my employee keeps flirting with me

A reader writes:

I was promoted to management in a small business fairly recently. I’m female and in my early twenties, and most of my staff are males in their thirties. Most of the guys have gone through a phase where they casually flirt with me, make jokes about my age, call me “boss lady,” etc. They usually move on. One guy (we’ll call him Jim) doesn’t seem to be moving on. For the record, he’s pretty much a model employee. From an outside perspective, the flirting seems totally harmless – he asks inane questions about my personal life, tells me I look nice, etc. (But it’s a little more than just “how’s your weekend?” He regularly asks if I’ve been working out. He’s asked several times how a girl like me is still single. The other day he asked me what I look for in a relationship.) He has a steady girlfriend and he regularly invites me out to dinner with the two of them. I have politely deflected every time, and every time he flirts with me I have politely shut him down.

Harmless or not, it makes me really uncomfortable. It’s gotten to the point where I feel constantly on guard around him. I’m not sure how to handle this. Our company is too small to have an HR department. Jim’s performance review is coming up, and I feel like I should broach this subject with him. Am I overreacting? Is he just being friendly? How do I ask him to stop flirting with me when he probably doesn’t even realize he’s doing it in the first place?

Don’t save this up for his performance evaluation. For one thing, performance evaluations shouldn’t contain surprises. Also, this is going to be a lot less awkward for both of you if you address it as it comes up, rather than in a separate conversation later. If addressing it in the moment doesn’t work then, yes, you’ll need to escalate it to a bigger conversation. But you have a good chance of solving this in a way that will be easier on both of you if you call it out when it’s happening.

That means you’re going to need to work on being direct in the moment. For instance, the next time he asks why you’re single or what you look for in a relationship, say, “I’d really rather not discuss my personal life at work. But I’m looking forward to hearing about how your call with ABC Corp went.”

You’ll notice that this example ends with bringing up a work topic. That’s because correcting his boundaries is likely to go down more easily if you move quickly into a work-related interaction, so that you can (a) model what your professional relationship should look like, and (b) demonstrate to him that he doesn’t need to be embarrassed because you’re not dwelling on it. Your goal here, after all, is not just to shut down his inappropriate questioning but also to have an effective professional relationship with him.

Ideally, doing this a couple of times should be enough to send him the message that he needs to cut out this whole line of conversation. And if that happens, he might have simply been a clueless guy who didn’t realize how inappropriate his behavior was.

However, if it continues, then you’re dealing with someone who’s willing to disregard direct instructions to stop. That’s significantly more problematic, and if that’s the case, you need to escalate your approach. For instance: “Jim, I’ve asked you to stop asking about X or commenting on my relationship status, but you’re continuing to. What’s going on?” In other words, handle it the way you would with any other work issue where you’d directly asked him to stop and found that the behavior was continuing. Don’t feel like you have to put this in a different category just because it’s flirting.

While you might feel awkward about having to say any of this at all, keep in mind that he’s the one forcing your hand here. After all, if he were respecting normal professional boundaries, you wouldn’t need to point out that he’s crossing them.

This post was originally published at DailyWorth.

{ 318 comments… read them below }

  1. Ask a Manager* Post author

    I posted this below, but I’m putting it up here too:

    The comments on this post are a perfect example of what were talking about yesterday — one person opens up a hot-button topic that isn’t about the original letter and the whole thread starts getting eaten up by people responding to that and trying to explain to him (in this case, explaining sexism, why many women think differently than he does, etc.).

    Please help me clean this up. As someone wrote yesterday, you can help me solve this problem by not engaging when this happens. Or you can clearly say, “I believe you’re wrong, but I also think this whole point is derailing, so out of respect for the original OP, I’m not going to engage,” and that’s not backing down, but helping to keep the conversation on-track.

  2. LBK*

    FWIW, I do not at all think OP is overreacting or reading too much into friendliness. Asking if you’ve been working out is eh…borderline for me depending on the delivery, but repeatedly commenting on you being single? Inviting you out to dinner!? Weird. Even if he didn’t have a girlfriend, an employee inviting their boss out to dinner is bizarre unless it’s framed in some kind of work-related context.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Isn’t the girlfriend part fascinating? That was the piece that gave me pause and made me wonder if this guy just has no boundaries but isn’t flirting. Ultimately it doesn’t really matter — the way to deal with it is the same — but I was thrown off by that piece.

      1. LBK*

        Honestly, my mind went to the girlfriend being in on it…but maybe I have a more salacious imagination since so many of my friends are in open relationships. I agree that even if it’s not really intended as flirting, it’s still crossing inappropriate boundaries between an employee and manager.

        1. en pointe*

          That’s what I came here to say. Perhaps he and his girlfriend are looking to make their relationship a little more interesting.

          If he’s putting feelers out by complimenting her on her appearance and body, asking her why she’s single and what she’s looking for in a relationship, and then asking her out to dinner with his girlfriend, I think it’s undoubtedly a possibility.

          1. Maggie*

            Yes but having three way with your boss is idiotic.

            Not into three ways, but once I had a colleague flirting with me so often and so…aggressively that he tried to kiss me when we were alone (once). It really sucked to have to do this alone but I built up the courage and gave him the riot act. We didn’t speak more than cordially (and even then, he was quite cold) for about two years. I didn’t take offense that he had a girlfriend or that I had a boyfriend, but I did take offense that he thought it appropriate to kiss me on the clock. That pissed me off.

            Years later, after I went to bat for him about something unrelated, our relationship finally became professional and warmer, which was my hope all along. OP can handle this, she just needs to be factual and then stick to her guns — no mixed messages ever. (Not that she did, just that going forward she really needs to watch her demeanor around him, more than ever.)

        2. GrumpyBoss*

          Reminded me of a guy who I used to work with who was a swinger… his wife actively encouraged him to go after me. There really are all types out there.

          Oddly, it never really bothered me. Having been in a situation where I’ve been groped at work, words and flirtation have little impact on me. It was easy for me to shut down. But if he was a direct report or I was still in my early 20s like the OP, I am sure it would have made me uncomfortable.

              1. en pointe*

                I have been groped at work also, more than once. (Admittedly, it was a restaurant named after breasts, so what did I expect?) But in a professional environment, I would absolutely not be okay with the kind of comments the OP is receiving, magnified by the fact that she’s a female manager, much younger than her employees. As others have pointed out, that already comes with unique challenges.

                The flirting across a power differential is just really inappropriate. Also really brazen, which does lend credence to the theory that maybe this guy’s just really socially awkward and doesn’t mean this stuff sexually/romantically. I feel bad because she has to try and address this, while maintaining a good working relationship with her direct report, but Alison suggested great ways to approach it.

        3. SRMJ*

          Same, my first thought when I read the dinner invites with the girlfriend was ‘oooh they gonna proposition her.’ Which, if possible, would be even more wildly inappropriate than a clueless underling macking on his manager. Man, the arrogance that would take. IMO go out to dinner and see what happens and report back…but that would be solely for our entertainment, which seems valid to me.

          1. en pointe*

            Oh yeah, if this is at all the case, it would be unbelievably stupid/arrogant of this guy to be feeling out his manager for something like that, but hey, people cede judgement to sexual desire all the time. Maybe he just finds her really, really attractive.

          1. holly*

            i mean, so weird if that isn’t the case. i can’t figure out what his deal is otherwise.

        4. Tinker*

          Yeah, I kind of went there also because I’ve had people flirt with me in front of their partners before. And not strictly unsuccessfully, either.

      2. Chocolate Addict*

        Or maybe the girlfriend this is a ruse? If they go to dinner, the girlfriend may mysteriously not show up!

      3. Broke Philosopher*

        I didn’t find the girlfriend part surprising at all, but maybe I’m just cynical–I’ve had it happen multiple times that a dude will be blatantly flirting to a point that makes me uncomfortable (e.g., tickling me (!!!)), and then, when called on it, go “I wasn’t flirting with you! I have a girlfriend!” It’s a convenient excuse to act inappropriately and then possibly avoid being penalized.

      4. BettyD*

        The girlfriend thing could be a no-social-boundaries issue, or it could be his smoke screen so when she confronts him about the behavior he can make it seem likes SHE’S overreacting or making things up. “Of course I wasn’t flirting, I have a girlfriend!” I’ve known so many gross guys who do this as a cover for flirtations and boundary-testing with women.

        1. Maggie*

          I’d love to hear from a guy who can be honest with us enough to explain this behavior. Sure, I’m positive women do this too but I never hear about it.

          1. James M*

            With only second-hand info to go on, mho is that Jim finds LW attractive, and is minimally filtering his impulses. One of the few active filters seems to be “Will this get me into Big Trouble?”. I think a simpler explanation is more likely than some of the deeper (kinkier) stuff expounded by other commenters.

            IANA behavioral psychologist, so this post should be read for entertainment value only.

        2. Canadamber*

          Oh, my best friend is already kind of experiencing this with one of our other friends. However, one of our other friends confronted him, and he said that he just thinks of her as a really good friend and actually had no idea how that could come across. I believe him, but we haven’t told my best friend yet.

        3. Jenny S.*

          Ugh. Yes. I had the smoke-screen thing happen to me about a year ago with a male colleague. Not a gross guy, but it was very frustrating and confusing all the same.

          1. Windchime*

            I’ve had it happen, too. It seemed obvious to me that he was flirting and I was fine with that (we were both single at the time), but when I said, “Hey, are you flirting with me?”, he immediately back-pedaled and said he was just being friendly.

            OK, whatever.

        4. Mallory*

          A coworker tells me that, when her husband was in the process of ending their marriage, he asked her to meet him at a park for a picnic lunch and to talk about their relationship.

          She went over there on her lunch break, and when she got there, he had another woman with him. It was his new girlfriend. He said, “I just thought that if you got to know each other, you’d like each other; you really have a lot in common.”


      5. Anonymous*

        That actually made it worse to me. Straight boyfriends of bisexual women do some creepy things sometimes (sign up for OKCupid as a bisexual woman sometime to see it in action).

      6. Tiff*

        The girlfriend part makes me think her co-worker may be trying to set her up with one of his single buddies.

      7. manybellsdown*

        I got kind of a super creepy vibe from that. My ex used to invite women he was hitting on at work to events with “me and my wife.” He was aiming for plausible deniability/the thrill of having his new “conquest” right in front of me. Turned out it didn’t work, and he was fired from two different jobs on the SAME DAY for sexually harassing female employees.

        But uh … yeah. I flinched at that part.

    2. Ethyl*

      Yeah it’s like, if was one or two of the things, it wouldn’t be so weird, but taken together it really is inappropriate.

    3. Brittany*

      My first inclination was to think that maybe they have someone in mind they want to set her up with, but maybe just aren’t being so forthcoming about it.

      1. Vanilla Bean*

        That’s exactly what I thought, too. I agree that he’s being a bit creepy about it (i.e. making comments about the OP’s body), but could it be that they think the OP is open to being set up?

        When I was single, people used to offer to set me up all the time. Most of the time, I declined because um, my tastes were not the same as the person/people trying to set me up. And because of course, there are always well-meaning people out there that think “Hey, she’s single and he’s single – they would be fantastic together!!!” ;)

        1. fposte*

          Planning to set up your boss isn’t a good idea even if you’re not creepy about it, though.

          1. Vanilla Bean*

            Oh, I completely agree with you – it’s a bad idea. It’s also a bad idea to “surprise” set-up anyone. I got set-up at a wedding once – while it’s a really funny story now, at the time I was livid.

            1. Vanilla Bean*

              What I meant to say in my initial post is that maybe the man *thinks* that the OP might be open to being set-up – not thinking that it might be a bad idea in general or that it could be really awkward in general (especially considering the OP is his boss), or that she’s plain not interested.

          2. Maggie*

            My staff did! She hooked me up with her son and we have been married five years. Sometimes it works. ;)

    4. A Bug!*

      If anyone else is as confused as I was over this comment, it’s because the DailyWorth version of the question has the contents of the flirting stripped out, and you need to read the more complete version Alison posted here at AAM. The More You Know!

      1. TheSnarkyB*

        Whoa, wth? I was very confused until you said that- thanks A Bug!

        Alison, would you consider labeling these posts a little more clearly? I’m not a huge fan of the QuickBase posts or the Daily Worth ones, so I usually skip them (like when the Intuit QB ones are clearly little blurbs that lead elsewhere), but it feels like a trick when the whole question is posted and I can’t see until I’ve read the whole thing that the answer is somewhere else.
        This is exacerbated by the fact that I often pre-load AAM pages for a subway ride or something and don’t plan the necessity of clicking another link.
        And especially when the content is different, things get really confusing and frustrating.

        1. Canadamber*

          Ugh, this! >_<; I do the whole pre-loading thing, too, to save data, and it's so annoying when it's just links to QB or something like that. :$

        2. A Bug!*

          That’s funny; it seems like we had opposite problems! I read the QB article and then came back here to read the comments, so I missed out on the extra detail included in the original question.

          Now that I’m aware I’ll remember to read both before I move on to the comments.

          1. TheSnarkyB*

            No, we had the same problem bc this time I happened to scroll down first (to see how many comments there were), so I did the same thing you did.

    5. Vicki*

      ONce upon a time (watch old Dick Van Dyke or Bewitched reruns), employees invited the Boss to dinner. Perhaps this guy is watching too many old TV sitcoms.

      But the flirting aspect bothers me. It all bothers me.

    6. Ruffingit*

      Yeah, that’s what got me. I think the OP’s age is making this guy think the boundaries are looser or that she’s naive and won’t shut him down. It would never, ever, ever occur to me in a million years to ask out my boss. That is just so beyond inappropriate in my view. Nor would I make comments about my boss and his appearance or anything else. Again, totally inappropriate.

      The one thing I would emphasize to the OP is that it doesn’t matter if the person doesn’t realize they are doing something inappropriate (although frankly, I’d argue that he probably does know it). Fact is, it’s not OK and shutting it down is the way to go so I applaud the OP for writing in to get some guidance on that.

  3. Betsy*

    One piece of advice to go with Alison’s “he’s forcing your hand”: you’re not making things uncomfortable by bringing this up. Things are already uncomfortable. All you’re doing is shifting the discomfort to the person who’s causing it.

      1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

        Me too. It’s a lesson I need to keep learning (in my personal life, not really at work) over and over again.

    1. Anonalicious*


      I think that is the most effective part, shifting the focus to Jim and making him realize how uncomfortable it is and gross.

    2. SaraV*

      I love this comment, and for that, you deserve a scratch ‘n sniff sticker of your choice. ;)

    3. Felicia*

      Exactly, he’s the one who’s making it uncomfortable. What you’re really doing is trying to make things comfortable for you, because they’re already not. I’d be uncomfortable with a guy like this too

    4. Jessa*

      I am totally keeping this on a sticky note on my computer. I agree with everyone the last line is pure gold.

  4. BCW*

    I’m not going to use the word overreacting, but I think you may be seeing signs of romantic interest that aren’t there. To me it sounds somewhat harmless, and also that maybe he has a friend he thinks you’d hit it off with, hence asking what you look for in a guy, etc. If he is inviting you out WITH his girlfriend, my guess is he isn’t looking for a romantic thing. If he is he is VERY bold to do that in front of his gf. With that said, I’m not saying its appropriate behavior to do to his manager. But one persons “friendly” is another persons “flirty”. I think Alison’s advice is spot on. Address it a couple of times in an easy manner. If it continues, then you have a problem.

    1. LBK*

      I’d agree if it were brought up with that context, but I’d think that if the questions were because he wants to set her up with someone, he’d mention that – or say that the dinner would be a double date with the guy he wants to set her up with. I think there are a few ways the dinner with the girlfriend could be read – as you say, where it means it’s meant to be innocent and she’ll be there as a buffer, or it could mean that he’s proposing it innocently as an excuse for the girlfriend to mysteriously not show up, and suddenly they’re on a date alone.

      1. KJR*

        Personally, I would not want to go out to dinner with a co-worker and his girlfriend whom I did not know. I would find that situation super awkward. But then again I’m not the most social person around, so maybe others might feel differently. My point being that it’s a weird invitation which makes me think something else is going on here.

        1. Sadsack*

          not even a coworker, she is his manager. I would not ever presume that I should be looking for dates for my manager.

      2. BCW*

        I guess I looked at it as feeling her out first before just saying “So I got this friend that you would love…”, since I know many people don’t like that either. I could be wrong of course. And the girlfriend mysteriously not showing up is definitely a possibility. As is the fact that the girlfriend has heard about his attractive boss and is jealous or something. Possibly he wants to bring them out together so the girlfriend can see there is nothing there and be cool. There are a lot of possibilities here honestly, and they could be very innocent (yet still inappropriate) or he could have very bad intentions. No one really knows.

        1. LBK*

          Agreed. That whole thing could go a lot of ways, but no matter the intention it’s making the OP uncomfortable, so I think we can all agree that she should bring it up. It may turn out he genuinely didn’t realize how aggressive he was coming off and their relationship will settle out normally, and everything will be fine. I personally don’t lean towards that explanation but it’s certainly a valid possibility.

        2. Observer*

          Some of the possibilities you mention are not so likely. Eg the friend he wants to set her up with doesn’t match the comments on her body and working out.

          But, regardless, it’s utterly inappropriate – even if it didn’t make her uncomfortable. The fact that he hasn’t taken the hint yet, either, says that SOMETHING is off, even if it’s just a really high level of clulessness.

    2. Celeste*

      If she’d already met the girlfriend at a work function, maybe. If it was an invitation for her and her own partner to join them, maybe. If the girlfriend called and said the two of them would like her to join them for dinner, maybe. At least then she’d know the girlfriend was on board with it, which I personally have doubts about since he’s asking if her if she works out and what she looks for in a relationship, and so on.

    3. Elizabeth West*

      She’s already been easy about it–it’s time to shut it down. Romantic or not, it’s inappropriate behavior to exhibit with a manager, and it’s unwelcome. Next time, the OP needs to take Romeo aside and say, “You need to stop asking me those questions. It’s inappropriate at work.”

    4. BB*

      I don’t think this guy is going to go fatal attraction on OP but I’m thinking the guy could just be a little off. It’s definitely weird and inappropriate but OP probably isn’t the first person he’s done this to. My guess is if there is another woman in on the staff similar in age to OP, he might be acting strange towards her too

    5. GrumpyBoss*

      Everyone reacts to situations differently. If she’s uncomfortable, it doesn’t matter if it’s friendly or flirting, she needs to draw the line.

      But I’m with you for the most part (the GF thing was weird), but the little blurbs out of context sound more like a guy who is maybe not good at social queues of what is appropriate with your boss conversation wise rather than him hitting on her.

      1. KerryOwl*

        I agree. Some people just . . . communicate via flirtation. I used to do it a lot more when I was younger. However, that doesn’t mean it’s appropriate. One has to read the situation carefully, which means noticing when friends aren’t comfortable with this sort of interaction, and knowing in advance that this isn’t appropriate at work, particularly with someone who is above or below oneself on the org chart.

        1. KerryOwl*

          Er . . . let’s all pretend that everything between “appropriate’ and “in advance” is unitalicized.

        2. Canadamber*

          Haha, apparently I do this. D: It’s hard to recognize! (Then again, I’m not very good socially, heh.)

          1. en pointe*

            Ha, don’t worry, I sometimes have this problem too. When I’m happy, I’m bubbly, and I’ve been told I sometimes blur the line between that and flirtatious.

    6. Red Librarian*

      She is his manager. It’s inappropriate regardless of whether it is meant to be “friendly” or “harmless”

  5. Celeste*

    The most bizarre part is asking you out to dinner with his girlfriend. It would be a great way for him to say his girlfriend was busy at the last minute, etc., so it would just be the two of you. Personally, I would never trust him for the dinner invitation because he seems like a line-crosser from the other instances.

    I hope you can use Alison’s scripts to get his behavior focused on work.

    1. The Real Ash*

      I agree with this. While some people are suggesting a possible open relationship–which could totally be the case–it might be more likely that he’s trying to set it up so she agrees to an innocent dinner date (“My girlfriend will totally be there, promise!”) and then shows up to an ambush when she realized he’s there by himself because the girlfriend had to wash her hair or something.

    2. Editor*

      “Jim, I’m not interested in dating you and your girlfriend. I did want to ask you about the XYZ report, however. How much more needs to be done?”

      Probably too blunt, but it might show him how weird his request sounds by deflecting the weirdness toward him.

  6. Midge*

    I’m having a similar issue with a peer. I’ve decided to use the Emily Post method of just saying “wow” whenever he says something way over the line like commenting in his yoga teacher’s ass, or saying I’ll ditch my friends when I have a baby (I’m not pregnant).

    But what about instances of casual sexism? Like standing up and saying “m’lady” when I walk into a meeting. I’m sure he means to be nice, but it’s weird and creepy and he doesn’t do the same thing to our male coworkers.

    1. BCW*

      So serious question, why is the standing and saying m’lady sexist? I mean where is the line between chivalrous and sexist. I assume it could be in the delivery, but even you say you think he is trying to be nice. Is holding a door for a woman when you wouldn’t necessarily do that for a man considered sexist or being a gentleman?

      1. Celeste*

        If he can be polite and courteous without noting that she is a woman, that’d be great.

        1. Midge*

          That’s exactly it. I would like my coworkers to be polite and professional. Not chivalrous, because that means they are treating me differently because of my gender.

      2. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I posted this below, but I’m putting it up here too so that it’s seen right away: I’m going to ask that we not get into a discussion here of “where’s the line” because we’ve had it plenty of times before (usually at your request, BCW!) and it’s not even in response to the OP’s letter. And we’re on an anti-rabbit-hole crusade right now. Thank you.

      3. Career Counselorette*

        Because even if it’s not meant with any ill intent, it’s something that’s conspicuously pointing out there is a woman present, as if it’s some kind of anomaly. If you’re an existing part of the team and you’re making contributions, you should not be made to feel like some kind of anomaly.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          Yes. I think this is a kind and clear way of explaining why, for many women, this kind of stuff is problematic.

        2. Chinook*

          I agree – I have no problem with chivalry (and am getting used to the guys around here opening doors for me while loving the shocked look on their faces when I do it for them) but treating me differently when I enter the room than they would if a male coworker did the same thing is just wrong. I try to think of the workplace as a gender neutral territory and standing when I enter the room is just crossing the line.

          For the record, I work in a male dominated industry with women at different levels (in other words, women who are there are successful but there just aren’t that many women there), so stopping sexist behaviour is important but luckily, not necessary. Though, I did notice in our last meeting that all the women sat where I did (I was the first in the room), so I don’t know if was coincidence or not.

        3. Sunflower*

          This. I was recently at a work conference with 2 men and they insisted on moving all the boxes/tables- every time I tried they took it from me. If I was a man, no way that would have happened. Made it all the more awkward for me because I pretty much stood there and did nothing. I felt terrible and uncomfortable because I felt like I wasn’t contributing so eventually I just walked away and did something else.

      4. Phoenix*

        The line is outside the door of the workplace.

        Treating women and men differently in the workplace is unacceptable, even if you’d like to treat women differently in your personal life.

      5. BCW*

        I mean, I don’t want to say that thats a bad way to think. But I feel like MANY guys learn from a young age to do different things for women than men, and those things just become habit, whether in terms of personal or at work. I would let a woman exit the elevator first or hold the door for her as well. If that makes me sexist, thats unfortunate that a man extending courtesy to a woman makes it that way, but everyone is welcome to their opinion.

        1. Victoria Nonprofit (USA)*

          I think it’s arguable (and I’m pretty sure we’ve had the argument here, actually) whether holding doors open is problematic at work, and we obviously don’t need to get into that here. But I do think that standing up and saying “m’lady” is sufficiently odd enough that it’s a different situation.

        2. Kai*

          It doesn’t make you a horrible person to do these things, just understand that many woman are going to be uncomfortable with it. I don’t want to be treated as a “female coworker,” just a coworker. Personally, I’m fine with a guy opening the door for me, as long as it doesn’t make things less efficient, and as long as I could do the same for him without things getting weird. Equality!

          I worked with a guy who was always going out of his way to open doors for me, but he would literally say things like “women aren’t supposed to open doors, that’s a man’s job. See? Chivalry isn’t dead!” That was DEFINITELY uncomfortable.

        3. Chinook*

          BCW, I just mentioned the door opening thing. I have learned to take it in the spirit it is intended and to accept it otherwise neither of us would leave the elevator. I have casually joked about how nice it is to have all these “minions” ensuring I never have to open doors, but I also open them for the guys if I am there first.

          I just thought of a great comment the next time someone asks me to leave the elevator first (beyond the beauty before age thingy) – I will have to ask them if they want me to ensure the floor is safe for them/clear of zombies, and then give them the all clear.

          1. Natalie*

            “I will have to ask them if they want me to ensure the floor is safe for them/clear of zombies, and then give them the all clear.”

            Oh, glorious. Consider it stolen!

        4. Sadsack*

          Standing and announcing “M’lady” is obnoxious because he is making a big deal out of something that isn’t – her arrival. You holding a door open or letting a woman out of an elevator before you is not sexist — I mean I assume that you are not making a proclamation, “Though art a damsel and therefore it would be my honor to let you pass!”

        5. NylaW*

          I think these things are fine if they are universal and equal. So you don’t just hold doors for women, you hold them for men too, and if you wouldn’t extend the same courtesy to a man because you think it would be awkward, then don’t do it for a woman.

        6. Katie the Fed*

          BCW, I feel like every time the subject of gender issues in the workplace comes up, we have this discussion. You see things as polite/courteous, and many women see them as patronizing or unprofessional.

          I think it’s up to women to determine what they find inappropriate, not what the intent of the man doing these actions is. So we can go round and round about specific examples, but the bottom line is that if I ask you not to do something in the workplace because it makes me uncomfortable, you should probably stop.

          1. Jen RO*

            But no one asked anyone to *not* do anything yet… and there are women who do appreciate doors being kept open for them etc. What should a man do, go around with surveys to hand out to every woman?

            I used to get very angry at the “sexism” of men holding doors open for me, until one of them pointed out that they are not doing it to be obnoxious but to be nice! I am perfectly capable of opening a door or of walking into a room after a man, of course, but I take their gestures as they are meant and go with the flow. They are trying to make a nice gesture and I would find it very impolite towards the man in question if a woman made a big deal out of it.

            1. fposte*

              In the workplace, your consideration isn’t what an individual woman wants or how your parents told you to act–it’s what the professional priority is. That’s why it doesn’t matter that some women might even like compliments on their body–that’s not what you do in the workplace whether people like it or not, and people who like it can get it elsewhere.

          2. TheSnarkyB*

            BCW, I wanted to publicly agree with Katie the Fed here and also point out that every time these conversations happen, you have a lot of female commenters trying to explain things to you and mostly in opposition to what you’re saying. I wish you’d take this as a signal that maybe you’re doing some things wrong, regardless of your intentions, and that maybe you have a lot to learn about women’s experiences of their gender in the workplace.

            I’d also like to point out that you bringing up this question. (Where’s the line?) and it wasn’t even about the original letter but rather the chivalry thing above, is exactly the same kind of tangent that got that last thread about this sort of thin shut down. It’s tangential, somewhat off-topic, and a bit instigatory. But it’s also something where it might be valuable to you to really try to hear the answers people are willingly giving you, when they could just ignore it and not entertain the question again.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Yeah, I’m going to ask that we not get into a discussion here of “where’s the line” because we’ve had it plenty of times before (usually at your request, BCW!) and it’s not even in response to the OP’s letter. And we’re on an anti-rabbit-hole crusade right now. Thank you.

              1. Chinook*

                “And we’re on an anti-rabbit-hole crusade right now. Thank you.”

                Allison, I have this image of you playing a game of “whack-a-mole” with a gigantic, inflatable hammer.

        7. Observer*

          Please don’t tell me that any normal person learned to use utterly outdated language like “m’lady” as a part of “normal” or “respectful” interactions with women!

          It’s not just that it’s different. It’s in your face, adds NOTHING, and accomplishes nothing for anyone. Because the context is also so out of place (this is not upper crust Britain of a century ago!) it also can’t be seen as “respectful”, either.

      6. Turanga Leela*

        I think it’s more that “weird and creepy” and “trying to be nice” are not mutually exclusive. Yes, he’s trying to be nice; yes, it’s off-putting and making Midge uncomfortable. If door-holding doesn’t making anyone uncomfortable, it’s fine. If you realize it’s making the person uncomfortable, then stop. (It probably isn’t. Door-holding is usually appreciated regardless of gender.)

        Midge, you might have to say something about the m’lady business. Nothing dramatic, just, “Hey, can you not say that? Thanks.”

        1. Chinook*

          The only time I ever found door holding uncomfortable was when I was on a date in Japan (where door holding is not done) with a Japanese man. He truly had no clue on how to do it and actually stood in the doorway while holding the door in such a way that meant I had to get into his body space in order to walk through the door. This was most definitely not a ploy to get me to touch him because he looked as uncomfortable as I felt. I later asked his English teacher, my coworker, if they had talked about how English speaking men held doors for women and she said they did but they never did talk about the mechanics of it.

      7. BRR*

        It’s horribly outdated in terms of chivalry and using victorian pleasantries comes off as sarcastic or patronizing to me.

        I would just say, “I’m ok with beign called Midge.”

        1. Diet Coke Addict*

          I would certainly take “m’lady” as patronizing. It is an extremely antiquated form of address and would be noticeably weird. Even in a very formal workplace, I think the correct thing would be to address by name or “ma’am” when a woman entered. “M’lady” is just not used.

      8. Mrs. Badcrumble*

        If he’s also standing up at meetings and calling male coworkers m’lord, it’s not sexist. Bizarre, but not sexist. If he’s singling her out pointedly, in front of a group of people at a meeting for anachronistic greetings because she’s female, then it’s sexist. As for holding the door, that’s just the polite thing to do regardless of gender.

        1. Fish Microwaver*

          I laughed at the image of someone in a boardroom referring to his colleagues a m’lord.

      9. Sadsack*

        Why wouldn’t you hold a door open for a man? i am a woman and I hold doors open for people regardless of their gender.

        1. Xay*

          Exactly. I’m a woman, raised in the South at that, and I hold doors for men and women. That said, the m’lady thing is antiquated at best.

        2. Red Librarian*

          Word. I’m a woman and did it this morning in multiple circumstances for both genders.

      10. hildi*

        “Is holding a door for a woman when you wouldn’t necessarily do that for a man considered sexist or being a gentleman?”

        I’m really interested in hearing responses to this question. I am from conservative, small town middle America so I know my experiences color my view, but I personally love it when the door his held for me. Very, very few men around here don’t hold the door for a woman. That being said, many women hold the door for other women or other men, too. I think it’s just a thing we tend to do. And I hold the door for anyone that’s coming in behind me.

        But I’ll freely admit that I anticipate when I’m with a man that he’ll open the door first. I guess I feel like it’s an old fashioned, chivalrous thing and if a man is going to take the time to grab the door first and hold it open, I’ll let him. I’ll be polite, say thank you, and then return the favor if I can.

        I also secretly think it’s awesome when a man would stand up at a table when a woman approaches. I only think it’s cool when he does it once and then is done. No need to bob up and down like a whack a mole. That just gets weird.

        I think there’s room in this world for a woman to be strong, independent, smart, modern, and not take any shit from men, but one who also enjoys some of those old fashioned, WELL INTENTIONED acts of respect. All bets are off if he’s being a scumbag about it or patronizing. And I think if your gut tells you something is not on the up-and-up with his gesture, then it probably isn’t. Trust your gut. But for all other acts of chivalry, I love being a recipient of it.

        1. Aunt Vixen*

          Everything you describe could be potentially charming in a social situation.

          Professional situations shouldn’t run on gender.

          1. hildi*

            Point taken. I agree that professional interactions shouldn’t overtly run on gender – making it obvious, or making a big deal out of it, etc. But I do think there are just some behaviors, habits, gestures that are either culturally ingrained into people or biologically ingrained. Probably better to just choose to take it that it was meant well (a kindness, as Celeste said) and operate under that assumption until otherwise indicated. But there definitely is a lot of context and shades of grey in a lot of these situations where there’s room to argue otherwise.

            1. Jen RO*

              What pisses me off to no end (in these comments included) is when people get so focused on “eradicating” every shade of sexism that they forget about these shades of grey. Holding door open = OMG SEXISM. Woman agreeing with a man that holding door open is not sexism = OMG women can be misogynists too!

              (Sorry Alison. I’m off for the evening so this will probably be my first and last inflammatory comment on this issue… but I hope people can look past the caps and get the point. One of the reasons I love this blog is that it isn’t and doesn’t want to be a “safe space” for anything, that we don’t need to add a trigger warning to every post, etc.)

              1. hildi*

                You and I think a lot alike, Jen. I actually was wondering if my post would get any responses and you were one of them that I thought might generally be in agreement with me.

          2. Chinook*

            “Everything you describe could be potentially charming in a social situation. Professional situations shouldn’t run on gender.”

            I had the perfect example of this when DH was in the navy (for those keeping score, he was also in the Air Force as well as the Army – let’s just say the Canadian military is a small organization). When I came aboard to see his ship, I was piped aboard because I was a woman (which wouldn’t happen if a male civilian came aboard). But, if a female seaman came aboard, she would not be piped because she is a military member and, thus “gender neutral” or one of the guys.

            And, I have to say, the piping at my presence was pretty cool.

            1. hildi*

              What is piping? Oh! Is that the funny whistle or something? Fun.

              And actually, you make a really good point about military. It was my experience (which I fully recognize is not everyone’s experience) when I was active duty that I was treated as one of the guys.

              I actually started to type a lot more and then realized how being treated as one of the guys in the military can and is such a double edged sword for many women so I’m going to stop there. But I think your last sentence about a female seaman wasn’t piped in because she was military and “gender neutral” is a good point. I remember being treated first as a miltary member, as a woman second.

              Oh! That makes me remember that when I got married we had the arch of sabers at our wedding. It’s tradition that when the couple walks through it, the last saber bearer in line gently brings the saber down and pats the (civilian) bride on the back or backside and says, “Welcome to the military, Ma’am.” Well, my husband was a civilian and the last saber bearer did that to him. It was probably weird for a guy to do that to a guy, but everyone loved it and it’s a fun memory for us. The intent I think is that civilian spouses get that extra special treatment.

        2. Jen RO*

          I find it… I don’t know, normal? I don’t even notice it most of the time. When I do notice it, I find it a gentlemanly gesture. I honestly don’t give a damn either way – holding doors or NOT holding doors doesn’t color my opinion of a man. (Unless I’m carrying a ton of bags – if a person of any gender doesn’t hold the door, I do think a bit less of them.)

      11. ExceptionToTheRule*

        Standing up & saying m’lady is behavior one would expect in a Jane Austen novel (unless we’re talking about Fitzwilliam Darcy and then he’d just stare at her & not speak). It’s not something that you see anymore outside of a Renaissance Fair.

        I hold the door for men, women, children, etc. because I find door holding to be polite behavior and I don’t spend time reading anything into the motivation of others when they do the same.

      12. BCW*

        I’m learning new things all the time. But if we are going by the line of thinking that in an office everyone shouldn’t be treated equal regardless of gender, I think its a slippery slope. I’ve been in a many offices where the women would ask the guys to change the jug on the water cooler. By the logic on here, I should just say no and let them do it, and be offended that they would assume that because I’m a man I would do it. But to me, its just courteous to do it, especially if she asked. I’m guessing very few women would just go to another woman and ask them to do it. They may ask for help, but not to just do it as they would for a guy if he were around. Also, I think if I was in the kitchen eating and watching her do it, many people would think I was a jerk for not offering to do it for her.

        1. Shell*

          I think that’s a little different. Speaking as a small woman (I’m 5’2″ and not even 115lbs soaking wet), I cannot physically lift those water jugs because of 1) my stature and 2) my bad knee. Lifting one of those things either throws out my knee or my back, so I categorically refuse to do it even if I’m jibed for it. That said, I vehemently think that any man who has physically issues should also be off the hook for changing the water cooler jug.

          But in the general sense, many women either weaker in strength or lacking the height/leverage to do easily change the water cooler. Yeah, in that case, I think it’s easier to ask for help or ask for someone more able-bodied (usually a manh, but I’ve asked women too) to change the jug. Whereas for the door…usually every able-bodied adult can open and hold a door.

          I think how strenuous the task can be for people is definitely an issue, and a door just does not compare to a 18 litre jug of water.

        2. The Real Ash*

          I assume that you were asked due to your upper body strength, not your sex. I am a woman and I get asked all the time to help other women carry or lift things because I’m stronger than most of the women here, and I’m sure they do it because they don’t want to seem like they’re running to the men for help all the time. I also specifically carry my own heavy stuff and only ask for help if it would be really unsafe for me to do (i.e. I’m short and need a tall person to help with some things, hehe). But I would only do that after trying to get a step ladder, or climbing on a chair, or getting a dollie to lift something, or whatever.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Yes! I ended up being the heavy-box-carrier and stuck-jar-opener in one work setting because I happened to be about six inches taller than everybody else there. :D

          2. en pointe*

            Agreed, we can’t necessarily equate the water cooler thing to sexism (though in some cases it probably is) because, in a significant number of cases, the men are going to be the physically more logical choice to lift a water jug or do a similar job. In some cases, for example you or Kelly L. below, a woman might be a more logical physical choice.

        3. hildi*

          BCW – you tend to have a similar line of questioning or perspective when you post and I almost always can understand what you are getting at or what you mean when you usually get fried for your opinions. I tend to agree with you on some of those controversial things you say – mostly because I can see how there are just so many different context, subtleties, and workplace (and team) cultures that it isn’t always as black and white as some of the responses you get.

          I usually try to change the water cooler myself because I personally don’t ever want to become a wuss. I want to be able to heft those things around. But there have been a few times where my hands just couldn’t get the grip and I asked the guy in our office to do it. I could have asked my female coworker who was closer, but I didn’t. I asked him and he did it in 2 seconds. However, when I was pregnant and physically couldn’t do anything because my stomach got in the way, I did ask my female coworker to do it. So….there’s not always malice, spite, or sexism for why people choose to ask a man or woman to do it. Sometimes it just is and I think it’s good to keep that in mind as a possibility, too.

          1. Jen RO*

            I started changing the water cooler a while ago – after reading some AAM threads, actually! Three guys jumped up off their chairs when they saw me lugging the jug around – I found it kind of cute, really. Around here, it’s considered a “man’s job” to change the water cooler, and yes, even men shorter and skinnier than me are included there.

        4. BCW*

          Let me be clear, I’m not referring to women who really CAN’T do this. If you are pregnant, bad back, etc I completely get it. I’m referring to fully able bodied women who I’m sure COULD do it if they wanted to. Now I truly have no problem doing it for them, but its just an example of “casual sexism” that I think a lot of women at work don’t have a problem with.

          1. Shell*

            Ah, okay. And I apologize for the horrendous English in my previous post, I can type better…usually. (I also shaved an inch off my own height, and I’m short enough already. XD)

            I do think my point about ease of doing the task stands, though. The average woman is going to be shorter than the average man, and also frequently weaker in upper body strength. An able-bodied woman–defined as one without any injury or impairment–might still have a (much) more difficult time changing the water cooler jug. Can they do it? Sure, but it’s probably a much more onerous task than it would be for a man–barring outliers like injury or whatever. I think a lot of woman, if they happen to be tall/weightlifters/what have you wouldn’t bother asking a man, but for some women–even able-bodied women–it’s just an incredibly onerous task to them whereas it wouldn’t be for another (possibly male) coworker.

            I dunno, I know I’m seeing this through the lens of my physical impairments. But I just don’t think door-holding can compare since it’s pretty much not onerous at all for any grown adult who is able-bodied.

          2. TheSnarkyB*

            Well, a lot of women in the workplace DO have a problem with this. I wouldn’t assume you know who falls in which camp, especially when we’re talking about the people accepting your help. I wouldn’t really, in that situation, be comfortable saying no and explaining why, I would just let you do it, assume you were trying to be nice, and be slightly annoyed that we live in a world with casual “benevolent” sexism. BUT I would only ever ask for help if I was having a bad scoliosis day (which you would not be privy to), and you were the closest around me. I would not go in search of a man and I for damn sure am plenty strong enough to lift it myself.

          3. Elsajeni*

            Sure, but most women don’t have a problem with anyone holding doors for anyone else, either. I think the idea that no one should take any notice of gender in the workplace… it’s more of a guideline than a firm rule, you know? Most people generally won’t object to small deviations from it — like men holding doors for women, or women asking men to change the water cooler jug — and if they do, they ought to voice that objection in a way that acknowledges “this is a small thing that happens to bother me,” rather than treating it as a huge, obvious deal. But on the other side, I think the person doing the door-holding or asking someone else to change the jug has an obligation, if someone does object, to recognize that, yeah, they were violating the guideline a little bit and to be cool about changing that behavior.

        5. Ask a Manager* Post author

          BCW, you’re taking us off way off topic from the post, and I’m going to ask you not to do that here (or in the future). Thank you.

          Everyone else, I’m going to ask you not to go down this rabbit hole any further too. We’re developing a situation where one commenter has the power to derail a huge portion of a comment thread because of all the responses an off-topic question ends up garnering. Thank you.

      13. Lora*

        For me, the joke would get old the second time he did it. The first time, I would correct him, “It’s ‘Your Grace’!”

        You should always hold doors for the person who is carrying the most stuff, regardless of gender. I’ve had guys *not* hold doors to show how non-sexist they are when my arms were so full I could barely see where I was going, and did NOT appreciate having the door swing shut right in front of me. If everyone is carrying the same amount of stuff, then the person who gets to the door first holds it for everyone else.

      14. BettyD*

        I know this issue comes up a lot on this blog, and I’ve always tried to find a way to frame it in my mind. The closest I can come is- the line is when it’s really about the guy and not about me.

        In my experience, the over-chivalrous “m’lady” guy, the one who sprints to open the door for me with a flourish, or who takes the packages out of my hands even when I say “I’ve got it,” etc etc, isn’t thinking about me as a person or even me as a woman at all. He’s thinking about how nice it makes him look or how awesome everyone must think he is. I’m an object upon which he can Practice His Chivalry. The guy who opens a door for me because he’s there first, or even better, for the next person after him, no matter what their gender is, is the guy whose politeness doesn’t bug. If he thanks me when I open the door because I’m there first, that’s a winner in my book.

    2. Elysian*

      “But what about instances of casual sexism?”

      I wish there was an answer for this. I know it doesn’t bother some people (and maybe some people prefer it), but I have coworkers who insist on holding doors open for me, letting me on and off the elevator first, etc, and I just don’t like it. Sometimes its downright inconvenient or awkward for them to be gallant, but they do it anyway. I’ve tried, as AAM suggests here, to address it when it comes up (ie. “You don’t have to do that for me.”) but it doesn’t stop it. I’ve just given up, even though I don’t want to be treated differently.

      1. Turanga Leela*

        My way of handling this is to graciously accept the door-holding and then be sure to hold doors for them later on.

        1. Kelly L.*

          This. I’m a woman, I hold doors for both men and women, and I think that’s becoming a lot more common. It doesn’t need to be gendered.

        2. Elysian*

          If I try to hold the door for them, they take it from me and usher me through first. Like I said, even when inconvenient and awkward, I am going through the door first. They don’t do this for male coworkers. In order to stop the awkward production, I’ve just given up and accept it, though I don’t like it.

      2. en pointe*

        I largely agree with you when it’s ALWAYS men for women. But I’d hate to see us lose all this stuff generally. I think there’s a great place for it, in the name of common courtesy. In the sense that it’s not about holding the door for the fairer sex, but about holding the door for the elderly person, or the heavily pregnant woman, or the able-bodied man with his hands full, or just whoever else is there when you happen to be the closest one to the door. Men letting me walk ahead of them, or off a lift first or whatever, doesn’t bother me at all, and I’m happy to extend them the same courtesy.

        1. Del*

          Agreed — this is where I’d really like to see that tradition go. Hold the door open for everyone, rather than for no one. Whoever gets there first holds it for whoever gets there next, regardless of gender or other factors (except where actually relevant, ie the actual ability to get the door).

      3. The Real Ash*

        Why not just stand there and stare at them, and make it more awkward for them to do? You don’t have to leave the elevator first if you don’t want to. Just play Elevator Chicken and win every time. ;)

        1. en pointe*

          That seems like kind of obnoxious behaviour to me. Holding a door for the people behind/with you or letting someone walk ahead of you is just polite behaviour, regardless of gender. I do it sometimes for men and sometimes for other women, and if someone took it as an affront or refused to walk through, just leaving us hanging there awkwardly, I’d find it a little ridiculous.

      4. Natalie*

        Indeed. I have one very old-fashioned co-worker who does all this “ladies first” stuff and honestly, it grates on me. It’s one thing to let someone go first off the elevator because they’re in front of you, it’s another thing entirely to flatten yourself against the wall so all the women can get off, and then leave the elevator. It’s weird and calls attention to it in a way that is awkward, I think.

        I’ve also noticed I perceive these gestures differently from this guy I’ve been seeing. But in his case, he openly acknowledges that he is old fashioned in this regard *and* I know him well enough to know that he’s an egalitarian and there’s no deeper patronizing behind opening my car door.

    3. en pointe*

      I wouldn’t assume he’s trying to be nice. I would assume it’s tongue-in-cheek. Obnoxious either way though. (Assuming this is multiple times? If it’s just once, I wouldn’t worry too much about it, unless there were parallels elsewhere.)

      1. Jen RO*

        I read it as very tongue-in-cheek. I make the same kind of jokes, actually, with my close friends/coworkers. From a random guy, if it happened often… yeah, it would be annoying and I’d tell him to stop already, but I don’t know if I would call it sexism.

    4. Chinook*

      “whenever he says something way over the line like commenting in his yoga teacher’s ass…”

      Can I just say that is a great typo but I have to ask – was he commenting on his yoga teacher’s butt or making comments while in his yoga teacher’s class? Also, if it isn’t a typo, was there an echo?

      1. Midge*

        Oh no! What a place to have a typo. Yes, he is commenting to us, after the fact, about what a great butt his yoga teacher has. No idea what he does during yoga, though. :)

    5. OriginalYup*

      For the standing up and saying “m’lady” when you walk into the meetings, I’d probably wait a beat and say “Uh. M’Lord?” and keep going right into the meeting topic.

      You could address it directly in private. “Apollo, standing up and greeting me when I come into meetings is way over the top. I’m your colleague, not a visiting dignitary. It’s fine to just say hi, okay?” But I get that you might be trying to limit your dealings with him rather than engage further.

    6. MaryMary*

      I trespond to foolish, casual sexism with gentle mockery. Like replying, “thank you, court jester” next time he calls you m’lady.

      Well meant but old fashioned things like waiting for me to exit the elevator first I just let go.

    7. S*

      At work so I can’t really find the link, but please Google Amy Schumer’s “M’Lady” sketch. So funny, and helps humorously convey why the “m’lady” thing is sort of patronizing or even creepy (particularly in a professional setting).

    8. Observer*

      “Excuse me?!” and go on with whatever. I don’t know if this is sexist or not, but the guy seems like a jerk. It also sounds like he’s trying to get a rise out of you. Don’t feed the trolls.

    9. Allison*

      oh lord, tell me he doesn’t tip his trillby when he does it.

      honestly, overly formal and old fashioned behavior in any setting is weird, even if it’s not explicitly sexist. Standing when a lady enters the room, saying “m’lady,” bowing over a woman’s hand, hat-tipping, or even using overly formal greetings for women when it’s not normal where you are is weird, and usually makes people wonder why you’re doing it. While this extends beyond the workplace, I would be super weirded out if I was at work and some dude started acting like we were at a ball in the 1800’s.

  7. Katie the Fed*

    If I can add something, when you do respond, do it with the same level of emotion and frustration you would use in addressing any other performance issue. In other words, very neutral and calm, like you would respond if he was interrupting you in meetings, etc. Don’t get flustered or let him know this bothers you on a personal level.

    I once had an junior person (I wasn’t a manager then, but I was in a more senior role) pull me aside and tell me he had been in love with me for a year, and found it hard to work with me every day knowing I was the perfect woman for him. I had no idea how to handle it because it caught me so off guard, so I asked my manager how to deal, and my manager ended up talking to him and it all got super awkward. So DEFINITELY deal with it before it gets to that point.

    1. Anonalicious*

      Oh my god I cannot imagine have that kind of conversation with my manager EVER. I’m sorry you had to resort to that.

    2. Celeste*

      That’s a big load to dump on somebody, and it would take a lot of grace to deflect it politely. I’m thinking of the scene in Four Weddings and A Funeral where the friend confesses to Hugh Grant that he is the reason she has never married.

    3. Lily in NYC*

      Gross! I had a manager invite me to go on a romantic valentine’s day trip with him. I asked how his live-in girlfriend would feel about that. The next day I got a wrapped sex toy left on my desk from a “secret admirer”. I still can’t believe how I handled the situation (by doing absolutely nothing).

      1. Turanga Leela*

        There’s something really disturbing about being gifted an unwanted sex toy. I once got one from an ex (not at work, thankfully).

          1. Turanga Leela*

            Nope, brand-new and pretty high-quality. It was just the context of opening a package and discovering that my ex had mailed me a surprise sex toy for my birthday that made it awkward.

      2. MJ (Aotearoa/New Zealand)*

        Please tell me you’ve talked about this on AAM before, because I’m horrified by the idea that more than one person might have a similar story to this!

        1. Jen RO*

          I think there was a similar story in a “worst Christmas at work” thread – someone got a sex toy as a Secret Santa present or something.

    4. Tinker*

      Yeah, near the beginning of my first professional job I had a pickup artist running game on me at the office. At the time I didn’t realize what the deal was, it just seemed like he kept on asking me out in ways that seemed weird and kind of condescending/contemptuous, and I kept on turning him down. Not wanting to be That Person Who Makes A Big Deal About Things, I didn’t want to directly confront him, but I was embarrassed and frustrated about it and got more so as he continued to persist.

      When he did it in front of a bunch of senior coworkers — previous attempts had not had a large audience or one involving people I saw as having authority over me — I was sufficiently taken off guard that I shouted at him without thinking “No. And DO NOT ask again.” Solved the problem. Also… super awkward.

      In retrospect, especially knowing the sort of PUA he was, using those same words in neutral and calm tones earlier in the process would have had the same effect minus the awkward, and if not that would then have put me in a better position to follow up formally.

      1. iseeshiny*

        It’s such an uncomfortable position to be in, too – a lot of times these guys ask in such a way that if you do give a clear “I’m not interested in you romantically” they have plausible deniability to make it seem like they were only asking as friends, why are you so full of yourself, etc. But if you make the mistake of thinking he’s just being friendly then you’re leading him on.

        1. Tinker*

          Yep, and that was the thing I was concerned about at the time — particularly since the condescending/contemptuous element (I’d not heard of ‘negging’ at the time) confused me. There’s a bullying technique that looks a lot like that, but the point isn’t to entice with ambiguous availability, it’s to use the ambiguity to elicit a response “as if” a romantic relationship is on the table, and then deny it and mock the person for being “desperate” or “deluded” according to the social value of the implied proposition.

          Still, outside of a completely toxic environment, it seems like the matter-of-fact confrontation is usually the better choice.

  8. Poohbear McGriddles*

    Sounds like conference calls aren’t the only place Jim might want to invite multiple parties. Or maybe he’s dating Manti Teo’s ex, who is known for not showing up as planned.

    Definitely find a way to nip this in the bud now.

  9. Lily in NYC*

    I feel like a manager needs to be able to have tough conversations with employees (and definitely don’t spring this on him in a performance evaluation; that would be bad management). I also get the feeling this guy is more of a “no boundaries” guy and does not necessarily have romantic intentions. I know so many awkward guys like this who think they are just being friendly and don’t realize they have entered the creepy zone.

    1. Jen RO*

      That’s the vibe I got too. I can’t believe that a guy who was *actually* flirting would invite OP to dinner with his girlfriend.

      1. some1*

        It’s happened to me more than once. Once, the couple was trying to feel me out for a “group activity” and another time the guy was trying to play me off against his GF, make her jealous, so he could negotiate the terms of the relationship.

    2. Shell*

      I really want to believe the no-boundaries/clueless theory, mostly because I think it ought to be common sense to not flirt with your manager (flirting with colleagues is already playing with fire). But I have to admit my first cynical thought was that the girlfriend would pull a no-show at the last minute.

      Even if it’s well-intentioned cluelessness, repeated personal overtures to your bossis just a bad idea in general, isn’t it?

    3. Sunflower*

      I agree that he might be a kind of guy who has no boundaries with anyone. I wouldn’t be surprised if other employees had similar strange things to say about him. And, yes, most of the time these guys have no idea that what they’re doing is uncomfortable. I think that’s why a frank and direct conversation might be best- he probably has no idea he’s making you uncomfortable.

      This isn’t just a guy thing either- I’ve seen women act like this too and it’s all as weird and uncomfortable just the same.

  10. Vancouver Reader*

    Is Jim from a different culture where this would be normal behaviour? I don’t know of any in particular, I’m just wondering if it could be partly due to cultural differences.

    1. iseeshiny*

      I don’t know that that would make a difference to how OP should handle it though. If someone came from a culture where it’s normal to blow your nose on your boss’s shirt the behavior would still need to stop, because ew.

      1. Vancouver Reader*

        Oh you’re absolutely right, I just wondered if Jim didn’t realize he was doing something that isn’t proper because that wouldn’t have raised an eyebrow in old country. But definitely, the OP has to address the issue. And I hope there’s no culture where it’s okay to use anyone’s shirt as a handkerchief.

  11. Chocolate Teapot*

    There can be a cultural element, although I get the impression it isn’t the case here.

    For example, a former boss used to say I looked nice in a particular outfit, and the other week, I was at an event, and introduced to somebody who clicked his heels together and bowed.

    And before anyone asks, no, I have not escaped from a Jane Austin novel!

    1. GrumpyBoss*

      I used to have a boss who would always say, “Wow, you look super skinny today!” until I pulled him aside and explained that many woman don’t find “skinny” to be a compliment. If he felt the need to comment on my weight (although I wish he wouldn’t), svelte, slender, thin, all worked well.

      The look on the poor guy’s face almost broke my heart. He obviously meant no harm and he honestly felt like he was giving compliments that made me feel good. He stopped after that, but I feel bad for saying anything.

      1. The Real Ash*

        Don’t feel bad! You were doing it to be kind and I assume that you did it ina graceful, polite way. People might act poorly in the moment, but it’s better for them to know if they’re being rude / malicious / negative / whatever so they can try to correct that behavior. Like someone else mentioned, maybe there are cultural differences, in which case it is more than polite to help the person learn the “proper” ways to interact in their new culture.

      2. StarHopper*

        Don’t feel bad! It was good of you to offer alternatives, and what he was doing was socially awkward at best.

        I always feel super-creeped if people (men or women) compliment my body casually like that. I got that a lot when I lost some weight (actively trying), when I was pregnant (hoo, boy), and again now that I lost the baby weight. I never know quite what to say, because it makes me feel uncomfortable that people are commenting on something that I largely cannot help. I very much wish that people would stick to clothing & hairstyle compliments. That’s something you have more agency in!

  12. Lynn*

    Whether he likes you or not, the main issue here is the fact that he seems to be viewing more as a younger woman than as his boss, and that’s not good for anyone. You don’t need to worry about whether he likes you so much as how to communicate what is acceptable behavior for ALL of your employees. It sounds like a tough spot to be in!

  13. David*

    I don’t think AAM’s advice is off base at all when it comes to how to handle this. However, let me offer an alternative theory on his motivation.

    First, let’s eliminate these potential scenarios (in which case my theory goes down the tubes):

    -He’s seeking a third for a French phrase I won’t attempt to spell appropriately (hence the invitation to join him and his girlfriend for dinner).

    -He’s going to play the “girlfriend cancelled at the last moment” card, as another reader suggested.

    -He’s attempting to set you up with a friend (and doing it poorly).

    I want to touch on my theory because it’s based on advice I’ve received/seen in action and am reluctant to use because it can go so, so wrong. And even if it’s not the case here, well, I just feel like sharing.

    Under the umbrella of “building relationships with co-workers”, I’ve heard many suggestions related to asking people about their personal lives, likes/dislikes, weekend plans, etc., and getting together outside of work for coffee. This is very unnatural for me because they seem like inappropriate questions to ask in a work setting, and asking someone to get together outside of work to get to know them better can be startling if there’s no social history to speak of. Sure, if you naturally develop a relationship with a co-worker, have at it. But breaking the ice this way, at work, seems so insincere and forced I can’t do it.

    So let’s say this guy got that advice. And he has no idea how to do these sorts of things smoothly, but thinks he’s just following good practices. I’ve seen it happen. It makes people uncomfortable. And their intentions are utterly misinterpreted because they don’t know the right things to say or ask. That’s where it goes wrong.

    Again, the advice AAM gives is sound. But like some others have said, his intent may not be as flirty as you’re perceiving it…he’s just socially awkward and thinks he’s doing the right thing with his boss to build a relationship. Heck, if he saw his co-workers doing as you say (even if they just moved on eventually), he may even be seeing that as re-enforcement for doing it himself, and taking it to the next level to outshine his peers!

    People give bad advice. Other people put it into practice even more poorly.

    Or, he could just think you’re cute and be willing to dump his girlfriend for you. Only he knows. But best that you never find out!

      1. hildi*

        I think it’s relevant to consider a lot of different reasons for why someone behaves the way they do. That’s pretty much where I live my life – I am always trying to consider what caused a person to act a certain way. It helps me reframe my perspective so that I can choose a better course of action. Just doing the exercise of entertaining possibilities isn’t condoning the person’s behavior. Simply trying to understand is not tacit agreement with the appropriateness of something.

        So, I think David throwing out the theory is helpful. Because when an OP writes in, I think many have come back to say later that they never thought of some of the things commenters put forth and it helped them reframe the situation.

        Because we so often can’t see the people in the flesh and get a read on the body language and tone and context of these instances OP is describing, I think one should entertain lots of possibilities.

      2. CaliSusan*

        I don’t think it’s irrelevant – understanding his intentions can help the OP put his behavior in context, and perhaps allow her to feel less awkward. I don’t think it negates the fact that she should still talk to him about it and ask him to stop, but knowing where another person is truly coming from is powerful information you can and should use to your advantage.

    1. some1*

      Or he doesn’t see her as an authority figure because of her age and/or gender and wants to mansplain to her in a social setting.

    2. Celeste*

      It’s definitely socially awkward to keep making the same invitation when the OP says no every time.

    3. NK*

      While that all may be true, I still think AAM’s advice stands – firmly let the guy know that she’s not interested in discussing her personal life. If it’s true that he’s just following bad advice and has no ill intention, that conversation only needs to happen once, and problem solved. In fact, I hope this is the case for her sake because then it’s an easy problem to solve!

  14. HM in Atlanta*

    The person who decides if an action is unwelcome is not the person who’s doing it. You do something for me – with the best of intentions – but it is unwelcome and I ask you stop. Please stop. If you ignore the feedback, your intention then becomes to make someone else uncomfortable.

    1. Allison*

      Exactly. It doesn’t matter why you want to do something, if they ask you to stop and you know it bothers them, don’t do it!

    2. anon in tejas*

      I follow this as well, but it’s interesting because people often don’t follow this line of reasoning in dealing with racism.

  15. LD*

    I agree with most of the comments everyone has already made, and I’d like to toss another scenario out for consideration. In the “olden days” of career advice, young men (and it was typically men) were advised to invite their boss to dinner. It was seen as a way to get on the boss’s good side and show your boss that you (and perhaps your spouse) had the skills to entertain, because that was seen as one way to move up the corporate ladder. Now this young man seems more likely to be clueless about how to treat his boss who is a young female and he is confusing social and business etiquette on how to get to know someone. Do go ahead and address it and please don’t wait for the performance review meeting. He needs to know it’s a problem and you both will have a better performance review meeting if this situation has already been addressed. Good luck!

    1. some1*

      Even if that was his motivation for the (repeated) dinner invites, of course the LW is going to put in the context of all the inappropriate comments he’s made, though.

    2. Betsy Bobbins*

      This is exactly what I was thinking. I imagine he has had some success using flattery with women in his dating life and is applying those same principles to his manager hoping to curry her favor.

      Or, as other’s have mentioned, he’s angling for a 3 way.

  16. CarolineK*

    I think that dinner invitation includes the girlfriend only to make it sound more casual instead of romantic. I think the OP would show up to dinner and “the girlfriend” wouldn’t.

  17. Russian Blue*

    Congrats on the promotion, OP! AAM’s advice is spot on here: be direct and steer the conversation back to work.

  18. Anon5*

    I vote that your coworker is recruiting for some type of fitness or health-related MLM he and his girlfriend do on the side. “You look like you’ve been working out. Do you know what would take your sessions to the next level? This here snake oil that’s only 80$ a bottle. But if you’d like to purchase it at a discount all you need to do is start selling it and sign-up six of your workout buddies to start selling it too.”

    Then when you politely decline you’ll be subtly (or not so subtly) accused of not wanting to have a huge house with all the trappings and the ability to work from home for 5 hours a week while the money. Just. Rolls. In.

    Ask me how I know…

    1. hildi*

      That reminds me of the bodybuilder employee whose company dietician wouldn’t stop hounding him about his eating. That was a good one, if I remember.

    2. Lily in NYC*

      Oh god. I think I’d rather be flirted with than invited to an Amway/Mary Kay/Shakeology ambush.

  19. TheSnarkyB*

    OP, I think it’s going to be very important for you to reflect on how proactive (or not) you are as a manager. Of course, I don’t know you or your style but a few things stood out to me that might suggest that you’re not being as active a manager as you should be (in my barely informed opinion). This behavior is quite inappropriate and yet you ask if you should ignore it and let it continue; you mention that most of your staff have gone through some phase of flirting with you and then stopping; and you talk about “politely shutting him down” in a way that sounds more appropriate for a social gathering, or for a conversation among peers, than for a manager to subordinate relationship.
    I think you should follow Alison’s advice, but also think about the larger patterns here, and maybe what you could do to change the tone of your leadership or the office to make this boundary clearer. As a manager, setting the tone is your purview. I’m also sorry that this guy made you so uncomfortable and crossed this line- that’s his mistake, not yours. (Just to be clear)

    1. Chriama*

      I agree with your perspective. OP, you’ve just been promoted to management. The atmosphere you cultivate now will follow you around your career at this company. It can be really hard to shut the casual sexism things down, especially when you’re still trying to figure out how you fit in this social/professional dynamic.

      However, it’s important that you know how to draw the line if and when you feel the need to. Alison’s example of reframing things to focus on work issues is valuable in dealing with the other coworkers too. Deflection is a great tool, ex. when someone comments on your appearance, comment on theirs. When things veer into the inappropriate (like with this guy) figure out a script for clearly stating ‘knock it off’.

      I think learning how to deal with these situations will become easier as you get older, and more confident of yourself both socially and professionally. Good luck!

    2. CTO*

      I’ll also point out that the age difference (OP being a good deal younger than her employees) makes it all the more important to lead with authority, boundaries, and confidence. Being a younger woman overseeing older men can be really, really hard.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      I would encourage OP to become comfortable (train your brain) to say things like “DON’T go there!” and other off the cuff responses when you hear something like this the first time.
      You can also use:
      “That subject is off limits [out of bounds, over the line]”.
      “Okay. You have said this before. You do not need to say it again.”

      For me, I had trouble believing what I was hearing at first. So that was more train my brain stuff. I started out slowly. One remark “oh, you look nice today” I can let slide- I hold it in the best light, take it as a one-off, say thanks, and move on. But I see personal remarks on a regular basis my response is “Okay, that is enough. You do not need to make personal remarks to me everyday. It’s over the line.”
      I have even seen times, where I have said “You know, you keep talking like this to women and someone is going to slap a sexual harassment charge against you.” (I said that when I was not the subject of the remark. I was speaking to a peer.)

      Don’t get bamboozled by attempted deflections:

      “Oh I was just joking.”
      Okay. Then do not joke in that manner ever again.

      “Oh I did not mean anything by it.”
      Good. Then there is no need to ever say it again.

      “You’re too serious.”
      Sexual harassment is serious,that is true. You need to watch what you are saying to other people.

      You might also want to consider creating a work environment where people are more aware of how to talk to each other. And say it just that way- “to each other”. If they are willing to say stuff like this to you, they are probably willing to say worse to each other when you are out of earshot. No, I do not mean they are talking about you, specifically. They could be talking about each other, too.

      My rule of thumb is if I see something three times, that is a pattern. A pattern needs to be addressed and nipped short. (Psychologists agree- three times is a pattern.)

      Don’t sit and hope it goes away. Put your foot down, “No this is not what we are about. We are professional people here with professional standards.” (I think Alison is role modeling this on another issue. Take a look at how she goes in on something and how she chooses her wording.)

  20. Ask a Manager* Post author

    ATTENTION EVERYONE: The comments on this post are a perfect example of what were talking about yesterday — one person opens up a hot-button topic that isn’t about the original letter and the whole thread starts getting eaten up by people responding to that and trying to explain to him (in this case, explaining sexism, why many women think differently than he does, etc.).

    Please help me clean this up. As someone wrote yesterday, you can help me solve this problem by not engaging when this happens. Or you can clearly say, “I believe you’re wrong, but I also think this whole point is derailing, so out of respect for the original OP, I’m not going to engage,” and that’s not backing down, but helping to keep the conversation on-track.

    1. hildi*

      I just feel like I got my name on the board (with a check!) in grade school. Eep. I was so judgy in my own mind yesterday about all those that engage in the rabbit holes and now I can completely see how easy it is to get into one. And I try to stay away from those hot-button topics, too. Damn.

      But actually it was really helpful you stepped in and pointed it out while it was going on while it was happening.

    2. Elysian*

      I hate to post this, but I feel like I have to say something. I would like to consider myself a respectful commenter on the whole, but I am very honestly confused about what the posting rules and expectations currently are. I understand that you’re trying to ‘clean things up,’ but today I made a comment that I thought was a continuation of the post (re: would this same approach work for less overt behavior?) and I typed it all out and then sat around for awhile trying to figure out if it was too off-topic to post or not. Now I’m starting to feel like maybe I made the wrong decision about posting. I still honestly don’t know. I enjoy reading the comments here, and I hate to withdraw from posting because I’m erring on the side of I don’t want to be scolded for my post or for enabling other posters. But at the moment the “I know it when I see it” approach to inappropriate posts is confusing for me, and perhaps for others as well. If you’re going to continue on trying to reform the commenting environment, could you please spell out what is and is not in line with what you would like to see? Thank you.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I’m working on a commenting policy that I’ll post soon.

        Asking “would the same approach work for less overt behavior?” sounds reasonably on topic to me. What I wanted to halt here was the broader debate about “where is the line between chivalry and sexism?” which isn’t related to the OP’s question at all. (And which wasn’t really much of a debate at all, but rather one person posing questions that seem designed to provoke at this point, given how many times that same discussion has happened at his instigation in the past.)

        1. Joey*

          I think in this case questioning whether or not there was a problem at all was the problem.

      2. Katie the Fed*

        I think it’s the baiting that’s a big problem. It’s not constructive – it’s pushing a separate agenda or wanting to argue for the sake of argument, and it doesn’t help or pertain to the OP at all.

        Thanks for not killing comments altogether, Alison. I want to still have nice things :)

    3. Joey*

      I will admit this whole comment thing is making the site far less appealing, but I think there’s something else contributing.

      Advice on behavior that is obviously inappropriate. I mean c’mon, most same people know a manager spoofing to get you to pick up is horrible. We all know flirting is inappropriate at work. That leaves not much to discuss.

      It’s starting to feel like you’re running out of good complex questions that take some real management knowledge to answer.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        Interesting. That’s not me running out, that’s me really liking the weird ones. (That said, while “don’t flirt at work” is pretty obvious, I actually think this OP’s situation — how to address it with a subordinate who’s flirting with her — is fairly difficult.)

        Anyway. I agree it’s far less appealing to have to deal with the discussions about how commenting will work. It’s part of the site growing, but it’s going to be resolved quickly. (Believe me on that; I don’t have a ton of patience for lengthy explorations of how this should work. We’re going to fix it and be done with it.)

        1. Joey*

          The weird ones are usually the simplest though once you get past the shock of what actually happened. It’s usually the ones that sound confusing (ie, maybe obscure details of employment laws come into play) to the lay person that are the most informative, I think.

          1. Kelly L.*

            I wonder how many of those questions she really gets, though. I’ve always envisioned her mailbox to be about 99% full of “should I call to follow up?” which would make it so appealing to pick WTFs instead. ;)

              1. CA Anon*

                I love the WTFs too. I came here originally for the advice, but I stayed for the insane stories.

        2. Joey*

          By simple I mean its solution that is repeated heavily and applies to so many problems. I haven’t read your answer but I bet its to have a direct conversation with the person and give him feedback. And if that doesn’t work take increasingly stronger steps/ consequences to address it.

          1. Shell*

            Joey, if I remember correctly, you’re a manager yourself and/or have dealt with hiring/firing before?

            I think a lot of answers Alison writes about will be obvious to good managers and those with a decent amount of management experience, and yes, to those people it can get a little old. But to those who aren’t so schooled in workplace politics, they honestly don’t know that direct feedback and clear communication can also be applied in this case, and that one, and maybe the one after that. They just don’t know the norms enough to judge when direct communication would suffice and when is it WTF enough to call in the big guns (and, on the very rare occasions, what situation would warrant skipping the direct communications and go straight to the big guns posthaste). And for that, I think Alison is really helpful, even if the exact advice she gives can be broadly applicable to other situations.

            Side note: although I do disagree with various opinions on this site, all in all I think all the managers I’ve ran across on this site sounds like people I’d be happy to work for.

            1. Joey*

              I agree. But it’s not just managers that find the answers obvious. I bet most people who’ve read/commented on this site for any length of time do too.

              1. LBK*

                But ultimately, the point of the site is to provide help to the people who write in questions. Obviously the comment sections are the big draw for many of us who are regular readers, but a) ultimately the site is here for the letter writers, not the commenters, and b) these discussion often go WILDLY off topic, to the point that they are completely useless to the OP.

                I think that’s Alison’s point – discussion is great and I’ll admit I like participating in some of the off-topic debates sometimes, but this isn’t a free-for-all forum. It’s an advice blog. Before posting a comment, everyone should think “If the OP reads this comment, will it provide useful advice that will make them better-equipped to handle their situation?” If the answer is no, don’t post it.

                1. Joey*

                  That’s an interesting question maybe Alison can answer. Are you trying to give advice that’s specific to the op or is it meant to be advice that applies more generically?

                2. Ask a Manager* Post author

                  It’s broader than just the letter-writers. But I’ve made the deliberate choice to keep the comments on each post focused on the topic of the letter, because the comment threads are long and unwieldy enough already; adding in off-topic discussions will make them more so (and that will eventually destroy what has made them so popular to begin with).

          2. Turanga Leela*

            I’ve noticed that a lot of what Alison does, regardless of the type of question, is give people language and framing that they can use to address a situation. It’s simple once you read it, but it’s hard for many people to come up with the right approach on their own. I know a therapist who says that most of her practice is helping people figure out what to say and how to say it.

            1. StarHopper*

              Yes! One of the things that keeps this blog interesting for me is the way Alison gives people suggested scripts tailored to the situation at hand. Lots of people know what the common sense answer is going to be, but few know how to go about implementing it without more experience first.

              1. Xay*

                I agree. Even though answers can be pretty simple, the way to approach the situation is the problem. I appreciate how Alison frames her responses and gives the LW a couple of different options and approaches.

                1. Joey*

                  That’s a pretty narrow audience I would think that are seeking out that level of detail.

              2. Diet Coke Addict*

                Yes, exactly. It is very easy to say “be direct and concise,” but phenomenally more difficult to know HOW to be direct and concise without also coming across as arrogant, insulting, terse, etc. The correct language can smooth over a LOT of problems, which is where Alison excels in showing us.

                1. Jamie*

                  Absolutely. I totally have an Alison filter in my head when I need have a less than pleasant conversation. It’s like an inner job coach.

                  If she can give someone a script to talk to a report about body odor while maintaining dignity and professionalism then if I can’t adapt the same approach to talking to someone about problems with their submitted work than I don’t deserve my job.

                  Her gift is cutting to the chase – where I’m winding all over the countryside of my brain trying out different speeches she whips it out without being rude. Because being direct and not rude is a skill not everyone is born with – but we can learn by example.

            2. Mints*

              Yeah, lots of regular readers have internalized the broad advice, but we still come regularly. For me, reading the WTF scenarios with the straight forward responses is helpful because I feel like, “Yeah if Alison can come up with a script for this crazypants situation, I can deal with [minor annoyance].”
              And I think lots of the readers are young or have limited experience in lots of ways. So it’s actually really helpful to sees consensus build on things (not the piling on OPs, but “What a jerk!” days)

              Like I said below, it’s okay that things get a little repetitive, in fact I prefer it, because it’s consistent good advice, and I feel like I’ve internalized it. The consistency is good for new readers too

        3. Not So NewReader*

          Some of these digressions feel like a philosophy course I took once.
          The group tried to conjure up every possible variation to a question in effort to find a one size fits all solution.

          It was interesting, sometimes. Other times it was tedious.

          Philosophers shape social thinking, in turn our values/ethics, our laws and almost every aspect of our lives.

          We are not here as philosophers. We are not supposed to reshape thinking/values/ethics/laws. (Goodness knows it would be great if we could.) We are only here to look at the OPs question with the OP.

          I think that some folks think that this forum is addressing the UN and going to change everything. Sad news. The UN is not tuning in here.

          Just like a lawyer has to look at a statement at face value, we have to look at the OPs questions at face value. It is safe to assume that for the most part the OPs here are trying to do the right thing most of the time. Why make that assumption? Because people who don’t give a crap would not bother writing in. We can assume on that the OP cares and the OP is trying.

          Odd thought: Do these derailments happen because people want to talk to each other so much that any old topic will do just fine? Skip the part about “is my comment going to help the OP?” and move to “I want just want to talk to people” ?

          Is that why the open forums go smoothly because people want to talk with each other that strongly?

          1. Celeste*

            Hmmm, maybe. I definitely like talking to people. Maybe it might be better for me to go to read-only during the week and just come out to play for the free-for-alls.

          2. hildi*

            Your odd thought I think is why I was so active on this one today. I do have a strong need to share ideas, opinions, perspectives, and thoughts with people. Or at the very least listen in on people that are. I prefer talking radio to music radio because I can’t get enough of people’s ideas. So, perhaps that some of it why things get so derailed (but I also think your thoughts above about philosophizing are accurate, too. I think there are lots of reasons things go off the tracks at times).

            1. Not So NewReader*

              I would characterize it as a jump from a specific situation to a world application. (Not the best words to describe what I think I see, am trying though.)

              Which is kind of odd really, because all we are doing is talking about one OPs setting. We are not negotiating international relationships and setting guidelines. There is no need to consider every imaginable angle from five vantage points.

              I, too, get sucked in to the first few dozen comments. I have been fortunate not to have anything else new to add so I did not post anything. And then seeing the length of the comment threads now is my visual cue to go with caution.

              I don’t want to sound like I am pointing at anyone in particular because I am not that good at keeping track of so many names. So I am just talking about the over all tone of the comments.

              Alison, this gets me to thinking that if the posters want to talk and share, why not a themed discussion question? You could pose a question such as “Tell me about a time when you were confronted with XYZ situation.” And you can write articles weaving in our stories. Or maybe you have an idea for a topic and you just know we would have something to say about that topic. You’ve got people from almost every walk of life. The inputs could be interesting.

      2. Who are you??*

        I disagree. I find these questions to be interesting. Yes, the majority of the working world knows that spoofing a phone number or flirting at work is wrong but the fact of the matter is there are people out there who don’t. The issue is how do we, the people who know this is wrong, handle the people who don’t without creating a maelstrom of chaos and drama in our workplace? Sometimes we need to have someone else give us advice because simply telling your co-worker that they’re crazy (which would be my leaning in both situations!) isn’t going to cut it. :)

        Also, AAM, I have to thank you for shutting down the endless off topic debates. I’ve occasionally commented on them, but all too often I’ve rolled my eyes and thought “not again”. I’m looking forward to the upcoming changes!

      3. Mints*

        Even as someone who really loves the comments here, I don’t think we really need to TRY to make the comments interesting. Like the phone spoofing yesterday, if it’s just everyone saying “Your boss is nuts” that’s fine. We don’t really need to argue about what circumstances that would be actually acceptable or what OP might have done to deserve it, because he’s nuts. If the advice is straight forward, that’s completely fine to me.

        1. Turtle Candle*

          Yeah, I think it’s feeling like you have to add something new that leads to a lot of the tangents. But sometimes all there really is to say is “ooh, what a jerk!” or “yeah, definitely talk to this guy and let him know it’s not appropriate” (or even nothing at all), and that’s more than sufficient. The comments don’t have to open whole new what-ifs and tangents and hypotheticals and devil’s advocacy just for the sake of saying something new.

        2. Betsy*

          I agree! Speaking entirely for myself, I frequently get this feeling reading a post that I should be Contributing!(TM), with some clever and/or profound wisdom nugget. I try to resist that urge and say instead, “is there anything new to say here?” If not, then I sit on my hands.

          I think that urge is probably part of where these explosions of comment digression and acrimony start, though.

      4. Eva*

        Joey, I wonder if you are aware of how your comments in this thread come across (at least to me). You are repeatedly criticizing Alison for not making the site interesting enough for you, essentially telling her she needs to up her game. That kind of criticism is not constructive. It’s just negative energy.

        What’s ironic about it is that you consider yourself enough of an expert in management that the blog has become too basic for you, and yet here you are doing a pretty poor job of “managing Alison”. If your goal is to get her to do things differently, you are being too vague about the changes you wish to see and your negative attitude is making it less likely that she’ll want to listen to you.

        The way I see it, what you are doing is hating on a content creator’s work, making it less enjoyable for her to provide it. TheOatmeal explains it well in this comic (toward the bottom where he deals with comment sections):

        Don’t be a hater. Make positive, helpful contributions to other people’s work (or if you want things done your own way, do them yourself). Be the change you wish to see in the world, etc.

    4. Brigitte*

      Alison – I’m wondering why you don’t simply delete comments or threads that are derailing (after a warning, perhaps?). That would be a fast way to put a stop to threads that are off-topic.

      1. Tinker*

        IME that’s the solution that works best, both in terms of containing the problem and in reducing conflict (odd but true).

        Folks tend, largely unintentionally, to adapt the tone of what they write in a given community to what they see already written in that community. If the posts they see written are almost all in accordance with the desired set of standards, the result is that a lot of the heavy lifting, education-wise, is already done. Also, it tends to be difficult for people to resist responding to things even when they know they shouldn’t. While in-line comments in the moderator voice are a reasonable approach that isn’t entirely ineffective, it has a way of being quickly overwhelmed when contention arises.

        One would think that deletion is more aggressive, and in a sense it is, but if a poster is seen to make a comment and be publicly called out for making it, that affects the way they’re viewed by other people (“we all know Wakeen is disruptive”) and can cause them to feel the need to defend themselves. Deletion, in addition to cutting off the follow-on replies, is a more private action.

        That’s a moderation philosophy thing that’s floating around in my head, though, and I don’t mean to dispute a policy decision that’s already been made.

      2. Jamie*

        I see the logic in this, but it would require a whole lot of work on Alison’s part. Can she not leave the comment section unattended? If she does, God forbid, go to lunch, or have a client appointment, or see her dentist will people assume an un-deleted comment has her approval?

        Not to mention the emails she’ll get and the other comments that start with “I don’t know why my comment was deleted, but…”

        That’s a lot of maintenance. I imagine it would be tempting or workable at times – but it’s definitely not a long term solution without it sucking up endless amounts of her time.

        Or people could police themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I sympathize with why you suggested it and in a perfect world I’m all on board with deleting the bad (if we could only do that with everything) but from a practical perspective it would require more of Alison’s time than any one has the right to ask.

        Except her cats – they can demand all of her time and attention whenever they choose, but I doubt any of us are cute enough to qualify for the same accommodations. :)

        Seriously, though, it’s ridiculous that this keeps happening on a blog geared to work place issues so it’s to be assumed that we’re all adults here.

      3. Ask a Manager* Post author

        As Jamie mentioned, it would be a lot of work and this isn’t my full-time job. But in addition to that, I feel pretty icky about the thought of deleting comments as strategy for handling this. I’ve deleted comments on very rare occasions, but that’s way too heavy-handed for me. I tend to really dislike blogs where the author deletes or bans at whim; it feels too much like a weird power play or fiefdom and I wouldn’t want to engage there, so I don’t definitely want to run my own that way.

        The fact that I feel that way is partially responsible for the situation going on for so long here. It hasn’t escaped me that one commenter shows up on every single post that involves gender and instigates the same discussion, every time, and an easy way to solve that would have been to ban him. I haven’t done that because I’m really not comfortable being someone who bans a commenter for having a dissenting opinion. However, it’s now at the point where my interest in not squelching his point of view is outweighed by the continued impact it’s having on discussions here. When one commenter ends up consistently drawing a disproportionate amount of negative commenter energy and engagement, the question has to shift to what’s best for the site. And that’s where I’ve ended up today, and why I asked him not to engage in those discussions anymore.

        1. Artemesia*

          Isn’t this an occasion for automatically moderating each post by that person and just not approving posts that bring up the same old grind? This is short of censorship i.e. HE is not banned, but his raising an off topic issue again and again is not countenanced.

        2. CA Anon*

          I really like the way John Scalzi moderates his site. If something’s too off-topic or is particularly troll-y, he’ll delete the content of the comment and replace it with a note from him on why he did so.

          Here’s an example from his post “Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting”:
          “[Deleted because inasmuch as the author of it admits to not reading the entry at all, anything he has to say will be aside the point for the thread — JS]”

          To be fair, John Scalzi is waaaay snarkier in his online presence than Alison, so she probably wouldn’t phrase her comments the same way. I do, however, like the mechanics of how he moderates his blog. It gives those whose comments are deleted feedback on what not to do and keeps the discussion on topic for everyone else.

          (Also John Scalzi is rad and I love his books, but that’s another discussion for another time.)

        3. Brigitte*

          I tend to agree that it can be icky when bloggers delete a lot of comments and some sites are really harmed by over-moderation.

          But I can’t see how simply deleting an off-topic thread or two would be more work than the discussions that have been happening around here lately.

          And I know this isn’t your intent, AT ALL, but I’ve found the recent discussions on commenting confusing and off-putting. I mean, it’s not any more our job as a community to be the comment police than it is yours. I love the recommendation CA Anon put for fill-in-the-blanks moderation, as needed.

          1. Jamie*

            She didn’t ask us to police each other, she asked us to police our own comments and not engage when others get out of line.

            That’s fair. That’s management. I don’t expect a member of my team to control the actions of a peer, but I certainly expect them all to be responsible for themselves and not make it worse if a situation erupts.

            We’re not entitled to be here, or to Alison’s time and effort on the blog. It would be a loss for many of us and for untold people she’s helped who just read and clicked past without commenting if this blog were gone – but she doesn’t owe us this. If it’s not her job to police, nor is it ours then it’s anarchy. If even reddit has rules, we can certainly be expected to be stay within the standards here.

          2. Keri*

            I agree that the increase in commenters scolding each other lately is a little off-putting. That said, there are definitely sites that use appointed moderators asking people to stay on track and removing comments (while leaving the reason why it was deleted in its place) well. AskMe comes to mind for this, and that is still a very vibrant and vocal community where people do a good job at giving each other advice without veering off-topic.

        4. BRR*

          I would think it even goes against what you preach as a management style in a way. Ignoring the issue instead of addressing it directly to fix it.

          And I appreciate that that’s how you address the comments.

        5. Natalie*

          Ah, but you’re not banning someone solely for their differing opinion – you’re talking about behavior that is disruptive.

          It is kind, particularly for regulars or newbies who aren’t just trolling, to warn someone or suggest they step away from the thread for a day. You can also do short blocks if a lifetime ban seems like too much.

          1. Joey*

            Well except it would make me wonder actually how many and what types of comments are being deleted.

            1. Natalie*

              Eh, I feel that’s easily resolvable. Someone has already posted an example from John Scalzi’s blog, and I could post others. And I wasn’t talking about deleting comments, but rather about blocks and/or bans.

        6. jesicka309*

          Corporette has recently started deleting off topic threads and it is AMAZING. The comments used to get so derailed there. A post about appropriate skirt lengths for the office would be derailed within the first 3 comments with “off topic – what kind of birth control are you guys on?!? Need advice” The comments sections are so much more helpful now, and managable.

          Alison, it could be an idea to talk to Kat over there and see how it’s working for her?

    5. Anonalicious*

      I’m glad you’re addressing this and I apologize for engaging those types of commenters. But have you noticed it tends to be the same people over and over again who start those conversations?

      1. Joey*

        I honestly think its the result of those readers wanting a more interesting discussion. I’m certainly not as interested as I once was.

        1. Anonalicious*

          I think there are still plenty of interesting discussions going on here, but not every thread has to be a 400+ comment in-depth analysis or heated debate. Sometimes it’s just Alison giving some good advice and phrasing to use in a situation. And sometimes it’s just a head shaking WTF. All of those are helpful to someone.,

          But the constant derailing that goes no where because some commenters are just not able to accept someone else’s position helps no one. I’d rather save those discussions for the open threads.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          Joey, are you okay? You don’t sound like your usual self.
          I could be mixing you up with someone else but I am thinking not. Therefore I will say, I hope things are going okay.

          While I will agree that comments about comments is not the most interesting read in the world, it is a lesson about people in general and our own selves.

          I am intrigued in watching what Alison does to get this situation turned around. I am sure that I will learn something from her that I can apply to my own settings.

          She has approximately 9 million readers. I have forgotten how many comment. This is kind of like herding cats. But she has to do something or else she eventually will lose this forum. That would be tragic. With all this country and the world has been through economically, she is doing more to help people get jobs and keep jobs than a lot of other people that I won’t name.

          I have to be honest here. I am this old and I have never heard anyone talk about work and workplace problems the way Alison does. Sure, different problems have the same solution- go talk to someone. But sometimes life experience and work place experience doesn’t teach that to all people. When do you talk and when do you RUN? If you talk what do you say? If you have to listen to difficult things what do you do? It’s not an exaggeration to say that 95% of the people I have worked with cannot answer these questions.
          I consider the comments a place where I can get outside my own thinking and discover how other people are looking at things. And what types of experiences drives them to their conclusions. For me it’s about understanding people better.

          1. Joey*

            I’m fine, just slowly growing frustrated. I come for the same reason- understanding different perspectives and hearing different solutions. Though it feels like there are more and more people who just feel compelled to say something, but don’t really have anything of value to add. Lots of me too’s, lots of just way out there speculation, and lots of misdirecting the convo (and I hate that it feels like only BCW has been called out for it- tons of people are doing it).
            At the same time I feel like we’re seeing the same general topics repeatedly -how to handle outlandish behavior and hiring. Yeah there’s some nuance, but managing is so much more comprehensive. I get that has value to a lot of people and I wouldn’t blame Alison for catering to the masses, but that’s not my perfect cup of tea. I might have a cup every now and then, but my fix, the one I have to have all the time over and over, is a bit more complex and thoughtful. Just my 2 cents.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Thanks for answering, and I can see what you are saying.

              I bet you have interesting ideas for topics. Why not hit the open forum or privately email Alison and get some of this stuff rolling?

              People tend to be self-selecting. Those who are interested and have something to add will participate. Others may just read without commenting. Not knowing what your topics of interest are, I could probably go either way on that one.

              Why not give it a try? Nothing to lose.

    6. Liz T*

      To me, the major issues we’ve identified are:

      -Jumping all over the OP, usually in very nit-picky ways that help no one.

      -Bringing up tangential topics designed to spark argument AMONGST commenters–particularly (as happened here) ones that have been hashed over before, but really anything that’s going to make us fight each other.

      -Relatedly, don’t ask questions that aren’t really questions! Ask questions if you actually might accept people’s answers, not just as a springboard for giving us your “right” answer.

      -Bringing up too many alternate-reality hypotheticals and spending a long time debating them, rather than what actually happened in the letter. I think this is less urgent than the previous points, as we do all enjoy talking to each other, but it’s something to consider.

      Does that sound about right, AAM?

        1. Vyv*

          How about a rule that if one finds a conversation to be dull, boring, trite, invaluable, etc…one just clicks Ask A Manager at the top to go on to something else more to their liking rather than posting a dozen comments droning on about how tired of reading it one is.

      1. Artemesia*

        I do think that hypotheticals add to the discussion — because after all the point of a discussion is not just the particular exact incident that sparked the letter to AAM but also the similar incidents we have all faced or do face and need to deal with. And sometimes the hypotheticals help raise the issue that we are seeing one side here and that sometimes it is just complicated.

        I am sure I am guilty of jumping into contentious debates and will try to not do that in the future when they are ‘going down the rabbit hole’ as it where — but I think contrasting points of view are vital to learning from these workplace situations. And other examples of things experienced by posters are very helpful. And often things that seem accidental or well intentioned or innocent in one’s first meeting them can be contextualized by people who have been around the barn and have seen the larger picture and subtext and what these things often lead to. Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar but often it isn’t.

      2. Windchime*

        Liz T, your last point about alternate realities is one of the issues that bugs me the most (not that it matters; it’s not all about me!) . It feels disrespectful to me when a letter writer gets their courage up and writes in for advice, and then is attacked by commenters who say things like, “I feel like part of the story is missing” or “LW is not telling us the whole story”. It’s as if people are accusing the OP of being dishonest or of deliberately withholding details in order to skew their story.

        Alison often mentions that she emailed with the OP for further clarification. I am hopeful that, in the future, we can all start to just trust that Alison had enough of the details to be able to answer the question, so that should also be enough for those of us in the peanut gallery. There really is no need to come up with a bunch of weird, implausible scenarios to theorize about. Again, just my opinion.

    7. Chrl268*

      I know I’m a bit late to the party (damn my time zone being +9:30) but if you were going to change the comment section, could you add an upvote / downvote system?

      I notice a lot of the comments are “+1000” or Exactly! which to me means that people want to show that its not just one person who has this opinion, I find it fascinating which comments people agree with or disagree with.

      If you were to add a signing in feature, I think this would help. But hey, I might be wrong!

      1. Nina*

        Upvoting/downvoting usually devolves into a popularity contest, mainly who can get the most upvotes. I’ve seen a lot of websites go down that path and it never ends well.

        I do think the “me too” and “+1000” comments do get out of hand, especially when they don’t say anything else.

  21. some1*

    Tbh I’m surprised at all the comments that want to read into Jim’s actual intentions. On what planet is it appropriate to tell your boss you can’t believe s/he’s still single, ask them what they look for in a relationship, or attempt to set them up (as some have suggested). If Jim was Jenny and she was straight & had a BF this would still be totally inappropriate and crossing boundaries and would need to be shut down, full stop.

    1. Observer*

      I’m totally with you on this.

      Jim’s intention is really not germane here. His behavior is inappropriate. He’s been declined multiple times, and still persists. It’s time to shut him down.

      I think that the only usefulness to a discussion of most of the hypothetical motivations that he might have would be in the context of “Should you worry about going to your car by yourself?” And “Is this a situation that can be remedied?”

  22. Ask a Manager* Post author

    BCW, I will add directly to you: As much as I enjoy discussions with dissenting viewpoints, I am not willing to allow one person to have such a dramatic impact on every thread where gender comes up.

    I welcome your comments on this site in general, but going forward, I’m going to ask that you stay out of gender discussions for a while. You’ve been a very vocal voice on those issues for a while now, and it’s ended up drawing a disproportionate amount of commenter energy and engagement here and is causing the same points to be rehashed over and over each time. Ultimately my priority is the site as a whole, and at this point I’m making that call that this is hurting more than enhancing it. Thank you.

    1. Chriama*

      I have a suggestion for a rule of thumb to use in situations like these: if your comment is tangential to the question posted, make it about a specific situation. For example, Midge’s comment was about how to react to a similar situation. She had details and was looking for specific advice. BCW’s response (where do you draw the line?) was general. When it comes to hypotheticals, everyone has their own perspective and everyone has something to prove. So the hypothetical situations tend to deteriorate in the comments faster, because everyone is adjusting the details to suit their perspective or end game and then responding as if those details were facts.

      In other words, I feel like the “where do you draw the line” comment would be helpful if it had been asking about a specific situation. For example, “I tend to hold the door for women even at work. I haven’t noticed anyone disapproving of this behaviour, but do you think I should stop doing it?” Then people could respond to that particular situation, or ask for more details, and just generally be constructive instead of controversial.

      What are your thoughts, Alison?

      1. AGirlCalledFriday*

        This. I know BCW has commented on gender issues before, but I actually thought it was related to the topic this time, as in “if this employee is perhaps just trying to be friendly, and being super awkward about it, where is the line for weird comments made in the spirit of being friendly and those that are outright unacceptable?”

        Socially engineered gender – related issues are a very real thing and it’s a hurdle many women have to deal with. Part of the issue is that people like BCW are genuinely confused about what might be acceptable or not, and it’s a conversation worth having. Does it derail? Sure, but I feel that it’s important enough to talk about and it is, to my mind, related. Might the same issues be rehashed? Again, certainly, but not every person reads every comment. For all of us who do comment there are others who lurk. I’d be willing to bet that BCW wasn’t the only one with the question.

        It might be to the point to really talk about some gender issues people encounter. I always feel it tends to get swept under the rug, but discrimination of both genders is alive and well. It’s worth a real conversation.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          I certainly read BCW’s comments today through the lens of his comments in the past, and the fact that he has instigated this same discussion every time gender comes up (and sometimes when it doesn’t), and the fact that it has been discussed and discussed and discussed at his request in the past. At this point, he knows what the ensuring conversation will be because he’s prompted it so many times in the past. I’m not sure what purpose it’s serving him any more to continue asking the same questions of the same group of people, but at the impact on the site has been disproportionate, and hence my request to him to leave it be for now on.

          1. AGirlCalledFriday*

            That makes sense, and derailing the comment threads for something to be rehashed over and over isn’t productive. Still, I’d rather read it than 40 posts about how much we love dogs. Not that I don’t love dogs.

            A lot of times the tangents commenters get into can open up a dialogue about other topics. Most of them are irrelevant but some actually have great information. For instance, several ensuing conversations led to bringing up The Gift Of Fear. I read it and thought it was really good. I’m fearful that creating restrictions for the comments will make people afraid to share information like that. Many of the commenters are pretty knowledgable and I would rather wade through 40 dog comments and see where the conversation leads than not.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              I think you might be imagining this being stricter than I intend it. I intend it to address the more egregious stuff, but not to eliminate all tangents. I’ll have something written up soon.

              1. AGirlCalledFriday*

                I probably am imagining something stricter than intended. I’m looking forward to reading the commenting guidelines and helping to contribute to a better experience for everyone. :)

            2. Tinker*

              One thing to keep in mind here is that this pattern of repetitive questioning gets used deliberately as a disruptive strategy — you just keep on asking, sincerely, because you just don’t understand, and this other thing is new and you need that explained too, and this thing is very closely related to that thing but it’s different so it needs explanation also, and all of these things need to be explained from the beginning because like a goldfish everything is always new. But, so sincere. So nice! So willing to be corrected, if only they can be made to understand.

              And then the discussion is all about Explaining To Wakeen and not at all about anything else, and spoiler alert, understanding is never going to happen.

              Even if it’s not being employed in this case, the existence of that strategy is another reason why it often doesn’t work to be infinitely willing to explain basic elements of certain hot-button social subjects that aren’t a part of a site’s central charter. It’s a social engineering denial of service attack.

          2. Mishsmom*

            dear AAM, i run a successful blog and one of my readers keeps making a similar comment that derails the entire discussion. is this legal? ;-)

            one of the reasons i love this blog is that on one hand we have the ability to say what we think and yet there is someone ‘minding the store’ so it doesn’t get vicious or hurtful.

        2. Jamie*

          There are a lot of conversations worth having, but they aren’t all appropriate everywhere.

          This came up a lot when it was first discussed about not nitpicking wording – some people interpreted that to mean that it was an indictment of the social issues themselves represented by the verbiage, like sexism. When it was in no way a commentary on those issues, just not the time and the place.

          There is no shortage of places on the net where gender issues are discussed and dissected in every way possible. These conversations are happening, and probably including some of the people posting here.

          Just because some social issues are important doesn’t mean they are relevant or appropriate to bring up in every situation. Sure people may not read every post, but they can use the search function – there is no shortage of threads regarding these topics.

      2. Liz T*

        Yeah, but sometimes someone isn’t really *asking,* and has demonstrated no interest in actually considering other people’s point of view. “Where is the line?” is almost never a genuine question, it’s a rhetorical question asserting, “Since [I believe] no line is definable, this objection/issue is invalid.”

        1. Not So NewReader*

          “Since [I believe] no line is definable, this objection/issue is invalid.”

          If that is anyone’s go-to response for questions then perhaps this blog is not for them. This is a place where people come to find answers, not non-answers.

  23. John*

    Unacceptable. I’m a manager in a retail environment and if I had a female colleague that had to deal with that, I would make it very clear that your manager is your boss, not your date. I do not care if this person was recently promoted or is in her early twenties; the same level of respect is expected for all management. (Truthfully this conduct should not be tolerated by any employees either).

    1. Artemesia*

      It is hard for someone in their early 20s who is new to management to deal with this. I can imagine how difficult that would have been for me and how much agonizing I would have gone through at that age in that situation. So many failure of management (including my own when I first did it) are simply because the manager does not assert their authority appropriately. AAM’s ideas for subtly then not so subtly shutting this down are excellent. Managers who let moments like this slide continuously when something needs to be said: the perpetually late subordinate, the subordinate who lets deadlines slide, the subordinate who makes inappropriate comments or rolls her eyes during meetings, the subordinate who makes inappropriate sexual/flirtatious comments to the manager tend to be ineffective as managers. Stepping up and asserting boundaries whether personal or work related is central to effective management. And the longer you wait, the bigger mess you have. I learned this like everything about management, the hard way by screwing it up a few times. Wish we had had AAM (or heck the internet ) when I was first faced by these challenges.

  24. Niki*

    First time commenting here! What bothers me about this coworker and others like him ins’t necessarily whether he is purposefully flirting or not. It is almost sort of irrelevant. There is a professional line that he is crossing with the conversations he has with the op especially since he is of the opposite sex (or attracted to whatever gender the op is). It is not unprofessional for him to comment on certain things, even appearance. But, there is a big difference between my coworker telling me my new haircut looks nice, or very sharp and them telling me it looks sexy. Which sounds like something this coworker might say.

    1. HAnon*

      I would suspect that the guy doesn’t actually realize that what he’s doing is inappropriate or unwelcome. It SEEMS like this kind of thing should be general knowledge at this point (it’s the 21st century!) but my experience so far tells me either that it isn’t as well-known as I thought, or that people have been allowed to get away with it in a lax work environment. I’ve worked with men before who made similar kinds of comments because women responded favorably to the attention…or they thought the women liked being complimented and fawned over, and so they turned on the “charm” when they needed to get something (professionally speaking, just to be clear — a sales order processed, for instance). I recently had a coworker do this for a couple of months after I started. Once he saw the strategy wasn’t working and I wasn’t playing his game, he let off. Alternatively the guy may actually have a crush on the boss and want to see how she feels about that without asking directly (even though he has a girlfriend…who knows, maybe he thinks the grass is greener). Either way, I doubt that the guy has horribly malicious intentions, but it’s still unprofessional and inappropriate and should be nipped in the bud.

  25. Rat Racer*

    It is hard enough being a young manager with direct reports who are older than you are. It is also hard to be the only woman in an office of men. You’ve got the double whammy here, and even under the best of circumstances, your situation requires you to overcome both gender and age stereotypes to assert effective leadership with your team.

    It seems to me that regardless of whether your direct report’s comments are meant as friendly vs. flirty, he is either intentionally or unintentionally undermining your authority as his manager. His borderline flirtatious comments might make anyone feel uncomfortable, but I feel (and this is just gut feeling) like this may also be some kind of a power play, reminding you that you are both younger than him and of a different gender.

  26. Vicki*

    Alison –

    Thank you _so much_ for the second sentence in the dailyworth reply:

    …For one thing, performance evaluations shouldn’t contain surprises.

    I think we need an entire post about this one sentence. You could start with an AAM Ask The Readers: What are the most surprising surprises you’ve ever received in a performance review?

  27. Kiwi*

    I see two possible scenarios.

    First: Employee is attemping to gain favour with female boss by sleeping their way to the top. In inviting the OP to dinner, he is either grooming his girlfriend to be “accustomed” to the idea of him and boss spending after hours time together in order to make the “sleeper” process easier for him … or he’s just completely tuned out to how awkward the whole dinner-a-trois dinner scene appears. Even in this scenario, he’s probably just a clumsy “sleeper”, rather than a seasoned manipulator.

    Second: He is attempting to apply the networking that male employees/employers do together to this work relationship – inviting boss to dinner, complementing that new tie – and is just making a right mess of it by complementing boss’ body and inviting boss to dinner sans partner.

    Absent any other “creeper” vibes and situational cues, I would initially operate on the assumption that the second scenario is the most likely. He may be unaccustomed to having a female boss and is inadvertantly applying the complements/social customs that men often apply to female friends/dates (“Have you lost weight? You look great!”, dinner with girlfriend and her friend/mum/sister etc) and is applying this to his female boss.

    He likely just needs a gentle but enlightening soft-skills coaching session. Good luck!

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