in different buildings that were a 5 minute walk apart). It got to a point where I just had to trust the teens not to maim each other while unsupervised and hope that no adult walked in while I ran to the bathroom.

        3. Jen RO*

          Maybe I’m missing something here, but why would this happen? Isn’t it better if students finish their business (toilet, make-up, whatever) when they are *not* supposed to be in class, learning?

        4. Amy B.*

          In the past few years schools have had to start locking* bathrooms during class change (passing periods) for several reasons but a few are: slap-fights (which are often filmed and posted on YouTube and draw large crowds); students purposely stuffing a myriad of items in the toilet to overflow them; and vandalism for the sake of vandalism (bashing towel holders or hand dryers, removing sink handles, etc.). Apparently this is “cool” behavior.

          Respect for other’s property and most especially community property has suffered a major decline amongst our youth.

          *”Locking” the restroom is sometimes accomplished by a teacher being posted in front of the entrance.

          1. Adam*

            So were students allowed to go in and the teacher would wait and make sure they weren’t spending too much time in there? Seems ripe for trouble if you’re a student experiencing problems of a medical nature that day. It kinda blows my mind that most of these kids are a year or two away from being legal adults but their bathroom time needs to be policed.

            1. Amy B.*

              Instead of having to deal with the headache of it all and tracking and watching the schools just decided the students could only go during class. There are cameras in the hallways so if damage is done, there are fewer suspects and fewer fights break out.

          2. Bea W*

            Those are all the things kids did 25 years ago too, minus posting things to YouTube of course. It’s not new. You didn’t mention smoking though. That was the #1 prohibited behavior going on in bathrooms during breaks. Mostly it was cigarrettes, but sometimes it was other stuff.

        5. Callie*

          Vandalism, gangs…. all kinds of reasons. It’s a place where students are unsupervised, so things happen. (I don’t agree with it; I’m just giving a few reasons.)

        6. Hummingbird*

          Yup. I student-taught and subbed in two different high schools (in separate towns, although neighboring towns) in which the bathrooms were locked. They want each student accounted for at all times and not in the bathroom smoking, doing drugs, or worse. And then during class time, there is usually a teacher on “bathroom duty” who sits at a desk in te hallway, monitoring who goes and out; students must have a pass and sign a sheet. It’s a sad and harsh reality.

    3. Sunflower*

      While it would be nice to start later, it just can’t happen. Schools start at different times in order for the buses to be able to pick everyone up. If elementary schools started earliest, it would be harder for parents to be home when their child is done school and the people who babysit after school(high schoolers) would still be in school and not able to do it.

      High schools also need to start earlier because of after school activities. I started school at 7:30am and played sports everyday after that didn’t end until around 5:15-5:30pm. If we started later I don’t know when I would have had time to do homework or have a life. I don’t see how starting later affects beauty routines. Regardless of whether your makeup goes on at 6 or 9am, it’s going to need to be touched up a certain amount of time later.

      There does need to be a firm policy on this. When I was in high school, unlimited text was unheard of so cell phones had only started becoming an issue but there was a firm policy if you spoke on them during school, the phone went to the office and you got it back at the end of the day. If a similar policy was in place for makeup/beauty irons, I think it would stop right away

      1. Natalie*

        “While it would be nice to start later, it just can’t happen. Schools start at different times in order for the buses to be able to pick everyone up.”

        That’s simply not true – you could employ more buses. That may be politically untenable as it requires increasing the budget, but let’s not confuse that with somehow being inherently impossible.

        In cities with public transit, you can give the high school students unlimited bus passes. They just started doing this in Minneapolis and despite my general aversion to large groups of teenagers on my bus, I’m in favor of it. Prior to converting high school students to public transit, the district had cut after school buses, making extracurricular activities more difficult for students whose parents can’t pick them up from school or afford to give them their own bus pass.

        1. Zed*

          I live in a big city, and I have never attended a school where people rode school buses to get there. Elementary school was a neighborhood school, so most people walked. In high school, just about everyone I knew took public transportation (either bus or subway). You could get discounted or free transit passes at school.

        2. Kelly O*

          I don’t mean this to sound the way it’s going to sound, but are you familiar at all with public education and funding?

          “Just get more buses, it’s a budgeting issue” is about as simple as saying “yes there are too many kids in most classrooms, let’s build bigger buildings and hire more teachers.”

          And let’s not forget, we’re talking about teenagers here. I was the dork who just got up early and spent a disproportionate amount of time getting ready (and most of my classmates were too) but still. And we still reapplied makeup, brushed hair, lotioned up and all that between classes and at the first part of class. Mind you, the curling iron is bridge too far, but that could be rectified easier than the whole “grooming” question.

          1. Natalie*

            Yes, that’s exactly why I acknowledged it’s politically untenable. To borrow a phrase from Mallory Archer – “can’t? or won’t?”

            There’s a difference, and I think it’s worth exploring. It’s the exact reason my city started putting teenagers on the city bus – they thought a bit beyond “we can’t get additional funding for school buses, suck it up teenagers” and came up with a solution that, from what I understand, has been successful and is fairly popular.

    4. AGirlCalledFriday*

      Teacher here…personally I think that it was a mistake to call out a student for this type of behavior in class. Remember that this is a volatile time for teenagers, girls in particular, and many of them are very insecure about their appearance. Embarrassing a student during class is probably not the way to go. I completely agree that this is the type of thing that should be spelled out on the first day, and enforced by all teachers.

      Students, especially high school students, are all about politics and power. Adults should be guiding teens, but should above all maintain an attitude of respect towards them, just as you would respect any fellow human being. Students are acutely aware of such things, and when they feel disrespected or embarrassed, they lack the skills to navigate such emotions and often end up lashing out in some way.

      1. Rayner*

        I disagree about the ‘not calling people out in class’.

        It’s not okay for this to carry on, and everybody needs to see that. Although they are teenage girls, they’re not immune to reprimands or reminders of common rules in public because ‘they might be insecure’. Doing it one on one creates a laborious precedence, and it makes it shameful and secretive that the teacher has to discipline them. It weakens her position if she can’t say, “Abby, put the lipstick away” right then and there.

        The OP should come up with a way to address it that’s firm, and doesn’t go into shaming behaviour (“you’re not pretty/only *bad girls* do make up like that,” etc, but they should call it out, effectively and as an authority figure.

        These girls are sixteen, seventeen. They’re old enough to be taught that doing their make up in a classroom is not appropriate, and if they haven’t figured it out by now, they need to be called on it.

        1. AGirlCalledFriday*

          Actually, calling a student out during class has the tendency to weaken a teacher’s position.

          If you reprimand a student during class, besides wasting valuable class time, you’ve just embarrassed that child in front of other students. That student may become hostile or argue, which wastes more time, another student may try to defend or even tease that student, which again wastes more class time. The student in question may feel threatened, and every student in that class will draw away from the teacher, in an effort to not be noticed and similarly embarrassed.

          When individual students misbehave, it is best to discuss it with them out of class or walk past unobtrusively and quietly state your request, then walk away. Verbal corrections should not be done across the classroom for all to hear.

          With your example – while I was in high school, my friend was putting on lipstick and the teacher used exactly the phrasing in your example. My friend was extremely embarrassed because everyone, including a crush, turned to look at her. She was teased outside of class. She never did it again, and neither did any other girl, but every single girl in that class hated that teacher for the rest of the year. I don’t believe it was worth it for the teacher.

          1. Rayner*

            I’m not sure if I’m reading this correctly, as tone and intent is hard to read across the internet, but it feels like you’re overreacting to the possibility that other girls might shame the one told off.

            School is by it’s very nature an environment where gossip thrives. Being told off is big news, and it travels fast. But it equally dies away quickly, and people forget. Although the girl in question might be embarrassed by being told to put the lipstick away, she was behaving inappropriately in class. Addressing it openly is perfectly legitimate as a solution because it’s in a public space, with others looking on who will see what the reaction is. It is something that should be addressed.

            I feel like you certainly could tackle it in the way you suggested, and for some teachers it might work.

            For many of my teachers, though, upfront was the way they tackled things. Up to and include the time I was caught writing stories in class on a school laptop. She told me “that’s not work, so put it away,” (without describing it further, I should add), and I did. Embarrassing, yes. Horrible, extremely, because at sixteen, I was a goodie two shoes. But it wasn’t the end of the world, and it also made it clear to my classmates that what I was doing wasn’t appropriate and had to be stopped.

            By the time school started again the next morning, it was gone. Just a word in class said by a teacher. And, to be honest, after school/lunch time chats were more embarrassing than having it addressed in class because it meant your crime was ‘serious’ as opposed to ‘in the moment.’

            A bigger discussion with all the class about work place professionalism is a good idea, but behaviours should be stopped in the moment if they are negative – that was always the POV of my teachers (and me, now).

            Of course, drawing it out is something to be avoided but… just saying, “Put it away, Abby” isn’t life threatening or completely socially debilitating. If it is, those girls have bigger problems than a curt word from a teacher.

          2. Callie*

            Very experienced teacher here, and I agree with you. I would not call her out and embarrass her in class; however, I would address it after class, one on one, and tell her it has to stop. If she continues the behavior, then I feel it’s appropriate to call her out publicly, as you’ve already given her an opportunity to correct it.

            (And unfortunately, there may be an issue in the student’s home life where she is not allowed to or doesn’t feel safe doing these things at home–talking to her privately may allow her to open up to you about it and you can work out an alternative. I know of school nurses or coaches who have come to school early to open up the nurses’s offce or the locker room so a child can take care of personal grooming at school when they can’t at home.)

      2. Eden*

        My high school teachers certainly didn’t have any trouble calling students out for inappropriate classroom behavior! I was usually the one whispering with another student, and “Eden, do you have something you’d like to share with the class?” was enough to shame me into shutting up. Embarrassing as they were, I did not resent these corrections at all; I knew what the standard for behavior was. (This was back when kids’ actions had consequences, though.)

        I have a friend who is a long-time high school teacher, and I am continually gobsmacked by what kids get away with in the name of making sure everyone feels ‘respected.’ Treating people with respect does not encompass allowing students to use hot dangerous implements in the classroom, IMO. And the idea that a little embarrassment will be fatal to kids’ self esteem seems like a gross overcorrection to me.

      3. Schnauz*

        I don’t think the Op is trying to shame the student, but like any disruptive or inappropriate behaviour, you have to “call them out” on it. Saying, “Sally, now is not the time, please put your makeup/curling iron away.” is in no way shaming her. She may be embarrassed and if the teacher hasn’t addressed it before she’s likely to find it “unfair” at this date, but it’s not shaming. Just like if someone is whispering in the back of the room, or making jokes (too inappropriate or too long on a tangent) – you have to rein it in. It’s call classroom discipline. It shouldn’t matter if it’s still passing period, but once class starts it should stop. If she wants to do more than ask her to put it away, then she should definitely speak to the student(s) privately. Taking several minutes to talk about this in class could then move into a shaming or humiliating zone and that’s not okay.

        1. AGirlCalledFriday*

          Personally, if I had been the teacher in question, I would have walked over, taken the curling iron, quietly tell the student to meet me after class, and then carry on with the lesson as if everything was fine. Then I would have discussed the situation with the student after school, taking away the need to get defensive with me or argue. Yeah, it would still be embarrassing but the situation would be contained. If this was a larger issue with more than one student, I would take a minute to discuss it as a class issue immediately, and spell out the consequences for violating the new rule.

          Discipline is extremely important, but just as important is HOW you attempt to discipline. Respecting a student is NOT failing to discipline. It’s merely disciplining in a way that doesn’t create more issues for the teacher later on. I am well aware that many adults have memories of teachers being more direct with them, but times have changed and students and parents are not the same. You do not get similar results.

          Think of it this way – if you adjusted yourself in a meeting, and your boss said, “So and So, can you please stop touching your hair/scratching your nose/fidgeting with your nails/etc?” it would likely be embarrassing. I’m sure most of us would appreciate being spoken to individually. Why should students be treated any differently?

          1. C Average*

            Why do you think times have changed with regard to being direct with students? I’m curious to hear your thoughts on this. I’m also curious where you teach and at what grade/age level.

            I had a lot of teachers who were very direct, but delivered their message with kindness and humor. I’ve seen my stepdaughter’s teachers (she’s in middle school) use the same approach. It seemed fine. Teenage girls are sensitive, sure, but they’re not delicate flowers who must be protected from all uncomfortable truths.

            Not trying to be confrontational here. I’m genuinely interested in why you think things are different now than they were in the past.

            1. Rayner*

              I’m interested too, because I don’t consider myself that long out of school (under the decade mark, and I left at sixteen), and I remember my teachers being more than happy to enforce rules like this openly and (quite) loudly.

              I’m considering going in for my certification to teach, so maybe things have changed :P

              1. Jamie*

                I’m curious, too. I wonder if it has to do with a culture shift where more parents are willing to argue on behalf of their kid for things like this?

                My anecdata is not universal and I’m 100 years old, but I can’t tell you how many compacts I lost to teachers confiscating them. Not to mention how many passed notes they intercepted and read – I’m a smart girl so you’d think I’d have learned to stop bitching about them before the millionth passed note since I’m not very stealthy – but alas the hubris and invincibility of teenage me.

                My mom had a philosophy about school and issues that she backed up: She will always assume the school is correct unless we are willing to go with her to meet with the teacher (or dean, or vice-principal, whomever) and address the problem. If we were willing to face our accusers with her and defend ourselves she would shift the benefit of the doubt to us. And she’d schedule the meeting. (trust but verify)

                And she was really clear, if we were lying and made her look like an fool in front of them we’d really wish we’d taken whatever the initial consequences were because we might not see a Friday night outside the house until we were middle-aged.

                It did help keep us honest, and kept her from having to hear whining about Mr. or Ms. so and so and how it wasn’t our fault. Because at least for us when faced with making a case for how we were completely innocent and wrongly accused, when we weren’t, was enough to get us to suck it up.

                Once though, my brother got in school detention for starting a fight that he did not start and was livid. There was a fight, but he wasn’t the instigator and was fueled rage about the injustice.

                The detention was already over and done with, but he wanted an apology. My mom went around with him and he wasn’t moving on this – so they went to the school and the teacher stuck to their story so he demanded it be escalated to the dean.

                And it was. And suddenly it changed from ‘he absolutely started it’ to ‘it was very chaotic and it was hard to tell who did what, but he should have gotten a teacher rather than joining in’ to ‘well, there’s really no way to know for sure, so I’m sorry if you believe you were wrongly accused.’

                He never got his apology, by my mom believed him, and it became one of my favorite stories because my brother was such a bad ass back then and really just not afraid of anything.

                My mom’s biggest question was why my brother, who as a high school freshman was barely 5′ tall and 90 some lbs had a fight not flight response when a much bigger kid attacks. She never did understand that part of us… :)

                1. Rayner*

                  I’m from the UK, not American (also, not a 100 years old :P), so I can’t comment on American culture outside of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, etc, but I dunno why this mentality is coming in and it feels a little too… soft.

                  I mean, yes, of course, students have to be respected and treated as people, not peons. There should be no “I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m big and you’re small, and there’s nothing you can do about it” message in there, but I feel like school is supposed to set rules and boundaries, and enforce them effectively, rather than worrying about ‘gossip’ or ‘shame’ as much.

                  And sometimes, that means addressing things in front of students, and not shying away from being forthright about it. (A la AAM, really.)

                  I posted my own story up a bit about being addressed for writing stories in class, but I don’t feel mentally scarred by the experience. It’s just a part of growing up, learning that you will get called out for bad behaviours, and sometimes, it’ll be in front of people who you want to approve or validate you. But the fault is yours – your bad behaviour – not the reprimand itself.

                  LOL, maybe we should send children to an AAM based school. They’d at least have great career advice!

              2. Chinook*

                I think the biggest difference is not the teachers but the parents. There seems to have been a shift from the parents backing the teacher to the parents backing the student. When it comes to well-behaved kids and somethign that is out of character, I can understand a parent’s initial skepticism, especially when they have experienced teachers who abused their authority in the past. But, too often, the kids who cause the most problems are seen as being “well-behaved” by their parents who don’t believe that tehir child is capable of misbehaviour because they never do it at home (at which point I usually note that, at home, they don’t have an audience of other teens surrounding them).

                For example, I had one student who threw a desk across the room and got suspended for a day, missing a test. But, upon reviewing the case to meet with his parent, the principal realized that he should have, as per a signed behaviour agreement, given a 3 day suspension because the student had already done something similair. Due to the miss timing, the student would miss a test in my room that he could have taken if we had pusnished him correctly (and a missed test due to suspension was a zero). I fofered to let the sttudent take it at a later date. Parent and principal argued greatly over this. I talked to the student while they argued and he admitted fault, acknowledged the trigger for his anger, admitted he knew we should have given him the 3 days and, when I asked if he would show up the retest, admitted he wouldn’t but that I was fair in offering it to him. The parent left angry that we had wrongfully punihed his son whereas teh student and I left on better terms (and he later give me the best paper ever which earned him 98% (due to obvious spelling mistakes), which he had never earned before in any class).

          2. Rayner*

            Also, your example here is a little different to the one in the letter. It would definitely be off for a boss to bring scratching your nose or fiddling with nails up in the meeting (unless it was horribly distracting or excessive), but they would definitely be entitled to point out that using hair curling irons or taking out your mascara in the middle of a meeting is highly inappropriate, and to return to the topic of discussion post haste.

          3. Schnauz*

            I don’t think your approach is wrong – because I think we’re thinking of two different things when you say “calling them out.” I consider any action at the moment, in front of other students, as some level of “calling them out.” I was assuming you meant to do any and all correction in private.

            I don’t think your example is quite equitable. If an adult is in a meeting and constantly fidgeting or their fidgets were disruptive, then I would absolutely address it (briefly) during the meeting. If they were occassionally tapping a foot, no. Just like if a student were to (quickly) re-do their ponytail or something like that – not disruptive really and not what I consider a grooming routine.

            And I agree – you MUST treat people, adult and pre-adult people, with respect. I just don’t think it’s disrespectful, especially as the authority figure in the room, to enforce classroom discipline by asking a student to stop a disruptive behaviour.

            1. C Average*

              I went to law school for a year and will never forget something one of my professors did to a classmate.

              The expectation was that you’d arrive ready to discuss the assigned cases every day, no exception. The expectation was also that the professor would call on a random person and expect him or her to be able to talk about the assigned reading in detail.

              One day a classmate, generally a very good student, got called on and answered, “I’m sorry, professor, but I didn’t do the reading.” This had literally never happened before; presumably everyone either did the reading or BSed well enough to pretend they had.

              The professor said, “Oh, that’s OK. We’ll just wait while you read the case.” The class then sat in silence for 15 minutes while this poor dude read the case.

              The worst part was that all of us who knew the guy knew that he hadn’t read the case because his wife had given birth the night before and he’d been at the hospital with her–probably the best excuse ever for not reading the case, but he didn’t try to use it.

              1. Stephanie*


                This happened in an English class in college. A student didn’t do the reading and admitted that when called on. Our professor was like “Ha, please. You’re smart. When I was your age in class, we just eventually bullsh*tted our way to the right answer. Or we talked extensively about the one chapter we did actually read.”

              2. Chinook*

                “The worst part was that all of us who knew the guy knew that he hadn’t read the case because his wife had given birth the night before and he’d been at the hospital with her–probably the best excuse ever for not reading the case, but he didn’t try to use it.”

                He was probably too embarrassed to use it but there was nothign stopping a classmate speaking up in his defense. A classmate told me about a teacher who was complaining about the Mon & Tues I missed after graduation. He quickly shut up when they pointed out I was at a family funeral. I never would have mentioned it as an excuse (because it seems lame and fake when you use it yourself) but I sure am glad someone else did.

                1. AGirlCalledFriday*

                  I’m not suggesting that any and all correcting be done in private – ideally a teacher has set up rules, and has a system to alert a student that they have broken a rule without much classroom disruption or going into what the infraction actually was. It only takes a minute to say, “Sandra, change your card to yellow”, or “Mike, you’ve broken rule 2 and you’ve lost a point” and answer any questions with – “You can ask me about it after class.” You can even just look at the student and make a mark – the student gets it. In this case, I think extra sensitivity is called for though, because this is related to appearance, and girls especially are very touchy about it at this age. However, the difference I’m talking about is “Sarah, I need you to pay attention here” verses “Sarah, put that curling iron away and don’t come back to class with it again!” One of these is a correction but a vague one, and the other is more likely to embarrass. Or, if the student is in a small group, just walk over to the group and say, “Sarah, I need you to put that away now.” and walk away.

          4. Bea W*

            When I read “adjusting yourself” I thought you meant some other specific activities that I would hope adults would refrain from in meetings.

  5. Christine*

    #3 – If the proposed service was actually of value to your company, and it’s not something you would have done or thought of without your vendor’s sales pitch, I would try to find a way to thank them for the contribution even if you can’t give them the business. In my organization, regular vendors have cost savings/project goals to meet annually, and in a situation like this I’d calculcate the financial benefit of the in-house version of the service and give the vendor credit for it, if it was their idea, just as if we’d implemented the program they proposed. If I was unable to do this, and it was unlikely that they’d find out we implemented an in-house version of the same thing, I probably wouldn’t tell them that’s what we’re doing.

    1. Beti*

      “it’s not something you would have done or thought of without your vendor’s sales pitch”

      That stood out to me, too. It does seem a tad shady to me that they are taking the vendor’s company’s idea and doing their own version. Isn’t that something along the lines of intellectual property theft?

      1. OP #3*

        The tool is one we actually already had an in-house version of, and they offered one that (during my initial meeting with the vendor) seemed more sophisticated. But as soon as the IT guys saw the product demo, they were like, “Oh, we can do that, why didn’t you ask?

        (Basically, we have some code on our website that interacts and collects data about visitors who are 1) in our database and 2) already cookied. The vendor’s solution that used Javascript instead of cookies to scrape information they type on the page but don’t submit, thus allowing them to reach people who aren’t cookied or in our database. This kind of Javascript scraping is apparently a very trivial bit of code and something hundreds of thousands of websites are already using for a multitude of purposes, so I don’t think it rises to the level of IP theft.)

        I definitely do want to thank the vendor for his time, as we might be interested in some of their services in the future–if this doesn’t work out for us, or if we want to take advantage of their more robust reporting/analysis tools (at present our traffic volume is too low for that to be a priority), or if they develop even more sophisticated tools.

      2. AVP*

        Not really, unless it s a proprietary system or patented. If I see someone with a phone, and I think, “oh this is nice but I can make a better one myself,” from scratch, that is very very legal (and encouraged by our intellectual property and patent laws).

  6. Liz*

    #1 Maybe it’s just me, but i personally would not care if someone asked how I was doing.

    1. kas*

      Nope, not just you. I prefer not to be asked sometimes, certain people ask all the time as part of their greeting, “hey, how are you?” It’s obvious they don’t really care to know and my answer is always the same, “good, you?”

      1. My Scintillating Pseudonym*

        I’d rather not be asked if I know it’s just a perfunctory gesture and their mind is already somewhere else before the sentence is out.

        What really irritates me is when they get what they want out of the way first and then throw it in there as an obvious afterthought while I’m doing it. Like:

        Them: *interrupts* I need X, Y, and Z right this instant because I waited too long and now it’s an emergency.
        Me: Okay, just one second… *switches tasks*
        Them: *10-second pause* How you doin’ today?

        It reminds me of people who demand something and then after a ten-second pause, add “Please.” Toddlers do this when they’re learning manners. If an adult can’t gracefully navigate a conversation, it doesn’t “count” to tack pleasantries on afterward.

        1. Anon*

          I’m in this situation at the moment but as a direct report to the disengaged supervisor and wonder if it is what the OP is experiencing. My supervisor is open and candid with me but closed off to his manager. An example: my supervisor was out of the office, his manager (we’re in the same office) called him to speak about something, did the whole “How are you? Nice weekend?” Thing. I needed to phone my supervisor minutes afterwards for something else and got a very different response to the same question – I was belly laughing at one of his stories from the weekend. It was obvious and not an isolated incident. AAM is spot on in my situation – there are the other issues going on (not keeping the manager in the loop or using her as a resource etc) so I suspect AAM is correct that the chilly reception is likely a symptom of wider issues that need to be addressed rather than the chilliness itself. Speaking from the bottom of the ladder in this situation, it would make my working life more pleasant/less awkward if those guys could sort it out. I see pleasantries at work as the oil that makes the wheels go round and costs no more than a few minutes of your time. Just my two cent’s worth!

          1. T*

            You raise a good point. I would suggest to the OP to see how the supervisors interact with other staff members to gauge whether its a personality difference or coldness directed at the OP. As far as why this matters, it’s called being polite and civil. One does not have to make insincere inquiries into other people’s health or engage in small talk, but saying “hello” and “good morning” should not tax anybody.

      2. CC*

        Sometimes I’m distracted and I can manage an automatic “hi” on being unexpectedly addressed, but not notice until several seconds later that there was more to respond to, especially in cases of greeting in passing where there’s no intent to start a conversation. This has led to greetings that go something like this:

        Them: “Hi, how are you?”

        Me: “Hi”

        Them: “good, thanks!”

        Me, thinking, a few seconds later: wait, we just had two completely different conversations. I wonder if they noticed that I didn’t say “fine, and you?”

        But yeah, my response to a pro-forma question like that is always “good”, “fine”, or “ok”. Nothing personal is expected or wanted.

        1. Anon*

          Hahaha! Ever got cought in the “Hi! How are you?” .. “Good thanks! How are you?” .. “Great! How are you?” Loop? It peppers my day – so awkward. I’m conditioned to ask back…

          1. Anon*

            I also say “Happy Birthday!” Back to anyone that says this to me – the main reason I hate my birthday.

          2. Jamie*

            I posted this in open thread on Friday, but several people at work wished me a happy Mother’s Day as they left for the weekend.

            My response to one and all was, “Thanks! You too!” All but one were men.

            I don’t ever remember anyone wishing me a happy mother’s day that wasn’t family before, maybe it’s a new thing, but totally caught me off guard. It’s just conditioning to echo well wishes back. And I do it on my birthday, too.

            1. Anon*

              Open threads gets to over 1000 responses these days and didn’t spot it. I have to say though that I tend to scroll through them for posts from you, fposte, Kate the Fed, Kelly O and others that I really love reading! This community is great. I rarely comment but you guys are the mentors I lack IRL and your posts (and Allison’s advice obvs) has helped me so much and made me laugh on numerous occasions!

              1. Ruffingit*

                Same here, there are several great voices of reason and intelligence in this place, which is one of the many reasons I come here. So much wisdom and help.

    2. Monodon monoceros*

      I usually do not care either, but I also would prefer a “Good morning!” or “See you tomorrow!” than an icy stare or forced one word grunt from my coworkers…

    3. Neeta*

      You’re definitely not the only one.

      I remember, I neglected to reply to such a question in a supermarket (opting to only smile), and the cashier chose to repeat the question in a much louder tone. It was so awkward…

      1. Bob*

        I’m finding it hard to understand why you wouldn’t just say good, thanks. Ignoring the question is quite rude.

        1. Falala*

          I agree bob! My pet peeve is when I greet people & they ignore me! ( usually they just stare at me like I’m crazy) . When did this become acceptable?

          1. Khanada*

            Ugh! My BOSS actually does this if I greet her. It makes me want to walk right out the door and go back home — so rude!!

        2. Neeta*

          I didn’t ignore it, I smiled, and I’m fairly certain the cashier saw me. I just figured that since they didn’t really care about the answer anyway, it would suffice. I’m 99% sure I did say hello (since I always do), but chose not to answer the “how are you” question.

          I wasn’t used to being asked about my day by the cashier. Where I come from, most just grunt when you greet them, let alone ask about your day.

          1. Koko*

            I’ve had that awkward moment at the grocery where one of us wasn’t expecting the other to ask, so one of us asks “How are you?” the other answers and returns the question, and then the original one either fails to answer, or answers and accidentally asks the question again! I’ve had both myself and the cashier flub it up. Maybe I’m too tired when I’m at the grocery!

          2. JamieG*

            Regardless of whether you smiled, not answering a direct question like that is pretty rude. The cashier might not care how you’re doing, but she has to all everyone who goes through her line anyway, and being ignored sucks.

            1. Sunflower*

              As a server, I know the feeling of walking up to a table and saying ‘How’s everyone doing today!’ And being met with silence and a blank stare.

              1. the gold digger*

                Sunflower, I am always polite to the servers, but I have to admit that the long spiels some of them give – introducing themselves, introducing the person who is shadowing, a long rundown of the specials that I won’t remember because I have to see something in writing – gets kind of old.

                I like a, “Hey! How you doing! Would you like to order something to drink?” It’s friendly and efficient.

                1. Joey*

                  Personally, I think the pleasantries are pointless for service positions. A smile and quick “hi, my name is Joey and I’ll be your server. Can I get you something to drink?”

                2. Elizabeth West*

                  I don’t mind pleasantries, or a friendly greeting, but yeah, I dislike the spiel because it’s so forced and takes up time that I could be eating. I’M HANGRY DAMMIT.

                3. Rayner*

                  Unfortunately, many many servers don’t have that luxury of not saying all the specials + greetings. Corporate or bosses usually think that it’s more welcoming and they can fired or reprimanded for not doing it.

                  They probably hate it as much as you guys do, but they don’t get a choice.

              2. Joey*

                This is kind of awkward for me. If you’re addressing everyone is everyone supposed to speak at the same time? Are we supposed to take turns? Are you expecting the group to give one answer in unison? Is someone supposed to speak for each person individually? Or are we supposed to act like you’re an entertainer on stage and whoop and holler?

                I’m definitely not the grammar police, but I’m wondering if you’re even expecting a response since you didn’t add a question mark.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  When I waitressed if one or two answered that was good enough. Maybe the others would smile or nod.
                  This gave me an idea of the mood of the group and how I could help them.
                  I no one answered, I figured I was done here.
                  Usually one person would say “we’re fine, thanks,yourself?” Or simply “fine, thanks”.

                  I liked it when one or two people said “we are well”. Those groups were usually the happiest groups where one person was able to speak for the group. That is something that is spontaneous, not planned.

              3. Neeta (RO)*

                See, I find that a sort of awkward question. If I answered truthfully, you’d feel weird listening to the woes of a complete stranger, and if I just said great, why not just say “Hello”?

                The most polite servers here, would say something like “Hello. May I take your orders, or would you like some more time to decide?” or… if it’s an ‘exotic’ restaurant, they’d offer to help you choose something from the menu.

                I have no problem, replying to that “Hi, would you mind giving us a bit more time?” or “Hi, we’re fine, thanks” or “Hi, thanks could you tell me [inquiry about the menu”.

                But the “how is everyone” comment always throws me off balance, because my knee-jerk reaction is to answer it honestly… and then I remember that this person doesn’t REALLY care about how I feel.

                1. the gold digger*

                  My default answer – I am American – is always, “OK. I’d like a pisco sour.” (Or a chocolate martini or water without ice, which half the time they do not do.)

            2. dahllaz*

              Part of my job is greeting everyone that walks in the door. A smile, a nod, a wave in return does not bother me – they are still acknowledging that I greeted them. It’s not so easy for everyone to feel comfortable speaking, or maybe not everyone can, so some sort of response is all that matters to me.

              Those that completely ignore me and don’t even glance at me? That is bothersome. Especially when it’s every. time. they. come in.

            3. Bea W*

              It’s nt a direct question though in this instance. It’s a greeting, or it normally would be just a greeting. Strangers aren’t saying “how are you?” Because they literally want to know the answer. It’s more like an extended form of “hello”.

          3. Contessa*

            FWIW, I would have thought the smile with no verbal response meant that you didn’t hear me and were smiling to be polite just because I said something. That may have been what this cashier thought as well, since she asked louder the second time.

            1. Ethyl*

              Agreed. This is maybe a cultural thing so if so, now you know for next time that cashiers expect a generic, non-detailed response such as “fine, thanks!” It’s part of the social contract in some parts of the world, and I feel like arguing about whether your response was polite or whether small talk is stupid or whether you should or shouldn’t HAVE to say stuff misses the point. This is the expected way to interact where you are. It just is. I’m not going to go to Japan and insist that everyone there is rude because they keep bowing.

      2. Kelly O*

        I got a talker in the express lane over the weekend. And he kept talking to me, and finally I just said “this is the express lane, and I’m trying to get out of here as quickly as possible.”

        At which point he literally threw the last two things in my bag and didn’t say another word. I was just thinking “dude, I do not care about your jewelry-making business, or how you think people checking out in the grocery store express lane are always in a hurry, or why don’t people want to talk anymore? Try another lane when it’s not packed out on Saturday afternoon, and maybe not the express lane?”

        I did not say all that, mind you but I wanted to. So bad. If the line had not been shorter for express than for the self-checkout, I would have just done that.

        1. Schnauz*

          If I’m next in line, I’ve probably been staring at you and the cashier with what *I* think is a neutral/bored expression but what I think is actually annoyed or very flat. Because they don’t try to chitchat me too much next. Ha! I have no problem with chatterers, I’m a chatterer – but you have to talk and work and time it so you don’t draw the encounter out. If you can’t do that, then just don’t chatter.

          To paraphrase a Project Runway contestant – talk and work, Talk. and. Work.

            1. Cat*

              I often think that to myself when I’m upset. “If you’re gonna cry, you better [do whatever it is you’re doing] and cry.” Good way to break through the melodrama.

        2. Koko*

          I feel like the crux of this problem is that we have humans doing jobs we’d all kind of rather were automated by robots.

          It’s completely understandable that the cashier thinks, “Hey, I’m a person, here, the least you could do is acknowledge my humanity and exchange a few polite words with me instead of treating me like a machine!”

          It’s also completely understandable that the customer thinks, “Geez, I’m just trying to buy my groceries, I’m in a hurry and maybe I’ve been having a bad day, and I really resent being expected to expend energy engaging in pointless chitchat when all I want to do is buy these things and go home, and unlike you, I’m not being paid to smile and be friendly.”

          Both perspectives have a point! I don’t think either is wrong. It’s just a sort of, unfortunate mismatch in circumstances. And why I love the self check-out, and why I hate that they’re sometimes closed, and why it saddens me to hear that more and more businesses are considering doing away with them.

            1. OP #3*

              Apparently for at least a few chains (I believe the article I read was about Rite Aid and CVS), they were hurting soft sales. Folks were buying less checkout candy/magazines, and they were getting less sign-ups for their loyalty cards, things like that.

          1. Sharm*

            I have been doing self-checkout for the past year, but sometimes it drives me crazy. The machine is slow, and half the time, I need to bring over a manager because it didn’t register the weight of an item, or it didn’t recognize my bags, or I’m buying alcohol. My boyfriend loves them, but sometimes I find it so much more efficient to go through a cashier.

            And I get really sad that so many jobs are being automated by robots. I’m not even the people-iest person out there, but I don’t like the trend of robots taking over. I do not welcome them as our overlords!


            1. Callie*

              I don’t want to use self-checkouts because I don’t like that they are replacing jobs that people could do with machines. Maybe it doesn’t make a difference, but if I go through a real-person line, I feel like I’m telling the store I prefer to deal with a person than a machine. :/

              1. Koko*

                For that task, though. The more machines we get to automate the drudge work, the more we free up people’s time for science, art, relationships–the things people are best at, none of which were possible for most people until machinery/technology advanced our civilization enough that we no longer *needed* every available working person to be doing manual labor just to keep everyone alive. The transition can be rough as there’s always a delay while the job market adjusts to the new supply and demand, but the end-result is well worth it. We shouldn’t fear technology–it’s here to help us. 5% of Americans can grow enough food to feed us all–so the rest of us don’t have to be farmers. We have the basics covered well enough that we can support legions of authors and artists and biologists and musicians and so on whose work is in no way necessary to society, which wouldn’t be possible if we still needed most of our labor force devoted to growing food and building roads and infrastructure. I’m also sure there will long continue to be a (more expensive) “full-service” option where you get a real person to serve you.

                1. hildi*

                  “The more machines we get to automate the drudge work, the more we free up people’s time for science, art, relationships–the things people are best at,”

                  I hadn’t actually thought of it that way before, and I really, really like it. Thanks for the good perspective!

          2. Phyllis*

            Amen on the “I’m a person” sentiment. I always smile at cashiers, say “How are you?” “Fine, thank you.” to their response. Time taken, 10 seconds? I understand not everyone wants a long chat, but being pleasant never hurts. Once I was going through the check-out at Wal-Mart and my phone rang. I answered it because I had a daughter who was supposed to give birth at any moment and I needed to see what was what. I apologized to the cashier (who knew me from previous visits) and briefly explained. She said “That’s OK. At least you see me as a person.”

            Another time I smiled at a store employee (didn’t even say anything) and she said “You are the first person who’s smiled at me all day!!” So don’t think that these interactions are not important. That doesn’t mean you have to engage in a long conversation, but just acknowledging someone can make their day.

            1. Koko*

              Just to offer another perspective, I always say hello to cashiers and other similar positions, but I also try to read them and not get into long conversations. I’ve worked in service and while I appreciated people who recognized me as a person, I also sometimes had long, hard days where engaging in polite chitchat with a customer was just yet more “work” I was having to muster up the energy to do. I would have never said a thing because being cheerful is part of the job when you’re a service worker, but I gave simple, short responses, didn’t ask questions, etc. and hoped the other person would just let me ring them up and get the rest of the line rung up so I could go wash dishes and not have to force a smile for strangers for 5 minutes.

        3. T*

          Have you ever noticed that Trader Joe’s doesn’t have an express lane? I think it’s so their cashiers can spend as much time as they want chatting with customers, even ones that have finished paying.

    4. Katie the Fed*

      I would care a lot if managers didn’t have basic people skills. Managing is mostly about relating to people to get the best out of them. If you can’t manage to pleasantly interact with coworkers, then I have real concerns about your ability to do your job.

      1. Tina*

        There was once a receptionist in my office who wanted everyone to say hi to her EVERY time tyou walked by her – even if you just said hi 2 minutes ago on your way to the ladies room and were just walking back to your office. She’d get upset and/or think you were mad at her if you didn’t. She was a very sweet woman, but I just did not have the energy for that.

    5. H. Vane*

      Seriously. I hate when people just wander by to ask me how I’m doing when I’m in the middle of work. Therefore, I try to avoid doing that to other people too.

      If I pass them in the hallway, that’s a whole other story. But I rarely just stop to chat.

      1. Felicia*

        I hate that too! It makes me loose focus on my work and feel a bit more self conscious about it. I also hate being interrupted, which I understand is my issue, but when I’m interrupted by someone asking “How are you??” When I know it’s not a sincere question (and it’s not at all important) it makes the interruption harder for me.

    6. MaryMary*

      This is a corporate culture thing. My current employer is a place where saying hi and making small talk and smiling at your coworkers is highly valued. However, there is a good-sized (but still minority) group of people who feel like a couple of the folks in this thread do: I’m here to work, being professional has nothing to do with smiling as I walk down the hall, and we’re coworkers, not friends, so I have no desire to hear about your kids/pets/hobbies. It has caused SO MUCH DRAMA. The smiley-chatty people feel snubbed and become offended (or paranoid, esp if their manager is not super sociable), and the reserved-no BS people are accused of having attitude problems and have zero political capital in the office. Each side thinks the other’s way of interacting is ridiculous and it’s to the point where it’s really impacting morale.

    7. Felicia*

      I spent a 3 hour sociology class discussing what people mean when they say how are you. If they’re not someone you’re really close to, then what “how are you?” Really means is “I’m acknowledging your presence and am trying to be polite, but don’t really tell me how you are because I don’t want to know.”

      When I was taking Mandarin my teacher said in China it’s considered inappropriate to say “how are you?” to someone you don’t know well, I’m not sure if that’s true culturally, but I like it better.

      If I’m not ok, I’m not going to want to tell someone I barely know asking if it’s ok (and that person doesn’t really want to know).

    8. KrisL*

      I prefer people to not ask how I’m doing unless they actually want to know. Sometimes I feel irritated at this social convention that in some ways feels like “lie to me and say you’re feeling OK”.

  7. Nina*

    #4: Curling her hair during class isn’t just inappropriate, it’s dangerous. If she burns herself or anyone else, you’ll be held responsible. Inform your students that in-class grooming (especially with any hot tools) is off-limits. If that girl breaks out the curling iron again, confiscate it.

  8. Worker Bee*

    #1: I think we are missing one important thing in this answer. The OP is new director and his team has gone through some rough times. I dont mean to say to give them some slack because of it. But I think ok should very well use this situation and have a one on one talk with his team members, acknowleding that there’ve been some hard times. But also let the team know that things are changing now and tell them what you are expecting of them.
    A lot of us have been there, times were hard, mood and motivation is down.. Acknowleding this, will hopefully start a change in mindset..

    1. BethRA*


      The situation sounds eerily similar to what’s gone on here recently, and adding to the problem had been a few little birds chirping about how it was standard practice for much “new management” to want to “clean house” (the birds were spoken to) Didn’t to much for morale or motivation. Change is hard in the best of circumstances. Again, doesn’t excuse the behavior, but it does make it a bit more understandable.

    2. B*

      +1 This is what I was coming here to say. They just went through a ton of changes so are probably emotionally exhausted. Granted you are a new person but they do not know what may be dropping next on them. I would cut them a bit of slack, take them to lunch or just have a meeting asking if they have concerns, and explain the direction you are wanting to take them.

      Not harping on you, but perhaps you came in thinking they would be excited and just so happy for a new director that everything would be wonderful. You are forgetting the absolute turmoil they just went through. Try to help them and then if there is still the same problem discuss that aspect.

    3. TP*

      As someone who has gone through a series of changes with not one, but two jobs in the past 2 1/2 years, I agree. It’s one thing when you’re the one coming into a situation new, with fresh eyes and attitude, but another when you’ve lived through the changes. It tends to make one a little guarded. Perhaps as others suggested, reaching out and providing some reassurance would help. Also another perspective is, have you as a new director come in and tried to “take over” and completely change things without involving your team members? Sometimes I find that when new people come into an organization, they want to make their mark from the get go rather than taking some time to learn and then map out a course of action. It goes a long way. Even though you’re the boss, it’s just as important for you to get their buy-in as they yours.

  9. Neeta*

    #1 Alison’s point about your employees not keeping you in the loop is well-taken… but, I wouldn’t necessarily assume this just from their “coldness”.
    Though I consider greetings to be basic courtesy, I’m not sure about “asking how your day is”. I just don’t normally ask questions of such personal nature from my superiors. OK, so if my boss asks about my day, I reply and ask about his/hers. but in general I don’t really feel like it’s my place to ask for such intimate questions.

    I have no problems letting them know about my work, and keeping them in the loop as they request it. I’m just not comfortable asking these kinds of questions from my superiors.

    #5 Ouch, that is a bummer, but the next time make sure to follow up, if you get no approval confirmation. I’d have followed up at least a month after submitting the request…
    At my current job, we have a policy of “if you don’t hear otherwise, assume approval”, but I still like to confirm approval, precisely due to plane tickets and accommodation that need to be paid, and are non-refundable.

      1. Neeta (RO)*

        There are various degrees of intimacy, and I’ve never really asked people about their day unless I was in an informal relationship with them.

        1. Koko*

          I think I remember that you’re in a European country – the norm is different here. When Americans ask, “How are you?” or “How is your day?” it’s just a bit of politeness that is returned with, “Fine, thanks, and you?” or similar. It would be unusual and overly intimate or lacking in discretion to actually answer the question. If you replied, “Well, I woke up with a sore throat again, and I’m worried about my cat’s vet appointment today,” the other person would like feel uncomfortable and surprised.

          There was a great article in the New York Time in January, presumably because of the Olympics, about this cultural difference between Russians (who will tell you how they are, and include a long list of complaints) and Americans (who will say they’re fine whether they are or not). I’ll post a link in my next comment so this one doesn’t get stuck in moderation, or you can Google “The How Are You? Culture Clash.”

            1. Neeta*

              That’s an interesting perspective, and it might apply for older people (I was 6 when the communism fell, so I have precious few memories of it).

              I generally think I should try to answer “fine” is because otherwise I’d give in to my tendency to moan about anything and everything. Not necessarily because it bothers me a lot, just… dunno, I end up doing it anyway.

          1. Neeta (RO)*

            Yes, I’m from Romania and we actually have our own equivalent question for how are you. It’s not something I’ve ever heard asked from strangers.

            I know you’re supposed to answer “fine and you”, but here some people will actually answer with complaints (as you mentioned with the Russian)… which can end up becoming rather awkward with people you’re not very close to.

            With bosses/superiors it depends. If your relationship with them is overly formal, you wouldn’t normally ask this. If it’s friendlier, then I guess you can ask, though you’d generally get a genuine reply. Or if you don’t, it generally means the person doesn’t really want to discuss it.

            1. LBK*

              I think this is a purely cultural thing that’s just part of what’s expected in the US. I don’t see anything weird or overly intimate about asking my boss how he’s doing, or even our VP when I see him. It’s just a pleasantry.

              1. Ethyl*

                Yes, and in many workplaces it would be considered entirely polite to say something like “whew, swamped with the Spout project!” or “looking forward to my vacation next week!” It doesn’t have to be entirely empty OR entirely a list of deep feelings and health issues.

                1. Laura*

                  This! I’ve gotten a wide range of “expected” replies. Personnel details are rare and not expected – unless you are also friends, or they are likely to impinge on the workplace/productivity quite a bit (and even then, it’s rare).

                  But “Glad it’s almost the weekend” or “Awake, I think” or “Well, I’ve got coffee now” all fit. Or the classic one in our office: “Okay, but I haven’t opened my email yet.”

                  And there’s a range of non-specific answers – “Fine” or “Okay” is generic, but “Great!” is usually genuine.

              2. Jamie*

                I agree, it’s just a pleasantry. I don’t have any issues with it, as long as everyone observes the rule that unless there is a deep personal relationship the answer should always be some variation of “fine.”

                It’s so innocuous I’m surprised anyone notices when it doesn’t happen. I am sitting here thinking of everyone I work with and I cannot tell you who does and doesn’t ask me about my day. Except the one who makes a point of it whenever he passes my office, requiring me to look up from what I’m going, and then stands around awkwardly way too long wanting to chat.

                This doesn’t rise to the level of something I’d notice the lack of. But then, maybe I’m the outlier.

                1. Judy*

                  During a particularly rough set of transitions, a co-worker was known to answer the “How are you?” question with “Livin’ the dream”.

                2. Not So NewReader*

                  @Judy. That one cracks me up. “Aren’t we all!”, I just want to say sometimes.

            2. LBK*

              Also the level of response and the timing of the question will vary with the level of the relationship – if I see someone in the hallway I’m not really close with it will just be a “How’s it going?” “Good, you?” “Good!” and move on. We usually don’t even stop walking. If it’s a closer friend I might actually stop and have a chat, or I would even go to their desk to have a conversation about how their day/weekend was.

              Point being, it’s not the question that changes depending on the level of the relationship, it’s mostly the answer.

            3. Jen RO*

              I actually think this is an American thing. I’ve had to train myself for the “how are you? fine, you? fine” conversation with my American bosses, because it does not come naturally to me – I’m sure they don’t care about my day, and I’m sure they wouldn’t tell me how they *reall* are. I’ve told myself that I just have to remember this “set” of lines as a pleasantry and that’s it.

              (Same for the conversation with the cashier mentioned above – a cashier saying “hi” is unusual to me, but perfectly normal for Americans, so our reactions would be different.)

              1. the gold digger*

                a cashier saying “hi” is unusual to me

                OK, this is fascinating to me. What is the norm for persons working in a customer-facing position? Is it not customary to look the customer in the eye and greet her? Because here in the US, if the cashier just started ringing up my groceries without even looking at me or acknowledging me, it would feel very rude to me.

                1. Neeta (RO)*

                  For the longest time, I never really said anything. But then, I started saying “hi”. Reaction varies, some are pleased to be greeted, others are surprised and greet me back, while some just ignore it.

                2. Meg Murry*

                  I think this varies in different parts of the country too. When I lived in Boston and went to super crowded grocery stores there was 0 chit-chat, as the lines were often very long, and it was rude to tie up the cashier with conversation. So I generally said “debit, no cash back, thank you” in one breath and that was the extent of the conversation. My husband had to point out to me when I moved back to the midwest and a cashier said, “Hi, how is your day going?” that they really were talking to me and I totally blew them off – not trying to be rude, just because I was out of habit.

                3. Chinook*

                  “My husband had to point out to me when I moved back to the midwest and a cashier said, “Hi, how is your day going?” that they really were talking to me and I totally blew them off – not trying to be rude, just because I was out of habit.”

                  I had the reverse happen to me when I moved from Alberta to Ontario – DH had to point out the evil eye cashiers were giving me and the huffs of impatience from the rest of the line whenever I tried small talk with them. I got so indoctrinated into the new way that, when I went home, it freaked me out when the cashier was asking me questinos and waiting for a reply (doubly so when I was back where people actually new me and the questions included info about the rest of my family.)

              2. LBK*

                (Same for the conversation with the cashier mentioned above – a cashier saying “hi” is unusual to me, but perfectly normal for Americans, so our reactions would be different.)

                Oh weird. So…you just silently stand there and stare at the person while they ring you up? That seems so awkward to me (as an American).

                1. Neeta (RO)*

                  It’s not unusual for a transaction to be almost completely silent. The cashiers generally say the grand total out loud, but I’ve encountered some who didn’t and just pointed at the little screen displaying the sum.

                  I don’t really mind, even though I generally greet them… ironically enough because I read this blog post (written by an American) about how people who don’t greet cashiers are rude.

                2. Jen RO*

                  Yep, exactly. (Well, actually, s/he is ringing up the products and I am bagging – baggers are extremely uncommon here.) My boyfriend keeps trying to make chit chat and most cashiers just don’t know how to respond!

                  My conversations with the cashiers at the local supermarket are usually the following:
                  Me: Hello.
                  Cashier: Hello, would you like a bag?
                  Me: No, thank you.
                  [ringing up, bagging]
                  Cashier: Your total is [sum].
                  [handing over money, getting change]
                  Cashier: Have a nice day!
                  Me: Thanks, you too!

                  The only additional conversation is when something is wrong – product won’t ring up, etc.

                3. LBK*

                  See, I find it weird that you would feel comfortable wishing your cashier a nice day – because do you really care if they have a nice day? – but asking how their day is seems odd. Either way you aren’t actually giving any kind of personal investment, it’s just a nice thing to say.

                  (Again I’m not judging the cultural difference, I just think it’s interesting how this stuff plays out.)

                4. Jen RO*

                  I don’t know, really! It’s interesting to me too. I usually just “you too” them or say “thank you, goodbye”. Asking them how they are would be seen as very weird and personal, but best wishes aren’t seen as that. Why? No idea, just another culture quirk I guess! (One I had not even realized until Neeta pointed it out and after reading the article Koko mentioned above.)

                5. Neeta*

                  because do you really care if they have a nice day?

                  I guess I find it less personal because, like Jen, I just answer “you too”.
                  Sometimes, I even do that so absentmindedly that I wonder if I’d notice if someone had instead said “have a hellish day” instead.

                6. Laura*

                  I’m used to a hello and maybe a bit of chit chat, maybe just the transaction; but I also will wish them a good day – and I mean it – most of them seem nice enough people in the few seconds of interaction, and I’m glad for someone doing the job they do. They’re human: of course I hope they have a good day.

                  Do I care about it the same way I care about how my husband’s day went? Well, no. But though I’m not invested in them having a good day, I still hope they do – and that’s the last I think of it, to wish that it might be so.

                7. Worker Bee (Germany)*

                  I will never forget my first cashier/grocery expierence in Southern California. I went with my roommate to Trader Joes. And when she got to the cashier, they were chatting, and she told him all about me, how brave I was that I moved to foreign country, not knowing my roommates, who picked me up at the airport… After we left the store I was stunned, when her reply to my question (Where did you know the cashier from) was: I dont know him.. I would have never ever told a complete stranger all this..
                  Now that I am back in Germany, I miss these pleasantries sooo much. You have no idea.. I had a big cultural shock returning home..
                  Here I am happy if I am greeted at all. I am pleasantly surprised if it is a nice greeting. We germans are such a grumpy folk… Take ourselves waaaayyy to serious..
                  I want to move back… :/

              3. Eric*

                I’m American, but I lived in England for a while. I had to train myself to get used to “you alright?” because Americans don’t ask someone that unless they look like something ISN’T all right! I was constantly worried that I looked sick until I realized it was their version of “how are you?”

              4. Felicia*

                I’m Canadian where saying “how are you?” “fine and you?” “fine” is considered normal and polite, but I kind of hate it, and it’s never come naturally to me. I’ve always wished I belonged to a culture like yours or the other European cultures where it’s not the norm. I think for me it’s the insincerity of the question. You’re not supposed to answer “how are you” sincerely, because if you did suspect a sincere answer it would be a quite personal question. When my close friends ask me how I am or I ask them how they are, we actually want to know the real answer and it’s a sincere question, when it’s not with a stranger. So I do it because I know it’s normal and polite here, but it always feels forced. I was really happy when I learned the way we use “how are you?” is far from universal.

              5. Rebecca Too*

                I don’t think this is just an American thing. I’m Irish, and the standard greeting to someone you see in the office, like when you are walking past them in a corridor is Hi, how are you, and generally the correct response is Hi or Hi, how are you or Grand. It’s the same in shops or when you pass someone you vaguely know on the street, but don’t know well enough to stop to talk to them.

                I think people would actually be confused if you started actually answering them.

                Weirdly, you can also say hi, how are you, to someone, and actually be asking them how they are (and you’d only do this with someone you knew well), but then you’d say it differently, you’d emphasis different words or use a different intonation.

          2. NavyLT*

            When I was taking Russian in college, one of my professors told us about this–that you wouldn’t ask someone how they’re doing unless it’s a friend/peer (and yes, if you ask, you get an honest answer). I think it makes sense, actually. It’s not clear to me from the original post whether the staff is freezing OP out and not communicating about work stuff, or if it’s just that OP wants to make small talk with the staff, and they’d rather not chat about their weekends with the boss. If it’s the latter, I’m with them.

            1. aebhel*

              This. It’s not clear to me from the letter which it is. I’m polite to my boss, but I have less than zero interest in chatting about my weekend–or, really, any non-work related subject–and would find it incredibly intrusive if I was expected to.

          3. Elizabeth West*

            Sometimes in the U.S., you do get a litany of complaints in response to the question! I’ve noticed it more from older people–here, people tend to ignore them and they might not have talked to anyone that day. So “How are you?” will get a whole “Oh honey, my feet hurt and my dog got out this morning, and do you know what the mailman did today? Do you?”

            I try to listen for a minute or two and then gracefully excuse myself. I know what it’s like to not talk to anyone because there’s no one around.

            1. C Average*

              My go-to response to “how are you?” at work is “Oh, you know, it’s just another day of living the dream.” It works no matter what kind of day I’m having. Other people have started saying it, too.

              1. Shell*

                Oh man, how do you pull that off? I naturally tend towards dry and/or sarcastic, and I can never pull that off because it’d sound like I was bemoaning my life/job. Do you say it in a super-cheerful tone?

                1. C Average*

                  You know how some people have “bitchy resting face?” (If you don’t, Google it! It’s apparently a thing.) I think I have amused resting face. So in the absence of anything to the contrary, people assume I’m at least half-kidding (and I usually am).

                  The delivery is key. I give a half-shrug and say, “Oh, you know.” Then pause for a beat. “Just another day of living the dream. And you?”

                  Sometimes when I am exchanging pleasantries with someone I don’t know (like in a grocery store line), I’ll say in response to “How are you?” “Today’s a good, solid B so far. How about you?” People seem to like this. They’ll respond with their own letter grade. It’s an easy way to have a short but non-boring conversation about how you are.

              2. Chinook*

                The best line I have heard about the “how are you” questino came from an ESL student who couldn’t understand why we would answer with a day of the week:

                “How are you?”

                “It’s Friday/Monday.”

                It stumped me until I could figure out what those days imply to some people.

            2. Jamie*

              Okay, people who answer with details – especially sad details.

              The answer is some variation of “fine” or something neutral like “hanging in there.”

              My one caveat is what you mentioned – older people. If someone is elderly I’ll stop and listen all day long. I’ll even ask follow up questions and engage.

              Sometimes older people don’t have anyone to talk to on a regular basis and just need someone to listen – so I treat them as I would want someone to treat my grandparents if they were still alive.

              Although since my criteria is you need to look old enough to be my grandparent the older I get the smaller that subset of people becomes.

            3. Koko*

              Oh, the olds and their complaining!

              I definitely notice my grandmother doing this. She’s a wonderful, sweet old woman in her 80s. One thing I always realize when I’m talking to her is how hard I try without even realizing it to spin conversations positively all the time. As an older lady, she has a lot of legitimate complaints and a good deal of her time is unfortunately devoted to dealing with them. When I ask her how she’s been, she’ll tell me about the doctors’ appointments she’s had recently for her ailments, or how she got a new electric can opener because her arthritis has gotten so bad she can’t operate the hand-held anymore, or about a friend of hers that recently died, or how she’s having trouble remembering things and my mom has had to take over paying her bills so she doesn’t miss any. I find myself having to bite my tongue and resist the urge to try to “see the bright side” in all her complaints and say something positive in return, because I realized that me trying to spin everything positively, rather than cheering her up, probably comes across as dismissive of her problems, like I’m so young I don’t understand what it’s like to be old and have your body quitting on you or your friends dying on you.

              1. S from CO*

                Thanks for sharing your point of view. It helped me realize that I was trying to put a “positive” spin on conversations with my 90 year old grandmother! I certainly don’t want to come across as dismissive of her problems. I am going to pay more attention to our conversations. I think she is a wonderful woman and I have always looked up to her!

        2. saro*

          I’m from the Deep South in the U.S. and just about everyone gets asked ‘How are you?” and I don’t mind if it’s a long, detailed answer. It surprised my non-American husband who had only lived in New England.

          1. LD*

            Same here. Reminds me of the time I was thrilled on one of my first trips back to the south from the Midwest when the cashier called me “Honey.” I know some don’t care for it but it felt like “home” to me! Midwest cashiers are nice, too. They just don’t use endearments. It’s all in what you’re used to.

  10. Puffle*

    #4: I would flip if one of my students did that in a lesson. Granted, I teach younger kids, so my headaches revolve more around confiscating comics in class, but still.

    You’ll be doing them a kindness if you choose to speak up, trust me. Be kind, but be firm and consistent. On the first offence, x happens. Second offence, y happens. Those are the rules, no ifs and no buts- but it’s a good idea to lay things out clearly so that no one is surprised/ doesn’t understand the rules when their make-up/comb/ whatever is confiscated.

    If you feel so inclined, you could have a chat with the class about social expectations – not just about not doing your make-up in class, but about other professional conventions too, such as dressing appropriately for an interview, and so on. Such a lesson could serve them very well in future.

    1. Elizabeth West*

      Granted, I teach younger kids, so my headaches revolve more around confiscating comics in class, but still.

      If that were me, I’d be reading the comics after class. :)

  11. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

    3. How do I politely decline a vendor’s offer?

    I’m on both sides the coin. Our business is selling to other businesses on sometimes a multiple month cycle and I also head up vendor relations where I’m the prime target for people who want to nag the crap out of me to either buy their products or sell their products.

    Some people can’t take no for an answer but there are plenty of good professionals who can. It’s good business to give a timely decline with a reasonably accurate answer. In the example you gave:

    “We really appreciate the time you spent with us. We’ve decided to complete this project in house but we were impressed with you (only if you were) and we’ll reach out if there are opportunities in the future.”

    An aggressive salesperson might start trying to pin you down on follow up opportunities. Manage that however you like. If you liked the person and don’t mind talking to her every few months, say sure, check in with me 3 months from now. If you’d rather not say, “Thanks for asking. Honestly, I’m so busy, I’d prefer not but we won’t forget you. When an opportunity comes up, I’ll reach out to you.”

    Treating vendors well keeps an important asset available to you. Good vendors make you look good. If you blow them off, they won’t take you seriously the next time you need something and the supply of good vendors isn’t endless.

    1. Alex*

      I love your response. Thank you for the insight! As a B2B sales rep, I agree 100%. I appreciate when clients are straight forward but still respectful, and I’ll bend over backwards for those clients.

      1. Laura*


        It’s always the worst when your boss (Sales manager) is breathing down your neck to follow up more often when you’ve already confirmed with the client.

        Also, keep in mind that even though your internal team *says* they can create this product/service in-house, they might end up way over their heads. Cultivating a good relationship with this vendor might yield support options or them cleaning up your mess at a later date.

    2. OP #3*

      Thanks for your response! That’s exactly the quandry I had. I was afraid if the norm was “don’t explain yourself” and I did, they’d misinterpret that as an opportunity to do a refusal-conversion on me. (I used to work in a call center, and now work in marketing, and I realize that certain responses get you coded as “keep trying” and some get you coded as “give up on this one.”) But then I was afraid that if the norm was to offer a rationale, I’d come across rude for not giving a solid reason for my refusal, and make him feel like he’d wasted his time on me.

      As I mentioned above, I could see scenarios where we might work with him the future, so I don’t want to offend!

  12. Liz*

    #4 – I can’t help wondering if the girls are deliberately escalating to see if you’ll say anything, not necessarily maliciously but out of a sense of mischievousness. I might be tempted to see what comes after the curling iron and then make a joke about in class. “You know, [student], I’d been betting that you were going to try nail art next. Dyeing your hair in class was something I never considered. Kudos for the attempt! Now please go sit in the bathroom till it’s done.”

  13. Katie the Fed*

    #4 – yes please teach them now. You run the classroom, tell them that they need to take care of that before they come to class. Because otherwise they’ll grow up into those awful coworkers who clip their nails at their desk. ACKK

    #5 – I’m a reasonable person, but there are few things that annoy me more than someone making flight plans for a vacation and then insisting that they need the time off. It puts me in a bind, and that’s very uncool. Why on earth wouldn’t you follow up with your manager – in all likelihood your request got lost because it was so early.

    Managers get VERY busy and distracted – the onus is on you to verify before you make plans. It strikes me as really immature to just go ahead and make plans because you never heard back, when it would have been really easy to just check.

    Also, how did she find out you were seeking other employment? Did you happen to mention that when you were complaining about the leave issue?

    1. Jake*

      I hate to say this because I think you are one of the best commenters on this site, but here it goes.

      I couldn’t disagree more about #5. If I tell my manager I need time off, I feel like I should be able to make plans unless told otherwise. Why is it my responsibility to ensure my manager is doing his or her job by following up? I understand the managers are busy, but one of the most important aspects of leadership AND management is to treat your people fairly. It is not fair to say, “I know you asked for this time off months ago, but I lost the request, and I didn’t inform you that nobody can take time off during that time. I know you told me and then made plans with the assumption that it was approved, but you are going to have to eat the hundreds of dollars in reservations you’ve made because I can’t do my job properly.”

      I can’t even count how many times I’ve been told to get requests for time off in early or else they won’t be approved, and now one of the reasons you give for this issue is that it was turned in so early.

      Should the OP have followed up? I guess so, but my point is that a competent manager wouldn’t need their employees to follow up on something like this.

      1. JamieG*

        I think the fact that OP is in a retail/food service job is important here, though. While ideally time off would work as you describe, in practice managers tend to ignore scheduling requirements. When I was in college, there were certain days I couldn’t work because of class. When I was inevitably scheduled anyway (once a month or so), it was my responsibility to make sure they changed it, or I’d be considered absent. When it comes to a longer vacation, especially with plane tickets involved, it’s almost naive to not double check that your request from six months ago didn’t go missing.

        1. LBK*

          I don’t agree that this is just part of retail management – a manager that isn’t paying attention when they schedule or who ignores availability is a bad manager. I did retail scheduling for about a year and unless you have a horrifyingly bad system for maintaining schedules and time off requests, it’s really not difficult to schedule within those confines.

          1. JamieG*

            It’s certainly not good, and I’ve worked in places where that doesn’t happen. But in my experience, and second hand from friends and family, it’s not exactly uncommon.

          2. Marcy*

            They may be a bad manager but they are YOUR bad manager. They still control your schedule and your performance evaluation and even any promotions or raises that might come your way. When I worked in retail, your vacation request was not approved until you heard that it was approved. It doesn’t matter if it is a bad manager or not- you still have to operate by their rules or suffer the consequences.

      2. Rayner*

        A competent manager won’t need their staff to follow up but there can legitimately be issues with submitting holiday requests so early in the year. Things come up, projects change, people leave and don’t get replaced, schedules which are made weekly make it sometimes difficult to keep track of holiday months in advance (especially with such a poor system in place).

        You should always double check plans which involve lots of money changing hands, and definitive dates – “I’m not on the schedule but I’m in town doing nothing so it’s frustrating but fixable” versus, “I’m swimming on a beach two thousand miles away so you’re sol manaer.”

        Managers are human. Paperwork gets lost, and people end up double booked. Good managers fix it – and in this case they weren’t good – but at the end of the day, it’s your holiday. It’s up to you to keep an eye on if you have the dates you need and to address problems (e.g. by talking to management) about it.

        1. Jake*

          That is such a good comment, and one I knew somebody in this community would make.

          The difference between this and Katie’s original comment is nothing but attitude. Instead of the employee being blamed for the whole situation and being called immature and inept, there is an acknowledgement that the manager didn’t do his or her job.

          That is what my point was from the beginning. Should the employee follow up? Yes, but don’t make it seem like the manager has no blame here. It isn’t the employee’s fault that the manager can’t keep track of the paper work.

          1. Amberleaf le Haunt*

            Oh, yeah, totally! My manager keeps a big manila envelope with everyone’s vacation requests throughout the year (I got to see it once). Doesn’t seem too organized at first lookc does it? But all she really needs to do is drag the papers out when making the weekly schedules, and just riffle on through. I’m almost convinced that she keeps schedule sheets for the weeks/months in advance with just the dates that everyone else requires.

        2. Katie the Fed*

          The manager absolutely screwed up, but the onus is still on the employee to double check before making plans. Really it would have taken 10 seconds to say “oh, I haven’t heard back from you on that leave request I submitted a month ago, can you let me know so I can make plans?”

          1. Mimmy*

            I absolutely agree that it is ultimately the employee’s responsibility to ensure that the time off is approved before making plans that can’t easily be changed. However, I do think this is a fairly common oversight. People get busy and sometimes forget to look at those little details…I don’t think it’s necessarily immature.

            That said, this does sound like a pretty unorganized system, which seems to be common in scheduling-heavy jobs.

            1. Katie the Fed*

              Maybe a lack of exposure to the working world then. Of course in my first year in my adult job, I assumed we had the day after Thanksgiving off because I’d always had it off when I was in school, so I scheduled a trip without realizing it was a workday. I discovered it was about a week out and went to my manager begging forgiveness and boy was he pissed. He was able to let me take the leave because I honestly thought it was a federal holiday.

              Lesson learned – verify everything. I really damaged my credibility with him over that.

              1. Canadamber*

                Eeeek! That would just be the worst! :( I’m just glad that I’m learning all of this stuff now, (i.e. the business comes first), but I’ll bet you any money that since I’m so spoiled right now at my current job, what with how good my managers are and stuff, that I’ll make some pretty stupid mistakes when I get into the corporate/business world, though… :P

          2. Jake*

            But it would have also taken 10 seconds for the manager to look at the request that she was already given.

            I get that the worker should do it, but it is one of those where, the fact that I have to remind you of this, in spite of the fact that I have already jumped through your hoops and red tape by filling out your form and giving it to you ahead of time is definitely symptomatic of either you being disorganized, or you not caring about my time off enough to take ten seconds to do your job. Either way, that is a horrific message to send to your employees.

            1. Katie the Fed*

              Ok, I think I get where the issue is.

              Yes, the boss should absolutely have reviewed the leave request and weighed in on it. It’s not hard or time consuming, but sometimes there’s a reason we wouldn’t make a decision at that moment (especially 6 months out). Ideally they’d say “I can’t approve it now, but I can let you know in 2 months” or something.

              But for whatever reason, that didn’t happen here. The boss erred, absolutely. BUT, the onus is still on the employee to follow up before assuming that the absence of “no” is “yes.” It’s a much easier conversation to have before you book the trip than after. That’s what I don’t get – why not just ask the boss again to be sure?

              Probably if one of my employees booked travel without getting an answer I would say something like “ok, you can take the leave this time, but in the future you need to get the leave approved ahead of time. If you haven’t gotten an answer, check with me before booking anything in case I lost your request.” But really the employee is the one with more to lose in this case, so it’s really better for the employee to do due diligence to get that confirmed.

      3. Colette*

        Did the manager know the request had made months ago? In other words, did the OP get an acknowledgement for the request at all? I suspect not, because that would have either been an approval or a “I can’t approve this so early”. If the OP didn’t get a response at all, then I agree the onus is on the OP to follow up and make sure it’s OK.

        1. EvilQueenRegina*

          Yes, this. I had a coworker (Philomena) at my last job who wanted a day off for some medical appointment – unfortunately, she’d typed out the email to our manager requesting that day off, but somehow hadn’t sent it. When she had no response, instead of raising it again with our manager, she just automatically assumed it was okay to have that day off.

          On the day in question, our manager went to the site where Philomena would have been working that day and went to see her, only to find Philomena not there. So she rang the office where the rest of us worked from to see if we knew where Philomena was – however, she had called at a bad moment as we had someone kicking off in reception, I was dealing with that so didn’t know our manager had called and my other coworker who took the call forgot about the appointment and said “I thought Philomena was at the site where you are”.

          When Philomena called out sick on the next Monday with something else, our manager asked her where she had been on that day – it blew up into an argument and Philomena ended up ringing me to scream down the phone because I hadn’t told our manager where she was. A whole lot of drama that could have been avoided if Philomena had only followed up.

      4. Katie the Fed*

        ” If I tell my manager I need time off, I feel like I should be able to make plans unless told otherwise”

        I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on that one :)

        But that’s also something that should be articulated. “Don’t make plans until you hear for sure that your leave is approved.” It’s a difference of “assume the answer is yes if you haven’t heard back” vs “don’t assume anything unless you get a solid answer.” If you’re going to drop this much money on travel plans, wouldn’t it make sense to double check?

        I’m definitely not letting the manager off the hook here, but it’s so easy to just remind a manager about something (assuming they’re not insane) I don’t understand why the OP wouldn’t do it.

        1. fposte*

          Yes, aside from what the manager should or shouldn’t do, it’s a much bigger deal for the person who has something to lose, so it’s worth an extra check to protect yourself.

        2. Laura*

          If I’m asking for a day off just around the house, or even say a week for a long in-state camping trip, I’ll usually tend to assume it’s okay unless told it’s not, at least until it gets closer.

          (Well, I used to be that way. Now we have an online system where I can see what’s pending/denied/allowed, and everything is so much smoother.)

          Right now, we’re planning a trip this summer, and I’m waiting until my husband confirms the time off to book the hotel and buy the tickets. Because if those fall through, I can easily cancel the vacation request (neither of our companies would be sad at that!) and make it for another time. But I can’t easily rebook the (ridiculously expensive) airline tickets if I’ve bought them.

          I just will not risk that much money without positive confirmation of time off.

        3. Jake*

          This is where I’m getting crossed up a bit. I’ve always worked in environments where there are either 2 individuals where one must be there per the contract or there are 3 individuals and 2 must be there per the contract. In these cases it comes down to first come first serve unless there is something wildly out of the norm happening on that date. It isn’t explicitly “if you don’t hear back you are approved” but it is as close as possible.

          I guess that is why I can’t picture a time where the manager doesn’t just take the ten seconds after receiving the request to check and see. Even if there is a change as time marches on, how hard is it to make a note on your schedule to check for your time off requests? It is of equal difficulty to double check as it is for the manager to just to their job correctly.

          1. Elsajeni*

            I do think the fact that it’s a retail situation is relevant, mainly because retail schedules are generally made up only a week or two in advance and change from week to week; there may not even be a schedule or calendar for May to “check and see” when someone hands you a time-off request in November. So, putting in your request six months in advance is fine, but if you never mention it again, it may also mean that, by the time the manager is writing the schedule for that week, it’s been six months since she’s thought about your request. Of course, you’re right that ideally everyone would have filing systems or scheduling software that would render this a non-issue, and the manager has the primary responsibility for keeping track of the requests, but I do think the employee has some responsibility for following up on her own requests and not just assuming no news is good news.

          2. KrisL*

            It would be good for the manager to get this right every time, but scheduling non-refundable costly plans without getting an OK on the vacation doesn’t seem very prudent.

      5. Joey*

        The problem though is nothing should be assumed its approved until it actually is. If you’ve been in the working world for any amount of time you know that a request off is by far a higher priority for the person requesting it than the manager. Not that it’s not important to a manager, but requests can get lost, misplaced, forgotten about, responses can be delayed, etc. So unless you’re prepared to accept a denial you should be confirming that your request is approved. Because until it is its not.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          And that’s precisely why it strikes me as a bit immature. It’s a simple follow-up. And if it’s during a particularly busy time then I have to wonder if the employee made plans without following up because she suspected the answer would be no.

    2. Amberleaf le Haunt*

      Yeah, I submitted my vacation request just over 3 months in advance, and then I asked my manager about it two months later. She was surprised that I was so shocked about it! Hahaha but we have around 25-35 cashiers so that makes getting time off relatively easy.

      1. Elizabeth West*

        Me too, and I’ll definitely follow up. My manager had me put my vacation on my calendar so she would see it when that month rolls around. At the beginning, I’m going to remind her and let her know my timetable for getting the month-end stuff done early.

        Being that it’s all I can think/talk about (yes, I’m driving everyone crazy :D), it’s not likely I’ll forget to check!

        1. Canadamber*

          Okay, so I’m really stupid because…

          1) I used a different name on my phone than on the computer!!! xD; I am actually Canadamber AND Amberleaf le Haunt. :P

          2) I asked about it two WEEKS later, not two MONTHS, hahaha.

          Quite clearly, I suck. Oh, well. I have a cold, so I am allowed to be stupid. :P

        2. Katie the Fed*

          When I have a vacation coming up, I remind my boss about it at least once a week. It can be on the calendar, in my daily emails to my team (I list upcoming leave for everyone) that I cc him on, and he will STILL forget until I say “ok, all done with everything, see you in two weeks!”

          The difference is I know he’s scatterbrained, and he knows I know that, and he knows he needs all the help he can get. I feel like a good working relationship involves helping each other out :)

          1. Mallory*

            I do the frequent reminders with my boss, too. He doesn’t like it when I’m on vacation, so he keeps putting it out of his mind. When I ask for time off, he’s always like, “Well, how much vacation do you get, anyway,” in a kind of petulant tone of voice. He always gives me what I ask for, but it’s always with a kind of, “fine, leave me to fend for myself for a week” attitude. My colleagues confirm that he is lost and a little beside himself until I come back.

    3. KrisL*

      I don’t think the manager did a good job here, but I agree that to be on the safe side, don’t make nonrefundable travel plans until management says you have the time off. Why risk it?

  14. Wilton Businessman*

    #3. IT guys are always optimistic. ALWAYS. There are certainly a FEW reasoms why you might want to roll your own, but the reason of doing it cheaper is NEVER a viable reason. You can not build the same functionality cheaper than you can buy it.

    An IT guy

    1. Artemesia*

      I worked for a place where the in-house people had built all sorts of software higgildy piggildy and were very defensive about it — it took years before a truly horrible system was finally replaced by a commercial product that actually worked well. It was admirable that in the early years we had creative people willing to take the initiative, but ultimately it put a real crimp in productivity until a well designed and tested system was put in place. Rarely will something patched together in house be better than and cheaper than a well designed commercial product.

    2. Chinook*

      Wilton Businessman, there is onegreat vreason for IT to do it internally if they have the skillet – customizability and the ability to interact with other users programs. I love our IT department because we have one guy writing programs for us that can make them do what we want with compromises. They are much more user friendly than some of the vendor products we use.

      1. Bea W*

        This is one thing I miss about one of my former jobs. If we needed something special, I could just hit up my programming lead, and he’d hook us up. Some of the lack of functionality and bogginess in the commercial products I’ve used is frustrating. Rel easing a new version at old work? Couple hours overnight and done. Releasing a new version on the commercial product at current work? 5 days running 24/7 involving 3 teams of people short on sleep. I don’t know how we get through it without losing people to either permanent insanity or suicide.

    3. Brett*

      +1000 on this. In-house is never cheaper. Especially when you start talking about upgrades and maintenance. We could come up with a whole list of reasons to develop in-house, but cost savings will not be on there.

    4. Gobrightbrand*

      Yes to this. #3 How much down-time does your IT team have? I would assume they have regular work to keep them pretty busy. Developing a new system, if it’s complicated, is not easy to do in 30 mins here, 1 hour there between other work. Is the system the vendor is pitching cost-prohibitive? If not, why not just buy it?

    5. Jen RO*

      After working with in-house systems (as a non-IT person), I think they are a very bad idea. They might be new and shiny and amazing for the first year (if they ever get done), but 15 years on you are down to one person who has a clue how they work and when he goes on holiday or, god forbid, quits, you are screwed. (Can you tell that I have to use one of those 15 year old applications?)

      1. Elysian*

        This is a good point. However, my workplace is using commercial software that is at least 20 years old, and the company eventually just stopped supporting it, so we’re STILL left in the position that only our in-house IT person knows how it works. I’ve tried to Google for suggestions on it, but apparently the software’s demise was pre-Internet.

        So while you’re right that this is an important problem/consideration, it isn’t unique to in-house products.

        1. Bea W*

          One of our vendors has no one on who knows the creaky old software we’re still using. I’ve had to explain to them how to make things work on top of explaining the issue. I’ve only used it 2 years, and now hardly at all.

          One of our other vendors fails to alert us when what we think is a routine change will actually go balls up because of a bug they know about and aren’t fixing anytime soon.

          So now I feel like I’m doing double duty, and it’s not like these services are inexpensive. I’m pretty sure the people who do the design have no clue how things actually work in actual practice. So we get a bunch of clunky stuff that leaves you wondering what someone was thinking. That was the other upside of inhouse developers, they got a much better understanding of how things needed to work because they were in the middle of it

      2. Neeta (RO)*

        At the first company I worked for, interns and most juniors ended up developing these internal apps… which is probably why their code was a nightmare.

      3. Chinook*

        Whereas my experience with in-house software is that it is so much better than vendor stuff but maybe that is because the vendors take a month to get back to us with support issues but our IT guys reply within 24 hours and actually come toour meetings where we use the programs to help figure out how to best implement our requests. We are lucky in that our coder does this as a hobby as well (and is happy to be paid to do it – or atleast was until he realized how much we are going to use him) and he is training other people to fix it to (which is why the updates didn’t grind to a halt when he went on a month long vacation). We are also developing this to be useful now as well as 10 years down the road because nobody wants to ever have to reenter this data (or, if we do have to, atleast we can pull it out on a spreadsheet).

        Now, whether or not or head office in Houston would agree with us using our IT people like this is unknown, but the reality is that, when we use the stuff they buy for us, we are seen as such a little, odd-duck (minor Canadian department in an American firm) that internally created programs are just more flexible.

      4. KrisL*

        Get someone who is good at learning things, asking questions, and documenting what is learned, and have that person work with the 1 person who knows the system. It should help.

    6. OP #3*

      Normally I’d agree with you, but we’re very fortunate to have a developer savant on our staff. We have some of the most cutting-edge tools in our field that none of our competitors have, and they were all custom-built by this one extremely valuable staff member. He’s an auto-didact who is far more satisfied by having the freedom to experiment and learn new skills than by any compensation he gets (although we take good care of him!) and our director has the sense and vision to have structured his role so that is exactly what he spends his time doing: researching new technologies, brainstorming how we could use them to our advantage, and building custom tools. Most of my interactions with him go like this:

      Me: So I had an idea. [Describes what it would look like from the user end.] Is that possible? Would it be hard?
      Him: Wow, cool idea. I was just reading about this new thing which I think we could use to do exactly that, and it seems like it’d be fun to build.

      I mean, every time. It’s unbelievable. He’s worth his weight in gold.

      1. Colette*

        That’s fine, but if it’s one person working alone, you could potentially be in a lot of trouble if he leaves. Is there oversight from other developers to make sure the code meets coding standards so that someone else could maintain it?

        1. C Average*


          We have this guy at my office. I have become good enough friends with him that he confides in me somewhat.

          At times he has been offered the opportunity to move into other departments and make more money. He chose to stay put because he likes it here, but acknowledges that he’d move on for the right opportunity (and that he’s partly kept in place by the knowledge that we’d be up a creek without him).

          He also noted that he’s had some medical problems he felt pressured to deal with as efficiently as possible so that we wouldn’t be without him. I don’t think anyone here knew he wasn’t well and was struggling to recover.

          It sounds like your guy is phenomenal, just like ours is, but don’t forget that he’s human.

        2. OP #3*

          Well, we’ll definitely be crippled in terms of forward progress if he moves on. But we do have rigorous processes for documenting the things he builds (an entire webguide that has an overview of each tool he built, how it works, and how end users in the department should user them).

      2. Wilton Businessman*

        Let’s see if I can put this nicely…

        First off, this guy won’t last forever. He’s going to find more money somewhere else, more opportunity, or he’s going to get hit by the programmer bus. Somebody is going to have to come in and pick up the pieces when he’s gone. I’ve followed this guy two or three times in my career. It was never pretty.

        Second, while working with the latest whiz-bang technology bolsters one’s resume, it’s rarely a good practice from an IT Infrastructure standpoint. If technology stood still, this wouldn’t be a problem, but when Windows 9 comes into your organization and breaks everything you have would you rather update a couple pieces of technology or the last 5 years worth of technology? In addition, one of those whiz-bang pieces can be switched out by your OS vendor at a moment’s notice and you only find out about it when your user downloads the latest security patch from Microsoft (or Apple or Java or …).

        So, are their reasons to develop something in-house? Absolutely. A lot of In-House systems address things like functionality gaps, interfacing disparate systems, or augmenting turn-key systems (although I could argue either way on this one).

        If cost is an issue and the piece of software is overkill for your organization, there is another piece of software that addresses exactly what you need.

    7. OP #3*

      Although I’ll add that as I noted in a comment above, this particular vendor’s software’s advantages over what we were already using in-house turned out to be something that was a pretty trivial upgrade to make. (As a non-IT person myself, I wasn’t able to tell that from my initial meeting, as I was just evaluating from the perspective of whether their version of tool would provide additional benefits that our version didn’t.)

      It wasn’t even so much that we said, “Too expensive! Can we do it in house?” It was that immediately after the call ended, our developer emailed all of us saying, “I can do that using some skills I’ve been really excited to put to use. Do I have permission to work on this fun project?” In fact, would say the fact that it keeps our resident wizard happy and engaged with his work is actually a more significant factor in why we’re letting him do it than the cost savings.

    8. nonymousara*

      I took the OPs question to read that *if* they wanted the functionality, they would just do it in house, not that they were actually going to recreate the same program as was being sold. I think those are two different things, because the end result might be easily obtained from existing infrastructure without needing a new program or whatever the vendor is selling.

  15. MPL*

    #3 – that was one of the most useful things I learned at a professional conference, regarding vendor negotiations – the buyer is the one in control. They need us a lot more than we need them (there are often other options for buyers and we can usually take our business elsewhere.) Previously, I’d been concerned about hurting someone’s feelings, but that conference changed my thinking in that regard.

    1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

      I think the information at the conference was short sighted. I’ve been doing vendor relations for well over 20 years, and I have a reputation for cultivating symbiotic relationships with my vendors.

      Our best vendors are truly our partners and I need them every bit as much as they need me.

      You get a lot more out of approaching potential vendors as potential partners and treating existing vendors as partners. A lot more.

      You don’t have to cede that approach in order to remain in control.

  16. LavaLamp*

    In regards to #4 it wasn’t that long ago that I was a high school student. This sort of thing was not uncommon (except the heat tools o.o the chem teacher trying to burn the building down was enough) but I think it would be worth checking in to see if students can use the bathroom. My school would lock the doors, or have an administrator follow you and question every russle of paper making one kind of embarassed to be on that time of the month let alone put on eyeliner. I don’t think it’s fair to tell someone “no you can’t use the bathroom for what it’s intended” especially because half the people I work with do makeup in the ladies room here, because well we have access to it. I’ve seen this so often it would defintatly be worth checking to see.

    First post! back to lurkerdom.

    1. LBK*

      Is taking time at school to put on makeup really appropriate, though, regardless of where you do it? I’m assuming most people in your office aren’t doing their full beauty routine in the bathroom every morning – I get that maybe you need to put on your eyeliner or something if you rushed out of the house, but I would find it bizarre if someone was purposely carving time out every day to put on makeup at work.

      Also, time management in school is very different. You don’t get to control your schedule and manage your day – your teacher has you for an hour or so, and you’re expected to be there during that hour. It’s not like the office where you know your workload and can schedule your day how you like.

      1. Cat*

        Eh, school isn’t an office though – if a high school girl wants to put on makeup in between classes in the restroom (I agree, not during class), I don’t think it matters whether it would look professional in an office or not.

        1. LBK*

          Sorry, I should’ve specified – I meant during class. I wouldn’t care if they were putting on makeup at school during lunch or between classes or something, but LavaLamp’s comment made it sound like the issue was just that the girls were doing this in the classroom vs. somewhere else. If a girl leaves class for 10 minutes to do her makeup in the bathroom, that’s not more appropriate than doing it during class – if anything it’s less appropriate, at least if she’s in the classroom she could theoretically still be listening to the lesson.

      2. Jamie*

        I don’t know – I probably rush out of the house 2-3 days a week and put on my makeup when I get there. I’m in the ladies room anyway and some BB cream, lipgloss, mascara, eyeshadow, a little blush, and sometimes liner? I’ve never timed it but I’d be shocked it took over 2 minutes tops.

        I know someone women have a much more time consuming routine. but “putting on make-up” and the time that entails varies wildly.

        1. Katie the Fed*

          Some of these girls might not be allowed to wear makeup at home.

          I maaaaay have put on mascara when I left the house in high school.

          Now that I’m allowed I can’t be bothered, of course.

          1. Jamie*

            Yes, I may or may not have had a makeup bag in my locker in jr. high and been grounded multiple times because I forgot to take it off before going home.

            1. Mallory*

              Ha! I wasn’t allowed to wear makeup, so I put in on on the bus ride to school each morning. Then my best friend would have a mini skirt waiting for me when I got to school. I left the house clean-scrubbed and in modest jeans, but every day at school i had on a mini skirt and a face full of heavy makeup (blue and purple eyeshadow, black eyeliner, bubblegum pink lipstick — the full ’80s treatment)!

        2. LBK*

          Fair enough – to be clear I am not an expert on putting on makeup so if it’s no more time consuming than a normal minute or two like a regular bathroom break, then that’s probably more acceptable. I’m probably thinking of more when my female friends get ready to go out and it can take 20+ minutes.

          1. Jamie*

            Evening makeup is a whole different animal for most of us. It requires a lighted mirror, a larger palette for contouring, and sometimes a staff of minions to carry it all out.

            But totally agreed that it’s elaborate and time consuming it needs to be done at home.

            1. Karyn*

              I wish I had a staff of minions to put on my makeup. Maybe if I did, I’d wear it more! :)

        3. Shell*

          I’m astounded that all that can take you under two minutes. The same thing would take me probably closer to seven.

          That said, I am terrible with makeup (hate the stuff) and even the idiotproof ones (kohl pencils for the win) take me forever to apply without looking like a raccoon.

          I think my lack of polish will probably come back to bite me professionally, ugh.

          1. Jamie*

            I have a stop watch on my phone, out of curiosity I’ll time it when I go in there.

            I’ve been holed up in my office all day and I forgot I am makeup-less at the moment. I sometimes forget to go in first thing. I do work in manufacturing, so the environment is a lot less formal than for some other environments – or at least that’s how I’m spinning it to myself to make me feel okay about my pale, naked face.

            And if my co-workers have an issue with my lack of polish they won’t mention it today. I brought in homemade pecan rolls (that’s right – the kind you make from a yeast dough – the tricky kind) and mini chocolate eclairs 100% from scratch.

            (No, I did not go around offering them to individuals. I am not that coworker. I dumped them in the common snack area and walked away. Feedback usually makes me uncomfortable, but someone asked me where I bought them and didn’t believe me at first when I said they were from scratch …that’s a compliment worth remembering.)

            1. Shell*

              I think I put on makeup a grand total of…three times in high school? One of which was for prom? I barely even cared during elementary when I had ketchup leftovers from lunch that I carried around with me for the rest of the afternoon.

              All in all, I vastly prefer a desk job to the benchwork I had in a previous life…but I do miss being able to wear absolutely whatever and no one cared one whit about how I dressed.

              Now I want pecan rolls…

            2. Lizabeth*

              I go without makeup most of the time…it disappears within a few hours due to skin type (for base) and rubbing eyes (which I end up looking like a raccoon!).

              Mom used to give me a rough time in high school about not wearing it saying I would look “so much better” until I started saying back “I look pretty without it”.

              Someone wearing or not wearing makeup doesn’t matter; can they do the work?

              Share the pecan roll recipe?????

    2. Dani*

      Yeah – using a hot curling iron in class isn’t appropriate and can be super dangerous, but it’s worth checking in to see why this behavior is happening.

      When I was fresh-faced young teacher fresh outta college, I was told that the class I was inheriting from a veteran was disrespectful and one of the examples she brought up was students eating a whole breakfast in class, and how rude it was and how they were “complete animals.”

      Well, it turns out when I talked to the principal and to some of the kids in my class, most of the kids didn’t have a breakfast at home, and the chronically late buses (it was an urban area with lots of traffic) meant they didn’t have time to eat their school breakfast in the cafeteria, so they carted it all to first period – My class.

      Hungry Teens + Teacher who wouldn’t let them eat = Hangry Teens who are too hungry to focus on the lesson. Enforcing no food in the classroom wouldn’t help these kids learn.

      So I let the principal know why I was allowing the food, and I set some ground rules for responsible behavior (clean up after yourself and your food, recycle your recyclables) and had a much more harmonious classroom environment, where I could focus on teaching more than discipline, and the kids could focus on the lesson and not their empty stomachs. Teens quietly noshing on breakfast while absorbing a lesson was far better than a teacher yelling at them to stop being so disrespectful, while the students (resentful and HUNGRY) snapped back retorts.

      Maybe the student in questions spends her morning getting younger siblings ready for school and doesn’t have time herself. Maybe there are no outlets in the school public bathrooms. Think about it – do you think this girl really prefers to do her beauty ritual in front of everyone? Would 5 minutes of makeup/hair prep in the teacher’s bathroom (if permitted) be something that would let her concentrate on the lesson in class?

      School isn’t work, though education certainly helps with work skills. (Your first job, whether that’s babysitting or McDonald’s teaches you more about a work ethic and accountability than school often does, I think. And I’ve known students to responsibly hold down 1-2 jobs at a time supporting their family, while floundering at school.) Sometimes a little understanding can go a long way in a classroom.

      1. Callie*

        I completely agree about understanding. I have seen some things as a teacher that never in a million years would I have thought actually happened in the real world, and I had to adjust my assumptions that were based on my white-middleclass-rural-two-parent-family upbringing and realize that a lot of people’s lives differ wildly from mine and I need to check myself.

        For example, as part of the school lunch program, we were required to give all of the kids a carton of milk. They didn’t have to drink it, obviously, but we had to give it to them. There was a spot on a table in the cafeteria where kids who didn’t want their milks could put them and other kids could go pick up an extra milk, no questions asked. One kid was taking five or six boxes of milk and I thought he was just being greedy–but he was taking them because he wanted to take them home to his pre-school-age siblings because there was no milk in the house and usually no food. He was just trying to look out for them. Asking him privately what he was doing instead of scolding him let us figure that out and we were able to work with an outside agency who could help the parents with milk and food. Usually, but not always, when a student does something “wrong” there’s some kind of reason behind it.

  17. FatBigot*

    I think we are being told only half the story here. Did the supervisors think one of them would get your job? Did they have reason to believe that? Why could the organisation not have appointed someone internal to your position?

    OP1 states: “There have been many staff changes in the past year.” Assuming this means hard redundancies, how were they managed? How were people selected to stay? If it was at the whim of your predecessor, then that explains their distrust.

    1. Lia*

      I couldn’t agree more. In another department at my company, the VP decided to hire an outside candidate over an internal one for a directorship — the first time anyone could remember such a thing happening. The outside person was far better qualified, but the staff only saw the fact that they didn’t promote internally, and it led to chilly relations for a long time.

      OP #1, maybe get to know the culture of the office.

      1. KarenT*

        That may be the case, but I’m not sure why it matters. If you lose out on a promotion, that doesn’t give you the right to sulk or act out at work. You are still expected to behave professionally.

    2. Jen RO*

      The situation in my current job (my last day is tomorrow) is very similar to what OP mentioned. Why? Because The Boss came over, told us how great everything was going, then laid off 20% of the employees. No one trusts him anymore, so no one is willing to share anything beyond the basics.

  18. Lora*

    1. Define more clearly what you mean by the past year being tough?

    About two jobs back, I worked for a Big Pharma that was bought out by MegaPharma. The way MegaPharma decided who was redundant was by giving the replicate departments identical projects with completely unreasonable deadlines and seeing who performed “the best”. Except “the best” was often completely arbitrary and the luck of the draw. We knew our colleagues perfectly well–we were all peers and equally respected in the field–so we simply felt really, really terrible to see one of the other groups get the axe instead of us, knowing that there was nothing to be done about it and that it wasn’t a real judgment call on anybody’s skill. It was merely that our MBA overlords and smarmy butt-kissing VPs were jerks who couldn’t do math.

    When two directors were told they were being let go because one of the SVPs simply didn’t like them and didn’t understand their science, things got really ugly. Those two directors had made the company billions in sales–it truly was a personality clash from a SVP who couldn’t get along with anybody.

    When I say ugly, I am talking lawsuits, online death threats, and pretty much everyone hated the SVP in question that nobody would have taken a free beer from him, let alone given him the time of day. And this was widely viewed as just deserts, considering how appalling his behavior had been to everyone else–not the online stuff, but his behavior and management decisions that led to lawsuits and killed wonderful research programs were considered appalling.

    They eventually shuffled the guy around somewhere else, and the new SVP was approached with great suspicion and hostility for years. He’s just some guy, who was eventually agreed to be merely mediocre and risk-averse, but he had a hard time of it.

    My point being, there’s “the company softball team and summer picnic were canceled to save money” and then there’s “jobs constantly in peril, authority-crazed megalomaniacs running the show, led by a team of poo-flinging monkeys” rough years. There’s a difference, wherein people not being chipper and friendly may be silly and unreasonable or may be completely understandable.

    Not sure why companies often figure they can inflict the second version on employees and come out unscathed, but what do I know. You’d think a business school would do some kind of study on the impact of crummy management and how much can be withstood for how long by any given organization before you might as well throw in the towel.

  19. Rindle*

    I’m struggling to see things from OP #1’s point of view. S/he says these two supervisors are “very unfriendly to me,” and then goes on to describe behavior that doesn’t sound all that unfriendly. If OP is saying they are “very unfriendly” BECAUSE they “give one word answers most of the time,” “don’t say hi or bye unless I really go out of my way,” “never ask how I’m doing,” and have a “lack of warmth,” I think this could just be a difference of opinion on what’s important in workplace relationships.

    It sounds to me like this situation could easily be two introverted supervisors reporting to an extroverted director. Now, maybe the OP left out the part where the one-word answers are petulant, or do not answer the question appropriately. Maybe the OP didn’t specifically describe other unfriendly behavior… but s/he says “I don’t think it’s personal.” If it’s not personal, it’s not unfriendly, right? It’s just a different way of interacting at the office.

    Some people just don’t automatically chat about every aspect of an issue. If you ask whether I’ve gotten responses to X email and I have, I’ll answer the question, but I won’t necessarily give you a play by play unless you ask. If you ask me Monday morning how my weekend was, you’re likely to get a smile followed by a “great!” – and that’s it. Nothing personal … I’d just rather use my energy in other ways than determining the appropriate amount of detail to share about the party I threw on Saturday, the fight I had with my SO on Sunday, and the family drama that was the undercurrent to the whole thing.

    I *hate* making small talk at the office, but that doesn’t get in the way of “productive conversations and a free exchange of ideas.” I once had a colleague whom I truly liked tell me that it was irksome that I left everyday without stopping by her office to say goodbye. I was like … what? Seriously? It’s time to go home! Nothing personal, but we’ve been here all day and now it’s time to not be here. Can’t we establish an implied “goodbye”?

    Also – OP twice referred to him/herself as their “superior” and framed the question in terms of how these two supervisors interact with their “superior.” That may just be an accident of language, but it stuck out to me. Sure, technically the OP is their superior, but that word has interesting connotations here. And the issues the OP lays out are all about communicating up the chain – no complaints about how they communicate down the chain except as it relates to “setting an example.” I found that curious. Does the OP expect the supervisors to kowtow because s/he is the director? And maybe the supervisors are irritated by that? Again, I’m inferring a lot here, but it’s not impossible.

    1. Jamie*

      I wish I had read this first, it would have saved me a lot of typing below. I agree with all of this.

      And I do agree with others it’s a cultural thing. If it’s the culture (beyond just the OP) then yes, going against the grain like this will hurt them politically. We don’t work in a vacuum and that’s why fit is important. It would be the same if the OP worked in a culture like mine, where people do work well together and get along, and complained about lack of warmth or not being greeted properly. Absent actual rudeness or anything interfering with work the problem would be met with a fair amount of incredulity.

      Yes, the supervisors might be instructed to make sure they said hello and make sure there answers provided X number of words, but it would be to nicely humor the OP for being emotional – it would hurt the OPs reputation far more than the non-greeters. I’ve been on the receiving end of ‘I know it’s ridiculous but can you make sure you smile and chat with X once in a while, otherwise they get worried you don’t like them and I have to hear about it’ conversation.

      Fwiw I have found huge benefits to going out of my way to be friendlier, more approachable, smilier, than is my nature – so it’s helpful for them to know if this stuff is having a negative impact. From a moral and logical standpoint I will always have an issue with those who need what I feel is excessive hand holding (either social or emotional) at work, but there is no question of the strategic benefits of being who they need you to be.

      The irony is being who they need you to be precludes ever developing a real friendship, in most cases, due to requiring others to fake emotions for you. Catch-22.

      1. Cat*

        I feel like there’s a couple of different things going on here. People shouldn’t be told to use X words per answer or “fake emotions.” But if you’re a supervisor, you do need to maintain a certain kind of positive energy, as Alison put it. And relatively few people can carry off monotone frowning answers while still maintaining a decent energy in the workplace (who can? Ron Swanson, that’s who). If you’re a manager–i.e., if part of your job is making the office run smoothly–and the only way you can bring yourself to respond to your boss asking your day is a glare and a grudging “fine,” you need to look for a new job where you can do more than that.

        There are other positions where maybe you can get away with this. I wouldn’t say it’s ideal–ideally you’ll have a better sense of how to make people comfortable because that’s just a good life skill–but yeah, you can probably be an accounting person or an IT person who everyone can accept as the curmudgeon who does good work. But as a manager, that’s not your only job; and it’s a rare workplace where the office culture isn’t going to suffer from a manager who can’t make people feel . . . well, at least slightly valued. You don’t have to be enthusiastic and bubbly and etc. to pull that off; but you can’t be sullen (which is how the attitude described by the OP read to me). Again, unless you’re Ron Swanson.

        1. Jamie*

          If the world were full of Ron Swansons we’d be living in utopia. Which he would hate because of too much happiness.

          I absolutely agree that frowny answer and glaring are definitely work place problems and need to be addressed. If that’s the case, I agree it sets a bad tone.

          But to me that’s wildly different than not seeking someone out to say hello or goodbye, or asking them about their day. We do have limited facts so of course I am seeing this through my own lens, which may not be accurate.

          2 scenarios:

          1. You’re my boss and when you ask about X I give you the minimum answer with an attitude that conveys I don’t want to talk to you about this. I glare and people are reticent to approach me about work related stuff.

          2. You’re my boss and when you ask me about X I answer you briefly (which will sometimes be one word, depending on the question), but professionally and civilly – nothing stopping you from inquiring further or discussing another project. I’m approachable, I’m forthcoming with what you need I am just not using filler or extraneous fluff to draw a quick answer into a longer conversation. If you greet me I return the greeting, but I don’t seek you out to say hello or good bye to you. People who report to me have no issues with approaching me and I have a good professional rapport – even if I don’t small talk much.

          Or maybe I do small talk, but with select people on occasion. Is it okay that I ask Jane how her day is going, because we have a more friendly relationship, but that I don’t ask you?

          In scenario #1 I’m with you – huge issue. In the second, I stand by what I said in that as long as the employee is being professional and civil a manager isn’t entitled to warmth or a feigned interest in how their day is going.

          Hands down though, learning to fake that kind of personal interest is very beneficial – no question. But is it something that should be held against someone professionally if they don’t? Yes, if the culture is such that it’s expected and it’s part of how people communicate. No, if it’s just the manager hurt because she thinks they should show more warmth to their “superior.”

  20. Ali*

    With #4, I had a teacher in high school who had a class rule that “the beauty salon was on the fourth floor.” Our school only had three floors, so it was a way to keep kids from grooming themselves in class…she really had zero tolerance for it. I had her for two years in a row and I don’t think she made that rule until I didn’t have her anymore (but this was about 10 years ago now, so I could be wrong), but it was a humorous addition to the class rules while getting her point across.

    She was one of my favorite teachers ever too and a friend of my mom’s family. I sometimes talked to her during college but haven’t seen her in about a year. She had a good sense of humor in class, but grooming was one of the things she never put up with, as she could also be pretty tough.

  21. Lora*

    4. I am just fascinated by this entire concept for some reason. I went to a single sex school, where we only bothered to shower every other day most of the time, and wore our hair in greasy ponytails for class, with the occasional spot of acne medication daubed on a forehead or nose in a nod to modern beauty standards. Class time was spent taking notes, answering questions from the teacher, working on group projects and reviewing homework questions, with the occasional pop quiz or exam. I think I may have seen a classmate apply Chapstick once in four years.

    On the other hand, we were also allowed to sip coffee, nibble at the occasional snack, suck cough drops and peppermints, re-arrange our seating, etc. similar to a college class, and I know my public school friends weren’t allowed to do any of that.

    It’s just kind of weird to me. Even in high school, there was this notion that boys were supposed to think (or at least assume) that you woke up looking gorgeous, not that you put any effort into it, because that would be *shallow*. It didn’t matter if in fact you spent three hours prior to every social event in a whirlwind of meticulous hair-removal, makeup and fogging the bathroom with styling products, you still didn’t let a boy see you without the war paint until you were practically married or something.

    This may also be partly a socio-economic class thing. Most of the girls I went to school with (i.e. not me) were from fairly well-to-do families, and the most attractive assets they had consisted of dad’s oil refineries and an acceptance letter from Sarah Lawrence or Wellesley.

    1. matcha123*

      I went to a public high school in a upper middle class city. My school had over 2,000 students and there was a mix of kids who spent time on their “look” and those that didn’t.

      The kids who were sipping coffee were more likely to be the ones in the bathroom (or somewhere) primping and preening. We were also allowed to rearrange our seats (if needed, no assigned seating) and eat snacks.

      Public schools are wildly different.

      1. TL*

        I always thought I had a lot of freedom in high school because my school was so small, but yeah – public schools vary wildly!

    2. TL*

      I think it also depends on the size of the school. My (public) high school was very small and we didn’t have seating arrangements in most of my classes, we could eat in most of our classes, and a lot of us wore ponytails and jeans/t-shirts but showered every day (most of my friends were on athletic teams, so some of us even showered twice a day.) In the AP/honors classes, we were given a lot of free study time.

      There were also girls who wore tons of make-up and “did” their hair every day, too, but they weren’t the majority.

    3. Mints*

      I don’t think this is a public/private divide; it just varies. I went to a huge school (4000 students) and some girls wore makeup and some didn’t. Some straightened or curled their hair, some wore sweats, some write trendy clothes. Same thing when I go to like, target as an adult. And the food in class and changing seats varied by teacher

  22. Gobrightbrand*

    About the students doing hair and makeup in class. I don’t really agree that school habits = work habits. I have always been a stellar employee, but I did things in school I would never even contemplate doing at work. I wore pajamas to school, I slept in class, I brushed my hair in class, put on eyeliner at my desk. I also got really good grades.

    Teenagers don’t get enough sleep, school starts too early for their bodies’ natural sleeping rhythm. I always had a hard time getting up early enough to do anything more than run a comb through my wet hair.

    Rather than focus on these girls doing makeup on class, focus on their performance. Are they otherwise good students? Are they distracting others in class? Do they pay attention to lessons? If not address that and maybe mention that doing their hair and makeup is interfering with learning. A curling iron is kind of ridiculous but doing makeup in my mind is not a big deal if the students are succeeding academically.

    1. Elysian*

      I disagree – schools are one of the places that we can teach kids social norms, and it is not socially acceptable to be curling your hair in class. I agree that in the workplace we’re mostly outcome based, but if I had a coworker who was (for example) putting on eyeliner in the courtroom while opposing counsel was cross-examining her witness, it would be seriously inappropriate. It wouldn’t matter if she was winning her case or not.

      I wouldn’t judge the hair-curling student forever because of this mistake (kids need to learn somehow!) but I don’t agree that the teacher should just look at her grades. Schools are about learning social skills too, and she’s failing in the ‘social skills’ department if she can’t figure out that heat-styling tools are inappropriate during class.

      1. Laura*

        Schools are already terrible about teaching social skills. I mean, we’re not teaching about the realities of institutional racism or sexism (ironic considering the particular issue of beauty styling in class), but we’re worried about teaching Good Little Worker Bee habits? I remember reading somewhere that the American school system was designed in order to teach youth how to work for factory overlords (strict scheduling, little freedoms, hierarchy), but this is ridiculous.

        1. Elysian*

          I’m confused about what you’re advocating – are you saying that schools are bad at teaching social skills, so they shouldn’t try? Or that because they fail to teach about institutional racism and sexism (which I’m not sure is a social skill, strictly speaking, as much as it is sociology) that schools shouldn’t attempt to teach students about professionalism generally?

          I think we do students a disservice if we don’t help them understand what professional expectations are. Some students just don’t have the cultural capital to figure it out on their own and need more explicit instruction. Surely explicit instruction on business norms would generally do something to alleviate the institutional racism and sexism you’re concerned about.

          There are things to dislike about the American school system, certainly, but I’m unclear on what you think is the best solution to the OP’s problem here. Should she ignore the student’s disregard of social norms and classroom expectations? I think that would be a disservice, when the student will obviously be in more nuanced social situations in the future and may be left without the skills to handle them.

    2. fposte*

      Yeah, I’m with Elysian. Putting on makeup may not be a big deal, but it’s inappropriate in class. The bar isn’t simply whether you can still pay attention or not.

  23. Red Librarian*

    With regard to #5 I’m curious if the OP received any sort of acknowledgement or confirmation that the request was received. If the OP just sent a text or turned in a simple piece of paper that said “I need these days off” and then went ahead and made plans without hearing back from the manager that it was approved then I agree that some of the onus is on the OP.

    I used to have to follow up with my manager for the same reason, I’d turn the request in and never hear back. Now I take the request sheet directly to him and ask him in person, that way there’s no waiting around and wondering about a yay or a nay.

  24. One-time comment*

    You guys, the teacher was not asking for permission to say something to the student or what your opinions are about what teachers should and should not do or for you to please speculate about how competent he is. He asked “how would this be handled in [the] corporate world?” My guess is that he IS addressing it, but wants to be able to say, “if you did that on the job, you would [consequence]” and isn’t sure what’s accurate. Get fired? Get written up? Or nothing formal but everybody would just think you’re weird and the worst?

    Nobody has answered this question. In my office, it would be the third thing I listed above, but nobody should aspire to my office, so I don’t know.

    1. Elysian*

      I see where you’re coming from.

      I think it depends the context in which the grooming was taking place – putting on eyeliner in my private office is kind of odd, but no one would say anything. Putting on eyeliner during a meeting might get me talked to by my manager about what is and is not appropriate. Putting on eyeliner during a client meeting might get me fired, particularly because it would likely be a symptom of larger clueless-ness when it comes to client relations.

      Like someone said above, though, this kind of social obliviousness leads a person to become “the coworker who clips her toe nails at her desk,” which might not get you fired (as long as your other work is good) but no one will want to each lunch with you and you could very well be the first one let go if there needs to be downsizing because you’ll be the weird one.

      All of that might be too nuanced for self-absorbed high schoolers to completely grasp, though. It might be easier to just say “You do this crap at work and you’ll risk getting fired.” which ultimately is true. I do think its better to address it in the larger sense, as part of a conversation on socially acceptable grooming habits, as others have mentioned.

    2. Lora*


      Well, I am a professional nerd, and I wear makeup only for client presentation days and networking events, so applying any AT ALL would get me thrown out of the lab/clean room. Perhaps not the best example. But if I was applying makeup anywhere in a building on Client Presentation Day? Pretty sure my boss would quietly stop me in the hallway and ask what the eff was wrong with me. Then I would never be permitted to go anywhere with him again.

      Pushing a stray hair out of face, OK. Taking on/off glasses, please do. But all clients everywhere should be led to believe that I roll out of bed slathered in Dr Jartt’s Beauty Balm, Too Faced Lash Injection and Tarte lip stain. And? I sweat Crabtree & Evelyn rosewater.

      What has happened to women at work who do this is, an older lady is selected to explain the facts of life to them, those being that 1. For safety reasons, you need to stop this now 2. Seriously, princess? Get a job at Sephora/MAC if this is what you want to do all day.

      Actually, a great many of the ladies would say A Girl Job, meaning, you got the job by looking cute rather than by merit, or the job consists of looking cute–model, exotic dancer, etc.

  25. MR*

    For #3, in the normal course of business operations, the chances of you needing something from a cold-calling vendor is really, really low. That should be more than enough to dismiss the vendor outright.

    If a vendor had a product/service that was soooo amazing, that you just had to have, it would do a better job of selling itself and those in the know (in this case, the IT guys) would be much more sold on it. Pass on this with ease.

  26. kac*

    Re #3: I’m a salesperson, and I go out of my way to be respectful, not pushy or aggressive, and genuinely try to help my customers find the right solutions. If you got this vibe from the salesperson you worked with, especially because he gave you a good chunk of his time, I would really, really, really encourage you to provide the specific reason why you’re not going with his services.

    Nothing is more disappointing than standing there after a great series of meetings, having no idea what went wrong. a) You don’t know how to adjust or improve your presentation for the next customer and b) it can really make conversations with your supervisor uncomfortable when they ask for an update and you cannot give any reason why the sale fell through.

    Also, if you get the same critique often enough, you can bring the feedback up the chain and hopefully improve the product. Sometimes you know what the issue is, but without specific “lost accounts” to reference, changes don’t happen.

    1. Laura*

      +1 And again, if you explain that your team can build it in-house, you might find out additional information that either supports or negates that decision.

    2. OP #3*

      Thank you for your feedback! I appreciate hearing from someone on the sales side. I think I will go with offering him a brief reason, but being firm as to not being open to resolicitation.

      1. kac*

        Glad it was helpful feedback! I like your plan a lot. A firm no benefits both of you, anyway. (And if this sales person doesn’t get that message, than you have my salesperson-blessing to tell him to leave you alone ;). )

  27. Sunflower*

    #3- I work with vendors a lot and in a place where we probably need each other equally. I’ve found the best thing is to be honest with them. If you tell them ‘We’ve decided to use an in-house option’ maybe you will get push back but at that point, you can either put them directly in touch with the IT guys or say ‘I really appreciate all you’ve done but we are sticking with this. I’ll be in touch with you if we need your services.’ I also add in sometimes that I will refer someone who is in the market for something similar.

    People in my organization have lied to vendors and I did a few times when I started. I found that things get really tangled and at the end of the day, you are the buyer and even if you need the relationship, you’re still the one in control. They are used to getting turned out everyday- it’s part of their job so don’t feel guilty about telling them you’ll contact them if you need them.

  28. C Average*

    I’m pondering the hi/bye/how are you thing, and I’m wondering whether some of those omissions come down to the pacing of the employees’ day.

    On my team, we all arrive at different times. I’m usually the first in, at around 6, and then another colleague arrives at 7-ish. Another comes in at about 7:30, two more arrive around 7:45, and the remaining four arrive around 8. Our manager seldom arrives before 9 unless there’s a meeting scheduled. So by the time she gets here, we’re absorbed in our tasks. She says a general “hello” and we usually come back with a “hey,” often without looking up, because we’re at our desks and on task and not in small-talk mode. We interact in various ways throughout the day–talking about projects, asking questions, collaborating on tasks, attending meetings together, recapping meetings we’ve attended separately, etc.–and are generally friendly to each other. At the end of the day, we also tend to leave at various times. Sometimes we say “bye,” sometimes we just head out without saying anything.

    Our lack of pleasantries has nothing to do with a bad vibe. We’re just all constantly in motion on different schedules, and if each arrival and departure required a flurry of hellos and so-long-farewells, we’d be doing that all day.

    1. Tasha*

      I’m the same way–I get to work around 7, and the other two people in my area get in at 9 and anywhere from 8-10, respectively. I’ll say hi (unless I’m focusing and just don’t notice, in which case I’ll say a belated hello later that morning) but prolonged conversations only happen when we’re solving a problem together or planning group presentations.

  29. MJ*

    OP#1 As the director of a small/medium non-profit, I concur with Alison that this is a culture issue. These employees are probably responding to you based on prior cultural experiences. It takes a year or two to shift culture. I inherited a team that was mistrustful. There had been a lot of turnover in the prior years due to staff unhappiness. To turn a mistrustful staff, you have to begin by demonstrating your trust in them.

    When you take those supervisors to lunch, talk to them about what motivates them. Talk to them about what they like and don’t like about their jobs. Ask them if they need anything to make their jobs easier. Ask if the people on their teams need anything. Show them that you are there to support them and that you respect the work they do, and as they begin to feel that support and align themselves to this new way of working, they will begin to operate more as you do. It takes time.

    If you begin your relationship with them by telling them what they are doing wrong, you could start down a path that you can’t return from. The people who work at your organization actually run the operation. They open the doors, they greet the customers, they keep the machine greased and working. You are there to support them and make sure they have what they need to do the job. Demonstrate that over and over, and the culture will slowly evolve.

    Good luck!

    1. MJ*

      OP#1 Just re-read your letter. Perhaps you might start by not considering yourself their “superior.”

      Here’s an exercise: take your organizational chart and try redrawing it with yourself at the bottom. Or make it round like a dining room table. Where I work, we call it bottom-up management. Managers have a dual role of support and leadership. People won’t follow if they don’t first feel supported. If you want your employees to shift they way they think about you, you may have to first shift how you think about yourself and them.

      1. Koko*

        I once had a wonderful boss replaced by a terrible one, and this was one of the big differences. I called Wonderful Boss a “leader” because she (metaphorically) stood in the circle with us and collaborated with us but provided vision and guidance. I called Terrible Boss a “boss” because she (metaphorically) stood outside the circle telling us what to do.

    2. TP*

      Great response! It’s so important to not come in as if you’re there to “fix” everything. And I agree, when you start a new work relationship off on the wrong foot, it’s really difficult to turn things around.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Leadership is a service position. I hold on to that, because too many times it has been helpful.
      OP, if you want your people to talk with you, find out what they need/want. Collect their thoughts and suggestions.
      Instead of asking them to make a superficial connection to you, ask them to make a real connection to you.
      The fact that they do not say hi and bye is not the real problem.

      You have two issues, not one. You are a new leader, that is almost secondary, here. Your people are the walking wounded- that is the primary issue. Ask them what is going well, what is going poorly. Ask them what they absolutely need and do not have.
      If it is as bad as you say, the first problems they bring you will be small. They are testing the waters, OP. They want to see how you handle things. Just accept it. Answer them, help them. As time goes on you will find the questions getting harder/more involved. That means you are doing well.
      Tell them thank you once in a while. You will have to say it about five times before they hear you say it once.
      Give it six months to a year of this. Then do a check. I bet by then they will be saying hi and bye.

  30. A.*

    Re: #4

    My mother is a high school teacher and tells me about girls’ classroom grooming habits all the time. She has female students who will apply lotion in class. I’m not talking about simply applying lotion to dry hands. I’m talking applying lotion to their legs, arms, etc. She simply tells them it’s unhygienic and inappropriate–which is true!

    1. Zed*

      Wait. I don’t actually think that’s weird. When I was in school, offering, sharing, and applying lotion was this huge social ritual.

  31. Sam*


    Always get time off in writing! When I requested my month off work, a year in advance, I had both HR and my immediate supervisor sign paperwork when they approved it, before I even considered booking flights. Always always always get in writing.

  32. Jamie*

    I need an unoppular opinion puffin for this, but for #1 the only questionable thing for me is one word answers, and it would really depend on the context. Do they really only give one word answers regardless of the question, or when the one word is the answer and they aren’t adding fluff to seem friendlier.

    I know it’s more pleasant to have people with whom you are friendly at work, but I don’t know why it’s necessary from everyone.

    What troubles me is the OP being bothered by their lack of warmth, not asking how she is, not greeting her personally and saying goodbye, and how “open” they are with her. If open is in reference to transparency for work related matters then of course this is a huge issue. If it’s because they don’t want to small talk with her…then yeah, I think it comes off quite needy.

    The OP feels their lack of warmth sets a bad example and is in this sense unprofessional and describes herself as very friendly. Very friendly can be lovely, but can also veer into unprofessional depending on context.

    I would advise the OP to make sure she’s judging them on professional behavior and standards of politeness, because if they aren’t meeting those it’s an issue…and not judging them more harshly because she feels rebuffed that they don’t want a personal relationship with her. Because to me it sounds like it’s the latter, but I only have the details in the letter.

    One last thing – I wouldn’t be inclined to go out of my way to be warm to anyone who thought of themselves as my superior. Yes, there is a hierarchy at work but I would never in a million years refer to myself as someone’s superior. I understand that it’s technically correct, but it’s really off putting to me.

    Don’t get the mindset that wants someone to fake warmth to them because they should be showing respect to a superior. I can have a perfectly pleasant and functional relationship with people who don’t care how I’m doing personally. I would hate for someone to make friendly overtures to me because of my position, I’m not sure why that’s the goal here.

    1. Joey*

      Eh, I can see it both ways. A pattern of one word answers to questions like the below would be the answer, but would probably indicate some underlying issues. One here and there isn’t a big deal, but a pattern of them definitely would be.

      “how are things going?”
      “Is there you need my help with?”
      “How are we doing on the x project?”

      1. Jamie*

        Yes, stonewalling is never okay but brevity can be. It all depends on tone and attitude we don’t have data on.


    #1 – The boss may not be the nicest person. Or they believe she wasn’t qualified for the job. It is OP’s responsibility to forge a good relationship for all not just fulfill her needs.

  34. Fabulously Anonymous*

    #4 reminds me of when I was a teenager and my mother served steak for dinner and I asked for ketchup. My parents admonished me, “would you ask for ketchup if a date had taken you to a restaurant?” I answered truthfully: “no, of course not, I know better. But this isn’t a restaurant.”

    So if you had told me, “don’t groom in class, it will reflect badly in the corporate world” I would just shrug and think, “this isn’t the corporate world.” I agree with Allison’s advice, but don’t think you need to make any comparisons to the corporate world as it is irrelevant.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Y’all, the comments on steak are starting to dominate the thread. I’m going to ask us to get back on topic so people looking for relevant discussion don’t miss it :)

      (Posting this both at the top of the thread and at the bottom so people see it.)

    2. Jamie*

      As someone who cannot imagine steak without ketchup I have the overwhelming urge to have you over for a big ol’ NY strip and a bottle of Heinz.

      And yes, I’ve asked for ketchup in nice restaurants – even after I became aware of how much it pissed off the cook. I tip well and am a very problem free customer, but if I’m paying I have to eat. Back when I was dating it never occurred to me not to, but then if a guy had an issue with ketchup as a necessity it would be good to screen him out up front.

      The only time I hesitated was when we went to this amazing small restaurant in France. I was there doing a semester in high school and I really wanted to, but I didn’t know if it would be offensive there so I didn’t. But my classmate did, which made me very happy as it was coming to the table and the daggers our chaperones were shooting weren’t at me.

      The chef himself came out and didn’t say one word, but put the bottle of ketchup in front of the guy and just stared at him. It was so tense and awkward…I don’t know what he expected him to do, but the guy put the ketchup on his steak. The chef left and his anger was palpable. I didn’t use it because I didn’t want anyone in the kitchen to see the tell tale red smear on my plate. That was half not wanting to hurt his feelings and half fear, although what was he going to do? Follow a bunch of kids to our hotel and beat us up?

      I didn’t eat the steak though, looking back maybe that was also offensive.

      1. fposte*

        You’re a Chicagolander, Jamie–the problem isn’t if you ask for ketchup on your steak, it’s if you ask for it on your hot dog. Rumor has it that’s what really elicited the Valentine’s Day Massacre.

        1. Jamie*

          Don’t I know it. My husband and I met at SuperDawg – famous for not making ketchup available but will give it upon request. With a glare.

          Solution – packets in glove box!

          I know, I need ketchup on hot dogs and I prefer NY style pizza. I fight the big fights.

          1. annie*

            This has nothing to do with anything but as a fellow Chicagoan I cannot control myself – Jamie you and your husband met at SuperDawg?!?! You have the BEST “meet cute” story ever! Did you have Maurie and Flaurie figures as your wedding cake toppers? I hope so!

            1. Jamie*

              I wish I had thought of that! We do have a Superdawg magnet on the fridge at home and both have Maurie and Flaurie key chains.

              I hope they never go out of business, one because they are a Chicago institution, but also because my husband swore long ago that if they ever did he would do whatever it took to try to get the giant Maurie and Flaurie from the top of the building. I’m glad we aren’t rich so I don’t have to fear too much coming home to a 14 foot high topless female hotdog and her hotdog man clad in an over the shoulder loincloth.

              So why does she have sleeves when she’s not wearing a shirt? One of the great mysteries.

              Seriously though, my lunatic husband would mount those on our roof if he ever got his hands on them. That would spruce up the neighborhood.

              (and I’m sorry – with that I’ll stay on topic the rest of the week.)

              1. annie*

                Hahaha, that is awesome! I think they have Christmas ornaments now too. Thanks for the laugh today!

      2. Joey*

        It’s the equivalent dumping ice in an expensive glass of wine. Or ruining a great cup of coffee with gobs of flavored creamer. Or watching netflix on your phone during a great live performance.

        It’s not so much that you didn’t enjoy it. It’s that you only enjoyed part of something that is in short supply and thereby prevented someone else from enjoying all of it.

        1. Jamie*

          I’m not arguing that’s how it’s seen – no question.

          And believe me, this isn’t the hill I die on, but I’m curious as to what you meant by your second paragraph? All of those things are seen as uncouth, but how do any of those things prevent someone else from enjoying all of it? The netflix due to the light (or without headphones, yikes) sound – but the others? People don’t share one glass of wine, cup of coffee, or dinner plate.

          1. Joey*

            It’s the equivalent of me sitting front row at a Van Halen concert when I could get the same experience sitting in the back. If you’re a diehard you would probably see more, hear more, and experience more in the front row than I would so in that sense you would appreciate the nuances of it better than I would. So it becomes somewhat wasteful for me to take a seat from somewhat that would get more out of it. That’s why they get angry- you’re depriving someone else of the subtleties of that great steak while you enjoy the portion that’s not masked by the ketchup.

            1. Elysian*

              Eh. Its not like I’m depriving orphans of penicillin by taking it all for my sore throat or something. These “deprivations” are things that just don’t really matter in the grand scheme of things. It’s capitalism – great steaks don’t go to the ones who deserve them the most, they go to the one who pays for them. After I pay for it I can put as much ketchup on it as I want.

              1. Jamie*

                I get it when it’s a zero sum thing – if there are only 100 special steaks available and I would be just as happy with any old steak with ketchup (as long as it’s medium rare), sure save them for those who will appreciate them on levels I will never reach.

                Just like Joey’s Van Halen example makes sense to me. That would be like if I were given Superbowl tickets on whatever yard line is the best one and I went and spent the entire time watching tv on my ipad because football…snore…it really would have been more decent of me to get the tickets in the hands of someone who’d appreciate it.

                But my steak I’m paying for at a restaurant where everyone else can order their own and eat them however they like? Yeah, I see nothing wrong with eating it how I’ll most enjoy it.

                I get the cooks ego involved, totally, but as a restaurant patron that’s not my problem. There are foodies that will appreciate their art, I’m not one of them, and my enjoying my steak less to preserve their ego is silly.

                I have a good meal I tell everyone how awesome it was – I don’t mention ketchup. I don’t enjoy my meal I tell everyone it was meh – I don’t mention ketchup. So their goal should have people leave their place elated from an awesome meal, even if they don’t agree on what I had to use to get there.

                1. Lora*

                  IT example: My mother just bought a new computer. Her budget was $5k, and she is not very good at picking out computers, so she let me shop for her. I build gaming rigs for myself, so this was like, AWWWWRIIIIIGHT! I get on New Egg, I design a system that makes the best Alienware has to offer look like a Speak N Spell, and she complains that she just wants to be able to email pictures to her sisters and use Photoshop. Upon further questioning, it turns out she thinks it would be AMAZING if I could network all her peripherals and her iPhone, her Blackberry AND her Samsung phone (don’t ask). I say, I can network your teevee, too! And she thinks this is some science fiction stuff. Because I am not Bill Gates! WHAT SORCERY IS THIS????

                  Ohhhhkaaaaayyy. We ended up with an overpriced iMac (which doesn’t work half the time, and she doesn’t understand why I can’t fix it) networked to nothing because she was sure she didn’t really need all her devices talking to each other when she can’t hear what they are saying (*headdesk*). But the iMac looks really slick on her new desk. Even if it doesn’t work half the time.

                  I know it’s her desk. I know it’s her money to throw down a hole or set on fire if she wants. There’s no shortage of gamers who will appreciate a good system and there’s no shortage of hardware components. It’s just frustrating.

                1. Elysian*

                  Is there a country where steaks are given out only to those who are truly deserving, such that nothing nuanced will ever grace my unrefined palate? I didn’t think that was part of the “Give what you can, take what you need.” philosophy.

                2. Elysian*

                  Throwing the steak away is wasteful, no one is doing that. I’m still getting nutritional value from the steak if I eat it. Failing to derive an acceptable level of enjoyment from the nuance of its craftsmanship isn’t wasteful. I’m not convinced its even a ‘thing’ at all.

                3. C Average*

                  By this line of thought, no one who isn’t born with a sophisticated palate should ever eat something that they’re too simple to appreciate. How, then, would one ever have the opportunity to develop a sophisticated palate by trying new things?

                  (And yes, trying new things might lead the rube in question to decide they prefer even the finest steak with ketchup, leading to a devastating ego crisis for the chef, but it’s a dangerous world we live in.)

          2. Joey*

            Fwiw it’s not just ketchup, chefs feel this way about well done steaks too. And of course A1

            1. Stephanie*

              Yeah, it was a revelation when I finally had a medium steak. I grew up on shoe leather steaks. I still battle with my parents about that.

              “Just try it medium! You won’t have to drown it in A1 to make it palatable!”

              1. Jamie*

                I am sure your parents are a lot younger than this, but the overcooked meat thing is really common in people who grew up in the depression.

                From what I gather meat was scarce and not always at peak freshness most of the time, so as a safety thing you cooked the hell out of it to kill anything that may have started in there.

                Source: my dad. Don’t know how true it is, but there is a logic to it. So if your grandparents were from the depression era it may be what your parents are used to. A lot of us do tend to stick with what we had growing up as “the way it’s done.”

                1. Stephanie*

                  They’re Baby Boomers, but both of them grew up in poor areas so red meat was either scarce or poor quality. Especially in the latter case, that wouldn’t lend itself well to cooking it rare or medium.

                  So I totally get where cooking the sh*t of it (literally) comes from.

            2. samaD*

              see, I’ve never understood that – a properly-cooked well-done steak is a joy, and any chef worth their salt should be able to produce that steak and be proud of doing it.

              but you’d never catch me putting sauce on my steak :)

        2. Cat*

          I feel like it’s an emotional thing for the chef more than anything. Like, as a lawyer, my job is mostly to obsess over tiny difference in wording. It drives me crazy when somebody comes in and files a sloppily-worded pleading with the court (well, if they’re on my side; don’t care if the opposing side does it), not because sloppy wording isn’t sometimes good enough but because YOU ARE CALLING MY WHOLE LIFE INTO QUESTION DAMNIT.

          Conversely, every time I get my hair cut, the hairdresser is appalled at how little I care and is like “why aren’t you getting your hair colored every week and using expensive products?????” And I’m like, because this hair is good enough for me? But for her, hair is her life’s work; it’s infuriating to see someone care so little. Likewise, a chef at a good restaurant has devoted an enormous chunk of their waking hours to sourcing and preparing amazing food, and someone masking the flavor profile they’ve slaved over has to be incredibly painful.

          That said . . . well, sometimes we have to get over our emotional reactions. I have to accept that my client may decide it’s not worth paying me to wordsmith something; my hairdresser needs to accept that I’m just going to look like a hot mess; and the chef needs to accept that sometimes people want a steak in ketchup, not an edible work of art. Or, all of us need to figure out a business model where we can afford to charge people for what we want, not what they want, and inform them of us in advance (and some people do make such a business model work so I’m not knocking it!)

      3. Tina*

        I don’t eat ketchup on my steak anyway, but I’m with Jamie on this, if that’s how I want to eat my food and I’m paying for it, I don’t see what the problem is.

      4. Scott M*

        Lets face it, steak is pretty bland. Even a good ribeye tastes the same, just with some extra fat for a different flavor. I need some extra spices for my steak. Sometimes that means a sauce. Not necessarily ketchup, maybe A1, but sauce nonetheless.
        some people just don’t like the taste of plain meat. Just like plain pasta doesn’t necessarily taste good without spaghetti sauce

    3. Tina*

      OK, I’m clearly missing this social cue, but why wouldn’t you ask for ketchup at a restaurant, if you wanted it? Because it’s steak? Is it really any different than asking for ketchup if you ordered french fries, just because “everyone” else may not eat it that way?

      1. Jamie*

        I was told it was considered uncouth – like wearing cut-offs to a funeral. Something that just “isn’t done” in public.

        But if they don’t want you to order ketchup then foods should taste better without it.

      2. NavyLT*

        Because good steak is good on its own, without any sauces. If you need to put ketchup on it, it’s not cooked properly (probably too dry and overdone).

      3. Elysian*

        Yeah, this ketchup/steak thing isn’t a lesson I was ever taught. I don’t like ketchup on my steak generally, but it would never occur to me not to ask for ketchup if I did want it.

        Whatever. Maybe I’m just low-class.

      4. MR*

        Because at a bare minimum, it is considered rude to put anything on anything that is ordered, without first trying it as served. It says to the chef that you don’t trust his cooking without first altering it to taste.

        If the first thing you do is ask for ketchup, it’s basically like giving the finger to the chef.

        However, with steak, it is supposed to be eaten without anything else on it. At least, a steak that is properly cooked…

        1. Scott M*

          I know I’m overreacting at this but…

          It’s my food. I paid for it. I’ll eat it how I want.

          I dunno – to me a chef is a commodity. Maybe I just don’t eat at enough high-end restaurants. The chef is, of course, a skilled employee. But he/she is just a nameless faceless person cooking the food in the kitchen. When the food get’s to my plate, it’s mine, not the chef’s. I’ll season it the way I want.

          I guess I’m just a culinary heathen.

      5. Ellie H.*

        I’m not a big ketchup fan (in fact, thinking about it, I actually never eat it anymore) – it makes everything taste the same: like ketchup.
        It’s rude because if you are in a restaurant, the food should be good as is and you shouldn’t try to customize it like at home. There are certain foods (like french fries or artichokes or hamburgers or some Asian dishes) that are designed to have condiments that go with them, like ketchup or mayonnaise or types of hot sauce or pickles or whatever. If it’s not a food that has a standard “go with” and the restaurant doesn’t provide it, I think it’s rude to ask for it. I like tons of lemon on everything at home, but I wouldn’t ask for it in a restaurant just to make it more the way I would ideally like it.

        1. Rayner*

          I have to admit, I had a little boggle at this.

          I think it’s great to taste food without additional sauces, just to experience it, but there’s no requirement on you to have to have a dish a very precise way when it’s reasonable to ask for a slight change and have it the way you want.

          It’s not rude to have food that you paid for the way you like it. It’s perhaps a little odd, if dousing your food in ketchup is your preference, but it’s not the end of the world.

      6. Joey*

        How would your spouse feel if after slaving away on an expensive meal you needed that cheap plasticky nacho cheese to dip it in to make it taste better?

        1. Scott M*

          I know I haven’t eaten at really high end restaurants in a long time, but I don’t usually get to sleep with the chef.

          It makes a difference.

        2. Rayner*

          If they made a meal that I couldn’t eat without significantly changing it and then got upset about me making those changes, then they’re not a good spouse.

          Cooking food is not obligation to eat it, and cooking it is also not a cast iron argument for eating it in a particular way. If they can’t handle changes, then they can’t handle a relationship.

    4. Tinker*

      Heh. I recall my high school in particular making a lot of really reaching claims about “you’ll need to do this in thus-and-such future environment”, in their case usually “college”.

      The pinnacle involved this sort of basic work skills preparedness test called Work Keys, that the school got major religion regarding in my senior year. They emphasized how incredibly important it was for everyone, because every employer in the county was going to use the thing and you would therefore not be able to get a job if you didn’t take it and do well on it. I was told specifically that the results of the test would be particularly important for me after I got the engineering degree that I was aiming for.

      So I took the thing and mostly stomped the hell out of it, proving definitively that I could successfully understand instructions for mopping floors, read a bus schedule, and perform simple arithmetic, but that I was merely average at taking phone messages. I think I still have the results somewhere, but oddly enough nobody has ever asked for them.

      But then again, I also never had to take a final exam in college band and I am even at this very moment wearing a hat at work. So prediction was not exactly their thing.

    5. C Average*

      I’m enjoying the whole ketchup conversation because ketchup was this massive divide in my household growing up.

      My father, who can sometimes be a stereotypical east coast snob, would always remark that ketchup is for truck drivers (whatever that’s supposed to mean).

      I just plain viscerally dislike condiments, but I was happy to bandwagon with my dad and say, “No way! Ketchup is for truck drivers,” even though I’d never met a truck driver and had no idea why something should be avoided because it’s for truck drivers.

      My mother and sister love ketchup and eat gobs of it on everything.

      I married into a ketchup-loving family. They know I hate it and torment me by putting it on everything, making a great production of it.

      And I make a great production of moving the ketchup bottle in and out of the refrigerator with a pair of tongs, averting my eyes as I’m doing so.

      Much as I loathe the stuff, I love the general merriment it’s always created in my family. Disagreeing about ketchup makes mealtimes much livelier.

      1. Jamie*

        I think that’s so funny. It really is a divisive issue.

        When I was little I called it “sauce” and liked “sauce” on most everything. So at my non-ketchup gramma’s once she served me chicken in some kind of sauce – because word is I love sauce – and I was horrified. I was a bratty kid, and had weird food issues even then – so sauce had to be washed off and “sauce” applied until there was once again peace in the land.

        Isn’t it weird when we remember the odd sayings that people said openly which are pretty offensive to 2014 ears? I remember from a family member, “only hillbillies use water in tomato soup.” (as opposed to milk or cream.) Thing is I had no idea that hillbilly was a disparaging term and just thought they were a group of people who united in their love of watery soup.

      2. Joey*

        Ketchup is for truck drivers just means the food sucks so bad they need ketchup to make it taste better

    6. Tomato Frog*

      Yep. I hated when teachers said things to this effect in school. I found it irrelevant and condescending. I think it’s also counterproductive for teachers, because implicit in this line of argument is the idea that what you do in school doesn’t matter in its own right.

    7. Mints*

      The ketchup thread is so funny!

      But I was such a sass pants to certain teachers, and I remember one teacher who I hated telling me I had an attitude problem and she was going to ding me in the discussion section grade, and I shrugged and said basically “Whatever. It’s only 10% of the grade and I’ve gotten all As on the exams and quizzes.” She was surprised and said “well you better get used to discussions because in college it can be up to 50% of your grade!”
      I thought: I’ll probably like and respect them better than you anyway. Kanye shrug

      (Tangent: Lots of teachers I was mean to I feel bad about now, but I still hold a grudge against that one)

      1. Mints*

        Thinking about this more, it’s fine if teachers correct the grooming behavior in class (totally should) but if the whole conversation is “this would get you fired at work” / “would make you fail in college” it feels like “borrowing authority.” I think it’s the wrong approach because teachers should be addressing that behavior as it happens in class, not just waiting for future bosses/teachers to correct it

        1. Elysian*

          That’s a great way to look at it, I think. Whenever someone uses the phrase “borrowing authority” I think “OH YEAH – that’s what I meant when I used a lot more words!”

          SO, well said.

    8. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Y’all, the comments on steak are starting to dominate the thread. I’m going to ask us to get back on topic so people looking for relevant discussion don’t miss it :)

  35. Celeste*

    #4 The girls need to be corrected about what they are doing that is inappropriate. It isn’t your concern how they get their grooming done; it isn’t your problem to worry about what time they go to sleep, wake up, and how they prioritize their time before school. It is rude to work on grooming in the middle of a class.

    In college, an instructor saw a girl take hers out and start putting on more blusher. He stopped his lecture, and called her out on it: Phoebe, you look beautiful. You really, really do. When you’re finished, we can get on with this lecture. She put her stuff away so fast, and never did it again.

    It’s hard at the beginning of the year to set policies for whatever disruptive event that might come up. I think it’s better to just deal as it happens. Your overall policy might be, if I see you distracted from your learning by something, I will intervene. I would have a blanket statement about how lapses of polite behavior can really hurt you in the real world, which is why they are getting the correction they need now.

  36. Natalie*

    My hair curls coming out of my head so I’ve never used a curling iron, but I thought they were all corded? Is this girl plugging it in somewhere. That seems dangerous on top of being presumptuous.

      1. Jamie*

        I had one of those back in the day and when I went to the courthouse to get my marriage license (the first time) they wouldn’t let me through security with it. I had to pick it up on the way out because they said it could be used as a weapon.

        It was, along with aquanet, the main weapon in my war against my straight hair.

        1. Celeste*

          HA! It was my main weapon against my wavy and curly hair (yes, you can be afflicted with both on one head). I was flat-ironing before there were flat-irons! Actually I still do it to this day. My excuse is that a wrinkled shirt still covers you, but a pressed one looks sooooo much nicer. As in, it looks okay–left to its own, my hair is seriously wonky looking because of the curl pattern and cowlicks.

  37. matcha123*

    While reading #1, I was reminded of an incident at my old workplace. There was some drama going on between one of the supervisors and another staff member. This supervisor decided that co-workers who were friendly with said staff member were open to criticism and one day I was called to her office.

    She told me that she had greeted me, but I looked at her and ignored her as I left, that I was being insubordinate and that she would write me up. This was after working there for 5 or 6 years with nothing but praise. I still wonder when this greeting happened because I am quick to respond to anyone’s hello or good-bye.

    I never initiated greetings with her because I was told that I need to work and not talk.

    For #4, I remember going to the girls’ bathroom in the morning before class during high school and seeing girls doing their make-up and curling each other’s hair. They even brought a chair into the bathroom! I never understood why high school girls felt the need to wear make-up or curl their hair, but I guess I was just not fashionable for high school!

    I do hope the teacher says something to the students. It is a distraction to other students, even if they don’t say anything.

  38. Liz*



    I would think my manager was nuts if she called a meting to discuss why I don’t ask how she’s doing.

  39. E.R*

    #3. I’ve worked in B2B sales for a few years, and I would suggest being upfront but brief about the reasons you are not going forward with this vendor. If you say, ” we have the resources to do this in-house. I appreciate the time you spent with us, and if anything changes we will contact you”. Providing honest feedback can actually ensure that the salesperson doesn’t contact you again, because they know you’re doing it in-house and that should be a good enough reason to stop calling you. If they keep calling you after that, ask them to stop contacting you.

    From a salesperson’s perspective, if I’ve had calls or meetings with a potential client that doesn’t end up in a sale, my boss is going to ask me why. Having a real reason actually helps me make a case to NOT follow up with them.

    It also helps us determine if there is something wrong with our business model or product that we need to change.

    1. kac*

      if I’ve had calls or meetings with a potential client that doesn’t end up in a sale, my boss is going to ask me why. Having a real reason actually helps me make a case to NOT follow up with them.

      Yes, this x1,000

    2. OP #3*

      Thanks for your perspective! This has really helped clarify for me what the norms are, so that I can maintain my professionalism and show proper respect and appreciation for the vendor’s time.

  40. Just a manager ;-)*

    #1 Most companies have a good tool for things like this. Besides a job description, they usually have a list of professional competencies. These describe how people interact with each, how you deal with customers and so on. Most have something about respect and so on. Find out if your company has anything like this and refer to them when you talk to your team.

    1. MARGARET*

      Yes, there are competencies but in the corporate world no one should tell you that you must greet each other.

      1. Just a manager ;-)*

        Margaret, actually there are ones that cover things like this.

        Here is a sample one from my huge corporation:

        • Responds openly and warmly to others and can build rapport easily;
        • Does not become hostile when things are not going his/her way;
        • Maintains a professional, businesslike image;
        • Balances emotions;
        • Remains calm when needed,

  41. Scott M*

    I realized I had gotten sidetracked on the steak/ketchup post. So I thought I would actually offer my opinion on an actual original question:
    #1 The behaviors the OP mentions don’t seem that bad. Sometimes people forget to ask about yourt weekend or day. I know I do. Someone will ask me “How was your weekend?” and I will reply “Fine”. Then I have to remind myself to add “And how was yours?”

    Also, if you ask questions that can be answered by one word answers, then don’t be surprised that you get… wait for it… one word answers.

    I wonder if there is something else going on that isn’t mentioned by the OP.

  42. Hugh*

    I work with an infant who needs to be acknowledged and affirmed by their staff. Sharing pleasantries is not enough, you must say the right things (the right things are anyone’s guess) and share with them whatever it is they feel a right to know. Pouting is a normal everyday behavior and I have yet to figure out how to deal with them. I have learned to acknowledge with a nod each and every time they pass me- about 15xs a day and provide a hearty hello in morning. Then launch into a vague question about something they did, doing or exhibiting (for example if they have bag from a certain store, I ask about it). I have to listen to loud personal calls detailing topics most would consider very personal such as loved one’s STDs. Thankfully they often leave early or take off entire days- but question staff’s mental health if they take a day’s leave. /vent

  43. soitgoes*

    I’m a little iffy on #1. This person came into an existing office culture and is annoyed that it’s not adjusting to suit her perfectly. It’s not a bad thing in and of itself if staffers prefer a quiet workplace and aren’t interested in empty banter. It’s impossible to answer this question earnestly without knowing for sure if the coworkers are actually hostile or if they’re just quiet. The OP can’t get mad if her workplace is failing to provide instant friends for her.

  44. Cassie*

    #4: it’s been ages since I was in school, but I don’t see anything wrong with a teacher simply saying “Abby, put away the curling iron” and continuing on with class. It doesn’t have to be a big whoop-de-doo shaming moment (that would definitely not be good), but if I was a student in the class and the teacher said nothing, I would assume that meant it was okay.

    I remember when a classmate took out some chips to eat during English class and the teacher told him to put it away. It reinforced that this teacher (like most of the other teachers) wouldn’t let you eat in class. This was in contrast to the math teacher who allowed it (told us at the beginning of the school year that it was ok).

    It’s not specifically about grooming – kids have been trying to get away with stuff since the dawn of time – doing other homework, passing notes, typing out messages on graphing calculators (before there were cellphones), etc.

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