my employee keeps making a show of editing my work — and it’s obnoxious

A reader writes:

I direct a team of eight, all of whom have worked for the company much longer than I have. I’m working my way through these issues, but I want to get advice on a matter that I have never faced in my 25+ years of managing staff. One of the employees on the team has developed the habit of editing documents that I hand out during team meetings. She uses a red pen, and makes a bit of a show of doing so. These are not corrections, but edits.

She usually hands them back to me after editing them. She’ll often say something like, “Here, I made a few notes for you.”

The last couple times she held them out to me, I didn’t take them. I just picked up all of my things, then said something like, “Thanks for coming, everybody” and walked out without it.

Last month, at her annual review, she did the same thing on her review! (My practice is to have the team member read his or her review first, then I verbally walk them through it.) As she read the review, out came the red pen!

I’ve not said anything yet, although I do push back on some things. It’s kind of one of those “pick your battles” situations. Much of this kind of behavior from her has come and gone in the past three years. However, this practice isn’t ceasing, and now another team member is doing the same.

Ooooh, you need to address this directly. In fact, it’s probably making the problem worse that you haven’t addressed it yet, although I will totally cut you slack on not having any idea of what to do in face of something this weird.

Here is what you say: “Jane, I’m confused about why you’re editing documents that I hand out to the team and even your own performance evaluation. I don’t need you to edit those documents. What’s driving you to do it?”

She’ll presumably say that she’s noticed errors in them or things that could be improved. You then say this: “Not everything needs to be edited, and when something does, I will specifically assign someone to edit it. Going forward, I’d like you to stop editing items without being asked to.” If she seems anything other than fully on board with this, then you say this: “I’m not sure if you realize that handing people edits they haven’t asked for, particularly in contexts like informal documents handed out at team meetings, can come across as insulting. I’m sure you don’t mean it that way, which is why I’m giving you the benefit of the doubt here. But now that we’ve talked about it, it does need to stop.”

At this point, you will now have told her directly to cut it out. If it continues, you have a very serious conversation with her — which won’t be about her aggressive editing, but about her ignoring clear and specific instructions. If that happens, you’d need to treat it like you would any other performance issue. (Meaning that you’d meet with her again and say, “We talked about this a week ago. It’s still happening. What’s going on?” …. and “It concerns me that you’re ignoring clear instructions. I need to have confidence that when we agree on a course, you will follow it.” … followed by real consequences if the problems continues.)

However. I’d also use this as an opportunity to look at her behavior more broadly. I suppose that it’s possible that she’s just a really obsessive editor (hell, I am) and that she genuinely doesn’t understand when it is and isn’t appropriate. But it sounds like that it’s reflective of a broader issue with her performance and attitude and the general ease of working with her.

It sounds like you’ve been fairly hands-off with her (“picking your battles,” as you noted) — but the goal with managing people isn’t to find a way to make their behavior barely tolerable/acceptable; it’s to have really great people on your team. If she’s not one, I’d use this as a wake-up call to start holding her and others to a higher bar, managing more assertively, and moving people out if they’re not excelling at what you need from them (and that includes the basic ease of working with them).

Read an update to this letter here.

{ 407 comments… read them below }

  1. Katie the Fed*

    Oh man, how obnoxious.

    I like your approach, Alison, but I might change ” can come across as insulting” to “is highly unprofessional on your part.” Because that’s really what this comes down to – she’s behaving unprofessionally and challenging your authority in this environment. That needs to be shut down in a hot second.

    I’m a good and neurotic editor too. But, people who are confident in their editing skills don’t use it as a weapon to belittle others. If you strongly feel a mistake cannot stand, you pull someone aside privately and offer a suggestion. You don’t act like an uptight schoolmarm.

    I would bet this is only the tip of the iceberg with her. She’s lacking in respect and professionalism.

    1. CrazyCatLady*

      I agree with changing the phrasing slightly. I think saying it can come across as insulting makes it more about this person being too sensitive or having hurt feelings or something. But it’s not about whether or not she feels insulted, it’s about the behavior itself being unprofessional. The whole situation would irritate me so much!

    2. AMG*

      I am with you on the editing, and I will not hesitate to point out to my boss his incorrect use of apostrophes (not apostrophe’s!) when there’s an exec presentation going out. This however, is totally out of line. I commend you if you don’t say, “Jane you are being a ridiculous ass. Stop this immediately”.

          1. Jazzy Red*

            My boss was always grateful when I caught things like that. In fact, he told me that was why he hired me.

            Some people beat themselves up over handing work over to me to format, polish, etc. However, I always felt that an error caught and corrected before leaving our department wasn’t an error.

            1. jcsgo*

              “…an error caught and corrected before leaving our department wasn’t an error.” Love this! I proofread a lot for my boss and I’ve always wanted something team-oriented to respond with when he apologizes for not having proofread his work before having me look it over. This is perfect!

    3. Katie the Fed*

      I think this can all be summed up as “with great editing power comes great responsibility”

    4. Ask a Manager* Post author

      My thinking here is that the reason it’s unprofessional is because it’s disrespectful and insulting. If she said, “why is it unprofessional?” I don’t know that I’d have good wording beyond that explanation. Ultimately, that’s what it comes down to, isn’t it? (But maybe someone has a better way of framing this than I do — I would welcome it if so!)

      1. Katie the Fed*

        To me, “insulting” means it’s my problem (you insulted me!), whereas “unprofessional” is your problem. It puts the wrong on her, where it belongs.

        Or maybe “It’s wildly inappropriate in this environment. It tells me you’re more focused on looking for errors in other people’s work than in listening during the meeting. When you’re in a meeting you need to be listening to others or participating actively. Editing someone’s handouts, and doing it so overtly, says you think you think you’re above the content of the meeting.”

        But someone this smart shouldn’t need so much explanation, right?

        1. Tinker*

          Oddly enough, I kind of think the reverse — “insulting” is doing something that violates civil behavior generally, whereas “unprofessional” in this context reads to me as much more superficial.

          The way it’s described here, it comes off as if this person is making an intentional show of correcting the OP in order to put them down — that wouldn’t be appropriate outside the work environment either, and the reason why it would fall under the umbrella of “unprofessional” (in the sense being used) is that it’s inappropriate for the work environment as a consequence of being inappropriate for all environments.

          As far as “unprofessional”, I have a bit of a cranky get off my lawn moment in this regard, but when it’s not being applied to things like an engineer failing to act in the public interest (i.e. neglecting the substantiative responsibilities of an actual profession) I feel like it’s the thing that is said about a behavior when you don’t have a solid reason for condemning it otherwise. That, to me, weakens the admonition — in my mind, it goes in the same category as “wearing brown nail polish” or “having a water bottle with the logo of your alma mater on it” rather than “socially sniping on another person, in this case your boss, in the middle of a group meeting”.

          Though I suspect it’s very much dependent on local culture, since I’m also very much (and VERY intentionally) in an environment where people routinely roll their eyes at talk of “professional” in the context of image.

          1. JB*

            Wait, why is a logo on your water bottle or brown nail polish unprofessional? I am a lawyer and work with lawyers and none of us would look at someone who did those things as unprofessional (speaking as someone who wears brown nail polish).

            1. LBK*

              I believe Tinker’s point wasn’t that those things are unprofessional, it’s that “unprofessional” gets abused as a blanket term for anything that someone just doesn’t like, particularly if that thing is something petty that has no actual bearing on work, like the logo on your water bottle or the color of your nail polish. A lot of things are “unprofessional” by tradition rather than for any good reason, or are “unprofessional” because the boss has a certain loopy perception of what constitutes a professional image.

        2. LBK*

          I don’t necessarily agree. If you’re an obsessive grammarian, it doesn’t usually take that much effort to recognize errors. I spot them on my manager’s handouts often and it only takes me a second (and only an extra second more if I were marking them in red pen). I’m still able to focus on the content of the meeting.

          Even if she were the most engaged meeting participant, this would still be extremely rude. I know a lot of times we want to make sure our conversations are tied back to potential productivity/performance issues so everything stays in terms of impact to the business, but I think rudeness is one where it doesn’t have to be causing a ripple effect to be a problem – it’s a problem on its own even if the business is running just fine with it present.

        3. LD*

          Yes. And maybe the edits aren’t even about errors. I didn’t see that the OP said they were errors explicitly, just that the person edited the documents. I edit stuff all the time for ease of understanding or because I just prefer a different turn of phrase or I’m too wordy and need to cut. So if it’s not correcting some kind of spelling or grammar or punctuation for an external audience, then it comes across as even more obnoxious. “Thanks but what I need is for you to focus on the topic we are discussing and not be distracted by looking for the occasional formatting error. Can you do that?…” Then go from there based on the person’s response as Alison advises above. And even if there are real errors the behavior is disrespectful, insulting, and unprofessional…in my opinion.

      2. Bend & Snap*

        I think “disrespectful” is more powerful than “insulting” here. It resonates more with the professional relationship, whereas “insulting” seems like the OP is taking it as a personal slight.

      3. Ultraviolet*

        To me, calling the behavior “disrespectful” seems significantly different from calling it “insulting.” I agree with other commenters that “insulting” somehow feels personal–“you insulted me”–whereas “disrespectful” is more objective–“your behavior is disrespectful.” If OP says the editing performance is “insulting”, there’s a good chance the employee will tell herself (and others?), “Boss can’t handle constructive criticism–her poor feelings were hurt” and miss the point. “Disrespectful” better conveys that this is your boss addressing a work issue with you.

        If “unprofessional” is too vague you could try “inappropriate” or “rude” or “shows very poor judgment.”

        Alternatively, if you communicate this in writing, then the employee will whip out her red pen and let you know which word she thinks is best.

    5. LBK*

      Eh, I disagree. I think “insulting” is fine because ultimately, that’s the problem. The action in and of itself is objectionable, regardless of whether it may be taking her focus away or because it’s challenging the boss’s authority – it would still be rude and unnecessary even if she weren’t taking work time to do it or doing it in private instead of in front of the department.

      I see what you’re saying that that might make it sound like more of a personal complaint than a work one, but I’d argue that those personal complaints are inherently work-related if they’re occurring in the office.

    6. Joey*

      honestly I don’t like either phrasing. Id say something like “Jane, help me understand why you feel the need to edit documents that are already finished and out the door or don’t require detailed editing? Are you unclear on where I expect you to edit documents? If not, then why would you take the time to point out errors that are insignificant?”

      1. Sospeso*

        I think Alison included something similar in the first part of her suggestion: “Jane, I’m confused about why you’re editing documents that I hand out to the team and even your own performance evaluation. I don’t need you to edit those documents. What’s driving you to do it?” I think these questions get at the same issues, and I like the wording of both. Is this where you would leave it, Joey?

        I’d be curious to see what answers Jane could come up with (if any!).

    7. catsAreCool*

      “If you strongly feel a mistake cannot stand, you pull someone aside privately and offer a suggestion.” This!

      I tend to want to edit any mistake I find, but I know when to restrain myself.

  2. Mike C.*

    Uh, wow. One of the last things you want to do is publicly embarrass or otherwise make your boss look bad.

    1. TotesMaGoats*

      It’s much better for you to let your boss make themselves look bad. And personally far more enjoyable.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      I had a boss who was, frankly, an idiot with few redeeming qualities (and I try, I really try to look for them!).

      He was an atrocious writer. His emails would be riddled with grammar and spelling mistakes, and just read like a 3rd grade wrote them (with my apologies to many 3rd graders).

      It was everything I could do not to correct them. I did offer a couple times to give his emails to seniors “a second set of eyes just to catch any typos” (I was trying to be polite) and he let me. That was nice. It was the intellectual equivalent of talking to someone with a piece of spinach in their teeth but not being able to say anything.

      1. louise*

        It was the intellectual equivalent of talking to someone with a piece of spinach in their teeth but not being able to say anything.

        Thank you for this image. You have summed up what’s so unsettling to me about poor writing in a business context.

      2. Andy*

        I once worked for an attorney who honestly did not understand the difference between ‘there’, ‘their’, and ‘they’re’.
        It was MOST disconcerting.

        1. Anlyn*

          Oh man. I know the difference, and it bugs the ever-loving crap out of me when I see it, but I am so friggin’ guilty of doing this myself. I HATE when I do it, too. Same with your/you’re. It’s/its I haven’t had much problem with, thankfully.

          1. JB*

            Sometimes my phone autocorrects one of these to the wrong one, and I don’t catch it in time. Drives me insane.

        2. Talvi*

          See, this is one that I genuinely don’t get – probably because I pronounce “there” differently from “their” and “they’re”…

  3. TotesMaGoats*

    This is a battle you need to fight. Not because of the actual action, although that’s obnoxious, but because of what that action signifies. She has zero respect for you as her manager. My hunch is you take away one way for her to needle you and disrespect you and she’ll find another.

    1. laurely*

      (I am the Q writer) You nailed it! which is one reason I am careful to pick my battles.

  4. John*

    OP, I’m curious about her age. Is she early in her career?

    I’m just trying to make sense of the mindset.

    1. Allison*

      It could also be that she’s the same age as LW, or even older, and thus sees her manager as a peer she can help out rather than an authority figure. I wouldn’t be surprised if her reaction was “oh this is just what I do! I was trying to help!”

      1. AMG*

        This, as well as what Jubliance said. I suspect that OP has a target on her back for one of these reasons, or that she resents OP’s authority. Going through something similar with a peer.

          1. AMG*

            I have a higher title than my coworker and he undermines me, talks over me, finds every way he can to get himself involved in whatever I’m doing (successfully). My boss, who hates conflict and values a collaborative environment over all else, gave me more responsibilities than him on the project. The next thing I know, we were peers and I couldn’t do anything without Peer’s involvement. He even tried to manage me and give me action items (Yeah, right. Not gonna happen). After Peer threw some public temper fits and made some mistakes while I was excelling at ‘our’ role, I was able to justify why I should be doing my job and not him.

            It’s taken a few meetings with my boss (we have a great rapport and he is by far the very best boss I have ever had, even with this) and about a year to get to the point where we are both back where we started. The thing is, I went out of my way to help Peer when he first joined our team. He’s older and has been working here literally longer than I have been alive, but he was new to my team and my project even though we have had the same boss (I have only worked here a few years). We get along fine now and I forgive him, but I will never forget it.

            1. Artemesia*

              I am betting that if you were male this would not have become an issue with your boss. Sounds miserable.

              1. AMG*

                I bet you’re right. He’s in his place now and I don’t plan on letting him back in. I am working on my long game and he no longer has the element of surprise.

            2. ali*

              Oh, this sounds so similar to my situation. My boss and peer are both male (we are a team of three), and I’m older and have more experience than both of them. But they’ve both been at the company longer, so when I got promoted to “Senior”, my peer had to be promoted too, even though he’s only 30 and I’ve got 10 years professional experience on him. I feel like I often end up with the more difficult work, things that are appropriate to my level. It’s fine though, I don’t begrudge my peer and we have started to work really well with each other, but same as you, I won’t forget it either.

            3. The Strand*

              Oh, I hate to say this, but when you say, “…has been working here literally longer than I have been alive”, I think that’s probably just as much of the problem as your gender.

              1. AMG*

                I think it probably is. Even though I have a degree specific to this field and more directly relevant work experience. Also, I’m 40 yo, so it’s not like I’m fresh into the work world. But still, it’s just going to have an impact.

    2. Laurel Gray*

      Such a relevant question! I too am curious although old or young, the actions to stop it should still be the same. I am just so darn curious about this Edna Krabappel worker and her motivations.

      1. AW*

        Not necessarily. The OP could be new at the company, maybe 6 months, while this person has worked at the company for a year and it’s their first job. So they could still be early in the career and still have worked at this particular company longer than the OP has.

        1. laurely*

          This is her ninth or tenth position, and she is 40+ years old. She has worked for the company 3 years longer than I. She has told me she has held this position “three times longer” than any other position she has held. “I’ve been unlucky with my jobs; I always seem to get laid off.” I wish I could re-org her position out, but due to her unique field, I can’t go without it.

    3. Anna*

      OP wrote that everyone on her team has been at the company longer than she has and that the OP has been in management for 25+ years. (I assume not at that same company.)

    4. Katieinthemountains*

      Yeah, because it’s not just “neurotic grammarian.” If I receive a handout with errors, I will quietly annotate it in the same pencil I’m using to take notes and I would never ever flourish it at the writer. Red pen? Thrusting at your boss? That’s oddly aggressive.

  5. Adam V*

    OP, I suppose it’s worth asking – are the errors she’s pointing out actually errors? Does your writing need improvement?

    It doesn’t justify her behavior in the least – the very most she should have done was come to you and say something like “I might have noticed a couple of grammatical errors in your last couple of documents; would you like me to point them out to you privately if I see them again?” (and it goes without saying that if you told her you wanted her to keep her suggestions to herself at that point, she’d have done so) – but it might also be worth a bit of introspection to see whether your writing is such that it could hold you back at some point in the future, or whether people might think it reflects badly on your team and that’s why she’s so insistent on “improving” it.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Ha. When I was in high school, we had a principal who I was locked in battle with for several reasons, and he had a habit of mailing memos to parents that always had at least a few typos and errors. I would always correct them (with a red pen, naturally) and leave them in his office in-box (signed, of course, so he knew who had been so helpful). This reminds me of that.

      Mr. Durso, if you’re out there, my apologies.

      1. AnotherAlison*

        Ha, I had a similar situation with a sixth grade teacher, although I only corrected him in front of the class. But. . .Mr. Strain, if you’re out there, I still can’t stand you.

        1. TotesMaGoats*

          Oh, if I could only still remember the name of my 10th grade english teacher so I could make the same comment.

            1. Alston*

              I got sent to time out in kindergarten for blowing up when my teacher wouldn’t believe that pterodactyl started with a p. We were doing words that started with a particular letter, and she said mine was wrong and I started arguing. Brought in my dinosaur book the next day to rub her face in it.

              1. TotesMaGoats*

                My dad is a military history nut. One day, while in seminary, his professor brought up some piece of WWII trivia and got it wrong. My dad proceeded to tell him so in front of the class and then brought in a book the next day to prove his point. The professor thanked him for the correction but clearly put him in his place for doing that in a public setting and then overkill for the book part. Dad learned his lesson. I still LOL when I think of it. I can totally see exactly how my dad would do that.

                1. Not So NewReader*

                  My opinion of that prof would have gone down. It’s not overkill to provide the source of the information. And the prof’s need to slap down your father says volumes about that prof.
                  I know too many people who are confident in their field that would have handled that so very differently.

              2. Artemesia*

                I got points off for correctly doing a math problem because the teacher wrote the world problem badly. It was how far apart were the chairs on the ski lift if the hill was X long and there were Y chairs. I naturally doubled X and did the problem. She marked it wrong, I pointed out that the ski lift went up and down the hill and therefore my calculation was correct. All she had to do was acknowledge ‘two ways of looking at the problem.’ And all I had to do was to have approached her privately and not embarrassed her by being contrary in the open classroom. She didn’t relent.

                I set out to make her life a living hell by getting students in every class to bring this up. Felt good. Didn’t improve my time in class but felt good. Mrs. Dorsey, I still think you are a toad.

                1. AnotherAlison*

                  Seriously, that was my whole life in elementary school.

                  I got in trouble a lot for asking theoretical questions. There was a greater than-less than debate with my 3rd grade teacher, and then there was a question posed to the aforementioned Mr. Strain about repeating decimals that caused him to spend time writing 0.99999 across both chalkboards in the classroom. He completely missed the point of the question, but whatever. I looked him up. He’s teaching shop to middle schoolers now. That’s sounds about right.

                  I’m not saying I was always right, but the teachers never wanted to take the time to EXPLAIN why things were how they were and not how I thought they were. Just memorize it and don’t ask too many questions, and you’ll do fine in public elementary school. Otherwise, you’ll find yourself with detentions and trips to see the principal. (Thankfully, by high school, I had great teachers who appreciated questions.)

              3. Busy*

                I did this once. In fifth grade, my teacher tried to tell us that both Arlen Specter and Rick Santorum were Democratic Senators for Pennsylvania (I was living in PA at the time). I raised my hand and said something to the tune of: I can see why you might be confused about Arlen Specter, but Rick Santorum is no Democrat. He argued with me, made me leave class, and then apologized to me in front of the whole class the next morning after he (presumably) looked it up and realized it was wrong, and gave some explanation that Pennsylvania has always been blue and he got confused. It still makes me giggle, but looking back, that was a mean thing for a 10 year old to do to her teacher!

                (My blue collar steel worker father was weird, and made sure that we knew our state politics when we were kids. I watched Meet the Press for funsies starting at about age 10. Maybe I am also weird. :))

                1. Anonsie*

                  Well I have a halfway similar story: My high school chemistry teacher had this cool habit of telling people he would call their parents if people pointed out when he was wrong, which was a lot. One day he tried to tell us that one mole of a molecular substance would have the same number of molecules and atoms and worked some problems out on the board that way as examples. I raised my hand and said that couldn’t be right, because there were multiple atoms per molecule, and he got vary angry and told me he would call my parents if I wanted to start trouble. I explained that our textbook said the opposite of what he was saying, and he sent me outside and said he was going to call home about my sass. I wrote my parents’ phone numbers on a piece of paper and gave it to him after class and told him he could call them if he wanted to but that didn’t mean anything.

                  Then the next day he quietly tried to just proceed to our practice problems having fixed his error but without acknowledging it, and when he got to explaining this part I just shouted “THAT’S WHAT I SAID” unprovoked. He sent me outside again and said he’d call home over it so I called my mom from a hall phone and told her he wanted to talk to her about be having outbursts in class. She called him later that day and according to her he claimed I was wonderful and we’d never had a disagreement and he had no idea what I was talking about.

                  I regret nothing.

                2. Elizabeth West*

                  No no, that wasn’t mean. You were respectfully disagreeing. And the teacher admitting he was wrong in front of the class was great. It showed the students that anyone can make a mistake and they don’t have to be perfect.

                3. Busy*

                  I never thought of it that way, Elizabeth West, but that’s a really good point. Thanks, Mr. Triola (I did mention it was PA, right?).

              4. LiteralGirl*

                My daughter, a freshman in high school, was told that her definition of agnostic was wrong. She knows what it means, but didn’t argue with the teacher. My husband and I told her to argue the point (respectfully, of course) next time, and that we’d fully back her up.

              5. Katie the Fed*

                I ask in Sunday School if transubstantiation meant we’re cannibals.

                I got in a lot of trouble, but I wasn’t being a smartass. I really wanted to know.

                1. Artemesia*

                  I got in this trouble all the time in Baptist Sunday school — it started when I was 5 and asked why we called God ‘He’ — How did we know God was a man. You would have thought I had suggested that the birth of Christ resulted from a lesbian relationship. They were truly shocked and repelled by the question. And then I started asking if it was ‘red, or yellow, black or white, they are precious in his sight’ that we treated black people so badly. And then it was communion and the ritual cannibalism when I got older. I was not cut out to be a Baptist.

                2. Soupspoon McGee*

                  My mom was our CCD teacher the year we prepared for our first holy communion (CCD is catholic Sunday school, but on Wednesdays). A few days before our big, official first communion, mom took us to the church to practice. She had us line up at the altar and stood in front with the unblessed bread.

                  Mom would say, “This is the body of Christ,” and the first kid replied “Amen,” and she put it in his mouth. Same with the second kid. Then me.

                  I just stared at her, wide-eyed, while the little boy behind me whispered, “Say Amen!”

                  Mom hissed, “THIS is the body of Christ.”

                  I started screaming, “I don’t want to eat Jesus! I’m not a cannibal!”

                  And then 10 little kids started crying.

                  I always wondered why she never taught my CCD classes after that.

                3. Not So NewReader*

                  I saw that too, where questions were proof of being a trouble maker.

                  My husband went to a college run by a religious order. (Trying not to name names, here.) The students would ask questions like this. The teachers would say “You’re free thinking! You’re free thinking!”, as if free thinking was verboten. My husband would smirk, “But that is how we were designed to be!”

                  Some people hate questions that have any intelligence going on.

                4. Pennalynn Lott*

                  When I was seven or so, I asked in Sunday school why we bowed our heads to pray to God, if he was supposedly up in the sky somewhere (as in, why are we looking down to speak to him, instead of looking up in his general direction). The answer, “We’re showing deference to our Lord and Master by humbling ourselves before his greatness,” was probably the first step on my journey to atheism. [If he’s my loving father, why do I need to “humble” myself before him?]

                  Anyway, I lasted about 3 weeks in that Sunday school, and I think they were happy to see me go.

                5. Melissa*

                  I got in trouble asking a similar question. I was arguing with my parents about time travel, something that I was really interested in when i was 12 or 13, and they were telling me it was impossible yada yada (they didn’t have a scientific basis behind thinking that; they just stubbornly didn’t want to talk about it at all). So I got frustrated and asked them if it was so impossible, then how could God do it – because impossible literally means “not possible.” I got in trouble for that one.

              6. Sigrid*

                When I was in seventh grade, we had a “problem of the day” that we had to do as soon as we got into our classrooms (math and science). One day the problem of the day was “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” in science class. I dutifully wrote down, “the egg, because birds evolved from dinosaurs, and dinosaurs laid eggs”. After we had turned in our papers, our teacher asked if anyone wanted to answer the question out loud. I volunteered. After I had given my answer, the teacher responded with, “Don’t be smart.” To which I responded, “If you didn’t want to know the answer, why did you ask the question?”

                I was sent to the principal’s office.

                Mr. Seventh Grade Science Teacher, whose name I don’t recall, wherever you are, you’re still a jerk.

                1. AMG*

                  This has always been my response to the chicken/egg question. And so has ‘don’t ask if you don’t want to know’ when encountering derision to responses. I am among my people here. :)

                2. Ž*

                  what’s wrong with being smart? isn’t the entire purpose of school to make you smarter?

                  (i’m aware of the idiom, i’m just disagreeing with it)

              7. oaktown*

                I argued with a teacher in high school about the correct meaning of penultimate for an entire class. And then when I brought a dictionary to him to show him I was right, he was like, whatever, it doesn’t matter. OF COURSE IT MATTERS!!! GAH! He was a great teacher the rest of the time, but I felt like that reaction was pretty rude.

              8. Pennalynn Lott*

                I got an F on a book report / writing assignment in 3rd grade. We were supposed to write a report about an animal, and I chose the eohippus (an extinct, prehistoric predecessor to today’s modern horses). Mrs. Link gave me an F because I was supposed to write about a real animal, not an imaginary one. (Did you even *read* my report?? I based it on a book in our elementary’s library, which I cited in the report, fer cryin out loud!) My mom had to take half a day off work to meet with Mrs. Link and show her not only the library book, but one of our encyclopedias in order to get her to give me an A.

              9. Kikishua*

                Had a similar issue (although older) with a teacher who insisted “fantasy” was spelt “phantasy”, as in “fantasy” is WRONG, rather than it can be spelt both ways but “fantasy” is the generally accepted spelling.

        1. Kelly L.*

          I cringe. I was a spelling bee kid. We used to win dictionaries as awards. Once I got one that had a section on grammar and editing. I saw a misspelling in the section about “sic,” and the explanation of what the “sic” meant went completely over my head (it was supposed to be a demonstration of how to use it), and I complained to my dad that there was a misspelling in the dictionary. He also didn’t understand the “sic” thing or explain it to me, and pushed me to write the dictionary company about it! o.O And I did. Cringe. And got a letter back explaining that it was intentional and why.

          1. Elysian*

            That is incredibly dedicated on the part of the dictionary company. They are educating at all costs, it seems.

          2. Not So NewReader*

            I think that is a show of respect. They took the time to give you a useful answer.

          3. Melissa*

            I once wrote to a dictionary too! I wrote to Merriam-Webster’s thesaurus because I was childhood-outraged that “Christian” was listed as a synonym for “civilized.” I got a very polite response back explaining that dictionaries are descriptive, not prescriptive. It was actually very enlightening!

      2. Emmy Rae*

        I am told I corrected my kindergarten teacher’s grammar. At that age I didn’t know how to tie my shoes. These were the two behavior problems my parents were informed of at conferences.

        1. the gold digger*

          My husband’s father still (at the age of 82) brags how he corrected his kindergarten teacher and is still – 77 years later – baffled that the teacher did not welcome the correction. Not that my husband’s father would ever welcome correction – but if you ask him, he never makes mistakes so why would he need correction?

          1. the gold digger*

            Speaking of my husband’s dad, one of the biggest fights we have ever had – which led to his telling my husband (for the first, but not for the last, time) that my husband needed to “keep [me] in line,” was about his correcting my niece about her pronunciation of the word “extract” when used with respect to cooking. My niece had actually pronounced the word properly, but even if she had not, was it worth making such a big deal about that he had to insistently correct her?


              1. ThursdaysGeek*

                The line I use (and I got it from my husband): I obey my husband. He told me to do whatever I want, and I do.

              2. Cath in Canada*

                I haven’t had that one yet, but I have one almost as good. A friend of a friend with whom I’d once had a political debate (OK, heated debate. OK, argument) told our mutual friend “I feel sorry for Cath’s husband. She should let him talk instead of having strong opinions like that”.

                My husband thought it was hilarious and still quotes this guy at me from time to time…

              3. Connie-Lynne*

                My mother and husband often commiserate over how “willful and impertinent” I am.

                In jest, because they both love that about me.

          2. cardiganed librarian*

            I also have an acquaintance who would tell stories, weeks or months after the fact, of mistakes her teachers made and their poor reception of her corrections. It was one of her principle topics of conversation. I have no doubt that she was correct, and no doubt that she absolutely radiated self-righteousness when letting everyone know.

            1. Jean*

              Late to the party, but I am _compelled_ to tell you that I love your AAM identity!
              (This is from a very lapsed librarian.)

          3. Alter_ego*

            My DAD corrected my first grade teacher at a parent teacher conference. Our spelling words for the week were on the board, and she’d spelled tomato wrong. I wasn’t there obviously, but I imagine his correction was less “I think you may have spelled tomato wrong, there’s no e”, and more “I pay $X a year for my daughter to go here, and you can’t even spell a simple word?!” That woman was AWFUL to me for all of first grade, and I didn’t find out why until years later. Thanks a lot dad. He was totally the type who would have corrected his own teachers in school as well.

            1. AnotherAlison*

              Heh heh. My dad went to the school to go to bat for me once, too. I disagreed with a teacher (admittedly in a snotty way) and she grabbed my face, so he went up there and talked to the principal. Dads can mean well sometimes, but yeah, that didn’t make having that teacher any easier. (Of course in 2015, she would be fired and it would be a scandal on the news, but this was the 80s.)

              1. Miss Betty*

                Okay, it’s so wrong of me, but I can’t help wishing your dad had grabbed your teacher’s face in return.

              2. Kerry (Like The County In Ireland)*

                My dad got expelled from Catholic high school for correcting a priest (something about the pope and whether he just spoke for God or was His embodiment on earth, free will–it was 1960 or so) and then went back and punched the priest in the face.

            2. EvilQueenRegina*

              I had a teacher once who was always making spelling mistakes. Parents went in to complain about a homework assignment he sent out that had mistakes in and one time, a parent was in the classroom and corrected some mistakes he’d written on the board. He shouted at the class when he saw it and just got into more trouble.

        2. Hlyssande*

          I once corrected the second grade teacher when she was reading aloud. I still swear that she said ‘woon’ instead of ‘moon.’

          I adored her at the time, but my mom says she was actually pretty terrible to me.

        3. Former Cable Rep*

          When I was in middle school I became a holy terror to my “first year” Spanish teacher because the woman had the worst pronunciation. I would correct her constantly. Mostly I was just bitter that I’d had to wait three years to get back into a Spanish language class and she had us doing coloring book exercises.

          Eventually the woman started correcting my pronunciation because I’d been using the dialect of the country I’d lived in previously. Unfortunately for her, my dad was fluent in Spanish, in that dialect, and had quite the conversation with her. Normally my dad never went to bat for me, but he was just as frustrated as I was at how lackluster the foreign language program at my school was. I’d like to say things got better, but she continued to miseducate the class and I continued to correct her. The subsequent years, I got teachers who could actually speak Spanish and who had some training in various dialects, and we learned to conjugate verbs instead of coloring pictures.

          Of course I got lazy and stopped practicing when I quit college, so if I tried speaking Spanish now I would fully expect young children to correct me. It all comes full circle.

            1. Collarbone High*

              A friend who moved to North Carolina recently posted on Facebook that his daughter learned a story at preschool that she was excited to share with her parents, but they honestly couldn’t tell if it was about a well, or a whale.

              1. Pennalynn Lott*

                My mom once had to talk to my brother’s first-grade teacher because she’d marked one of his answers on a spelling test wrong. She read the words from a list and the students had to write them down. She said, “far” so my brother wrote “far”, and got a big fat, red X for his efforts. The word was “fire”.

                We’re from Texas.

                1. College Career Counselor*

                  My parents moved to the south 50 years ago and were looking for a particular house down the road from a “tar ” company. Could. Not. Find. the tar company. Turned out to be a tire company.

          1. Mints*

            Heh, my high school had a few Spanish teachers, and my first year we had a real bilingual teacher (chicana) who was also just a good teacher. My second year, we had an anglo-american lady who went on vacation once a year; her Spanish was okay. I’m in California. We have a huge Hispanic population. We had kids move from Mexico like a week before class. I also speak fluent Spanish. That teacher got corrected a lot, and she would get FURIOUS. (Pronunciation, grammar, history).
            Being annoying teenagers, we obviously corrected her even more and needled her to death. I got detention for rolling my eyes. In retrospect, I feel a little bad, but I also think that was a bad career choice for her.

        4. Ellie H.*

          I still can’t tie my shoes the “correct” way (squirrel, hole). I worked at an afterschool program for a while and the kids would sometimes tease me about it if they asked me to tie their shoe and this became evident. It was pretty cute. :)

      3. mess*

        When I was in grade school my mom would correct memos/letters from my teachers with the red pen and insist I hand them back to the teacher, which of course I never did. Gah.

          1. Also from Muskegon, MI*

            Any chance you’re from Muskegon, MI? Even the city misspells it as Pier [sic] Marquette.

            1. the gold digger*

              That is pretty bad! Nope, I am from a place where it is usually spelled correctly. :) Apparently, this teacher (and the city of Muskegon) thinks Marquette is all about docks and not about a Jesuit missionary!

                1. So Very Anonymous*

                  I haven’t lived in STL area for years, but definitely remember going to Pere Marquette with my family. The lodge with the giant chess set!

                2. Kelly L.*

                  Yes! And a lot of people do pronounce it Pier Marquette. It doesn’t help that it is actually near the river. It doesn’t surprise me that people have eggcorned it.

              1. Elizabeth West*

                I know who Pere Marquette is!

                Wow, that really sent a memory lumbering to the front of my brain. We had all these old books that belonged to my grandparents (and my mum) and I read them to pieces as a child. Thornton W. Wilder’s animal books, and scads of The Bobbsey Twins. It was the latter where I first heard of him–the kids did a tableau of him in a homemade pageant.

                Damn, I’m old. Now run along and get off my lawn.

                1. Jill*

                  We have a Pere Marquette Park in Milwaukee – along with Marquette University and Marquette High School, both of which are run in the Jesuit tradition.

                  golddigger, did I figure you out?

              2. Cath in Canada*

                I once saw a grant that had a great phrase about “pier-to-pier communication” in the collaboration management section. I had visions of two professors standing out on docks waving semaphore flags at each other.

      4. manybellsdown*

        I’m exchanging emails with high school administrator about my kid right now who keeps making spelling errors in her emails. Including my child’s name. Which is 5 letters long and phonetic.

          1. Kelly*

            If the administrators at your child’s HS were anything like mine, more than likely they were former gym teachers. Making basic spelling errors wouldn’t surprise me considering their qualifications in that area.

            1. JB*

              I don’t want to stick up for all gym teachers, but a friend from college is gym teacher, and she is just as qualified as any other teacher. And she knows how to spell.

      5. Sarahnova*

        Alison, every time you reveal a bit of personal history, it just gets more awesome. Your past is more rebellious than I would have expected from the firm and down-to-earth AAM persona. (I’m not sure if that’s something you want to hear or not… ;) )

            1. Not So NewReader*

              Yes, it’s the one’s who kick that make the most interesting/approachable adults. Or so it seems. I guess they’ve “looked at life from both sides”.

      6. Noelle*

        My first semester of college I was like a more obnoxious Hermione Granger. I took great pride in correcting my professors, so 90 percent of my comments began, “ACTUALLY…” “Actually, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was NOT widely respected after he started publicly talking about fairies. “Actually, Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata is NOT an example of program music.” I thought I was awesome, until I got my grades back. Turns out professors don’t like being corrected.

        1. Artemesia*

          My daughter learned this lesson when she pronounced W.E.B. DuBois Due Boys. This is of course correct, but the professor insisted it was Due Bwah. She has more sense than me and didn’t push back. We aren’t sure where she came from — the rest of us in the family would all have made asses of ourselves ‘being right’ rather than being prudent.

          1. jhhj*

            My parents usually ask me if I want to be right or I want to be happy.

            I know they want me to say “be happy”, but.

          2. Noelle*

            Pronunciations are hard! I got the brunt of this as a music major. It’s just impossible to say Camille Saint-Saens correctly and NOT sound smug. Although I did love that one of my classmates continued to pronounce Mahler “Mallard,” like the duck, for four whole years.

              1. Kelly L.*

                I was pretty sure my elementary music teacher was making up the pronunciation of Saint-Saens to troll me.

                1. Noelle*

                  Camy Sauw Sauws! I thought I was hot stuff when I was 14 and my piano teacher taught me how to pronounce Charles Dutoit. I was on such a role I proceeded to lecture my parents that they were also mispronouncing the Boston Celtics with a soft C. I was wrong.

          1. Noelle*

            Trust me, it’s a lot less cute when you’re 18 and not 11. After that semester I satisfied myself with Hermione-esque eye rolling and scoffing.

        2. Anonsie*

          When my mom started teaching, the other teachers in her department advised her to have a section for “instructor points” or something else really ambiguous that was worth 10-15% of each semester so that you could move a kid up/down a full letter so their end grade matched what you actually thought their skills were like. Purportedly to give credit for hard work and improvement, but they were pretty clear about it being a PITA tax in reality. She was pretty offended by the idea but kept is in the syllabus for a while anyway in case she decided they were right later.

          A few years later she took it out and told me “the troublemakers never have good grades anyway.”

        3. BAS*

          These are all reminding me of the time I forgot to take a foundation course for my major and had to take it senior year of college and the TA was talking in section and I was so used to roundtable discussions I just interjected and was like “ACTUALLY, blah blah blah” to which she agreed and I just felt like a jerk the rest of the class for undermining her in her first class on the first day. It made the whole section awkward.

          1. Connie-Lynne*

            I had this problem, too, going back to college in my 30s. I’d forget my profs weren’t colleagues and make conversational interjections. With a lot of the profs, we’d then end up down a really interesting side road … And Whups, not have covered the planned class material at ALL that day.

      7. MaryMary*

        My AP European History teacher told us on the first day of class to let him know if he made any errors, spelling, grammar, or otherwise, when writing notes on the board. He had never taught an AP class before. So, we pointed out his mistakes. Repeatedly, and with great glee.

        1. Not So NewReader*

          And that is how he knew you were all paying attention and engaged.
          Crazy like a fox.

      8. AnonEMoose*

        Ha! I was locked in battle with my high school guidance counselor. Who once spent 45 minutes attempting to browbeat me into doing things his way. Which I had no intention of doing. He was very displeased when he called my mother and attempted to get her to take over the browbeating…and she was on my side.

        Then he tried to push me into doing my first two years of college at the local community college and then transferring to a school that, while not terrible for some things, had a reputation as a party school, and was not great for the degree I wanted. When my other option was to go directly into the honors program at the school I actually wanted to go to. I’m still convinced that he was expecting me to go for an MRS. degree. (And yes, he lost that argument, too…he was a slow learner about arguing with me, apparently…)

        Luckily, there was another guidance counselor who gave me credit for having a brain; so he actually helped me with most of my college application paperwork.

        1. Artemesia*

          I didn’t know there were guidance counselors who cared enough to try to push a student to do anything. I never met any.

          1. AnonEMoose*

            I went to high school in a sort of medium-size town (population around 15,000 or so at the time). So the guidance counselors weren’t so overwhelmed and not dealing with as much of the stuff so many of them have to deal with these days.

            Although I’m still not sure how much of it was because he cared, and how much of it was because he just couldn’t handle that I wasn’t meekly doing what he told me.

      9. Shell*

        Ha, we had a biology teacher that a lot of us couldn’t stand because she taught ineffectively, she threw a fit when we asked other biology teachers for clarification (a lot of those teachers had taught us previously so it wasn’t as if we were unfamiliar with them), and marked us incorrect/took off points for “spelling errors” that were actually UK/Canadian spelling. Note that I’m Canadian.

        A group of us marched up to the principal to complain, and I think I even had a list of said “spelling errors” to prove my point.

        I was an obnoxious kid.

        1. Noelle*

          I’m American, but I used British spelling well into college because I felt like it made me seem more sophisticated. I also was an obnoxious kid.

          1. Elizabeth West*

            Heh, I stole the way my German voice teacher in music college made her sevens and her zeds (with a cross mark through them). I copied her because I thought it was cool. Now it’s a habit and people sometimes look at it in puzzlement.

            1. AnotherAlison*

              I did the same thing with printed lowercase d. I used to do it the proper D’Nealian way of starting with the loop, but then switched to start with the line. (Hard to explain, but it’s not as cute as I thought it was, and now I’m stuck with it.) I also admired the fancy seven and z, but those didn’t stick.

              1. Christina*

                You mean for the non-cursive d, you start at the top with the downstroke? This is how I’ve always writted ds for as long as I can remember, I didn’t know it was not normal.

            2. Tau*

              As long as you didn’t copy the German 1 (with a stroke on the top)… I’m German and did a maths degree in the UK. I used to write a small intro to all my exams going “my numerals look like THIS: [example]” out of fear for being marked down because yet another person thought my one was a seven. (I could have just switched to the British/American way of writing them but I’m obstinate about things like that.)

            3. Melissa*

              SAME. I took German in middle school and started writing my 7s and zs with cross marks, and it’s stuck now.

      10. bad student*

        Oh God, we could have been partners in crime. I had a year-long battle with a math teacher in seventh grade. There were a lot of problems (one of them being her preaching in the classroom), but the one I could prove to adults was this was this: She didn’t grade our tests. She marked random things correct or incorrect.

        I wasn’t great at math, so I took a while to catch on. I thought my grades fluctuated strangely because, well, my math ability fluctuates strangely. But when I heard from some friends, I got what was going on.

        So I started intentionally making mistakes on the first question of the tests. And then the teacher marked those answers correct. And then I brought them to the principal.

        Ms. Meeks, if you’re out there, I’m sincerely sorry for being extremely rude, but LOL

        1. Anonsie*

          HAH! I’ve had two college professors who did the same thing. One in math who arbitrarily graded tests and one in a writing class who I realized halfway through wasn’t reading our papers at anymore and was just giving us the same grades he’d given us on the first paper over and over. I tested both theories successfully but never told anyone in the administration.

        2. Not So NewReader*

          I don’t get why that was rude. The teacher was not doing their job.

          Long story short- I had a chem teacher that did not like me. She was never going to like me. Decades later, I am sure she still hates me. (The woman had issues.) I could never get anything other than a D or D minus on my chem labs. I kept going over the papers and trying to figure out how I could have done better. Then one day it dawn on me, “I will never do better”. I took my friend’s lab report and copied it word for word. I copied her drawings, too. She got an A from her teacher. I got a D minus from mine. I went to my guidance counselor and told him the truth. I gave him the papers. I was out of that lab and into a different teacher’s lab so fast- wow. I offered to redo the lab report because I had copied it, it was not my work. The guidance counselor shook his head and said, “just forget about it.”

      11. Blue_eyes*

        This just reminded me of when I got invited to apply to the honors college at a state university. The letter had no fewer than 3 grammar or spelling error on it. If you work at an HONORS college and you’re sending a document to thousands of prospective students, maybe have someone proof-read it first. Definitely did not apply there. (Pretty sure it was University of Arkansas, for the curious).

      12. BeckyDaTechie*

        In kindergarten, we had music lessons twice a week. Tuesday we learned the first verse of a Very Important Song for the Christmas program (which was still a Christmas program back in 1986). But Thursday he “taught” us the verse again and changed a word. I noticed and asked which one was “right”. He said the right word was “the one I tell you to sing”. And that didn’t make any sense because he told us to sing them both, just at different times, so I asked which word was in the book and he threw a hissy. “You’ll sing whatever I tell you to sing whenever I tell you to sing it. Now go sit in the corner!”

        So I did. But I stopped beside his desk first to read the verse for myself, because when you’re 5 and read like you’re in 3rd grade, you can do that.

        What I shouldn’t have done was smile at him and tell the class the right word before I sat down.

        And that was my *first* trip to the principal’s office.

      13. Barney Stinson*

        My sixth grade SCIENCE teacher could not pronounce the word ‘infrared.’ Of course, it’s correctly ‘in-fra-red.’ She insisted it was ‘in-frared’ (rhymes with ‘blared’).


      14. Cath in Canada*

        My beloved teacher when I was about eight or nine used to do trivia quizzes on Friday afternoons, using a massive trivia facts book as the source material. I remember that one question was “identify the error in the following sentence: ‘I can tell the kettle is boiling, because I can see steam coming out of the spout'”. No-one got it right despite several increasingly desperate guesses, and finally the teacher read out the answer: “Steam is invisible”.

        We all protested, but rather than try to explain the difference between steam and water vapour or whatever, the teacher said “the book is correct, steam is invisible. Books are always correct”. We just couldn’t understand why she would say that – everyone knows you can see steam coming out of kettles! It was the first time that my absolute faith in the 100% trustworthiness of a) authority figures and b) books had ever been shaken. Probably what started me on the path to atheism, lol!

      15. ECH*

        I had a wonderful elementary teacher whom we had to give cookies if we made mistakes, but she’d give us cookies if we caught her mistakes. Being of the proofreader/editor bent, I got a number of cookies out of her. :)

      16. Elizabeth the Ginger*

        This reminds me of a guy I went to college with who edited his grad school rejection letters, then gave them grades based on their grammar and writing. He didn’t actually mail them back, but hung them up outside his dorm room door. I think he found it therapeutic.

    2. Thermal Teapot Researcher*

      This is what I was wondering as well. She may have the worst possible way of communicating, but that doesn’t mean that she is necessarily factually wrong.

      Having said that, it’s the performative aspect of her corrections that really sticks out to me. Red pen with an audience? That’s pretty harsh. Add in that she also seems to be ignoring blatant social cues that this is something that the OP doesn’t approve of, and I find it hard to believe that this is being done in good faith. It reads to me like she is showing off at the OP’s expense.

      If she was bringing these edits to the OP privately, and asking if the OP would be interested in seeing them, I would have a whole different response.

      1. Allison*

        Agreed. She can say, in a one on one meeting with the manager, that she’s noticed the meeting documents tend to have a few errors in them, and she’d be happy to proofread them.

      2. fposte*

        But factually right doesn’t matter in this situation–she’s still completely behaviorally wrong, and that counts more. I think that’s something that people who have a habit of making unsolicited language corrections don’t realize–they’re making a big fat mistake that’s much larger than anything they’re correcting.

        1. Thermal Teapot Researcher*

          To be as clear as I can be: I think that you are completely correct in every way that her behaviour is so very wrong.

          However, I don’t think that it would hurt the OP to consider whether her writing actually isn’t clear or well written. It may very well be that her writing is epic, and the editor is just looking for a fight, but looking to see if there is a bases behind the edits isn’t going to kill her. That doesn’t mean that she cant ask the editor to stop just because she privately considered the editors points.

          I put it in the same category as people who complain that their partner is always yelling at them for being a slob. Yes, it’s horrible that your partner is yelling at you all the time, and that needs to stop, but are you also actually a slob?

          1. fposte*

            Yeah, I’m still not on board. This isn’t like your partner yelling at you about being a slob, it’s like your employee yelling at you that you’re a slob in front of the office while she rearranges your desk without permission. Whether you’re a slob or not is the least significant thing there.

            1. Adam V*

              Sorry, I may not have been clear in my original post. I think these are two separate issues.

              Definitely talk to the employee. Definitely set boundaries and don’t allow this behavior to continue. Definitely discipline her (or any others) who continue the behavior after being told to stop.

              But in a completely separate thread, if your writing (or anything else) could use improvement, then that’s something you should consider improving, for your own sake.

              Keep in mind – I have no idea if #2 is true! It’s entirely possible the OP’s writing is perfectly fine, and the employee is just being a problem employee. #1 is a *definite* problem; #2 is a *possible* point of improvement. I’m just saying don’t completely discard the idea just because they’re going about “pointing it out” in such a horrible way.

            2. Thermal Teapot Researcher*

              I actually may just be missunderstanging your point. I’m reading it as: “(potentially) being a bad writer is unimportant because I (rightly) disagree with the way that I was informed of my lack of skill.”

              Is this not what you are trying to say?

              1. fposte*

                No. I’m saying that given the OP’s plausible statement that the inking is about style disputes rather than corrections, given the fact that the OP writes clearly here and works with many people who also read her writing, given the fact that this has been going on for several years and she has no doubt given the corrections consideration throughout that time, her writing itself is not relevant to the situation and there’s no particular reason to give it further scrutiny just because somebody with hugely poor judgment has a bee in her bonnet.

                Basically, this employee’s actions aren’t to me indicative of anything about the actual writing, so I don’t see the OP as needing any further attention to her writing than the general attention we all should be giving.

                1. Thermal Teapot Researcher*

                  Well, sorry for the disagreement derail, especially seeing how strongly you feel about this.

                2. Thermal Teapot Researcher*

                  Frankly, I am a long time reader but a first time commenter, and was just attempting to show a bit of extra curtsey to fposte, who is a long time commenter who I happen to disagree with in this case.

                3. Thermal Tepot Researcher*

                  Yeah, it is. It’s hard to convey: “I disagree with you, but not so strongly that I’m trying to gauntlet throw.”

                4. fposte*

                  TTR–Sorry, I missed this. I didn’t take you as discourteous, just disagreeing, which I have no problem with. I got kind of long, but that’s indicative of nothing but my tendency to be long-winded.

            3. blu*

              What is your objection to OP checking to review if her writing could be improved? What is the harm there? I don’t think anyone is saying that should change how she addresses the behavior, but if she is making errors then there is no reason to willfully continue doing so.

              1. fposte*

                Well, sure, I think everybody should check their writing regularly. I don’t see a weird staffer as an occasion to do more than that, though. Just because somebody tells you you’re not eating right, dressing right, filing right, presenting right, writing right doesn’t mean that you have to give their words consideration.

      3. simonthegrey*

        I work in academia, across a couple departments. One of them is having some…growing pains. A woman I have been friends with for several years – since I started – has been vocal and vituperative about her issues with the way things are run. She definitely brings a pen to meetings and corrects all correspondence given to her. She is definitely doing it from a place of disrespect, and she talks openly about the errors she finds. It’s to the point where, as much as I like her outside of work, I don’t want to associate with her in the workplace because I don’t want her negative attitude and actions to reflect badly on me.

        1. MsM*

          Ugh. I get that you don’t want to be associated with her, but would pulling her aside and telling her she’s not helping her cause have any impact at all? Maybe if she does think of you as an ally, it’ll be a helpful wake-up call.

          1. simonthegrey*

            I’ve tried, as have a couple of our other teammates. I think she’s just decided this is the hill she wants to die on. It’s painful since I do like her, but I honestly don’t think things are as bad as she does.

    3. Sadsack*

      I get your overall point, but I cannot imagine asking my manager if he would like me to point out errors to him privately. That just sounds so weird. If he asked me to proofread something, then sure, point out the errors. Otherwise, ignore them. I kind of doubt that she is doing this because she wants to help her manager succeed.

      1. Ezri*

        Yes – I want more clarification on what edits refers to. Is she ‘fixing’ misspellings and incorrect word usage, or just providing what she thinks is ‘better’ wording?

        1. fposte*

          It doesn’t matter. She’s making a much bigger mistake than any incorrect word usage or misspelling, and she has to knock it off. There’s no content problem that justifies this behavior.

            1. fposte*

              But people are saying that it matters what she’s red-inking, and I’m disagreeing.

        2. laurely*

          It is the latter. She typically changes words and/or phrases. Her suggestions are often reasonable, but are seldom more than differences in style.

    4. AnotherFed*

      Also worth considering – is the employee being given other opportunity to give the OP feedback or clarify the OP’s points and writing? Since these employees have worked there so much longer than OP, it could be that what the OP sees as simply style edits are actually true technical corrections.

      Now, the way the employee makes these corrections is still way out of line and needs to be addressed, regardless of whether the edits are valid or not. It’s just also worth taking a closer look at the work in question – if the OP isn’t inviting feedback and keeping a path open for the employees to help them look good on technical areas, the other employees may just be cringing quietly while the boss looks dumb.

  6. Jubilance*

    Wow that’s ballsy on the part of your employee. Is she like that with everyone, or just you? Was she gunning for the job and maybe bitter that she didn’t receive it? In either case, I agree with Allison and I’m amazed that you hadn’t said something the first couple of times she did this.

    1. Cordelia Naismith*

      This. I mean, it’s not impossible that she just likes editing and is trying to help, but given that she’s making such a show of doing this in public, I really, really doubt it. This feels like the act of an employee who is bitter and is deliberately trying to undermine the OP.

  7. Kelly L.*

    I read the headline and was all prepared to defend her–I got criticized once for not editing some documents I hadn’t known I was supposed to edit; I’d left them alone out of respect for the bosses who wrote them–but the way she’s doing it is obnoxious as hell. Adam V’s wording is good.

    1. Ama*

      Yeah, there’s a big difference between being the kind of person who discreetly lets the person in charge of a document/project know there’s an error or typo and making a huge show with a red pen in front of that person (and others).

      There’s also picking your battles. When there was a typo in the new cover photo my org’s Facebook account posted — I emailed our social media director asap even though it was after hours. But for meeting notes, I’m not going to correct a typo unless the typo actually raises a question (i.e. if an event is really on the 3rd and the meeting notes say the 2nd).

      1. Kelly L.*

        This wasn’t even typos–it was more like stylistic issues and unclear wording. I had assumed things were worded the way they were for a reason–such as technical or legal, and that after I’d been there longer, I’d understand why.

  8. Sarah Nicole*

    First of all, Happy Wednesday, right?

    Secondly, I agree with other commenters that it shows a blatant lack of respect for you as her manager. This shows that either she’s truly showing out in this way to undermine you, or at the very least that she has extremely poor judgement. BUT, at the same time, it does seem like your willingness to let it slide so as not to confront her about this issue has given her the idea that it’s somehow okay to do (I totally understand why you didn’t and don’t know at what point I would have said something). I’d really be interested in an update to this one, because I’d bet once you say something to her, she will say she thought it was no problem. To be clear, I don’t think that excuse is any good, but she may say something like that just because it’s gone on so long and no one has told her to stop.

    1. laurely*

      Thank you. The red pen is a recent addition to our supervisor relationship. I sonetimes feel as though I’m playing a game of Whack-a-Mole. Fix one oroblem and another pops up.

      1. Meg Murry*

        That is why you need a formal PIP, where you list out what the problem is: “attempting to undermine the boss’s authority and decision making” and give specific examples of what she has already done and other things that are not acceptable. Because she sounds like she is super nit-picky, and if you tell her to stop red-pen editing, she will just switch to green pen, and then say “but you told me to stop red-pen editing, and I did.”

        Talk to your boss and lay out a PIP. Be sure to include that she also has to maintain her current job duties so she can’t let those slide, and treating her colleagues with respect so she doesn’t start to try to undermine them too.

        Then if another whack-a-mole habit pops up, that’s fodder for the PIP. If she doesn’t stop within X months, she’s done. Get your boss (or his boss, or HR, whoever it is) behind you, so you have the actual weight of the company behind you.

        Because you might fix this red-pen thing, but something more will come up. And this is wasting your time, preventing you from being able to do your job when you are spending time calling her into your office for stupid stuff like this.

  9. Rae*

    Is the employee that’s following suit a newer employee? I had been given bad advice from a co-worker once and when it was addressed I had no idea that I was doing anything wrong.
    Since this team is 8 people, I would address it with her first, then as a team.
    “Team, I’ve noticed that we’ve developed the unprofessional habit of editing internal documents after they’ve been distributed. This not only distracts from the purpose of many of these to be quick notes, but also means these notes aren’t retained by the person who should be keeping them. I’m addressing this one-on-one with those who concern me most, but I want people to be aware incase you feel the need to edit or feel you’ve been edited needlessly.”

    My concern with a super-editor is probably doing this to c0-workers and it could lead to tremendous job dissatisfaction. If a co-worker did this to me, and I knew my supervisor passively accepted it…I’d be looking for a new job without even working with management.

    1. IndieGir*

      No, no, no, no, no. Never address the team when only one person is doing something wrong. I learned this the hard way in my early days as a manager. If I sent out a chastising email to the team, all the folks who weren’t engaging in the bad behavior would come to me in a sweat to make sure they weren’t in trouble or to defend themselves. All the folks who were engaging in the bad behavior just ignored me or assumed it didn’t apply to them.

      I understand what you are saying about the super-editor potentially doing this to others on the team. But talking to them as a group is just as passive-aggressive as leaving the edits on the table. Talk to the editor individually and then if she pulls that maneuver again, instead of leaving the edited handout on the table, hand it back to her in front of the group and tell her “I’ve told you not to do this.”

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        I like it because she said that the behavior is starting to spread, and because the employee has been making such a show of it in front of others, which is surely making others wonder what the hell is going on. It says “I see this BS and am shutting it down.” It’s not punishing anyone who isn’t doing it.

        1. IndieGir*

          I can see that point. I guess it’s hard for me to relate, b/c the first time the employee did that to me in a meeting, I would have looked at her like she had six heads, handed it back to her, and said “Why on earth are you giving me this?” :-)

        2. Sadsack*

          I sort of agree with you both! What if OP tells the two employees who are doing the editing that, if they have also been doing this to her coworkers, it needs to stop? I worry that making a team announcement would seem like publicly shaming the employee and worsening any problems (even though they may deserve it), especially after it was addressed already in private.

          1. Rae*

            I don’t think it’s public shaming because I see this as a public problem. It’s more like a PSA. The manager has 1 super-aggressive editor, another who’s following suit. This isn’t a one person problem this is 1/4 of the team. If this were a team of 30 and it was one person, then that’d be a bit different. 8 people is a really tight group.
            Plus, let’s be real. If they are bold enough to do it to a manger, they’re doing it to their co-workers. This kind of behavior doesn’t work in a vacuum.
            I work on a team that is 13 members. 3 of those members were taking extra-long lunches on a daily basis. Their behavior was address but then others started slipping. The manager addressed all of us as a team. At some point public poor behavior becomes a team problem.

        3. Kelly L.*

          Good point. There was a woman at one job who made up a new job duty and decided we were all supposed to be doing it, even though she was waaaaay down on the org chart (just like me) and the higher-ups disagreed that we were supposed to be doing this. The misconception spread, and nobody ever explicitly said “No, don’t actually do this” to everybody at once. It just sort of trickled in by word of mouth, gradually, each time someone was seen doing it by a higher-up, and in the meantime there were misunderstandings all over the place. (Someone who’d heard Wrong Thing–but not Correction–would see someone not doing Wrong Duty and erroneously chew them out. Yes, it was a mess.)

          So yeah, talk to Patient Zero first, and then everybody.

        4. Joey*

          Except it’s very possible that everyone will look at each other dumbfounded and think “why is the boss discussing this? I wonder who did it? Oh shit, did I do something I didn’t realize?”

          1. Sadsack*

            Yeah, but she overtly hands him her papers at the end of meetings and announces that these are her edits, it seems while everyone is exiting the room, so most of the employees probably know what’s up.

            1. Joey*

              Absolutely, but using the term “we’ve developed the unprofessional habit” is going to confuse everyone or make people think the boss is a wimp.

              1. Rae*

                Being inclusive is both in the accepting and allowing this to continue. The manager is the most responsible, but the fact that it’s spreading means that other people have been permissive to how this 2nd person is doing things.

                1. Joey*

                  Except good employees frequently think “why is she telling US this needs to stop. We’ve known that since it started and frankly are a little put off that it’s taken this long for our boss to do it.”

              2. AW*

                I’d agree except the OP said that one of the other employees has started doing it too. Perhaps there should be some acknowledgement by the OP that they let it go on too long like, “This is on me for not addressing it sooner” but at this point it makes sense to address the group.

        5. MsM*

          I think maybe the way to combat the spread is by specifying what the handouts are for when they get passed around: “Just to be clear, I’m providing these final copies to inform our discussion, not to solicit feedback. If you happen to spot any mistakes, please come address that with me later, but I’d like us to stay focused on [purpose of meeting].”

        6. Lily in NYC*

          Hm, this is tough because I can see both sides. Right now I am annoyed because we are going through a huge mandatory spring cleaning contest at my office. The only reason HR is doing it is because we have a few major slobs and a couple of really messy departments. HR doesn’t want to single anyone out and make them feel bad so they are forcing everyone into competitions – it’s ridiculous and everyone has to join in. I already keep my area and the entire area where my team sits neat and organized and I am busy and just can’t stand forced competition when it’s completely unnecessary. I wish they would just call out the worst offenders and make them clean up and leave the rest of us alone.

          1. Taylor*

            Your HR should tell the slobs that their space is in violation of say, fire-prevention compliance and that they need to clean it up. It’s the law, not an option. Or let them know that the cleaning team will be considering anything on the floor trash and will dispose of it for them. Or put them in the most far-back office/cube possible to hide their offensiveness. Yuck.

      2. BRR*

        I agree with this. I think this is good wording for addressing it directly, unless it concerns the whole team (which it doesn’t appear to) I would only address it one on one.

      3. Rae*

        I agree, email would be a very poor way to handle this. However, meetings are not emails and tone will convey very much with this statement.
        I totally disagree that this statement at a meeting would be shaming, it’d be far more embarrassing to be shamed in front of the group with something you just did wrong. Group size is relevant here as the manager now has 1/4 of employees behaving this way.
        Not only that, but I see this as a manager’s chance to apologize for, quite frankly, being a permissive manager. No logical person is going to complain about a co-worker’s behavior that a manager finds acceptable. The OP has let his/her team down and the others need to know that they may not be alone in this wrath of the red pen and it will stop. My best managers are ones who do admit to a group that something is wrong in the team and that they are no longer accepting that behavior, without, of course, calling out names.

      4. Jen S 2.0*

        This might be resolved by reversing the order of action. Speak to the offenders first, and when you make the announcement, say, “I’ve addressed this already with the folks who’ve been involved, but I wanted to address it at large so it’s not a teamwide issue.” That way the non-offenders know it’s not them and that it’s being handled, and also that you don’t expect someone new to step into the role of editor-in-chief.

        1. Snoskred*

          This X 99 billion. :) This is the exactly the way my best-ever manager would handle things in this kind of situation. We all appreciated that she took the time to address it with the entire group because we were all very aware of what was going on. By doing this, she was making it very clear to everyone what was acceptable behaviour and what was *most definitely not* acceptable behaviour.

    2. GOG11*

      There are formal rules that govern behavior, but then there are the things we observe that shape a company or team’s culture. If I saw that so-and-so, someone not designated formally as an editor, was making edits and that behavior wasn’t being directly addressed or shut down, I’d assume that it would be appropriate to point out things that had been missed. I think this appropriately addresses the behavior so people are clear on what they should do.

    3. Florida*

      This reminds me of my first real job after college. The marketing director was terrible. When the boxes of new brochures arrived at the office, or an ad was in the newspaper or magazine, everyone would take a copy and edit it. Yes, this was AFTER we had tens of thousands of brochures printed. AFTER it was published in the main local newspaper.

      The marketing director insisted she could proofread her own work. (Side note: always have someone else read it before you go to press.) It became a game to see who could find a typo first. People would circle the typos and leave them on her desk. At that point it didn’t matter that anyone edited it because the piece had gone to print. I participated in this game because everyone else did it. Editing was not my job. I didn’t even work in the marketing department. It was my first real job, so I just followed everyone else’s lead.

      Yes, this is totally unprofessional (on everyone’s part) and not recommended at all. This was the most toxic work environment I’ve ever work in.

      Agree that you need to talk to her and talk to everyone else right away.

      1. RG*

        I’m not sure what is more shocking: the letter or the fact that your marketing director doesn’t believe in having multiple people review a proof.

        1. Florida*

          That was 15 years ago when I worked there, but I could write a book about all of the craziness. I was fresh out of college, so I didn’t know what was normal and what wasn’t. Now I know that the the whole place was a nutty.

          Also, I got a kick out of you correcting your own what/which usage. The only reason it was funny is because it’s so relevant to the topic. There have been a few typos in the comments today that I would normally ignore, but I want to correct this time just because of the topic. I wish there was a way to do it over the internet with a red pen. :)

    4. laurely*

      I had a chat with her today, thanks to the input here.

      I asked what her goal was? She hemmed and hawed a bit, And I kept bringing back to the Q- what is your goal here? Finally she said, “I guess I thought it would be helpful.” I said, “Going forward, please remember that we have neetings to give and receive information, and you need to remain focused on that, and discontinue the editing.” She was ruffled, but ok.

      1. Not So NewReader*

        Perfect. Sometimes people have to be told what is and what is not helpful.
        It baffles me how editing a doc AFTER it has been distributed is helpful, though.

  10. littlemoose*

    I interpret this behavior as an attempt to undermine your authority. I wonder if she was hoping to get your position (or even applied for it)? That might explain the editing behavior, especially in front of other team members, like she’s saying, “Look how much better I could do this work.” Not that such a reason would excuse the behavior by any means, of course, but maybe insight into why she’s doing it is useful in figuring out how to manage her going forward.

    And I will echo Katie the Fed’s sentiment: I am a fastidious editor (guaranteeing at least one typo in this response, I’m sure), but I would NEVER do this to a coworker, much less my manager. It’s rude and demeaning.

    1. Helka*

      Agreed; I was reading this whole thing thinking it absolutely reeks of power playing, not just a compulsive need to fix grammatical mistakes.

    2. BeckyDaTechie*

      *puts away red pen* I don’t see any errors in the above. I think I have gold star stickers if you’d like one. ;)

  11. C Average*

    I have a twitchy red-pen finger and I want to edit the world and it is SO HARD to work with people who don’t prioritize writing well. I admit that I’m an extreme case–I’m probably on some kind of OCD-like spectrum when it comes to writing. I even read books with a red pen in my hand and fix typos and make minor edits as I read. I know intellectually that there are many situations where the Oxford comma really doesn’t matter, but it always matters to me. I wish there were a kill switch for this thing, but there isn’t.

    In college, I worked at the copy center and would often say to people coming in to make copies, “Do you want to fix that spelling error before I run off 500 copies of this for you?” I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful; I was thinking, “I’d be mortified if I passed out 500 copies of a document with a glaring spelling error, and I would want someone to say something.”

    My manager had to be really blunt with me: “You are not being helpful. Your job here is to make copies. It’s not to edit. I know you can’t help noticing these things, but you need to stop calling attention to them.”

    1. AnotherAlison*

      FWIW, I think your copy center manager was wrong. That’s a completely different situation from the OP’s. I say this as someone whose husband once ordered 500 business cards with the word “cieling” on them. He spells at a third grade level, and it was incredibly irritating that the so-called marketing consultant he worked with on those did not proof them.

      1. Rae*

        In college it’s a bit different. You can’t just edit another person’s work at the copy center without their permission. If a professor sends lecture notes with misspellings, and wants 500 copies that’s their prerogative. I worked in a copy center for a college of 3,000 students and we were usually so busy that while we saw mistakes we actually had a policy that stated we did not correct errors. This was also because material was considered confidential. They didn’t want work-study students making an extra copy or editing it when they were not supposed to read anything in the first place.

        1. AnotherAlison*

          I missed that it was “the” copy center, as in the college’s. I was thinking the local Kinkos or similar. You’re right, the employees probably aren’t supposed to look at the documents.

          1. C Average*

            I definitely wasn’t. It was totally uncalled for. I get that now! But as a know-it-all twenty-year-old with no filter and not much work experience, I didn’t get it at all. I sincerely thought I was being helpful.

            I’d never had any deliverables other than class assignments, and I’d never experienced hierarchy, other than in the classroom, so the idea that “you shouldn’t do this because it’s not your job and it’s not appropriate for you to edit the professors’ work when you’re just here to make copies” really, truly, didn’t occur to me.

            I’m cringing to remember it and I’m glad I had a boss who was able to make me stop with a few well-chosen words. She was an awesome boss in so many respects! Vanessa, wherever you are, THANK YOU.

        2. Sadsack*

          Hmm, yeah, but C Average wrote that he’d mention to the person that they have errors they might want to correct, not that he was fixing or suggesting that he would fix them.

      1. cvj*

        Ha! I sort of do the opposite of this. If I hear a TV or movie character correctly use often misused words (such as hanged vs hung, farther vs further), I give a little cheer for them.

        1. Al Lo*

          Nauseated vs nauseous. That’s the big pet peeve in our house that can make an otherwise intelligent TV character sound less smart.

    2. Allison*

      C Average, if I’d noticed people making errors, I’d suggest the copy center offer a proofreading service. No one likes having some stranger point out their mistakes, but if you offer to look over the document for a few extra bucks, they might go “hey yeah, let’s make sure this is right!”

      Of course, then if you miss an error it’ll be your fault . . . so maybe not . . .

    3. Rae*

      Oh GRR. As someone who’s dyslexic I love my oxford comma. I also love my two spaces between sentences. I’m not going to change. My English major roommate who was great at punctuation and spelling and I made a truce. We called things “Pluto”. Pluto indicated anything that was once grammatically correct or acceptable but now is not. (after the planet Pluto).

      She felt compelled to correct my writing on the whiteboard on our door, on a note to her, or even some of our notes for our gen-ed classes.

      I’ve had co-workers like her. There are times when even in the professional world a sort of grammatical shorthand is fine. I do feel a bit sorry for people with OCD but the fact that I got words on a page in a coherent and understandable way does not mean that I need help making a document perfect.

      1. fposte*

        And none of it changes the fact that it’s highly inappropriate to do that without the permission of the writer. Changing the writing on your whiteboard? Yeah, knock that off now, princess. I get the impulse to compulsively correct, but it’s really no more appropriate than unsolicitedly correcting what people are eating.

              1. Al Lo*

                I take pictures and post them on Facebook, because if you’re presenting something to the public, it should be right. My favorite was the renovations with a sign stating, “Please bare with us”, and I commented that I’d never been in a nudist grocery store before.

                1. Al Lo*

                  Oh! Also the restaurant near my house that had a “Glutton-Free” menu, and a Meat Lovers pizza with the ingredients listed as “Meat Lovers, Pepperoni, Sausage, and Bacon.” We laughed at the cannibal not-gluttons at that place.

                2. Cath in Canada*

                  Awesome! The best typo I’ve ever seen on a menu was “The Chef’s Own Muscles”, but to be fair it was in Belgium so English wasn’t their first language.

                3. Tau*

                  Translations can be rather wonky sometimes! My personal record is the sign I saw on a restroom door in a restaurant in Italy: “No use of toilet without consummation”.

          1. Cath in Canada*

            “Why did the Apostrophe Protection Society not have a militant wing? Could I start one? Where do you get balaclavas?”

            ― Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves: The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation

        1. Fact & Fiction*

          Working in AP style in my last editing job just about cried my brain. Oxford comma = my precccciossss!

    4. louise*

      I just about snorted over that. A copy center would be a very, very bad job for me for *exactly* that same reason.

      The AP’s comma rules are actually one reason I didn’t go into journalism. Without my Oxford comma, I’m a sad woman.

    5. stop editing*

      I know this wasn’t you, but someone ruined a library book by editing it – the whole thing. Too bad they didn’t understand grammar! It was awful. :-(

    6. Elizabeth West*

      You’re totally not the only one. I headit (I didn’t make that up, sadly) while reading ALL THE TIME. Not with a red pen, though, ha ha, though I have marked over stuff in my own books before just because it was bugging the living hell out of me.

    7. Blue_eyes*

      I usually manage to satisfy the red-pen urge by simply marking my own copy of a document. If it’s just a typo (and the document isn’t going to be sent out or anything), just fixing it on my own copy makes me feel better about it.

    8. BeckyDaTechie*

      Are you me? :) I was able, after a while, to only offer that “I see a typo,” on important things like resumes and promotional documents in electronic copy. If they came in with a hard copy they were on their own, but good grief was it hard not to offer! I felt like by not correcting it they were wasting their money or hamstringing their own advertising efforts.

    9. bridget*

      I appreciate copy center employees like you! When my now husband ordered our wedding invitations, he spelled marriage “marraige” on the order sheet. Even though the invitation place had to type the words into a computer program (which certainly put a squiggly red line under the misspelled word), they printed them all with the wrong spelling and said that they never make edits. We had to pay to have our invitations printed twice.

    10. Ellie H.*

      All these comments are pretty remarkable to me. I’m definitely the “type” for compulsive editing (was in spelling bees, adore everything about grammar, studied Latin many years etc.) and always edited the heck out of every work document I ever contributed to or revised but I have never, not once had the compulsion to point out an error or typo unsolicited or to make edits with a pencil/red pen on uncirculated material just for fun. If the meaning is clear and it’s not your job to correct it, what does it matter? Many of the people I work with are not native speakers so any unpublished writing (emails, syllabi, drafts etc.) often has numerous typos and errors, but we can tell what it means, which is the point, and maybe as a consequence of this I’m really inured to and uncaring about errors I come across. I love rules and thinking about lexical systems and for better or for worse (these days probably worse) I’m a prescriptivist, but I just do not understand the desire to spend any time thinking about editing random writing you happen to see. Its interesting to me that I have all those qualities but not that particular compulsion!

  12. Leah*

    Holy passive-aggressiveness, Batman! This is so over-the-top obnoxious that it would be hard for me to give the benefit of the doubt here, so kudos if the OP can.

    I also don’t get what the point is – if the OP is handing out documents for an informal meeting, and the employee is correcting it during the meeting and giving it back to the OP – isn’t it useless anyway, since the meeting is over and presumably the documents are no longer needed? Are these edits ever in a useful context?

    1. Ann*

      Yes, I was thinking the same thing. The fact that the meeting is over and the handout is now probably no longer relevant just makes it even worse.

    2. Observer*

      It’s obviously a power play. It’s not just that she’s editing – but she’s making a big show, making sure everyone knows about it and using a red pen. Right out of grade school!

      1. Elizabeth West*

        I’d be so tempted to treat her as though she were in grade school.

        Picture it: I’m talking, and Editor is scribbling away. As I’m talking, I stroll casually around the room. When I reach Editor, I reach down, slide the paper out from under her pen–still talking–and walk away with it. I fold it without acknowledging it and slip it into my pocket. Everyone looks at her…then at me….then at her. I ignore them, finish speaking, and don’t even mention it. The meeting adjourns and everyone goes back to their cubes or desks or whatever.

        Later, I call her into my office and tell her that shit needs to stop (though perhaps not in those words).

    1. Snowglobe*

      Leslie would have stolen the handouts before the meeting and replaced them with a with a corrected version, with no one being the wiser.

      1. The Strand*

        And you know that Ron would have omitted key information or wording to begin with, then watched her rush around the copier to replace his work, with a stealthy smile on his face.

  13. Adam*

    I’ve never worked as an editor or writer in any capacity, but people have asked me to edit their cover letters for job applications recently and it is REALLY hard for me to not straight up rewrite their piece for them.

    I think I’ve been good by addressing actual things that need correcting and sentence structure where I get the idea but as written is confusing or doesn’t make sense. When it comes to things I would write “better” I try my best to leave it alone (fidgeting the whole time) or make little suggestions about how they might improve things. I think I’m pretty good about this, so if someone completely rewrote my work based purely on how they would do it as opposed to making objective corrections I’d probably go up a flipping wall. OP does need to nip this in the bud. It’s gone on way too long and she doesn’t need the practice infecting the rest of her team as well.

    1. Cherry Scary*

      I’ve had to do edits on 2 resumes recently. One copy-pasted his work experience from one retail job to the next.

      1. Adam*

        I did a resume edit recently too. When I first opened it up it was like a neon sign of everything about resumes that would drive Alison absolutely nuts. I didn’t feel like I was editing my friend’s work so much as taking a chainsaw to it.

        I made all my suggestions and then gathered a ton of AAM links and went “Read these. Now.” She was so appreciative she bought me a case of beer.

  14. Erin N.*

    I’d take it one step further. If she hasn’t been asked to edit these documents, it falls outside of her duties as assigned and she’s wasting time that could be spent completing tasks that do fall within her responsibilities (Including being a present and productive meeting participant.

  15. Allison*

    I’ve mentioned this in AAM comments before, but I do a lot of partnered dancing. Many times, I’ve been in class and my partner will give unsolicited feedback, and it never feels good to be corrected like that. Then again, it’s rarely good feedback, most of the people who do this are new to the style of dance, but I digress. When someone asks me “can I give you some feedback?” or “would you like some feedback?” I’m usually open to what they have to say. Offering a correction before giving it can make a world of difference in how it’s received.

    Generally speaking, the only people who can (and generally should) give unsolicited corrections are those in certain positions of authority, like a boss or teacher. Corrections between peers should always be offered; people wishing to correct an authority figure should only do so when it’s really important, and should approach the topic cautiously and in private. Going back to my dancing, it’s always awkward when a fellow student (usually someone new) raises their hand and tells the teacher “actually, I was told the move was done this way,” as though that conversation can’t be held in private after class.

  16. Student*

    Is it possible that things you see as “edits” are in fact meant as “corrections”?

    In the US, grammar is a neglected subject at most schools. I know that I didn’t learn much grammar until I took a foreign language class in high school.

    It’s possible that you are writing things incorrectly and this employee is, in a misguided way, trying to help you look more professional. Conversely, it’s possible that this employee thinks you are making errors but doesn’t really know grammar well enough to realize that you aren’t – so she thinks she is helping you look more professional, but really just showing that she doesn’t know the rules. We see on this web site all the time that many people think they understand rules intuitively when they really don’t know the rules at all – think of all the “is it legal” questions, for example. I think at least one of you is suffering from this problem, but I have no way to determine who it is.

    I’ve run into a handful of people where I wish I could take a red pen to their writing on a regular basis. I don’t because it would be socially inappropriate, and because I doubt it would be effective.

    Perhaps you could show the editing to some neutral third party who is also well-versed in grammar and get a second opinion on whether you or employee needs a refresher course in writing? I’m thinking this might be the way to go, simply because you have a second employee joining in on corrections. That’s not proof of who’s at fault here, but it means that two of your employees think your writing is unusually bad.

    1. Katie the Fed*

      It doesn’t matter if it’s edits or corrections.

      The way the employee is going about it is totally inappropriate. It would be one thing if she came by privately and said “I noticed a couple of mistakes in our [document going to an external audience] and I hope you don’t mind that I made some corrections.”

      This is different because they’re internal memos and documents – if the employee understands the message, then there’s no need to edit. And because she’s doing it publicly and in a meeting. That’s just rude, and it doesn’t matter how correct she is.

      1. JTD*

        I’ve worked as an editor for nearly 20 years. I’m on a team where we all have a similar level of experience.

        *None* of us would pull the stunt this woman pulls. It’s quite horrifyingly rude. The only thing we’d do is have a quiet word privately with the person and offer our experience *and* check how much editing they wanted *if* they accepted the offer.

    2. Rae*

      Still, we’re talking meeting hand outs, not presentations to the CEO or shareholders or a press release. While poor grammar is annoying in note-form, it’s not a fatal flaw, nor even indicative of a writer’s skill. For 90% of the meetings I’ve ever attended, both professionally and not, notes were a last-minute courtesy so people could follow along and write reminders for themselves, not all inclusive documents that were showy.

    3. Tinker*

      I think the key here is “socially inappropriate”, though.

      It’s like the case where, say, your cousin Bob thinks that white-collar work is unstable and morally suspect in light of the coming economic collapse and that you should pursue a career as an electrician instead — and he elects to bring this up over the turkey at Thanksgiving with that infamous line of “I know you don’t want to hear this BUT (knowingly saying the undesirable thing follows)”. Well, it might be that this actually is a more stable career prospect or it might not, and one can probably assemble evidence for and against, but the pertinent point is that family gatherings are meant for the purpose of enjoying each other’s company, not critiquing their life choices.

      (Well, okay, they SHOULD be.)

      In the same way, the purpose of the average meeting-with-handouts is to convey information, not to reform the grammar of the presenter. Red-penning the handouts is not welcome or appropriate to the environment and can be addressed as boundary-violating behavior without having to also debate the accuracy of the corrections.

    4. Artemesia*

      I do agree that the OP needs to look at her writing carefully; nothing more annoying than a manager who produces badly written or even ungrammatical copy.

      Well one thing. And that would be a subordinate who makes a show of editing her work with a red pen in a meeting with that manager and others.

      This is a frank power play designed to undermine authority and should be slapped down hard and if it continues or is just one of many disrespectful behaviors should escalate pretty quickly to a PIP and firing. One hopes an initial conversation would stop it — but it feels like a behavior that is more firmly rooted than just this one quirk. I’d have my spidey sense well tuned for further insubordination.

    5. Sadsack*

      She’s trying to help OP look more professional by sitting in his meetings making corrections (or edits) to his work, then publicly announcing that he had errors and that she fixed then during his meeting? Sorry, don’t think so. That’s a pretty unprofessional way to “help” your manager look professional. I am with most others here that OP needs to put an end to the editing/correcting, not give the employee pointers on how to improve in these areas.

    6. Observer*

      I totally disagree, because it does not make a whit of a difference if the work needs editing or not. The behavior of the employee is incredibly inappropriate. Period.

      You do NOT correct your boss’ work without her permission. Even if you got permission from the boss, you do NOT do it in public and then call attention to it. To do it IN PUBLIC, UNSOLICITED and WITH A RED PEN? No one could really believe that this makes anyone look more professional. It would be out of line with a peer, how much more so with a superior.

      Besides, no one in their right mind s thinking about making their boss look more professional by editing their performance evaluation with a red pen.

  17. The Strand*

    This person is flagrantly disrespecting you and undermining your authority, including with other workers.

    English is a second language for my boss. I always, ALWAYS ask him if he would like me to further edit draft statements he sends to me, even though I know he genuinely welcomes my feedback and values my help. But the point is that I ask as a show of respect. That respect needs to be there even if our roles are that of equals.

    I would look at the overall behavior of this person and the person who she has already infected with the same repellant attitude. Start recording, and counseling. If it were me, I would have already made a decision about which direction her tenure with the company was headed; it would simply be a matter of recording the paperwork.

    1. Windchime*

      I have several peers for whom English is a second language, and I would never, ever take a red pen to their handouts or writing, especially not in a public setting. It’s beyond rude and condescending. Both people know that sometimes spelling/grammer is an issue and we have all agreed that any corrections of that nature will be made at the QA level. I couldn’t imagine doing something like this to my peers, let alone my supervisor. In my opinion, it’s blatent insubordination to be flourishing a red pen and correcting in front of others.

      1. The Strand*

        I agree, I have been having such a hard time putting any kind of spin on this issue, other than the person being aggressive and out to undermine the supervisor. I can’t even imagine someone clueless doing this.

  18. KarenT*

    This question is funny to me because I work in publishing and am surrounded all day by neurotic, obsessive, perfectionist editors (of which I am one). And they would never, ever do this. There is definitely a lot of eye rolling when we get memos with typos and we definitely all notice when a meeting handout has an error but pointing it out to the person running the meeting would just be considered rude.
    I did have a battle once with a researcher (NOT an editor) who would come to my team’s meetings and loudly point out typos in materials that people had prepared. I had to meet with her and tell her it was rude, that these memos were quick things that people whipped up for the meeting and that I didn’t expect my team to spend their time editing internal memos that five people were going to see when they spent most of their time editing manuscripts that thousands of people were going to see in published form. She never moved past the smug satisfaction of pointing out an error an editor had made and it was completely and utterly distracting to the person trying to run a meeting and keep focus on the topic at hand.

    1. fposte*

      As another editor, I agree. I guess that’s not surprising–I think with any activity, the people who do it for a living are the least likely to wander around unsolicitedly telling people what they have to do.

      1. Cordelia Naismith*

        Yes. I used to get this from people back when I taught high school English. “Oh, you’re an English teacher? I better watch my grammar!”

        Dude, I may be an English teacher, but I’m not your teacher. You’re an adult; I’m not going to correct your grammar during a social conversation. That would be rude!

        I save my grammar lessons for the classroom.

    2. Xarcady*

      Oh, gosh golly, this.

      I’m an editor. I get paid money to spend all day finding other people’s mistakes. It’s the perfect job match.

      But there’s a time and a place for pointing out mistakes. We all make them. And it’s one thing to have a typo in an email sent to 6 coworkers, and another thing entirely to have a typo in a large, glossy ad brochure.

      I can’t not proofread menus and signs in stores and church bulletins. But I’d never comment on the errors I see there, unless there was something that might actually hurt someone if they read it and didn’t realize the mistake.

      Knowing the time and place to make any correction is a valuable skill in the workplace.

      1. Connie-Lynne*

        Yep, this. I worked as a proofreader, typesetter, and technical editor for a few years in my youth. A lot of my colleagues, including my boss, ask me to proofread documents for them.

        Which I gladly do, _when asked_. If not asked, I keep a lid on it.

  19. Technical Editor*

    As the editor of 8 authors, I have the opposite problem. My boss comes to me to ask me to proofread all her emails. She has admitted that she’s terrified of me pointing out her errors in front of the authors. I never would, and especially not in public.

  20. Pontoon Pirate*

    One small comment caught my eye: OP, you say you’re “working your way” through issues related your team having been at the company longer than you. Do you see this behavior as part of a larger pattern of overt (or not) disrespect? In other words, is this the exhibited disrespectful behavior from one person, but there are other displays of disrespectful behavior from others on the team?

    1. Kate M*

      “Pattern of disrespect.”

      Pat-tern. Patt-ern. My friend Pat took a turn. Disray. My friend Disray got news specs. Disray spect.

  21. DrPepper Addict*

    It sounds to me like the employee doing the editing is just looking for attention and trying to show that she, in some way thinks she’s smarter than her supervisor. I can’t imagine being in any situation and thinking that this is ok. I can’t even put myself in her position and try to relate or see why she would even be doing it.

    1. Florida*

      Exactly! She is peeing in a circle to mark her territory. Appropriate in some situations (like for Fido at the dog park) but not at the office.

    2. JTD*

      Also, I bet she’s inserting mistakes. Rule 1 of unsolicited editing, whether professionally or personally: you always make an error in the correction! :-)

  22. HQ*

    Ick. Self-appointed grammar police are so annoying–not just because their “edits” are often done to shame rather than help the writer, but also because many of them don’t know enough about grammar and usage to be correcting others. I have an English degree and have worked as a technical editor, and I can tell you that many common corrections I overhear from grammar police are actually not so black and white. Language is a living thing; there will always be variations and grey (or gray) areas. Sometimes two usages can be correct, but one is preferred in certain contexts or geographic regions.

    For example, in my senior year of college I had to write a ten-page paper on the appropriate use of “that” and “which”. Yes, I said ten pages. I won’t bore you with the details, but between the historical usage and the different possible contexts, there was more than enough information with which to fill the pages.

  23. insert pun here*

    I am an editor, I work for editors, and the people who work for me are essentially baby editors. This might — MIGHT — fly in my workplace, because we are all constantly in the business of fixing words. The first thing you learn as an editor is that everyone makes errors, and everyone needs an editor. So we all correct each others’ text when it needs it.
    That said, this person is a maniac. I would guess that it’s an ego thing — being able to catch someone in an error, especially “someone who should know better.” I sometimes get people (not colleagues) who feel like they’ve bested me somehow when they find an error in my writing. None of my completely obsessive coworkers would ever go about correcting errors in this obnoxious manner, because it’s not an ego thing for us. It’s more like, telling someone they have something stuck to their shirt or something. It’s just a thing that happens, people make errors, fix and move on. (And sometimes, as several people have commented, it’s not worth fixing — like if it’s a quick memo or agenda that won’t be reused.)
    Also, lots of people fix “errors” that are really points of style. The point of writing (especially business writing) is clarity. If the piece of writing communicates what you’re trying to communicate, it works, end of story.

  24. huh?*

    Has this specific behavior been happening for 3 years OR is it a recently developed habit? I think 3 years, which is what I base my answer on …

    I have to defend the ‘office editor’ to a degree — For THREE YEARS she has been doing something that is, understandably annoying, but never been addressed with her directly. I agree the behavior needs to be shut down, but I would be careful about coming across as truly annoyed or angry. We don’t have any real evidence (but if I missed that part let me know …) that she is being subversive to her manager. All we know is that she has this obnoxious habit and she hasn’t been asked nicely to stop. Maybe she thinks you appreciate the help?
    If I went to a review or got pulled into my bosses office and been told that something I have been doing so annoying for 3 years I would be upset. Sort of like, ‘Dude, why didn’t you just tell me this 2 years and 364 days ago?”

    1. Allison*

      You do make a good point. If someone’s been doing something for a while, they may assume it’s acceptable and they’re not bothering anyone. After all, if they were bugging someone, someone would say something, right? So if you’re telling someone off after they’re used to doing it, you do need to be careful in your approach, and be prepared to tell them why you’re just bringing it up now.

    2. Adam V*

      Re-reading the text, I’m not sure this particular pattern has been going on for three years, just that unlike other patterns, this one isn’t dying out quickly.

  25. tab*

    I don’t know. I’d really like to hear the employee’s side of tgis story. Maybe this manager is a terrible writer and needs her work edited.

    1. Cordelia Naismith*

      Even if she is, the way the employee is going about is — doing it so publicly, whipping out the red pen during meetings and, presumably, not participating in the meeting because she’s focused on editing — is disrespectful and inappropriate, and she needs to cut it out yesterday.

    2. insert pun here*

      I mean, OP’s letter is clear and well written so… probably not, unless Alison did a very heavy copyedit on it.

    3. Observer*

      So? What if she is? Are you rally saying that this is anything like close to being an appropriate way to handle it?

    4. bad student*

      No matter how bad a writer the manager could be, the vigilante editing isn’t a good move.

    5. Mena*

      She isn’t asking for editing from this employee and editing is not the employee’s job.

  26. Mockingjay*

    As a career technical writer, I can tell you that what this woman is doing is NOT editing. It is an act of blatant disrespect. OP, please straighten her out.

    [Wow. This scenario really pushed buttons for me. We technical writing professionals work really hard to develop good relationships with our teams. Writing is a personal act, and people get very defensive about critiques of their hard work, especially unnecessary, snarky edits. When I edit a team member’s document, my job is to ensure her message is conveyed clearly. That’s all. “Eats M&Ms — aahhh, chocolate. Better now.” Rant ends.]

    1. ZenCat*

      Editing the work of others is such a tricky thing. Thank you for mentioning the reason for it is clarity. The person didn’t write it for their diary, it is likely to share knowledge and that cannot always be a one man show.

      This makes me mad, too! I think this woman is being completely obnoxious. I would be tempted to edit her edits!!

    2. Elizabeth West*

      Agreed, especially your second paragraph. I edit technical documents for my team and it’s all about whether the readers will understand what the writers are trying to convey. I wouldn’t be very effective if I were snarky about it. People would just get pissed off.

    3. Cath in Canada*

      Agreed. This is why, when I send documents I’ve edited or proofread back to people who are more senior than me, I always say “here are my suggestions” rather than “here are my edits”.

  27. NJ Anon*

    OP to employee: “Knock it off!”
    employee: “why?”
    OP (channeling my mother): “Because I said so.”

    1. Not So NewReader*

      OP did upthread. She said she spoke to the employee and told her to stop. It looks like the employee might actually stop.

  28. Amy (the other one)*

    You could also just say “This isn’t your job. Please stop doing it.” It isn’t necessary to characterize the activity as insulting. If there is pushback you can say “I’d rather you pay attention to the content of these written documents than the writing style. Please focus on that and if you feel the need to edit, do it in private. It’s distracting to you and to the others in the meeting.”

  29. Person*

    ” These are not corrections, but edits.”
    The thing is that it sounds more like the employee is not fixing typos, but changing the content of the handouts. Which has the implication of changing what is said… which is a definite undermine move.

    1. Alternative*

      I am wondering about this as well. Is the employee editing (or adding additional detail to) statements, like this?

      “the progect is do,, April 15th by end of day.”

      To this?

      “the progect is do,, to Jane and Bob, on April 15th by end of day. Files should be emailed in excel and PDF format.”

      Or, is she correcting the statement – like this?

      “The project is due April 15th by end of day.”

      Because if she’s just adding notes to meeting agendas, for example, that would seem pretty normal and common to me. So I am curious if the LW could clarify, or has some specific examples of the edits she is doing.

      1. Alternative*

        AND….the LW posted right before I made this comment. Clearly a bigger problem than adding notes to documents.

  30. laurely*

    Hi all!

    Entering in as the question writer here… your comments are so helpful! I’d like to provide a bit of clarity.

    The edits that she makes on the docs are not usually corrections, but are changes to my language.

    She is a 40+ year old woman, certified in her industry. She has worked for the company much longer than I. She has twice applied for the position I hold. Once when I became a team supervisor. Then, when the company conducted a re-org and this position opened up. (The irony? I didn’t apply for either position, but the top dog came to me and offered it to me.)

    I did say that I need to “choose my battles” because, honestly? I could have her in my office almost daily. She will show up late for her 1-1 and for our team meeting Her habit of interrupting me and correcting me was the first battle I had to tackle. That alone almost drove me to drink. I smiled when I read in the comments above that she might ask why it was unprofessional, because that is a her go-to first response! In fact, I have learned with her to avoid naming something as “unprofessional,” “unhelpful,” or “insulting.” because she will argue with whatever word I use. I have learned that I need to name the behavior I need to see: “You have been late the our last three team meetings. Starting with our next meeting you will need to be on time for team meetings – no excuses.”

    One response I did make to her review – I employed one tactic that I have used with some success with her. I sometime put in writing a description of what happened and send her an email: “Suzy, today you stated in our meeting that you are an expert in you field and your decisions should not be questioned. I will think about that and have a response response prepared for you for our next meeting.” That usually results in her coming in to my office and saying that it “looks bad” and she probably shouldn’t have said that, done that, etc. So, following her review, both she and I have an opportunity to add comments before signing off on the review. I added something like: “Throughout the verbal review Suzy edited my written responses on the review document with a red pen.” She red that…. kept looking at it, looked at me… then signed it.

    In other companies that I have worked for, this employee would have been fired after a few months of this. My company is extraordinarily adverse to firing an employee, so I don’t really have the “ultimate response” option.

    Thank you for your thoughts and excellent points!

    1. Cordelia Naismith*

      She has worked for the company much longer than I. She has twice applied for the position I hold.

      Yeah, she’s definitely trying to undermine you. I think this merits a one-on-one discussion where you tell her explicitly to cut it out. You said she used to interrupt and correct you verbally? I think her red pen habit is a continuation of this behavior. She can’t do it aloud anymore, so she does it on paper.

      The problem is really her attitude. She may have been at the company longer than you, but she needs to accept that you’re her boss and therefore in charge. It sounds like there’s a good reason she wasn’t promoted, with an attitude like this!

      1. Laurel Gray*

        I agree but I have a question…if RedPen has gunned for this job and not been chosen TWICE and the OP was chosen (and never applied) by management, and all this undermining and foolishness is going on, is it a stretch to suggest that the OP, RedPen and TopManagement sit in on this discussion where she is told to cut it out? Or is this a bad idea? The reason I suggest this approach is because I feel like the undermining behavior of RedPen stems from a bigger issue – I do not think she ever received closure from management on why she was not selected for this position twice given her certification and years of experience.

    2. Katie the Fed*

      ““Suzy, today you stated in our meeting that you are an expert in you field and your decisions should not be questioned. I will think about that and have a response response prepared for you for our next meeting.”

      Eeek. I’m sorry, but you need to address that in the moment. Make sure everyone else sees you addressing it.

    3. C Average*

      Wow. Yeah, this definitely makes the red-pen thing look to be a symptom of a bigger problem and not just a free-standing problem.

      What if you were to openly call her on ALL her bullshit by saying something like, “Look, I am your manager and I need you to do your work, not look for ways to undermine my authority. And I know you’re intelligent enough to know what I mean, even if you protest that you’re not. I want you to stop challenging me in meetings, stop editing documents I haven’t asked you to edit, stop disregarding my requests, and stop behaving disrespectfully. You may think you can do the job better than I can, and you’re entitled to that opinion, but I need you to leave the attitude at home, starting now. Are we clear?”

      (I’m not a manager. I’m drawing on my stepparenting experience here rather than anything from a professional environment. Because she sounds slightly less mature than my 9-year-old stepdaughter.)

      1. Amy (the other one)*

        Red-penciling here:

        “Look, I am your manager and I need you to do your work, not involve yourself in mine. Also, I want you to stop challenging me in meetings, stop editing documents I haven’t asked you to edit, and stop disregarding my requests. You may think you can do the job better than I can, and you’re entitled to that opinion, but I was entrusted with this position, so obviously the big boss has faith in me, and I trust his/her judgment. I value your opinion enough to ask for it when needed, but if I haven’t asked please keep your opinion to yourself.”

    4. Adam V*

      Wow, reading this is enough to make *me* angry and I’ve never met the woman. (At least I hope I haven’t. You aren’t in Texas, are you?)

      I do think it might be worth taking all of this to your manager and discussing the process you’d need to go through in order to let her go. The company may be adverse to the idea, but at the very least it’d be an extremely strong indicator to your boss of how bad her behavior is. (“Yes, I know how hard it is to fire someone. I’m still here in your office talking about it. That’s how bad this has become.”)

      And I’d probably tell her that too. “This has gone past the point of ‘individual incidents’ and is now a full-blown pattern of disrespect. Effective immediately, you will be starting a PIP, and termination *will* be a possible outcome if your attitude is not corrected post-haste.”

    5. Artemesia*

      I hope you are giving well documented and scathing reviews. And I would consider leaving her out of the next meeting after she ignores your express request to not do something in a meeting. Meet with the rest of the time by one on one specific invitation and then meet with her separately to share with her the results of the meeting.

      I’d also be working with your own boss so that s/he is very aware of the disruptive behavior and insubordinate behavior. You have been patient and coddled her enough — it is probably time for a firmer ‘cut out the bs’ response.

      And of course work very hard on your relationships with other team members so they are getting strong positive feedback and encouragement so that you can isolate the trouble maker. One thing insubordinate people sometimes do is identify other employees who are not highly valued and then work on getting them riled up. So being sure to manage everyone else well including positive feedback, high expectations and clear instructions are critical. You don’t want anyone who is passively resentful of you so that they might gravitate to her orbit.

      1. Artemesia*

        ‘team’ of course not time — oh for an edit button or someone with a red pen.

      2. Laurel Gray*

        One of the patterns I am noticing about letters regarding bad employees/coworkers and egregious behavior seems to be that they work in an environment where firing is next to impossible. It seems like the company’s own policies or lack thereof enable this type of foolery.

        1. Amy (the other one)*

          I’m sorry to say that the person I have been writing up repeatedly for years seems completely impervious to the write-ups, at least until they start having language like “as we’ve discussed before” with a list of dates. After years of these, it’s obvious that all I can do is scold and write a memo. I don’t have support from higher ups to take things to the next level.

          I now supervise someone who is constantly on the look-out to be sure I can’t catch them in the act of something they’ve been written up about. I’ve even pointed out that this person is not invisible and the behaviors are visible to other managers, my boss, and customers, but it isn’t sinking in, or perhaps being respected by other people in the workplace just isn’t a priority.

        2. Schnauz*

          Absolutely. My mother works for a manager who prefers for underperforming staff to quit rather than go through the process to fire them. In over 20 years and multiple sub par employees, I’ve only heard of them firing 1 employee. It took 3 years of that employee never quite learning the job (not a difficult or highly skilled job) and then another year of documentation once they finally started the firing process to fire them. And it wasn’t the employee who stole and it wasn’t the employee who blatantly lied about the manager and tried to rally the other employees behind their lies.

      3. Beezus*

        I love this idea. If she sees team meetings as a forum to undermine her boss, she can be uninvited to team meetings.

    6. AMG*

      All of the responses here. To add on to the parenting analogy, if you can’t fire her, what can you do? Take away key responsibilities that she loves? Reorganize your team so that she has minimal responsibilities? Disinvite her from the meetings? Throw her out of the meeting when she starts up? Slam her reviews so she gets less of an annual raise/bonus? Publicly call her out on her behavior? Find out what will be painful and start doling it out when you get negative behavior. Just like kids or pets.

    7. Ask a Manager* Post author

      You need to fire her. “Extremely adverse to firing” doesn’t mean “can’t fire.” People regularly get fired from organizations that “don’t like to fire people.”

      Document what’s been going on, go to whoever you need to go to and make your case, and get her out of there. This is totally ridiculous.

      If you can’t fire people who are behaving like this, you’re not able to manage them at all. You need to point that out to whoever would need to sign off on this.

    8. fposte*

      So you’re saying you’re her boss but you can’t fire her? That pretty much sucks.

      If Suzy doesn’t want to be questioned, she should go find the mythical workplace where that doesn’t happen. But you know, I bet she’s not prepared to take the chance of leaving; the kind of insecurity that leads her to behave like this makes her really averse to testing herself against the marketplace.

    9. Thermal Tepot Researcher*

      Wow, thank you for the clarification! I was actually picturing this as a case of you, say, using nothing but passive voice in such a way that people can’t tell who is the “actor” in your writing (“the Teapot will be tested for maximum fluid retention” BY WHO? Which one of us will have to do this!?!), and RedPenVigilante was just doing the worst possible job of pointing this out to you.

      But your update changes everything. I agree with AAM, she needs to be fired or transferred. Could she possibly be transferred to a team that she doesn’t have a long standing grudge against (since it seems that you can’t get her fired)?

    10. Amy (the other one)*

      I have to deal with multiple bad behaviors on the part of one person, too. Also someone with more time in the organization. Like you, I try to focus on the behavior without any characterization one way or another. I try to specify the impact of the behavior in terms of the job product. “This is your job. Because you were late someone else did your job. You should be on time so that you can do your job yourself and they can do their job.” Even though I believe the impact is worse than that (i.e. lowered morale and lowered standards) I try to keep it cut and dried.

      I have to have a discussion tomorrow about something that’s been discussed many times. It’s clearly reached the level of outright insubordination, but I know there will be a “good” excuse. It’s draining but if we can’t just throw them out the door we have to do what we have to do.

      I keep thinking that this person would have been fired long ago in another organization but perhaps I should suggest seeking a job at your organization!

    11. The Strand*

      You have my sincere sympathy for this terrible employee.

      Time to make a paper trail, though, even if it takes a year to get rid of her.

  31. Mena*

    Don’t take the out-stretched document, smile and say, “Oh, no thanks. I’m not looking for feedback.”

  32. laurely*

    Thank you, again.

    I have tried much of the tactics here… However, when i say something like, “I know you know what I mean,” boy does that start something. I have never told her that I know that she applied for, and didn’t get, this position twice. (Incidentally, four of the eight people on my team applied for my current position.)

    I have told her that my job includes serving as Director of this team and that is the job I execute. She is to execute her job description. What is NOT on her job description is critiquing myself, or any other member of the team, or other employees in the company. Through work on my part, she now asks permission to give input, rather than speeding her 1-1 time telling me what her teammates should be doing. Again, I have found I need to state things specifically. At one point she said, “It’s just thing I think I could do your job so much better than you.” I replied by saying that I had not intention of discussing my position with her. If she had concerns, she should talk to the top dog who offered the position to me; her telling me that information would end up in her performance review as evidence of her unwillingness to support the company, by failing to support their decision to put me in this position.

    I agree that the red pen is a continuance of the interrupting, but it seems so bizarre, that I guess I just wanted people’s take on it.

    I do well with documenting, but when I saw this company is adverse to firing, I mean in six years we have fired one person. We are a 200+ person company. I do feel out of options.

    When I began the position, I had my own private “red and blue state” situation. You could call if “four for, and four against.” :) I am so pleased at how the team has come together. I wanted to peer pressure out some of her behavior. Now, if she interrupts someone during a meeting, I am no longer the only one to say, “Anyway Tom, I think you got cut off – what were your saying?” People are very respectful on the team, and I am fortunate enough to have gained the trust of all but Suzy. Oddly, I have a suspicion that Suzy does trust me, she just has to make her mark… you know how when you were a kid you would lick your pop bottle so no one else drank it when you left the table? I think some people do that at work. They have to leave their mark that proves something – really, to no one but themselves.

    1. AMG*

      I would push her into the suckiest, most irrelevant jobs I could find as fast as I could locate them. Everyone is motivated by something. Find what drives her (needing to make her mark) and remove it from her life until she shapes up. Tell her that once she can do her job like an adult, she can start to earn her role back contributing more on the team. Until then, put her in the basement with the storage boxes and take her red stapler.

    2. Not So NewReader*

      I think you should talk to your boss if you need to. And I think you should work on removing this woman. She has no intention of getting over her resentment about your job.
      Make a list of the problems- you are saying that she could be in your office every day for something. Make that list and go to your boss.
      She does not want to fix her problems, she wants to drain you of all your energy. And it’s working. You avoided dealing with the red pen thing for this long. She will quit doing the red pen trick and move on to another annoying habit.
      You are saying there were four other people that you had concerns about, somehow these people have become converts. Suzy has not. You have clearly given her ample time to adjust her thinking.
      She constantly challenges you, argues with you and makes conversation a long drawn out torturous event. She cannot handle constructive criticism.
      Icing on the cake she has told you she could do your job better. That alone has gotten people fired in my world. Your boss needs to know that she has said that. That stands alone quite nicely.

    3. Sigrid*

      You really, REALLY need to have a conversation with your boss (or the relevant person) and ask, specifically, “what do I need to do to fire someone on my team?” And then you need to do it.

      I’m sure that your company is firing-adverse — my husband’s company is the same way — but unlike, say, state government, they obviously are capable of firing people. You need to find out what kind of CYA documentation they require before they are willing to let someone go and start filling it out.

    4. Adam V*

      > At one point she said, “It’s just thing I think I could do your job so much better than you.”

      What. The. Heck.

      Add that to the list; bring it to your bosses and tell them “unless you want her doing my job, give me the ability to fire her, because she won’t be happy here unless I’m gone and she’s in my position. The situation is untenable.”

  33. Anastasia Beaverhausen*

    A former boss once spelled the word “stakeholders” as “steakholders” about two dozen times throughout my 8 page performance review. It took me some effort to keep a straight face after page 5 or so, but I still would never have dreamed of editing it and handing it back to her. People making spelling errors in internal documents is not my hill to die on.

  34. TT*

    Late to the party, but here’s my two cents:

    I think that what she writes on her notes during a meeting are – for the most part – her business. The real issue to me is not that she’s making corrections. It’s that she’s handing them in like anyone cares. I saw something similar when a colleague of mine began turning in edits to any and everything she could get her hands on. Most of the people on our team have writing backgrounds, but there is no way we can play editor for the entire organization. At one point our boss just looked at her and said, “Why are you giving this to me? I don’t need that.” This was said with a kind tone but a no-nonsense face.

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