my struggling new employee thinks her pushiness is “enthusiasm”

A reader writes:

I have a new employee who just finished grad school but is not new to work because she worked a few years between college and grad school. Like some new employees, she is asking a lot of questions in meetings and making a lot of suggestions about things she knows nothing about yet rather than sitting back a bit, listening, and learning. Some of the people we work with regularly have been put off by her behavior.

She seems to believe that everything has to be done quickly and does not check her work before giving me a “finished” product that has not been checked for errors or to see if it looks okay. As a result, I am getting a lot of things that are not finished enough for me to review them and have to give them back a couple of times. In addition, her writing skills are substantially below what I would expect from someone with her level of education but she does not take feedback on her writing well.

She has also taken it upon herself to do some things I told her I would do and offended a couple of good clients in the process. She annoyed these clients enough that they mentioned it to me.

When I have spoken to her about these issues, she has said she is enthusiastic and just wants to get things done. She always uses the term “enthusiastic” to describe why she is a bit on the pushy side. I am beginning to wonder if people have always told her she is a little on the enthusiastic side rather than telling her this behavior is annoying to other people. It is like she acts without thinking first. I am planning on sitting down with her and nicely telling her that this behavior is not productive. However, how much does a manager invest in a new employee with what seems to be ingrained behavior?

I think you need to be less nice, actually. It sounds like she needs to hear very directly that the behavior she thinks of as “enthusiastic” is actually jeopardizing her job.

While it might seem nicer to find a softer framing for that message, it’s not at all nice to let someone continue problematic behavior to the point that they lose their job over it, without clearly telling them that that’s happening. So you would be doing her an enormous favor by sitting down with her and clearly spelling out things like:

* “I need you to check your work before you hand it in. By the time it comes to me, it needs to be error-free and in what you consider final form. This is a requirement in order to be successful here.”
* “I need the person in your role to be producing work that only requires minimal editing from me. Your work isn’t at that point yet. To get it there, I need you to listen to the feedback I’m giving you and incorporate it into your work.”
* “You cannot do X, Y, and Z without clearing it through me first. Continuing to do that is something that would jeopardize your job.”
* “While I welcome your questions and ideas, I’d like you to spend most of your time in project meetings listening to others so that you’re building your understanding of how we do things. That doesn’t mean that you should never speak up, but it does mean that the majority of what you’re doing there should revolve around listening and learning — which will help you ask better questions and think of better ideas in the long run.”
* “This is not about enthusiasm. This is about understanding the requirements of your job. I’m willing to help you improve so that you can excel in this role, but that means that you’re going to need to be open to feedback on all of these issues without dismissing it as merely you being enthusiastic. I don’t see it that way, and I don’t want to see you lose your job, which could happen if this continues.”

On your question of how much to invest in a new employee when the problems seem to be ingrained behavior, it’s hard to give a universal answer to that. It depends on the role, the specific issues, and how likely you think the person is to be able to take your feedback and make relatively quick improvements. And it really depends on how the person reacts to your first attempt or two spell out the issues clearly and directly. You can’t really say whether the investment will be wasted until you’ve had the type of direct conversation above — the type of conversation that lets her know in clear, unignorable terms where things stand.

Have that conversation, and then you’re going to have much more useful data to help you figure out whether it’s worth investing in her, and how much.

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 256 comments… read them below }

  1. Andy*

    A manager told me hard truths once. I was an infinitely better employee afterwards.
    Also she told me upfront that it would be a hard discussion because “people tend to get their egos hurt, but if you really listen you’ll understand that what we’re talking about is something I’m not willing to waste time on with someone I don’t believe in.”

    1. J-nonymous*

      That’s a very good way to frame such a discussion, and much better than trying to soft-pedal hard conversations.

    2. GrumpyBoss*

      I would work with that manager everyday of the week and twice on Sundays over someone who tries to “soften” everything.

    3. switt*

      This is so very excellent that I copied it and saved it. I will use this in future management training.

    4. Andy*

      youz guys. she was the best. I’m really glad to know that it shines through even in a small anecdote.

  2. CH*

    Since these problems sound like ones that would affect her in most jobs, not just her current one, it would really be a kindness to be frank with her, even if it doesn’t end up working out at your company.

  3. Elysian*

    I fear the sometimes what employers view as “ingrained behavior” is really just behavior that hasn’t been addressed properly through a direct conversation like this. I think lots of people are more willing to call it “ingrained” and assume they can’t change it because they’re uncomfortable having difficult conversations. None of this sounds too ingrained to me – I think the employee just has a misunderstanding of some basic expectations, and needs straightened out.

    If her writing ability really isn’t up to par and that’s an important part of the job, that’s another thing. She might need some more focused writing help if its not just proofreading-type errors. But attitudes can change with the right feedback – they’re not always an intrinsic part of us.

    1. fposte*

      I like this point about the deceptiveness of “ingrained”–I have a lot of ingrained behaviors that I’ve either changed or found ways to work around to be more effective.

      I also think that there’s a possibility that the writing problems are related to the self-characterization–she’s seeing bouncing stuff in at speed as a virtue in a way that tediously checking over stuff isn’t, and it would be really helpful for her to understand that even if she was merely enthusiastic and not offputtingly pushy, it needs that meticulous counterpoint to be valuable.

    2. LBK*

      I love this. I have absolutely seen behavior that was allegedly “ingrained” change once someone actually had a direct conversation with the person about it.

    3. Tinker*

      This is a good point — it’s possible she could have picked this up from somewhere else, or from people telling her that certain sorts of behavior are actually desirable. I recall some fairly ridiculous things I did early in my career (fortunately, they were not generally negative things) because of the impression that I needed to be a “go-getter” and all, and my impression is that the pressure to give the appearance of always clawing at the walls has only increased since then. The bit about “enthusiastic” makes me wonder if something like that is involved here.

      There can be a tendency to view patterns of behavior as being global and permanent, but often that isn’t true — it’s just a matter of doing different things.

      1. fposte*

        I think the impression is a good point, too–I suspect this employee feels like she’s really killing it at this job because of her “enthusiasm,” and she really needs to understand that that’s not the impression she needs to give.

        1. kac*

          I wonder, too, if some of these habits are the result of expectations in a previous position. Perhaps she worked for someone who valued speed above all else, and she’s still responding to that.

      2. Ann O'Nemity*

        This was my thought as well – that these behaviors were encouraged or at least ignored someplace else. Grad school probably encouraged a lot of questioning, critiquing, and offering suggestions for improvement. And it’s possible that a past job encouraged speed over finished quality in writing. This employee may be confusing her past experience with universal truths.

        I like Alison’s specific wording suggestions. The key point is focusing on the specific behaviors, requirements, and adherence to cultural norms that are essential for success at the LW’s workplace.

      3. Melissa*

        This. I teach and mentor undergraduate students in a summer program that involves classes and internships. We’re only halfway into the program (4 weeks) and they are already stressed and burned out. We had a conversation today and I found out why – they are trying to do everything to the max, spending extra unnecessary hours on just about every task they’re required to do. A lot of people are convinced (by whom, I don’t know) that they have to appear bouncing off the walls all the time in order to be seen as enthusiastic and into something. So not only are they exhausted, but they’re not really doing well in anything.

        I’m not sure where this idea came from – I don’t recall being encouraged to have that clawing-the-walls persona when I was in college.

    4. Us, Too*

      I totally agree. The fact is that professional behavior doesn’t come naturally to anyone – it is learned. It even varies between roles and organizations.

      Human beings are remarkably adaptable when you give them specific, actionable feedback and they are motivated to change. I wouldn’t make assumptions about someone being unable to change until I’d given them a chance.

      1. SherryD*

        Yes, that’s great advice for the managers out there. Employees can’t read minds, and what seems obviously to you often isn’t to everyone. If you want us to do something differently, please tell us.

        1. SherryD*

          And my comment wasn’t directed at the OP. Just a general wish for all managers — a lot of us want to be A+ employees, but we need some guidance. :)

    5. Angora*

      I disagree with the term “ingrained behavior” for someone right out of college. They are still learning the ins and outs of employment and the atmosphere of their current job.

      It’s ingrained behavior when the individual keeps losing jobs for the same problems. You are doing them no favor by not addressing them. I’ll never forget having a job and having a co-worker tearing my head off at the 3 month mark for a mistake that I have been making since I started working there. I was constantly repeating it, but no one told me. My response was “How am I supposed to know something if no one tells me?”

      It’s a manager’s lazy route to tell an employee you are not a good fit; and kick them out the door. A good manager will sit you down and tell you that hard truth. The employee may quit after said conversation or transfer out … but you know what, I bet they do not repeat it again. Have that first hard conversation, and see if the behavior continues. They are new, and they are learning.

    6. OP*

      I’m the original poster and have been wondering whether this behavior has simply not been pointed out. I have told her that the behavior is not helpful in the job, but not quite as directly as AAM suggested so will be more direct. We’re in the south and sometimes it’s hard to be direct.

      The writing is really more than just proofreading. I’ve gotten an English teacher friend to give me tips on what to say and the employee did not like the suggestions. I’ve given her report samples from the last person who had the job and I can tell she tried to follow them, but she hasn’t been able to present the information clearly.

      1. Artemesia*

        I hired someone with many great strengths but some disastrous interpersonal habits as it turned out. We were also in the south and she was from the north. Extremely indirect speech and passive aggressive verbiage is very common in the south and often missed by people from more direct cultures. I attempted to counsel her early on when she had created some problems for our department with how she interacted with other divisions; I think it flew right over her head.

        Tact kind of has to go by the wayside when someone is hanging onto a euphemism like ‘enthusiastic’ when what you are seeing is ignorant, pushy, annoying behavior. I would tackle the word enthusiastic here. Let her know that enthusiasm is not what you are seeing. You are seeing someone who doesn’t listen, who dominates meetings with suggestions that show lack of understanding of the organization’s needs and history, and that sloppiness in producing work is just that, sloppy and unacceptable, not ‘enthusiasm’.

        Some people have a thermostat set at C- for draft work; I always wanted someone with a thermostat set at A so my editing or requests for followups could boost it to A+. When you get C- not all the feedback in the world is going to get it to A. Figuring out how to tell her what appropriate quality work for first submission is will be critical to getting her to re-set her thermostat if that is possible.

        1. kac*

          Extremely indirect speech and passive aggressive verbiage is very common in the south and often missed by people from more direct cultures.

          Just wanted to say how true this is! I am from New England (which is very direct in communication style), and I once had a supervisor from–and located in–just outside of London (and the Brits are famously non-confrontational and more passive-aggressive). Oh my God, it was disastrous!

          We just could not communicate with one another! What he saw as requests for direct actions, I understood as suggestions on how to handle a situation. What he saw as an explanation for why he couldn’t do x, y, or z, I saw as being ignored and dismissed. What I have always been praised and rewarded for as leadership skills, he saw as aggressiveness and entitlement. It was horrible for both of us–even though we are each high achieving, driven, smart workers. Cultural differences in communication styles should not be underestimated!

          1. Melissa*

            I am from the South, but was raised by Northern parents (and lived in the North myself until I was 12). My parents were never the type to hold their tongues, and therefore neither am I. I have to say that the passive-aggressive, indirect style of communication is one of the few things that I can’t stand about my Southern heritage. I just want people to get to the damn point sometimes, lol. I understand tact – and most people would say that I am a warm, kind person, but there’s a difference between ‘tact’ and ‘passive-aggressiveness.’ The latter is just annoying, lol.

        2. Ruffingit*

          And really even if this was just enthusiasm, it’s still not acceptable in this workplace. Shutting up and learning in meetings and doing good solid work is what is needed here not unbridled enthusiasm. Seems this woman is using enthusiasm as a catch all excuse for why her behavior is ok. But that is nit what’s needed at this workplace so trying to cover bad behavior with a good word doesn’t work anyway.

      2. Windchime*

        I’m always curious at how people make it through grad school without the ability to present information clearly in written form. It just seems so odd to me, yet we see it all the time.

        1. Elysian*

          Except for my writing classes, most of the writing I’ve done in my educational career was under tight time limits – like timed finals or papers with quick deadlines. Not a lot of time for writing to be a process, to revise things and make them better. I can easily see people going through school without learning good writing skills.

          1. CC*

            Yup – write it, hand it in, get the grade, done. No second round, no editing guidance, nothing.

            I learned how to edit my writing in a completely different context, and it was something I specifically pursued several years after I finished university. (Once I realized it was missing, that is.) Until then, I thought editing meant typo-check copyediting.

        2. Steve G*

          Grad school writing is probably different from business writing. In all aspects of business I do, brevity and directness is the key.

          In college, it is seen as a good thing to write in length to support your arguments, that is not so much a good thing at work.

          1. Ruffingit*

            This. Grad school writing is very different from business writing. You also have a lot more help in grad school from advisers and classmates than you do in the business world. You’re also not expected to have the same turn around un grad school as you do in business. It’s just a very very different situation.

          2. Contessa*

            Absolutely. I wrote long, flowery papers all through middle school, high school, and college to great acclaim, and then slammed into a wall in law school. One of the few practical legal skills they teach you at some law schools is legal writing, and I happened to attend a school with a phenomenal legal writing program. I had to learn real quickly to cut out about half the crap I normally threw into a paper, because the court is not messing around with those page limits. There was a definite learning curve. I can see the OP’s employee as someone who maybe never had to deal with a wake up call like that in grad school.

            That might not be a bad way to frame that advice, though–“We are looking for a specific tone/style here that may be different than you’re used to.”

        3. meetoo*

          +1 to Elysian and Steve G. I have always considered my self a poor writer and was told so by professors in undergrad. The school I went to was very focused on good writing. When I got to grad school I was shocked to see how many people were similarly bad or worse writers but thought they were good. In school you just turn in what you turn in and take the grade there is no going back to improve and if you are at a school with big classes you probably don’t get specific feedback. If she has gotten good grades and no feedback she might be like my classmates and think she is a good writer. In my experience graduate level professors don’t take the time to give feedback on writing or even mark errors.

        4. Melissa*

          I teach in a summer program for advanced undergrads and recent grads, and I often wonder how some of my students managed to pass freshman composition – much less graduate from college – with the level of writing I’m seeing.

          But on the other hand, sometimes I proofread my colleagues’ work – I’m in a doctoral program – and I see the same problems.

      3. Lizzy*

        Curious: what types of work did she do in the past? I too went to grad school and worked in academia while in school. I did some administrative work for a research institute and it was such a haphazard environment that some of that rubbed off on me. Most of my coworkers were researchers, including the director of the organization, do admin work really took a backseat to everything else. My work was not reviewed as harshly or as thoroughly, especially as long as it was submitted in a timely manner. I know you mentioned she has outside experience prior to grad school, so I can only wonder if she learned this behavior from other work environments.

      4. Student*

        The common theme that I am seeing under all your complaints is defensiveness. I suggest you start out by addressing that issue, because it is perpetuating/causing all the other problems.

        She might be getting defensive because she perceives your comments as suggestions rather than orders. She might just tend to be defensive. She may be testing boundaries. Regardless, this is the behavior you should address first. Make sure she understands that she needs to listen to your feedback and respond to it by adjusting her behavior to meet your expectations. Encourage her to ask questions that explain why you are giving specific feedback and clarify your expectations, and discourage her from asking questions that indicate she’s trying to avoid following your directions.

        1. OP*

          Good thought. After going through things with her before she starts a project I’ve asked if she has any questions. She always says she doesn’t. I really think she may view comments as suggestions.

          1. Ms Enthusiasm*

            Another good way to frame things is that perception is reality. She may think she is being enthusiastic but the actual perception is that she is pushy.

          2. Us, Too*

            This may border on nitpicking wording, but since this is relevant to the potential issue of direct vs. indirect feedback, I’ll offer this observation. Your wording is indirect or vague in some of your comments. This one, in particular, strikes me because when I read it I actually thought to myself “Wait. What does her telling you that she has no questions have to do with whether she is viewing your comments as suggestions? These are totally separate things!”

            You need to be VERY direct. Sentences should start with “You must…” “I need you to do it this way: “. “This project requires you to…” Avoid sentences starting with “I think…” “It would be good if”. “Best practice is…”

            1. OP*

              Even though I didn’t say it above I have been starting out by saying things like, “I need you to do this. Here’s an example of how we have done it before. You can even save the document under a new name and replace the old information with the new. To find the new information you need you can look here or here. Do you have any questions?” The answer has always been no and then the task is completed with errors. It could be a case of not listening.

              1. Trillian*

                I wonder if it would be worthwhile if, after you got the no-questions response, to then ask her to go through the steps she is going to take to complete the task to the required standard. That way you could find out what of your instructions had actually registered, and get her to commit to what she is going to do.

                Oh, and when you talk, have her take notes. All important points and action items go down on paper. That way you cover both of the major routes into the brain – ear and eyes. Some people – I’m one – just don’t retain what they hear.

                1. TAD*

                  I’ve tried the note taking tactic and it was ineffective. Having her repeat directions was going to be my next step.

              2. Cassie*

                Can you take one of her reports (or written documents) and sit down with her and mark up what needs to be changed? Or if the information is incorrect, show her where to find the information and specifically point at it? I’m trying to think of how I would want someone to “correct” me and though it may seem too schoolteacher-y, I think actually learning how to do the work correctly would outweigh the temporary embarrassment of getting corrected.

                We have a coworker who used to send out event postings/announcements riddled with mistakes – some of them were simple typos (12am instead of 12pm) while others had incorrect dates or times. She also had interesting choices for words (not exactly standard American English) and the whole thing made her and our office look less-than-professional. Our boss was inclined to simply tell her to double-check the dates/times or to “write better” but to me, that kind of direction is insufficient. Marking up her work, explaining why this word is not a good choice, etc, took time but it helped her understand what she needed to do in the future and her work is better now.

              3. Us, Too*

                I think having her repeat back her understanding is a good next step. In addition, I’d make sure that all the elements of the task are clear. Don’t just tell her how to do the task but what “success” looks like. I prefer to lead with this before I give instructions.

                “This task will be successfully completed if you have submitted a document to me via email by 5 pm tomorrow. It should be free of typos, grammar mistakes, factual errors and conform to our template requirements. Before I give you instructions for the task, do you understand the goal?”

                Also, when I have an employee struggling with this kind of thing, I follow up on all conversations with a brief email. “As we discussed in our 1:1, the xyz document is due by 5 pm tomorrow. It will be free of typos, grammar mistakes, factual errors…. If you have any questions, please let me know.”

      5. fposte*

        Just curious–is she perhaps not Southern? She’s not picking up on the Southernly indirect correction, and she’s apparently being way too direct with clients. Any possibility that there’s a cultural translation issue here?

        1. Melissa*

          In addition to that – having lived in both I know that there are some minor cultural differences between Southerners and Northerners, but it’s not like we speak a different language or something. Most Southerners can have business dealings with Northerners and vice versa without the world exploding, so I sense that there’s something different going on here.

  4. UK Anon*

    I have these problems all the time with some of the volunteers I work with! I find that one really good way of providing feedback without providing feedback (if you see what I mean) is to ask why. For example, when someone includes something really not relevant, I ask why it’s there, and typically they think then go “It shouldn’t be.” That tends to cure the problem. Ditto proofreading – if you ask why it hasn’t been, either you get an answer you can deal with, or they think about it and then decide they don’t know why. And so on.

    Sorry – that doesn’t help you much for the meeting, but if you have someone resistant to/not listening to feedback, I generally find that that helps to overcome the barrier.

    1. Stephen W*

      I had a manager who would do something similar. Her phrase was “Help me understand why……..”

      You always knew something was messed up if she pulled out ‘the phrase’ :)

      1. Michele*

        “Help me understand why/or what was your thought process when you did this” is one that I learned early to use as a manager.

      2. Melissa*

        I love “Help me to understand why…” When I worked in res-life it was our go-to phrase, so much that when we resident directors got together to complain about work “Help me to understand why…” was code for “So one of my RAs did something really annoying today.”

        It is really useful, though, when used genuinely. I always genuinely wanted to know why my RA thought whatever they did was a good idea, but I think it both helped them realize it wasn’t AND helped me realize their thought patterns and to correct for that.

    2. Celeste*

      I called somebody on his proofreading once, and he had the gall to say, “oh it doesn’t matter, they know what I mean!”.

      He later left for personal reasons, and I have never missed him.

      1. Chinook*

        “I called somebody on his proofreading once, and he had the gall to say, “oh it doesn’t matter, they know what I mean!”.”

        How did you respond? My (English teacher) response would be that they won’t know what you mean if you present it in that way. I would also point out that a rough/first draft presented to others for consumption shows that you haven’t thought the idea out fully and implies you aren’t taking it seriously.

        1. LBK*

          I’d just say it’s part of professional presentation – yes, everyone will understand you either way, but as part of a formal communication/document being provided for the audience in question, it’s expected that there will not be grammatical or other errors.

          It’s like making sure your shirt isn’t wrinkled and stained when you come to a corporate office. Yeah, if you’re wearing a dirty shirt you’re technically clothed, but the expectation is that you’ll also be clean and sharp in your appearance.

        2. CoffeeLover*

          Professional image would be my biggest concern. If someone gives me a really poorly written idea not only do I give that idea less value, but I will also likely give less value to the person as a whole. I will think they’re not capable, which of course leads to missed opportunities and promotions.

        3. Celeste*

          He was a coworker, not my staff. He was very competitive and was proud of how quickly he could turn out his reports, ala Firsty McFirsterson.

          Too bad he wasn’t so proud about his spelling, usage, and proofreading skills. I think he was actually at his limit for what he could do professionally, and was just plain defensive.

          1. EngineerGirl*

            It isn’t first if it needs to be reworked. First is when the **final** product goes out the door.

        1. Chinook*

          “No, people don’t always know what you mean if you can’t bother to spell and write correctly.”

          I will admit that this is my pet peeve too – grammatical rules exist for clarity, not just to allow English teachers to be pedantic (that is just a perk!)

        2. LJL*

          I’ve heard that before too. My usual response (that tends to work well) is the question “do you want the reader to have to work at understanding the errors included, or do you want the reader to work together with you to solve the problem?” That’s helped to put it into perspective for those who don’t see grammar/spelling/proofreading as important.

          1. Chinook*

            With students, I have pointed out that the grammatical/punctuation/spelling errors take away the reader’s focus from the actual content and message.

          2. Mallory*

            A teacher told me to write the first draft to be understood, and then to make all revisions with an eye toward not being misunderstood (there is a difference).

          3. Cassie*

            Gah, yes. It is such a pain to have to sift through a long email and try to understand what someone is saying. And when you factor in typos (especially when people are replying via smartphones), clarity is super important. It’s a pain when you read a sentence and the first part doesn’t agree with the second part, or when people write “can” when they mean “can’t” or vice versa.

      2. JB*

        I hate that response. My reply is usually something along the lines of a (slightly more polite) “Who exactly is this mythical, magical ‘they’ you think will be reading this and will understand it, because I’m reading it, and *I* don’t know what you mean.”

        1. louise*

          ha! Yup, after I mentally edit it to get the author’s intended meaning, I’m left with a) less time and b) the impression that they are, indeed, a dumbass.

  5. MR*

    I suspect that this employee has not had anyone discuss the hard truths with her before, and instead, people have sugar coated for her in her previous professional environments.

    This has obviously done a huge disservice for her professionally, and it gives you the opportunity to correct a huge wrong that others have done her.

    So, do what Alison suggested. Tell her the things that need to be done and stick to those expectations. If she has any sense about herself, you should see a huge improvements. You may not get everything out of her at once, but then you can work on those few items individually and on an as needed basis, again, being upfront and direct about those things.

    Who knows, it may not be too far into the future where she is your top employee. Good luck!

    1. ThursdaysGeek*

      On the other hand, it’s possible that a previous job wanted quick and sloppy over better quality but slower work. So she’s still working to that other job’s expectations, not realizing that they aren’t universal.

      1. Concerned*

        From going back to college, I find that career counselors and other professors seem to give career advice that doesn’t really fit in with what’s expected in the working world. I’m curious if this person had any internships or I’m guessing this is her first real world job.

        1. CoffeeLover*

          OP said she had worked a few years between college and grad school, so she’s been in the professional world for at least 3 years. I’m also thinking that other job gave her skewed ideas of expectations.

          1. AnotherAlison*

            I’m wondering if she had the same problems at the other job, and the grad school stint was really an escape from dealing with it for a while.

      2. Chinook*

        “On the other hand, it’s possible that a previous job wanted quick and sloppy over better quality but slower work. ”

        Is it also possible that this held true for grad school (I don’t know – I never went). Is it possible that doing the bare minimum was enough to graduate but, in the work world, that same bare minimum would not be suitable to give tot he boss or client?

        1. Variation*

          This is where I’m leaning, too- her writing may have been adequate for the situation she was in, but it could have reflected a skewed grading rubric (points for content, not style or ability). Far too many of my papers for the first half of my post-secondary experience fell into that trap, so it was pretty easy to game the system and succeed.

          1. Kelly L.*

            Or she thinks she’s supposed to hand in a draft, get corrections, hand back a second draft, get corrections, then hand in a final draft. Heck, not only have I had classes like that, I’ve had jobs like that, where you had to hand things in several times because your superiors would make changes each time. Not so much grammar errors, but changing their minds about wording and content and aesthetics.

            1. Jessa*

              This, a conversation about why might pull this up as an option too. Maybe in that instance she just needs to be told, no, final draught please. Also it’s possible it’s a learnt habit because in the past she’d edit like crazy, produce a perfect product and have 6 bosses pick it to pieces and change everything about it, so now she throws it together and hands it in knowing it’s going to come back anyway, so why waste all that time making the initial copy really perfect.

            2. Kerry (Like the County In Ireland)*

              YES. These environments exist. They are horrible (IMO) and eventually destroy your faith in your own abilities.

            3. Lora*

              THIS. And leaving it on Track Changes doesn’t always help. And then they come into your office shouting about how “you” wrote something stupidly, and it was their own writing that they added.

              Facts and logic are no match for office politics and petty tyranny.

          2. Chinook*

            “but it could have reflected a skewed grading rubric (points for content, not style or ability).”

            This right here is why students hated having me in non-academic class. I don’t care if you are right a paper for religion class – I will mark you down if your writing is not clear and correct. Teachers/Professors who let this slide because they don’t teach English are doing no one any favours.

            1. Melissa*

              I do the same thing, and I grade for style too (so not just errors but sentence structure and clarity) and I usually get whining.

      3. Anx*

        I think this is possible.

        I’m a naturally very methodical, think-it-out, proofread it type.

        Every place I’ve ever worked has been more lax and more just-get-done than I would have expected, so I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s been others’ experiences.

      4. BeBe*

        I was thinking this too. She might be used to the “quick, quick, quick” mode of operating, or feels she needs to be super-fast.

  6. TotesMaGoats*

    Don’t be nice. Be professional. Definitely don’t mince words with this employee. She needs to know that those behaviors are unacceptable. It might come across as micromanagement at first but you need to be able to trust her again. If she’s ticked off clients, that’s a major breech right there. And I’d probably tell her that she annoyed clients. Good luck.

    1. fposte*

      I think micromanagement gets an unnecessarily bad rap sometimes, too. If an employee needs guidance at a granular level, that’s the management that needs to happen.

      1. TotesMaGoats*

        I absolutely agree. Sometimes you need to be monitoring at that level if the employee has proven that they can’t complete the job duties required.

      2. LBK*

        The difference is in the finished product. If you’re giving someone specific direction on steps of their process when the final product is already good, you’re probably micromanaging. If you’re giving someone direction when the final product is bad, you’re just managing. A good manager would be giving direction on the steps of the process that are causing the final product to be bad – and if that’s every step of the process, then yes, you need to give direction on every single step.

        1. OriginalYup*

          As a non micromanager, I completely agree with your perspective. The problem with micromanagers, though, is that the process is part and parcel of the result. Even if the final report looks correct to the client and literally every other person in the office, the fact that you wrote the first draft in Arial instead of Cambria means (to the micromanager) that you did it wrong and the result is therefore suspect.

          A Weary Survivor of a Perfectionist Micromanager

    2. Not So NewReader*

      Micromanagement goes on forever and has no practical ends. The only goal is to belittle others or uplift one’s self. “You will never, ever get this.”

      Remedial help or help in any way, has a beginning and it has an end. It also has a goal (or goals) that is beneficial, constructive and empowering to the individual. “If you try what I am telling you, you will get it and you will be a great employee.”

      Sadly, I have had people that I felt they would never be much more than what they were at the moment. Some of those people blew me away with how well they improved. Others, that I thought should improve with guidance did not. Here’s the key part – we don’t get to pick who accepts our help and who rejects our help. This key part helped me to try even harder to offer every one a fair shot and keep my judgement calls out of the mix. There is no way to know for sure who is going to turn the corner and grow themselves.

      As Alison says- try until you have proof that the problems are not fixable.

      1. C Average*

        YES. This, this, a million times this.

        Detailed, constructive coaching about a specific, defined problem is NOT micromanaging.

  7. Mena*

    It is very alarming that you are handing work back to her to re-do/correct several times and this isn’t ringing a bell in her head. It seems she’s wanting to check something off as complete as quickly as possible without care for quality. Help her understand that both quality of work and respect for the timeline is necessary for success.

    1. Us, Too*

      I agree with this, but would tack on three more words:

      “…. in this organization.”

      Fact is, that some orgs really do value speed over accuracy. HER org isn’t one of them, though.

    2. AndersonDarling*

      This makes me thing that the employee is acting the same way she would in school. Turn in a paper, get notes to improve. Turn it in again, get more notes…

      Also, someone once told me that you should always speak up in meetings so you “get noticed.” This advice came out of a random business/success book. It had it down to the time frame- ask a question every 10 minutes, then make a point every 5 minutes. Terrible advise, but some people don’t know otherwise.

      1. Fabulously Anonymous*

        Worse – when I was in my first job after college, I was singled out: “You’re new. What do you think? Talk a little more next time!” About what? I don’t know the business and I’m trying to learn.

        1. Anx*

          I’m introverted and I like to be an observer. I can be pretty passive sometimes.

          I have learned so, so much from sitting back and listening, but sometimes I struggle with showing that I’m participating. I also stay quiet at times because what I would contribute is being said or I don’t want to start a tangential conversation and I’m trying to be conscientious of the time.

          But I have heard things about being too quiet so sometimes I feel pressured to ‘be engaged.’

          1. Sharm*

            I’m like you; introverted and a listener. I never feel smart enough to participate in discussions, but I’ve worked on that the past couple of years. I try to get in a couple of questions, and have even voiced dissent in recent months. A big step for me!

            However, in my first job, I was praised for my listening and learning skills. There were people who came on board and just barged through like bulls in a china shop, and that was not our culture at ALL. Frankly, I don’t think I’d ever do well at a place where I had to be loud and bossy from the beginning, but because my natural tendency was to be quiet and listen while I learn, and that fit my first org, I did very well there. Several people told me latet, “You know humility and that will make you successful.” As you guys are noting, maybe not true everywhere, but it certainly would be anywhere *I’d* want to work.

            1. Anx*

              I wish I could target these sorts of environments more effectively, but I am having very little luck. Almost everywhere I go am hearing words like “dynamic!” and “wow factor” and that’s just how I do my best work. I can be very ‘put it out there’ when I need to turn it on, but that’s how I get through a task, not how I do my best problem solving or creative work.

      2. Lynn Whitehat*

        This is extremely common advice. I’ve even had past managers advise me to “speak up more!” so I “look engaged!” At my current job, our manager very much discourages it. But I can tell many of my co-workers have been indoctrinated with the same advice, because they will pipe up, apropos of nothing, with a random observation like “we don’t have to score things from 1 to 10! It could be 1 to 100, or whatever we wanted!”, if they haven’t spoken up in a while. Seriously, I’ve heard that exact observation a dozen times, even though nobody has proposed changing the scale. But they’re “speaking up!” and “looking engaged!”

        1. The Cosmic Avenger*

          What a useless thing to point out! You should at least suggest a benefit to making the proposed change, like “I often have many tickets with the same priority number. If we used a scale of 1 to 100 instead of 1 to 10 for priority, it would be easier to rank them all more accurately.” If you don’t have a reason to make that change, you’re wasting everyone’s time, and proposing to waste MORE of it on your pointless change!

        2. Laura2*

          I worked at a company where they encouraged this kind of nonsense. People who puffed themselves up and talked about whatever the hell during meetings and make non-sequitur comments were labeled as “engaged” and “high performing,” even when their contributions amounted to making more work (and longer meetings) for the rest of us.

          If you didn’t talk at every opportunity, you were labeled as “lacking confidence,” even though your contributions may have been actually useful, solved problems or were thought-provoking.

          1. short'n'stout*

            “…their contributions amounted to making more work (and longer meetings) for the rest of us.”

            Perhaps the introverted/listening types could spin their contributions as “supports efficient, focused discussion in meetings.” ;)

      3. MR*

        This type of advice is pontificated by all of these ‘business experts’ on Twitter. So just be careful where you learn things such as this…

    3. Dan*

      I work in research and development, so I turn in imperfect drafts all of the time. Why? ‘Cause if I’m on the wrong path or not doing the right thing, I need to know and quick.

      The difference in my case is that when it gets kicked back, we’re building on what’s been done, not redoing what’s been done.

      But yes, it helps to be direct and if a finished product is required, then be clear about it.

      1. Us, Too*

        Exactly. I work in software development and our organizational mantra is “Fail Faster!”.

        We don’t want or seek perfection – just something that does something useful, no matter how imperfect. I know that every single piece of software we release will have bugs. Or unexpected usability issues. Or something else “broken”. And I’m OK with that because software is never perfect and imperfection is part of the process. Get it out into production and in use as soon as possible so that you can find the issues and fix them.

          1. Bea W*

            It does, and it is still the bane of my existance as the person who is on the receiving end of issues, some of which are so bad they make me go, “OMG WTF is this even in production?? DID NO ONE TEST THIS???!”

      2. NotMyRealName*

        Exactly. Sometimes my boss just wants a document as a starting point to refine his ideas.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          My job is the same. The initial request is usually “I need a presentation for XYZ meeting.” I take a guess about what the hell he wants to talk about, he marks it up, and we go from there. No, I don’t worry about matching fonts in the PPT or even filling in all the details until I know more about what he wants.

        2. Mallory*

          That’s how my boss works, too. He’ll jot down some bullet points outlining his initial thoughts about something, and ask me to craft a letter or report. I’ll do the best I can to express what I think he means, and we’ll pass a draft back and forth a few times until the document is finished. Much of the passing back and forth involves him engaging me as a sounding board to assist in fleshing out his initial thoughts.

          1. OP*

            We have a copywriter who does our brochures, newsletter and other publications. She and I work this way and it works well. She’s a retired English teacher and says I’m one of few people she’ll send a first draft to just to make sure she’s on the right track.

  8. OriginalYup*

    Think of it as putting guardrails in place so she doesn’t continue to swerve all over the place like she’s doing now. I agree that you’ll be doing her a favor by having a frank conversation. It sounds like she needs the guidance, and you’ll be preventing greater damage to her relationships with coworkers, who are not forming positive opinions of her competency right now. (And the part where she’s annoying the clients is significant. Yikes.)

    One thing about the writing feedback: can you give her examples of good writing, and also before/after examples of a piece that only required minor changes? As someone who learns by example, it’s really helpful for me when someone says, “This piece is excellent because it does A, B, and C while avoiding X, Y, and Z” and highlights specific examples. And showing her a before/after might help quantify what ‘minimal edits’ means (i.e. no spelling errors, minimal reorganization, a few changes to phrasing).

    1. Anx*

      I think that instead of ascribing value to the quality of the writing (good, bad), the focus should be on whether or not it’s doing what it needs to do it. That’s why an example or a reference or resource would be invaluable.

    2. OP*

      I have given her writing samples to go by and can tell she tried to follow them, but she still wasn’t able to convey the information she needed to convey.

      1. fposte*

        The writing thing sounds like it might simply be insurmountable, and that she was hired for a job she simply doesn’t have the skills for. It’s realistic for you to be able to help somebody improve, but not to expect that you can turn a non-writer into a writer while also performing your own job.

        1. Jamie*

          I agree with this. Falls under the category of hire what you cannot teach. I can teach someone how to proof, but I can’t teach them how to write.

    3. meetoo*

      With out the qualifiers that OriginalYup suggests “This piece is excellent because it does A, B, and C while avoiding X, Y, and Z” it is very hard to know which things in a writing sample are important. She may think the sample was for format when you intended it to be for content or style.

      1. OP*

        Thannks meetoo. I did tell her the examples were so for both format and content. One was for a meeting recap we always do so we know who has been assigned which tasks. Her first attempt meeting notes was much too long and detailed even though I’d said, “Here’s an example of meeting notes. As you can see we don’t say who said what. We just do a short recap and note task assignments.” I gave them back for revision and could tell she’d try to follow the sample, but there were still things that were hard to understand.

  9. Celeste*

    You really can’t know if she was a top performer at her work between college and grad school, though. I’m guessing not based on your description, OP. It doesn’t seem like good skills would slip this far.

    I agree with everyone else who says nobody has gone there with her before. She may have even saddled herself with some poor understanding of material about assertiveness, and thinks this is what it’s supposed to look like. She sounds to me like she is trying to sell herself, but she needs to know that that is not her job description.

    Confronting her is an act of kindness, and I agree with AAM that you will get a response that lets you know how to proceed. Good luck, and I really hope you can update us!

  10. ADE*

    A few things to add:

    1. When you have this conversation, see if you can keep your voice low and your demeanor calm. Make it clear that you aren’t angry.

    2. Help manage priorities of “I want you to fix XYZ first, then ABC second.”

    3. Don’t let yourself get carried away with criticizing something. I once submitted an annual report to my boss that I knew had room for improvement, but I wasn’t sure how to improve it. (It was also a complicated document, as I was trying to write it in one style while my thinking was in another style.) Instead of my boss giving me a list of suggested improvements, she spent 90 minutes telling me how bad my report was. Sigh. At the time I really internalized this as my manager having something against me, now I understand that this was just her naivete on being a good manager.

    4. If there are genuinely good things, make sure she knows that too. “This is where you are meeting expectations, this is where I want you to improve.”

  11. Steve G*

    Well one way not to do it is the way a former former former manager did it to me (at a lower level, much lower paid job, which changed the dynamics for me because it made me honestly less willing to listen to the feedback to begin with)…..I came in late because of traffic and got a stern speech on everything I had been doing “wrong.” Including items that aren’t wrong per se, but just not in the boss’ preference, which I couldn’t know beforehand because they were not standard preferences. So during the whole speech, I didn’t know whether they were raising legitimate concerns or blowing off steam because they were mad that I was late or something like that………..

  12. LBK*

    OP, did you bring it to her attention that clients had complained? To me, that is a HUGE problem and something that should’ve been discussed with her the second it happened. I can sort of understand putting off the larger conversation about the pattern of her behavior, but she should’ve been called into your office the minute you got off the phone with those clients.

    1. OP*

      I did bring it to her attention. I told her that if I said I would take care of something it meant I didn’t want her to. I told her that this person had been very good to us and that I hoped we were still able to get what we needed. This was a case of my asking a favor of this longtime client.

      Her reaction was interesting in that she didn’t apologize right then. She made an excuse about why she had done it and came back to apologize about 20 minutes later.

      1. fposte*

        That sounds like the kind of defensiveness Student was suggesting upthread. Points to her for coming back to apologize, though, so maybe that’s worth noting.

        1. Bea W*

          Sounds like she may have had a knee-jerk defensiveness reaction in the moment, and then once she had time to think about it, she realized she goofed up.

          1. LBK*

            I agree – she may have just fumbled for an answer in the moment and then realized she should’ve apologized once she had some time to think about it. As long as it was a sincere apology that doesn’t seem too horrible to me.

      2. Observer*

        I would say that you should lay out your expectations clearly. Don’t ask her to explain or to commit to anything. Instead tell her to think about it, and then if she needs clarification, she should come back to you and ask her questions.

        It sounds like she is capable of hearing less than pleasant feedback, once she gets over the first defensive response. So, short circuit it.

        Also, I do agree with others that some of the “pushy” stuff – ie making suggestions before you are ready for her to – may be cultural (more so than the other issues.). So, while you should be clear about your expectations, you will probably get better results if you acknowledge that fact. Also, try not to shut down the questions for learning.

      3. Random worker*

        Sounds like she is trying to get in your good graces by doing unnecessary things without being asked to while thinking she is being helpful.

        I’ve known people like this at work and they keep saying they’re being “this and that” when really what they’re doing is all kinds of wrong. I can’t figure out if it’s just a form of denial but it’s definitely immature and stubborn and a personal style of being for some people. My experience is that these people are quite sensitive, defensive and rarely change their rigid thinking even when you try to address issues nicely. Even when something gets through, new problems will keep arising. I know I’m being a bit unforgiving here but I think that when the reason is immaturity then it will take them a longer time to really mature up and it has to come from them. From your comments I think it’s obvious you already think she’s too defensive/sensitive and hard to coach.

        I don’t think you owe her that much effort but I think that one stern discussion AAM suggested might be good, make yourself as clear as you can, and if things don’t start improving then it is obvious that she isn’t doing her part in trying to make things work out. I wouldn’t bend over backwards here but make your thoughts clear and see how it goes. Business is still business.

  13. E.R*

    I have the opposite problem when I start new jobs. I really listen and don’t offer many “new” ideas until rather well into my tenure, which makes my boss think I’m not as engaged, etc, as the employees who spew ideas (no matter how bad – I guess management thinks if they keep coming, eventually one will be good) from day one.

    I currently have one co-worker and had one report who fit the profile of the OP’s report. With my report, I would say things like “Yeah, we’ve definitely thought of that but aren’t able to do it because of X. Maybe in 6 months we can re-evaluate it though”. Once she got into actually doing the job, she started to understand the reality of the situation so I had fewer problems. She was actually really great, and only left because she was on contract and we couldnt renew it.

    My co-worker is the worst, though. He largely ignores his basic job duties to come up with entirely new projects that nobody approves, writes illiterate proposals, and never ever listens to anyone under the CEO. CEO thought he was a visionary at first, now he’s getting fired. Results speak for themselves, I guess.

    1. Us, Too*

      Whether an org welcomes “new ideas” from a new guy or not is, I think, an organizational culture issue. You really need to know your org on this one.

      I worked at a company that highly valued “participation” in group conversations. If you just sat in a room, even as a new guy, and didn’t ask questions, make observations, etc you were viewed as not being engaged in the process. Obviously, this was an org that didn’t care if people asked “dumb” questions or made “stupid” suggestions when they were new – the collaboration was the key part and the org viewed this as an important onboarding and learning experience.

  14. BRR*

    This sounds like me when I started my first job. In addition to directly addressing these issues, the following is what advice I gave myself:

    Restraint is my golden word. I have a lot of enthusiasm but I exercise restraint. That doesn’t mean I never say or do anything, just sitting back for a second has helped me handle many situations better than I would have if I acted immediately. (As a side note, if her questions are her trying to learn, those can be valid from a new employee. It could mean you are not taking into account what a new employee will not know).

    My work was also riddled with errors (as some of my comments are). What took my a while to learn is that the “grading standard” for an office is much higher than in school. You typically either earn an A or you fail. Stress accuracy over speed. I would suggest pointing that out and recommending letting documents rest and revisiting, proofing in hard copy, and taking another piece of paper and going line by line.

    I wouldn’t worry about being nice, but you should point out you are giving this information so she will succeed.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      the “grading standard” for an office is much higher than in school. You typically either earn an A or you fail.

      This is such a good point, and one that isn’t always intuitive for people, especially early in their careers.

      1. BRR*

        I knew someone who as part of training had to take tests (insurance). He failed with an 86%, needed a 90% to pass. If a document is 10% wrong, that’s a pretty significant amount when you think about it.

        1. Dan*

          And if you’re a CPA, you want more like 100% accuracy, ’cause your client good get into super deep doodoo if his return has a 10% error rate.

          1. BRR*

            Compare to when I was in school and could calculate exactly how much effort I needed. I have a 96%, I only need to get a 75 on the final and I could still get an A.

            1. Kelly L.*

              I remember calculating in one class that I could make like a 50% on the final and still make an A, but that if I skipped the final entirely, I’d drop down to a B. The final was four days after all my other finals were over, and on the same day I was supposed to be out of the dorms, so I seriously considered it. Finally decided I wanted the A, though. That was my easiest class–that’s what happened when I tested waaaay out of that level but my advisor didn’t really believe my test results. (Long story.)

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                My 13-year-old niece just calculated that she could skip all her finals but one and still get As so she did. I was pretty impressed.

                1. Jessa*

                  When I went to school if you had above a 95 average (in High School) you could skip the finals, in fact were encouraged to because well, you really couldn’t do too much at that point to get more than an A and you could seriously screw it up if you messed it up. At a 90 you could decide if you wanted to or not. A lot of schools did that to lower the amount of people they had to proctor for tests and who had to come into school and therefore be ridden herd on.

            2. Chinook*

              “Compare to when I was in school and could calculate exactly how much effort I needed.”

              I use this idea with struggling students who are panicking before their provincial exams (which are worth 50% of their mark). I point out that, if they are getting 60’s, they already have a 30%, so they only need a 40% on their final to pass the course and, since the test mark should reflect their class mark, this becomes very doable (i.e. they can fail the exam and still pass the course). I have yet to meet a student who didn’t see that number and not be relieved, making the test review part of our tutoring much more enjoyable.

              Now, this same attitude will NOT work in real life, which is something I also emphasize with said students.

              1. louise*

                And yet — it kind of does work in real life. I have an all-or-nothing approach to cleaning which means I have always lived in squalor. Thanks to UnF*** Your Habitat, I’m learning that something is better than nothing.

                I kind of wish there were literal percentages for that, as in “the dinner party is tomorrow. If you clean 100% of the house, 1% of guests will notice. If you clean 50% of the house, 100% of the guests will appreciate it.”

      2. Us, Too*

        I’m not sure if I agree with this or not. I’ve had plenty of exposure to team members whose work was good enough but not spectacular. Do you really think that everyone is either a rock star or a failure? (Maybe I’m just not getting this A player analogy).

        1. D*

          I hate to be devil’s advocate about this, but I find the corporate bar is much lower than the grad school work I had to do.

          1. Us, Too*

            I suspect the field you work in and the organization you work for may play a part in this as well.

            But, to your point, I’m constantly amazed at how much mediocrity the real world allows.

          2. De Minimis*

            I think it’s tough because the goals are different….it’s more about getting the tasks done. Ideally, you will learn and develop in completing those tasks, but that’s not the ultimate goal. In school it’s the opposite.

          3. Miss Betty*

            Me too. Where I earned my MLIS, average was failing; a C would put you on academic probation. One needed a 3.o GPA to graduate and an F meant dismissal from the program. Average employees are a dime a dozen and (fortunately for may of us!) one failure doesn’t necessarily mean automatic dismissal.

            I’ve noticed that sometimes stellar students are average employees, and vice versa. I’ve also noticed that some people – myself included – can be average employees in some jobs and stellar employees in others, sometimes when performing identically at each job. If you have a boss who dislikes you for whatever reason, you’re not likely to be perceived as stellar and if your boss loves you, you probably won’t be perceived as average, even if you are.

            I wonder if some of the problems the OP’s employee has stems from advice such as Lifehacker gave out last Saturday: “Seek out problems at a new job to advance your career.” There are plenty of people who’ll read the article and not be able to figure out when this – and similar actions – are appropriate and when they aren’t.

            1. fposte*

              Though that’s a little misleading–a C isn’t an average grad school grade anyway. So it’s not that students have to be so much above average, it’s just that the average in the pool hovers more around B+ or even B+/A-.

              1. Miss Betty*

                No, in Detroit (Wayne State University). I did the entire thing online and would highly recommend it – for certain types of students. (And for others, I’d suggest they might need a physical setting. WSU has both.)

        2. CTO*

          A good manager, though, will hold everyone on their team to a high standard. I’ve had the fortune of working on some teams where everyone (or nearly everyone) was an A player because our boss demanded (and earned) high performance and wasn’t afraid to let people go when they couldn’t meet that level.

          1. Us, Too*

            A high standard isn’t the same thing as everyone being an A player.

            I think there may be a lot of grade inflation happening in the corporate world. Getting an exceeds or greatly exceeds expectations review should be rare and an indicator that you’re ready for a new, more challenging set of responsibilities. A players are the people who I’m thinking are too advanced for their current role and need to be promoted into one where they are challenged to get the C+ again. I considered it a management failure if I had folks greatly exceeding my expectations. It meant I wasn’t giving them appropriately challenging work and/or offering sufficient promotion opportunity.

            I remember taking over managing a team one time and having to do a “reset” because EVERYONE on the team seemed to think that they weren’t doing a good job if they “only” met expectations. This is because the previous manager did the “you’re either an A player or fired” type of grading. Ridiculous. Meeting expectations is good if the expectations are appropriately high.

        3. Chinook*

          “Do you really think that everyone is either a rock star or a failure? (Maybe I’m just not getting this A player analogy).”

          When it comes to invidividual assignmetns, getting an A doesn’t mean you are a rock star – rock stars consistently get A’s without needing much effort. But, anyone is capable of getting an A on an assignment that is suited to their skill level, which, if you are in the right job, should be where you are functioning (i.e. you shouldn’t be given to many tasks above your skill level). Everything your boss gives you should be doable at the expected level or you need to be given the support to reach that level. This is why everythign is either Pass/Fail. If you are a rock star, it may soon be time to move on to something more challenging (unless you like being the rock star).

          School is different from work because you have a bunch of people at different skill levels working on the same tasks. Teachers then create tasks that either show you have met a certain skill level or are geared so that the majority can pass (depending on the goal of a course). This means varying results will occur and will result in rock stars shining through.

          1. Us, Too*

            Ah, I see the difference here. I am a bell curve type corporate grader. I give folks a “C” if they’re doing a decent job – meaning this is the average performance I expect for someone in that role at that level.

            1. Chinook*

              Us, Too, the problem with the bell curve is that it only works with large groups of people (statistically, I think you need 100+ people for it to naturally appear). With smaller groups, it is possible to have everyone working at the same standard and forcing them into a bell curve will give your contrived results.

              For the record, this is why I like well written, standardized exams (i.e. created to ensure they test knowledge and not how you take exams). If results for an individual question taken by a large group of people doesn’t result in everyone answering correctly, then it should naturally create a bell curve. If it doesn’t, then it is a bad question and the result needs to be disregarded.

              1. Us, Too*

                I’m not in favor of a forced bell curve. However, if I had a manager argue that their entire team was entirely comprised of the top 10% I would definitely be asking for data to support that assessment.

                1. Jessa*

                  I hate forced bell curve. Companies that do that kind of review, if they let me know that in the interview stage, I will not take the offer. Because I’m sorry if all the people in the department are doing x level work, that means the boss has to downgrade some of them anyway. And that’s a morale killer for me.

              2. Us, Too*

                I’d also be asking why that manager didn’t raise his or her standards to a higher level to challenge his team. ;)

              3. Jessa*

                Also if 95% or more of your statistical group got something wrong the same way, it’s probably the way the question was written, not that they’re stupid.

                Back in the day when I was a teacher, in normal school we had courses on writing tests. It’s a big deal actually what the question says vs what you want the answer to be. As a rule because of this I drive certain trainers at work crazy. I will always, always answer the exact question written. Even if I know they want me to answer something else. This is because I can argue the score if I answer what they wrote. If I answer what I think they want and I’m wrong and they really DID know how to write the question, I’ve gotten it wrong and can’t do anything about it. Drives some of them crazy when I explain that no you really asked x and this is really that answer. You MEANT to ask y if you wanted me to say z. But in every case I’ve gotten the score changed and most of them also change the question in future tests. I try very hard to be very polite about appealing though, because I get why it happens.

                1. Chinook*

                  “It’s a big deal actually what the question says vs what you want the answer to be. As a rule because of this I drive certain trainers at work crazy. I will always, always answer the exact question written.”

                  Between my B.Ed. and working for an organization that creates/administers certification tests, I too drive trainers crazy. It is scary how many people out there try and test for knowledge without knowing how to frame a question that actually tests the knowledge. Online surveys also drive me batty for the same reason.

        4. KellyK*

          It’s not so much that everyone has to be a rockstar or they’re a failure as that there’s a lot less room between the two as there is in high school or college. The range of what’s acceptable is a lot narrower.

          In a school environment, A+ is a rockstar, and F is a failure. There’s a huge range in between those two points. You can get a lot of Ds and still pass. In a work environment, C and D work is likely to be unacceptable.

          It’s largely because the goals are different. The papers you write in college aren’t an end in and of themselves, unless you want to go on to a career in academia. They’re a way of demonstrating that you’ve learned something. In the work environment, you’re producing an end product for a specific goal, and what you learn isn’t as relevant to that end goal.

        5. Jen RO*

          Honestly, most of the people on my team are B-level, with a few As. The C person quit before she could be put on a PIP… after 4 years at the company.

      3. Koko*

        I actually found the opposite to be true for me…granted I was coming from academia. In the academic world, nothing is ever right or as good as it can be, you just kept revising it until you run out of time and hope for the best. You revise papers you’re presenting up until the day you’re present, you revise a paper you want published until the submission deadline and then revise and resubmit it in response to reviewer feedback multiple times, etc., then you get to respond to critiques of your work from others in the field who find things wrong with it.

        It was the thing I hated most about academia. Nothing was ever good enough. It was a relief to me to be able to come to the working world, do something once, check over it for accuracy, and then submit a finished product that was correct, and then receive positive feedback from your peers and superiors most of the time instead of refutations and challenges.

        1. BRR*

          I think grading is also partially apples and oranges (and yes I just argued against my own point). The bar is higher but in a different way. If someone is doing data-entry and they get 8 entries wrong out of every hundred that would be an A. But if I go to look at information and 8% of it is wrong, that could really mess up my work (it touches on a previous point made on AAM about your work affects other work).

          1. Tinker*

            It seems like one of those things that is kind of superficially true but highly misleading. If I graduate from college where I scored above 90% on all my exams (hahahahaha) and then go to work for the widget factory where I make widgets, then 90% correct widgets is indeed a pretty horrible hit rate for widgets. At which point cue grar grar real world not easy like school.

            On the other hand, I actually went to college where I scored above 10% on all of my exams, and implying that the “real world” is one where I need to hit a five nines standard on equivalent or greater challenges is… kinda nuts.

            That, and I don’t make widgets but rather do various forms of R&D — where we’re back to the 10% hit rate and the school environment is inaccurate in the other direction, because if you need to know the answers most of the time to feel like you’re doing adequately, the Unknown Questions Department is probably not the place for you.

            1. BRR*

              I’m starting to think I brought something up that is too specific to sufficiently cover, especially when we’re trying to manage comments. Does it work to say there is a difference between good work and correct work? Grading in school is more about good work and grading for offices is more about correct work. I’m not trying to play devil’s advocated, it’s more a hard time articulating my thoughts.

              1. Tinker*

                Well, I’m kind of adding to your comment — it’s something I’m also trying to work out. I’ve heard this sort of attempted analogy between grades in school and work performance before and found it lacking but haven’t really found the most succinct way of characterizing the difference.

                Basically what it comes down to is that I’m a bit suspicious of drawing equivalences between school and work, particularly ones that imply that work is in absolute terms more demanding of personal virtue than school. Part of this is because I had a particularly challenging undergraduate experience, but in general I think that at whatever level, it’s essentially like pouring water from a pan into a pipe and saying “look at how much taller you have to be!”

                1. Koko*

                  Yes, it’s tough to make a comparison in several ways. In a university course, you’re very rapidly learning new skills and then being tested on your ability to apply them often without a cheat sheet or other resources.

                  But at work, you master an initial skill set and then use that same basic skills over and over again with access to resources like the Internet for research, a colleague to proofread/verify, etc. A few times a year you attend conferences and slowly add a skill here, try a new idea there.

                  That’s why 90% accuracy is great at school and terrible in your job: it’s the difference between 90% accuracy recalling and demonstrating brand-new skills and 90% accuracy repeating variants on routine tasks. The bar is “higher” in that you need perfect accuracy, but the bar is “lower” in that what you’re being expected to do isn’t as difficult.

            2. Anx*

              My partner couldn’t understand why I was upset with myself for getting a question wrong on a quiz sometime this month.

              I’ve aced, passed, and failed a lot of tests and quizzes in my life, so I can certainly handle failure. However this class I’m taking to brush up on my skills. I’m doing very, very well (although part of that is because my instructors are setting us up for success*), and while I’m pleased that my academic work has improved so much since undergrad, I am not in the ‘student’ mentality so much as in the ‘practice’ mentality. So I’m not really interested in an A, I’m interested in making sure I can consistently do good work with minimal errors.

              *it’s easy, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with easy. I’ve taken organic chemistry 3 times. once in a large lecture filled with premeds/prepharms and 3 exams and a final. Bombed. I’ve taken a nursing version which was incredibly easy in comparison (large lecture, but I didn’t go, because I’d already gone to lectures for the failed course). The third was at a community college. I retained much of the information from the second and third classes, but the first is blur. I’d feel more prepared for a job with a B in an lets-see-if-you-know-the-essentials course than an A from cramming for a weed-out-can-you-handle-this course.

      4. Sharm*

        But then why are there so many average or even below average people that still manage to hold onto their jobs? Some even get promoted! On this board alone, people write in about them all the time.

      5. JayDee*

        But remember that the range for an A usually goes down to 93% or sometimes even 90%. So if it takes you 30 minutes to get C quality work, another 30 minutes to hit 90-93% perfect and another 30 minutes to get to 99-100% you don’t need to spend an hour and a half where an hour will do. Diminishing marginal returns and all that. Because I’m guilty of wasting a bunch of time going for perfect when “pretty close” would be better.

        I have a feeling our actions (mine and the subject of this letter) are flip-sides of the same coin. She has internalized the importance of being eager, energetic, enthusiastic, having lots of ideas, and working at a fast rate. I have internalized the importance of doing the best possible work, being highly competent, being very diligent, attentive to details., and thorough. Most workplaces will fall somewhere between the two extremes, but it’s not always easy to tell where. Or she may be getting mixed signals (hearing someone else praised for enthusiasm or speed when she is being told the opposite). Regardless, I think AAM gives fine advice and that a calm but serious discussion is in order to correct these problematic behaviors.

    2. Joey*

      No not grades. Most people don’t understand that if you have peers most work at work is graded on a curve. A C therefore becomes acceptable or average. The better those around you are the harder it is to attain an A.

      1. Us, Too*

        The other thing that most people don’t understand: you aren’t only competing with your colleagues.

        A good manager is always asking herself “could I hire someone who can do a better job than this person?”

        1. meetoo*

          There is also more to doing a good job than just quality work. It is about how you act, fit, if your manager likes you, who you know, how your manager chooses to measure performance, culture, other skills you might have. It is not as black and white as good or bad work.

  15. D*

    Unfortunately, this sort of ‘enthusiastic’ behavior is tolerated and even rewarded in grad school…at least the liberal arts and education grad programs I was part of. I’d go to Ph. D. seminars and if that person wasn’t in alignment with the theories touted in the (lib arts) program, they’d be ripped to shreds, even called an ‘idiot’ under people’s breaths. I switched to the Education department and writing well wasn’t at the top of the list, and the same bulldozing behavior was allowed although it shouldn’t be acceptable in the corporate world.

    1. Koko*

      Moderator: We’ll now open up the floor to questions from the audience about the panel and their research.

      Audience Member: Let me talk about my own, only tangentially related, research for a minute. My question is: Have you ever considered that?

      1. fposte*

        I concede the truth of that :-). But that’s also blog comments in a nutshell, isn’t it?

  16. Dan*

    At my first job out of grad school, my team was attending an important client meeting on a topic where I knew a lot of stuff. It was my second month on the job. I thought I was asked to attend the meeting because of my knowledge and my presumed ability to contribute. After the three day meeting, my senior manager pulled me aside and said that the client didn’t welcome my contributions.

    It was my second month on the job. Ouch. TBH, the management fail there was not prepping me for the meeting (keep your mouth shut unless specifically called on.)

    The thing that pissed me off the most though was the incident landed on my annual review a year later. I was like, “come on. It was my second month on the job and I didn’t know any better. I certainly learned from it, isn’t that what matters?” That’s when I learned that annual reviews were more about politics than anything else.

    These days, when I have junior staff with me, I at least give them the heads up to keep quiet unless asked directly to contribute. I want to save them the pain and misery that I suffered :)

    1. Koko*

      Geez, a one-off mistake made in your second month and not repeated again should appear on your annual review in the context of adaptability, improvement, and growth noted, not dings against you.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        I have seen a mistake in the beginning like that follow the person for a few years! I don’t know why people can’t tell the difference between a habit and a one-off.

        1. Kelly L.*

          Yes! I had one manager who just copied things over from the last one and would still harangue me about something I’d done three years ago.

    2. jennie*

      I don’t know if it’s fair to say it being on your review a year later is just politics. One of the things you showed throughout the year was that you didn’t read a client situation well and caused the client to comment on it and required coaching. This is exactly what should be on a review. It wouldn’t be “fair” to give you high marks for that even if you’d shown improvement later because you didn’t demonstrate excellence at it throughout the whole review period.

      1. Sharm*

        This seems a bit harsh to me. If this was a situation that even happened one more time after that first incident, it would warrant being on a review. But it was a one-time thing that could have been entirely prevented had the MANAGER set expectations before the client meeting even happened. I think the review was unfair.

        1. Tinker*

          I think it depends on the context — to say that a one-time incident occurred is one thing, because it did. That can be interpreted in a lot of different ways, of course, and I’d think it reasonable to consider that if something happened once two months into a review cycle and not thereafter that it’s a minor credit to the person involved.

          On the other hand, characterizing a single event as having happened “throughout the year” is probably on the less-useful end of the spectrum of possible interpretations.

    3. Steve G*

      If everyone at my company got dinged for contributing “too much” in meetings we’d all be failing our reviews and never get raises. You are right to be outraged by this, especially given that you were an SME on the topic.

    4. meetoo*

      Don’t forget that a review is supposed to cover the whole year not just what has happened recently. So it should be there to cover that time period but also a note that said that you had not repeated the mistake since.

  17. Also enthusiastic*

    As someone who could also be characterized as “enthusiastic”, I completely agree that an honest and DIRECT conversation is needed. I was fortunate to have parents that started setting me straight when I was young, but it’s an ongoing lesson that what I think is enthusiastic and “go-getter” is often just pushy and annoying.

    When I first started my current role, I was having issues working with a very senior person. We just couldn’t seem to get on the same page. My manager gave me the very helpful piece of advice that I needed to match my energy to that of the senior person. She is a more soft-spoken think-before-you-speak person, and I’m naturally loud and hair-on-fire-because-I-like-it. I would swing by her desk to check-in, talk a mile a minute, and never give her a second to think about what I was saying prior to answering. Once I shut my mouth and listened to her, she had tons of great insight, and our relationship improved significantly. My boss gave me practical application tips, too, including: schedule time with her, send her the materials in advance, wait to “give more context or information” until she asks for it.

    I also tend to value speed over accuracy, and again, direct feedback that I needed to slow down improved my work significantly. I still have to be reminded of this sometimes… I’ll reply that I’ll finish something immediately when it’s handed off, and the person giving me the work will say that it’s fine to return it in a few days. That’s my signal that in fact, they don’t want it fast, they want it right. And if that means that I have to spend 3 days on it instead of 1, that’s preferable. I’ve had a couple of uncomfortable conversations about this, but I’d rather know on the front end that my speed is making me appear LESS successful!

    1. Elizabeth West*

      This is an excellent point, about communication styles. Our company makes us take the personality course and while you’re not supposed to take it literally, it does make you stop and think about how different people communicate. When you’re not getting your point across or it’s not accepted/understood, stop and think about how you are presenting it. Do you need to get to the point with this particular coworker? Are you rambling too much? Or are you coming across as too abrupt, or like you said, too hair-on-fire (I love that, btw)?

    2. AVP*

      Also, if someone doesn’t want to learn about the context or hear any additional information, it’s a sign that they trust you to have gotten it right and that they don’t need to hear anything further. That’s not a bad thing.

    3. Not So NewReader*

      Match energy levels. Oh, that is such good advice, not just for work but for life. Come in on a plane similar to the person you are talking to. (Unless they are angry and yelling, of course.)

      It is amazing how much ground you can gain in a tough situation by just matching the rhythm/pacing of the other person.

      1. Chris80*

        I’m curious if this works both ways. I understand slowing down to match the pace of the other person if you are naturally “enthusiastic”, but what if the person you are speaking with is the one that’s on the hyperactive side? Should you attempt to be more assertive/enthusiastic/bubbly/etc. to match their energy level?

  18. Biff*

    I get a weird vibe from this letter:

    1. ” Some of the people we work with regularly have been put off by her behavior.” To me this sounds like the manager/letter writer is pushing off the responsibility of ‘owning’ their opinion of the employee and their reaction to the employee.

    2. “…offended a couple clients… annoyed these clients…” Which is it? There is an important difference here. Offended is a client that is considering cutting ties, annoyed merely means that they want other people on the project. It’s bad news that clients aren’t happy, but I feel like the letter writer might be making it into a bigger deal than it is. The whole letter seems to keep trying to escalate small problems into larger ones, only to loop them down again. From the letter I don’t get the impression the letter writer actually has an idea of how big these problems are or are not.

    3. “In addition, her writing skills are substantially below what I would expect from someone with her level of education but she does not take feedback on her writing well.” This is actually a restatement of the sentence before, not additional evidence, but it’s interesting to me because it contains a significant error or possibly a slip. “substantially below” should be “substantially less than.” In fact, this whole letter is littered with minor grammatical errors and poor writing conventions. And that, for me is a big red flag. She’s nitpicking an employee for something she does not do well herself and that always makes me uneasy.

    Does anyone else get a weird vibe for the same or similar reasons? I’m curious.

    1. CTO*

      I don’t get a weird vibe at all.

      It’s entirely possible that other employees are more bothered by this employee than OP is. It’s entirely possible that a client with a short fuse could move right from “annoyed” to “offended” by behavior that some of us might not be as bothered by. And I thought that OP’s writing was just fine. Sometimes employees need to have stronger skills than their managers in certain areas. That doesn’t make for an inadequate manager as long as they have a way to suitably evaluate the skills they themselves don’t possess.

      I think you’re looking for semantic distinctions that just aren’t there, or that OP didn’t actually intend.

      1. AVP*

        I think points 1 and 2 are fine from the OP. At least in my business, any issue I have with people I manage is greatly compounded if other people in my company have commented on it, and depending on who else is noticing it, can go from a minor problem to Red Alert if it’s affecting other departments or workflows (or impacting the CEO in any way).

        I think the larger point is that these small issues are on the verge of becoming big ones, and there’s no point in the OP waiting for a big problem or a major client issue to give feedback and start looking for changes.

        1. CTO*

          Yes, I’d definitely agree with your last point here: the OP should be addressing these concerns now, before they cause even bigger problems.

    2. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I think you’re reading more into it than is warranted by a casual email to a blog :)

      I also think that people can know good writing when they see it but not need to be perfect writers themselves at all times and in all contexts, especially this one! (Although I also didn’t have any beefs with her writing.)

      But more importantly, I’d ask that we not nitpick letter-writers for the kind of word usage you’re raising here.

      1. Biff*

        I’m sorry Allison, I thought that this was a better way of describing my concerns with the letter than just “I get a weird, competitive vibe from this letter” comment. I didn’t mean to be nitpicky about the words, just illustrate my feelings. I’ll think of a better way to do this in the future.

    3. Ann O'Nemity*

      At first glance, I wondered if the LW had some insecurity issues in relation to the OP. That was my first read, but I’m probably over-analyzing and making a lot of assumptions about the LW’s discomfort with her employee making suggestions or taking initiative without being instructed to do so. It also seems like a bit of a leap to think the employee’s behaviors are ingrained if the LW hasn’t yet addressed the issues directly.

      1. dejavu2*

        Ditto. Plus, it’s hard to ignore the use of the gender-charged word “pushy”. I agree there’s potentially something more complicated at play.

      2. Biff*

        Yes, that’s it, the manager sounds insecure and competitive to me. That’s an excellent way to describe the vibe I get from this letter. It could be a fundamental personality clash which is why the letter writer seems apathetic towards taking a standard approach to the issues. However, I get the same feeling you do from the letter.

      3. HR “Gumption”*

        I believe she feels the behavior may be ingrained because this is not the employees first professional job. That said, she should still address it directly as AAM and many others have suggested.

        1. OP*

          That is what I plan to do HR “Gumption”. I was looking for input on how to handle it and AAM’s suggestion is the approach I was leaning towards. I just didn’t know the words to use.

    4. De (Germany)*

      As for 3, please keep in mind that not everyone here is a native speaker of English.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Which I easily forget, because people do very well in presenting their points quite clearly. If people don’t point out that English is not their first language, I probably would not figure it out quickly.

    5. OP*

      Hi Biff,

      1. I do own my reaction but perhaps I should be more specific. A couple of people we work with regularly have commented to me that they find employee’s behavior off-putting.

      2. I don’t understand your quibbling over offended and annoyed. A person can do both and no, offending someone doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re considering cutting ties. The client used a different word than offended to describe the behavior, but it left no doubt that they found the behavior highly annoying and offensive. One person wouldn’t have told me about it unless they were really bothered. :-)

      3. Actually I was not repeating the sentence above. The presenting of a hurried, unfinished work product extends to other projects as well.

      I also never claimed to have perfect grammar. However, I don’t generally hold blog comments to the same standard I do things I actually send on behalf of my company.

      1. Snarkus Ariellius*

        Offended vs. annoyed.

        When it comes to clients, the word choice doesn’t matter.  What does matter is that it’s more than one client and one employee is the confirmed source of offense/annoyance/ire/whatever.

        Those two details alone are what’s concerning the OP.

        1. Biff*

          I’ve read OPs other posts here and it seems to be a fundamental misfit of skills and personality for both the employee and OPs Company/Clients. I think the best course of action would be to sit the employee down and explain that they have a company culture of X, Y, and Z. Perhaps “We put a premium on quality over quantity of completed work, and we also prefer that junior employees support senior staff decisions and learn to be good apprentices before they do the moving and the shaking. What other companies might take as employee enthusiasm is really disruptive to the culture we’ve built here. You are here to do the work requested and support the decisions made by others. If you don’t see yourself fitting in with that culture then I am happy to write a recommendation that highlights your good features — you’ve always been on time and I find you a reliable employee — and then we can work on hiring a replacement while you find a new job.”

          1. OP*

            Thanks Biff. Your insight is appreciated and may be the ultimate course of action.

            I’ve told the employee that suggestions are welcome, but to listen a bit first because a number of the suggestions to learn more about what our current priorities are before suggesting new directions and/or projects. She’d sent a long list of suggested projects the day after her first meeting of a group we provide support services for to me and the manager of that group. The other manager simply responded with a short email that said X, Y & Z are our current priorities. She had listed his top three at the bottom of her list.

            1. Not So NewReader*

              It seems like you have to put qualifiers on almost every statement you make. I would never translate “suggestions are welcome” to mean email everyone a long list of suggestions.

              In this instance, did the massive suggestions stop once you said to stop?

              I have friends that are into horses. Once in a while they will say “that horse has NO whoa”. You can’t stop the horse.
              Not to liken anyone to a horse, but stop means stop, people should be able to catch on to that.
              Brings me to my next question, do you think she respects authority figures?

              1. OP*

                That’s one reason I’m so perplexed. The long list of suggestions came about 10 days after she had asked about current and future projects. I told her she was coming in as we were implementing two new programs and that we had made the decision to make sure all our current projects were running well before starting new projects. She’s done a few things that it never entered my mind someone would do so I didn’t say NOT to do them.

                The past couple of weeks there hasn’t been an opportunity for a barrage of suggestions because we’ve been doing pretty straightforward stuff. I was on vacation last week and she has moved to part time for several weeks to prepare for and take a professional exam.

                A friend of mine and I have also discussed whether she respects authority.

  19. Snarkus Ariellius*

    I know of one solution that was complete overkill but it worked.

    I knew an employee very similar to the one the LW described — pushy, know nothing know it all, offered commentary on EVERYTHING in staff meetings no matter what, injected herself into the branding process even though it was outsourced to professionals, etc.

    I wasn’t in her department, but I know her boss was trying to work with her, especially as this was her first job out of college.  Finally, in one meeting with some senior staff and a couple of external people, she criticized something a VP suggested.  When she was done, her boss just let the room be silent and then said…

    “When you have 25+ years of experience of your own in this business, like X, Y, Z, and I do, then you can weigh in on critical decisions that will affect the entire organization for the next decade.  Until that time comes, I suggest you watch and learn.”

    Using shame as a weapon is harsh, but it got this person’s attention.  Kind of mean, especially in front of people not in our office.  But well-deserved.

    It worked but to a very limited degree.  

    1. Us, Too*

      Kind of mean? Yes. But the bigger issue here is that doing things like this stifle everyone in the room, not just the target. And, to your own final point, it didn’t even work!!! What the hell?

      1. Any smart person witnessing this will take no risks in their jobs ever again for fear of being professionally humiliated in public forums. This is a great way to get mediocre results on a glacial timeline. This can KILL your business.
      2. Good to know that we judge people not on the merit of their work or ideas, but on how long they’ve sat at their desk.

      Egads, I’m really horrified at this anecdote and cannot imagine continuing a career at a place where this type of “leadership” or “management” is tolerated.

      1. Snarkus Ariellius*

        I don’t have enough firsthand knowledge, but I do know that boss well enough to know she was working VERY hard with this person.  Nothing was working effectively, especially in meetings when she wouldn’t stop “contributing” to EVERY topic.  (Seriously that’s annoying and makes meetings run longer.)

        If I had to guess, I’d say the boss had enough.  Plus this was a high-level meeting.  You shouldn’t have to tell people to be on their best behavior.  Like Alison said, you cannot be completely nice about issues like this.

        As for the reference to years of experience, I assume that was a way to say, “You’ve been on the job under a year, and you’re sitting around a table with multiple experts who have decades more experience.  Maybe you don’t know everything all the time.”

        This employee was embarassing herself.  I’d want someone to tell me, but I’d like to think I’d pick up on that before it got to the point of visible frustration and irritation from mulitiple people.

        I don’t know what happened to this woman, but her LinkedIn shows that she hasn’t held a job for more than 1.5 years since 2006.  

        1. Us, Too*

          There’s a difference between being direct and being rude and dismissive. Frustrated though the manager may have been, I can’t imagine Alison advocating using a technique like this to “coach” a staff member publicly.

          1. PJ*

            It seems to me this employee was far beyond the “coaching” stage. Harsh? Yes. But some people need a plank to the head to get it. I’m guessing nothing that was said to this employee was new info — just delivered in a way that hopefully they’d hear, since nothing else was getting through. A last-ditch effort, if you will. If that’s true, I’m guessing there were folks in that meeting that heaved a secret sigh of relief.

          2. Ask a Manager* Post author

            I definitely wouldn’t — although I might say something similar privately (slightly nicer wording though). It’s the public nature of this that I really don’t like.

            1. Us, Too*

              I think I’d be hard pressed to ever look at that manager in the same light again after he said something this awful in public. It would take quite a bit to “recover” in my eyes after an outburst like that.

              Not only was it not delivered in private, the articulation of the issue was personal in nature rather than focused on the behavior.

              Just…. UGH.

          3. smilingswan*

            I agree. I think it would have been much more appropriate to simply not have her attend these meetings. If that affects her ability to do her job, perhaps it’s not the right job for her. She should have been on a PIP long before it got to this level of frustration.

  20. Artemesia*

    I do so agree with the very direct approach suggested by Alison here. I had that kind of feedback in my first real job and it totally shocked me as I really thought I was doing a great job. (I was mostly doing a great job but there was one area where is was not — and hearing very direct criticism of that was extremely helpful) There are all sorts of euphemisms that fly right over people’s heads. ‘Enthusiasm’ is one of those for pushy and annoying and thoughtless. Time to let her know that.

    1. Snarkus Ariellius*

      Enthusiasm doesn’t mesh with sloppy work and laziness.  If you feel strongly about something, are you going to half ass the relevant work?

      I agree a person or people have been seriously sugarcoating it with this person.  

      1. Artemesia*

        I can see someone calling interrupting other people in meetings ‘enthusiastic’ rather than rude. For sloppy work it is a stretch but perhaps rushing to get things out quickly could fall under the edges of that euphemism.

      2. Random worker*

        It’s hard to face people who you perceive as easily defensive I guess. The knee-jerk reaction for me would be to avoid conflict and avoid hurting this type of people. Takes strength to tell someone who you know is going to go defensive or be hurt what you really think!

  21. TP*

    I found the part about sitting back, listening and learning interesting. Usually when I start a new job, this is the tactic I take because I find people who jump in immediately as a means to prove themselves a turn off. I also find that when someone goes overboard with questions and suggestions without learning first, it slows down a project. This goes for people with little experience and those with decades. However, recently someone came on board at my work and started doing just this. It was annoying to me, but I think in his case, it worked to his benefit and it was taken as him being proactive.

    1. Artemesia*

      I have done research on cognitive development looking at capacities for high level abstract thought and dealing with complexity and ambiguity. We also looked at problem solving skills including dealing with complex problems in real word situations. A telling difference between people who can function at high levels and those who don’t have that capacity is the tendency to observe before leaping in with answers. Novices jump right to solutions. Experts tend to assess the environment and the challenge before jumping to solution.

      1. fposte*

        Oh, that’s really interesting. Where do the analysis paralysis folks fit in there? And do you find people to be fairly consistent in their response patterns?

  22. Tropicool*

    I’m a listen and learn-er when it comes to new jobs and projects. However…I recently learned that’s not always a good thing. I was put on a new project, and listened in meetings and asked questions of my team mates later. When reviews came around (a month later!) I was graded negatively on my lack of jumping in and offering suggestions and speaking up. The team members and PM thought I wasn’t adding value by just listening in meetings.

    I think this is a case of manager’s preference and “everyone is different”, but it’s entirely possible that this employee has gotten similar feedback in the past and is now overcompensating.

    1. Sharm*

      I just wish more managers would help outline expectations for new employees right at the beginning. You don’t know what the culture is yet. It sucks to feel you’re being set up to fail.

  23. Sarah*

    Regarding the employee’s misconception of her own behavior as “enthusiastic,” I was once employed at a company where I was reprimanded by the CEO for essentially NOT behaving in such a way. I was told 3 weeks into my entry-level position that I wasn’t “taking enough risks” or “generating enough ideas” (I even had ideas implemented already – this exec just felt that ideas only count if you blurt them out spontaneously in meetings). Maybe the OP’s employee’s work experience was in an environment like this, where she was forced to develop bad habits.

    Regardless, I do think that the best solution is a frank conversation about which behaviors will not be tolerated and the consequences if she doesn’t change them. If the employee persists in saying “I’m just enthusiastic,” the OP can frame the discussion as “things that we need from employees in order for them to function within our company culture, though I do appreciate your enthusiasm.” If she’s smart, she’ll adapt whether she agrees or not. (Just like I started blurting out random ideas in meetings for the hell of it when the CEO made it clear that it was expected, even though I think it’s stupid to do so when I’m an introvert whose good ideas come when I think quietly about the topics after the meeting!)

  24. AnonForThis*

    I’d never want to armchair diagnose someone, but a lot of what the OP describes overlaps heavily with ADHD. I literally lost one job and was in danger of losing others, but moved on before a lack of follow-through was really discovered. About a decade later, I finally got a diagnosis and medication, and it’s like my work life is what I always knew it COULD be.

    And I finally shut up in meetings. I knew impulsivity was my downfall, but I couldn’t cut off the words before they were out of my mouth.

    1. Random worker*

      I had the same reaction but didn’t want to say it either because it could be something else too.

      I have some psychiatric diagnoses myself that are a a bit more severe but after going to therapy and working through my issues and boundaries I seem to have calmed down just like that so I tend to think psychiatric diagnoses always have a psychological base to them too and are a complex reaction to our lives. Not just an “illness” cured with pills that attach themselves to random receptors. A lot of psychiatric diagnoses start from anxiety issues and the defenses that develop to cope with it. The meds will either calm or stimulate you.

      I don’t mean to put down anyone’s medical diagnosis. At the beginning I used to strictly think I was ill but it was a defense for me so that I didn’t have to accept my symptoms were a reaction to something that happened to me. Only much later I was able to give up the labels and move towards my own truth and healing. It is different for everyone.

  25. meetoo*

    1. When I was younger I fell into the trap of thinking that I was supposed to take responsibility for everything I was aware of and find/ fix problems. This may have come across as “enthusiastic.” It took me a long time to realize that other people did not see this in the same way I did and that it came off as arrogant, condescending and steeping on toes. I had no idea I thought I was doing what I was supposed to be a good employee. I never intended to make anyone feel that way. I finally figured it out when someone said “you don’t need to do xyz that is my job.” I was praised for taking on everything and “creative problem solving” in school and in several of my earlier jobs so I thought that was what I should keep doing.

    2. I agree that you should address this directly in the way Allison suggests. Upset clients are not ok and that behavior needs to stop. However, I did wonder in general are you expecting her to perform like the person who was in the position before? Like someone suggested up thread when you are in a new job, because you are new to working, or the company, or a promotion you are not an A performer right away. It takes some time to know the job before you can really be a good performer. I have seen this quite a bit managers expect someone to preform at the level of the person who left the job after they had years of experience rather than like a new employee. Just something to consider.

    1. OP*

      I’m not expecting this person to be able to perform at the level of the previous employee right away. If anything, I sometimes tend to let people ramp up a little too slowly. I’ve been proofing some of her work this morning and her writing is difficult to understand. I know it’s not just that I don’t understand the information she’s trying to convey. Other people we’re working with don’t understand it either.

  26. soitgoes*

    Honestly, as soon as I saw “grad school” in the letter, the behavior being described made sense. This annoying crap reads a lot like the required “class participation” that was rewarded with good grades. It took me a long time to mellow out after grad school and lose the annoying quirks that I had to develop to succeed in that environment. I think the conversation should address this bit directly, since the employee thinks she’s putting useful skills to work. Something like, “This isn’t an academic environment, and I think that some aspects of your education aren’t going to serve you well here. This is the culture that you need to adjust to now.”

    1. OP*

      I’ve been thinking the same. In school you’re rewarded for throwing out ideas, but in the work world you’re rewarded for actually implementing the ideas you throw out.

    2. LBK*

      That is such an excellent point. I wonder if she was even someone who previously struggled to participate in school and had to build up a habit of always making X number of contributions to class discussions, and now she’s having trouble shutting that back off now that it’s no longer appropriate.

    3. Sarah*

      I thought of this too. Not only are you expected to participate, but grades are often based on quantity of interjections rather than quality. It can create a mindset where you feel compelled to think of things to say at lightning speed just to make sure you have something to say before the topic can change.

      1. soitgoes*

        Exactly. Plus, as BAs become baseline zero for basic employment, more people are getting MAs just to make themselves look more attractive for entry-level office work. Grad programs still function as if everyone plans on staying in academia, which is a field that favors a really specific personality type.

  27. unsan*

    Be straightforward… You aren’t doing her any favors holding her hand and baby stepping her through her work life.

  28. Random worker*

    Wanted to add:
    A lot of people here are guessing the motivations of OP’s worker and giving their personal experiences as grad students but I honestly think it is not good to try think what her motivations and reasons here are. It’s excusing her behaviour by mere guesswork and quite frankly over thinking it. Only the fact that she behaves a certain way that is bothersome is important. The reasoning behind it is not unless you ask her or she tells you. It’s a journey for her to grow up and realize these things herself as a lot of people here say they themselves went through.

    Since OP is not the teacher or a parent figure; OP’s responsibility is in giving feedback and warning her if certain behaviours could endanger her employment. Learning from feedback is the workers responsibility.

    1. soitgoes*

      That’s not true at all. Figuring out the reason for the employee’s behavior is the only way to address it, since being broad and vague isn’t working. It seems pretty obvious that the employee has been taught, whether at work or in school, that being aggressive can help her succeed in this job, and people tend to not want to let go of formative stuff like that. She needs to be directly told that this part of her education was wrong.

      1. OP*

        I haven’t been vague. I just haven’t said straight out, “Your job is in danger if you don’t correct these behaviors.” I do think that’s the fair thing to do and am going to do it. It’s just hard.

        I think both you and Random Worker have great points. This person has been done a disservice by all the people who have let the behavior slide in the past. However, it’s ultimately up to her to either change or not change. I tend to try to figure out people’s motives, but in reality I only have so much time available to devote to one employee.

        1. soitgoes*

          I mean, I agree with you. I just think you should anticipate an initial response along the lines of “But I was always told to act this way! This must be the only company ever that doesn’t adhere to this norm!”

          1. OP*

            Wouldn’t you just be so tempted to say something like “Well at Company X we wear our weird proudly!”? I wouldn’t ever do this in a million years but it’s tempting sometimes.

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