was this email condescending or territorial?

A reader writes:

I work in a small public library and am in charge of coordinating displays, though everyone contributes to them. Recently, when things are slow at the desk, some of my coworkers have taken to helping fill displays or help deal with the new flux of items we’ve recently gotten. I don’t mind this, as long as they are not doing it because they feel I have not done what I’m supposed to. One of the biggest culprits of this has been my manager. When I have noticed these changes I have emailed her to tell I had noticed the changes and to thank her for doing them (as they are ones I had on my to-do list, and I know she was just doing them due to the reference desk being slow).

The other day, two of my coworkers decided to shift around a few displays and sent an email out to let everyone know. I replied “Love it! I definitely think this will work, thanks for doing this ladies” as a way to let them know I appreciated them thinking of ways to improve the collection. My boss saw this email and pulled me into her office to have a very odd conversation with me.

She reiterated that as display coordinator, my job is literally just coordinating the displays and everyone can contribute to them. She also wanted to reassure me that the job of handling displays was not being taken from me, and that they had cleared the display switches with her first.

I said I had been surprised but pleased with the changes and was not upset. I also told her the only concern I have is that all this switching is being done because they feel I am not doing what I’m supposed to be doing. As long as that’s not the case, I reiterated I am fine with them helping with displays.

My boss proceeded to imply that the email I sent said otherwise, and that it was okay to be upset as I had not been told about these changes (she said in my position, she is not sure she wouldn’t have been a bit upset). She also said she wanted to make sure others felt comfortable helping with the displays, as they “don’t really know me yet” (her words) and that usually just replying “cool” or something to a email like this would suffice in most of these situations.

I am totally baffled by this conversation, as I try not to be territorial or seem high maintenance or whatever she is thinking. I simply reiterated that I was not upset, and that I did not intend for the email to come out that way if it did. I even mentioned an email I had just sent her before our conversation that suggested that perhaps we could have a spot to indicate display change ideas people want me to do, and that my coworkers be given the displays in the Children’s area to do (as they do all the children’s programming for our library). She said she would ask them about it, but seemed pleased with the idea.

Any advice about what to do next? I can be a bit anxious, perhaps, but I am really just trying hard to make sure I do my job well and get along with everyone I can. I am tempted just to not ever mention this conversation again, as it seems others didn’t interpret my email the same way my boss did.

I’m baffled by how your boss could read all that into your email. I can think of three possibilities:

1. She has odd ideas about what people really mean and will read thing into emails (and perhaps other communications) that aren’t there. If this is the case, it’s good to be aware of, so that you can pay attention to her patterns and try to figure out what she’s likely to interpret oddly and then hopefully head it off. (A subset of this: She reads into other people’s communications how she would feel if she were them, and assumes that they feel like she would — and then sees that in their responses, even if it’s not there.)

2. You’ve said or done other things previously that gave her the impression that you’re feeling defensive or concerned about others helping with your work. As a result, she read that into your email when it wasn’t there … or didn’t even read it into that particular email, but was concerned about you feeling that way overall and just used the email as a way to address it (which would be an odd choice, but people sometimes do things like that). Is it possible that you’ve bristled a little or seemed uncomfortable about other people stepping into help with your realm? You don’t sound like it in this letter, but it’s worth asking yourself — because that could explain this.

3. This was a weird fluke and isn’t indicative of anything more broad going on with her or with you.

Which of these three possibilities sounds most likely to you? If #1 resonates with you, based on what you know of your manager, consider this additional useful information about her. If #2 resonates, it might point you toward making a point of being more welcoming of other people’s help (and truly welcoming — because if you’re saying “thanks for your help” while stiffening and looking displeased every time if happens, no one thinks you really welcome it).

But beyond that, I’d be inclined to just let this go and move on. If it comes up again in the future, it might be worth digging into more (“I must be doing something that gives you the sense that I’m feeling territorial — can you help me figure out how I’m giving off that impression?”) … but I’d wait to see if there’s more of a pattern before worrying too much.

{ 220 comments… read them below }

  1. Vicki*

    This sort of thing happens to me on occasion. I am very literal. If I say “Thank you” in email, it means “Thank you”. If I say “I really like what you did” it means I like what you did.

    But there are people who thrive on snark or assume that there are underlying implications and innuendo in everything and they like to second guess ulterior motives for things.

    Oh, and option 4: One of your co-workers complained and the manager didn’t tell you that.

    1. Clerica*

      My first thought was option 4. At an old job, we had a catchphrase of “This is not the quality of service we’ve come to expect here at [Company]” based on some executive email in response to a frivolous customer complaint. We’d say it all the time as a joke, like in a team meeting where someone couldn’t work the projector. One day I got called in and lectured about it by my newly promoted manager. I’m like, Kristin, we’ve been saying this for three years. (The context was that a coworker had been saying in a meeting how a customer had demanded next-day delivery to a different country). She went on and on about professional conduct and blah blah blah. It turned out the coworker must have been feeling vulnerable that day or something and had complained to her about being “attacked” by the group (since everyone laughed after I said it) and she was too new to her job to know whether to take his complaint seriously.

    2. GrumpyBoss*

      I am the same way. It never ceases to amaze me how some people will read offense and snark into a direct message.

      Just yesterday, I had a direct report send an email doing something that I have been trying to coach out of him. So I responded, “Hi. When I spoke with you last week about approaching your request for teapots from a more strategic angle, this was the sort of thing I was referring to. I need you to provide data on X and Y when you are sending a request for the teapots. This context will help us make an informed decision.”

      Somehow he read into this that I was “spanking” him and not respecting him and he would rather withdraw his request than do it my way. Really? You got that from what I typed?

      I’m so sick of walking on eggshells with email. As you say, “thank you” usually means “thank you”. Why everyone has to search for hidden meaning in their quest to prove offense and victimhood is beyond me…..

      Sorry, had to rant. This letter was so timely that it pulled the scab off.

      1. Scott M*

        Not sure if the wording in your example was exact, but the phrase “I need you to” could have been construed as more harsh than you intended.

        You could word it something like this: ” In the future, if you can provide data on X and Y when you are sending a request for the teapots, this context will help us make an informed decision.”

        Now, honestly, this could be taken as a suggestion instead of firm requirement. So you run the risk that the person won’t do it. But I like to ask first (especially since I’m not in charge of the other person). I find that they do it my way most of the time. And I don’t end up offending them by accident.

        1. KerryOwl*

          I disagree. “I need you to” should be a perfectly fine phrase for a manager to use with her direct report.

          1. Bea W*

            and “if you can provide data on x and y…it will help us…” is a suggestion, not a directive that clearly communicates you need someone to provide data. I read email the same way I write it, taking the message at face value. I’m busy and can’t be bothered with figuring out the hidden meaning of a suggestion, and if i read a suggestion i will prioritize accordingly, which is in the pile of other optional things that “would be nice” to have.

            I had a manager who couldn’t give a clear direction to save her soul, and actually dinged me in a review for not doing exactly what she wanted exactly when she wanted it done. The problem was she never communicated either to me. She asked me if i’d done X yet. I explained no, not yet and that it was a low priority and that i had to finish work on a critical deliverable (or 2) before i could do it. I asked if it was urgent and when it was needed by. The response i got was something along the lines of “It just might be nice if you could do x, just in case someone asks for it in the future.” Apparently I failed to get from this response that Big Boss had asked for X and expected it by the end of the week, and when i failed to deliver, there was drama. When HR asked why i hadn’t done what my manager asked, i handed over the entire email exchange.

            Manager to employee communication should really just not be that hard.

            Manager: I need X by Friday.
            Bea: I am working on Y which is also due by Friday. Which should i give priority?
            Manager: X is your first priority. Big Boss expects it done ASAP.
            Bea: Okay, I’ll give you X by noon on Friday.
            (2 days later)
            Bea: Hi Manager. I am attaching the X file. It has been QC’d by Wakeen.
            (And everyone lives happily ever after.)

            1. Melissa*

              And what managers should understand is that employees WANT this kind of clear, direct feedback. Hemming and hawing doesn’t help anyone, and personally I won’t get my feelings hurt if you tell me “You’re doing Y, and I need you to do X.”

              1. Bea W*

                Yes! This is one of the things I appreciate most about my current manager. She is clear and direct about what she needs from us and when priorities change what I need to change in my daily routine. She’s the boss. That’s her job. It doesn’t hurt anyone’s feelings down here when she comes around and tells people, “I need…”

        2. Jamie*

          It’s different in that Grumpy is his boss…I think it does people a disservice when you frame non-negotiables as requests. Because people get confused about what’s a suggestion and what is something they have to do a certain way.

          I think it’s doing people a favor to take the guess work out of it.

          And, thinking about it, even if you aren’t a supervisor it’s still doing people a favor if what you’re telling them isn’t optional.

          I actually really likes Grumpy’s email because she was giving him a concrete example of how to correct a previously discussed issue and it was polite and professional.

          Weird because as thin skinned as I can be in some areas of life when it comes to this kind of thing…if you want to insult or offend me you have to go out of your way to do it. It needs to smack me on the face, because it never occurs to me to read that much into tone. If something seems terse I assume someone was super busy and dashing it off – you just will have to come out and address it to My Dearest Tedious Suck-Monkey…and then proceed to tell me why and on how many levels you hate me.

        3. AVP*

          I think if it’s already been discussed, “I need you to do this” is perfectly fine phrasing. Otherwise, the task seems optional.

      2. Lily in NYC*

        My goodness Grumpy, you have such crappy direct reports! I’m hoping this is the same guy we were talking about the other day here and that you don’t have others just like him.

        1. AMG*

          I’d be having a little chat with Direct Report about the difference between ‘spanking’ versus ‘managing’ and that he does not have the option of withdrawing the request because he should be doing things the way I tell him to. I don’t do eggshells. rgh!

      3. ExceptionToTheRule*

        No wonder you’re GrumpyBoss. =)

        I’ve got someone like that too, someone who is looking to be offended by anything and everything.

      4. Student*

        I hope you don’t put up with that kind of backlash from your direct report on perfectly sane feedback. The spanking comment alone would have me breathing fire. The fine-I’m-taking-my-toys-and-leaving response on top of that makes me want to fire him from here!

        1. Artemesia*

          This. I would be writing this guy up if that is what you do for insubordination for that kind of snotty response. I would be calling him in in any case for a discussion of expectations, feedback and the importance of doing things as requested. And next I would be firing him if this continued.

          I have struggled to help employees meet standards and given lots of rope and coaching but the thing that triggers the path to firing for me is this kind of insubordination. If I ask you to do X and make that clear, and you continue to not do it, or worse yes if I ask you NOT to do Y and you keep doing it, you are gone.

          I once had a long time secretary give keys out to people I had expressly told her were not to receive keys. We had had had serious thefts off hours and had rekeyed everything and restricted keys to those who needed to be in the office after hours. There were some old hands who saw having a key as a status thing although they were no longer regularly working in the department. I was newly in charge but had made this extremely clear and the reasons for it. I let her transfer within the organization but she did it with my letter firing her being held for 14 days.

        2. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Yeah. Are you sure this guy is someone you should be keeping? That’s way over the line, and I have to think it’s indicative of some serious issues.

      5. Mike C.*

        Also, LOL at anyone who balks at things like “providing data or evidence” when they want to advocate a particular position.

      6. Anonymous*

        “I am the same way. It never ceases to amaze me how some people will read offense and snark into a direct message.”

        Me, too. But I think it might be a “style” difference. People who are more indirect assume that others are being indirect, so they look for subtleties. People who are more direct assume others are being direct, so they take things at face value.

        (That’s in general, though, not trying to blame your employee’s weird little fit on style.)

        1. TheSnarkyB*

          I totally agree with this. But I also think gender is a factor in that a woman can write a message and have it “come across” as harsh while a man writes the same and it’s direct. I put “come across” in quotes bc I think it’s important to remember that that’s the recipient’s socialization/biases at play, not really the female sender’s problem. This has happened to me many times.

    3. nep*

      This is so true — Many people seem to go into this automatic mode of reading ‘into’ an e-mail message, as if there absolutely must be some ulterior motive / meaning. Perhaps it’s something about the nature of e-mail — impossible to pick up intended tone sometimes.
      I once received an e-mail from a researcher wanting to ask me some questions about a conflict situation in a country where I’ve spent a lot of time. I responded politely, saying, ‘I am not well-placed to answer your questions.’ The person replied something along the lines of ‘I can send you proof / documentation of my work and role…’ I had never questioned his background or legitimacy; very simply, I believed I was not the right person to talk with and said so.

    4. Kacie*

      +1 for option 4. Someone took the email the way she explained it to you, and she’s refereeing. There’s no winning in this scenario, just let it go.

    5. Sara*

      Now I’m kind of glad my manager was very blunt when reviewing something I did and said “give me a reason why I should not be PISSED OFF.” no subtleties, no second guessing….Gosh I miss him.

  2. snail-mail*

    Hmm, is it possible she read your use of “ladies” as condescending, and so inferred that you’re being territorial? I don’t think that’s fair, necessarily, but I’ve learned not to use gendered terms (except “guys” which is a neutral plural in my region) in this way to curb any negative reactions based on possible bias. I know I really don’t like being lumped together with other females in that way, so while I am sure your word choice wasn’t intended to convey any sort of bias or condescension, others may not react warmly. I am aware, however, that the library profession is female-dominated, so that may mitigate the negative reactions to using “ladies” to address a group of female colleagues, but I’m sure that’s not always the case. Just some food for thought.

    1. Michele*

      +1 one of my biggest pet peeves in the office is being referred to as ladies or girls. Ugh

      1. MaggietheCat*

        That just happened to me today! I was purchasing equipment (including some fire retardant clothing) for an employee and a manager asked me if we “girls (another admin and I) were done playing dress up” with his employee. He was not joking.

        1. AVP*

          I cannot even imagine what I would have responded to that store manager. He would have needed some flame-retardant clothing of his own.

          1. MaggietheCat*

            We work in an office and I was ordering this equipment online. I was not sure how to respond either, so I just let him know it would be another few minutes.

            1. Puddin*

              I am glad you came over here Angel, can I get your opinion on this safety gear for Giles? [graciously interact & collaborate with Angel] OK thanks, I value your opinion. Speaking of which, it is more appropriate to use the term women rather than girls in a workplace setting. [make direct eye contact]. I am sure that will serve you well.

              1. JuniorMinion*

                I am the only woman in an office of 40 guys. This being the south (well texas, but some similar proclivities) I get emails routinely addressed to “gentlemen and lady.” Seriously. Its almost become a joke. I always thank them for the shoutout :)

              2. Lora*

                You are a nicer person than me. I would have given him a loooooong uncomfortable stare, then intoned, “NO. NO WE ARE NOT” and turned my back on him.

      2. Elizabeth*

        Early on in my career, when I worked with 2 other women and reported to a male boss, we were once referred to as “D___ and his harem.” Yes, really.

        1. Jillian*

          Yeah, I once had a boss named Charlie and the only other female and I were referred to as – you guessed it – Charlie’s Angels. Annoyed the hell out of me Every. Single. Time. But I never said a damned thing.

        2. Lia S.*

          Three ladies makes for a small harem.

          Beyond that, however, I cannot comprehend using that kind of language in a work-setting to refer to colleagues.

        3. Surviving*

          My direct supervisor is a woman, and there are three of us women and one man on our team. The team has a number of nicknames in the office — from A-Team (which is fine), to T___ and the Ladies, CBD (Crazy B**** District) to Angels, and others. It’s totally not PC but there is a lot of social pressure to ignore that and flaunt how un-PC that is. Anyone who cringes or implies that this behavior is not acceptable is ostracized. It’s oppressive and sad.

      3. Katie the Fed*

        I really don’t get the objection to calling a group of women “ladies.” When I address a group of men I say “gentlemen.” It’s equivalent language.

        1. TotesMaGoats*

          I’m with you Katie. I don’t see how it’s out of line to refer to a group of women as ladies.

          1. Eden*

            I don’t mind ladies at all, and now live in fear of slipping and addressing people that way for fear they will be offended.

            The “Are you girls done playing dress up?” comment makes my blood boil though!

        2. John*

          Early in my career I made the mistake of using “lady” to refer to a female VIP visiting from out of town. She stiffened and gave me the look of death. It was terribly awkward. I was puzzled but thought, “OK, lesson learned.”

        3. BettyD*

          It’s the frequent condescending tone and eyebrow pop. Like a lounge lizard in a cocktail bar.

          “What can I get for you, ladies…”

          Like so many things, it’s all about audience and delivery.

        4. Anonymous*

          “Ladies” isn’t the hill I want to die on, but I don’t like being referred to by my gender instead of my name or job. Just one explanation for objections to being called “ladies.”

          1. QualityControlFreak*

            Whoops, didn’t refresh. Yes, I refer to groups of men as gentlemen and groups of women as ladies also. Never had a problem with it.

        5. Kate*

          I don’t get it either – usually when I refer to more than one woman, whether friends or coworkers, as ladies, I actually feel kind of an empowering current, like – look at us women getting together and getting things done! But my office is 14 women and 2 men, so maybe it’s different in a male-dominated space. I can see the pointing out of female status there, especially in a conversation that was not women only, feeling a little like a put down, or at least a reinforcement of “other” status.

        6. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          I use “ladies” all the time. I started doing it when I worked in an all-female environment where there were girls (5 to 17) and women (mostly 18 to 30). “Guys” might be gender neutral, but why bother with gender-neutral language when there are hundreds females and no males present? I like it because it’s ageless – little girls love being called ladies and I’ve yet to encounter an adult woman offended by being called a lady another woman. It also got around the fact that the 16 and 17 year olds would have found it patronizing to be lumped in with the little girls. I am in an all-female (all adult) work environment now, and find it convenient. I mean it as a respectful way of addressing people as a group, and I’ve never heard any complaints (in fact, it hear it repeated by others a lot). I could understand how this might be different if there were men and women present and it was used to address only part of the group (or especially, to fuss at part of the group) – but perhaps the library is all female.

        7. TheSnarkyB*

          In response to Katie the Fed, Totesmagoats, etc.
          I’d probably never say anything about it (bc I’m already sort of militant & hyper-perceptive about other gender + race microaggressions that I have to eventually not pick some battles). But I personally don’t like it bc I’m actually *not* a lady, and I don’t really like being reminded that in general, I’m expected to be. I mean this in terms of manners, mannerisms, being feminine or polite in ways that are way too deferential for my tastes. Being called a lady kind of reminds me (when applicable) that “the men are talking” or that I’m supposed to (gender norms) be a certain way that clashes with who I actually am (direct, self-possessed in a way that, when inappropriately challenged -think:mansplaining- borders on poked bear, etc, and definitely not genteel).
          It kind of makes me feel like I should be wearing a skirt and someone’s pointing out that I’m not. If that makes any sense at all, then it’ll be confirmed once and for all that you guys are my people.
          [sidenote: I feel like when you call a man a gentleman, he doesn’t sit and existentialize (word?) about whether he actually merits that title and whether those expectations feel oppressive to him, so that’s why I don’t see it as the same thing.]
          Also: I don’t mind my gender being pointed out if I don’t already feel isolated by it. If it were social convention to refer to a group of women as such, I’d be totally fine with it. (ie “Good morning, women. Let’s get started.” But it sounds so f*ing weird since we don’t use that phrase that way.

    2. Aisling*

      I’m also a librarian, and the use of “ladies” isn’t a big deal. 95% of our co-workers are female, so using “hey guys” or something similar would be even more strange. My coworkers and I use the same wording in our emails.

      I’m not sure why using the term “ladies” would be a big deal anyway. I can see offense taken at “hey b****es!”, but “ladies” isn’t a pejorative term.

      1. fposte*

        I’m not a fan myself–it’s not a professional term but a social one, for one thing, and for another, I do think there’s a bit of hierarchy in it, in that I can’t imagine people using that to their director and the board.

        1. Aisling*

          That’s a good point. The OP was talking about emailing with her peers, and that’s when the term is also used in my library. We don’t do that when looping in the higher-ups.

        2. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

          Is this regional, perhaps? Because I certainly have heard it used by someone addressing those above them in the hierarchy (in the south).

      2. OhNo*

        I also work in a library, and despite the fact that 95% of my coworkers are female, we all use the term “guys” – because it is an accepted gender neutral plural where I live and some of us have expressed discomfort with gendered language that assumes a feminine.

        Every work place is different. It is possible that the OP’s workplace views the term “ladies” negatively, so it can’t hurt to check and make sure.

        1. Eden*

          I’ve actually worked with people who pointed out that they weren’t ‘guys.’ You can’t win ’em all.

          1. Melissa*

            Same. I worked in a place in which one of my coworkers pointed out that “guys” is gendered (in a region of the country in which most people use it as a neutral term), so the whole two years I struggled to remember to say “HEY EVERYONE!” I said it a lot, too, because I worked in residential life which involved managing large groups of resident assistants all the time. Ugh.

            1. TheSnarkyB*

              I think it’s fair to say it’s actually a gendered term in all regions. I know it isn’t used that way, but I think those people had a point. It’s mostly annoying bc when male is the standard, space isn’t made for a female term, and then people forget that the term is gendered in the first place.

    3. Another J*

      I work in a library and my library is about 60% females and 40% males and I still do not think the term ‘ladies’ flies very well. I once spoke to a co-worker’s supervisor about his continued habit of calling me a ‘little lady’. It is condescending and belittling.

      1. HigherEd Admin*

        Well, yes, being called a “little lady” would rub me the wrong way. But that feels a lot different than an email that says “thanks, ladies!” As a lady, I have no problem with a group of women being addressed as “ladies.” I use this frequently when emailing with female colleagues that I feel friendly with. It feels warmer than, “Hi all.”

      2. Helka*

        Wow, yeah, “little lady” is only appropriate if the lady in question is in kindergarten (or thereabouts).

      3. Adam*

        ‘Little Lady’ definitely is not something that should be used to address anybody in a professional environment, but I thought the word ‘ladies’ was simply the opposite gender equivalent of ‘gentlemen’. Did this change at some point?

        1. AMD*

          Ditto. I use “lady” or “gentleman” to refer to customers and staff. English really is begging for a good gender-neutral person, both singular and plural

    4. Gene*

      So, what SHOULD the email have said (assuming the OP didn’t know who had done the display)?

      “Thanks gals!”

      “Thanks females!”

        1. snail-mail*

          Yes — “Thanks” or “Thanks, everyone” or even using names if there were only a couple colleagues involved.

          The issue I have with the use of “ladies” is three-fold:
          1. I would never refer to a group of male colleagues as “gentlemen” or “gents.” I may say “Thanks, guys” – but in my region, the term is used across all gender lines, so I may be just as likely to use it in reference to a group of female colleagues.

          2. I do not like being categorized by what others assume my gender identity is based on my outward appearance. Gender identity is personal and not always binary. While you can generally make normative about others’ gender identities based on their gender expressions (clothes, personal pronoun preference), it’s not always safe to assume you’re correct. In addition, making gender assumptions based on one’s sex (eg, I am a biological female, therefore I ought to be referred to with female-gendered pronouns, nouns or collective nouns) is even more presumptuous. (I am not at all trying to imply these considerations are willfully ignored, or even understood by many people so please don’t think I am accusing anyone of intentional insensitivity. Sometimes, you just don’t know until someone tells you, “I prefer to use ‘masculine’ pronouns.”)

          3. Workplaces that are (normatively) male-dominated (here, this point may not apply) can suffer from climate/culture problems where female colleagues suffer from the effects of sexism, which may manifest itself with the use of saccharine terms like “ladies” (or “gals”) to give praise. Sometimes this is intentionally condescending; sometimes it’s incidental — but the effects are real. Here, like above, a maxim of “Would I congratulate a male or group of males using ‘gentlemen’?” is helpful.

          My personal preference? Strip these terms from my vocabulary regarding male-gendered and female-gendered nouns, pronouns, and courtesy titles as much as possible. And be reflective about how I am grouping people together. I think I’m less likely to offend a person if I forgo gendered speech in favor of neutral terms, but I am likely to offend someone who does not identify in these ways (and in the case of 3, may even contribute to bad workplace dynamics) if I continue to hold onto gendered speech.

          1. Chinook*

            “The issue I have with the use of “ladies” is three-fold:
            1. I would never refer to a group of male colleagues as “gentlemen” or “gents.””

            I think the difference is that some of us would use “gentlemen” or “gents” if referring to a group of men (or if we forget that there were women in said group, which happens when you think of your colleagues as people and not a specific gender). With that rule of thumb, I do start mass emails to a women’s group I am part of with “Hi Ladies.”

            And how did we get caught up in the gender language thingy again? I truly do wish that there was a formal, gender netural term we could use because “everyone” just feels wrong.

          2. Katie the Fed*

            “1. I would never refer to a group of male colleagues as “gentlemen” or “gents.” I may say “Thanks, guys” – but in my region, the term is used across all gender lines, so I may be just as likely to use it in reference to a group of female colleagues. ”

            See, we do this all the time where I work. It’s totally normal. God forbid you say “Sirs” which I got reamed out by a supervisor once for (who explained to me that it’s short for the french “messuer” and one does NOT pluralize “sir”).

            But yeah, totally normal where I work to say “gentlemen”

            1. fposte*

              Your former supervisor is deluded as well as being bad at both French and English. There’s a perfectly serviceable plural for “monsieur,” and that’s “messieurs.” Additionally, English can pluralize what it pleases regardless of word origins, and “Dear Sirs” was correct business address for years.

              I’d say it’s somewhat old-fashioned now (mostly for me it makes me think of Joel talking to the Mads in MST3K–“What do you think, sirs?”), but it’s not grammatically wrong.

            2. Cucumber*

              Mine too… I don’t find “ladies” offensive as “gentlemen” certainly is a term I’ve heard around the office.

              I do, however, mind the “Miss Cucumber,” even when I know someone younger is saying it to be respectful. I didn’t grow up in the South, as you might have guessed.

          3. OhNo*

            “Gender identity is personal and not always binary. ”

            Thank you for including this! It is a very important point to remember when discussing any kind of gendered language.

          4. Ashley the Nonprofit Exec*

            That was a really thoughtful and balanced comment. Just wanted to say that.

            I agree that we need to move toward a world where people whose identify doesn’t neatly fit the gender binary are included and comfortable in all aspects of their life (just as all humans with all differences should be comfortable in every community and workplace), and I appreciate the people who are working to make the world more inclusive. That said (and you acknowledge this), speaking in a way that is not gendered is something that our language hasn’t yet totally evolved into in a way that feels natural to everyone- and this is awkward for those of us who are beginners are learning about gender issues on a greater social scale.

            You;re right – this starts with individual conversations where one person asks another to change their pronoun, etc., and also acknowledges that it’s not necessary to take that binary away from people who closely identify with it. This is the same way that being gay became less of a big deal (and not even a thing in so many places) – when someone you already love and care about tells you they are gay, it’s really hard to be so black and white (or hateful, or judgemental, etc.) about it.

            Still agreeing with you, I don’t think it’s necessary that we move away from gendered language within groups where everyone feels comfortable (even more comfortable) with gendered language. And we’re not yet at the point where it’s normal to ask new employees about their preferred pronoun, but at least it’s okay in a lot more places for that new employee to tell you if you’ve got it wrong.

            Thanks. I learned something from the way you put your thoughts together.

          5. Cassie*

            Our staff is predominately female (I think it’s like 21 women, 5 men), while the faculty is the complete opposite (something like 40 men, 5 women). I have seen emails from male faculty to a group of male faculty which start off with “Gentlemen”. I’ve also seen some staff use this when emailing a group of male faculty members. There usually (never?) is a group of female faculty members by themselves so I’ve never seen “Ladies” used to address female faculty members.

            Now I have also seen a staff member address a group of staff as “ladies”, presumably forgetting that there happens to be one guy on the email list. And as a joke, some of the male staffers call each other ma’am (which I don’t think is funny but they don’t seem to mind…).

            Personally, I never use the phrase Gentlemen or Ladies. Emails to faculty start with Dear Faculty. Emails to staff just start with “Hi”.

      1. Diet Coke Addict*

        “Thanks!” “Thanks all!” “Thanks folks!” “Looks great–thanks!”

      2. Bizz*

        “Love it! I definitely think this will work, thanks for doing this!” Just took out “ladies.” Alt. “folks” or “Name 1 and Name 2.”

      3. Simonthegrey*

        I would have said “Thanks, dudes!” I use dudes for all people the way some people use “guys.” Although I did ONE TIME hear a waitress ask a table full of senior citizens, “What do you guys want” and one of the women flipped her shit because “We are LADIES.”

        1. hildi*

          Which just proves that you never know what a person prefers/doesn’t (in these grayer areas). Though I really like Dudes.

        2. Puddin*

          I do not like ‘guys’ from waitstaff either. Just one of those nonsensical pet peeves. I will tolerate it at work even though I think there are much better words to use. But I actively dislike it while dining out.

        3. Mallory Janis Ian*

          A couple of my coworkers and I (we’re all female) frequently say, “Later, dudes” to each other when parting after lunch to go back to our offices. It works in a jokey way with women that you’re friends with.

    5. Valar M.*

      Yeah I think you have to be careful with these terms. I use “guys” as a default in my day to day language- like “hey guys do you want to go get coffee?” and have had people tell me they found it offensive. To me guys is gender neutral, to some its male and therefore offensive to women. With people I don’t know very well (OP you allude to something like this) I am sensitive about my language use i.e. “Would you all like to go get coffee?”

      1. Anonymint*

        I agree with Valar – I used to manage special events and once greeted a donor and his wife (who I knew quite well and had a great relationship with) with a “Hi, how are you guys doing tonight?” and the wife actually pulled me aside and told me that I was being vulgar. Since then I’ve been very conscious of using “guys” to refer to a group of people. Although, I feel so much more comfortable saying “you guys” than “you all” or something like that…

        1. mirror*

          I wonder if this is a generation thing. I’m a millennial and it’s totally normal to say “hey ladies” OR “hey guys” in informal situations.

          I was talking to my 65 year old female boss about a customer and used the word lady. My boss became very surprised that I would use lady to refer to a woman-“but how do you know she is a lady?!” she asked. I still don’t know what she was asking.

          1. Purple Dragon*

            Hi Mirror,
            Ladies used to refer to a class of woman and since your boss is 65 I think that’s what she meant.

            I think originally it was a title (like Lord), then it was used for women who were “classy” and nowadays it’s more a gendered term.

            I’m hoping you did actually want an explanation :)

            1. Bea W*

              That’s the closest explaination to how I think of it. Maybe it was my grandmothers who portrayed it that way, “Ladies” being a term of respect. Not all women were ladies. It wasn’t literally a title in that usage, but it conveyed the image of an sophisticated, respected, and well off woman.

              I’ve heard it with other connotations, but my head defaults to thinking of it first as a term of respect or respectful if old fashioned address as in “ladies and gentlemen”.

              “Guys” in my region is gender non-specific for refering to a group of people, but it’s informal, not really appropriate for the corporate world.

        2. Artemesia*

          Well the south has provided us with the lovely ‘you’all’ for plural yous but ‘folks’ also works. ‘You guys’ is very slangy and would seem odd in many grownup settings and social groups whereas, ‘what can I get for you folks’ doesn’t have either the gender issues or slang issues.

          1. Waiting Patiently*

            I appreciate my southern upbringing on this one. I use “you all” a lot and depending upon how well I know the group I’ll say “you guys”. I don’t like saying folks because it seems outdated.

            I do get really tickled when some of my northern friends from certain regions say “yous”.

      2. Pennalynn Lott*

        This is why we have “y’all” here in the South. Gender-neutral and includes everyone. ;-)

    6. nep*

      That jumped out at me right away too — rightly or wrongly, ‘ladies’ can come across as condescending.

    7. LBK*

      I get where you’re coming from, but do we really need to have another 100+ comment thread about the use of the word “ladies”? The letter has nothing to do with it, no one in the letter complained about it or complained about something that could be construed as being motivated by it, and the OP clearly didn’t mean to be demeaning by using it. I can’t possibly see how saying “Thanks ladies!” in an otherwise friendly email could in any way be read as sexist or condescending unless the OP’s coworkers are complete loons.

      1. lzrd*

        Yes there have been long exchanges on here about the use of ‘ladies’ in the past. That said I do think it could be relevant here; not sure, but the OP’s use of the word might have influenced the perceived tone of the e-mail.

          1. LCG*

            A lot of managers skirt around issues like that thinking people would get super defensive and don’t want to deal with the confrontation if they don’t necessarily agree with it. On my job, lots of coworkers put up mirrors since they face the wall or a cubicle and don’t want to run into anyone or don’t like people walking up on them. One coworker’s desk is right in front of a supervisor’s office, so she positioned her mirror to check on the supervisor and see what she was doing, which got to the manager. Instead of the manager addressing the issue with the one coworker to move her mirror or take her magnifying mirror down, she said everyone had to take down their mirrors and any item with a reflective surface because they did not convey a professional image.

          2. Anon55*

            Late to this but I had a lot of fun right before I left my awful job with a sales rep who referred to a group of our female employees as ‘girls’. We’d redone our office space and the cubes in one area were missing paneling and other things that should not have happened and should have been fixed months before the contractors actually did it. The sales rep came out to check on them, one of our female employees (Y) who sat in that area told him that they were all fixed now and they were good to go. The sales rep wanted to check in with our boss but as usual he was MIA, which he was told by Y.

            My office was next to our boss’s office and all of a sudden down the hall and coming closer to me I see this grumpy older man brushing off Y and escorting himself around our (secure) department demanding to see our boss, while Y repeatedly stated our boss was out. IDGAF at that point and loved Y, so I was very curious why her answer wasn’t good enough for him. I also have a great resting b!tch-face.

            He then assumed I was my boss’s assistant because why else would a female be sitting next to the boss… I told him “Our boss is out, just like Y told you.”. He then told me to take a message for our boss and to let him know “The girls’ cubes are fixed.”. Y disappeared when he said this so I have to assume my resting face had changed to something worse.

            I asked him if he could clarify what girls he was referring to, because we didn’t have any high school interns working for us. He stammered and said Y was one of the girls he was referring to. I gave him my most evil look and told him that I’d relay his message about our ‘girls’ to my boss and if he didn’t need anything else I was going to be escorting him off our secure floor now, as we can’t have people wandering around by themselves, even if they think they’re allowed to.

    8. Amy*

      That’s why I like the catch-all ‘folks’ for addressing groups of co-workers in a casual setting. It doesn’t work as well for thanking… “thanks, folks” sounds kind of odd, but then you can use “thanks, Janet and Brad” or “thanks, Thelma and Louise, for doing that”.

  3. Mena*

    Oh my, Boss is over-thinking your thinking. Better that Boss might have asked you your thoughts on others getting involved. It seems Boss has assumed a conclusion. This is a clue that you need to be crystal clear in your communications with both Boss and other employees; and careful with email because a lot of people attach an assumed tone of voice which can be a big mistake.

    And just a pet peave of mine, I (personally) dislike the “Ladies” reference just because I don’t like gender references in the workplace but likely you are just being friendly and plural.

    1. B*

      Thank you so much for your last para. I have finally realised why one of my colleagues calling me Mrs Surname in a jokey way bothers me so much.

  4. Artemesia*

    I find AAM’s response interesting because I would have read this email as territorial. It is not necessarily negatively so, but it seems to be reminding people that YOU are IN CHARGE of this. It is sort of like asking someone ‘can I help you’ when what you mean is ‘who are you and why are you here, are you sure you are not an interloper’. Since they didn’t check with the OP first about the changes, the Email feels like she is reminding them that this is HER territory.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Oooooohhhh. Interesting. I don’t read it like that at all but this explains where the boss may be coming from.

      Since you see it that way, will you tell us more about why? Why couldn’t the OP simply be thanking someone for doing something that helped in an area she’s responsible for?

      1. C*

        I read the “I definitely think this will work” as perhaps territorial – a notice that OP has the power to approve or disapprove displays.

        1. Valar M.*

          I didn’t read it as territorial either, but now that you paint the extra lenses on it maybe that is where the boss is coming from. Though, I’d still think that there’d have to be a previous event that warranted it?

        2. Red Librarian*

          I read it as a bit territorial as well and that was the line that stuck out for me.

      2. Anonie*

        I find it interesting too! I had to re-read the post again but I didn’t read it as territorial either. After another read, I could see that maybe because the OP sent out the email to everyone and it wasn’t a response to an email letting her know they made the changes maybe that could be seen as being territorial. If she had sent an email to just the two of her coworkers saying thanks for helping me out maybe she would not have gotten the reaction she did from her boss.

        1. Karowen*

          …maybe because the OP sent out the email to everyone and it wasn’t a response to an email letting her know they made the changes maybe that could be seen as being territorial.

          I don’t think that’s accurate – My reading is that the people who rearranged it sent an email to everyone and she just replied-all to say thanks. Maybe she could’ve removed everyone else from that email, but – as discussed in another thread recently – some people get reallllly upset about being taken off of CC for no clear reason.

          1. holly*

            i didn’t actually realize she replied all. i thought she only responded to the email writers.

          2. TheSnarkyB*

            But the thing is, she didn’t reply “just” to say thanks. She replied to let people know her opinion (albeit positive).
            I totally didn’t read it as territorial until this thread came up, but now that it’s been pointed out, I kind of see it.
            I think the context missing here is what was in the original email. If it didn’t ask for feedback, and was just an FYI, I can see this as her inserting her unbidden approval just to remind people that her approval matters. (OP- I TOTALLY don’t think this was your intention, fyi. Just how it could be interpreted.) Add that to an indirect-style boss who’s also projecting a little bit and I see how this situation could bubble up.

            1. Bonnie Doon*

              “But the thing is, she didn’t reply “just” to say thanks. She replied to let people know her opinion (albeit positive).
              I totally didn’t read it as territorial until this thread came up, but now that it’s been pointed out, I kind of see it”.

              I also get that it could have been read that way, but at the same time I think it’s a totally normal thing in some workplaces (mine included) to say something like that when praising a colleague’s work, even if they didn’t request feedback, because in this circumstance the activity in question (displays) are something everyone contributes to, and therefore has buy-in/ideas on.

              For me, having the word ‘definitely’, in that sentence (“I definitely think this will work” vs “I think this will work”) makes it even more informal in tone, like a “colleague praising other colleagues’ awesome work on their joint project” vibe.

              (To be clear though, I don’t think that just because it’s ok to give positive feedback in the situation that it would have been her place to give negative feedback if she hadn’t agreed with their efforts -to me that’s a separate issue, so I disagree with other comments suggesting that it’s not ok she provided feedback because it wouldn’t have been ok if her comments were negative. Just like how it’s ok to compliment/congratulate a colleague on something they did really well at that you admired, but if they’d totally f****d it up you would leave the feedback to their manager, and at most commiserate with them)

              (Another side issue – I’m assuming that the suggestion from the boss that next time she just respond with ‘cool’ was a paraphrase, because getting an email back – especially a reply-all – that just said ‘cool’ in the above work context?! Maybe it’s me but I would be much more likely to read that as being the cranky response).

      3. Persephone Mulberry*

        I also got this sense. For me, the statement “I think this will work” implies that OP has veto power over other people’s contributions, and I think that is what the director is addressing (that the OP actually does not have this power and shouldn’t imply that she does).

        1. fposte*

          It would seem to me that if she’s in charge of coordinating displays, that would indeed be part of her power; maybe the OP and her supervisor aren’t on the same page about what this actually means and that needs to be sorted out.

          1. amaranth16*

            I am confused about that too, after reading both the letter and AAM’s response. It sounds like the boss thinks the LW’s job is basically just setting up a rota so that there are displays, where the LW thinks it involves curation of the content, too. I did read the “thanks” email as slightly territorial, because if the LW is not in charge of curating the content of displays, then I think the “I think this will work” does imply veto power that she might not have.

            I do think the boss sounds like a bit of a hardass given that LW said she didn’t meet to convey territorialism. Bit it sounds like LW and her boss may need to have a conversation about what “coordinating” the displays actually means.

            1. fposte*

              And if she otherwise gets along well with these co-workers, she might want to find out what *they* were told about her authority while she’s clarifying. It’d be horrible but funny if they had all individually been told that coordinating displays was their job.

      4. V*

        I also read it as territorial for two reasons:

        One, “I definitely think this will work” reads as if the OP is giving her approval for the changes, even if after the fact. What if OP didn’t think it would work? Would that mean the changes should be undone. It is subtle, but it is there, especially if you contrast it with a simple “Looks great!”

        Two, “thanks for doing this ladies” has the tone of a manager thanking people on her team. The tone is heightened in light of the territoriality I read in the OP’s statement that “I definitely think this will work,” but I think the tone is there regardless. The use of “ladies” makes it a bit stronger somehow (and I don’t love the use of ladies, but I can see how it can be acceptable if that is a term normally used among the women who work there). Again, it is subtle, but it contrasts with a simple “Thanks!” or even no thanks at all, just a “Looks great!”

        I will caveat all of this with a note that I am a lawyer, so I tend to give more weight to word choice and phrasing than most.

        OP – it sounds like you have some self-doubt about your work (i.e. you are OK with ppl doing this as long as it is not because they think your work is lacking). I wonder if that concern subconsciously manifested itself in your email, such that it came out sounding territorial even if you didn’t think you meant it to.

        1. Winn*

          Interesting, V. I had some of the same thoughts re: “think this will work” and “thanks for doing this” sounding like a manager as opposed to something a bit more innocuous like “Thanks for helping (me) out!”

          I also noticed above that OP says near the start of the letter that OP sends the supervisor emails whenever the supervisor makes changes to the display, thanking the supervisor for the changes. OP doesn’t put it in direct quotes but says as an aside “they were changes already on my to-do list.” I wonder if this is something directly stated in the email to the supervisor, which can seem a bit defensive. Regardless of whether it’s stated in the email, the fact that OP felt the need to mention that here, in the letter to Alison, suggests that OP may need to work on confidence.

        2. JB*

          I read the email the exact same way. After seeing AAM’s response, I thought maybe I was reading too much into it, but that was my initial thought. But it would depend on the person. I have some coworkers who could say the same thing and I wouldn’t take offense because they do not need to be in charge or thought of as having authority. But I have another category of coworkers who would use this exact same language to subtly indicate authority and then act very “what, me, territorial?” if called on it. I have no way of knowing which category the OP fits into, and the manager may be unfairly reading her as the second category when she’s really the first. But there’s no way to tell from the letter.

      5. GrumpyBoss*

        I can tell you that from my perspective, I read it like this because I’ve seen people do this before when something has been taken from them or when they feel that they aren’t being recognized as the outright owner of an area/task/whatever. It’s a way to nudge themselves back into view.

        1. AMG*

          true; I have tried this. Not that it worked. Not surprisingly, a direct conversation got much better results.

      6. Winn*

        I can see it both ways. The first way is straight forward as the OP intended it–great changes! That’s how I would have interpreted it personally because I like to give people the benefit of the doubt. I believe the OP when she says that this is how she meant for it to come across.

        However, I have worked with people who would have written something similar intending it in a second way–a passive aggressive reminder that she is the one that in charge of displays. It definitely is the “I think that will work” line that seems to imply she decides what does and doesn’t work for the bulletin. That line in addition to “Thanks for doing this ladies” comes across as more like something someone in a position of power over a project would say to her direct reports. Like “I asked you to do X thing; thanks for doing it” as opposed to someone on the same level, a coworker, might say “Thanks for helping (me) out” which implies that the coworker chose to help rather than were ordered to. I see how others in the comments found the “ladies” to be condescending as well. I do generally think of the term as condescending in the same way that I think of “girls” as condescending but I don’t believe it was meant to be that way here.

        I also agree with someone who said that the second way would be an ungenerous interpretation of the email. I would have given OP benefit of the doubt. Maybe they have had a previous employee/coworker who would write emails intended in the second way so they reacted accordingly.

        For moving forward, I would let it go. I also noticed earlier on you say whenever you notice people making changes to the board you say “I noticed the change; thanks for making it.” You then go on to note that they were changes on your to-do list. Is this something that you mention with the thank you email? Because that can also possibly be seen as a little defensive about the display like you think their changes reflect poorly on your performance so you need to emphasize that they were on your to-do list. That in addition to the recent email probably brought everything to a head. I would probably stop making note of any changes altogether after this conversation. I also think you should follow through on your idea of having a spot (or a regularly scheduled email or whatever) for ideas on display changes people want you to do. Then you need to use some of those ideas. If people see you carrying out ideas they will think you’re more open to feedback and less defensive/territorial about the displays.

        1. Bonnie Doon*

          ooh so interesting the different interpretations!

          Where I work, her response would have been a nice informal thank you to colleagues, but after reading other comments I also can see how it could have been written by someone trying to reassert their territory.

          That it was a reply-all rather than just replying to the co workers? Weird but not a big deal.

          Interesting though, I would read”Thanks for helping me out”or”thanks team” as more like someone trying to assert authority (In my office project leads commonly use those phrases for anyone involved in their project ) where as”Thanks for doing this”is commonly used in my office among coworkers for things that benefit the team (ie I read it as meaning: the displays look great, good displays make all of us look great so thanks for being a great co worker)

      7. HM in Atlanta*

        I read it the same way, too. It was a combination of things – language usage, the approval/disapproval statement (“I think this will work”), her multiple mentions that she doesn’t want others doing them because they think she isn’t doing her job, and the point she said her boss made several times – everyone can do these displays. Her solutions are also about her maintaining control – a list people can put their display ideas for her to do, and her selecting the display area that her coworkers can do without her input/approval.

        I would think if you hired a display coordinator, you would want the coordinator to own the display process. It doesn’t sound like that’s what her boss is telling her though.

        1. Winn*

          Was the OP hired as the display coordinator though? I got the impression that it is one aspect/responsibility of the job. I would think that a small public library would not have the budget to dedicate a staff member solely to displays. After doing some brief searching online, I see a lot of libraries asking for display coordinators as volunteers, which to me suggests that this is one responsibility of her job rather than her sole responsibility.

          1. Layla*

            I agree, but say it is her sole job. If everyone has down time to help her do her job, it seems they have too many people.

      8. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

        Yeah, I got that read on the email also, probably because (and I am not the boss in question! :p), I’m sure I’ve sent an email like that to reassert territory that I felt had been trampled on.

        What I see is that her territory was trampled. She’s in charge of the displays. The co-workers went over her head, to her boss, got approval from the boss. Neither her boss nor the co-workers said jack crap to her.

        She’s either the coordinator or she isn’t. She doesn’t even have to approve the changes, but it’s courtesy to be looped in before somebody just goes ahead and does things and she gets to find out from seeing it.

        If that happened to me when I was younger and lower level, I might well have sent an email like that to reassert my territory. Not the most mature approach, but I know I’ve done similar.

        If it happened to me now, (on something higher stakes like vendor negotiations or whatnot), I’d deal with it head on and fast. Happens occasionally on cross division stuff but the same person doesn’t mess with me twice.

        1. LBK*

          Agree completely. Frankly, even if the OP did come across as territorial, she had a right to be – because this is her territory. I would actually be more annoyed by the coworkers’ behavior than the OP is saying she is.

          1. Wakeen's Teapots Ltd.*

            Nah, I blame the boss.

            One of my teams gave an assignment to one of our artists, without going through the art director. The team members were relatively new and excited and even though it should have occurred to them to ask, it didn’t, and it didn’t occur to the artist to check with his boss.

            As soon as I realized what happened I said hey guys, you need to run any future projects through the art director and she’ll assign an artist. Even before the AD found out, I gave her a heads up (backing everybody up in the process) and told her the remedy.

            You gotta back all your people up. Give them a job, them back them up. Don’t know what agenda this boss has going on.

      9. Cari*

        I read the OP’s e-mail the way OP intended it, but reading Artemesia’s comment I thought “that is probably something I’d be tempted do if it were me in the OP’s shoes.” I know I’ve sent a reply (directly, not reply-all, mind) to the occasional e-mail in the past when I’ve felt overlooked, when I wouldn’t have otherwise, to sort of remind my boss that the part-time evening workers in our dept. exist.

        Even though the OP genuinely wanted to thank their colleagues for the work they did, the e-mail also serves as a reminder that the work was actually the OP’s to do or have some input on and that the OP clearly wasn’t involved in the process.
        It’s one of those situations where a reply/reply-all in response to an “FYI, we’ve done this” kind of e-mail isn’t necessary and, depending how the OP interacts with their collegues, can easily be taken out of the intended context. Especially since it seems the OP’s boss realises she’s sort of undermined OP or made it unclear what OP’s part in display handling is, by not involving or giving them a heads-up on the changes (indicated by the reassurances the the display handling job isn’t being taken away from them).

      10. Ellie H*

        I read it as having that territorial implication, also, but caveat that *I* have the instinct to be very territorial at work (I know this is not a great quality and I try to work on it) and I would probably be more annoyed than the OP seems (rationally or not) if I were in her place, so I’m reading it through my own lens.

        I agree that the “I definitely think this will work” and thanking people (for doing something to help you, because it’s *your* job) are the “territorial” aspects.

      11. JustCallMeVic*

        I can see this perspective too, just by the OP saying “Thanks.” “Thanks” implies ownership. “Thanks for doing my job,” is basically what the email implied.

      12. Artemesia*

        People usually don’t thank other people for something that is not in their wheelhouse. (well cookies in the break room of course, but not doing a work project.) To thank her rather than saying ‘hey the new display looks great’ suggests authority in this work context; it is the sort of thing that people do to tactfully remind other people who is in charge. But I went back and re-read the OP and since the display changer themselves sent out an email announcing what they had done, that changes the context I think. I don’t see the response as condescending (ladies in this context doesn’t trigger my hypersensitivity sexism alarm). I had read over the initial email and though she had sent this out de novo.

    2. AnotherAlison*

      I think the OP’s response had maybe a 10% chance of being interpretted as territorial, but what is aggravating to me about this letter is I think the OP completely has the right to be territorial.

      Is she in charge of coordinating displays or not? Why did her boss approve a change and not loop her in? (I realize boss has ultimate authority over displays, but most bosses I’ve had keep me informed when they’re changing things in my domain. The only time I’ve seen the opposite is when they don’t like what an employee is doing with XYZ so they’re taking XYZ out of his responsibility area.)

      1. B*

        Yeah I am really confused about what OP’s job actually is. As written, I would be annoyed by this situation.

      2. JMegan*

        I agree – I think that if this really is part of her job, she has the right to be a bit territorial about it.

        But this sentence confuses the heck out of me:

        She reiterated that as display coordinator, my job is literally just coordinating the displays and everyone can contribute to them. She also wanted to reassure me that the job of handling displays was not being taken from me, and that they had cleared the display switches with her first.

        “Literally just coordinating the displays” – does this mean that everyone contributes ideas and OP sets them up? Or that each department is in charge of their own displays and OP decides on timing and other logistics?

        Also, it sounds like the job *was* taken from her, at least in this one instance. If her colleagues went to the boss without approaching her first, and if the boss approved them without going to her first, that’s a pretty clear end-run around her responsibility for handling the displays.

        I don’t actually need an answer to all this. But it does sound like there’s a bit of confusion in your office about what your resposibility actually is in this area, and where other people can step in. It might be worth having another conversation with the boss to try and nail this down a bit so everyone is clear for next time.

      3. Mints*

        Yeah, the email to me sounds friendly and not upset, but I do see the approval/validation, which seems justified.
        If my manager sent this, it would be totally fine. Or if like, if I worked with an editor, and we received a draft of something while the editor was busy, I might do some edits, and then the editor could review them and send this email. (Even if we latetal, the editor would be in charge of this)

        It does seem like maybe there isn’t agreement about who gets final approval on the displays. It sounds like it would be (should be) the OP, and her suprrvisor in an overarching way, but maybe there’s some fuzziness there

      4. Elizabeth*

        Right? If it’s a small public library, with an assumed correspondingly small budget, yet they have an employee solely devoted to the position of “display coordinator,” you’d think that person would have responsibilities and authority beyond essentially maintaining a schedule and handling the installation of displays that other people create (which is what it sounds like?). She “handles” the displays but apparently can’t weigh in on them? So strange.

    3. Jamie*

      Wow – now that you say that I can see how some people with whom I’ve worked in the past would have read it that way…and I was always baffled by that, but it’s out there and it’s a thing.

      Fwiw I’d have read the email in the tone it was intended – I see nothing territorial about this at all. But people who have worked with passive aggressive people in the past can run things through a negative filter as a default.

      Or it could just be because the boss would have been upset about it she assumed the OP would be too which colored her interpretation of the email.

      One of my pet peeves is when someone assumes I’m upset because they would be in my shoes. I have a list thousands of pages long of things that upset me – so let me enjoy the couple things that bother others and truly don’t phase me.

      1. TL*

        Or some people who are really passive aggressive will read passive aggression into everyone else’s statements.

        I had a really passive aggressive friend who was always trying to figure out what you were really trying to tell her, no matter how many times you told her straightforwardly what you were thinking. She just could not understand that the rest of us were really exactly as upset as we said we were over exactly what we were saying was an issue. Or that we were preemptively saying something before we got truly mad. Or that we weren’t upset and just needed some space because it was a bad day or were overtired – this was in a roommate-ish situation in college, so we spent a lot of time together.

        It got very tiring and I never knew how to deal with it beyond straight talk, but it never worked too well.

      2. Anonie*

        Singing the song…….. “I’ve got 99 problems but you won’t be one of them”……..

    4. BRR*

      I can see how it could be thought of as territorial but at the same time it doesn’t feel fake. “I definitely think this will work” I think is the establishing dominance phrase. It could be read as needs my approval.

      I’m actually kind of surprised the OP isn’t more territorial. Kudos for being an easy to get along with coworker.

      1. Eden*

        I agree, “I definitely think this will work” implies that they are offering a suggestion that she’s approving.

    5. Waiting Patiently*

      Whew. I’m glad I wasn’t the only one that read that as territorial. By paragraph two, it was clear to me that op believes this is her job and others are stepping into her territory. “I think this will work”– as someone else said that implies power to veto. Also since she sent a similar email to her boss thanking her boss for doing what she considers essentially her work. I say that was enough for the boss to pull her aside to clarify and reassure her that part of her job hasn’t been taken away from her.

    6. ChiTown Lurker*

      +1 I definitely agree. I thought it sounded territorial as well. The whole attitude of the e-mail reminded me of a superior addressing her subordinates. It didn’t make me cringe or anything but I got the impression that the OP felt they were crossing into her territory. I also kind of pictured being patted on the head for being such a good little helper. I suspect one of the helpers was offended and said something to the OP’s manager.

  5. Anonie*

    I think the OP’s boss is reading more into the comment than is there. I re-read the sentence “Love it! I definitely think this will work, thanks for doing this ladies” and maybe because the OP said “I definitely think this will work” maybe her boss is taking that as the OP may decide it won’t work and is going to change display.

    It is kind of like when people say “Yeah, that’s an idea” which usually means they are not going to use your idea.

    Or maybe the boss had to deal with someone who always said “Love it” when they really didn’t so she is transferring those feelings to the OP.

    1. Laura*

      I can see this. That plus the “Ladies” perhaps.

      Maybe in the future something more like “Love it! Thank you for doing this!” and leaving it at that would be safer?

    2. Episkey*

      I also think the phrase, “I definitely think this will work,” might have been the culprit here. I’m not saying I truly do think the OP is territorial, but I can see how this might come across a little like, “Since I’m the decision-maker for this area, I’ll keep your idea because I think it will work,” while implying, “If I thought your changes were bad, they would be discarded.”

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Kind of like my peer coworker who sends emails saying “Okay with me” in response to my FYI email that I’m taking PTO. I don’t find it territorial, just annoying, because I am taking off whether it’s okay with him or not.

        1. hildi*

          Yeah that’s weird from a coworker. But there are some people that seem to feel the need to respond to everything even if they are being otherwise sincere about it. Just compelled.

      2. Mints*

        I see this too, but it does sound like that’s accurate. Isn’t the OP in charge of the displays? If it was bad, it would be up to her to change

        I think probably this is the key, and there’s some ambiguity in who gets final approval about displays. Maybe the boss thinks it’s more democratic, but OP thinks she’s on charge

    3. Betsy*

      I have to say, the phrase “Yeah, that’s an idea” drives me up a wall.

      I’m always thinking, “YOU’RE KIDDING. I thought it was a MONGOOSE.” Seriously, we all know it’s an idea. Way to say nothing at all.

      1. TL*

        I always say that as dryly and sarcastically as possible whenever one of my friends suggests something incredibly stupid. I don’t think I would react well to it being used in a professional situation, though I don’t mind my friends using it back at me.

        1. Betsy*

          Yeah, I don’t think that use would bother me.

          I had a boss who would use it in brainstorming sessions, though:

          “Nothing is too crazy! Throw the ideas out there!”

          “We could look into new GUI tools?”

          “Great! New GUI tools!” *writes on whiteboard* “What else?”

          “We could hire someone to take up the slack.”

          “Okay… well… that’s an idea.” *pause, look at marker* “Okay.” *writes on whiteboard* “There have to be some good ideas out there, guys, come on!”

      2. Andy*

        I’m always saying “that’s a way to put it” when people go off the reservation on something or are being light to medium inappropriate. It’s my way of acknowledging that I’ve heard what they said, but I’m really trying to distance myself from perceived agreement as gracefully as possible.
        I think sometimes that’s what people are doing when they say “that’s an idea”. Not because it could be construed otherwise, but to acknowledge and move on.

      3. Cath in Canada*

        I think it all depends on how it’s said – I’ve definitely heard it said in a positive and enthusiastic way, as in “ooooh, now that’s an idea!”

  6. Magda*

    I can kind of see how that e-mail might be interpreted as “giving approval” of what the coworkers did, which in turn might be seen as the OP implying that she has the right to give approval. But I think that requires about the most un-generous reading of the e-mail possible. Unless there are other issues in play, a simple “hey, did you mean to come across that way?” conversation would have sufficed.

    1. LBK*

      And also (unless the OP is wildly incorrect about her role and responsibilities) she SHOULD be giving approval. If she is responsible for the displays and someone else does one, why wouldn’t she approve it or change it if she doesn’t approve?

  7. Claire*

    I’m wondering whether the real issue is not the wording of this specific email, but the pattern of the OP emailing to note display changes and thank the responsible party. In the past, this has been the manager so maybe it wasn’t something they felt it necessary yo address directly, but once it happened with other workers too they felt concerned.

    1. Laura*

      But OP’s email wasn’t unsolicited – the coworkers emailed, and OP replied….

      I agree that could have played into it, but if it did, I think it’s a bit unfair to the OP, on the part of the boss.

      1. Claire*

        Oh, I’m not disagreeing that’s it’s unfair at all. I just think that focusing on the email is possibly not the most helpful thing to do.

        What jumped out at me from the OP’s letter was the pattern of doing this, whether solicited or not. That’s what might be being perceived as defensiveness or territorial behaviour, to me at least.

  8. Claire*

    On rereading, I realised others have done this before also, so I withdraw that part. I still wonder if the pattern is the real problem, not the specific instance .

    1. Fabulously Anonymous*

      If that is the case, then I think it’s on the boss to communicate that as opposed to focusing on one e-mail.

  9. jones*

    Why is being territorial perceived as a bad thing? I, too, read “I think this will work” as a reminder of her power. But so what? Everyone can’t do everything. I can appreciate it being a small library with an “all hands” approach, but everyone still has their domain. And especially if she is new to the library, why not assert her expertise in this area or be clear that it’s not a free-for-all (unless it really, truly is).

    One final thing — there are a ton of “coordinator” titles out there. What the heck does that mean nowadays? Is she tracking? Is she managing? Is she curating? Is she an admin? OP should clarify her role.

    1. Valar M.*

      I think its perceived as a “bad thing” if there isn’t a good reason to assert it. It can be taken by other employees as a reminder that they are lower on the totem pole or putting them “in their place”. If there isn’t a good reason to do that, why do it? It’s an issue of picking your battles.

  10. WorkingAsDesigned*

    (Apologies in advance for making this about me.)

    This is a very timely post for me. I’ve been the territorial co-worker, and am now dealing with the fallout of that behavior. It’s still a struggle, but I’m working hard to correct it. Unfortunately, some bridges may have been burned too badly.

    Thanks to the OP for sending the question in to AAM – this is great information to view from the “other side”!

    1. Andy*

      I was territorial about a thing once and I cringe at the memory of myself.
      We will persevere!

  11. Tinker*

    I think the way the email was worded sounds just fine and that it’s a bit much to read that far into it.

    From the situation overall, it seems like there’s a question of how to coordinate and distribute work on the displays — that the OP’s concerned about doing their share of the work, plus the question of making display suggestions and giving the Children’s displays to the other coworkers. That does seem like the sort of thing that can be read as a territorial concern even if it is really not, particularly if the office culture is one that tends in that direction.

    Personally, I wouldn’t lose too much sleep about that one particular email, but just continue observing how folks tend to interact and phrase their communications. It could be that there’s an existing pattern of territorial concern in the place that one ends up needing to interface with even if one is not directly participating.

  12. Kerry (Like the County In Ireland)*

    All you had to say was “small public library” and as a librarian I was nodding my head.

    1. Robin*

      Any idea why? I’d be the first to admit I don’t know a ton about the industry, but I’ve collaborated with libraries and librarians before, and to a person, they all seemed like chilled out, hardworking, dedicated professionals. Not saying these things are mutually exclusive, I am just surprised to learn that these places have a lot of drama.

  13. Polaris*

    OP, I read this part of your email as territorial: “I definitely think this will work.” Without those words, I would take the email at face value as genuine thanks, but with those words, it sounds like you are giving your coworkers a gentle reminder to run by you any changes they want to make to the displays before they make the changes. As your manager, I would want to clarify your responsibilities regarding the displays after seeing that email if approving the displays was not part of you job and it sounds like she was trying to do that.

    1. TL*

      I didn’t read that as territorial at all, so probably that line really depends more on the reader than anything at all.

      1. Polaris*

        I didn’t read it that way the first time I read the email, but I reread it after reading about the manager’s reaction. I can see how the email could be interpreted as territorial and I don’t think it is a stretch or necessarily requires an ungenerous interpretation by the reader as some have stated above. The problem with email is that it lacks vocal cues and body language. It sounds like the OP is new so perhaps her manager misunderstood her and this is more about the manager than the OP or perhaps the OP has done other things that led her manager to misinterpret her words in that way. Either way, I’d suggest getting her job duties clarified if the conversation with her manager was as confusing to the OP as it sounded.

  14. Erica*

    Just chiming in here that I also saw it as territorial with the “I think this will work!” line.

    But – that being said, I don’t think territorial is really a bad thing/connotation here. I see it as more “Hey, this is my work and you guys did a great job doing it for me. Thanks so much – couldn’t have done it better myself.”

    Still not worthy of that weird boss convo.

  15. Ann Furthermore*

    I’ve seen many replies saying that the email was territorial, and I just don’t see that at all. Even a little bit. When she’s saying, “I definitely think this will work,” she’s saying exactly that: that whatever it was that her co-workers did will work. How is that territorial? I just don’t get it.

    1. Student*

      That phrase appears to be an attempt to assert her control over something post-facto by approving it. The implication is that if she can approve a display, she can also veto one.

      Maybe she didn’t actually intend that. From her post, I think she did intend it as a boss-like stamp of approval on work that is, nominally, under her control. I’m more confused by the fact that her boss is does not seem to want such things to be fully under the OP’s authority and is thus sending her and everyone else mixed messaging on her job role.

    2. JMegan*

      Because she wouldn’t be saying it if she didn’t have the authority to approve it. And nor would she be thanking people (probably), if she didn’t see it as helping her out specifically. By doing those things, she is establishing that the display cases are her territory.

      So I agree that it’s territorial, but I really don’t see a problem with it. Assuming the letter is correct as written, the display cases actually are her territory, and she does have the right to approve them and thank people for helping her.

      1. Felicia*

        Yeah even if it could be read as territorial (I sort of get that), it seems to me that teh display cases actually are her territory so I don’t see the problem with that.

    3. Cari*

      Because it wasn’t necessary to say that from the sounds of things. The e-mail was in response to an FYI “we’ve just done this” kind of e-mail. “I definitely think this will work” is something one would usually say *before* the thing has already been done, during the ideas phase, not after the fact. Saying it after something’s already been done can easily say to anyone with a tendency to read between the lines (whether there’s anything to read there or not): ” I was supposed to be involved here, but haven’t been so I’m giving my input now.”

      1. Cari*

        Or rather, (since I can’t edit), OP’s boss clearly doesn’t perceive it as being a necessary response. But then OP’s boss seems to be doing a good job of being completely unclear about what OP’s role is in the whole display handling/co-ordination thing.

  16. CA Anon*

    God this brings back so many memories of my last job. Every little thing I said was mangled and interpreted in the most negative way possible, so any slight disagreement or suggestion was “condescending” and required a long talk with my manager. It makes me cringe just reading this–I hope to never work at so negative/sensitive place again. Everything was a battle. Everyone was disgruntled. Anything you said or did, no matter how innocent or straightforward, was twisted around and taken as evidence of your bad attitude.

    Bosses and coworkers of the world, please give people the benefit of the doubt when it comes to tone over email. If you genuinely have a question about the employee or coworker’s perspective, just ask. I’d rather you come up to me and ask “hey, did you mean ____ or ____, I’m having trouble interpreting your comments” than just assuming I meant something horrible and making a big thing about it to our manager.

    This kind of BS is why I left my last job–I loved the industry and what we did, but the people were miserable to work with. I still cringe every time I think about it.

  17. Red Librarian*

    I wonder how much of this stems from miscommunication between the OP and her boss about what, exactly, the role of display coordinator actually IS. If the job is to “literally just coordinating the displays and everyone can contribute to them,” that suggests (to me) the OP is supposed to say which space will be used for a Reference Display or a Children’s display or Gardens in the spring or whatever and then anytime someone has an idea for a book or audio/visual or whatever they can just stick it on the display, no muss no fuss.

    I don’t think the OP is intending to be territorial but certain things strike me that way. I know some people have mentioned the “I definitely think this will work line” but the very first line of the OP’s note they say: “I work in a small public library and am in charge of coordinating displays, though everyone contributes to them.” Which is great, except the OP is saying stuff like how they “don’t mind” when this happens or are “okay” with the changes made. As if this is something they have control over or the right to veto.

    So it’s possible the co-workers are getting mixed messages. Like, either they ARE allowed to freely contribute or they need to have it approved first by the OP or suggest the changes and have the OP make them.

    So, honestly, I’d suggest the OP have a sit-down with their boss to clearly understand what their role is and how far it extends.

    1. Jenn*

      This was my reaction as well. The word ‘coordinate’ is famously imprecise and can mean anything from significant authority to none at all. The OP’s email saying ‘I think this will work’ implies she believes she has some level of true oversight over the content, and could have un-done the changes if she didn’t like them. If the boss’ understanding of coordination doesn’t include this level of authority, I can see very well how a baffling conversation could ensue.

  18. C Average*

    I don’t think a complaint like this occurs in a vacuum.

    On its face, the email is unobjectionable, even if you’re inclined (as I am) to dislike being addressed as “ladies.” (As I’ve explained in other threads about this, “ladies” is almost 100% used in a superior-to-subordinate context. Dads say it to their daughters, bosses say it to their underlings, coaches say it to their athletes. For me, based on a lifetime of experience hearing it in such contexts, it always has a reminding-you-of-your-place gloss.)

    But where roles and responsibilities aren’t clearly drawn, where jockeying for territory and authority seem to be happening, and where it’s not clear whether the people in this scenario a) like each other and b) feel secure in their jobs . . . well, then every word becomes fraught with subtext.

    Also, in my experience, words gain subtexts when I’m stressed. Early on in my current role, it wasn’t clear who was managing me (if anyone). The workload was impossible and my boss was always out of the country. I was receiving orders from many different directions, and came to resent everyone who was trying to exert authority over me. None of them were my boss, none of them were aware of the others’ existence (and, hence, of the overall size of my workload), and I came to hate every one of them and every word they wrote to me. They were all perfectly nice people trying to do their jobs, and their roles happened to interface with mine. They had no way of knowing how much pressure their various expectations were putting on me. I spent many months thisclose to snapping pretty much all the time. I found subtexts that I’m sure now weren’t there.

  19. Student*

    When someone over-analyzes my writing or my comments, I stop them immediately and make a point of explaining my communication style.

    I tell them, “I am very literal. I really mean exactly what I say. I do not give hints or express things subtly because I am not that socially adept or aware. I am not very good at picking up inferences or subtle meanings, so you will have to spell things out clearly instead of giving me hints. If you help me out by doing that, I’ll be able to do a better job of helping you.”

  20. OP*

    I apologize for the length of this…

    Thanks for all of the responses! I have decided to let this go, and just limit my e-mail wording to the barest minimum possible while still seeming friendly.

    I wear lots of hats throughout the day. As Display Coordinator, I am in charge of putting displays up monthly and taking them down and choosing the themes. There is a chart indicating the displays for the year available at all of the staff’s desk, and they are more than welcome to fill holes and such. Which is something I already knew; I do think that my manager felt bad about not telling me about the display changes herself, as she apologized about that during our conversation. She also read into my e-mail a bit, thinking how she would feel about someone doing that with an aspect of her job and not telling her. As I told her, I was just surprised about the changes, and not upset.

    I also think that my boss was reacting to the “I think this will work” sentence, as she said that generally, just responding with “thanks!” to this type of e-mail is the best way to handle the situation.

    All of these recent display changes have been happening because my co-workers were bored, and not because they don’t like anything I’ve done. I offered to give them the Children’s displays to them as they are doing tons of children’s programming now, and it would be a fantastic way to promote their story time themes.

    I’m a librarian in a small community library that does have politics which can be off the charts at times. It was a lot worse when I started a year and a half ago; I was the youngest by far and thrown into a cliquey dynamic that had not changed at all in 20 years. It was basically a lion’s den for a greenhorn in her first professional job. I inadvertently messed up the ecosystem for sure; although I was careful not to be seen as the young upstart trying to change everything it is bound to happen to some extent when new staff come on board. It’s amplified when it’s the first new staff member in 20 years.

    My manager has been great about standing up for me when they get super-nitpicky (about things that are not my fault), and we have a good relationship. Things have improved greatly as more new staff have been added since my arrival and some folks have retired. I still have a bit of anxiety and a desire to “tread carefully” as a result of my early time at this branch, however. The confidence is slowly coming back.

    I constantly make a point to be friendly to everyone, ask questions if necessary, admit mistakes, etc. That’s how you learn, after all! I have learned to take things in stride as well, and have really grown in this position.

    1. Ellie H*

      We had a similar arrangement with display tables at the bookstore I worked in. Certain people were responsible for specific displays but there was kind of limited freedom to fill holes or rearrange a bit if you were really bored OR if it was really busy and the person responsible didn’t have time to do as great a job as necessary. And sometimes you would be assigned to do a major changeup (e.g. “We’re changing Table 31 to the Mother’s Day display and Jane is on vacation this week, so Ellie, please pull a report of all mom-related titles and change up the table during your 9-2 shift”) if the person responsible for the table wasn’t available to do it. We were all expected to fill holes on popular tables like back to school and cookbooks for Christmas, etc.

      It can be slightly delicate at times because one person is ultimately responsible but other people are sort of responsible for fixing up as necessary, but if everyone is easy going enough it works well in an all-hands-on-deck type environment. But if not asked to do so by a manager, changing it in a substantial enough way that it implied the person responsible wasn’t doing an adequate job, or doing a total overhaul all on your own initiative, would not be a good idea.

  21. Anoncat*

    I can see why the e-mail could have been interpreted as a little territorial, but honestly, it’s not so overt that it warranted being pulled aside for a talk with the boss. Unless the LW has acted territorial in the past, and her colleagues actually seem bothered by her behavior, the boss’s comments seem a bit nitpicky.

    Maybe there was some confirmation bias at hand: the LW’s boss might’ve been afraid that the LW – for whatever reason – would get territorial, waited for the first slight display of it, and jumped at the chance to quell it.

  22. Pete*

    I am truly curious what the coordinator can do via email. It’s safer not to offer any opinion or editorial comment. “Thank you, Group A, for updating the display in the Y section. The Z section display is next on the schedule to be updated. Group B did it last time, but they don’t need to do it this time. Feel free to make changes if and when you are so moved. Please don’t think I would dare suggest any individual or group is required to have the work done at or by any particular time.”

    Color me shocked and amazed at all the stuff I’ve learned in these comments, guys and dolls! I’ve always shunned “girls.” I hate being called “baby” or “darling” by strangers. However, I use “ladies and gentlemen” frequently.

    I’ve always been the most liberal in my workplaces, but some of you might just think I’m Neanderthal. I am inclined–perhaps defensively–to think that anyone offended by my use of and tone of voice while saying “ladies and gentlemen” is saying a little more about themselves than me.

    1. C Average*

      See, that’s the thing. You hate “baby” or “darling.” I hate “ladies” or “honey.” Some people hate “sir” or “gals.”

      And there’s an easy end-run around all of these! “Hello, everyone.” “Hi, all.” “Thanks.”

      If you know that a certain portion of the population is going to be annoyed by your use of a totally unnecessary word, why not just . . . not use that word? Why is that hard?

      Shutting up now! Sorry for taking this off track.

      1. Anonymous*

        And there’s an easy end-run around all of these! “Hello, everyone.” “Hi, all.” “Thanks.”

        Why do so few people default to this?! So easy! You forgot their names? You forgot what they like to be called? You don’t know exactly who a shared address reaches? These work!

    2. Magda*

      But “ladies and gentlemen” reads differently than just “ladies,” though. “Ladies and gentlemen” encompasses both men and women, while “ladies” singles out a gender.

      Personally… I am not automatically bothered by “ladies,” probably because I most commonly hear it from female colleagues who are quite clearly being friendly. However, I have also worked in offices that were very “pink collar ghetto.” In that context, someone outside the group or higher in authority referring to us as “ladies” would probably set me on edge much faster. Familiarity with the person you’re addressing and any power differentials in play really make a difference.

    3. Anonymous*

      OK, I don’t care about “ladies and gentlemen,” but why do you need to use people’s gender to talk to them?

    4. Sharm*

      I’m with you Pete. I think almost every department I’ve worked in has been all female, and we used “ladies” all the time. This was in wackadoo crazy liberal SF, too. (I say that with love! Don’t jump down my throat about that, please.)

      I get there are ways around it, but I’m not going to neuter my language when it’s clear the culture is already okay with it. Obviously, I’d be careful about it initially when I’m starting somewhere, but I haven’t been offended by it in the contexts where it’s been used in my life — that is, by women addressing all women. And even then, it’s usually within a particular team and not with something that’s cross-departmental.

      Saying the term is offensive in a blanket sense just isn’t true in my experience.

  23. newbie in Canada*

    I don’t see anything objectionable in your email. Not even the “Thanks ladies” part. I thanked two coworkers this way just this morning for helping me with something, and as a woman it really doesn’t offend me when someone says the same in return (but given the # of people who hate it makes me reconsider ever using it again).

    1. Fabulously Anonymous*

      I agree. Whenever I read an e-mail, I try to give the writer the benefit of the doubt and assume she was not trying to be offensive. Especially if it’s just one e-mail.

  24. Steve G*

    Not sure if this was mentioned – but why is your boss talking to YOU! Why not to the other people who keep nit-witting in your work??!! That drives me nuts!

  25. SerfinUSA*

    I am drawing a blank on the book title, but the topic was the history of women in the US workplace. Female employees of the department store clerk variety, back around the 1920’s-1930’s, did *not* want to be called saleswomen. They demanded to be called salesladies.
    The book’s author quoted sources (letters, diaries, interviews with women who had clerked back then) saying that these workers saw the term ‘lady’ as an upgrade in job title because it sounded fancy or classy and reflected that they had moved up from dirty factory or rural work into the “glamorous” world of retail.
    Eventually the term ladies took a hit, being associated with these lower class workers. “Hey ladies!” of Jerry Lewis’ squalling delivery came soon after.

    Another issue with “ladies” is that it’s judgmental. A lady behaves a certain way – ladylike – that isn’t always compatible with being a confident adult woman.

    1. LadyB*

      Or perhaps not a woman at all. Not wishing to open a gender identity debate, but as a Brit, I can never get past the term ‘ladies’ without thinking of the ladies in ‘Little Britain’, an adult comedy series from a few years ago.

      For those of you who aren’t familiar with the series (I have no idea if it made it to the USA) google little britain ladies youtube for a flavour. Strangely, I haven’t heard the term ladies used much in the workplace since this came on air.

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